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

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J.W. Lees Harvest Ale (Lagavulin Whisky Cask)J.W. Lees Harvest Ale (Lagavulin Whisky Cask)
Very Good
531 Ratings
J.W. Lees Harvest Ale (Lagavulin Whisky Cask)J.W. Lees Harvest Ale (Lagavulin Whisky 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: 531 |  Reviews: 284
Photo of CortexBomb
5/5  rDev +26.9%
look: 5 | smell: 5 | taste: 5 | feel: 5 | overall: 5

2003 bottling consumed in Autumn of 2005. (I've had a few vintages of this over the years, but the old reviews were deleted in the great 07 purge, consider this largely representative of what they said though)

Pours out burnt, ruddy orange with almost no head, not surprising given the ABV though. The thin whisp of white that it starts out with quickly faded away to nothing. The beer has an exceptionally thick body though, which is clearly evident if one swirls it in the glass. Honestly, I don't know how much better a beer of this style and alcohol content could look.

The smell is extremely sweet and malty...there is also a distinctly oakey / sour smell from the lagavulin cask...perfection on the smell.

The taste is exceptional. It starts out sweet and malty before giving way to the oak and sour whisky aspect that was present on the nose. Brown sugar is present in abundance, as well as several dark fruits..figs, raisins, plums....the finish is a light kiss and then fades away.

The mouth on this is perfect for the style. It's very thick and this allows the beer to hit every taste bud repeatedly, a full on flavour explosion. Drinkability for a beer of this type is also very good. It's so rich that you have to sip it, but you definitely want to do so anyway. It's also a beer that I rebuy at least once or twice a year even though it's outrageously expensive, because it's just flat out fantastic.

This beer by JW Lee is really one of the best that I've ever had. The lagavulin cask aging adds a tremendous flavour to the English barley wine base and makes for an amazing drinking experience. Very highly recommended. My current favourite beer, and honestly, when it's available, I often think twice about buying a bottle of actual Lagavulin in place of 9 bottles of this stuff...it's really that good.

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Photo of bkoch81
5/5  rDev +26.9%

Photo of jlpayne
5/5  rDev +26.9%
look: 5 | smell: 5 | taste: 5 | feel: 5 | overall: 5

2009 vintage.

This is the most spectacular English barleywine I've ever come across.

A: She's pretty. Great clarity.

S: Freshly cut, wet wood.

T: Like gnawing on a block of damp wood. Amazing.

M: Perfect. Great carbonation. Solid body.

O: This is hands down one of the best beers I've ever had. Must try.

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Photo of martyl1000
5/5  rDev +26.9%

Photo of KevinHine
5/5  rDev +26.9%

Photo of TubbyDullard
5/5  rDev +26.9%

Photo of redfox405
5/5  rDev +26.9%
look: 5 | smell: 5 | taste: 5 | feel: 5 | overall: 5

Photo of RochefortChris
5/5  rDev +26.9%

Photo of Klourie
5/5  rDev +26.9%
look: 5 | smell: 5 | taste: 5 | feel: 5 | overall: 5

Photo of OzmanBey
5/5  rDev +26.9%
look: 5 | smell: 5 | taste: 5 | feel: 5 | overall: 5

Photo of tykechandler
5/5  rDev +26.9%
look: 5 | smell: 5 | taste: 5 | feel: 5 | overall: 5

Photo of cradke
4.87/5  rDev +23.6%
look: 4.5 | smell: 5 | taste: 5 | feel: 5 | overall: 4.5

Appearance: Murky light brown. Clear Sediment visible with a fine head.

Smell: The whisky is wonderfully incorporated. Great sweetness. Wish it might be a little stronger but it's wonderfully balanced

Taste: Wonderfully sweet. No where near cloying. Has really nice hazelnut whiskey goodness taste. Fantastic No alcohol presence at all.

Mouthfeel: Pretty thin but for a 7 year beer that's to be expected. Still, has great feel.

