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

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BA SCORE
94
outstanding
851 Reviews
J.W. Lees Vintage Harvest AleJ.W. Lees Vintage Harvest Ale
BEER INFO

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

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

BEER STATS
Reviews:
851
Ratings:
1,492
Avg:
4.25
pDev:
18.35%
 
 
Wants:
263
Gots:
227
For Trade:
14
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Reviews: 851 | Ratings: 1,492
Photo of GCBrewingCo
4.42/5  rDev +4%
look: 4 | smell: 4.5 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 5 | overall: 4

Brewed in 2004.

The beer poured into the chalice clear deep golden amber with a low and wispy off-white head that formed slowly and never grew.

The aroma was malty with an intense caramel and old ale characteristic of ruby port. The aroma was fruity and contained a sherry presence. The aroma was also strongly sweet like a freshly cut juicy apple.

The flavor was malty with a strong caramel sweetness and an intense caramel presence. The sweetness the attacked the palate at first swallow begins to dry as the beer lingers on the palate. The bittering, while in the background, was strong enough to lend a drying character to the beer.

The finish was even, oh heck, just a bit on the not dry side with lasting caramel and malt long and pleasantly into the aftertaste. The body was full and viscous. The alcohol was mainly present in the warming that occurred after consumption. A very nice beer, but could have used a bit more head retention.

9.3 ounce bottle.

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Photo of BeerBuilder
4.44/5  rDev +4.5%
look: 4 | smell: 5 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 4 | overall: 4

2002 Vintage

Pours to a reddish-brown color with a thin off-white head that leaves spotty lacing. The aroma is semi-sweet, malty, toffee, molasass and honey. Very nice.

The flavor is malty, honey-like, with toffee and a bit of chocolate. It is a bit vinous as well. It is full bodied and smooth drinking for it strength. It has a nice creamy texture as well. A very nice brew. Thanks to Jimmy.

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Photo of luvND
4.9/5  rDev +15.3%
look: 5 | smell: 5 | taste: 5 | feel: 5 | overall: 4.5

1999

I have had this case for nearly a year now and only break one out on special occasions, have also given a few as gifts to those I deem worthy.

Bottle: Nice fallish label, 1999 gold embossed

Appearance: In a brandy snifter, it can only be described as perfect. Thick, small bubbled head. Swirls beautifully. Deep amber color.

Smell: Sweet, molasses, bready, licorice, candied raisons.

Taste: Beautiful. Sweet, black licorice, very reminiscent of a brandy or port.

Mouthfeel: So creamy and slick, flavors linger pleasantly and your tongue actually feels coated with the stuff for a few minutes after the swallow.

Drinkability: About one an hour I'd say to properly enjoy this through a range of temperatures, it really does change as it warms a bit.

Notes: It is not an exaduration to say that this is the BEST beer that I have ever tasted. I would love to try some of the other vintages as this is the only year that was available at the time.

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Photo of akorsak
4.8/5  rDev +12.9%
look: 4.5 | smell: 4.5 | taste: 5 | feel: 4.5 | overall: 5

This is a 1998 vintage, purchased today from Wells Discount Liquors (n.b. they have an impressive selection of vintage JW Lees, 1998 through 2001 at least, as well as the 2004 vintage). I am drinking it from my Devil's Milk snifter, served cold.

Appearance: Dark ruby red in color, lighter colors emerge when held up to light. The ale poured with a decent head (1 finger's worth) that dissapated quickly and left no lace.

Smell: A veritable malt bomb here. The malt aroma make themselves abundantly known. I also see an undercurrent of licorice (albeit slight).

Taste: The ale is seven years old. In that time, the heady malt in the aroma has mellowed dramatically in the taste. Malt is still the predominant flavor, but it does not numb the mouth. Instead, it leaves a light refreshing taste in the mouth that is very well balanced.

Mouthfeel: Exquisite! The ale has aged so well that the alcohol does not overpower, nor do the malts used.

Drinkability: I need to make a return trip to Wells to purchase this vintage as well as those before (and after) that they stock. I'm gonna age a few of these up to 10+ years, they are that drinkable.

