Category Archives: J.W. Lees

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

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


Review of J.W. Lees Limited Edition 2002 Harvest Ale

Today, I have a very special beer to share with you.  It’s a J.W. Lees Limited Edition Harvest Ale.  The 2002 version.
Brewed yearly by the J.W. Lees & Co. Ltd. Brewery (Greengate Brewery) in Middleton Junction, Manchester, United Kingdom, the Harvest Ale is considered by many to be the “cream of the crop” when it comes to Barleywines.
Here’s the commercial description from the website,
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 reviewed the 2001 edition several months back, so I’m eager to see how this one compares.

This brew has an ABV of 11.5% and was poured from a 9.3 oz. bottle.

It poured a very dark brown, burgundy color with touches of ruby around the edges and a tight, khaki colored head.  It was a relatively small sized head from a very easy pour.  The retention was good and the foam settled to a fine ring around the top hugging the edge of the glass.  It left some adequate lacing and as the brew worked its way down the foam dissipated to reveal a very clear, pristine color that revealed some excellent alcohol “legs” on the glass.  Extremely clear for a beer that was 9 years old.

The aroma brought forth some extraordinary and magnificent aromas of booze drenched raisins and prunes.  Tons of sweetness enveloped my nostrils in the form of toffee, homemade peanut brittle, syrup, molasses and sorghum.  Some toasted biscuits and baked bread complimented the sweetness perfectly.  From deep within the smell came a slight “woodiness” that brought forth an “earthiness” that was harmonized superbly with the other aromas.  The alcohol is very prevalent, but in no way did it become distracting or off putting.  This brew has a world class aroma.  Possibly the best I’ve ever smelled.
The flavors explode from the very first sip.  Rich and robust savors of sugary, sweet sorghum.  Toffee and caramel blend unbelievably well with the dark fruits of raisins, prunes and grapes.  The toasty biscuits seemed to have been dipped in alcohol and spread with butter and molasses.  I even found it to have a slight taste of pancakes.  Outstanding!!!!  More of the “woody” tones and a slight tobacco hint come through and only add to an already exceptional taste.  This thing is so complex, yet remains so harmonious.  Unbelievable really.
The mouthfeel was medium, dry, chewy, sticky and slick.  It completely terrorizes the palate on the initial intake, but relaxes ever so delightfully as it glides back.  It’s as smooth as silk when swallowed.  It exudes perfect warmth when held in the mouth and left to wander the palate.  Almost indescribable.
Awesome!!!  This was almost a religious experience for me.  I don’t know that I’ve ever encountered a beer with this much character in the aroma and taste.  This is a sipper reserved for special occasions.  It’s, without a doubt, the best Barleywine that I’ve ever had and it’s totally worth the high praise.  It may be a bit much for some.  Like I said, it’s very rich, robust, audacious and gargantuan, but that is exactly what I was looking for with this beer.  The drinkability in not very high, but one beer is all I needed.  It’s a world class brew that needs to be treated with respect.  If you happen to see a bottle, regardless of the vintage, don’t pass it up.  It’s a bit expensive, but totally worth it in my opinion.
Thanks for reading everyone.  I really appreciate it.  Stay tuned for more reviews.
Score:  4.8 out of 5
Grade:  A+

Posted by on August 17, 2011 in Country: England, J.W. Lees


Review of J.W. Lees Limited Edition 2001 Harvest Ale

For today’s beer review I thought I would share with you a J.W. Lees Limited Edition 2001 Harvest Ale.  This beer is brewed by the J.W. Lees & Co. Ltd. Brewery (Greengate Brewery) in Middleton Junction, Manchester, United Kingdom.

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,, 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
Grade:  A-              

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