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

very good
275 Reviews
no score
Send samples
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

For Trade:
View: Beers | Events
User Reviews
Sort by:  Recent | High | Low | Top Raters
first ← prev | 1-25 | 26-50 | 51-75  | nextlast
Reviews: 275 | Ratings: 505
Photo of vivasbeer
1.13/5  rDev -71.5%
look: 1.5 | smell: 1 | taste: 1 | feel: 2 | overall: 1

2009 9.3oz bottle

All kinds of chunky bits floating around

Smelled like a Meat Smoke house. If I wanted Bacon, or Smoked sausage I would have bought that.

Taste was god awful. Like an old campfire that had been extinguished with brown dirty lake water. I am gagging just remembering it.

Overall it was the worst beer I've ever had.

Easy decision = Drain Pour

 363 characters

Photo of NickMunford
1.47/5  rDev -62.9%
look: 3.5 | smell: 1.5 | taste: 1.5 | feel: 1 | overall: 1

2007 bottle. $9.99 from Holiday Wine Cellar. Poured into a small snifter.

A: Pours a hazy gold with no head. Leaves no lacing. Lots of particulate.

S: The first impression that hits me in the nose is barnyard. Not a plant barnyard (like hay, alfalfa, etc.), but a meat barnyard (pigs, cows, goats). And then a distinct BBQ sauce aroma hits me.

T: The BBQ sauce aroma is the most prevalent part of the taste. Sweet, mesquite, salt, meaty. Beer should not be meaty. I used to think a bacon flavor in beer sounded interesting. I no longer think that. They mixed up the labels. It's not a beer, but a BBQ sauce.

M: Thick, viscous, smooth. No carbonation left. Leaves an aftertaste of eating too many lays potato chips. Plastic, salt, oily, olestra. /shudder

D: Not drinkable at all. I want to drain pour it, but this has such a weird taste that I keep taking one more sip.

I'll try a more recent brew if I come across it, but will not want to try the 2007 vintage again. Unfortunately I have another one in my (currently) 5 bottle cellar (deep drawer in a cool part of the house).

 1,083 characters

Photo of xerxes2695
1.48/5  rDev -62.6%
look: 5 | smell: 2 | taste: 1 | feel: 1 | overall: 1

Argh, what can I say? Did I get a bad bottle? It was nearly flat and syrupy sugar sweet. Like a liquid candy bar with a weird off-taste. Rancid maple syrup. I think the yeast pitched for bottle conditioning was somehow killed. Undrinkable. One sip, a few minutes to recover, then another to be sure. Straight down the drain :(

 326 characters

Photo of counselor
1.67/5  rDev -57.8%
look: 4 | smell: 2 | taste: 1 | feel: 3.5 | overall: 1

I like scotch whiskey and I like beer; apparently I do not like scotch in my beer (or beer in my scotch). This beer was horrid. It looke good, a glistening khaki colored beer with a thin white head. It al went down hill from there. The smell was an overpowering whiskey, but not a crisp whiskey, but a muddled, milky bready smell. The flavors were overpoweringly of whiskey - the booze would not let the quality english malts to even approach the tongue. It did have a quality mouthfeel. I enjoy english bw and the full malt profile, unfortunatley, this one could not overcome the booze flavors. I have several other of this line (calvados, port, etc). Ihope they don't all stink.

 680 characters

Photo of His_Royal_Hoppiness
1.75/5  rDev -55.8%
look: 1.75 | smell: 1.75 | taste: 1.75 | feel: 1.75 | overall: 1.75

Very dry and unpleasant - second bad experience after trying the sherry cask version. Bottles were both a few years old - possibly past their best - both ended their lives down the sink.

 186 characters

Photo of msabin
1.82/5  rDev -54%
look: 4 | smell: 2 | taste: 1 | feel: 3 | overall: 2

Serving type: On cask at Novare Res

I was super excited to try this beer because I'm a fan of Scotch, however, I was in for a big disappointment

The head wasn't very prevalent, which wasn't a problem, given that it was on cask. The color was a deep orange, which looked great in the lighting of the bar.

