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 assurbanipaul
4.74/5  rDev +11.5%
look: 4 | smell: 5 | taste: 5 | feel: 4 | overall: 4.5

Pours a dark mahogany with a small head that settles easily into a ring. Aroma is very strong: deep, rich malts, flush with sweet raisins and figs. The nose is almost syrupy.

Taste mirrors a lot of the smell but that's like saying an object mirrors the photograph of it. Very rich malts, thoroughly caramelized, peat, brown sugar, hints of faraway smoke and a sad tale of melancholy. A whiskey fruitiness, maple syrup, something akin to that gained from whatever lives on the inside surface of oak barrels. Alcohol is barely noticeable but it's there, with the sweetness doing a lot to keep it in check. This is deep.

Mouthfeel is heavy, slick and velvety smooth. This beverage really pushes the envelope between beer and a distilled spirit. Built to age and I imagine that the years may take down a bit of the sweetness, only improving this beer.

1999 Vintage. Heaviest bottle I've ever held.

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Photo of phisig137
4.84/5  rDev +13.9%
look: 4 | smell: 5 | taste: 5 | feel: 5 | overall: 4.5

1998 Vintage poured vigarously into a tulip, produces a thin 1/2 finger head on top of a murky reddish brown body. Head falls quickly, and doesn't leave any lacing.

Aroma is massive. Burnt sugar, caramel, dark fruit, chocolate, figs, alcohol, and tobacco are present in abundance.

The flavor is simply incredible here. One of the most complex beers that I have ever tasted, hands down. Huge notes of vanilla, cherries, caramel, toasted grain, wood, raw sugar, honey, and others fill your mouth, and change as you drink it. Everything in there is incredibly concentrated, to the point that this tastes like a "beer reduction". I can't even begin to pick out everything in there... the complexity and concentration are making my head spin. Alcohol is present, but not overwhelmingly. Mouthfeel is very thick, heavy, and syrupy. Drinkability is pretty good, but I wish that it were not... this is meant to be savored for a couple of hours.

I paid $7.99 for this bottle, and now that I've tasted it, I would gladly pay double that. I really find it interesting how this changes the more you drink, and are able to pick up on more and more subtle nuances. Despite the fact that this is already 8 years old, I could easily see this going for at least another five years.

Without a doubt, one of the 5 best beers that I have ever had.

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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 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 TheLongBeachBum
4.05/5  rDev -4.7%
look: 4 | smell: 4 | taste: 4 | feel: 4.5 | overall: 4

1998 Harvest Ale (tried on 8/3/06)

Presentation: 275ml bottle, 11.5% Alc/Vol. Single obverse cream label with a picture down the left hand side depicting a hop harvest. Black crown cap.

Appearance: Dark ruby body with a polished mahogany firmed up six-pack stomach that is tight. Tan head rises on the pour and seemingly pulls the finely dissolved carbonation out of solution and into the underside of the cap like a vacuum. Finishes with a classy poise, the head breaks eventually but there is some fine lacing.

Nose: Melodious nose that has a sweet edge but it is gentle. Warm and cuddly, the aromas have an inviting dark fruit consistency with a rich range of odors.

Taste: Dark toffee, boiled raisin juice and brown sugars dominate the middle. Entrance has a little liquorice, but not much, finish rises with an ember like warmth and has a lot of plums and figs with a lingering squashed date after taste.

Mouthfeel: Treacle like texture allows this one to ooze into every nook and cranny. Soothing alcohol warmth portrays the strength but this is more than balanced by the dissolved malt sugars.

Drinkability: The sweetness takes the edge off the long term partnership, but it is a solid night cap brew that certainly makes up for this aspect with a plethora of dark fruits and complexity to have this one remain a favorite.

Overall 1998: Much sweeter than the previous years (1997) sample that I tried a few days ago. At almost 8 years old, time has certainly softened the syrup texture but it still has a residual sweetness that takes a little getting used to. I think that the Harvest Ale is best sampled at 5 years plus, but I think the 1998 will keep for several years yet whilst still improving.

