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

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

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

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: 861 | Ratings: 1,513
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 SD-Alefan
4.95/5  rDev +16.5%
look: 4.5 | smell: 5 | taste: 5 | feel: 4.75 | overall: 5

2001 vintage. Pours a very dark brown. Still a bit of carbonation on this 15-year-old beer. A minimal skiff of tan head.
Aroma is a dream of malt. Fine leather, tobacco, toffee, dark fruit, peanut butter and vanilla. Crazy.
The taste starts off rich, sweet caramel and plum. As it flows over the tongue, I pick up leather, tobacco, peanut butter, chocolate and chocolate cake. Each sip seems to bring new tastes. Sweet and rich throughout.
Mouthfeel is medium and sticky.
This bottle aged beautifully!

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Photo of rypkr
4.36/5  rDev +2.6%
look: 3.5 | smell: 4.25 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 4.25 | overall: 4.5

Preface by I'm fairly inexperienced in barleywines.

2001 vintage.

A - 9.3oz poured into a snifter. Very faint pop on the bottle cap. Poured dirty brown bathwater brown. Zero head on first half of the poured so it aggressive finishing the pour and still couldn't manage any. Leaves no lacing, only a thick mineral oil residue.

S - sweet candy corn and ripe, ripe plums. Brown sugar, toffee, and welches purple grape juice. Alcohol heat and phenolic yeast.

T - wow. This is unlike anything I've ever experienced. I'm honestly not even sure how to describe what I'm tasting. It's sweet, very sweet but in no way as sweet as the nose indicates. All your standard dark fruitiness is there but it's different. Yellow raisens come to mind with each sip. There is a unique bitterness I would almost describe as leather, perhaps its somewhat oxidized, though it's not like the cardboard I've tasted in other beers. There's a roastiness as it finishes, or smokiness even.

M - low, low carbonation. But thick viscous and oily with alcohol and sugar.

Overall quite an experience. Eager to put beer advocate down and sip through the rest of this. At $10 for 9oz this is among one of the most expensive beers I've purchased. However I likely will again on occasion.

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Photo of erk0607
4.81/5  rDev +13.2%
look: 4 | smell: 4.75 | taste: 5 | feel: 4.75 | overall: 4.75

2001 bottle opened up 9/16/2016.
Look: Maroon brown, no head left, with sediment blobs maybe 1cm across.
Smell: Sugary, caramelly, rasin, port and dark wine, oak, vanilla, cinnamon, sugary syrup, plum, some alcohol
Taste: Sugary sweet rasins and aged port wine flavors, super, super rich and complex, like a freshly caramelized flambe or banana fosters with rum and brown sugar
Mouthfeel: Thick, syrupy, no carbonation left outside of a bubble that formed on the pour, somewhat thick, and incredibly full feeling.
Overall: Epic, would absolutely do again. Bought it to celebrate closing on a house, would buy another house to get another one (just kidding, but it is really good)

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Photo of shleepy
3.75/5  rDev -11.8%
look: 3.75 | smell: 3.75 | taste: 3.75 | feel: 3.75 | overall: 3.75

2011 vintage:
Small head. A murky light brown color. Caramel, plum/prune in smell. Quite pleasant. Taste is completely different - extremely toasty, with a burnt sunflower seed kind of taste. Quite intense, all around.

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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 puboflyons
3.56/5  rDev -16.2%
look: 4 | smell: 3.5 | taste: 3.5 | feel: 3.75 | overall: 3.5

From the 12 fl. oz. bottle with the 2002 vintage. Sampled on July 31, 2016.,

The color is am mildly heady brown with red hues. Some cloudiness.

The aroma is more toasted malt forward than anything for a 14 year beer. Crackers, bread, and molasses too. Low to no hop profile.

The body is smooth and around medium.

Even though this is 14 years old it is Jolly British with cracker malts, low hops, and sweetness. This has not faded after so much time.

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

2008 vintage, opened June, 2016.

Look: Deep orangey-brown. Minimal amount of head, some bubbles around the edge. It somehow still manages to leave a hint of lacing around the glass. It looks like a good English-style barleywine. 4.0

Smell: Cloyingly sweet dark fruit, raisins, figs, toffee, candle wax, green tea. I give it a lot of credit for uniqueness. It has a lot going on. 4.0

Taste: Much smoother and less cloying than the Sherry cask Lees Harvest Ale I had yesterday. Toffee and orange peel. A little bit of cloves and all spice. 4.0

Feel: Minimal carbonation, but not flat. Smooth and soft. 4.0

Overall: Clearly a well-made and unique English barleywine. I think how much you like it is going to depend on much you like the Lees style in general. Each one I've had so far has this interesting flavor that's sort of a combination of orange marmalade and tobacco. I could see it being polarizing. 4.0

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Photo of bylerteck
4.67/5  rDev +9.9%
look: 4 | smell: 4.5 | taste: 4.75 | feel: 4.5 | overall: 5

2002 Vintage I think I bought somewhere in the U.S.

Poured nearly black with lot's of sediment and a very loose head. Super rich aroma with date squares, sugar, molasses, dark fruits, and rye bread. Very sweet in the mouth with a flavour that resembles those old school molasses Haloween candies as well as licorice, leather, and tawny port. Viscous mouthfeel with very low carbonation.