The nose was cloyingly sweet. I knew I was in for trouble once I smelled this brew.

The taste was just sickly sweet with some peat in the finish, which was the only good part of this beer. The sweetness assaulted my tongue and I couldn't get it out of my mouth. It really dominated this beer and I wasn't able to finish an 8 oz. serving.

Oh well, at least I will never be tempted to pay $9 for a 12 oz. bottle of this.

 727 characters

Photo of Holland
1.87/5  rDev -52.8%
look: 1.5 | smell: 2 | taste: 2 | feel: 2 | overall: 1.5

A: cloudy orange and brown color with no head and no lacing.

S: apple cider, earthy tones, some sweetness and peaty scotch

T: apple cider and bacon. Later on once I let it settle a bit I get some more scotch, but not much.

M: thick and uncarbonated

O: skip this, it's bad on cask at least. It would be fine if I had it with pancakes in the morning alongside an FBS since it tastes like bacon and apples. At $10 for a pour, forget this garbage.

 449 characters

Photo of cokes
1.88/5  rDev -52.5%
look: 3.5 | smell: 3 | taste: 1.5 | feel: 1.5 | overall: 1

Prism-like toasted golden with a momentary visit of a fizzy white head.
Nose full- and I mean chalk full- of Bac-Os. Underlying bits of honey-sweet malts and an earthy smoke, with obvious Scotch booze traits.
Begins with buckets of gooey, honeyed malts. The ante is upped further with equally sticky brown sugar and browned butter and candied figs. Then it turns into a smoked pork mess. Hickory-y and bacony. Uggghhh.

The Lagy cask strips the malt down to its basest (and in my mind, least attractive) component: raw honey. Then layers a heavy, rauchbier-esque smokiness all over it. Any hopping is obliterated in the process. The barrel provides no subtleties, like, say, many of the bourbon-barrel brews I've tried. It really doesn't have much Scotch-iness. It's most akin to a rauchmead. Or just drinking a pot of hickory-smoked honey.
I love rauch...and enjoy Scotch, but this was forced and artificial, and completely impossible to drink.

Alcohol is noted in the mouth, but not really tasted. But I'd rather taste straight, flammable ethanol than this.
Cloying cubed. It drinks like burnt hair gel.

This ain't getting finished. No way. No how. And not even close.

A waste of a beer.
A waste of a barrel.
A waste of money.
And a waste of time.

Utterly repulsive.

 1,291 characters

Photo of bensiff
1.9/5  rDev -52%
look: 2.5 | smell: 2.5 | taste: 1.5 | feel: 2.5 | overall: 1.5

So, here's to side stepping the normal beer review of in depth thoughts on the aspects of the beer. The mahogany color is nice, but looses points for lack of head. It smells alright, with a slight hint of the Lagavulin cask. The taste is sweet nastiness with the slightest hint of its Scotch barrel aging. The mouthfeel is heavily bodied. In the end the drinkability is horrid unless you like drinking peaty molasses cough syrup.

The basics said, I saw this beer and was excited as Lagavulin is my favorite Scotch along with Laphroig's offerings. The price tag of nearly $9 a bottle is steap. So I was kind enough to purchase the bottle and put it in my stocking and told my wife she had bought me a stocking stuffer. Well, it was a bad stocking stuffer and I have myself to blame. So, be fore warned, this is not worth the high price. Maybe if it was aged for 10 years, but don't buy it thinking you are going to get the glorious balance of Lagavulin...think drinking unhopped wort from an export Scottish ale.

 1,015 characters

Photo of BullBearHawk
2.29/5  rDev -42.2%
look: 3 | smell: 2 | taste: 2.25 | feel: 2.25 | overall: 2.5

2008 Bottle cracked on 11/09/13 served into a snifter.

Maybe I'm not that into English Barleywines but King Henry is one of my favorite beers, probably not a true English BW. Anyways this beer had a real boozie sweet smell to it and tasted the same. Heavy smokiness, cinnamon, funky spices, caramel, kind of an unpleasant tart taste to it. Overall It tasted like a funky, sweet, syrupy mess. Maybe fresh it tastes a lot better.

