J.W. Lees Harvest Ale (Calvados Cask) | J.W. Lees & Co (Brewers) Ltd

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J.W. Lees Harvest Ale (Calvados Cask)J.W. Lees Harvest Ale (Calvados Cask)
524 Ratings
J.W. Lees Harvest Ale (Calvados Cask)J.W. Lees Harvest Ale (Calvados Cask)

Brewed by:
J.W. Lees & Co (Brewers) Ltd
England, United Kingdom

Style: English Barleywine

Alcohol by volume (ABV): 11.50%

Availability: Winter

Notes / Commercial Description:
No notes at this time.

Added by Dantes on 05-07-2004

Bros Score:
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Ratings: 524 |  Reviews: 266
Photo of ChainGangGuy
4.57/5  rDev +12.6%
look: 4 | smell: 4.5 | taste: 5 | feel: 4.5 | overall: 4

Appearance: Crystal clear, honey-colored body topped with a white frothy head that quickly dissipated to a few random bubbles.

Smell: Very appealing. Fresh apple juice is trenchant with honeysuckle, wood, toffee, and a splash of alcohol.

Taste: Opens distinctly malty-sweet and couples nicely with the lively, electric flavor of apple brandy. The rich, dark fruit flavors from the standard Harvest Ale are apparent. Also, a touch of spice. A bright acidity and leafy hop taste help to balance. If you can drink this beer without at least getting a little sense of joy, you are a cold, unfeeling monster. No offense.

Mouthfeel: Full-bodied. The smooth, lush mouthfeel, is nicely accentuated by the fine carbonation.

Drinkability: Truly a sipper, but a good one. When you finish the beer and set down the empty glass with shaky hands and a dopey grin on your face, that means its a good beer.

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Photo of nlmartin
3.28/5  rDev -19.2%
look: 4 | smell: 3.5 | taste: 3.5 | feel: 3 | overall: 2.5

The beer was poured from the bottle into a wide mouthed wine goblet.

Apperance: This beer poured a amber to copper coloration with a slightly hazy coloration. The head was very thin and resolved quickly. The head coloration was off honey coloration. Thin specks of lacing left behind on the glass.

Smell: The beer smells very very boozy. Underneath all the boozy smell is a very nice malty bed. There is a smell of caramel and apple goodness.

Taste: Like the smell it taste massively boozy. There was a brief spicyness to the beer. Then the beer went straight to sweet malt bomb. The beer is almost cloyingly sweet with very little relief. I could taste a very subdued woody apple taste. The hops are not even a player in this beer.

Mouthfeel: The beer has a very slick mouth feel. There is practically no carbonation. Taste has a very long lasting sweet malty aftertaste. This beer just totally crushed my palate. I couldnt taste anything else for almost an hour.

Drinkability: Frankly the beer was to boozey and just to dam sweet for my taste. This beer would probably be ok for spliting a couple or three ways. Definately a siping beer. I still have another bottle in the cellar. That is probably where it will remain for a year or ten.

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Photo of horndecker
4.42/5  rDev +8.9%
look: 4 | smell: 4.5 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 5 | overall: 4

Calvados being one of my favorite spirits, I was interested to try this marriage of ale with calvados containment.

Golden peach orange nectar, quite syrupy, small head, stingy lace, but with vinous legs of glycerine sliding down the inside of the glass. A swirl yields superfine fizz. Looks a bit brown at the edges. Nice.

Butterscotch nose. And oaky alcohol. No hint of apple at first. Eventually a dark baked apple aroma shows up. Bright and citric too, but dark and earthy underneath.

First sip is intense. Candyish, Huge fruit - tangerine, prune, apricots. Woody, musty character followed by a nice malty backbone. What hops there may be are hidden behind a wall of sweetness, but there is a bitterness which follows the sugar attack. It attempts to dry out towards the end, but fails pleasantly. I wonder what it will be like in a few years.

The mouthfeel is wonderfully soft and smooth, syrupy and full, just enough fizz to cut the sugary fruit. It's a sipper, of course, very drinkable, but one at a time, thanks.

