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

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850 Reviews
J.W. Lees Vintage Harvest AleJ.W. Lees Vintage Harvest Ale

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

Style: English Barleywine

Alcohol by volume (ABV): 11.50%

Availability: Year-round

Notes / Commercial Description:
No notes at this time.

Added by Todd on 12-18-2000

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Reviews: 850 | Ratings: 1,488
Photo of surlytheduff
3.92/5  rDev -7.8%
look: 4 | smell: 4.5 | taste: 3.5 | feel: 4 | overall: 4

2002 bottle. Drank from a snifter. The barleywine poured a dark tawny brown, with just a thin film of a head. The liquid clung like a viscous oil to the sides of the glass after swishing it around. The smell was focused sweetness. Brown sugar, molasses, little bit of cola, plum, raisen, fig.

The taste was a very slight letdown. It was good, but my points of reference are a 2000 and 2001 that I've had recently. The sweetness just was just a bit much. There was caramel, vanilla, some leather, a little astringency from the alcohol and the dark fruit flavors. The mothfeel was thick and syrupy. The liquid coated my mouth - very much a sipper.

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Photo of Satchboogie
3.92/5  rDev -7.8%
look: 3.5 | smell: 4 | taste: 4 | feel: 4.5 | overall: 3.5

275ml bottle (2001 vintage) poured into a snifter.

A: Pours dark brown with mahogany highlights, mostly opaque. No real head when poured down the middle. No lacing.

S: Big sherry notes, lots of dark fruits (prune, fig, raisins), molasses and a little brown sugar. Definitely smells like a cordial.

T: First thing I notice is the alcohol is extreme mellow for 11.5%. Very sweet dark vinous notes with dark fruits, molasses, and the sherry/oxidation notes. Unfortunately I feel like the oxidation replaced a lot of the chewy maltiness with somewhat hollow sherry qualities. Pretty intense flavors with a great complexity, but it does fail to have the "umph" from a big malt base. Extremely sweet finish, almost cloyingly.

M: Full body, low carbonation. Thick, slick, syrupy consistency with great smoothness, but cloyingly sweet at times.

O: I wasn't sure what to make of a 10 year old bottle (easily the oldest beer I've had) and while I like the flavors oxidation/aging has likely added, I feel like the maltyness is missing. Still a pretty good brew, but not as epic as I was hoping.

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Photo of kiddynamite920
3.92/5  rDev -7.8%
look: 3.5 | smell: 4 | taste: 4 | feel: 3.5 | overall: 4

2006 Vintage into a big ol' snifter.

A: Poured aggressively, head never really developed. Big soapy bubbles that lead to a thin white ring around the edge of the glass. Color is spot on, dark brown with some wonderful red highlights. Swirling the glass makes it a bit more presentable.

S: Sweet, biscuity aroma with an unexpected alcohol hit. Most overwhelming aromas are of raisin, fig and plum. Some stale bread, yeast character is actually quite nice. Good malt presence. Hints of vanilla and caramel are very nice. Nice malt backbone here, great English BW aroma.

T: A bit oxidized, strange metallic taste. Has an onion/celery like flavor. Behind all of that lies quite a beer though. Syrupy, rich malts. Good sweetness, but too cloying. A hit of alcohol. Just too sweet. Giving the beer a better score because previous times I've had it, it was absolutely divine. Possibly was stored improperly. Not the brewers fault.

M: Slick, syrup, molasses. Lacks carbonation for sure. No crisp quality to balance the cloying and syrupy sweetness.

D: Maybe it was handled improperly, not going to fault it for that. The beer is drinking much better as it warms. Absolutely fantastic English Barleywine for sure, and I will pick more of this up for sure.

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Photo of glid02
3.9/5  rDev -8.2%
look: 4 | smell: 4 | taste: 4 | feel: 4 | overall: 3.5

Cask at the Brick Store.

Pours a hazy honey-golden color with a one-finger slightly off-white head. The head recedes into a thin layer on top leaving decent lacing.

Smells of sweet medium and dark fruits with large amounts of sticky sweet caramel malts. Also present are slight amounts of toffee and even slighter amounts of oxidation (the cask was about six hours old).

Tastes very similar to how it smells. Very sweet caramel malt flavors kick things off and are joined quickly by good amounts of sugar-coated pear flavors. Midway through the sip faint amounts of darker fruit flavors - plums mostly - make a brief appearance before giving way to caramel malts and hints of toffee that carry through to a decidedly sweet ending.

