J. W. Lees Vertical Tasting

Comments by Thomas Cizauskas

The following comments were not included in the Brews Brothers' article published in the Mid-Atlantic Brewing News.

According to B United's Fischer, the bottled iterations are filtered. They are not pasteurized nor bottle-conditioned.

The brewery first launched Vintage Harvest Ale in 1986.

For palate cleansers between samples, the particpants munched on crackers and cheese. John Pollack of The Old Vine supplied two artisinal choices: Fiscalini Cheddar from California and Clawson Stilton from the UK. (Baltimore City Paper readers recently voted as best in the city, Old Vine's cheese case.) I found the combination of the Stilton and the barleywines to be exquisite. The pungency of the Stilton really did cleanse the palate between vintages.

As Arnie pointed out, all the pours revealed greater flavor and aroma complexity after 10 minutes in the glass. They were sampled room temperature.

2003 Calvados
Lighter amber in color than the 2001. Very bright. Nose of apple spirit, cotton candy (Arnie said Boston Cream pie!), spicy buttery hops, nougat . Alcohol more evident than with the 2001. Brandy-like finish. Less syrupy than the 2001. Aging will blend the angular flavors together.

2003 Lagavulin
Incredible... if you like scotch whisky!! Sea air and peaty brimstone lunge out at you. Slightly darker than the Calvados. Good conditioning (In fact all of the vintages had varying degrees of carbonation and head retention.) Oily midsection: vanilla and a salty finish round out this delight.

2003 Port
Not my favorite. More carbonated than the other iterations. Tawny port character appears as grapey nose. Also honey and caramel, and off-putting enteric hint. Cloying.

2003 Sherry
Sherry-like... but all the iterations have this character. Bright, well-carbonated. Strong slug of mandarin orange accompanied by fusel note of 'Lemon Pledge' Thinner body than the other 2003s. I liked Arnie's comparison to "Tripel Sec".

2001
Copper amber color. Good conditioning and clarity. I liked John's reference to an "old Sauternes". Character of sherry, apricot, toffee, and halva. A tad syrupy but utterly delicious.

1999
More chestnut in color and hazier than the 2003s, yet still with pleasant carbonation. Very complex: residual sugar in taste and nose, a pleasant madeirization, nutty, red currants, pears, wet earth, a wee waft of smokiness. A toss up for my favorite between this one, the 2003 Lagavulin and the 1997.

1997
Brilliant dark ruby hue, good clarity, still evident conditioning. Now finding plums, prunes, strawberries, dark cherries, and (credit to Steve) chocolate. Gorgeous! Medium body with final sip reminiscent of Kirschwasser.

1988
As wine critic Robert Parker says of his beloved Bordeaux: "Drink now!" Tasted like a fine Amontillado sherry with hints of Mr. Pibb, plums, and grassiness. (John said baled hay.) Warming alcohol down the gullet at finish. Would recommend decanting to remove the proteinacious floaters.

1986
Warming spirituous nose. Very clear with notes of Cognac, vanilla, toffee, hay, and teasing hints of red currants. A touch of conditioning still was evident.

Pollack, contemplating

J.W. Lees Harvest Ale is occasionally imported in and served from samll wooden casks called pins.

In this same issue of Mid-Atlantic Brewing News, the Brews Brothers penned a cover article devoted to barrel-aged beers in general. Here's one paragraph.
Several European brewers also are experimenting with aging beers in previously used spirit casks. B. United International imports several beers brewed only for the U.S. market, including De Dolle's Oerbier, aged in Bordeaux casks, and Gale's Prize Old Ale, aged for six months in E. Dupont Calvados casks.

The tasting ended in the early afternoon with the sunlight streaming in brightly through the windows. Meltzer was moved to say, "This was the best day of beer tasting in my life." Cizauskas exclaimed, "Aging like a fine wine? Ha! Aging like a fine barleywine!" Then, they all ambled out - slowly - into a better day.

Here's a paean to Harvest Ale written under its influence!