This was pretty lovely and showed some flavours that suggest the ageing was spot on. A wonderful treat that cements this beer as a classic.

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Photo of thebigredone
3.66/5  rDev -13.9%
look: 3.75 | smell: 4 | taste: 3.5 | feel: 3.75 | overall: 3.5

2008 vintage. Great sweet toffee and caramel upfront, but then a weird plasticy (perhaps slightly oxidized) taste dominates the back end. Wish the beer would have finished better.

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Photo of ClavisAurea
4.12/5  rDev -3.1%
look: 3 | smell: 4 | taste: 4.25 | feel: 4.25 | overall: 4.25

2012 vintage served at cellar Temps in a snifter

Appearance: wonderful bottle design although I think it's a bit small. Beer poured out a thin but dark caramel color with a small head. Some sediment in the bottle

Nose: caramel, toffee, raisins, prunes, dark fruits, port wine, no booz, classic English Barleywine

Taste: follows the nose. Fairly sweet but with a nice fruitiness like raisins, dried apricots, fruit cake, toffee, caramel, very smooth, some age showing, port wine

Overall: classic. Let's see how is does with time

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Photo of jrsaffert
3.97/5  rDev -6.6%
look: 3.5 | smell: 4.5 | taste: 3.75 | feel: 3.75 | overall: 4

2004 vintage (12 years old)

Pours a murky brown with no head.
Aroma is very sweet. Toffee and dark fruit are dominant. Some sherry aromas also. Quite pleasant.
Taste is also very sweet. I think it has crossed over from sweet to cloying. Raisins and figs. Maybe some overripe cherries. Caramel and toffee.
Mouthfeel is interesting because it has zero carbonation. Slick and slightly syrupy but if call it medium-full body.

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Photo of Beginner2
4.27/5  rDev +0.5%
look: 3.75 | smell: 4.25 | taste: 4.25 | feel: 4.25 | overall: 4.5

2/27/17 Had 2009 vintage. Seven years was too long with the way the store kept this. But, oh well.
Far more murky sediment than the others I've Had in vintages past and since.
Aromas are still there of sherry-like sweetness, but the smells seem off.
The second Taste is much better than the first... but clearly, I cellared this one too long.
Rating? I'll stick to my original because keeping this too long was my mistake. I'll update my rating and review as soon as I Have another one in my cellar. 2013, I believe.

2/28/17 Worried that my stash of Lees was deteriorating fast, I went to my cellar the very next evening and pulled the next oldest, 2013. Relieved that 2013 was still quite good, my lesson is learned: never drink a beer after its time. The first Smell and Taste of 2013 was as good as the last. This ale was ready. So was I.

Reviewed in Roger Protz' CAMRA classic "300 Beers To Try Before You Die!"
MJ's 1999 "Guide" gave it 3.5 stars of 4 and said it has a "warm, fruity (lemony?) aroma; a smooth palate; and a lot of hoppy dryness in the finish."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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 sjccmd
3.99/5  rDev -6.1%
look: 3.75 | smell: 4 | taste: 4 | feel: 4 | overall: 4

2011 Vintage

Brown sugar, rum, cinnamon, raisin bread. No noticeable hop character. Sweet smelling. Graham cracker, caramel. Warm spicy alcohols. Sweet orange peel, clove, and cardamon. Rich and complex.

Pours a bit murky amber with a thin off-white head that recedes to a small ring and sticks around. A little bit of retention.

Rich and fruity upfront followed with fresh baked bread becoming more vinous towards the finish. Bready malts linger on the finish. Very long and evolving. Brown sugar and oranges. Spiced rum cake. Finishes drier than expected.

Medium heavy body, low carbonation. Somewhat chewy. Sweetness increases with warmth.

Complex but avoids being cloying. Bready and fruity. Impressively long finish.

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Photo of GregBarleycorn13
4.72/5  rDev +11.1%
look: 3.75 | smell: 4.75 | taste: 5 | feel: 4.5 | overall: 4.5

2012 vintage. Pours a murky mahogany brown with no head. As soon as you bring it to your nose you Know your in for an excellent beer. Taste reminds me of a port. So delicious. For me there was an aftertaste of a bitterness just like Campari. Never had that taste in a beer and enjoyed that , too.

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Photo of stevoj
3.71/5  rDev -12.7%
look: 3.25 | smell: 3.5 | taste: 3.75 | feel: 4.25 | overall: 3.75

2015 vintage on tap at Churchkey. Dark copper with small airy head. Malt with tons of brown sugar sweetness, maple, caramel, toffee. Sweetness distracts from the 11.5% ABV, which delivers some latent heat. Like a big alcoholic Sugar Daddy. (I love Sugar Daddies)

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

Doing three reviews on the 2015, 2011, and 2008 vintages over the next three days, and I'll be updating my scores with each.