Mouthfeel is good. It's got a nice thickness with soft carbonation.

Drinkability is OK. I finished my glass without too much of a problem however I'm not sure about another.

Overall I found this beer to be on the sweet side from the bottle and the cask version - even though it's the 2009 version and doesn't have much age on it - is overly sweet. It reminds me of the Simpsons episode where the British guy tells Lisa and Bart that "our sweets are different than those across the pond" and then they proceed to go into an LSD-like trip after eating the candy. Very sweet, but if you're a malt-head this may be right up your alley.

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Photo of daftafne
3.9/5  rDev -8.2%
look: 4 | smell: 4 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 3 | overall: 3

2003 vintage

Poured with great force into my tulip and yielded a scant, transient head. The color reminds me of a dark mahogany. Most obviously to me, smells sweet and bread-like. Also smells of raisins, caramel, oak, and plums.

Wow, this beer has a unique flavor profile. There is quite a bit going on and it is hard to place my finger (tongue more precisely) on each taste. It begins with sweet raisens, rum and plum, then some spice (clove and perhaps a little cinnamon) and then a minor pop of hops and finishes a little smokey. Each sip gives me a different iteration of the same story. Sticky on the tongue and very low carbonation. Overall, a great aged-beer.

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Photo of rfgetz
3.9/5  rDev -8.2%
look: 4 | smell: 4 | taste: 4 | feel: 4 | overall: 3.5

2009 vintage. Pours a lightly hazed copper tinted brown, small cap of tan head, gone quickly. Scent leads with sweet malt, underneath one finds prune and dried fig, a splash of booze and earth. Taste leads with rich sweetness, light molasses and brown sugar, strong notes of dark dried fruit, hints of cherry. Not quite full bodied, carbonation at a minimum, some chalkiness to it. Possibly too early in its life to enjoy its subtle complexities, quite sweet still. Will revisit a true vintage.

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Photo of RedHaze
3.9/5  rDev -8.2%
look: 4 | smell: 4 | taste: 4 | feel: 4 | overall: 3.5

2002 vintage.

Pours a very hazy caramel/brown with a dense one finger had that fades slowly to a nice layer of foam, leaving behind a really good webbing of lace.

Smell; lots of caramel malts, backed up by a little bit of chocolate. There's lots of dark fruits, with some hints of rum soaked wood, and in the background there's a little bit of hops peeking through.

Taste; this one is really sweet, almost to sweet at first. Caramel and brown sugar start things off, and then the fruits come out with raisins and apples.There's a bit of an earthiness to this that in the aroma came of as woody, but now I'm having a bit of a hard time nailing it down. The finish has a definite alcohol presence, but it actually seems to help offset the sweetness.

Mouthfeel is very full, almost syrupy, and with the sweetness and the very high alcohol content it can be a little hard to put this one down. It's definitely a one beer a night kind of beer.

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Photo of 86MonteSS
3.9/5  rDev -8.2%
look: 4.5 | smell: 4.5 | taste: 4 | feel: 3.5 | overall: 3

1998 vintage. By the sip, not the gulp. Heavy molasses and heavy alcohol. Definitely a dessert drink. The taste is quite overwhelming. Drinkability is saved only by the sweetness. Flavorful, but I could probably drink a worldwide stout (23% abv) twice as fast. Thick, sweet, very alcoholic. Tastey, but it's kind of like putting a little too much sugar in the Kool Aid.

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Photo of Winter
3.9/5  rDev -8.2%
look: 4 | smell: 4 | taste: 4 | feel: 4 | overall: 3.5

2000 Vintage

9.3 oz bottle. Pours an unfiltered tawny red with a thin light brown head. Aroma of malt, raisins, dark rum ascend from my snifter. Full-bodied mouthfeel. Strong carbonation attacks the tongue upfront then disappears quickly. Flavors of dark fruit, malt and oak are noticed first. Then a feint cherry sweetness emerges for a second and is gone. There's a light punch of alcohol right before just before flavors of caramel and toffee round out the finish. Very smooth for a 11.5% abv.

Even sitting at three years old this barley wine seems young. Not quite raw, but just seems to still be blending its flavors together. I'd let this one sit and continue to mature for a few more years and see what amazing complexities continue to develop. I'd like to shelve some more of these and seek out an older vintage to sample.

