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

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

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

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:
846
Ratings:
1,476
Avg:
4.25
pDev:
13.88%
 
 
Wants:
262
Gots:
220
For Trade:
14
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Reviews: 846 | Ratings: 1,476
Photo of ColForbinBC
4.32/5  rDev +1.6%
look: 4 | smell: 4.5 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 4 | overall: 4

Bottle, poured into a snifter

I had the 1998 and 1999 side by side. They were practically identical, with the 1998 being a little bolder.

The body sits a rather clear, mahogany color, with some darker brown in the depths of the glass. No head or lacing, just a thin collar of white foam around the edges.

Broad and deep nose. Sherry, lemon, honey, cabernet, sweet toffee, cocoa powder, and a huge layer of booze. Crazy levels of complexity.

Sweet, and not as boozy as the nose let on. I kept coming back to describing this as similar to a Luden's Golden Honey cough drop dipped in sherry, and then mixed with cocoa and toffee.

The feel was syrupy, lending even more credence to the cough syrup/drop comparison. Full, rich body and flavors. The finish is sweet and boozy, but no real warming getting in the way.

These were two of the most complex beers I have come across. Equally delicious, with the 1998 edging the 1999 by a thin margin. Smooth, complex, rich, sweet....simply incredible. Seek out the older vintages.

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

1999. The oldest vintage brew I've had to date. A thick brown/orange pour. Thin layer of off white head that quickly recedes to a ring. Happy to see the carbonation, I know this one's going to be thick and juicy sweet.

Aroma is incredibly powerful. I can still easily smell it sitting on the counter at hip level. A ton of malt, caramel and raisin.

Taste is malty goodness. Many levels of caramel, toffee, brown sugar, yellow raisins, fruitcake, frangelico, seems like you could just keep going and going. Finishes with a little caramelized brown sugar and toasted oak and rum cake.

Big and sticky, but not overly boozy. It is really smooth and coating. Not as syrupy as I though it might be. Actually quite easy to drink. The warming sensation reminds you that this is a big beer.

Not sure this is a good as my favorite, Arctic Devil, but it's certainly up their for the style.

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Photo of drpimento
4.56/5  rDev +7.3%
look: 3 | smell: 4.5 | taste: 5 | feel: 4 | overall: 4.5

Whoa, serious beer. Poured this at a good temperature with a small, foamy head that promptly disappeard and no lace. Color is a hazy/cloudy amber brown with a lot of sediment. Aroma is a very volatile blend of caramel, yeast, malt, dark ripe fruit, raisins, bread dough, and seemingly many other things. Flavor's like nose, with sweet out front along with, curiously, a little chili pepper, bitter a little behind that and just a smidgen of carbonic tang. Body is full and lush with some little bitter points that just contribute to the beautiful picture. Carbonation is a little tame, but it works. Finish does get a little boozy, but overall is pleasant and on the long side. Outstanding beer.

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Photo of jrallen34
4.42/5  rDev +4%
look: 4 | smell: 4.5 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 4 | overall: 4.5

I drank this 1999 version from a 12oz bottle into a Chimay glass.

The beer pours a medium brown with a light tan head that comes about only a quarter of a finger and is gone right away. Lacing is medium, much stronger than I thought with such a weak head.

The aroma starts off pretty malty light toffee but then overwhelms you with a ton of yeasty bread. At the end you get the lightest whiff of alcohol and vanilla.

The taste starts off pretty malty, pretty bready and yeasty with a bitter alcohol finish.

The feel is medium, semi lasting finish, pretty smooth.

The drinkablility is good for 11.5 abv.

Overall, this is a pretty great bw, can't wait to buy some to age for a long time.

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Photo of jmdrpi
4.91/5  rDev +15.5%
look: 3.5 | smell: 5 | taste: 5 | feel: 5 | overall: 5

2002 vintage - 275mL bottle, poured into snifter

appears a muddy chocolate brown, with an off-white head that fades immediately. extremely pungent aroma - huge malt, raisins, brown sugar, toffee. intoxicating smell.

taste is more of the same. buttery sweet, with notes of caramel, molasses, burnt sugar, raisins, milk chocolate. crazily complex and bold flavors. no alcohol taste. thick luscious full body. subtle smooth carbonation.

overall - wow. I am truly amazed by this beer. need to get more! 10 years has done wonders

