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

BA SCORE
94
outstanding
859 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:
859
Ratings:
1,509
Avg:
4.25
pDev:
13.88%
 
 
Wants:
265
Gots:
226
For Trade:
14
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Reviews: 859 | Ratings: 1,509
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 JoeySchlitz
3.52/5  rDev -17.2%
look: 3.5 | smell: 4 | taste: 3.5 | feel: 3.5 | overall: 3

2005 bottle picked up at Healthy Spirits in SF.

Definitely some floaters in this one - let sit still for a while before pouring. Almost no carbonation in this whatsoever - tried pouring from about 3 feet above glass and nothing. A murky brown, cloudy beverage. The smell is really good, picking up rum soaked plums, dates and figs. Pretty boozy and heavy. The taste is super sweet with a slight bitter mustiness at the tail end - reminds me of my grandparent's basement. This has been the same for all JW HA's that I've had - kind of disappointing. The mouth feel is on the more viscous side and would improve greatly if there were any carbonation in it. Given the high ABV, the super sweet flavor and mustiness I could not drink any more than one bottle max. Overall an interesting beer but not something that I would drink on a regular basis.

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

2000 Edition

This has been laid back since 2000 and WOW. Pours a amber/copper color with a nice 2 finger cap. Lots of floral and fruity esters in the aroma with sweet molasses, caramel, and figs. Flavor was full and sweet. Lots of fruit of raisins, figs, and a viscous quality. Very smooth and not very bitter, but just enough to tone done the sweetness. Rich and smooth is the best way to describe this beer. Too bad that was my last.

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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 jeffdr123
4.32/5  rDev +1.6%
look: 4.5 | smell: 4.25 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 3.75 | overall: 4.25

Fascinating. As complex as it gets. Sweet fruit, malt, and the right amount of bitter after taste. Warm going down, like Scotch. Sip by sip at the Hay Merchant in Houston.

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

2000 vintage... Poured vigorously into a tulip.
Medium amber in color, this ale poured with very little head.
Smell is sweet with notes of bourbon, caramel, raisins, vanilla, molasses and butter. The taste brings all of the bouquet to the fore and it's rich without being cloying really. I'm getting a heavy dose of cherry too. Mouthfeel is full and syrupy and quite satisfying. This is so tasty that i need to slow down... i'm drinking it too fast.
Drinkibility is surprisingly good for the ABV and alcohol is only minimally perceptible; i could drink two bottles easy (before lights out) but like a fine port i'll savor one as something special.

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Photo of HopEnthusiast
3.3/5  rDev -22.4%
look: 3.5 | smell: 3.5 | taste: 3.5 | feel: 3.5 | overall: 2.5

Marked 2004. Decanted from the bottle into a snifter. Pours a quite dark amber color with zero head as expected. Smells of huge malts, cherries, toffee, and alcohol. I've had very few barleywines, so this aroma is quite unique and interesting. The taste is sweet, with raisins, cherries, toffee, and booze all making an appearance. This is so sweet I should have definitely waited to try it later in the day, like after dinner, as opposed to 2 pm. Mouthfeel is quite thick. Drinkability is extremely low as it would take me forever to even finish one of these. I'm conflicted with this beer. It's obviously an excellent beer, but it's so far out of any style I enjoy, that it's hard for me to get too into it.

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Photo of CoreyC
4.18/5  rDev -1.6%
look: 4.25 | smell: 4.25 | taste: 4.25 | feel: 4 | overall: 4

2012 vintage
A - very nice orange color with nice carbonation
S - subtle sweet
T - light sweetness with fruity flavor - maybe apricot?
M - nice, a bit light
O - very good, definitely not a s sweet as the as fresher cask aged versions I've had

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Photo of BradenMK
4.53/5  rDev +6.6%
look: 4.25 | smell: 3.75 | taste: 5 | feel: 4.75 | overall: 4.5

The hazy apricot color was pretty brilliant, to be sure, but the smell was perplexing. At first I thought I'd accidentally picked up a wild ale. And, hell, maybe there is some spontaneous fermentation going on in this beast, I wouldn't know, but the thing smelled like bread at first. Not sweet bread, but, like, buttered white toast or something. It has a somewhat sour note to it like sourdough. It put me off at first, but then I poured it from the bottle into a glass.

And everything changed.

