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The Beer Circle » Beer, English Barleywine, J.W. Lees & Co., Lagavulin, Reviews, Scotch » J.W. Lees Harvest Ale (Lagavulin Whisky Cask)

J.W. Lees Harvest Ale (Lagavulin Whisky Cask)

Each December, English brewery J.W. Lees release its Harvest Ale, a giant barleywine pushing 11% abv. A popular candidate for aging, Harvest Ale is packed with malts to continue developing for years to come, which made it a prudent choice for J.W. Lees to condition in various barrels.

For 4 months, J.W. Lees ages Harvest Ale in casks that once held Lagavulin Scotch, Port, Sherry, or Calvados apple brandy. This particular bottle is from the 2005 vintage, so it definitely has some age to it.

J.W. Lees Harvest Ale (Lagavulin Whisky Cask)
Pours a dark copper color, almost like a rusted pipe. It is completely still and the only notions of carbonation are the smallest of bubbles that surround the edge of the glass as it lies precariously silent. The bottle had a lot of sediment at the bottom, but a careful pour led to only a hazy appearance with no noticeable floaties. No lacing at all besides the slight cap from the bubbles, but a ton of alcohol legs. It resembles the scotch in which barrels it sat it quite well.
I'm really surprised as to the extent that the Lagavulin overpowers the otherwise sweet malts that J.W. Lees Harvest normally has. It is actually the first thing I notice about the nose, bringing a lot of peat smoke and then the malts come next, bringing toffee, caramel, raisins, and sugar. A bit of alcohol in the finish. As it warms, the sweetness definitely comes through stronger.
This is my second Islay barrel-aged beer I've had, the other being the Mikkeller Islay Scotch Black, and although the Black was a 17.50% behemoth of an imperial stout, I can really draw the comparisons of the barrel treatment between the styles. The peat starts the taste, lending some smokiness that helps cut down that sugary sweetness of the malts, while at the same time aiding in complexity. Additionally, there's some sea-spray salt and seaweed that gives it a unique flavor. Once these flavors dim, the malts do come through, delivering the signature raisin-bread taste of the base beer. Caramel and alcohol-soaked fruits round out the flavors.
Mouthfeel is medium-bodied with almost no carbonation. Feels a bit lifeless, despite the sweetness which I thought would be heavy and syrupy, so I'm torn here. It takes on the mouthfeel of whisky but in a beer.
Drinkability is moderately high. I would probably rate this as slightly better than the 2000 vintage of the Harvest ale I had recently. The Lagavulin cask really helps to cut the sweetness while adding much more diverse flavors. This is definitely a sipper, but I enjoyed every drop of this beer.
I keep wavering on how to judge the value of this beer. On one hand, $12 for a 9.3oz beer is rich, but on the other, Lagavulin is not a cheap whisky by itself. This is a beer best reserved for special occasions.
Overall, a wonderful addition to the Harvest Ale collection. Extravagant flavors, Islay peat, and rich flavors abound contribute to a decadent beer. I will definitely seek out the other cask varieties now!

Beer Stats
Style: English Barleywine
Serving: Bottle
Size: 9.3oz
ABV: 11.50%
BA Score: 89
RB Score: 98

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Written by Greg Bruce

While studying at Penn State, Greg learned that beer could serve a much better purpose than a means to an end for a good party. Delicately brewed Belgians acted as a stark contrast to the almost watery beer that had been so popular and began the journey towards craft beer. From that launch point he always seems to land on something new. Greg approaches each beer, whether it is an aggressively-hopped West Coast IPA or an English bitter (and everything between), with a clear mind and open opinion, ready to analyze, compare, and ultimately, enjoy. While always fond of stouts (especially barrel-aged) and IPAs, Greg is slowly but surely drifting towards various soured beers. Find Greg Bruce on Google Plus

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