In my opinion, this is the standardbearer for vintage/cellared ales.

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Photo of DrJay
5/5  rDev +17.6%
look: 5 | smell: 5 | taste: 5 | feel: 5 | overall: 5

Vintage 1997:
This beer poured a deep ruby red, mostly clear, and was topped by a thin reddish brown head made up of extremely fine bubbles that produced tiny dots of lace throughout. It was intensely malty, with plum and raisin balancing sweet toffee and caramel, all very English in character. Hints of molasses and vanilla crept in as well. The first flavour that hit me was chocolate covered figs, followed by malty sweet toffee and caramel with some nuttiness. Tobacco, plum and raisin character all appeared, creating a very complex flavour. There was even a bit of bitterness left to balance the overall sweet flavour. The very low carbonation was incredibly fine and completely integrated into the body and texture, which was incredibly smooth. Just a bit of stickiness remained. Drinking this beer was an incredible experience. It felt incredibly light on the palate, almost like there was nothing there, and the flavours were amazing.

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Photo of EStreet20
4/5  rDev -5.9%
look: 4 | smell: 4 | taste: 4 | feel: 4 | overall: 4

1998 vintage poured into an oversized wine glass.

A - pours a very dark brown, approacching black with a one finger off white head.

S - A big toffee aroma with some brown sugar smells in there too. Perhaps some raisins/dates and a bit of spice.

T - A ton of sweetness up front. Some caramel and molasses as well as a toasted flavor. A bit of alcohol and some huge fruit flavors meld with with a honey like finish.

M - A very smooth and creamy feel.

D- Interesting to say the least. Not my favorite style but for someone who likes a ton of malt sweetness this is the way to go.

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Photo of Lnedrive14
4.34/5  rDev +2.1%
look: 4 | smell: 5 | taste: 4 | feel: 4 | overall: 4.5

1997 Vintage.

A: Deep brown with a small twn head. Leaves a nice ring around my Caracole snifter. Holding it up to the light reveals a tinge of amber/redness. A nice looking brew.

N: Oh man. This is how a beer should smell. Full and rich, with dried fruits overtaking the nose. Lots of vanilla in here, as well as some caramel and licorice.

T: Quite a lot going on in this brew. Tons of syrupy sweetness and vanilla. Papaya, figs, apricot, and licorice are also present. I will say this - definitely let this brew warm up. When I first began drinking, it was probably still a bit too cold and it made the brew much too sweet. Allowing it to sit brings the alcohol out a bit more, which contrasts nicely to the sweetness.

M: Much thinner than I expected. The sticky syrup penetrates every crevice of your moth. Nothing too special here.

D: So scarily drinkable. At 11.5%, I feel that I could sip this all night. Definitely a sipping brew, but one that you don't want to end. Much like a great brandy.

Well, this beer waited 8 years to be drank, and I think I gave it a good home. It was a damn fine beer, but I think it maybe was a few years past its prime? The hop character seemed to have faded, which made the brew a bit one-dimensional.

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Photo of Viggo
5/5  rDev +17.6%
look: 5 | smell: 5 | taste: 5 | feel: 5 | overall: 5

Vintage 1997. The most spectacular beer I've ever had the pleasure of trying. Pours a pretty clear mahogany brown, with a small thick tan head, spotty lace and plenty of legs. Smell is mollasses, vanilla, super malty, grape, plum/raisin, little bit of alcohol, very vinous. Taste is bitter chocolate/coffee, raisins, plums, dates, spice, figs. Mouthfeel is very full bodied, low carbonation. Fucking amazing, and bottled the same year i graduated elementary school! Thanks DrJay!

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Photo of UncleFlip
4.62/5  rDev +8.7%
look: 4 | smell: 4.5 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 5 | overall: 5

2000

Healthy tan cascading two and a half finger head falls at medium pace. No lace appears left behind as it falls, but maybe it;s my glass. Liquid is murky reddish dark honey colour. More orange when held to the light.

Smeel is very thick and malty- pungent with a sharp point. I'm feeling papaya, fresh orange, black licoride, and ample spice. Very nice.