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Photo of beveragecaptain
4.25/5  rDev +4.7%
look: 4 | smell: 4 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 4.5 | overall: 4

275 ml bottle. The Calvados cask Harvest ale pours out a brownish color with almost no head. The aroma is prunes, caramel, and grapes. Big, malty flavor. Very sweet caramel flavor. There's definitely some influence from the Calvados cask. Dark fruit, like prunes. This beer may be thick, sweet, and almost flat, but it tastes so damn good, you hardly notice those things. A tasty winter treat, and the 275 ml bottle is the perfect size for this sipper.

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Photo of RoyalT
4.68/5  rDev +15.3%
look: 4.5 | smell: 4 | taste: 5 | feel: 4.5 | overall: 5

Appearance – This one was orange and both glowed in the dark and was heavily murky at the same time. There was actually even a light head to this one.

Smell – The big, raunchy wine aroma is soaked in huge prunes. The booze is big as well. The grapes though are not to be outdone. They are white and grape-juicy.

Taste – Oh, God, is this thing got some big flavors. Man, you can barely sip it. The prune juice is just monstrous and the booze, although super smooth, is large as well. The white grapes are really big, too.

Whenever I partake of an EBW, I always pay particular attention to the sweetish flavors that are present. Here they aren’t sugary per se but thick, syrupy, and pruney. Lastly, the French Calvados casks imposed a light presence of wood, just enough to add a new dimension to the experience. It all worked together more like a fine tawny port than anything else.

Mouthfeel – This is close to full-bodied and super full in its flavor. It is one of the most flavorful ales that I’ve ever had. I can’t begin to explain how the sweetish grape and prune flavors just explode on the palate.

Drinkability – This was a real treat to drink. It is exciting, explosive, and sure to spur an hour-long discussion among beer advocates.

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Photo of santoslhalper
4.85/5  rDev +19.5%
look: 4.5 | smell: 4.5 | taste: 5 | feel: 5 | overall: 5

Appearence: Pours an attractive dark ruby/copper w tih a very thin off-white head the dissapears quickly. Perfectly clear.

Smell: The smell honeslty reminds me of a very complex, sweet and intriguing mix of a dry, red wine and sweet, malty beer. Brilliant!

Taste and Mouthfeel: From the second it hits your mouth you know it's going to be an intense experience. Immediate sweetness melding quickly into an oak/wood feel, mixed with caramel, vinous, chocolate, vanilla, and nutty notes, then ends with a huge finish of malty sweetness, barleywine alcohol, and wonderful cask tastes. Marvelous. The mouthfeel is full and chewy, not cloying.

Drinkability and Overall: I've been through a bit of a rough spell that past couple of weeks. Things haven't quite been turing out the best for me. Tonight I was in particularly low spirits, and I figured it was time to hit something special. This was it. Perfect tasting beer beyond all aspects of what I know beer to be. My favorite beers are the over-the-top beers that can still be delicious, complex and balanced. And this one fits the bill perfectly. Some breweries go too far in "pushing the envelope", but this one is a standard to which American brewers should look up to. Ale in it's perfect form.

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Photo of merlin48
3.81/5  rDev -6.2%
look: 5 | smell: 4 | taste: 4 | feel: 3.5 | overall: 3

2003 vintage, small 750 ml bottle, served slightly chilled into a Kentucky Bourbon Barrel Ale snifter. Pours a clear, glistening, topaz amber body that exhibits lively carbonation. Small, offwhite head is tightknit and persistent, eventually falling into a collar with an extensive draping of sheet lace. The appearance is divine.

Aroma begins with a sharp note of Calvados apple brandy. Calvados is a fine French brandy that is both expensive and difficult to find. It is excellent to cook with, but I don't really care to drink it. The aroma also features freshly sliced McIntosh apples, some raisins, and some toffee and butterscotch maltiness. The alcoholic brandy notes are dominant all the way through, and some peppery spice notes are also in play.

Mouthfeel is slick and full bodied. Smooth, but there is an alcohol bite that is peppery.

The taste is dominated by the Calvados, much more so than expected. Significant alcohol warming is present throughout. Malt notes include raisins, toffee, and butterscotch, with caramel coming on toward the finish. A pleasant earthy/woodsy character emerges at room temperature. Pepper accents are definitely noted, but I'm not certain if they derive from the hops or the alcohol. Very vinous and brandy-like, much more so than any other J.W. Lees product I've tried.