 428 characters

Photo of seeswo
2.3/5  rDev -41.9%
look: 2.5 | smell: 2.5 | taste: 1.5 | feel: 4.5 | overall: 2.5

This is going to be my favorite review to write, I think. So, Harvest Ale is an English Barleywine, which often means a very viscous mouthfeel, with sweetness through caramel and malt flavors. Lagavulin is an Islay Scotch, which is known for its strong flavor of peat. So, where am I going with this? Well, I took my first sniff and I was a bit concerned. Big smoky/peaty flavor that made me question my decision to purchase the scotch cask instead of the port cask version. The taste? Well, the scotch cask and english barleywine form an unholy ham-based union. This beer tastes strongly of honey or otherwise sugared ham, particularly in the finish. So, the front of this beer is largely undeterred by the barrel aging, and quite frankly, tastes great. Everything described above is done spot on. Then comes the honey ham. I cannot understate how strongly I got ham in the back - as though this were intended to taste like a sugared ham - maybe a spiral ham with brown sugar or whatever. When drinking this beer, I can't help but think that it is either foul or fantastic, depending upon the context or intent. Its almost funny, until I realized I paid $9 for 9.3 oz that I do not want to drink.

I passed this beer around amongst a lot of people (non-crazy craft beer enthusiasts) and nearly everyone either identified the ham on their own, or agreed strongly when I dropped the word ham.

Because this beer doesn't say Harvest Ale "Ham Cask", I can only give this beer a low grade. It's something better than gross, but ultimately, after the humor dies down, it is really just a disappointment given the cost and potential. Don't buy this unless you love ham.

 1,664 characters

Photo of Thorpe429
2.31/5  rDev -41.7%
look: 3.5 | smell: 2.5 | taste: 2 | feel: 2 | overall: 2.5

2010 vintage courtesy of starrdogg at last night's barrel-aged barleywine tasting. Served in a SAVOR snifter.

Pours a bright, clear copper color with a bit of an orange tint to it. Slight head and a few bubbles before falling into a thin collar.

The nose carries quite a bit of whiskey character that is quite divergent from the typical American bourbon. I don't know too much about spirits, but the difference is noticeable, especially when contrasted with all the bourbon-barrel beers we had.

Nothing too complex, and the barrel brings quite a bit of peat character without the caramel malt that is standard for the style and for the base beer. Very woody. Flavor is similarly quite peaty and harsh with much of anything from the underlying beer coming through. Bitter and slightly astringent in the finish.

Overall, not very impressed with this; I enjoy the regular version much, much more.

 898 characters

Photo of Etan
2.35/5  rDev -40.7%
look: 3 | smell: 3 | taste: 2 | feel: 2.5 | overall: 2

9.3oz bottle into a snifter. 2007 bottle.

A: Pours an orange-tinged red with a small head of coarse white bubbles. Lots of sediment.

S: Grapey, oxidation, very sweet. Figs and grapes.

T: Sweet maltiness at first - lots of raisins and whatnot. Oxidized. Then stale peat. A bit of a skunky finish to it.

M: Syrupy and flat.

O: Even if I was a fan of Scotch, this would still be a crappy barleywine. Crap appearance, crap body, oxidized, just not good.

 454 characters

Photo of match1112
2.42/5  rDev -38.9%
look: 2.5 | smell: 3 | taste: 2 | feel: 2.5 | overall: 2.5

a: pours out the color of liquid caramel. no head, no lacing, just plenty of floaters.

s: alochol, smoke, caramel and bad cider.

t: smokey peat and alochol. some sweetness.

m: thick and flat.

o: truly disgusted by this beer. this must be one of those that you either love or hate with no inbetween. the longer i look at this it looks like diarrhea in a glass. smells like a pile of wet half burnt leaves. tastes horrible. not even sure at this point if i want to continue cellaring the bottle i have left. i'm gonna drain pour something i paid a dollar an ounce for after one sip. truly disgusting.

