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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 Boppar
2.84/5  rDev -33.2%
look: 4 | smell: 2.5 | taste: 3.5 | feel: 3 | overall: 1.5

Vintage 2006, poured from a bottle into a snifter.

A: Pours a bright golden orange color. Great coloring. Completely still. Not even the faintest hint of any sort of carbonation whatsoever. This really does look like a wine.

S: Sherry. That's the only smell I'm picking up on, is that it smells disturbing similar to cream sherry.

T: Sherry, overly-ripe apricots, and honey start this off, with notes of molasses appearing mid-palate. There is also a faint floral suggestion on the finish. Oh, and it's very, very boozey. And yes, it does taste as cloying as it sounds.

M: Perfectly still. Very slick, nice body to it. Good weight.

D: Not at all drinkable. Which is really a shame, because it has some good flavors in it. But it is so mind-numbingly sweet that I just can't handle it.

An interesting take on the style, but not one I much cared for.

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Photo of mcann2pu
4.43/5  rDev +4.2%
look: 4.5 | smell: 4 | taste: 5 | feel: 4 | overall: 4

1999 Vintage bottle. My 40th review!

Appearance: Poured into my DFH Signature glass a luscious dark rust color, almost brown at first glance, clear looking brew no detectable sediment or "floaties" although a small amount of compact sediment did remain in the bottom of the bottle when I poured, not much in the way of head, but had an impressively strong lace forming a ring around the inside of the glass.

Smell: First on the nose is an appealing heavy dark fruit aroma, with a detectable toffee-like malt smell as well.

Taste: Rich, delicious, the first taste I get is a malty dark fruit taste, like an aged fig or a prune, this is followed by a sweet molasses-like caramel flavor that gives way to a vanilla / wood finish. Great taste, seems like this one cellared quite well.

Mouthfeel: Great, very appropriate for this type of beer, it's a little syrupy, but I think that is to be expected in an aged beer of this style.

Drinkability: The sweetness of the brew might effect the drinkability for some, but I think that it's a good sipping ale with a lot of fairly complex flavors, I can't wait to see how this one continues to age.

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

2000 Vintage 275 ml bottle.

Pours a dark brown, with a fleeting head, fades to a ring. This one is a little muddy. Smells very sweet, but there is a hint of roasted malts in there too, I love it.

Taste is very sweet, lots of stuff going on here, this is one beer that I know is great, but it eludes me. Taste is very fruity, raisins, pears? I don't know, but its great.

Creamy silky mouth, very smooth, barely carbonated. Nice easy drinker.

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Photo of Hagbard
3.8/5  rDev -10.6%
look: 4 | smell: 4 | taste: 4 | feel: 4 | overall: 3

Vintage: 1997
Serving type: Bottle

The bottle suggested drinking this by the end of 2002...I got to it before the end of 2003 and I don't think it suffered. I received some very good news today so decided it would be a great time to crack it open and also to make my first review for BA (so bear with me!).

This beer poured a deep brown, which was very pleasing to the eye. There was no head to speak of and no lacing...I blame the glassware I chose. Perhaps it was a little dirty or had some soap residue. The beer captured the ambient light very nicely and created a wonderful image that would have beeen even more pleasing with a 3 finger head.

The smell was malt, malt, malt, malt, and a little bit of must. I think I detect some molasses, but I may just be guessing!

The taste is what gets you! So sweet! Almost candy-like. The malt jumps out and grabs you and takes you prisoner. I haven't developed into a hop-head yet, but even I was looking for a little hop flavor to balance the sweetness. Perhaps if I drank this prior to '02 as suggested, the hops would still be there? I definitely taste a bit of molasses. Towards the finish, I pick up definite traces of butter.

I gave this a 3 for drinkability, because at 11.5% ABV it is definitely a sippin beer. Although, they were able to hide the alcohol quite well behind the sweetness, more than 1 of these in a sitting would be too much.

A great beer. One I'll definitely on the lookout for other vintages.

