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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 rudzud
4.32/5  rDev +1.6%
look: 4 | smell: 4.5 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 4 | overall: 4

Sampled various vintages at a Julio's weekly tasting.

A - They all poured nice copper hues with various amounts of head. Considering the ABV this was quite impressive that even after years there was still SOMETHING there.

S - Each one smelled delicious. Good carmelly malts and various amounts of dark fruits. There was some nice alcohol on the nose.

T - Excellent flavours throughout. More sweet, tasty malts (carmel, toffee). There were more nice dark fruits (especially figs) along with a slight alcohol finish.

M - Surprisingly smooth mouthfeel. Not too thin, not too syruppy.

O - Overall I really enjoyed this beer. It is a bit out of my price range, but very glad I got to try it.

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

1999 vintage sampled on January 21, 2010.
Poured a hazy deep orangish brown color with good carbonation and a dirty white head. Nose is tons of honey and brown sugar, caramel and maybe some dark fruits. Very complex.
Taste was a punch of sweetness,burnt brown sugar, molasses, alcohol, sweet malts, wood, raisin, prune. Motuhfeel is sweet.

1998 vintage sampled on August 5 2008. Heavy oxidation,dried fruits,malts and subdued hops. Ten years is to much for me. Bigger dried fruits here, caramel, molasses burnt brown sugar.

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Photo of wl0307
4.23/5  rDev -0.5%
look: 4 | smell: 3.5 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 4.5 | overall: 4.5

* 2007 Vintage
Served cool in Gulden Draak's tulip-shaped bowl sniffer; the ingredients for this vintage include Maris Otter malts and East Kent Goldings hops.
A: slightly cloudy dark amber in colour, coming with very soft carbonation, lots of cottony yeast sediments, and a thin sheet of off-white foamy cap settling to a rim.
S: densely sweet, like honey-drink infused with Chinese pale prunes, sour pears, figs and Aiyu herbal jelly; a swirl brings up a more pronounced theme of stale-sourness as of a well-aged ale.
T: a lubricating, semi-oily swallow of honey-ish and toffee-ish pale malts, estery elements of pale dates and prunes, lightly phenolic yeastiness and semi-sweet longan-fruit tea leads towards a most exciting aftertaste of green asparagus juice with a touch of mashed green beans that concludes the whole palate effortlessly with so much aroma to savour... Also lingering in the end is a chewy palate of hop bitterness that helps result in a harmonious balance with the slightly nutty edge of lingering maltiness.
M&D: it's hard to believe that simple ingredients could result in such a heavenly-tasted ale, an art in a glass, with melting beauty and a slightly down-to-earth approach on the palate. Yeasts and ageing have contributed lots of nice complications to the overall drinking experience, which is different from the Belgian way but all the same enticing. A must-try English Barley Wine for any beer lover, regardless of the vintage!

* 2000 Vintage - Tasting Date: 28/08/07
Served cool in a large tulip-shaped wine glass.
4 A: black-tea-ish dark brown hue, with a light beige head that settles fast to a rim of foam, on top of light and gentle carbonation.
3.5 S: perfumy fruit-esters (full of pineapples and bananas) lie on top of dried plums, prune-ish honey, and mead, while the overall aroma is mainly astringently fruity, thickly malty (hints of caramelised sugar), laced with a touch of smoked wood-chips.
4.5 T: thick longan-flower honey, light roast coffee beans, black prunes, over-ripe pineapples come upfront; gradually brown sugar, a soothingly bitter-sweet taste of tea-smoked longan-fruits (on shells) and toffee develop, backed by a delicate touch of herbal bitterness of hops, roasted malts, quietly spicy hints of yeastiness and phenol. Almost in parallel and more subtly, the mildly coffee-ish and nutty aftertaste also lends some complexity, leading to a sherry-like finish.
5 M&5 D: creamy in fizziness, lubricating (not syrupy at all), full-bodied yet still mellow; this ale shows a lovely contrast b/w the sweet nose and superbly-balanced flavour full of 3-D hop bitterness to balance out the heavily malty body, while the finishing dryish palate makes the beer lighter than it actually tastes. All in all, this vintage ages simply too well; a truly sensational nectar to savour, IMO.