 602 characters

Photo of Dope
2.45/5  rDev -38.1%
look: 3.5 | smell: 3.5 | taste: 2 | feel: 4 | overall: 1

2010 bottle

A: Murky reddish-brown pour with a tiny 1/2" tan head. Fades to nothing quickly. Minimal lacing.

S: Big peaty, smoky scotch on top of a mountain of molasses and toffee. Lots of band-aid and a little ashtray.

T: Tastes like pure band-aids and peaty scotch. Hard to get down. Strong molasses element in the finish tries to sweeten it up but whew. This is a tough one to swallow (literally).

M: Super heavy and syrupy as you would expect.

O: Wow, like drinking an ashtray filled with burnt bandaids. I poured it out after drinking two sips. This beer was so bad that it actually gave me a headache somehow. You MUST love scotch to even attempt this beer.

 669 characters

Photo of ajm5108
2.52/5  rDev -36.4%
look: 4 | smell: 2 | taste: 2.25 | feel: 4 | overall: 2.5

This beer really didn't sit well with me. It has the classic look & feel of the Harvest Ale series, but it is such a sweet & decadent beer, and to me it just doesn't mix well with the heavy peat smokiness of the Lagavulin. It's too much of a styles clash to overcome. Your milage will very depending on how you feel about Lagavulin, but I'm not a fan & certainly not with how it butts heads with the softer, sweeter tones of the harvest ale

 440 characters

Photo of DIM
2.52/5  rDev -36.4%
look: 2.5 | smell: 3 | taste: 2.5 | feel: 2.5 | overall: 2

Pumped from the actual lagavulin whisky cask, pretty cool.

a: This was a ruddy dark copper color. It was served to me with a small but firm cap.

s: Strong sherry aromas with hints of caramel and ash. Where is the whiskey?

t: This tasted strongly of sherry, not whiskey. There was plenty of ash as well that wasn't all that pleasant. There was a puckering quality about this that wasn't quite sour. I found a vague sort of fruit that reminded me of port. The regular version was extremely sweet, that was all lost here.

m: Still and syrupy.

o: I had to try it, the concept is very cool. I just didn't enjoy the beer though.

 627 characters

Photo of sulldaddy
2.55/5  rDev -35.6%
look: 3.5 | smell: 3.5 | taste: 1.5 | feel: 4 | overall: 2.5

2007 vintage aged in my cellar.

Poured into a snifter at cellar temperature. THe brew pours a rich warm chestnut hue with very minimal fizzy head foaming up and fading to nothing in short time. Some small chunks are suspended in the beer but I decant carefully leaving about a 1/2 oz of dredges in the bottle.
Aroma is rich malty with molasses, deep boozy whisky notes and dark fruit. Seems like it will be hot and burny on the swallow just from the nose. I also get small amounts of burnt wood in the background but this is definitely not a dominant scent.
First sip reveals a sticky syrupy texture with very faint gentle almost non-existent carbonation.

Flavor is sweet malt briefly with brown sugar and dark fruit but moves to a lot of fusol heat and earthy peat burnt wood hits. Fairly big flavor profile and finishes hot and makes this a sipping beer for certain. Almost more like a tumbler of scotch than snfiter of beer, and this has cellared for 5 years, cant imagine how hot it is fresh. The finish is actually a little medicinal and bitter, not from hops in my opinion but more the black pepper, alcohol bitter flavor.
While I expected some boozy notes on this beer the whisky is just a little too much for me and reduces the enjoyability of the beer for me. Others may really enjoy it, but you would have to like scotch to really like this beer.
I wont pick up this beer again and leave the bottle fairly disappointed in how unbalanced the beer and whisky qualities are displayed in the brew.

