‘Twas the night before Christmas, and I was writing a blog post. You reader types will have to forgive me if this entry is a bit shorter than some of the others. But this beer is so good, it almost doesn’t need an intro. So I’ll give you a short one, and get on with raving about the awesomeness of the beer.
According to the Manchester-based brewery’s website, then-Head Brewer Giles Dennis started making the Harvest Ale in 1986. Oh, how I wish I had a bottle of that first batch in my cellar now. This is an especially special barley wine, as it’s made with the very first delivery of the Maris Otter and East Kent Goldings harvests.† Essentially, J.W. Lees Harvest Ale is a Single Malt And Single Hops barley wine, but that description doesn’t nearly do it justice. Maybe these tasting notes will help.
Pour/appearance: (Ben) Pours a shade between ipe and teak, with a mostly nonexistent head. The head consists of a thin lace line around the edges of the glass. Pours like a barley wine. Some lacey cling to the glass. 11.5%, bottle says 11/2012.
Nose: (Ben) The nose is honey and toffee, with maybe some sherry to it. How do they get such rich melanoidins with just first harvest Maris Otter? Must be brewing magic.
(Meagan) Smells amazing; malt and honey, and a nutty caramelized character that reminds me of pecan pie.
Taste: (Ben) Wow. The first thing that struck me was the rich, rich flavor of the terroir. I’m tasting individual grainy and hop flavors. Is this what EKG hops are supposed to taste like? Compared to this, all the stuff I get stateside is skunky. Second sip, there is a sweet, grainy malt aftertaste. This has a strong agricultural flavor to it; not like brett, but earthy, wholesome and natural. You would expect too much sweetness from the nose, but the balance is perfect. I thought the J.W. Lees Lagavulin was the best ale I’d ever had. This is better. What will this vintage taste like next year?
(Meagan) I’m having trouble describing the rich flavor of this heady brew. I didn’t notice hops in the nose, but they’re present in the finish. Same nutty, caramel notes hinted at in the nose, complemented by the EKG’s leafy bitterness.
Body/mouthfeel: (Ben) Thick. Creamy and viscous. Honestly, Bigfoot is thicker, but that’s an American barley wine, so it’s different.
(Meagan) Full-bodied. Coats the whole mouth, filling it with lovely alcohol warmth. It leaves a slight tingle at the tip of the tongue, and a hint of bitterness at the back.
Overall: (Ben) Wow. I imagine the residual hop will fade next year. I’ve got to get more bottles if there are any left; in a few years I’m definitely going to do a J.W. Lees vertical tasting. Oh, yeah. I’m torn between going on about the flavor and just telling you that I’m sorry you don’t have a bottle.
(Meagan) This is an absolutely fantastic barley wine; a real mouth party. I’d happily (very happily) drink more, but then I’d have none for the cellar. As mentioned above, it’s brewed from the very first delivery of the barley and hops harvest; this beer expresses the full character of the ingredients like no other I’ve encountered. Truly outstanding.
(Ben) Would I buy it? Are you kidding me? Why haven’t you got a bottle or seventeen already?
Would I brew it? Well, first, getting those fresh, fresh malts and hops—so far beyond the exclusivity of Single Malt and Single Hop that it only uses one part of the first harvest of both—is impossible for me. But yeah, next year, when I get my Cascade crop, I’ll be putting together an American barley wine with super fresh and tasty ingredients. Yums.
†”J.W. Lees Harvest Ale | Barley Wine.” B. United International Inc. B. United International Inc.
“Harvest Ale.” JW Lees. JW Lees & Co. Brewers Ltd.