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Photo of Manoftyr
4.73/5  rDev +11.3%
look: 4.5 | smell: 4 | taste: 5 | feel: 5 | overall: 5

1999 vintage

Apperance-Pours a rich, dark and cloudy amber-red with resplendent ruby highlights, no real head or lace but hard to detract for that when it's 11.5%abv and over ten years old. Looks lovely to me.

Aroma-Wow, what an overpoweringly tangy aroma; I smell a load of dried and candied syrup-drenched fruits all mingling together in a single aroma making it difficult to pick out individual smells. I definitely smell dates in there though. Some toffee.

Taste-The taste is rather more complex than the aroma and the aforementioned candied fruits are more apparent and distinct. I get dates, plums and raisins most prominently, maybe some figs in there too; extremely sweet. Maybe the faintest hint of chocolate and winter spices towards the back of the middle and some alcohol way, way, WAAAAY in the back end and so faint it's barely worth noting. Delicious.

Mouthfeel-Low-carbonation, thick, syrupy-smooth; perfect for an English Barleywine.

Drinkability-Although this beer has no real alcohol presence it has no shortage of enormous flavors and alcoholic 'weight.' It's a sipper, but not necessarily a very slow one and at this ABV I've gotta rank that high.

Notes/final thoughts-This beer is awesome, didn't expect to like it so much and I'm beginning to suspect I strongly prefer the English interpretations of Barleywines to the hoppy DIPA-like American ones I've been mostly exposed to.

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Photo of faernt
4.97/5  rDev +16.9%
look: 4.5 | smell: 5 | taste: 5 | feel: 5 | overall: 5

I tried some of the 1980's vintages and was disappointed. This is 2000 and it's wonderful. It smells good from two feet away. It's huge! Al K Hall (we all know him) aroma is attractive. I get raisins and caramel ( again from two feet away) The mouthfeel is velvet. This is the nightcap beer! Stock up.

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Photo of andrewm190
3.5/5  rDev -17.6%
look: 3.5 | smell: 3.5 | taste: 4 | feel: 3.5 | overall: 2.5

This limited edition barley wine was brewed specially in 2002.

Pours a rich amber color, good head, good retention.

It smells very fruity. Apricot is the most prominent smell. But all sorts of fruits could be detected here.

The taste is good, but not as good as the 1998. I detect possibly a faint sense of honey, but mostly apricot again. There is a deep, but perhaps to overbearing fruit taste, even though its a barely wine. I don't think it wonderfully balanced.

The mouth feel is crisp, but not fantastic, which also drops in drink ability when combined with the taste. If your going to spend the money on beer, you could do better with some of the older versions of this brew.

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Photo of beersgud
1.98/5  rDev -53.4%
look: 3.25 | smell: 4 | taste: 1 | feel: 2.25 | overall: 1

2010 vintage poured into a tulip.

The beer looks nice aside from a bunch of unfiltered crap at the bottom of the glass. Smells really nice as well, but that's about the end things to say about this beer. The faint tobacco aroma that was appealing on the nose becomes offensive when tasting. Tasted like old cigarette butts mixed with other garbage. Probably due to poor storage of a 5 year old beer ( I just bought it about a month ago ), nevertheless, one of my few drain pours.

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Photo of Cheesemoose
4.39/5  rDev +3.3%
look: 3.5 | smell: 4.5 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 5 | overall: 4

2006 poured into a brandy snifter.

No head, or carbonation for that matter. The color of unfiltered maple syrup. Dark brown, but when shown from like, it is near ruby in the body with yellow edges. I forgot to leave the sediment out, but I do not feel it complimented more than hindered the overall experience.

Wow. Simply gorgeous bouquet. Maple syrup, toffee, port, candied apples, vanilla notes all pair with a pepper/alcohol finish. All well balanced. A charred oak and maple character is the overall character.

A slow coursing beer, open that starts slow but finishes strong. Vanilla notes to begin, then moves into a oak, maple syrup, and touch more vanilla. Finishes with a nice pepper touch and an appreciated warming alcohol. Very port like.

Carbonation is non-existant, but that is to be expected. Creamy, lingering flavors. Makes for a great sipper. Given that the alcohol is rather well masked, and at 5 years, it is near gone from the profile. Yet, it does still give the great warmth you would want in a fine aged Barleywine.

