Beers like J.W. Lee's Harvest Ale

Discussion in 'Beer Talk' started by Lazhal, Mar 11, 2018.

  1. Lazhal

    Lazhal Devotee (412) Mar 13, 2011 Michigan

    Had my first one of these the other day. Was a 2002 like the picture. Absolutely sublime. Went and bought 4 more of various years. I would buy more but this stuff is $10 for about 9oz.

    I've had many of the top 25 in the English Barleywine style and except ADWTD, nothing comes close to providing the massive dark fruit and carmelized sugar flavors I got from this. I wonder if this only comes with age.

    Q1. Any beers you would suggest drink like this one? Bonus points for less expensive suggestions.

    Q2. Am I going to be able to get similar flavors without cellaring for 10+ years?


  2. drtth

    drtth Poo-Bah (3,492) Nov 25, 2007 Pennsylvania

    No beers to suggest beyond those from the style list you've already tried.

    But based on my experience with English Barleywines and some aging of a few I think to get that flavor profile you're going to have to cellar some for several years.

    You might want to ask what the folks in the cellaring forum think. You'll tap into a lot more experience with aging beers there.
  3. sjccmd

    sjccmd Zealot (544) Feb 11, 2008 Minnesota

    If you can find some Gale's Prize Old Ale that might be worth a shot. Though, some vintages/bottles have faired better than others. Harveys Elizabethan Ale is really great but much lower in ABV. Nothing really compares to JW. I would recommend sticking to UK producers. I don't know if it's from re-pitching yeast over multiple generations, fermentation vessels, or ingredients, but I have yet to find anything stateside age as elegantly as some of the UK barleywines.
  4. rgordon

    rgordon Champion (824) Apr 26, 2012 North Carolina

    The J W Lees Harvest Ales are unique in the beer world. They are lovely when young, but vinous with age. Fruitcake, marmalade, always sweet, but amazingly balanced....Pouring these beers into little vessels after a big meal is always eye-opening. These beers are the definition of "a little bit goes a long way". I've really not discovered anything like them except Hungarian Tokaji.
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  5. zid

    zid Champion (859) Feb 15, 2010 New York

    Sorry to echo others, but I don't disagree with the pedestal that this beer is on. It's a treat without a good substitute. Regarding the Gale's idea above, keep in mind that that's a radically different beer in my eyes. Expect some sourness with it. Take a look at my post in this link. If you look at it and also the post below it, you can see the color change in the beer that I had that was around the same age as yours.
  6. Lazhal

    Lazhal Devotee (412) Mar 13, 2011 Michigan

    Is it a similar or different flavor profile with that many years between them? Which did you like best?
  7. zid

    zid Champion (859) Feb 15, 2010 New York

    Different. I didn't like one more than the other, but I remember the older beer as having more personality. A lot of personality can be a good and/or a bad thing. For what it's worth, barley wines are the only beers that I like aged, but not all barley wines age well. After I had those old Lees, I went out to buy more. Price makes me only get them one at a time.
  8. sjccmd

    sjccmd Zealot (544) Feb 11, 2008 Minnesota

    In my experience, the fresher is a bit brighter with more stone fruit, and grassy, tea-like hop character. As it ages it becomes deeper, earthier with tobacco, marzipan, cocoa while still retaining plenty of the fig, dried fruit, brown sugar character of the fresher, but being more rounded, seeming less sweet.

    If I could, I'd stockpile cases of several vintages. This beer is an adventure.
  9. FlaviusG

    FlaviusG Initiate (127) Aug 15, 2009 Illinois

    I had a 2001, 2007, and 2014, and all of them were very different. Do they change the recipe year to year?
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  10. BruChef

    BruChef Initiate (179) Nov 8, 2009 New York

    What about differences in barrel character across various vintages? Do the port/sherry/calvados flavors get lost in older vintages because oxidization tends to bring similar flavors out already?
  11. zid

    zid Champion (859) Feb 15, 2010 New York

    I'm glad you raised this question, because the beer does vary batch to batch. I was too dumb to even consider this when I drank the beers in my earlier link.
    I have no idea, but I personally prefer the regular version of this beer. I rarely feel the need to revisit any of those special versions.
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  12. Wasatch