Surprisingly close to Calvados in taste and character. This one is definitely a slow sipper that would be ideal in front of the fireplace on a cold winter night. Very warming. Interesting how a beer acquires the higher alcohol and flavors of the spirit that previously was aged in the same wooden cask. At a price of over $8.00 for this small bottle, I think I will pass on this one next time, though I'm likely to try the other cask aged Harvest Ales that Lees offers. For value, stick with their more pedestrian ales which have a higher drinkability and the same superb quality. The Calvados is so pervasive in this one that it renders it somewhat one dimensional.

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Photo of GCBrewingCo
3.82/5  rDev -5.9%
look: 4 | smell: 4.5 | taste: 3.5 | feel: 4 | overall: 3.5

The beer poured into the sniffer a medium amber golden with a white and low head which lasted well to lace the glass.

The aroma was deeply malty with a raisin fruit malt complexity and a moderate brandy aromatic. The beer contained a slight peppery spice from higher alcohol phenolics. The aroma was also slightly earthy and nicely complex.

The flavor was alcoholic. The beer was slick and sweet when it first contacted the palate and then dried due to a nice bittering level and alcohol almost immediately. The flavor was caramel and an odd pepper spice and strong bittering component that was earthy and oaky. The bittering was just a bit harsh, probably due to the higher alcohols. The brandy flavor was present at a moderate level.

The finish was dry with lasting malt, brany, fruit and harsh bittering into the aftertaste. The body was full and slick. The carbonation level was low but the alcohol was high throughout the beer from the aroma to the finish. The warming after consumption was very high.

9.3 ounce. $7.75 at Wine Warehouse in Charlottesville, VA. Had to look up that calvados was brandy prior to evaluating the beer. The brandy flavor and aroma were present, but the alcohol was just a smidge to high and the bittering just a bit harsh for max enjoyability.

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Photo of Gusler
4.12/5  rDev +1.5%
look: 4 | smell: 4.5 | taste: 4 | feel: 4 | overall: 4

The beer pulls a “splitsville” from the 275ml brown bottle and sets in my glass a deep orange-amber color with the head plentiful, the texture creamy and the color a splendiferous light tan, as its dissolves, the resultant lace a silky curtain to drape the glass. Nose has a nice malt presence, a bit of tartness, oak and a hint of caramel, start is decidedly sweet with a nice grain presence, the top is light to medium in feel. Finish is benign in its acidity, the hops overwhelmed by the sweetness and alcohol, quite dry almost vinous, and once again a beer that will age nicely, and a real belly warmer, got to love these beers.

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Photo of rhoadsrage
4.22/5  rDev +3.9%
look: 4 | smell: 4.5 | taste: 4 | feel: 4 | overall: 4.5

(Served in a snifter)

A-This beer pours a clear light mahogany body with a gentle carbonation and a thin ring of tan head.

S- The smells of toasted malt, brown sugar and a bit of dried fruit with a nice hint of apples.

T- This beer has a sweet light taste with the hint of calvados. The maltyness is very light caramel and very sweet and light.

M- This has a full mouthfeel with a slight alcohol warmth that you only notice when you exhale. No fizz or alcohol heat.

D- This is a very interesting barley wine. I think it was made to be light and sweet to compliment the aging in calvados casks. Very nice beer with a very interesting twist.

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Photo of NeroFiddled
4.7/5  rDev +15.8%
look: 4.5 | smell: 4.5 | taste: 5 | feel: 4.5 | overall: 4.5

Calvados is one of the best kept secrets in the world of fine spirits, and therefore an introduction may be needed. It's an apple brandy, distilled at least twice from a dry cider that's made from special varieties of apples. It's always aged in French Oak barrels, and then blended and bottled for sale. This special version of the Lee's Harvest Ale has been aged in those casks!

It pours a clear (it's been filtered), medium-amber body with a full head of frothy white that drops slowly but leaves little lace. The nose is malty with some wood and a mild vinous character (but that might just be the alcohol). It's creamy and smooth in the mouth with a restrained, fine-bubbled carbonation and full body. The flavor is intense, and it's almost too much to take in all at once. This is surely a sipper! Some apple from the Calvados does carry through (cold, it appears almost grape-like), but mainly it's the sweeter brandy (sugar/alcohol) that comes through. It finiishes surprisingly drying given the huge amount of sugar there, but its underlying bitterness and alcohol help with that. Very nicely done!