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

Vintage 1998

I was a little worried about trying this one. I hate when a good beer has gone down hill.

Not the case with this baby. First sip seemed a bit sweet. After the second...or third sip the complexity...various layers of flavors presented themselves. Burnt sugar is there. Dark fruits. Oak. Plums. A lot going on in this sipper. It is warming and inviting. I shared the bottle. This is a nice one to share on a chilly evening.

Good beer experience.

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Photo of SnifterLifter
4.62/5  rDev +8.7%
look: 4.5 | smell: 4.25 | taste: 4.75 | feel: 4.75 | overall: 4.75

2000 Vintage. 275 ml bottle poured into snifter, very excited to try this one.

Pours dark reddish brown, no murkiness, very little sediment. Leaves lacing and has a very quickly dissipating pinky sized head.

Nose is strongly of sherry, very very slight alcohol presence. I think there would be more to say, but I have a poor sense of smell.

Up front is the butterscotchy sherry flavor, dark fruit, caramel, brown sugar. Possibly a slight tobacco note in there that I didn't expect.

Mouthfeel is not particularly thick, leaves a coating of flavor on your tongue and lips which is pleasant.

This is a wonderful beer. I spent 8.50 on it and I was satisfied. Definitely a sweet sipper for a special occasion. I haven't had this before now but I suspect the age did this beer wonders. Very satisfying.

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Photo of matt_duthie
4.25/5  rDev 0%

2008 vintage. Noticed sediment as pouring, then afterwords saw the most concentrated yeast-beer-mix I've ever seen(eventually settled out for the most part). Smells insanely sweet of toffee and fruit. I've not had an English barleywine where the dessert-cake aspect was so intense. Massive cocoa and fruitcake and oh so much more accompany the consistent ring of lacing that follows the 9.25 oz. or whatever to the bottom of the glass. Alcohol hardly noticeable, a fine beer completely different than anything I've ever had. The one I'd recommend to illustrate the difference between an English and American take on what a barleywine ale is...

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Photo of byrd
3.3/5  rDev -22.4%
look: 4 | smell: 4 | taste: 3 | feel: 4 | overall: 2.5

1998 vintage - opened in 2003

Tight tan head of tiny bubbles. Very dark copper brown that is somewhat murky. The head lingers for a while then settles to a thin lace across the surface. The aroma is immediately sweet and malty with maple, rum raisins, and dark fruits being quite noticeable. A slight hint of alcohol is present. Smooth medium-full mouthfeel, but there’s an incredibly malt sweetness that creeps all over the inside of the mouth. The alcohol is quite subdued and well hidden with only a slight warming sensation. The sweetness does not seem to be a hindrance at first, but by the end of the glass, it begins to get somewhat cloying. Not really any hops to speak of; the sweetness simply fades out in the finish then lingers in the aftertaste. Definitely a brew to be sipped and not guzzled, but even then, I felt the sweetness to be a little too much.

This is a 5 year old bottle. Maybe any hop presence that was there at a younger age has faded? Maybe it still needs a few years for the malts to mellow? One way or the other, this bottle wasn’t quite my cup of tea. The store I purchased it from has ‘98, ‘99, ‘00, and ’01 vintages. Maybe I’ll try to pick up a younger vintage to see how they compare...

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Photo of DagFishHead
4.84/5  rDev +13.9%
look: 4 | smell: 5 | taste: 5 | feel: 5 | overall: 4.5

1997 release
Appearance: Clear but deep ruby-mahogany body. Decent, fizzy tan colored head that fades to a very thin but unbroken cap.
Smell: Sherry, oaky, port-wine, fusel alcohol, carmelized malt sugars, dark/ripe fruits. Stunningly complex.
Taste: Stunningly delicious... Molasses, sweet toffee malt, dark cherries, raisins to start, Sherry/port vinous character at the top. Dries with hop bitterness that allows a figgy/prune fruit aftertaste to linger. So big, but so balanced and level controlled.
Mouthfeel: Viscous, knife-and-fork chewy yet does not over-saturate the taste buds, gentle carbonation and warm/numbing alcohol glow. Incredibly smooth and velvety
Drinkability: For me, this will be a barleywine style standard. Too pricey for extended drinking, but worth every penny. Will seek this out every Xmas... and thus begins my true appreciation for aged ales.