The taste is incredible. Massive caramel bomb, to the point that I almost feel like I'm tasting some salt in this. Certainly very sweet up front, reminiscent of sherry but not nearly so raisin-y, though a little bit of white grape juice. Let's call it vinous but without getting raisin-y, if that makes sense, but then it flips a little and the huge caramel/sherry notes fall to earthy hops and a surprising smoky, burnt honey/sugar character. So you have a strong beginning and end, two very distinct vibes, and yet in the middle is more complexity than I recall ever enjoying in a barleywine. Great, great stuff.

Somewhat overcarbonated, not that I expected it to be flat, but there was juuuuuust a bit too many prickles in the mouth to render this beer as smoothly as I feel it ought to be. Medium but thick, though the hops and the smoke (wherever that comes from) cuts the sweetness so much that it never becomes cloying. Heaviness is less than some of my favorite imperial stouts and yet I sipped on this a lot slower than any beers in recent tastings.

The smell certainly improved as it warmed, going from a savory, yeasty bread to that caramelly/chocolatey cake that most people were talking about.

Overall, the most interesting, complex barleywine I've had, possibly, ever. I'd have to give Sucaba another taste test (as when I had it I was barely a young pup when it came to craft beer, though I loved it), but I'm confident this is just as good and I imagine probably better. Amazing stuff, if you see it under $8, even for just 9.3 oz, buy it. It's the only beer in that price range I've ever bought that I'd say was worth it.

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Photo of kaimcm
4.54/5  rDev +6.8%
look: 3.5 | smell: 4.5 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 4.5 | overall: 5

Lees Vintage 2001, reviewed 8/06. poured into a wide St. Berny chalice. served slightly chilled.

A: dark maple, looks like very thin syrup. no head, but no surprise as well. just kinda sits in the glass, body projects a nice color but not much to look at. though with aged beer I tend to cut some slack.

S: huge maple, brown sugar nose. rich malt, some smokiness and even some barbeque qualities. toffee, caramel, loads of sugar. very nutty, almonds and hazlenut essence mostly. creaminess followed and closed by total decadence. some booze, though surprisinly not much. huge.

T: not that different than nose. the caramel, toffee, nutty sugaryness is the first and largest wave. extremely oily and slick, coats the mouth. a light dryness, almost astringency follows and persists through the finish, which is admittedly not that long for such a complex brew. some wood, bourbon, and even light apple qualities pull through near the end before the whole thing finishes. the mouth is left dry on the tongue, but with sugar stuck to the teeth. a slight alcohol warmth rises just as the swallow disappears. five minutes later you feel it all over your head.

M: as mentioned, oily, slick, coating, full bodied, viscous and dense.

D: doesnt count. a pure joy. expensive, high abv, hard to get. who cares. like I said, this doesnt apply to this beer in my opinion. takes all night though, thats for sure.

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

2000 vintage. Pours a cloudy light brown with a thick tan head. Aroma is a standout of caramel, toffee, and sweet grains. The flavor does not dissapoint: caramel, toffee, molasses,sherry, some dark fruit and sweet grains all meld into one terrifically balanced barleywine. Bitterness is not noticeably present, but the beer is not cloying and perfectly balanced. There is some slight oxidation which probably improves this beer. Mouthfeel is spot on for a barleywine, and drinkability is impressive for a beer this big. This is my favorite barleywine to date, and a real treat that I drank to celebrate the birth of my first daughter.

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Photo of Pecorasc
4.87/5  rDev +14.6%
look: 4.5 | smell: 5 | taste: 5 | feel: 5 | overall: 4.5

Vintage 1999. Split two ways and poured into a Leffe glass.

A- Medium to deep amber in color with swirls of thin film and some streamers of lacing thrown up the sides of the glass. Swirling or tipping the glass to the side move the lacing around and show that this beer has quite a bit of viscosity. The beer is clean, but not polished and shows no noticeable signs of carbonation. A very nice looking English Barleywine that looks more red than other examples of the style.

S- Dominated by a pleasant dust and cardboard-like oxidation. Those aromas are complemented by a cherry and pear sweetness. Some woodiness is present in the background and there is only a slight amount of alcohol. Very unique, somewhat confusing, but certainly a 5.0.

T + M- Right away, this beer distinguishes itself with a thick and creamy mouthfeel that makes it drink like a stout. Wonderful flavors of cherry liqueur, wood, and cardboard. Think grenadine soaked cardboard; sounds gross, but tastes amazing. Transitions to heavier wood and alcohol on top of the malt and cherry flavors and finishes sweet and smooth with very little alcohol burn.