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Photo of Jwale73
4.27/5  rDev +0.5%
look: 3.5 | smell: 4 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 4 | overall: 4.5

2002 vintage served in my Old Stock snifter. Pours a semi-hazy mahogany with a slick of a head that quickly dissipates into broken spots and a thin, bubbly band around the edges. Some light, spots and strands of lacing revealed during the tasting. Nose is sweet - maple syrup, toffee, prunes, figs and a slightly boozy quality on a malty/bready backbone. Taste consistent with nose - wow this is amazing. Sweet and fruity and the alcohol all but disappears; dangerous for an 11.5% brew. The distinctive aromas in the nose really coalesce nicely in the flavor profile. Mouthfeel is medium-bodied with a light carbonation and a slightly oily quality to the texture. What an amazing barelywine. The price is a little steep at $8.00 a bottle but what an exceptional treat. I will need to pick up some more of these over time and stagger their openings.

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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 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 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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Photo of champ103
4.57/5  rDev +7.5%
look: 4.5 | smell: 5 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 5 | overall: 4

This is a 2000 bottle

A: Pours a dark and slightly hazy ruby/brown color. A large foamy beige head rises to over two fingers. Really good retention, especially considering the age.
S: This is just amazing. Toasted malts of sweet toffee and chocolate. Dark fruits of plums and cherries. Dry wood. Very port like. Really complex.
T: Follows the nose. Toasted toffee that is sweet. Boarders on cloying. Chocolate covered cherries. Dark fruits, wood, and port.
M/D: A full and rich body. Just enough carbonation to hold everything together. Decadent, creamy and smooth. Some warming rum like alcohol. A great sipper.

Something for those long cold nights. This is incredible. Truly one of the best Barleyines, make that beers period, that I have tried. This is a monster, and can be aged for even longer. A must try.

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

Reviewed from notes 2/16/2011

A: copper-orange with just a nice layer on top for the head, stuck to the edge of the glass, not exactly lacing, just a stickiness

S: tons of brown sugar and caramel and a hint of booze

T: brown sugar, you could definitely taste the alcohol in it , and a noticable nutty aftertaste

M: very mild carbonation, very smooth, syrupy/sticky

D: typical for the style, it went down easy, very warming

Cheers!
The CPJ

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Photo of dirtylou
4.12/5  rDev -3.1%
look: 3.5 | smell: 4 | taste: 4 | feel: 4.5 | overall: 4.5

2003 vintage, no idea who sent this to me, but thanks!

enjoyed on the eve of my summer(winter) journey down under

appearance: murky golden amber body poured into a snifter...very little in the way of head or lace...muddy brown and rather flat

smell: complex nose that resembles a less potent version of some of the aged versions i have tried in the past...big oak/bourbon aromas, vanilla, sweet plum and cherry...very nice!

taste: a well crafted malt masterpiece...bourbon covered dark fruits - heavy on the plum, cherry, raisin, dates, fig. vanilla and brown sugar flavours provide a nice compliment. high sweetness and mild alcohol warming sensation. i like the barrel aged ones a little better but this is nice and smooth

mouthfeel: smooth and coating, nice warming sensation

drinkability: good

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Photo of BeerFMAndy
2.94/5  rDev -30.8%
look: 3 | smell: 4 | taste: 2.5 | feel: 3 | overall: 2.5

11.2 oz bottle split and poured into a Stone RIS tulip. 11.5% ABV, 2006 vintage but not other date.

Thanks to Sweemzander for sharing this bottle with me.

A - Absolutely hazed over with lots of floating particles despite the slow, careful pour. Muddy brown/orange with no head what-so-ever. A ring of loose bubbles around the outside is the only indicator of carbonation.

S - This Harvest Ale has a big, boozy nose that I think I just got drunk from smelling. Deep caramel malt nose with lots of toffee and toast. Minimal hop involvement here with tons of low fruity alcohol notes. It's largely a boozy alcohol aroma.

T - It starts with a big toasted and caramel malt flavor with a low fruity alcohol but big boozy punch. The first part is good but moves to a disgusting plastic and grassy finish. After a few sips I either became used to that gross part (which I'd guess) or it went away. Still, it's off-putting to me.

M - Medium-bodied and round with a very sweet flavor and low carbonation. The finish lingers for a while and doesn't leave tasting very good at all.