    Wasatch Poo-Bah (5,571) Jun 8, 2005 Colorado

    Their pretty tasty, huh!:slight_smile::sunglasses: Yeah, really nothing like them, but @Bitterbill might know.:slight_smile:

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  13. sjccmd

    sjccmd Zealot (544) Feb 11, 2008 Minnesota

    On their website they specifically say each batch is unique. I wonder if they select just what hops and malts are of the best quality that particular harvest.
  14. Bitterbill

    Bitterbill Poo-Bah (5,913) Sep 14, 2002 Wyoming

    I'm by far no expert but I agree with @zid, the regular is the one I go with time after time. The variants are nice but more of a yeah, I had them and I've reviewed them.
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  15. SudsDoctor

    SudsDoctor Devotee (490) Nov 23, 2008 New York

    I've only had two J.W. Lees barleywines, a 2000 vintage regular (bought and consumed in 2012) and a 2012 Calvados cask variant (bought early 2017 and consumed a few days ago). Ages aside, they were very different beers. I recall the 12 year old regular being a true eye-opener, super chewy and with amazing depth of flavor. The Calvados was delightful but, um, 'lighter' in every way - color, flavor and mouthfeel. I could only guess as to how those differences in perception should be apportioned between differences in ingredients, process, barrel character, or age.
  16. Sludgeman

    Sludgeman Poo-Bah (1,879) Aug 17, 2012 District of Columbia

    To each his own - All highly rated but the lagavulin variant is my favorite.
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  17. DoctorZombies

    DoctorZombies Poo-Bah (2,570) Feb 1, 2015 Florida

    Not in the top 25 of the list, but consider:

    Thomas Hardy Historical Ale
    Meantime Brewing Company
    London, England

    #42 - Homestate
    Cycle Brewing

    #63 The Obscure
    Green Bench Brewing
    (Brewed with yeast from Thomas Hardy)

    All are relatively new and tasty, hopefully will get that “chewy” feel you described in time, and I’m aging each one for science - Cheers!
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  18. zid

    zid Champion (859) Feb 15, 2010 New York

    Just as a heads up to the OP, because I think it's worth mentioning these things - the beers above are cognac, bourbon, and rum barrel aged respectively. The new "regular" Thomas Hardy's isn't aged in spirit barrels though.
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  19. Lazhal

    Lazhal Devotee (412) Mar 13, 2011 Michigan

    I have not tried a Thomas Hardy's yet but have been meaning to. Similar?
  20. jmdrpi

    jmdrpi Poo-Bah (5,021) Dec 11, 2008 Pennsylvania

    Aged JW Lees Harvest Ale is my favorite beer, hands down. It's still good fresh, but it takes a few years for those flavors to develop.

    Looking beyond English Barleywines, I am also a big fan of the similar flavors you get from aged Samichlaus which is a 14% abv doppelbock. It's not quite as expensive - usually it's sold in 4-packs each winter, but a few years back I was able to buy a whole case of (24) 330ml bottles for like $110. After about 3-4 years the alcohol burn smooths out and the caramel/toffee and dark fruit flavors are top notch.
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  21. Wasatch

    Wasatch Poo-Bah (5,571) Jun 8, 2005 Colorado

    Yeah, Samichlaus is also very tasty.:slight_smile:

  22. zid

    zid Champion (859) Feb 15, 2010 New York

    I do not think you will find it similar to that 2002 Harvest.
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  23. rypkr

    rypkr Crusader (770) Nov 19, 2011 Pennsylvania

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  24. Lazhal

    Lazhal Devotee (412) Mar 13, 2011 Michigan

    At the end of the day this is really what I'm after. Wonder if I should have made that more readily apparent in the op. Maybe a good thread for the cellaring forum.
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  25. darklord2011

    darklord2011 Initiate (139) Nov 18, 2011 Indiana

    Because of this post I picked up a 2015 vintage of the original version yesterday and plan to try it this weekend. Not sure if this stuff is easy to get or I just lucked out but the store I visited had a bunch including about 6 variants.
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  26. Beersnake1

    Beersnake1 Poo-Bah (1,522) Aug 17, 2013 California

    Thomas Hardy's (regular) is definitely comparable to Harvest Ale. Both are amazing with age
  27. sjccmd

    sjccmd Zealot (544) Feb 11, 2008 Minnesota

    2015, as well as multiple older vintages and variants are all technically readily available from the importer, B United. Perhaps some local distributors keep them in stock, but I always pre-order mine.