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Photo of beerthulhu
4.23/5  rDev -0.5%
look: 4.5 | smell: 4 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 4 | overall: 4

Bottled Sept. of 1998 and aged 9 years before sampling. 11% abv.

A: Pours a very dark burgundy red with a light thin tan head with some reddish hues.

S: Spicy alcohol, sweet raisins are on the nose. There is also a slight detection of smokiness.

T: The beer starts out with a massive malting and dried fruit smack in the face. Appears to be very rough around the edges malt wise with a dry bitterness and dried raisins for flavor. There is also a big burnt brown sugar flavor with an overpowering sugary sweetness. Thankfully the beer fades beautifully with some pears, apples, cinnamon and a light brown sugar coating that is very smooth leaving a sweet malt residue fade on the tongue.

M: syrupy with some light molasses.

D: Overall there was an overpowering brown sugary sweetness that is sweet making this a sipper. very good.

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

This is the 2004 edition drank on 11/17/2005
(Served in a snifter)

A- This beer has a nice warm deep coppery brown body that is crystal clear with a nice thin wispy film of bubble on to that loosely form a head.

S- This beer has a nice vinous, sweet caramel nose that has hints of pear and brown sugar.

T- A smooth sweet sugary toasted caramel malt flavor hits at first and then it finishes with a nice warm alcohol taste in the finish. A slight hint of cherries or dried fruit is noticed in the finish aswell. A nice vanilla oaky quality add another layer to the complexity.

M- A medium-full body with some slippery texture in the finish. The alcohol is a smooth note in the finish, not harsh and no hot.

D- This beer has nice sweet complexity with a nice balance of alcohol to balance the malt sweetness. The tastes of dried fruit and toasted malt really meld nicely.

1999 Vintage drank on 2/14/2010
(Served in a sifter)
A- This beer pours a deep dense brown body with a glow of soft auburn at the base. There is a light bubbly beige head that turns to a thick ring after a bit.

S- A soft tart hint gives way to sherry like sweet malt with some caramel malt sweetness that grows as the beer opens up. There is a soft hop hint in the background.

T- This beer has a rich caramel flavor with a mellow dark toffee note and hints of dark roasted malt buried underneath. There is a nice malt bitter note at the finish that takes on more sherry qualities as the beer opens up.

M- This beer has a medium mouthfeel with no alcohol heat until the beer is pretty warm and a soft fizz note. There is a slight watery texture when the beer is pretty warm but the alcohol warmth is good.

D- Great rich caramel flavor with a good depth and some nice age characteristics.

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Photo of kscaldef
2.75/5  rDev -35.3%
look: 2.75 | smell: 2.75 | taste: 2.75 | feel: 2.75 | overall: 2.75

Odd to see I'd somehow failed to transfer my notes over here, although I don't have them for all the vintages I've tried.

2010 (consumed June 2014) - Not terribly good. Maybe needs more age, but there's some funky phenols, as well as sickly sweetness. 2.0.

2006 (consumed Nov 2013) - An okay vintage. Needs a little carbonation. 3.5.

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Photo of akorsak
4.8/5  rDev +12.9%
look: 4.5 | smell: 4.5 | taste: 5 | feel: 4.5 | overall: 5

This is a 1998 vintage, purchased today from Wells Discount Liquors (n.b. they have an impressive selection of vintage JW Lees, 1998 through 2001 at least, as well as the 2004 vintage). I am drinking it from my Devil's Milk snifter, served cold.

Appearance: Dark ruby red in color, lighter colors emerge when held up to light. The ale poured with a decent head (1 finger's worth) that dissapated quickly and left no lace.

Smell: A veritable malt bomb here. The malt aroma make themselves abundantly known. I also see an undercurrent of licorice (albeit slight).

Taste: The ale is seven years old. In that time, the heady malt in the aroma has mellowed dramatically in the taste. Malt is still the predominant flavor, but it does not numb the mouth. Instead, it leaves a light refreshing taste in the mouth that is very well balanced.