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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 jhu1995
1.63/5  rDev -61.6%
look: 3 | smell: 2.5 | taste: 1 | feel: 1.5 | overall: 1.5

Had the 2002 Vintage in a bottle. Pours a rich brown color with a minimal head. Smell was mostly alcohol as can be expected given the strength of this beer, but did not expect it to dominate as much as it did. Very strong, sweet smell as well. The taste was overwhelmingly sweet. Where is the balance and complexity because I could not find it. Syrupy and no smoothness whatsoever. Very harsh beer that was choked down. Prefer cough syrup over this one.

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

1999 Vintage this time for me.

Just as I remember the 98 vintage from earlier this year. Huge malt profile- flavors of sherry, vanilla, molasses, and roasted chocolate. Incredible.

I'm glad I have another 99 in the cellar. I wonder how it will taste at 10 years plus. I would reccomend everyone to start cellaring some of this stuff ASAP. It's almost perfection for it's style.

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Photo of Siggy125
4.14/5  rDev -2.6%
look: 3.5 | smell: 4.5 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 4.5 | overall: 3

Poured from the original 9.6oz bottle into a couple of 4oz taster glasses. Pretty golden amber with a very small trace of carbonation.

The smell is fantastic, sweet fruity aromas with rich malty nutty essences.

Taste: very sweet, but very enjoyable. Rich ripe golden raisins, molasses and brown sugar. A very subtle alcohol sting on the back end to remind you of the 11.5 abv.

Syrupy mouth feel, but not sticky. Very drinkable but I now understand why the bottles are so small. This is to be enjoyed like a rich, small portion treat. I love it, but enough is enough after a few sips.

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

Reviewed blind as part of Blind BIF 7, courtesy of ShogoKawada.

A - Murky, slightly reddish brown, with a thick, creamy, off-white head that drops very slowly. I accidentally got some glumpy sediment in there... hopefully that won't be a problem. Looks quite appealing, but that sediment or whatever is uuugly.

S - Mmmm, the aroma hit me as soon as I cracked the cap. Super strong, smooth, and decadent -- lots of peanut butter, with maybe some molasses and sweet fruits. I think this is an English barleywine, and perhaps an aged one.

T - Extremely sweet, but it stops short of cloying. The malt is dominant and delicious and somewhat complex. Strong notes of peanut butter, molasses, some caramel and dark fruits. A slight, almost ashy, burnt-caramel flavor lingers afterward. Very tasty.

M - Pretty full mouthfeel. Practically no carbonation, nor a hint of alcohol burn -- this is just silky smooth all the way.

Overall, I like this beer a whole lot. It's just delicious.

Non-blind comment: This was '08 vintage, by the way.

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

2001 vintage. Tasted May 2005. Pours a dark, red-brown with very persistent, one finger thick, off-white head. Some large bubbles ring the glass, but otherwise the head is composed of uniform one millimeter diameter bubbles. Nice lacing of the glass throughout consumption. Smells of sticky sweet malt, with some nice spicy and earthy hop notes. A bit of an alcohol aroma, not surprisingly, is also present, but does not distract from the beer at all. Taste is very, very good. Quite sweet, but well balanced by some nice hop bitterness. Alcohol comes through nicely to further cut the sweetness and leaves a nice warming in the mouth. Full bodied and oily slick feel in the mouth, this beer goes down very smooth. Overall an outstanding beer.

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Photo of IHyphySF
4.22/5  rDev -0.7%
look: 4 | smell: 4.5 | taste: 4 | feel: 4 | overall: 4.5

Harvest Ale 2008 Edition.

Nice syrupy medium brown almost like a slightly diluted molasses color poured into a tulip glass it poured thick with no head. Strong scents of golden raisins, currants, molasses, brown sugar, almost like a good subdued bourbon smell to it. First taste was almost like sipping on some extremely sweet golden raisiin cough syrup but it was mellow going down and was pleasant with no veracious alcohol taste which is normally a good sign with barley wines that they have aged long enough. Couple more sips and i got more fruit and almost vanilla flavor out of it and an aftertaste of apricots in the back of my mouth. Overall i wish i had a few more of these it tasted really good and can't wait to open up some more of other j.w. lees barleywines i have sitting at home.