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Photo of MrSeth
4.67/5  rDev +15%
look: 4 | smell: 4.5 | taste: 5 | feel: 4.5 | overall: 4.5

From the 2003 bottling.

This ale poured with little carbonation at first. Then as the glass filled, the misty swirls became a thin white head which settled to a thick ring which seems to hold its position on the glass as it is being drunk.

Apple Jolly Ranchers are what the nose reminds me of..
no seriously.. the aroma is like a candied grannysmith, it is quite pleasant.

The taste is a more complex apple, deep and rich, mingling with the malt. A tartness is present, but almost minimal in the profile.

The body is a big, syrupy, sticky one.. with the alcohol starting to show it opens up with huge, rich apple and malt.

This is a perfect winter warmer. But it is on the sweet side so it will make a good digestif.

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Photo of Rastacouere
3.44/5  rDev -15.3%
look: 2.5 | smell: 3.5 | taste: 3.5 | feel: 3.5 | overall: 3.5

Amber, totally clear. Interesting aroma with appealing apple notes, honey and wood. It’s overall quite warming, but bears nowhere the charm of a regular JW Lees, has nowhere near the malt richness, depth. On the palate, it feels thick, buttery with a harsh syrupy apple juice component. Complex notes of honey, earth, peach and a much stronger bitterness than the non-barrel aged version. Medium carbonation level, full bodied, very sweet. Unmemorable, but perhaps the second best of the lot to me.

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Photo of Gueuzedude
3.9/5  rDev -3.9%
look: 4 | smell: 4 | taste: 4 | feel: 4 | overall: 3.5

2003 Vintage, Sampled January 2005
Pours a brilliantly clear full copper color, it is topped by a very thin pale head and is actually fairly well carbonated. The aroma is thick with alcohol as well as notes of thick chewy malt, and perhaps a hint of cidery apple in the finish. Actually the apple aroma slowly builds over time. This is a thick viscous brew, it is lightly sweet up front and almost light as it first hits the tip of my tongue. As it flows across my mouth it becomes quite full and thick. The apple notes from the calvados cask are certainly here, though they are a bit restrained, and really become full in the finish. This beer is quite malty as well, almost caramel-like in its malty sweetness. There is a certain soft butteriness to this beer, perhaps some hints of vanilla, and a soft hop bitterness in the finish, which helps to make the sweetness more palatable. This is a pretty tasty beer, though the Calvados casks are not overwhelming, and if I did not now in advance of it, I would have assumed that the apple notes were just a normal part of this beer.

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Photo of aracauna
3.78/5  rDev -6.9%
look: 4 | smell: 3.5 | taste: 4 | feel: 4 | overall: 3.5

I’m still not getting much difference between the beers regardless of the type of cask they were aged in. They’re all a beautiful, glowing amber with low carbonation. They’re full of alcohol, sugary sweetness and raisins, but I get little or no difference between the different aged versions. They’re all good, though.

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Photo of xgrigorix
4.25/5  rDev +4.7%
look: 4 | smell: 4 | taste: 4 | feel: 4.5 | overall: 5

Brown 275 ml bottle.

Bright burnished golden hue. A thin cap of white foam completes the picture. Steady slow moving bubbles move through the liquid. Viscous liquid is left clinging to the glass after a swirl.

Distinct apple aromas mix freely with whiffs of alcohol, & hints of honey.

Syrupy sweet, with decent acidity to balance. Fruity throughout, with apples being particularly distinct (due to the Calvados cask aging). Medium body, & subtle carbonation. Young, quite sweet, yet oddly very quaffable.

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Photo of lou91
4/5  rDev -1.5%
look: 4.5 | smell: 4.5 | taste: 4 | feel: 3.5 | overall: 3.5

2003 Calvados – Still and thick like syrup – the pour was so slow that it looked like a still picture. Light clear golden amber color with no bottle conditioning. Huge alcohol nose with hints of honey, malt and apples. Wow this is a huge beer with a unique thickness and a flavor profile. There is a sweet, malty aftertaste that is like rum soaked raisins and candy apples. Not an easy beer to drink but a great beer. 6.99 in NJ.