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Photo of kennyo
3.9/5  rDev -8.2%
look: 3.5 | smell: 3.5 | taste: 4 | feel: 4.5 | overall: 4

2002 Vintage

Pours a murky brown, no head, no carbonation.

Aroma - nice sherry smell, french toast

Taste - malt and lots of it, sweet, alcohol, a sweet style sherry, dried fruits.

long lasting flavor in the mouth.

mouth feel - coats the mouth with flavor

I liked it, a little to much sweetness but a very good beer.

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Photo of mothman
3.9/5  rDev -8.2%
look: 4 | smell: 4 | taste: 4 | feel: 4 | overall: 3.5

1999 Vintage.

Poured into a taster pint glass.

Pours a small off white head. Decent retention thought. Leaves some splattered lace. Color is a very hazed dark caramel brown.

Aroma: Brown sugar, toffee, caramel, grassy hops, and a slight amount of hops.

Taste: Liquid brown sugar, toffee, and caramel. Tons of malt flavors. Some cookies. It has a very sweet taste to it.

Mouthfeel: A little hot, sweet, and smooth. Medium to full bodied with a lower amount of carbonation. Ends full of sweet malts.

Overall, this is a very good for an English B-wine. Very sweet, but still holding up well. Not something I would want a lot of though.

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Photo of ArrogantB
3.9/5  rDev -8.2%
look: 4 | smell: 4 | taste: 4 | feel: 4 | overall: 3.5

9oz bottle 1999 vintage $4.99. Dark, red, chestnut, whatever. Smells like syrupy barleywine, nuts, cardboard, oddly good. Taste is syrupy, malty raisins, reminds me of aged Old Stock. Only problem with this beer is the ABV, too high but its a good English barleywine. I ate some Oregonzola and Blue Stilton and preferred the Oregonzola.

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Photo of ThreeWiseMen
3.9/5  rDev -8.2%
look: 4.5 | smell: 4.5 | taste: 4 | feel: 3.5 | overall: 3

2002 bottle poured into a New Belgium globe. Most of the yeast sediment was kept in the bottle for the most part.

Appearance: Deep mahogany body turns bright crimson when held to light. Great clarity! A nice column of carbonation can be seen within. Not much head to speak of: just a small, khaki ring.

Smell: Molasses, brown sugar, and other sugary notes. Moist pine, rum, and rust lurk in the background. Very sweet on the whole; smells like candy.

Taste: This tastes like candy, and not in a necessarily good way. The overall flavor - comprised mainly of brown sugar, molasses, and overripe green grapes (much like a dessert wine) - is very sweet and syrupy, with very light toastiness and bitterness coming through on the back end. Alcohol is hidden very well, but it comes at a price.

Mouthfeel: Thick, syrupy, sugary, and a little gritty. Hardly any warmth or dryness for such a high ABV beer. Nice mouth coating. Low bitterness.

Drinkability: The sweetness of this beer is far too high for me to call it drinkable. I suggest splitting a 12oz. bottle amongst two people.

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Photo of kimcgolf
3.89/5  rDev -8.5%
look: 3 | smell: 4 | taste: 4 | feel: 2.5 | overall: 4.5

Vintage 1999. Pored from the bottle to a murky dark brown with hints of ruby, a thin tan head that dissipated fairly quickly and little lacing. Nose had a strong presence of malty dark fruit, pepper and alcohol, and a touch of chocolate-coffee, with the alcohol becoming increasingly more dominant as the beer warmed. Mouthfeel was tingly and syrupy thick-sweet. Initial flavor picked up the fruits and spice of the nose, but again, the alcohol seemed to taake over late in the glass, and mask other flavors. Finish, while long and warming, was just a tad on the sWeet side for me.

A darn good beer, but I was just not able to appreciate it the way many raters have, though this is not one of my favorite styles to begin with.

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Photo of oregone
3.89/5  rDev -8.5%
look: 2.5 | smell: 3.5 | taste: 4 | feel: 5 | overall: 4

2002 botlle poured into tulip.

