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Your Beermonger: The Joy of J.W. Lees Harvest Ales

by Ethan Rothstein | December 13, 2013 at 1:30 pm | No Comments

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Editor’s Note: This sponsored column is written by Nick Anderson, beermonger at Arrowine (4508 Lee Highway).

This is a very special week indeed, friends and fellow beer geeks; for this week sees an all-too rare library release of J.W. Lees Harvest Ale.

For the uninitiated, J.W. Lees is a brewery founded in 1828 in Middleton Junction, a town in the northern section of Greater Manchester, England, by retired cotton manufacturer John Lees. As Manchester grew along with the Industrial Revolution, so did the popularity of J.W. Lees, and the momentum has carried the brewery into its sixth generation as a family-run business.

Today, J.W. Lees is a stalwart of old school pub fare, producing mostly cask Ales along with a handful of Lagers. It was through a modern addition to the lineup, however, that I was introduced to the brewery years ago. The J.W. Lees Harvest Ale is a vintage-dated Barleywine first produced in 1986, featuring the first hops picked from the year’s vines along with a classic British malt character.

Not only does Lees produce the Harvest Ale, but they also source barrels from wine and spirits barrels for special runs of the beer. The Harvest Ales are built to cellar for years, and develop as long as enthusiasts care to hold on to them. All of the Lees Harvest Ales that arrived this week are relatively young, but in their way all of them are approachable even now.

The 2009 Port-Aged Harvest Ale has the vinous note but not the extra sweetness from the fortified wine that you might expect. Of the four barrel-aged Harvest Ales, the Port is the most subtle. That’s definitely not the case with the 2011 Lagavulin-Aged Harvest Ale. My first experience with the Lagavulin-Aged Lees was with a fresh bottle of 2009 upon its release; the Scotch flavor overwhelmed the Barleywine, and I didn’t enjoy it at all.

Not long after starting at Arrowine I got to revisit the ’09 Lagavulin Harvest Ale, and the two years had done it a world of good. Not only did the peaty Scotch notes calm down and integrate into the beer, but some of the extra heat had died down as well, making for a smoother experience overall. The 2011 that just arrived should be in much the same place, and should also continue to develop more in the years to come.

The 2012 Sherry-Aged Harvest Ale is quite young yet, but it’s my pick for the Lees to stock up on. The nutty, rich Sherry aromas and flavors make for a precocious Barleywine that can come off seeming older than it actually is. With time the Sherry-Aged Lees finds its voice, and of the lot I think it’s the Sherry casks that flat out work best with the beer.

My personal favorite, however, is the Calvados-Aged Harvest Ale, the 2008 vintage that is now in stock. There’s something magical in the melding of the rich, boozy apple flavors of the Calvados with the Barleywine over time, as the caramel notes of the malt assert themselves. The 2008 Calvados Harvest Ale is just old enough to start getting into, but has plenty of life in it for years of cellar aging and enjoyment.

These J.W. Lees Harvest Ales are available now, but not all are easy to find. Barleywines fans owe it to themselves to try these out: not only are they prime examples of the style; they are also great ways to start exploring beers aged in barrels that didn’t contain Bourbon at one point. Now it’s time for our newest hit feature that is taking the country (or maybe just the county, or more likely not even that):

What I’m Drinking This Week

In which I chat briefly about the beers that I’m lucky enough to be able to try. First up is White Chocolate MooHoo Stout from Terrapin Brewing in Athens, Ga. This is a variant of one of my quirkiest favorite seasonal beers — Terrapin’s MooHoo Milk Chocolate Stout. MooHoo is an approachable Milk Stout made with cocoa nibs; guess what the White Chocolate version adds? In all honesty, the white chocolate is a little too much in the background for me in the beer, but the regular MooHoo is too damn tasty for me not to love it. More should be rolling in soon; I recommend it for a sweet distraction.

The other new beer for me this week is Bell’s Third Coast Beer. This is a year-round Golden Ale from Bell’s that generally doesn’t leave Michigan — which of course means I’ve been dying to try it for years. Well, Virginia accidentally got some this week, so obviously I’m all in. Third Coast seems to be something of a hybrid between a Kolsch and a Pale Ale; it has a very light body at 4.8%, but there is just enough hop presence to give it a welcome bite. Third Coast isn’t a game-changing beer, but it’s a hell of a light ale that any Bell’s fan should seek out if possible. I wouldn’t be opposed to seeing this around more often, but it doesn’t sound like that’s going to happen. Alas.

Until next time.

Nick Anderson maintains a blog at www.beermonger.net, and can be found on Twitter at @The_Beermonger. Sign up for Arrowine’s money saving email offers and free wine and beer tastings at www.arrowine.com/mailing-list-signup.aspx. The views and opinions expressed in the column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com.

Community discussion guidelines: Our sponsored columns are written by members of the local business community. While we encourage a robust and open discussion, we ask that all reviews of the businesses — good or bad — be directed to another venue, like Yelp. The comments section is intended for a conversation about the topic of the article.

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