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Photo of crwills
2.6/5  rDev -38.8%
look: 3.5 | smell: 3.5 | taste: 2 | feel: 3.5 | overall: 2

WARNING: This may have been a spoiled bottle, as my rating is significantly lower than the average.

Vintage 1998 bottle.

Poured a muddy brown with a small fizzy head into an oversized wine glass. Doesn't look too bad, although there are some particles in there which make it less appealing than it could be.

Aroma is brown sugar, cake or doughy bread, with alcohol in the forefront. Some mild milk chocolate notes and dark, overripe or rotting fruits. A little bit of a sour, off aroma concerns me...

Taste is... ridiculously sweet. I think this is what happens when an eight year old barley wine doesn't get taken care of. Overwhelming sugary cotton candy and candied prune/date flavours make this impossible to enjoy for me, although it does overwhelm the high alcohol. Aftertaste is terribly sweet, and I had to eat something to get rid of it. Any hops that were in there are long gone... all malt, all the time.

Mouthfeel is still OK, if a bit sticky. I got about 2/3 of the way through this before I had to stop.

I hope this was a bad sample... I've had several other aged barleywines that didn't end up like this. Most of the reviews indicate that it should be very sweet, but this was just unbearable. If given the opportunity, I will grab another bottle (maybe not quite so old) and re-review.

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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 phishgator
4.04/5  rDev -4.9%
look: 3.5 | smell: 4.5 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 3.5 | overall: 3

Vintage 2001

This poured into a snifter with little head that disappeared within a few seconds of the pour. The color is a hazy, thick dull amber-copper. The aroma is oak, maple, plum, and vanilla. The taste is very complex a mix of all sorts of flavors: maple syrup, vanilla extract, tart and sour like an old ale, and the presence alcohol is very apparent. The mouthfeel is thick and chewy with a big thick body. I can't say that I want one than one of these a week, but it is a nice treat for a good occasion. A sipping brew and one that can't be too warm as the alcohol and body get in the way at a higher temp.

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

Bought from Once Upon a Vine in Richmond in July, 2006 and poured into a large wine glass. Vintage Dec. 1, 1998.

Deep brown in appearance with a modest beige head, which disipates rather quickly. Doesn't appear to be a very active beer, but the colour is quite nice.

Huge scents of whiskey and other alcohol. You can certainly tell that this champ bring a big abv bat to the game. Beyond that, however, is a myriad of complex aromas: plum, dark cherries, vinous fruit, and a hefty amount of yeast. There is also a certain light nuttiness to it. Fantastic.

The age has done wonders to this brew. Plum and fig and a much more pronounced nuttiness. The hops have all but disappeared unfortunately, and the alcohol flavour have been subdued by the years. It is almost difficult to compare this to a new vintage due to the severity of the difference between the two. Decent flavour, but I think if I had gotten to this one 3 years sooner I would have liked it more. As it warms a bit, some caramel qualities come out, but still a bit subdued for me.

Thick and chewy with minimal carbonation... exactly as this beer should be.

Drinkable for a brew this big, but still not exactly drinkable... I wouldn't want to have more than one or two. Still.... if you can find it, search it out just to appease your curiousity... its certainly different and won't be around for much longer.

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

'99 vintage at The Stumbling Monk.
Body was mahogany mingled with orange. Miniscule head. Nose was sweet berries like Strawberry, cherry and syrup. I got more red berries in the taste with strong maple syrup in the finish. The alcohol was well hidden though still present. I really enjoyed this, especially at $9 which in my mind is very affordable for a beer of this age. Mouth was decadently creamy. I would love to have this again and hopefully will be able to justify the price the next time I visit The Stumbling Monk.

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Photo of DarkerTheBetter
3.73/5  rDev -12.2%
look: 4 | smell: 3.5 | taste: 4 | feel: 3.5 | overall: 3.5

1998 Vintage

This beer pours a glassy brown amber that fades to copper near the edges with no head at all.