D- Fantastic drinkability on an 11.5% barleywine. No alcohol burn, but the big body makes this a fuller beer that falls between a sipper and a beer with average drinkability. This could make a classic pairing with so many cheeses and cigars. This beer was surely made with an eye to aging.

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Photo of PDXAmbassador
4.81/5  rDev +13.2%
look: 5 | smell: 4.5 | taste: 5 | feel: 4.75 | overall: 4.75

Had a 2001 vintage in 2016, and it was unreal. Sweet, mellow, toasted malty, Madeira, caramel. Literally everything I had hoped and imagined an English Barleywine could be. We were blown away, and hadn't expected much for something that sits on shelves for years. But to our taste a far superior beer to BCBW and almost any other Barleywine I've tried.

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Photo of Mess
4.52/5  rDev +6.4%
look: 4.75 | smell: 4.5 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 4.5 | overall: 4.5

1999 Vintage. Cellar temp, poured into a snifter on a clear chilly night.

A - pours ruby and brown whiskey, frothy white head. light sparkles through beautifully.

S - First thought smelled a waft of soy, but was mistaken. Rum soaked raisins, brown sugar, vanilla. Alcohol.

T - sweet Rumcake. vanilla, shortbread, un-lit swisher sweet cigar flashback to freshman year of highschool

M - smooth as velvet, thin layer sweet syrup on the tongue.

O - Really pleasantly surprised, was half expecting soy sauce given first whiff and 13 years and 3 moves over the years. Wonderful gentle slow slipper. Will look to cellar these again in the future.

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Photo of Bobikel
4.15/5  rDev -2.4%
look: 4 | smell: 4 | taste: 5 | feel: 3.5 | overall: 3

Bottle reads: Dec. 1st 1999 Vintage
Purchased at Liquor Max in Loveland Co.

Appearance - Pours a hazy amber/brown with red highlights in the light. Head is minilmal and recedes to a whispy ring fairly quickly. Not uncommon for an 11.5% ABV.

Smell - Prunes, alchohol, and toffee dominate. A touch of malt, and no noticible hops.

Taste - Thick and bready, with a nice slight alchohol warmth that slithers down the throat and into the belly. Toffee, raisins, prunes, and malt sweetness are quite nicely balanced with a mild bittering. Which I'm sure shows far more IBU's than I'd expect.

Mouthfeel - Thick and viscous, this monster must've had quite a high terminal gravity. Even the Prickly carbonation can't hide that.

Drinkability - The one area where this beer falls short. It's a sipper, and even then, after one I feel as though my palate could not handle another beer this big or heavy or flavorfull or...

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Photo of skivtjerry
4.82/5  rDev +13.4%
look: 4 | smell: 4.5 | taste: 5 | feel: 5 | overall: 5

2001 vintage drank in late 2010:

Looks rather viscous while being poured. Forms a sticky 1" head that persists until the glass is empty (actually, who knows how long it would last - I drank the foam too). Smells wonderful, a humungous malt bomb with luscious sherry notes, toast and alcohol too. Taste is mind-blowing good. Waves of malt attack the tongue and surrender feels great. Figs, rich desserts, chocolate, melons, and a nice grainy note. No hint of hops left, the alcohol provides as much bitter dryness as the IBU's. Mouthfeel is thick and creamy, low carbonation and enough alcohol to balance the immense weight. I could drink this stuff until I collapsed, which probably wouldn't be that long. The ultimate beer for a cold evening.

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Photo of RobH
4.92/5  rDev +15.8%
look: 4.5 | smell: 5 | taste: 5 | feel: 4.5 | overall: 5

1998 vintage. This was my first-ever barleywine style beer. I must say, it blew me away. It was served in a snifter glass at the bar at Birreria Paradiso in Georgetown in Washington, D.C.

Excellent after-dinner beer/drink. Like a cordial.

Smooth, inviting to the nose, and quite pleasing to the taste buds, this is a sipper to enjoy over conversation about all the beers that came before it.

If you have never tried a barley wine before and have an opportunity to taste this one, do not pass it up!

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J.W. Lees Vintage Harvest Ale from J.W. Lees & Co (Brewers) Ltd
4.25 out of 5 based on 1,509 ratings.
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