 1,505 characters

Photo of Gaisgeil
2.58/5  rDev -34.8%
look: 3.5 | smell: 3 | taste: 2.5 | feel: 3.5 | overall: 1.5

I had very high hopes for this particular brew. I love barleywines and I love Laguvulin, it'd make sense wouldn't it? But, no, sadly it was not to be. The cruel fates of love frowned, bit down and ripped my head off. Okay, just a tad overdramatic.

Pours a deep chestnut in color with a tight, creamy tan head. The nose is very sweet, notes of raisins, brandy, sugar and alcohol. Taste is at first intensely sweet, very much overly so, to the point it's almost tart. Slightly smoky with a slight vanilla smoothness. Very malty, one of the most malty beers I've ever partaken of, incredibly imbalanced. Where is the bittering? This one drinks like some sort of spirit, not a beer. I really gleaned very little actual enjoyment from this. I'd be interested in trying this alongside some of the brewery's other barleywines for comparison's sake.

Not recommended.


 878 characters

Photo of SaCkErZ9
2.58/5  rDev -34.8%
look: 3.5 | smell: 3 | taste: 2.5 | feel: 2.5 | overall: 2

2004 vintage.

Pours a mirky, orangeish red color with no head to speak of.

Aroma is very sweet with a touch of smokiness. Highly alcoholic in the nose as well. Not a whole lot going on with the overpowering alcohol and sweetness.

Way too sweet for me. Cloyingly, puckeringly sweet. Some smoke and a touch of bourbon flavoring. Not a touch of hops.

I didnt like this one at all. Sweet, alcoholic, and not for me. I drank about 4 ounces of mine and gave the rest to my dad, who then finished only about half of the rest. I have the other three but I am not excited about trying them.

 588 characters

Photo of FosterJM
2.73/5  rDev -31.1%
look: 3.5 | smell: 3 | taste: 2.5 | feel: 3 | overall: 2.5

509th review
bottle to snifter
2009 Vintage

App- This poured a peachy orange with a half finger quick receding head. Lots of sediment in the bottom of the glass. No lacing at all.

Smell- My god, whisky, oak, vanilla, BBQ and some rubbing alcohol. Weird but not that bad.

Taste- Taste follows the nose. Now thats bad. Same tastes except I am tasting something way off. Damn! Had high hopes for this one. Very vinegar like with the BBQ and whisky.

Mouth- Medium bodied & medium carbonated. Very vinegar sweet band aid.

Taste- Again, all I can saw is damnit. Was so looking forward to this one.

 596 characters

Photo of BedetheVenerable
2.75/5  rDev -30.6%
look: 3.5 | smell: 3.5 | taste: 2 | feel: 4 | overall: 2.5

Presentation: 9.3oz brown pop top with really classy, minimalist label; 2008 vintage...was saving this, but decided to pop it after a very bad day.

Appearance: Slightly murky beer, the color of hardened amber, with a slight off-white cap...was surpised at the levels of carbonation still here, actually. Did my best to keep the floaties (of which there were a BUNCH) in the bottom of the bottle, but a few flakes made it into the beer.

Smell: Sweet candied red fruits and sweet, sugary alcohol lead the way. Then comes the barrel character, with a hit of earthy, damp smokiness. This smells like it may be a brusier. Not tons of depth, but fairly pleasant.

Taste: The initial taste is sweet, toffee/cherry, and then WHAM. Just as you think, 'hey, this is good' it hits you. Smoke. Let me repeat. Smoke...and not just 'we threw some rauch or peated malt in here'. It's intense and overpowering, and this is coming from a guy who appreciates a good single malt. Oddly, it doesn't really strike me as a peaty smoke, though I know it is...it's woody, meaty, and almost camp fire-like. I think what makes it so overpowering is that there's the smokiness is combined with the huge sweetness of this beer. It does mellow with sipping (or maybe that's just my tongue throwing in the towel) but it's just too much. Oddly enough, this reminds me forcefully of the aromas (so thick you could almost taste it) of my late grandad's wood-burning stove in the shed where he kept his antique gasoline engines. I think, honestly, the happy memories of hanging out down in the shed in the winters, shooting the shit w/my dad and gramps is the only thing that really appeals to me about this beer. Otherwise, it's just kinda over the top. Which is too bad, because I have a feeling there's a REALLY good barleywine under here...