A: Intense sediment. Seriously chunky. Was handled carefully and stored undisturbed , but even with a delicate pour this was murky and full of debris. Girlfriend was definitly put off by it. Otherwise a fine amber tone with decent head that isnt too active.
S: Rotten apples are the dominant note. Some fig and dates are there too, alongwith some lioght molasses and some serious caramel. The rotten apple aspect was not attractive to me though.
T: Is much better. Very caramelly, with alot of dried fruit. Dates are predominant. A strong sweetness which plays into the dried fruit and caramel. Certainly a sloooow sipper from concentration and style.
M: Highest points. Rich, thick, slightly sticky and very silky-smooth. Hefty, but to good end.
D: I could see slowly working my way through a couple of these over an evening. The style encourages slow consumption so the drinkability is raised even with the high abv.

I'm a big fan of old ales, but this one just wasn't fantastic to me. Enjoyable, and I'm looking forward to the '01 and assorted barrel aged versions sleeping in my cellar, but this one won't be sought out again, particularly given the price.

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Photo of Prufrock
3.89/5  rDev -8.5%
look: 3.5 | smell: 4.5 | taste: 4 | feel: 4 | overall: 3

9.3 oz. bottle, 2002, poured into a tulip.

clear orange amber with a thin layer of off-white head and a touch of dark sediment.

powerfully sweet smell. molasses, raisins, caramel, and sherry.

syrupy mouthfeel with a medium carbonation. sherry-like sweetness with a strong kick of alcohol in the aftertaste. vinous, malty and honey-sweet. very close to being cloying and overly sweet.

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Photo of kpantz
3.88/5  rDev -8.7%
look: 4 | smell: 3.5 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 4 | overall: 3

Review is for the 2000 edition.

Executive Summary: Took a chance on this one, and while it's not all I had hoped for, it's still worth it. This has aged very well. Makes me want to hold on to the 2004 bottle I just grabbed.

Appearance: Pours a deep, murky mahogany into my snifter with a thin off-white head that reduces to little more than a film. Lacing is moderate.

Smell: Would be fantastic if it weren't for this hint of staleness I'm sensing. Wish I could tie it to something. Perhaps musty is the best way I can describe it. Otherwise, raisins and dates are evident.

Taste: Wow. Just wow. I thought I had tasted barleywines before. This is incredible. Sticky-sweet, but not cloying up front and finishes clean, with only a slight alcoholic twinge to it. A very well balanced experience.

Mouthfeel: Candy. My teeth are squeaking. Nice for the style.

Drinkability: Price, intensity of flavor and ABV make this a one-time sipper. Doesn't mean I won't go back and grab a couple more, though ;)

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Photo of hoser
3.88/5  rDev -8.7%
look: 4.5 | smell: 4 | taste: 4 | feel: 3.5 | overall: 3.5

A 1999 Harvest Ale was sacrificed this evening. It is really hard to rate a beer this old and be fair to the brewers intentions.
Huge vino and port notes and this fucker could have used another ten years in the cellar. One of the few times I wish I had more patience with some older bottles.

Always love the JW Lees stuff.

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Photo of cbutova
3.88/5  rDev -8.7%
look: 4 | smell: 3.5 | taste: 4 | feel: 4 | overall: 4

1999 vintage, reviewed from notes.

A- Dark ruby red with a pretty big head for an 11 year old beer. A cloud sticks around for a bit but lace doesn't wanna happen.

S- Fumes of alcohol and an almost permanent marker smell come off at first. Some dark fruit and even a bit sour, dusty and old like cardboard almost.

T- Improves with every sip. Hard to get around the insane sweetness at first. Tons of dark fruit and caramel. Like a good old ale but dustier and older, pretty close to what I had imagined this tasting like.

MF- Very oily and syrup textured. Low but good carbonation level for an aged barleywine. Coat of old malt and fruit coat a fairly warm palate.

DB- Expensive but definitely ages pretty well, good qualities remain and I can even see it going a bit longer but personally would probably prefer a 3-5 year one. Would love to do a 5 or 6 bottle vertical some day.

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Photo of meechum
3.88/5  rDev -8.7%
look: 4 | smell: 3.5 | taste: 4 | feel: 4 | overall: 4

Poured this into an oversized wine glass, don't have a decanter. Poured thick and dark with a one finger tan head that quickly fell into a layer above the drink. Smelling this I noticed some fruity smells and a hint of smoke and hops aroma but the alcohol smell was overpowering all of it

I personally didn't care too much for this but I'm pretty sure the brewer achieved what they were after with this as I am new to this style, but reading other reviews it seems that what I smelled and tasted was in line with what the objective was..