Overall: Probably one of my favorite BA beers. The whisky is wonderfully incorporated and sweetness is spot hot. I haven't had one with this much age and its transcendent. Love. Love. Love

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Photo of yelterdow
4.86/5  rDev +23.4%
look: 3.5 | smell: 5 | taste: 5 | feel: 4.5 | overall: 5

Cellared for just over one year, this example was brewed in 2004 and will be served in an oversize snifter at cellar temperature.

Appearance- Pours a pale, clear caramel that displays a very light beige head... the large bubbles reducing to an awkward island wedge on one side of the glass. Many tiny, individual bubbles hug the interior, refusing to let go. This beer has a terrific, incandescent glow to it.

Smell- Absolute mastery. I love a good single malt scotch, especially Lagavulin... and this incredible drink has forced me to rethink what a barrel aged beer can do. The nose is astoundingly perfect, beginning with smoked bacon and dark fruit, then conceding to Lagavulin itself... with its hugely peaty, medicial aroma. All of these components are presented so well that if I could give the smell a 6, I would.

Taste- This beer is so much more like vintage port wine disguised as scotch... so incredibly rich and impeccably dressed. The slick, sweet entry into the mouth gives the tastebuds the royal treatment... luscious and too easy for words, the dessert-like port wine character is dreamy. Sound poetic? This is what I get here. Not a trace whatsoever of the 11.5% alcohol, although I certainly feel it throughout my body now. The finish is so smooth, with a suggestion of smoke and meat. How could this possibly be improved?

Mouthfeel/Drinkability- Syrupy and, once again, smooth like a fine port. Silky, subtle carbonation at first, mellowing further to none at all. I would normally see that as a flaw... but it works tremendously in this beer. I have been sipping and savoring this amazing treat for the better part of an hour now, and realize that beer aged in whisky casks is hit-or-miss... but this must be sampled to be believed. A desert island selection for me.

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Photo of tbdkev
4.85/5  rDev +23.1%
look: 4.5 | smell: 5 | taste: 5 | feel: 4.75 | overall: 4.5

Pours a hazy amber color with tons of sediment. The aroma is nice; hints of vanilla, caramel, oak, and toffee are abound. The taste follows well with a sweet blend of all the aforementioned notes, plus a slight whisky burn and an indescribably smooth finish. The lack of burn really masks the alcohol content (11.5%); this one really has the potential to sneak up and dropkick a lot of people. All in all, a very, very good brew.

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Photo of ViveLaChouffe
4.84/5  rDev +22.8%
look: 4 | smell: 5 | taste: 5 | feel: 5 | overall: 4.5

On cask at The Brick Store Pub in Decatur, GA. 2001 vintage.

It pours a lightly hazy dark amber with no head to speak of. I could have just smelled this beer and been satisfied. Peaty and earthy, sweet malt and whiskey from the cask. Beautiful. The taste matches the smell. Very boozy and quite sweet but always with that peaty, whisky flavor permeating throughout. Very fruity with hints of toffee and vanilla. Sweetish finish with the whisky flavor lingering.


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Photo of NeroFiddled
4.82/5  rDev +22.3%
look: 4.5 | smell: 5 | taste: 5 | feel: 4.5 | overall: 4.5

The unmistakable, powerful, peat-smoked and salty Islay aroma of the Lagavulin comes through clearly in the nose, and it only gets better from there! 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. It's creamy and smooth in the mouth with a restrained, fine-bubbled carbonation and full body. The flavor includes a good shot of the Lagavulin as well, and its smokiness and alcohol help to balance and dry the rich, buttered, creamed-honey maltiness... even better, I think, than even the original. It seems lighter, although it's not, because it's more balanced. Yet the intensity of the honeyish Maris Otter malt is still there. And unlike the other versions, the alcohol in this one seems more hidden... hmmm? It's a really interesting take on the already great Harvest Ale! And doubly so for fans of Islay whiskey.