Mouthfeel: Exquisite! The ale has aged so well that the alcohol does not overpower, nor do the malts used.

Drinkability: I need to make a return trip to Wells to purchase this vintage as well as those before (and after) that they stock. I'm gonna age a few of these up to 10+ years, they are that drinkable.

In my opinion, this is the standardbearer for vintage/cellared ales.

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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 Bitterbill
4.65/5  rDev +9.4%
look: 4.5 | smell: 4.5 | taste: 5 | feel: 5 | overall: 4

This is the 1998 vintage:

I've had this bottle for about 3 years now so I decided now was the time to try it:

It pours from 275ml bottle a clear very deep brown with lots of red highlights and when I hold my glass up to the light, I see no sediment. The foam whilst pouring looked like it was going to be non existant or at least, very small but when I put my glass down on the table there's a nice 1" layer sitting there all pretty looking. Plenty of sticky lacing on the sides of my glass as well. Btw, the small head of foam stays around for the entire session.

On to the smell and I'm greeted with a very strong nose of caramel malt along with some dark fruit like raisin, plum, and some fig. Nice.

The taste is very sweet because of the huge caramel malt but as in the smell, I can taste some raisin, plum, sherry, molasses, some chocolate. and other flavours that I can't even begin to describe accurately. There's a decent warming during and after the swallow but at 11.50%abv, it comes as no surprise.

The mouthfeel is really chewy and the carbonation is low and it finishes as sweet as it started out. What a sipper! What a Barleywine Style Ale! I *have* to pick up some more of these...any and all vintages I can find...because I'm getting a great drinking experience here and for the price, I think it's a damned good bargain. I highly recommend it!!!

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Photo of wordemupg
4.52/5  rDev +6.4%
look: 4 | smell: 4.5 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 5 | overall: 4.5

1999 poured into chalice oct20 2010

A hazy brownish amber with a thin film that sits there for some time leaving no lace

S licorice with big notes of brown sugar and molasses with a little earthy wet wood, pretty nice smell going on here

T all I smell but with the darkest toffee you can imagine and the brown sugars a little burnt and there's even more of a earthy flavor and its pretty sweet but not over the top

M very thick, silky, and syrupy pretty much perfect for the style so smooth and zero booze burn and considering the strength that's pretty impressive

D very easy to drink and I wish this one came in a bigger bottle because this little servings just not enough

probably the oldest beer I've ever had and I'm amazed how well it's holding up. one of those beers everybody should try and I need to thank MasterSki for my chance

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Photo of pat61
5/5  rDev +17.6%
look: 5 | smell: 5 | taste: 5 | feel: 5 | overall: 5

L: Pours bright dark chestnut topped with a thin white film.
S: Malt, raisins and port aromas.
T: Has a sweet port quality loaded with raisins, alcohol and a slight prune and a hint of bread and caramel.
F: Chewy, low carbonation.
O: This is the 2006 vintage also had the 2005 vintage which leaned more to sherry than port. Both are excellent.

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Photo of ppoitras
4.5/5  rDev +5.9%
look: 4 | smell: 4 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 5 | overall: 5

9.6oz bottle from who knows where. 1999 Edition.

Poured into a Rapscallion glass, formed a 1/4" beige head over the slightly cloudy orangey amber brew. Head quickly fades to an uneven layer of bubbles, and lacing is minimal, both more or less as expected for the style and age. Aroma is strongly of malt sweetness and alcohol. Taste is hearty in body, yet slithers lightly over the tongue and down the hatch, almost seeming to evaporate in the back of the mouth. Alcohol intergrates well, is obviously present, yet not leaving a rubbing alcohol aftertaste or numbness. Mouthfeel and drinkability are superb, so silky smooth, and goes down so well so such a big brew. What an experience...

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Photo of barczar
4.25/5  rDev 0%
look: 4 | smell: 4.5 | taste: 4.25 | feel: 3.75 | overall: 4.25

Very sweet, with huge caramelization and just a hint of sherry oxidation. Malt complexity is abundant. A bit boozy when young, but these age so well.