I rated this probably higher than my personal preference but that's because it achieved what it was supposed to be..just because my palate wasn't ready for it the beer shouldn't take the blame for that.

I thought that the beer had a nice fruity taste up front that quickly moved to a more complex malt and hops taste but once again the alcohol was just overpowering the entire thing so it was hard for me to get past that smell and taste. The mouthfeel was the one thing I did enjoy..this was thick and smooth and it demanded that you pay attention to it...I did like that

Overall I'm not too keen on trying another one of these soon...but I'm glad I got the experience and the chance..who knows in a year this could be the greatest thing since a nice porter

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Photo of beerguy101
3.88/5  rDev -8.7%
look: 4 | smell: 3.5 | taste: 4 | feel: 4 | overall: 4

2000 vintage. Medium brown color, small head. Very deep malt flavor, rich and robust, toffeeish. There is a nice hoppyness to this beer as well. Intense malts are balanced by a sharp, subtle and spicy hoppyness. Mouthfeel is very full and round. Finish is clean and smooth. Aftertaste is malty. Interesting beer. High alcohol content 11.5% is evident, as a slightly oiliness, not much of an alcohol bite.

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Photo of kylehay2004
3.87/5  rDev -8.9%
look: 3.5 | smell: 4 | taste: 4 | feel: 4 | overall: 3.5

1999 version

A: murky and muddy brown body. No head.

S: sherry and cabernet dominate. some dark fruit, ofee, chocolate and caramel malts. forbodes a strong boozy flavor.

T: wow. This one is strong and not just in the boozy way but also in the tart, sweet and sour way. sherry, tons of dark fruit mostly raisin. The finish has an oak, smokey and cake batter character.

M: so sweet its hard to tell. medium body and light carbonation. oily and thick.

Overall: almost got a headache right away from the sweetness. This one is definitely unique and somehow complex in the finish despite the overwhelming tart and sweetness. I couldnt finish this one.

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Photo of mynie
3.86/5  rDev -9.2%
look: 4 | smell: 4.25 | taste: 4 | feel: 4 | overall: 3


Pours dark red and hazy like blood or a Fruit Roll Up.

Smells like very, very intense sweet yeast fruit, molasses, and hops. Good god, this has been aged for five years?

Tastes grainy, very sweet. Candy sweet. Belgian yeast sweet, only sweeter. Brown sugar molasses white can sugar sunshine sweet. Intense, to say the least...a bit too overwhelming to describe.

Too intense to enjoy it as you would a normal beer, but the pure splendor of the whole thing makes this beer more than worthwhile.

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Photo of BillyB
3.85/5  rDev -9.4%
look: 4 | smell: 4 | taste: 4 | feel: 3.5 | overall: 3.5

2002 Vintage in a 9.3 oz. bottle.

Pours a clear orange/copper color with a slight tan head. A little bit of sediment left in the bottle.

Very sweet dark fruit smell of plums, raisins, black cherry and a woody, port type smell.

Intense malt flavor with strong caramel sweetness. A bit dry after the swallow. Slightly bitter aftertaste and a very strong alcohol warming effect.

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Photo of teromous
3.85/5  rDev -9.4%
look: 3.5 | smell: 3.5 | taste: 4 | feel: 4 | overall: 4

This bottle is marked as a 11-2012 cellar release.

Appearance: Light murky muddy brown with hints of orange. The head is very short and eggshell white which fades out instantly.

Aroma: Light sweet caramel aroma. No alcohol at all which is very impressive.

Taste: It has a fantastic array of flavors here. There is this sweet caramel flavor up front and then there is this light smokey woody flavor along with a fairly good amount of tobacco flavor. No alcohol at all. I really like the light char flavor that is in there. It adds an edge to the sweetness and cuts into the caramel.

Mouthfeel: It's very smooth and easy to drink with a slightly off-dry finish. Very drinkable, especially for 11.5% ABV.

Overall: it's a very decadent English Barleywine. I really enjoyed the flavors and the nice sweet flavor of the beer married with that rich earthy and toasty wood and tobacco flavor. I would recommend it.

On a side note I want to mention that the bottle is only 9.3oz/275mL which is disappointing. I didn't figure this into my rating of the beer but I wish they stuck with a standard bottle size.

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J.W. Lees Vintage Harvest Ale from J.W. Lees & Co (Brewers) Ltd
4.25 out of 5 based on 1,488 ratings.
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