Smells of gooey barley, marshmallows and honey with a smooth oak and an over powering alcohol.

Tastes a lot like Southern Comfort with a corn syrup sweetness and a slight orange citrus sting along the sides of my tongue. I’m also getting hints of cocoa and charcoal in the finish with a slight woody oak.

The mouth feel is medium bodied and smooth. It was also a lot cleaner (not sticky) that I anticipated. Can’t say much for the carbonation, sadly.

This one was just too smoky in the flavor and hot in the nose for me. Not my favorite vintage by far. Maybe I missed something, but this wasn’t all that great.

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

This is an amazing beer. Cloudy, rich orange-brown in appearance with an aroma of deep and smoky sweetness. Perhaps the best, cool-and-pearly-caramel-smooth mouthfeel of any beer I've ever had. Literally, a stunning beer -- you sip it, and stop, and regard it and your response to it, marveling that something this good can be had so relatively cheaply (over $8 a bottle in my city, but my God, who cares). If you have an affection for barleywines, this cannot be allowed to pass you by. To me, the alcohol was wonderfully hidden, and I could have sipped it for hours.

NOTE: 1998 Vintage.

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

1999 Vintage.

A- Dark Amber, mahogany, with a ruby hint. Very minimal cream colored head, and a light but sticky lace.

S- Very sweet thick malty scent....brown sugar, caramel, toffee...as well as some fruit....raisin, plum, and berries.

T- The taste is as thick as the smell....brown sugar, plum(or prune), raisin....light hops balance and complement this wonderful ale.

M/D- Extremely thick, mediciney texture....very complex...and wine-like. I am definitely interested in trying some of the other vintages...possibly one that is a little more fresh.

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Photo of hgrong
3.93/5  rDev -7.5%
look: 4.5 | smell: 4 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 4 | overall: 2.5

2002 Vintage

Pours a beautiful copper color with an active head that dissipates quickly. Not surprising considering the ABV. The nose is raisins, molasses, maple, and some vinous alcohol. On the palate it resembles a liquer rather than a beer. Sweet notes of maple, nuts, and brown sugar. The alcohol is very well hidden in the palate. Good mouthfeel. Crisp and defined, not syrupy or loose. My only problem with this beer is that I could never drink more than one. It is just too sweet. A fantastic brew for sitting in front of a fire in the dead of winter.

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Photo of ericj551
3.98/5  rDev -6.4%
look: 4.5 | smell: 4 | taste: 4 | feel: 4.5 | overall: 3.5

I was at the at the store today and decided to finally pick up a bottle of the beer. I was surprised to find that the 1998 vintage bottle was cheaper than the fresher varieties. It pours a deep ruby brown, with a nice half inch lingering head. There is quite a bit of sediment left in the bottle. I smell sweet malts with a strong hint of raisins. The alcohol is quite evident in the smell, a bit overpowering, but not unexpected for a beer of this strength. It smells very much like a nice glass of good scotch. The taste is quite sweet, more raisin flavor, as well as faded hop bitterness. Deep roasted malts are evident, as well as caramel and toffee flavors. The alcohol is less obvious is the taste, but still there for sure. This is definitely a beer for sipping and savoring, I'll have to try the more recent bottles.

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

Happy Father's Day to me...2006.

Bottle inspection: looks exactly like the bottle pictured here on the website. States that it is limited edition and bottled on 1st Dec 1998.

Aroma: A wonderful blend of fig newtons, grape jelly, brown sugar, grape juice, and raisins. The grape jelly keeps coming back to the nose.

Appearance: Dense and cloudy deep amber pour with a thin tan cap. Beautiful streaming lace.

Flavor: Molasses, grapes, raisins, carmel malts, vanilla, and maple syrup. A dopplebock-like sweetness dominates. It is very sweet.

Mouthfeel: Full bodied...coats the palate and the back of the throat. A touch of drying alcohol finishes it up.