Starting with the 2015, it pours a very pretty mahogany with a dense half-inch head, tiny packed bubbles, and ultimately leaves a ring around the beer glass but only spotting lacing. Nose is boozy, rich malt, and some earthiness from the EKG that makes it past the malt overtones. Not very complex, but this vintage is very young (just released last month). Taste is sweet, malty, boozy. A bit more bitterness on the finish than anticipated helps it from being too cloying. Brown bread and honey. Mouthfeel is full and thick...about what you'd expect from an 11.5% barleywine, but the higher-than-expected carbonation also helps keep it from being cloying. Overall, a good beer that should improve with time. Fingers crossed on the next one. Look 4.25, Smell 3.75, Taste 4, Feel 4.25, Overall 4. Total 3.98 at this point.

Next is the 2011. The appearance seems lighter in color with some orange. In fact, the JW Lees website notes the 2015 is darker than most previous years. The nose is still malty and earthy, but less boozy. I'm not going to change my scores for either of these categories. The taste has evolved, however. Richer caramelized sugars. Still lots of brown bread and honey. Worth an extra .25 in my opinion in both the taste and overall scores. Look 4.25, Smell 3.75, Taste 4.25, Feel 4.25, Overall 4.25. Total 4.13 at this point.

Finally, the 2008. Pour is darker again, more like the 2015, but there is very little head anymore. Some bits of stuff in the bottom. Nose has really changed; it is very raisin/prune and sweet. Taste is also like liquid raisins. Port/sherry comparisons now obvious. Worth an extra .5 on the nose and .25 taste, with a minus .5 on look. If this beer was a little less over-the-top sweet, I could give even higher scores. Look 3.75, Smell 4.25, Taste 4.5, Feel 4.25, Overall 4.25. Total 4.32.

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Photo of Can_has_beer
4.27/5  rDev +0.5%
look: 4.25 | smell: 4.75 | taste: 4 | feel: 4.25 | overall: 4.25

2001 Vintage, poured from the bottle into a rinsed glass tulip.

This poured dark brown with no head and a slight murky edge. Not bad looking at all, for a 15 yr old. The aroma is very complex. It is an amalgam of tobacco, toffee, honey and candied almonds. The prominent flavor is honey, lots of sweet honey tones. The mouthfeel is very appropriate, as its viscous and syrupy. Upon a few imbibes, the taste has quite a long finish that keeps radiating flavors of black tea leaves. It's surprising for how sweet the beer tastes, it is not cloying and I think it's because it's supported by those dark tea-like tannins.

This was very interesting. Its quite amazing when you get to drink a perfectly cellared vintage beer. This is definitely a dessert sipper, not a post-workout or shower beer. A nice splurge.

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Photo of chinchill
3.71/5  rDev -12.7%
look: 3.5 | smell: 3.75 | taste: 3.75 | feel: 3.5 | overall: 3.75

Cask of 2015 vintage.
Sweet and near cloying but acceptable given style and ABV.
High abv is not hidden but the ale is not hot.
Complex aroma is better than the flavor which would probably benefit from some aging.

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

Mine's a 2013 vintage. I have three more bottles that I shall age.

A: Pours out nice and gloopy. Lovely clear bright amber with an off-white bubbly head.
S: Bready yeast and loads of rum. Cannot overstate how rummy it smells.
T: Yup, very rummy indeed. Very sweet, but not as sweet as the cherry/whisky cask aged versions I've tried. Gloopy and almost flat but has a very classy effervescence. Drinks like it's on cask. Very cough-syrup like. The mouthfeel is just perfect. Liquorice makes a late appearance.
O: It's taken a couple of years to hunt down one of these buggers but the wait was worth it.

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Photo of tbryan5
4.04/5  rDev -4.9%
look: 4.25 | smell: 4 | taste: 4 | feel: 3.75 | overall: 4.25

I thought this beer was very sweet and almost bordered on being a dessert beer. But yes, it is an excellent English barleywine that packs a ton of flavor in a small bottle.

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Photo of BIll_Currie
3.93/5  rDev -7.5%
look: 3.75 | smell: 3.75 | taste: 4 | feel: 4 | overall: 4

had a hard time finding this one. great smell when the cap came off. English barleywines are a bit different that us barelywines in my opinion. takes a little getting used to. great taste. also found some barrel aged versions.

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Photo of dleigh
3.23/5  rDev -24%
look: 4.25 | smell: 4.25 | taste: 2.5 | feel: 3.5 | overall: 3

Dirty brown red-ish tea color. Fizzy carbonation that quite quickly fades to nothing. Quite nice smell--lots of toffee. Tastes sweet but with an kind of off grassiness to it. Maybe it's me, but I don't love it. Swing and a miss.

This is like a steak that's been aged too long--I want to like it, and I feel like I should like it, but maybe the flavor is just too "challenging" for me. But, on the premise that a beer is supposed to be enjoyable rather than challenging, I am forced to give the taste a (relatively) low rating.

Bottle of the 2012.

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J.W. Lees Vintage Harvest Ale from J.W. Lees & Co (Brewers) Ltd
4.25 out of 5 based on 1,513 ratings.
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