Review of J.W. Lees Limited Edition 2005 Harvest Ale (Lagavulin Whiskey Casks)

20 Dec
For today’s craft beer review I’m going to be trying another effort form the J.W. Lees & Co. Ltd. Brewery (Greengate Brewery) in Middleton Junction, Manchester, United Kingdom.  This particular brew is the 2005 Limited Edition Vintage Harvest Ale matured in Lagavulin Whiskey Casks.

If you guys have been reading my posts for a while, you undoubtedly know that I’m a huge fan of the J.W. Lees Harvest Ales, so I may be going into this review with a bit of a bias. 

Let’s check on the website,, and refresh our memory about the description of this yearly brew.

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.

I also found this description on, which seems to be geared more specifically towards the Lagavulin Casks.

Only available filtered and pasteurised in bottles.  Matured in wooden casks of Lagavulin Malt Whiskey, one of the most distinctive malt whisky from the island of Islay, characterized by the strong peaty notes which should blend with the Harvest Ale to give an explosion of flavors.  This fully fermented ale has been brewed by JW Lees as a celebration of the brewers’ art. Harvest Ale can be enjoyed now or laid down like a fine wine for enjoyment to come.

How ’bout it????  You ready????

Like all J.W. Lees that I’ve encountered, this one comes in a 9.3 oz. bottle and has an ABV of 11.5%.

The beer poured a dark, murky brown color with tons of sediment floating around and some actually sitting on the bottom of the bowl.  The head was off white and very small in size with a gentle pour.  Very loose bubbles comprised the cap.  The retention time was not real great and little to no lacing was left behind.  However, the liquid produced some amazing alcohol feet when I tilted the glass back and forth.  

The aroma released a wonderfully bold and robust Whiskey nose.  It even smelled a little like Scotch.  Hints of a woody, charred, aged oak commingled with very sweet fragrances of caramel and vanilla.  I found some of those booze soaked raisins too, of which these Harvest Ales are known for.  Further aspects of worn shoe leather and a freshly oiled baseball glove.  Wow!!!  Unbelievable.  So complex, yet completely accordant and balanced.

The taste was outstanding as well.  Rich and audacious.  Charred woods and oak with sweet caramel and rich molasses.  The Whiskey was noticed, but it seemed a little more up front in the aroma than it did in the taste.  The vanilla appeared to come on a touch stronger though.  The flavor implied earthy tones of baked biscuits and breads integrated with some more of those booze soaked dark fruits.  The flavor started overly sweet almost, but as it began to relax and meld, the “woody” savors really began to shine and define this beer.  Don’t get me wrong, the sweetness was still there, but it played more of a supporting role as this brew developed.

The mouthfeel was medium bodied, very dry and chewy.  It commenced a bit harsh on the front of the palate, although by the time it reached the throat it had transformed into a very smooth and slick sipper.  A ton of flavor was left behind after the swallow also.  I got a great bit of warmth, yet I never attained any large or off putting amount of burn from mostly little swigs.

Incredible.  What aroma and flavor!!!  Granted the appearance was not good and the drinkability was not all that great either, but what they lack, the nose and taste more than make up for.  They are top notch in my opinion.  This beer isn’t for the timid however.  It requires time and restraint to drink.  It needs to sit about and develop.  It only gets more complex and elaborate with each passing drink.  I can’t help it.  I love J.W. Lees brews.  I find something new with every sip.  This beer is still going to score high in my book regardless of the appearance and drinkability factors.  If you ever happen across a bottle of the Harvest Ale and you are wanting a full blown flavor experience….  don’t hesitate.  Pick up any vintage year and I don’t think that you will be disappointed.   

Thanks for reading and commenting guys.  It’s always appreciated.  Be sure to let me know what you think of the reviews if you have a minute to spare.  Feel free to voice your opinion if you have sampled any of the brews that I’ve partaken in.

Until next time.  Cheers.

Score:  4.45 out of 5
Grade:  A

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Posted by on December 20, 2011 in Country: England, J.W. Lees


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