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Photo of ppoitras
3.93/5  rDev -3.2%
look: 4 | smell: 3.5 | taste: 4 | feel: 4.5 | overall: 4

9.3oz bottle from Vienna Whole Foods, Vienna, VA.

Poured into a Rapscallion snifter, formed a 1/8" head over the clear copper brew, with slight lacing. Slightly sweet malt aroma initially, quickly overpowered by alcohol notes. Taste is of sweet malts up front, then the alcohol takes over, seeming to evaporate in the back of your mouth, but in the nicest possible manner. Slight fruit tones, but they do not shine in comparison to the other two powerful aspects of this brew. Mouthfeel and drinkability are great for the style. Way better than that scary Lagavulin cask stuff...

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Photo of TinusTime
4.62/5  rDev +13.8%
look: 4.5 | smell: 5 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 4.5 | overall: 4.5

Holy Calvados Batman...

I bought this exlicer in Richmond a month ago. I picked the Calvados aged one because well I like Calvados and not a big fan of the rest of the spirits that it was aged in.
The colour was the colour of honey. No head to speak of unless you swirled it around for a bit. Aroma as that of Honey, apples, spice cake and a touch of alcohol. The taste is simply yummy. Warm and satisfying honeyed apples and malt. A bit of sweetness as it warms but that wasnt a bad thing. One can taste the Calvados in every sip. This was one of the most complex nightcaps I have ever had. Every sip I took I wished another was added to the glass. Drikability was good even with the high octane nature. It did sweeten as it got warmner, but hell. I might not be able to drink many of them but when my bottle was done I sure wish I had another for tomorrow night. Seriously one of the best barley wine I have ever had. Kinda reminded me of a more refined 120 min DFH. Or rather what DFH 120 will be if you let it sit for 5 years. Highly recommmended. WOW

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Photo of cokes
3.53/5  rDev -13.1%
look: 4 | smell: 3.5 | taste: 3.5 | feel: 3.5 | overall: 3.5

My starting points here are divergent, and thus my expectations are as well.
In comparison to the Lagavulin cask, this is a triumph of epic proportions. But the original Harvest Ale still fares worse due to cask aging.
Pitches forth a bright and shimmering, deep nectarous golden. Topped with an actual head! One of foamy whitened mauve.
Apples are foremost on the nose, but distilled and full of flame. Honey shoots out around the edges.
Begins sweet, but not titanically so. It's approachably cloying. Full of raw, thick honey, dates, raisins, and brown sugar. Jellied pineapple appears later on. Butter is added in browned form. A big apple tidal wave essentially destroys the maltiness in favor of its own desire for domination. Hot now. Boozy, ferocious, and searing. But reprieve is given at the end. Baked greasy cheese, buttered apple stems, and traces of actual leafy hops.
Full bodied. Fat, portly, and rotund. Levity is hinted at, but never fully achieved. But in comparison to that "other" Barreled Harvest Ale, this is quite potable.
This one is worth aging, as promise oozes slowly outward. It's way too raw and firesome now. But there is hope.

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Photo of ngandhi
4.3/5  rDev +5.9%
look: 4 | smell: 4 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 4 | overall: 4.5


Aroma and aftertaste of fresh apple cider spiked with raw alcohol. The apple palate is backed by enormous residual sweetness from the syrupy, caramel storm of the Harvest Ale and an ultimate sustaining finish of green, whole leaf hops. Minutes later I get smooth, vintage Calvados with a spritz of tonic.

Of all the Harvest cask ales, the Calvados cask does most for the barleywine. The natural oxidative notes from the beer pair nicely with the clean, but powerful apple brandy from one of the finest estates in Calvados. And hops are a surprisingly natural match for apple distilate, making for the barleywine's most intoxicating characteristic.

Domaine Dupont has a laundry list of different Calvados and this beer -- despite its exposure only to an empty cask and its own prescence as one of the world most luscious and sweet barleywines -- expresses some of the character that makes Dupont's high-end Calvados so great.

Lees Calvados Cask Harvest Ale's second greatest achievement is its dignified deference to the cask. The original barleywine is unctous almost beyond consumption, but yields here to the subtle albeit dynamic flavor of the apple brandy. And the Calvados does the same, coming in with some alcohol and apple and then giving way to malt and hops. Back and forth, these two are a team.