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Photo of bluejacket74
4.52/5  rDev +6.4%
look: 4 | smell: 4.5 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 5 | overall: 4.5

9.6 ounce bottle, 1999 vintage (1st December 1999 it says on the back label of the bottle). Served in a pint glass, the beer pours a dark amber/red color with a 1/4 inch off-white head. Not much head retention or lacing. It smells like prunes, sherry/port, brown sugar and molasses. It's a very sweet aroma. Taste is exactly like the aroma, fruity and sweet, very nice. Alcohol isn't as hot in the aroma or taste as I'd thought it would be, it's pretty mellow. Mouthfeel/body is medium/full, it's rich, slick and a bit syrupy. Drinkability is pretty good, it's very smooth and goes down easy. It's a sipping beer, but it's pretty easy to drink it quicker than I should! I could drink 2 or 3 (at most) of these in a sitting. I think this is a very good beer, no wonder it's on the BA Top 100. If you get the chance to get one of these (the older the better), you definitely should!

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Photo of Immortale25
4.55/5  rDev +7.1%
look: 4 | smell: 4.5 | taste: 4.75 | feel: 4.25 | overall: 4.5

Poured into a Funky Buddha Brewery snifter. 2011 vintage.

A- Pours a light brown color with a full two finger light tan head that retains well before popping away to a thick ring around the edge of the glass and a mostly full sheet of surface foam. Not-so-resilient lacing leaves small streaks behind.

S- Sweet, biscuity malt with notes of brown sugar, dark bread and toffee.

T- Powerful flavors of burnt sugar, caramel and more toffee. Toasty malt and minimal hop bitterness. The alcohol is hidden quite well but lends a fortified wine characteristic to the overall profile.

M- Somewhat sharp and tangy with medium carbonation and a body leaning toward the fuller side.

O- A fantastic representation of an English Barleywine. The sweetness in particular lends itself to drinkability even with the pronounced alcohol bite. You would expect those two things to clash with one another but this brew shows how the two can co-exist in harmony.

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Photo of scruffwhor
4.1/5  rDev -3.5%
look: 4 | smell: 4 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 4 | overall: 3.5

2004 vintage. "Limited Edition"

Appearance- Pours a deep Chevy Caprice rust color with hints of seassoned curly fries. Lots of russet with a spalsh of amber.

Smell- The smell of a fruit garden with lots of attention paid to raisins, plums, and port sweetness.

Taste- Start to finish, sweet, sweet, sweet. This beer was perfect whilst enjoying a campfire and conversation with friends. The Sweet flavors of dark fruits like plums, prunes, candied apples, black cherries, and raisins for a little tartness.

Mouthfeel- The syrupy sweetness I find to be very distinct of all J.W. Lees barley wines. Lots of fruity flavors all over the palate. Very relaxing and a good way to end the evening.

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

Vintage 1997:
This beer poured a deep ruby red, mostly clear, and was topped by a thin reddish brown head made up of extremely fine bubbles that produced tiny dots of lace throughout. It was intensely malty, with plum and raisin balancing sweet toffee and caramel, all very English in character. Hints of molasses and vanilla crept in as well. The first flavour that hit me was chocolate covered figs, followed by malty sweet toffee and caramel with some nuttiness. Tobacco, plum and raisin character all appeared, creating a very complex flavour. There was even a bit of bitterness left to balance the overall sweet flavour. The very low carbonation was incredibly fine and completely integrated into the body and texture, which was incredibly smooth. Just a bit of stickiness remained. Drinking this beer was an incredible experience. It felt incredibly light on the palate, almost like there was nothing there, and the flavours were amazing.

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Photo of rfgetz
3.9/5  rDev -8.2%
look: 4 | smell: 4 | taste: 4 | feel: 4 | overall: 3.5

2009 vintage. Pours a lightly hazed copper tinted brown, small cap of tan head, gone quickly. Scent leads with sweet malt, underneath one finds prune and dried fig, a splash of booze and earth. Taste leads with rich sweetness, light molasses and brown sugar, strong notes of dark dried fruit, hints of cherry. Not quite full bodied, carbonation at a minimum, some chalkiness to it. Possibly too early in its life to enjoy its subtle complexities, quite sweet still. Will revisit a true vintage.

