Harvest Ale JW Lees
Most people accept that wine can be aged and even improve over time – but did you know that the same could be said for beer? While “born on dating” or “enjoy by” are important to hop-centric and low alcohol by volume (ABV) beer, it does get lost that some beer is made to stand the test of time.
In the short term – think of Oktoberfest beer. Oktoberfest is a Marzen-style beer that was traditionally brewed with additional alcoholic strength in spring. It was stock piled in cool caves because the hot summer made brewing nearly impossible. It satisfied demand until the return of cooler weather launched a new brewing season. I guess you could say that Oktoberfest in September was really akin to a big fridge (or cave) clean out and/or a celebration of fresh beer.
In the longer term, there are plenty of Russian imperial stouts and barley wines that are meant to age for years. Just last summer, I survived (and enjoyed) drinking a bottle of 1994 Sam Adams Triple Bock and a 2004 Thomas Hardy Ale. Each brewer suggested that twenty years of proper aging wouldn’t be out of the question and they were right. Dogfish Head’s Olde School even suggests burying a bottle in the woods for a year and Goose Island’s Bourbon County Brand Stout indicates it will age for five years.
Harvest Ale 2011
Tasting: August 6, 2013
Style: Barley Wine
Beer #: 483
Up first – the limited edition autumn-release barley wine called Harvest Ale is. Being that this barley wine is from the English brewer, JW Lees, I’ll expect a traditional barley wine profile of raisins, dates, prunes. Pour is cloudy and the color is a ruby orange. I have to admit that the first few sips were a shock to my taste buds. For some reason, I got a very earthy mushroom and chemical flavor up front but I realized it was just the alcohol ethers and malt blend. Once it settles – it has some wonderful and complex characteristics. I love the raisin, caramel, candied fruit, orange and the rich mouthfeel. The 11.5% ABV is a bit intrusive, but with some age, I’d expect the bite to mellow. Make no mistake this 9.3 ounce bottle is a sipper. I’d love to age a couple of bottles to check back in about ten years – but for now, it’s quite enjoyable – 93 points.
Tasting: August 9, 2013
Style: Barley Wine (aged in Whiskey Barrels)
Beer #: 484
Islay is a 239 square mile island located off the eastern coast of mainland Scotland. The island is home to more than 3,000 people and surprisingly nine Scotch whiskey distilleries. One of the distilleries is Lagavulin and that’s the source of the barrels used to age this barley wine.
Out of the bottle – powerful smoke and peat flavor crush the caramelized sugar sweetness. Some alcohol burn (11.5% ABV)- but much better than the standard Harvest. Mouthfeel is rich. This is nice – but I give the edge to JW Lees Harvest Ale without barrel aging as that smokey peat flavor wear out its welcome with me. I’ll put this one at 86 points.