They produce this beer every year and each one has subtle differeces, yet they retain that unmistakable J.W. Lees quality. Beer enthusiasts across the world seem to rave over it.
The website, jwlees.co.uk, has this description:
Released in limited quantities in December, Harvest Ale gives a rich, strong flavour, beloved by beer connoisseurs. It can be laid down like a vintage wine for enjoying in later years.
This will be my first post of a Barleywine, so I figured I better start with a good one.
This brew comes in a 9.3 oz. bottle and has an ABV of 11.5%.
Once in the snifter, the beer appeared a very dark burgundy, amber color. A small, burgundy tinted, large bubbled head was produced from a fairly aggressive pour. The retention time was slight as was the lacing that was left behind, however this brew did have some very impressive alcohol “legs” when swirled in the glass. When held toward the light, I could see that it was very cloudy with several chunks of sediment floating throughout. I have seen other J.W. Lees with a more impressive appearance, but as I’ve said in other reviews, that is only a small setback in my opinion.
Now…. let’s get to the “meat” of this classic. As I brought the glass to my nose, I was greeted with some wonderful aromas of a sugary molasses combined with booze drenched raisins and an earthy, dried tobacco leaf hint. Deeper in the aroma, I started to detect what smelled like homemade peanut brittle and toffee. Again, both saturated in a “Bourbon Whisky.” Even though a heavy alcohol tone is present, it sits deep in the aroma and does not distract, complicate or disrupt the harmony. It only helps define the total characteristic of the smell. Man!!! It’s well balanced, rich and prolific.
The taste, was more of the same with a few small differences. More of the sugary molasses was found and as it warmed a biscuity malt was brought forth, recalling memories of my mothers homemade biscuits, which we would douse in, what else????….. Fresh, homemade molasses!!! The toffee made another appearance as well as a few splashes of melted butter. Like the bouquet, I gathered flavor profiles of both booze drenched raisin and plum. The alcohol tone came through strong at first, however it mellowed nicely and didn’t linger as it worked its way back.
The mouthfeel was medium, somewhat chewy and smooth with ample amounts of flavor left on the palate. The heavy alcohol was a touch harsh when it entered the mouth, although it calmed down admirably as it evolved and by the end of the sip not much warmth was left behind. That was a surprise considering the 11.5% ABV.
Well….. this beer is good, no doubt. How can it not be? It’s a J.W. Lees Harvest Ale for “Pete’s sake.” The appearance was a bit of a let down. I mean, this beer is 10 years old!!!! The smell and taste were both excellent and complex. The initial taste and mouthfeel shocks the palate, but it quickly adjusts before another wash of the brew is sampled. This is a beer that doesn’t have a high drinkability nor is it a beer to rush. This needs to be sipped and contemplated. I, personally, don’t think I could drink this everyday. It brings about a wonderful experience when tasted, so to have it too often might take away from the appeal. I still have an ’02, ’05, ’06 and two ’09’s in the cellar. I hope to review them in the next few months and compare them to the 2001, so stay tuned!!!
What J.W. Lees Harvest Ales have you tried? Do you have a favorite year? Let me know in the comments.
As always, thanks for reading and commenting. I appreciate it.
Score: 4.2 out of 5