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Photo of putnam
4.82/5  rDev +22.3%
look: 4.5 | smell: 5 | taste: 5 | feel: 4.5 | overall: 4.5

I think my friends who dismiss this beer need to save their poison for really misguided oak+classic fusions such as de Dolle special reserva. I find nothing at all wrong with dressing a monstrously sweet, honey flavored strong ale with the earthy discipline of peat smoke. Western Isles scotch distillers do it to their elixirs for a similar reason. Also, I suggest letting a bottle of this beer sit open for a day or ten. Oxygen has a way of integrating the honey and dirty flavors in a way that positively reveals this beer's noble heritage.

This may be a somewhat controversial beer style, but I believe it is a marked improvement upon the basic JW Lees Vintage ale. Something happened in the barrel to dry out this otherwise overly sweet beer. The aromas are stunning. Complex, calm and natural with little curls of smoke, moss, honey and biscuits, there is a virtual scenario of salty sea breezes and nubile flesh that enraptures one's senses. Kind, shepherded, organic lusciousness cradles the palate until a wry twist of birch beer candy announces itself on the finish. A surprisingly delicious strong beer.

After 24 hours open at room temperature:
Still shocking in its cthonic depth of bog smoke flavors. Only this has faded in perfect proportion to the relaxation of syrup flavor. The conversion seems to have resulted in greater, more voluminous texture. Something about "smoke" flavor triggers - I'm certain of it - one's carniverous instincts. It seems more appropriate to chew, rather than drink this beer. And after all, it is utterly packed with dense, clarified butter flavors in a way that evoked images of campfires, garlic and seaweed.

Bound to turn many off, just as Lagavulin scotch turns many off. I only caution, don't dismiss the aging potential of either.

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Photo of Thehuntmaster
4.81/5  rDev +22.1%
look: 3.5 | smell: 5 | taste: 4.75 | feel: 5 | overall: 5

275ml bottle 11,5% Abv.
Served lightly chilled in an over sized wine glass.
2004 Vintage

A massive thanks to JAXSON for hooking me up with this long time want.

Appearance: JW Lees appears dark brown in the glass, with a back light revealing a thick slice of golden orange along the edges. An aggressive pour yields a thin ring of white bubbles and a light swirl coats the glass in heavy alcohol legs.

Smell: Ah man, this smells absolutely fantastic! There is a perfect balance between the notes from the base beer and those from the Lagavulin casks. Notes include: Brown sugar, dark caramel, dark fruits (raisins, plums, prunes and dates), peated whiskey (campfire, sea spray, damp seaweed and iodine) and a touch of nose tingling alcohol as the beer hits room temperature.

Taste: As suggested by the nose, this is an absolutely delicious beer!
The initial flavour is dominated by characteristics from the base beer, with notes of brown sugar, dark caramel, molasses, marmite, raisins, plums, rich fruit cake and dark treacle. The Lagavulin casks become apparent in the finish, with a wonderful peated whiskey character (campfire, sea spray, iodine and seaweed) and a light alcohol warmth.
As the beer approaches room temperature, there is a hint of oxidization noted and this is probably the only thing keeping the score down to a 4.5.

Mouthfeel: After 8 years in the bottle I was expecting the mouthfeel to have suffered somewhat, however I am happy to report that this is certainly not the case! Full bodied and quite sticky, with a very low level of wonderfully smooth carbonation.

Overall: As a lover of big, sweet English barleywines and of Islay Scotch, things don't get much better than this. I would happily drink one of these everyday for the rest of my life! I will most certainly be attempting to trade for a case in the near future!

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Photo of geexploitation
4.79/5  rDev +21.6%
look: 4 | smell: 5 | taste: 5 | feel: 4.5 | overall: 4.5

Pours a gorgeous medium amber with a juicy wine-colored tinge and a sizable head that fades to a collar quickly. The nose is deep and intriguing, with the usual English barleywine fruitiness laid over a backing of fine-grained, highly toasted oak barrels. A wonderful smokiness pervades things -- it's not quite a meaty smoke smell like in a rauchbier, it's more medicinal (precisely what you'd expect from an Islay whisky cask), but it falls short of being overpowering and instead remains well-integrated and complementary. There's a certain acidic winey quality there that comes out as the beer warms.