The beer's greatest achievement is 10 years down the line.

Relax, relax.

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Photo of meathookjones
4.05/5  rDev -0.2%
look: 4 | smell: 4 | taste: 4 | feel: 4.5 | overall: 4

275ml bottle with a green cap. This poured very similar to the standard Harvest Ale. It has a bright amber body with a slight off white head that goes to bubbles shortly after leaving sparse lacing about the glass. The smell is rich and malty with lots of notes of fruit mainly apple being present. Taste reminds me of a caramel apple and alcohol with a slight smokiness to it. There is a lot of malt sweetness going on with this beer. Not much of a brandy drinker I could not specifically discern where the brandy had its effects. It finished smoothly and has quite the warming effect due to the 11.4% alcohol. Mouthfeel is sweet and creamy with good carbonation. This has fairly good drinkability a little less than the standard though. Overall a good beer that I would like to age and see how it turns out. I look forward to trying the other three cask versions for comparison.

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Photo of putnam
4.82/5  rDev +18.7%
look: 4.5 | smell: 5 | taste: 5 | feel: 4.5 | overall: 4.5

I remember first tasting Legends' Alba Scots Pine Ale and wondering where the spruce flavor was. Now it is not to be missed.

This beer's Calvados barrel-schooling also results in enigmatic flavor from the bottle. There is no doubt apple brandy left its mark, only it is a transparent, bitter apple flavor - sort of like what cherries are to Luxardo. I find these Lees products hold up very well for several days after opening. Treat it like a good, dry Sack - served after meals, with a blunt. It dries out and smoothes out.

A gutsy, sticky froth occurs when freshly uncapped and poured. The heady aromas are of apple seeds and skins combined with Spanish solera brandy and raw dough notes. On the palate it expands with a molten glacial texture to reveal flavors of charred pineapple, caramel, intensely bitter tannins and gum.

I suspect this, together with the Sherry Barrel selection, will age the longest of the series due to a healthier balance of acidity.

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Photo of Dantes
4.17/5  rDev +2.7%
look: 4 | smell: 4.5 | taste: 4 | feel: 4.5 | overall: 4

Package:275 ml brown, crowned bottle, much like a 7/8ths scale longneck. Parchment-like, cream-colored label with green lettering. Boldly labelled “Harvest Ale 2003" and “Calvados.”

Cost: NA

Presentation: Riedel Port glass at ~50°

Appearance: I think that the Calvados adds little or no extra color to the standard Harvest Ale. Otherwise, the pour yielded the standard J.W. Lees “look:” a tight, creamy, beige head and a russet, tobacco-colored body.

Smell: I had a harder time discerning the Calvados in this brew than I did the other specially casked versions. I think it was subsumed by the natural fruitiness already present in the beer and the more noticeable tobacco, toast, and raisiny elements.

Taste: Not remarkably different than the standard offering, this seemed to exhibit a touch of honey and smoke that wasn’t present in the other versions. In contrast, the nuttiness of the regular offering seems a tad more subdued. However, none of this affects the lengthy, substantial, warming finish.

Mouthfeel: A silky, creamy mouthfeel carries the sweetness and toastiness of this fine ale. Again, the carbonation is exhibited well but not intrusively. I wonder if this will become somewhat more flaccid as it ages.

Drinkability: My least favorite of this series, I still wouldn’t pour it down the drain! I look forward eagerly to trying this in the future, to see how it develops. Might be perfect for a tarte tatin.

Backwash: I think that the Calvados cask version of this beer is the weakest of the lot. While I happen to be a big fan of Calvados, one of the best “brandies” out there and a great value; I don’t find the Calvados as complementary with the rest of the flavors of the beer as I do the Port, Sherry, and whisky (Lagavulin). In fact, I think I’d rank the “regular” vintages of Harvest Ale above this. Perhaps it will improve with age. Only time will tell.

NB: Given the opportunity, I'd probably give this a "taste" rating of 4.25, as I don't think it's substantially worse than the others.

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J.W. Lees Harvest Ale (Calvados Cask) from J.W. Lees & Co (Brewers) Ltd
Beer rating: 4.06 out of 5 with 524 ratings