D - Not a fan. The back end of the flavor has a gross taste I really don't care for. Not something I want to have again. An example of a beer probably not worth aging past a few years. Or it needs to age even longer.

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Photo of ccrida
4.3/5  rDev +1.2%
look: 4 | smell: 4 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 4 | overall: 4.5

2006 vintage poured into my Meantime Snifter, J.W. Lees Harvest Ale is a dark, murky bronze with very small, large bubbled collar of off-white bubbles leaving on a few flecks of lace. Served at 60F.

Smell is vinous and sweet, caramel malt, butter and boozy vapors.

Taste is robust, intense sweet honey maltiness with an ashy, woody bite, almost smokey. At first it was to much but as I adjust to it I appreciate the nice counter-balance it provides to the sugars. . It is hard to describe the distinct malt taste of the harvest ale, perhaps nutty, maple syrup.

Mouthfeel is on the sticky viscous side, but it's not as sugary and thick as it could be, in spite of leaving a nice coating on the lips. No rough edges either, it's really quick nice, especially for being on the young side.

Drinkability is good, this is a world classic and great example of the style. A quintessential cellar brew, even at only 2+ years old, it's drinking pretty nicely. Overall it's intense but smooth, and while it is made for contemplative sipping, when my enthusiasm results in to large a sip, it still goes down easily.

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

[email protected] Yeah!!! I love drinking a GREAT beer for the first time...OUTSTANDING....High in alcohol...the type you want to sip, but the type you can't keep your hands away from grabbing the minute you put it down..fascinating drinking experience....I get a sweet fruity nose with some hints of brown sugar and molasses....the taste is incredible...huge dark fruits...definitely plum...maybe some prunes...dark cherries...the brown sugar is there...as is the molassis....and dare I say some odd hints of coconut....the nose immediately reminded me of a champagne or wine or something...the flavor though is more like a port...or Brandy with a nice hit of brown sugar...this is one of those beers that transcendes the entire beer drinking experience....there is no Barley Wine finer..

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Photo of Rutager
4.29/5  rDev +0.9%
look: 4.25 | smell: 4 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 4.25 | overall: 4.25

'11 bottle, thanks rodkin!!

Appearance. Pours a very hazy, dark amber-gold with half a finger of (nearly) white head.

Smell. Wow! Caramel, candied cherries and raisins, oaky red wine, bready yeast. Complex for sure.

Taste. Raisins, tobacco, caramel, a drop of sherry, some fresh wood, even a little orange rind. Again, very complex (and quite sweet but it works well). Alcohol is dangerously well hidden.

Mouthfeel. Fairly full body, low+ carbonation.

Overall. I haven't had anything like this before. A really nice and unique barleywine. Thanks again rodkin, I've been wanting to try this one for a while now.

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

2001 Vintage enjoyed on 2/19/2007

Appearance: A nice dark brown color. Very little head was present on pouring. What little there was soon disappeared. There is quite a bit of sediment and yeast present in the glass.

Smell: This is one of the most complex aromas I have ever smelled. It's actually hard to pick out all the smells here as there is so much going on. First and foremost there is the strong smell of caramel malts. Along for the ride is some honey, vanilla, raisins, grapes, spices, plums, black currants. At 11% the alcohol notes are present as well.

Taste: The smells listed above become well mixed across your palate. There are some wood notes and brown sugar / molasses tastes that become present as well. As you drink there is some nice alcohol warming but it is never overpowering. This is a wonderful tasting beer.

Mouthfeel: The mouthfeel is very syrupy with almost no carbonation. The syrupy consistency is a bit too much for me to drink more than one of these.

Drinkability: Count me more than impressed. The alcohol notes are present but very subdues to the incredible complexity of this beer. I am glad I have another of these to cellar and share with someone who will appreciate it as much as me!

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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 stcules
4.11/5  rDev -3.3%
look: 3.25 | smell: 4 | taste: 4.25 | feel: 4 | overall: 4.25

2003.
Dark brown color, almost no foam.
Malty smell, some nut notes. It warms you, even if the alcohol is not directly noticeable (not to much).
Malty taste, with a lot of dried fruit (nuts), some woody note.
Dry finish.
Some green notes walnut husk. Raisin. Pistachio.
A really good and interesting barley wine.

