Monday, March 18, 2013

J.W. Lees & Co. (Brewers) Ltd. - J.W. Lees Vintage Harvest Ale (2001)

A few months back, a blogger I follow did a write up of a 2002 J.W. Lees Harvest Ale that he found in a bar in Kentucky. I'd heard of the beer, but had never seen one up to that point. Lucky bastard, I thought, How the hell did he find a 2002 bottle? From that moment on, I started looking a little harder for the beer. Finally, Bottlecraft got a few different vintages in and I snatched up the oldest one they had- 2009. It was no 2002, but what were the odds of me ever finding a beer that old?

Today I went down to Toronados with my friend, Kevin. While we were there, I took a look at the bottle list and noticed that they had J.W. Lees Harvest bottles available for sale. And one of them was from 2001. You know what's better than a 2009 J.W. Lees Harvest Ale bottle? A 2001 J.W. Lees Harvest Ale bottle! Sold! At #169, J.W. Lees Vintage Harvest Ale.

J.W. Lees Vintage Harvest Ale pours a murky dark brown color with no real head whatsoever. When swirled, the beer left some modest tracks of lace, but for the most part, there wasn't much of a hint of carbonation. While the beer may not have been much of a looker (though I don't know that much beers are after 11 years in a bottle), the smell blew me away. I caught huge, rich notes of dark fruit right away. A rich raisin aroma was immediately present, along with some concord grape, fig, fruitcake and some fermented barley notes. The intensity of the dark fruit smell was right on par with the best smelling Belgian quads I've come across, if not better. I really can't do the smell of this beer justice with words. Let's just say I spent a really long time smelling this one and move on.

The taste opens with a dense, rich note of raw honey. The honey note continues through the entire taste, but woven into it throughout are notes of fig jam and grape jelly. Caramel and plum make an appearance as well. The mouthfeel is full and honey-like, almost to the point of feeling like a port, without ever endangering all of the nuances in the flavor.

The more sips I took, the more I realized that this beer really is meant to be enjoyed more like a liquor than a normal beer. It's so full bodied and so complex, that it really makes you want to sit down with it for an hour or so and get to know it better. And the closer to room temperature this beer gets, the better. This really was one of the best beers I've ever had. So if you find a bottle of this, don't be afraid to cellar it for a while. It is definitely worth the wait.

Final Grade: A+

Top 250 Beers Tasted: 116


  1. A local bar in Pasadena has fairly old versions of J.W. Lee's Harvest (Barrel aged and non-barrel aged) in their cellar. A friend and I recently were able to try 1999 J.W. Lees Harvest alonside a 1999 Thomas Hardy's, in addition to 2003 and 2004 Lauginvulin Cask Aged Harvest Ales.

    If in the area its worth checking out.

    1. Holy schnikes. I'm not so far away that I'd be able to come up with much of an excuse to pass those beers up. I can only imagine how good a '99 Lees would be and with those other beers, too...damn. I'll have to check that out. Thanks for the tip and thanks for checking out the blog!