Overall impression: One to be sipped and appreciated. Top notch in my book. Glad I had the chance to try this one. Strongly recommended.

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Photo of cjgator3
4.75/5  rDev +11.8%
look: 4.5 | smell: 4.5 | taste: 5 | feel: 5 | overall: 4.5

2000 vintage

Pours a murky dark copper color with a nice creamy head. Smell is sweet with notes of raisens, plum, caramel and alcohol. All I could think the second this beer hit my mouth was WOW!!! This is an amazing beer. Mouthfeel is chewy and has an unbelievable smooth thickness to it. Taste is just absolutely stellar. It is thick and syrupy and dangeorously addicting despite it's high alcohol content. Be careful not to drink this one too fast as it is definately a sipper. Simply outstanding.

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Photo of bennetj17
3.79/5  rDev -10.8%
look: 3.5 | smell: 4.5 | taste: 4 | feel: 3 | overall: 3

2004 Vintage...
Pours looking flat, a deep brown color with amber hues. Smell is strong like wine grapes and cherry, and when you get your nose in further becomes very brown sugary and malty. Intense sugary malt present in the taste, with notes of fig and other dark fruit. On the first taste i get a hint of meaty flavor in the finish with just a hint of smoke, and later this disappears as the syrupy malt taste dominates. Mouthfeel is not very thick, but there is an oilyness present. Virtually no carbonation, only a slight tingle. I had trouble drinking this brew as it is too incredibly rich for my tastes. I would say the alcohol is masked very well. Some of you may love this beer but I prefer more balance...

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

1998 vintage

I found 2 of these bottles tucked away in a specialty beer store corner. I was actually looking for a totally different beer when I found this. Amazing sometimes what you find when you aren't looking!

A - Beautiful deep burgundy. Nice tan head, light lacing.

S - Wow, rich malty smell. Hints of port, definitely vinous in character.

T - This is a classic example of what I love about english barleywines. Rich malt taste, not cloying sweet. Raisin / plum / toffee swirling around. Hops are enough to keep this balanced but definitely take a way back seat to the experience.

M - Rich, full bodied. This one is a perfect example in my book of a rich strong beer that drinks clean.

D - I had to have one as soon as I got home. Drinks wonderfully smooth. For an 11.5% ABV, this gives no hint that it is that potent. I'm keeping the other one for a special occasion as well as keeping an eye out for any more 98's floating around.

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

1997 vintage, purchased by me in early 1999. Has been in the 50f frig for a number of years. I drank one of the bottles purchased with a friend in minneapolis on night of purchase in january 1999 and we dumped it down the sink, it was completely disorganized and rather foul.

Pours in a pint glass, 25% head with a clear dark ruby color.

Nose is of old beer, uh-oh. Also very minty, and generally pleasant. Further in it smells of sweet raininy odors.

Taste is something different for me. Very syrupy, sweet, some background mint with a very sweet aftertaste. This is a very heavy drink and in a lot of ways resembles something other than beer. It does leave that glowing feeling in the mouth I associate with old ales. Most similar drink in character I have had was the Courage imperial russian stout/1993 this year, though this is less raisiny and dark. After seeing the similarity, I wonder what role oxidation plays in this taste character in old ale in general. I have found similar notes in older bottings of just about any ALE.

This is my last and only bottle of this, but I will say the 7 years of holding it were worth the wait. I have none left. Lesson - buy more than 1 to hold!

I feel some small guilt for not saving this for future Gecko visits, but will try to make amends. The Dog cellar has grown notably.

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Photo of tavernjef
4.72/5  rDev +11.1%
look: 4 | smell: 4.5 | taste: 5 | feel: 5 | overall: 4.5

1999 Vintage - Color sits as a hazy ruddy brownish orange, a finger high dark ivory head foamed up as very loosely formed bubbles and popped down quickly to a whispy haze and a micro thin ring clinging to the edge of the liquid, lace appears from off the thin ringed edge and drips right back in super fast.