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Photo of cpetrone84
4.42/5  rDev +4%
look: 4 | smell: 4.5 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 5 | overall: 4

1998 Vintage

A-extremely dark ruby red beer with a creamy light kahki colored head leaving some light lacing.

S-the nose is huge and brings a ton of dark fruits. those fruits include plum, raisin, and dark cherries. there is also a whiff of candied fruit and brown sugar.

T/M-extremely full bodied and quite syrupy. very smooth on the palate and a low level of carbonation that I actually very much enjoy. the taste is also huge and very sweet. tons of candied and dark fruits. a light note of caramel malt, tons of plum and raisin. there is some cherry taste in there as well. notes of molasses and brown sugar towards the back. a hint of alcohol comes in at the finish; but not much at all.

D-this is actually going down extremely easy and I have to catch myself to drink slowly. huge alc content is hidden nicely, although after about 11 years you would expect that. tons of sweetness, almost more than i can handle; but so tasty. wouldn't want to drink it all night; but I do wish I had another.

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Photo of Cyberkedi
3.33/5  rDev -21.6%
look: 4 | smell: 3.5 | taste: 3 | feel: 3.5 | overall: 3.5

I had the 2003 vintage.

Pours a nice clear coppery amber with a fairly thick but not too persistent pale tan head. Aroma is crisp and fruity, mainly of sweet apple, more like a cider than a beer. Strong alcohol bite overwhelms the rather sweet, fruity flavor, so it is rather like drinking brandy mixed with fruit juice. Flavor does have a hint of malt and a hint of hops, but is somehow not really beer-like; nevertheless it is acceptable, if not my cup of tea, er, ale. Texture is syrupy, smooth and thick, yet edgy thanks to the strong bite of alcohol. It leaves a rather sweet aftertaste coupled with some alcohol and hop bitterness.

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Photo of papat444
4.79/5  rDev +12.7%
look: 4 | smell: 5 | taste: 5 | feel: 4.5 | overall: 4.5

***2000 Vintage***

Big thanks to jtrockchalk for getting me this a few years ago. This will be the oldest beer i've had. Enjoyed on Dec. 1, 11 years after the bottling date (Dec. 1, 2000).

Appearance: A lop-sided light brown head forms, 1-2 fingers. Am opaque body that looks brown but actually has strong deep red hues. Lots of coating on the glass as i swirl.

Smell: Strong leather, musty, earthy, toffee, dark cherries, wood raisins and figs. Constant and strong aroma. Very nice.

Taste: Wow, this is rich! Raisins, fig newtons, caramel, dark fruits (mostly cherries, not tart), caramelized sugar and fruit cake. Decadent, sweet but not cloying and just great.

Mouthfeel: This has literally alcohol heat on it. Deceivingly easy to drink, smoothness is incredible and just a slight bit syrupy but i still like it a lot.

Overall: This drinks so well. Great flavor. One of my favorites and a highlight of this year.

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Photo of Suds
4.82/5  rDev +13.4%
look: 4.5 | smell: 5 | taste: 5 | feel: 4.5 | overall: 4.5

1997 vintage. A very dense, thin, tan head sits atop this dark-ruby beer. The smell is fantastic...a woody, complex, malt and grain aroma. Big on the malt sweetness, but also considerable butterscotch and toffee tastes. Smooth, creamy mouthfeel. Exceptionally complex. Simply outstanding: a beer to be enjoyed slowly and deliberately.

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

2001.

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 twiggamortis420
4.41/5  rDev +3.8%
look: 3 | smell: 4.5 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 4.5 | overall: 4.5

275 mL bottle of the 2005 vintage pours a limpid, fairly clear brown color with a few bubbles around the collar.

Nose is very sweet and caramely. Bread and toffee play a supporting role and there is an earthy-alcohol thing going on in here too.

Taste is a delicious blend of various malt flavors...from caramel to toast to honey to even a little hint of chocolate. Thick, sweet and syrupy but strangely never gets cloying as the alcohol dries things out nicely on the finish. I did the JW Lees thing a little different as I have had two of the flavored cask versions prior to the regular. I think I enjoyed the cask ones slightly better, but not by much. This is a real treat, I wish this was sold in TX; I'd love to have a case or two of these to drink over the next few years.

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J.W. Lees Vintage Harvest Ale from J.W. Lees & Co (Brewers) Ltd
94 out of 100 based on 846 ratings.
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