    Side note, does anyone know who's importing Thomas Hardy's at the moment? I have not tried it, but it does sound like a safe bet from what I've read.
  28. Lazhal

    Lazhal Devotee (412) Mar 13, 2011 Michigan

    Glad to hear. Hopefully you can find an older version too. I don't have much experience with this beer, but some other posters have indicated between aging and recipe changes, there is a significant difference between years.
  29. Ranbot

    Ranbot Zealot (526) Nov 27, 2006 Pennsylvania

    Maybe Shipyard's Double Old Thumper is in the ballpark? At least it shouldn't cost nearly as much the JW Lees to try it.

    It's difficult to find an English Barleywine in the US that didn't get some barrel treatment.
  30. jesskidden

    jesskidden Meyvn (1,298) Aug 10, 2005 New Jersey

    MHW, LTD.*
    1129 NORTHERN BLVD STE 312
    MANHASSET, NY 11030

    * Unfortunately, one of the all-time, least informative importer websites...
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  31. dlcarst

    dlcarst Initiate (85) Aug 21, 2015 Illinois

    I've never had an aged one but "fresh" (2 years old when it's in US stores) is mostly sweet & boozy. I need to find one of these aged bottles.
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  32. Bitterbill

    Bitterbill Poo-Bah (5,913) Sep 14, 2002 Wyoming

    Or buy a few and cellar them.
  33. jmdrpi

    jmdrpi Poo-Bah (5,021) Dec 11, 2008 Pennsylvania

    The shops that do have it, it seems to sit a while, I guess due to the price, and the fact that everyone seems to only care about IPAs, imperial stouts, and sours right now.

    Also, I believe there are only 4 of the barrel varianta - Port, Sherry, Calvados, and Lagavulin.
    drtth likes this.
  34. dlcarst

    dlcarst Initiate (85) Aug 21, 2015 Illinois

    I have as old as 2014, but it will take another 11 years to get to the same age. I want to know if it's worth buying several a year at that price and not have to wait a decade to find out.
  35. jmdrpi

    jmdrpi Poo-Bah (5,021) Dec 11, 2008 Pennsylvania

    I am drinking a a 2013 bottle of GI Bourbon County Barleywine right now, and this one is up there in the quality of sweet malt flavors. Just slightly boozier than JW Lees
  36. Prince_Casual

    Prince_Casual Aspirant (274) Nov 3, 2012 District of Columbia

    North Coast Old Stock Ale*

    *after aging for 5+ years. The good news is that the regular NCOSA is not particularly expensive (the BA'd ones are REALLY expensive though).

    I would be careful on JW Lee harvest that are finished in the spirits barrels. I mean buy one, no doubt, but I bought a few 2011 Calvados at a whole foods near me, and it was really rotty and kind of smelled like throwup.
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  37. Witherby

    Witherby Initiate (85) Jan 5, 2011 Massachusetts

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  38. jmdrpi

    jmdrpi Poo-Bah (5,021) Dec 11, 2008 Pennsylvania

    Quality beer, but I would say due to the lower abv, doesn't come across with the same heftiness in the flavor and body. Same with Samuel Smith's Stingo and some other beers marketed as Old Ales.
    zid likes this.
  39. jmdrpi

    jmdrpi Poo-Bah (5,021) Dec 11, 2008 Pennsylvania

    This is a great aging beer, but I have found that some vintages end up a bit drier than JW Lees as it ages. See my recent notes of 2010 and 2012 bottles from the cellaring sub-forum:
  40. rypkr

    rypkr Crusader (770) Nov 19, 2011 Pennsylvania

    I'd like to hear some Bruery society members chime in on this if any of their one off beers are reminiscent of JW lees?