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Photo of Rio
4.5/5  rDev +5.9%
look: 4.5 | smell: 4.5 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 4.5 | overall: 4.5

1999 vintage, enjoyed September 2004, in a tulip glass. And I do mean enjoyed. Poured a beautiful, deep coppery brown color, darker than the 2001. Still little or no head to it. Smelled very sweat, with an earthy, almost leatherlike smell to it. The smell of the alcohol from the 2001 vintage is very well masked here, little presence at all.

Taste is much the same as the 2001, sweetness of brown sugar, taste of a few fruits, including a bit of tartness that tastes almost like an apple, vanilla flavor, with something a little more buttery in there, too. Extremely smooth, even as thick as it is. Seems even thicker than the 2001, but goes down much smoother.

I could drink this stuff all night long. Wonderful, wonderful brew. Near perfect. I have two more bottles of it (as well as the last two bottles of the 2001 that I know of in the KC area), that I plan to age for another year or so and try again. Can it improve on the perfection? We shall see.


2001 vintage, reviewed September 2004 in a tulip glass. Poured a coppery-brown color with almost no head. Smell was heavy of earthy and sugary smells, with the smell of the alcohol a little too prevalent behind there for my taste.

Tastes wonderful, strong taste of like a brown sugar, followed by some fruity tastes, and a bit of a vanilla flavor to it. Thick, viscous feel to it that seems a bit odd at first, but ultimately enjoyable. The first bottle (August 2004) felt like it had something else in it, some kind of thickness that was palable, like there were solid particles in it. This pour, though, is very smooth. First bottle may have been a bad bottle.

Strangely enough, with its thickness and high alcohol content, very drinkable. Not something I recommend drinking bottle after bottle of, though, and one bottle, even at 11.2 oz, can last a long time as you enjoy this beer over a longer period of time than a normal beer would take you.

(Since you can only rate it once, I've put both in here. Scores for the 2001 would be 4.0, 3.5, 4.0, 4.0, 4.0).

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Photo of marksto
4.48/5  rDev +5.4%
look: 3 | smell: 5 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 4 | overall: 4.5

2001 vintage. Pours a deep amber color with garnet highlights and a thin head that falls quickly. Aroma is big and vinous, with lots of fruit - apricot, cherry, and raisins. Very sweet smelling, with alcohol noticible. Flavor shows lots of depth. Mouthfeel has major body and thickness. Very sweet with lots of fruitness mixed in with carmel and a hint of brown sugar. Very rum-like, with alcohol warmth noticible at finish.

All the samples I've had of this one before were the ones aged in various barrels - sherry, calvados, etc.. I prefer this one much better. The complexity shows much more when there's not all that barrel/liquor essence to hide it behind. This is one to enjoy on a cold evening by the fire, or after a good meal. Recommended.

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Photo of kdahnke123
2.92/5  rDev -31.3%
look: 3.25 | smell: 3 | taste: 2.75 | feel: 3 | overall: 3

2012 Vintage Poured into a snifter at room temperature
A - A thin amber pour with minimal carbonation and no lacing.
S - Smells acidic, fruity with a small amount of malt and minimal hops.
T - Odd tasting with acidic notes and an unpleasant finish.
M - Minimall mouth coating with no carbonation.
O - Not recommended.

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

Vintage 1997 (1st December 1997). A slightly hazy, very slightly brownish red Barley Wine with a smallish, creamy, brownish-tan, clingy head. The smell is nutty, oaky, and raisin-like. The smell continues when the alcohol kicks in, ironically reminding me of Worcestershire sauce. The taste is a mix of raisin and plum, along with an oakness. The sweetness remains on the back of my tongue, and a pepperiness lingers in the middle. The body is resiny and oily in my mouth. Overall, a very tasty Barley Wine, but not for the faint of heart.

(source: PremierGourmet; Buffalo, NY)

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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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