Mouthfeel: Rich, viscous, almost sticky sweet

Overall: This one ran me about $10.00...would I do it again? Nope. Would I get a regular JW Lees after trying this? You bet!

Oh, and I bet this would make a KILLER barbecue sauce...

 2,046 characters

Photo of Arbitrator
2.77/5  rDev -30.1%
look: 2.5 | smell: 3 | taste: 2.5 | feel: 4 | overall: 2.5

Chilled bottle into a glass. 2010 vintage.

A: Pours a clear, chestnut brown with a small, short-lived beige head. It has no collar, no lace, no curtains -- very still.

S: Tons of whisky on the nose. The Lagavulin is strong here. I am relieved to find that the whisky contributions are smoke, peat moss, and salt/soy instead of burning tire. I'm not a scotch guy, as you might guess.

T: I couldn't detect the base beer on the nose, but its youth its evident in the flavor. It manifests as toffee, burnt sugar, caramel; I generally find J.W. Lees Harvest Ale to be cloying when fresh, and this one is no exception, even with a year of barrel-aging on it. The oxidation hasn't really taken hold. That being said, the barrel-aging has contributed the lightest touch of sherry, which closes out the finish after a rocky mid-taste of soy-saucy, peaty whisky. It actually reminds me of seaweed.

M: Like the other treatments and the base beer, this is fairly still, with medium-plus body and a lingering, sweet finish. Very smooth, on the whole.

O: I am of a mixed mind when it comes to these barrel-aging treatments. On the one hand, they're generally not appealing to me fresh. The barrel choices could be really interesting complements to aged Harvest Ale, but if you age one of these barrel-aged treatments too long, they drop off faster than the regular beer. It seems there's no way to achieve what I think this beer could be, short of aging it in kegs and then barrel-aging it, but that's ridiculous (or is it?).

Generally speaking, I skip these and go for the base beer.

 1,582 characters

Photo of bobhits
2.82/5  rDev -28.8%
look: 4 | smell: 2 | taste: 3 | feel: 5 | overall: 2

Sour oak and brown sugar. Pretty darn bad smelling stuff over all.

Oak, pears, some sugar and some different scotch.

Wow...oak and well harvest ale. There's a peaty alcohol flavor here, but it's just off. Almost a butter scotch, woody flavor. For something aged in scotch barrels, there's really almost no alcohol flavor here what so ever. Some sour notes are just barely in there as well (a part i suppose of the oak).

The mouth feel is exceptional, but unlike the others this isn't drinkable. The flavors don't make this something you want to drink. The rest is right but it doesn't do it.

This is an amazingly complex beer. I don't know that I like the flavor but something this complex....it's very enjoyable.

 719 characters

Photo of justme
2.85/5  rDev -28%
look: 3 | smell: 3 | taste: 2.75 | feel: 3 | overall: 2.75

English barelywine is one of my favorite styles. That being said, I drink beer. I do not like whiskey. This one tastes like they didn't use empty whiskey casks when aging this. Way too whiskey for my taste. I'll stick with Lees regular Harvest from here on.

 257 characters

first ← prev | 1-25 | 26-50 | 51-75  | nextlast
J.W. Lees Harvest Ale (Lagavulin Whisky Cask) from J.W. Lees & Co (Brewers) Ltd
3.96 out of 5 based on 505 ratings.
  • About Us

    Your go-to website for beer (since 1996), publishers of BeerAdvocate magazine (since 2006) and hosts of world-class beer events (since 2003). Respect Beer.
  • BeerAdvocate Microbrew Invitational

    Join us June 2-3, 2017 in Boston, Mass. for beer, cider, mead, kombucha and sake from over 70 small producers.

    Learn More
  • Subscribe to BeerAdvocate Magazine

    Support uncompromising beer advocacy and award-winning, independent journalism with a print subscription to BeerAdvocate magazine.