Right off the top, the licorice is there...but it's dry and woody...there's some covert smokiness and pepper here as well, and some sort of burned chocolate that's very pleasant. A wonderful barley wine.

Thick liquid hits up front, and a medium carbonation builds behind. It's a very good balance.

For such a strong and assertive brew, this is remarkably drinakable. Nicely done.

Be well
-UF

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Photo of Derek
4.2/5  rDev -1.2%
look: 4 | smell: 4 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 4 | overall: 4

Brewed in 2003.

A: Orangy-brown with a white head. Not much retention, clings to the glass more like a leg than a lace. The Burgundy of Britain?

S: Nice British fruityness.

T: Wow. Very sherry-like, some nice apricot fruit flavour. Balance is slightly tipped to the sweet side. Quality British pale malt in the background, but the yeast really produces the flavours here. I'm not always a fan of the fruity British ales, but this is REALLY nice.

M: Moderate body and carbonation. Very light for its strength (well attenuated).

D: This is a very nice sipper. At 11.5%, you're not looking at a session brew. The taste is easily approachable.

Thanks Kevin... Really, thanks a lot!

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Photo of Beersignal
4.79/5  rDev +12.7%
look: 4 | smell: 5 | taste: 5 | feel: 4.5 | overall: 4.5

I got two bottles of this J.W.Lees Harvest Ale 1997 vintage from my uncle who purchased them in Boston at Charles Street Liquors... I owe him a solid.

Dark brown with burnt caramel highlights underneath a slim head of evanescent foam that is tan in colour. After 8 years in the bottle I wouldn't expect a gigantic and billowy cap, nor would it be very fitting for the style. A rich and attractive looking brew.

The aromas are tremendously complex and I, once again, fear that I will be at a loss to do them justice but... here it goes. Very harmonious and rounded notes of malt and dried fruit blast out of the glass right up front. Sweetness of sultanas seems to dominate the initial aromas but are certainly not limited to this alone. A slight tartness creeps in, reminescent of sour cherries and is closely followed by faint hints of black olives. A mild aroma of pralines keeps returning at every whiff followed by sweet tobacco leaves and traces of milk chocolate. The finish is slightly sherried and as rounded and complex as the front.

This is a big, bold, and rounded brew of colossal proportions. Extremely full bodied but by no means cloying, it has a subtle and balancing bitterness derived from the alcohol and hops which renders this brew surprisingly drinkable for such a heady drink. The flavours are easily as complex as the aromas. Long notes of chocolatey maltiness develop initially and are followed by a mix of toffee, dark fruits like black cherries, currants, plums and raisins. Once again, as in the aromas, a distinct sweet tobacco flavour permeates and gives the impression that I had been sucking on a Partagas Mille Fleurs. The aftertaste is long and mild with a gentle replay of the sweetness and roundedness experienced throughout the tasting.

This is without a doubt a nightcap brew but, due to its smaller than average format I could easily see myself polishing a few bottles of this off after dinner or before bed. Has become my new favourite barleywine hands down.

Santé

SMD

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Photo of maggotbrain
4.25/5  rDev 0%
look: 4 | smell: 4 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 4.5 | overall: 4

1998 bottle:

The beer pours a murky, reddish brown color with a thin tan head. The head has receded to a thin layer of film and little to no lace is forming on the glass.

The odor is rich and reminiscent of overripe fruit.

The taste is full and complex, very sweet—maple syrup, toffee, apricots are standouts for me.

The mouthfeel is thick with little carbonation. For a beer as sweet and thick as this is, it isn’t syrupy at all, which is pretty remarkable. Very good.

The drinkabiliy is good; it’s defiantly a slow sipper, very appropriate for the style.

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

This is the 2004 edition drank on 11/17/2005
(Served in a snifter)

A- This beer has a nice warm deep coppery brown body that is crystal clear with a nice thin wispy film of bubble on to that loosely form a head.

S- This beer has a nice vinous, sweet caramel nose that has hints of pear and brown sugar.

T- A smooth sweet sugary toasted caramel malt flavor hits at first and then it finishes with a nice warm alcohol taste in the finish. A slight hint of cherries or dried fruit is noticed in the finish aswell. A nice vanilla oaky quality add another layer to the complexity.