On the palate this beer was far fruitier than I expected, even after the fruit element in the nose. Smooth, nutty fruits come out first, then an alcoholic burn that is soft like the burn in a good whisky. Pronounced, bright fruitiness that reminds me of apples and strawberries. A blast of smokiness comes through in the finish, which is very long and active. The mouthfeel is heavy but not really thick, and carbonation is quite light. It works, though, as it concentrates the flavors on the tongue extremely well. Overall this is a fabulous barleywine. I love the smokiness that the whisky barrels contribute; the fact that they do so without compromising the fruity aspect of the beer is very welcome. There's great complexity here, and the flavors present are of high quality. This beer is just all around excellent.

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Photo of PatrickJR
4.79/5  rDev +21.6%
look: 4 | smell: 5 | taste: 5 | feel: 4.5 | overall: 4.5

Poured from 9.3 oz bottle into oversized brandy snifter. 2005 Vintage.

A - Murky, the color of a thin brown gravy. No head or lace.

S - Subdued caramel aroma with smoky and woody overtones. Something like barbeque sauce. Dark fruits (plums, prunes, raisins) lurk in the background but the influence of the Scotch barrel dominates.

T - Huge sweetness hits first, drying out slightly into a very restrained version of the barbeque sauce from the nose. Raisins and dates enter on the transition between the two flavors. Late palate yeilds a semi-sweet, slight bitterness with evidence of wood and a suggestion of Scotch. Finish is bittersweet and lingers. Alcohol heat is very minimal.

M - Full bodied, but surprisingly a touch of carbonation is present.

D - One of the most drinkable beers considering the ABV, far surpassing quadrupels as far as I'm concerned. Big and robust, but overall a mild brew. I would drink this forever.

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Photo of JohnQVegas
4.79/5  rDev +21.6%
look: 4 | smell: 5 | taste: 5 | feel: 4.5 | overall: 4.5

Pin cask, 2007 vintage, at Beer Table in Brooklyn. Compliments of one owner, to celebrate his wife's (the other owner's) birthday.

Pours a very hazy golden brown, with absolutely no head.

Nose is peat smoke and honey, woody and decadently sweet.

Taste is peat smoke, honey and caramel, brown sugar and hints of walnut and molasses. Burn of whiskey in the back of your throat as well, though the alcohol is unbelievably well hidden and smooth. Amazingly balanced, a singular experience from the pin cask. The kind of beer that makes you understand what beer can really aspire to be. Fantastic.

One of the beers that I will always remember. Spectacular beer - the smokiness hadn't picked up the sausagey quality I've found in the bottle version. In this is was woody and dry and magnificently balancing.

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Photo of Skull40
4.77/5  rDev +21.1%
look: 4.5 | smell: 5 | taste: 5 | feel: 4 | overall: 4.5

Brewed in 2007

The appearance is a copper color with very little head retention and not much carbonation either.

There is a wonderfully strong smell of Lagavulin scotch. I am also picking up the smells of peat and vanilla.

The taste includes a strong Lagavulin, along with vanilla, oak, peat, pear, honey and apricots.

The beer is quite viscous.

Overall, I loved this! I'm a scotch lover and Lagavulin is one of my favorites. If you like scotch, there's a good chance you'll like this beer. The many complimentary tastes work wonderfully in concert and make this a very pleasurable drink.

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Photo of faernt
4.77/5  rDev +21.1%
look: 4.5 | smell: 5 | taste: 5 | feel: 4 | overall: 4.5

(2003 vintage)Cutting right to it. I get the taste of meat when I drink this beer! It's pretty...it's almost red. The head is good but fleeting.The bubbles are little and relentlessly flowing from the bottom of the glass. The smell is leathery cheese and I don't mean a brewing defect. It is a very solid smell that promises leather and cheese which I enjoy separately and now collectively.The taste is really meaty. This is a wacky beer that continues to beguile me. I have been drinking JW Lees lately and every time I open a bottle I remember why I have a stash of this stuff in my cellar. I also remember that when I refall in love with this beer...I go out and buy more.