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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 4DAloveofSTOUT
2.99/5  rDev -29.6%
look: 4 | smell: 2.5 | taste: 3 | feel: 3.5 | overall: 3

poured into tulip glass.

Vintage 2008.

Appearance: reddish light brown bodied beer with large floaties. a cap of white head with large bubbles that drops to a ring.

Smell: Malty and fruity. Rubbing alcohol is strong and it almost burns the nostrils with a deep breath.

Taste: Sweet honey mixes with smokey malts. Fairely fruity also. Finishes with a clovingly sweet taste of more honey almost mead like. As a matter of fact, this beer almost tastes like a smokey mead.

Mouthfeel: medium bodied beer with low carbonation. Booze is farily mellow compared to what the nose leads you to think.

Overall: Not a huge fan of this one. Its just too sweet for me to enjoy and i love malt forward beers just as much as anyone.

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Photo of sweemzander
3.52/5  rDev -17.2%
look: 3 | smell: 3.5 | taste: 4 | feel: 3 | overall: 3

275mL bottle poured into a snifter. Vintage 2006.

(A)- Pours a murky caramel color. No head formation, just some bubbles.

(S)- Super potent. Caramel, toffee, figs, vanilla, and not yet ripe raisins.

(T)- Rich & buttery-like caramel & toffee. Some raisin-like peach fruit thing.

(M)- A lower carbonation level. Rather sweet & rich. Not as boozy as the smell, but is syrupy.

(D)- Not a bad barleywine, but reminds me more of an old ale. I think it needs more time to smooth out its edges. Wished it had a better carbonation level, but it would at least of helped in how rich & sweet it is.

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

2008 vintage on tap at Max's. I've never had a JW this fresh, I'm curious to see what it's like.

A: Clear amber with a thick white head. Retention is excellent, and the lace, spectacular

S: Big, syrupy sweetness with honey, sugar, mild jasmine and floral character. Earthy hop character is present, something I've never noticed in this beer. I miss the age and oxidation, but it's revealing, what time can do for this beer.

T: Very big and sweet with honey, jasmine, rose and sugar. Mild hop character on the finish, along with the syrupy sweetness. Again, significantly less complex than older vintages.

M: Incredibly big, though the sweetness is a little simple in character. Good carbonation, nice finish

D: A sipper for sure.

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

Bottle, poured into a snifter

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Photo of Brad007
4.6/5  rDev +8.2%
look: 4.5 | smell: 4.5 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 4.5 | overall: 5

1999 Vintage

This has been sitting in my fridge for about a month and a half. Picked up at Beverage Warehouse in Winooski, VT. They recently got in several vintages of this ale and being that 1999 is a year that I hold in relative importance, it only made sense to purchase this, price be damned.

Pours a mild amber color with a very thin head that nearly disappears after about a minute.

Aroma is full of sweet, rich malt with a strong lean towards plums and apples. Very inviting and little alcohol seems to remain on the nose.

Taste is full of sweet malt with grape, plum and raisin being the dominant flavors. What remains of the alcohol has pretty much faded, leaving a friendly, inviting brew. Very tasty and the bouquet obviously shows.

Mouthfeel is full of lingering sweetness and other flavors from this. Nothing funky here. Of course, without the alcohol heat, it's hard to tell if you're drinking a beer or something else altogether.

It seems to have aged quite well. English barleywines aren't known for the use of hops, preferring to rely more on the characteristics of the malt used. This ale is no exception. It just makes me appreciate the style more, especially when fresh.

Worth the price and I'm interested in trying other vintages as well. 1999 was a good year and this beer just seems to preserve that.

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

Vintage 1997. The most spectacular beer I've ever had the pleasure of trying. Pours a pretty clear mahogany brown, with a small thick tan head, spotty lace and plenty of legs. Smell is mollasses, vanilla, super malty, grape, plum/raisin, little bit of alcohol, very vinous. Taste is bitter chocolate/coffee, raisins, plums, dates, spice, figs. Mouthfeel is very full bodied, low carbonation. Fucking amazing, and bottled the same year i graduated elementary school! Thanks DrJay!

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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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