M- A medium-full body with some slippery texture in the finish. The alcohol is a smooth note in the finish, not harsh and no hot.

D- This beer has nice sweet complexity with a nice balance of alcohol to balance the malt sweetness. The tastes of dried fruit and toasted malt really meld nicely.

1999 Vintage drank on 2/14/2010
(Served in a sifter)
A- This beer pours a deep dense brown body with a glow of soft auburn at the base. There is a light bubbly beige head that turns to a thick ring after a bit.

S- A soft tart hint gives way to sherry like sweet malt with some caramel malt sweetness that grows as the beer opens up. There is a soft hop hint in the background.

T- This beer has a rich caramel flavor with a mellow dark toffee note and hints of dark roasted malt buried underneath. There is a nice malt bitter note at the finish that takes on more sherry qualities as the beer opens up.

M- This beer has a medium mouthfeel with no alcohol heat until the beer is pretty warm and a soft fizz note. There is a slight watery texture when the beer is pretty warm but the alcohol warmth is good.

D- Great rich caramel flavor with a good depth and some nice age characteristics.

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Photo of KarlHungus
4.48/5  rDev +5.4%
look: 4.5 | smell: 4 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 4.5 | overall: 5

1999 Vintage. This brew pours a cloudy dark amber color. The head is large, creamy and off-white. The lacing is thorough. The aroma is very hoppy. The taste is a bit more balanced than the aroma. It is still hoppy, and there is a distinguishable malt backbone. The mouthfeel full bodied with nice carbonation. Overall, this is a fine barleywine; one of the best I have had to date.

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Photo of sacfly
4.34/5  rDev +2.1%
look: 3.5 | smell: 4.5 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 4.5 | overall: 4

1998 vintage, reviewed in October of 2005 275 ml bottle

100th review!

Pours a dark red color. Slightly hazy. Thin head- almost nothing there. Aroma is off the charts sweet. Honey and malt.

Taste is very honey like. Viscous and sweet, but not nearly as sweet as expected from the pancake syrup like mouth feel. Aftertaste is more of the lingering honey sweetness.

You would be wise to keep a stock of these vintage ales in your cellar. I could see even wine geeks getting a rise off of this one.

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Photo of PatandDavid
3.47/5  rDev -18.4%
look: 4 | smell: 4.5 | taste: 3 | feel: 3.5 | overall: 3

This is a bottle of the 2000 vintage, shared today between David and I. Dark copper penny color, no head. Aroma is intense: leather, sweet syrup, yeast getting slightly funky. Thick mouthfeel, initial impression is of that leathery taste, ends in some of that sweet syrup. Some fruit as well, dried apricots in there. I'll be honest, it's a bit too weird for my tastes. I know a lot like this complexity, but I find it disjointed. I don't think I'm a big fan of a leather taste in my brews.

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Photo of oberon
4.37/5  rDev +2.8%
look: 4 | smell: 4.5 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 4.5 | overall: 4

1998 vintage,I opened a 2003 bottle a few months back and it was just a bit much so I picked this one seeing it was aged already seven years.Pours a deep chesnut brown with just a slight ruby hue with one finger head wich honestly I didnt expect,aromas are incredible walnut and raisin stick out most with a touch of orange,rich and robust flavors but are much more in tune with each other than the 2003 big raisin/prune up front with a roasted nut and maple finish.Thick but not quite syrupy mouthfeel glides down easy,cant think of a better nighttime sipper,just awseome.

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Photo of egajdzis
4.28/5  rDev +0.7%
look: 4.5 | smell: 4 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 4.5 | overall: 4

1999... Poured a bubbly ruby red color with a thick and creamy off white head that left nice lacing. Sweet (caramel) and spicy (clove, cardamom). Sweet taste, some chocolate, fruits (raisins, plums) and a nice alcohol finish. Sweet and sticky. A nice vintage.