I've had earlier versions of this beer, but bought this one because it was a departure from the 2002 and earlier versions. This one is part of a series (in 2003) that came out aged in different types of barrels. I bought just this one in 2003. I did so because I really enjoyed earlier versions and wanted to try this variant.

So...it's New Years Eve 2010 and I've been eating English types of food most of this week. Tonight it's roast beef and Stilton. This beer pairs well.

The pour is still. I was expecting this and take no exception. There is no sediment in the bottle that moves into the glass. The smell of scotch and root beer co-mingle. The taste is of scotch, root beer and ale. The mouthfeel is silky. The nose is beguilingly alcoholic. If you can rely upon the care of this beer in a cellar I'd buy it and try it.

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Photo of Dantes
4.77/5  rDev +21.1%
look: 4 | smell: 4.5 | taste: 5 | feel: 4.5 | overall: 5

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

Cost: NA

Presentation: Riedel Port glass at ~50°

Appearance: The appearance of this barley wine is not substantially different from the standard offering, at most a touch darker. It exhibited the expected tightly-packed beige head, with finely-gauged bubbles and an auburn, russet body.

Smell: Lagavulin is a powerful whisky with which I’m very familiar and its iodiney, sea-salt, and smoke are easily recognizable in this barley wine’s bouquet. I maybe oversensitized to this, but I found it to be absolutely lovely within the already existent fruity, biscuity malts and muted hoppy tang.

Taste: A marriage made in heaven. The smokiness of the whisky amplifies the already present toast and tobacco in the ale, while adding a tanginess. In addition, the somewhat cloying aspects of this young brew are ameliorated by the tempering influence of the whisky. I can only imagine what some age will do to this! The finish is long, warming, smoky, and hauntingly lingering.

Mouthfeel: The Lagavulin version of this does not seem much different than the previous expressions: not appreciably “hotter” on the palate, it exhibits the same velvety, warm, finely-carbonated mouthfeel.

Drinkability: This one I could drink all night (until I’m comatose at least). As much as I like single malts, this might even improve upon the experience. My next one will certainly be accompanied by an aged Havana.

Backwash: This expression is certainly “primus inter pares” amongst the special offerings. In fact, it’s such a good combination, that I might take a page from Drewbage1847's book and start adding a little whisky to most of my future Harvest Ales. Like the marriage of Port and stout, this one is a real winner. I think I’d buy the mixed case of these if I could substitute 3 more Lagavulins for the Calvados. Aged versions of this are likely to provide some serious fireworks.

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Photo of zrab11
4.77/5  rDev +21.1%
look: 4 | smell: 4.5 | taste: 5 | feel: 4.5 | overall: 5

2004 Vintage, Brought up from my Pub's(The Heorot) cellar as my 100th differnt beer at that pub!

A- Pours a brownish black carmel color with some light sediment. Leaves sme spotty lace.

S- Has the most heavenly caramel nose with some roasted malt aromas. As well as vanilla and some oak.

T- WOW this beer is soo SMooth. It has a nice carmel scotch flavor up front then followed by a nice plum flavor and ends with a smooth vanilla flavor. Caught a hint of smokeyness on my last drink from the glass.

M-Medium to full bodied

D-Overall this is the best beer ive had to date. I set down and thought about this b/c i didn't want to hype up my 100th beer more than it was but this seriously tasted AMAZING. I saw other reviwes of the earlier vintages tasting like BBQ sause and not being pleasing. The 2004 is the Real deal. Get this beer if u can. It's complexity and smoothness was AMAZING. I want to have this again forsure.

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J.W. Lees Harvest Ale (Lagavulin Whisky Cask) from J.W. Lees & Co (Brewers) Ltd
Beer rating: 3.94 out of 5 with 531 ratings
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