Smell is malty sweet, strong amounts of caramel and lots of dullish dark fruit overlays with a mix of banana and raisin, fig and plum. Strong warming alcohol, noting ethanol-like, seeps into the nose and opening up your sinuses like a minty strong tea. A potently strong boozy nose...whew!

Taste is malty thick and sweet with a great melty-like smooth caramel, great thick feel and flavor of super fresh sweet caramel, stupendously yummy with some notes of dulled dark fruityness of raisin, plum, light orange and banana. Toffee notes mix in with a fresh claro-like tobacco leafyness. Hops show through very easy in a calmly light pineyness and bitterness. The alcohol floats in and out finding areas to sneak in and warm you up. The caramel malts are amazingly candyish and chewy thick.

A wondefully full malty mouthful of creamy thick smoothness, oh my...its nice! The finish creeps along with a nice malty sweetness of very dulled orange and caramel hugging your tongue like a big fleece blanket on a chilly evening. Goes down with an incredible ease and soothing creamy smoothness, only the warming alcohol keeps you from bigger swigs, which really wasn't all that hard to do, just that the warming hits you faster. A great sipper which didn't last long in my glass during this years first snow storm, its so damn good!

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

Another brew I've been searching for for a while and finally found in the beer utopia that is Kings County, NYC. This is Lee's 1999 Harvest Ale, bottled on December 1 of that year. Wow. I think about who I was then and what I was doing and I realize how old this beer actually is.
Dark, opaque body with a orange/ruby tinge and thin beige head that kicks the bucket pretty quickly. The nose is pungent and detectable from a few feet away. Heavy, dark malt with some balance and soaked in alcohol is the order of the day. A fruity, winey flavor becomes evident after a few minutes, followed by bits of yeasty, toasty, piney with other wood characteristics. This also features some unidentifyable sugars. A quite, strong and unique smelling beer, for sure.
The bite of alcohol takes my breath away initially but this is quickly tempered by sweet caramel and gentle hopiness that provides some accompanying balance to this otherwise malt supremacist. Amazingly silky texture and lacking completely in carbonation.
Incredible craftsmanship, and definitely should be perused by any serious barleywine fan but the strong alcohol flavors kept his from being an otherworldly drinking experience. I would definitely give a fresher version a shot, just for comparison's sake.

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Photo of jmz62565
4.32/5  rDev +1.6%
look: 3.5 | smell: 4 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 4.5 | overall: 4.5

The 2005 edition pours a honey amber with a smallish white head. The smell has a very strong alcohol, dark fruit,prune or raisin, aroma with some wood and wine like scents. The taste is much smoother than I expected. This is creamy with no harsh alcohol flavors,just a whiskey barrel aged smoothness with some sweet malt and fruit flavors. This is very good. indeed. The m/f is heavy and very well balanced. This is one of the most drinkable barleywines on the market and I would buy this again in a second.

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Photo of bort11
4.34/5  rDev +2.1%
look: 4 | smell: 5 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 4 | overall: 3.5

2001 edition I had been eying at Bubbles for some time now.

A- Poured into a tulip glass. About a 20 second head only a 1/4 inch high. A ring of lace around the edge. It has the color of dark maple syrup.

S- Coffee, chocolate, toffee, molasses rotate in the nose. It smells heavy and sweet.

T- the flavors melt onto the tongue. Toffee comes out on top. It feels like it is soaking into my mouth. Very Very sweet. Almost too sweet for me, but very mellow.

M- Pretty heavy body. It has the consistancy of Maple syrup, so it is thick and sticky, but also very fluid. I enjoyed the feeling of just holding it in my mouth and let it soak in. Almost no carbonation, I think the alcohol is creating more of a tingle.

D- This is a powerful beer. I would like to try other editions to compare. I am going to get more of these, but only to pull out for special occasions. This is not a casual beer, something you couldn't drink on a whim, or should you.

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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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