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Photo of Bierguy5
4.69/5  rDev +10.4%
look: 4 | smell: 5 | taste: 5 | feel: 4.5 | overall: 4

Cask conditioned, served in a 10 ounce goblet at Buffalo Wild Wings in Indy. Lighter mohogany color, with some ruby edges. Not much head at all on this monster. Huge oaky, coconut aroma. Also seems slightly somkey. Very sweet, fruity and oaky. Alcohol is not hidden, it is certainly there. Full body, low carbonation. This is outstanding. Not the most drinkable, but complex. A definite sipping beer.

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Photo of mntlover
4.32/5  rDev +1.6%
look: 4 | smell: 4.5 | taste: 4 | feel: 5 | overall: 4.5

Bottled 1st December 1998

Pours a mahogany color witha medium sized tan head that falls to ringed bubbles and leaves some lace behind.

Aroma is big fruity malt prunes, raisins, plums, and brown sugar/molasses some earthy spicey yeast also.

Taste is sweet fruity some carbonation felt in the begining fruity malt is tasted thru out very nice very smooth hardly any alcohol noticed in this brew. Some very light hops tingle the tounge towards the end, or it could be spicey yeasts, but thats it. This beer is very smooth very tasty hard to believe its going on 7 years old, this Dec.

Mouthfeel is big nice full smooth easy to drink, more a pleasure to drink really.

Drinkability is well wonderful comes to mind wish I had a few more to save but do have 2 1999's and a 2004 which I might try to see what its like fresh. But don't you wait to try it, buy this if you see it. Only complaint I have is its only 9.6oz instead of 12.

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Photo of Buildscharacter
4.06/5  rDev -4.5%
look: 5 | smell: 4 | taste: 4 | feel: 5 | overall: 3.5

I had a bottle of 1998 J.W. Lee's Harvest Ale. Seeing as how this bottle was 7 1/2 years old, I was hoping for some good things, and boy did this beer pull through. It remindes me very much of a 10 year old bottle of Thomas Hardy Ale that I had not too long ago.

It pours out thick, with little head. There are aromas of brown sugar and maple. Thin head that quickly goes into nothingness....as would be expected from an 11.5% beer.

First taste sends my taste buds reeling. Wow.. good powerful stuff. Super smooth in the mouth, and almost creamy in feel. The alcohol is well blended in this warming barleywine. Reminds me of sitting in front of a fire with spiced cider. There are spicy undertones to the very maple syrup like flavor. There is a sweetness that prevades the overall taste, which is great in my opinion. I may even smell a hint of vanilla in there.

I was quite pleased. Especially because I found this bottle at Whole Foods on 24th Street in Manhattan. Three Chreers for Whole Foods for stocking a great selection of quality beers.

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Photo of brentk56
4.85/5  rDev +14.1%
look: 4.5 | smell: 4.5 | taste: 5 | feel: 5 | overall: 5

2000 Bottling

Appearance: Pours out a dark amber color with a modest head that dissipates and leaves little lace; not surprising for this type of beer

Smell: Gosh, where to begin...rum-soaked candied fruit, honey, caramel, tobacco

Taste: A very complex liqueur washes over the tongue, almost like drambuie, but not as sweet or alcoholic; flavors of sugary burnt fruits such as apricots, raisins, pears, prunes and then some tobacco bitterness strikes up to balance the sweetness through to the finish

Mouthfeel: Thick and syrupy; moderate carbonation

Drinkability: One small bottle would last an entire evening; a wonderful concoction

Got to try the fabled 1998 bottling on 9/21/12 and was blown away by how tasty a 14 year old beer could be

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Photo of hero27
4.47/5  rDev +5.2%
look: 4 | smell: 4.5 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 4.5 | overall: 4.5

9.3oz bottle. 2004 Vintage.

Pours a bold, bronze color with a respectable frothy, tan head which holds incredibly well for a beer this high in alcohol. Smells unlike any beer I've ever had.. intensely aromatic is not giving this the full credit it deserves. Almost sickly sweet..nearly overwhelming fruity taste of raisins, figs, a countless array of dark fruits and sugars.. Very syrupy in the mouth, and as full-bodied as it is, it slides down dangerously easy. The 11.5% ABV is almost laughable, because hardly any alcohol is noticeable through the immense complexity of flavors this brew has. There very well may be some tremendous hop flavors buried somewhere in this one, but if there are, they are masked by it's sugary sweetness.

I have a 2000 & 1998 still saved up, so I will compare it with the fresh 2004 version and edit my rating & review accordingly. I'm hoping the aged bottles mellow out the sweetness a little...still a bit too sweet for my taste. All-in-all, an extremely interesting and eye-opening beer that everyone should take the opportunity to try.

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Photo of cubedbee
4.45/5  rDev +4.7%
look: 4.5 | smell: 4.5 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 5 | overall: 4

1998 vintage. Pours a deep dark red with a thin cap of beige head that quickly reduces to a ring. Smell is sweet and dark--raisins, figs, port, and some very earthy aromas. Taste is sugary sweet upfront, with a fruity winelike complexity. Raisins, figs, pineapples, toffee, maple syrup. Just a bare note of hops on the finish to balance the sweetness, which lingers long after a sip. Alcohol is barely detectable, amazing considering the 11.5%. Mouthfeel is full and silky, absolutely suberb. Overall this is a little sweeter than I expected, but it's an absolutely shining example of a barleywine, and I would try another vintage in a second.

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Photo of Gusler
4.54/5  rDev +6.8%
look: 4 | smell: 5 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 4 | overall: 4.5

“1997 Vintage”: Been quite sometime since I broke into my stash of J. W. Lees, stash hell I’m down to just a 1988 plus some 4 bottles of 2004, well I guess its what happens, can’t keep them forever. Once liberated from its nine-year incarceration in the 275ml brown bottle, it appears in the glass to be a deep ruby color with a diminutive frothy light tan head that evaporates quickly leaving a velum like coating of lace on the glass. Nose “Woo Hoo”, fusel alcohol dominates with a strong sweet maple sugar sweetness to back it up, a presage of what’s to come at the start, sweet with a modest grain profile, the top fair to middling in feel. Finish is benign in its acidity, the hops present, but totally overwhelmed by the alcohol, vinous, dry and lingering aftertaste, the beer certainly warms the tummy, but after 9 years of setting on a shelf, its still “Magnificent”, damn I love these monsters.

(4.6)
“1988 Vintage”: Decanted before decocting to get all the “dregs” that coated the bottom of the bottle, much to the chagrin of many beer purists, I like all the little “strange particles” that inhabit the bottom of a vintage beer such as this one. The beer decants color a cloudless walnut brown, the decocted color, something akin to a rusty nail. The pour produced little head, and less lace. “Whoa Nellie”, what a nose fusel alcohol, sweet, five star brandies, bubble gum, over ripe pineapple, what a treat for this old schnozzle. Start is maple sugar sweet, top is middling in its feel to the palate. Finish negligible on the carbonation, hops I am sure I taste them, but the big alcohol bite just overwhelms all your olfactory and gustatory senses, and the “tummy warming” sensation quit noticeable, one spectacular beer, but most certainly something that is not meant for those people’s weak of heart and or any other body part and or function, “Whew”!

(4.6)
“1986 Vintage”: The beer appears a deep muddy brown color, No Head and No Lace, the nose, where the "Hell" do I begin, Strong alcohol, brandy, vinous, fresh plowed "Midwest" dirt, (A smell I love). Front is all malt, the middle full, the finish, "Alcohol" dominates, spicy hop bite, under the lingering alcohol dry long lasting aftertaste. "Robust" more like ZAP, ZONK, ZOW, POWIE, Batman, this beer is not for the weak hearted, or anyone who wants to keep their taste buds. “God” I loved it! But then I am quite strange.

(4.4)
“1998 Vintage”: The beer pours a thick cloudy Brownish-Copper, the head profuse, and the lace lavish sheets to coat the glass. Nose is deep roasted malt, caramel, and bittersweet chocolate, somewhat smoky and yes even a bit "Brandy like. Front is sweet, the top "Thick", the finish is mildly acidic with a bounty of hops and the long lasting alcohol bitter aftertaste to end a magnificent beer. I need to find a source for these beers those ships to Arizona, as I must sample more.

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J.W. Lees Vintage Harvest Ale from J.W. Lees & Co (Brewers) Ltd
4.25 out of 5 based on 1,492 ratings.
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