J.W. Lees is all about cask beer. Based in North Manchester, the sixth-generation family business is known for their critically acclaimed English barleywine ales. The four we sampled were essentially the same 2011 Harvest Ale to begin with - but when aged in different barrels for four months, each flavor changed drastically. Whether it was a balanced vanilla or smokey scotch, the ales all around were 11.5% ABV and had a similar copper shade in appearance. Read on for more of our tasting notes with J.W. Lees!
This high gravity ale was the first Harvest out of the four brews we sampled, pouring an apple brandy hue with a tan head. A few tiny bubbles were noticed (little carbonation) and the aroma was described as boozy caramel pecan. The lingering, sweet taste brought us thoughts of cocktail raisins and whiskey.
Our second ale was very similar to the Sherry Cask in its golden amber color, but possessed a little more vibrancy and clarity. A light khaki-colored head formed when poured. The fragrance was a little softer and reminiscent of dark brown sugar and vanilla, with a few woodsy and bourbon notes. The flavors matched, creating a balanced, golden-raisin taste that was sweet on the front but didn't linger.
This English barleywine ale poured a natural cream head, with a similar copper color as the rest. The nose was described as almost tart, with green apple and raisin scents coming through. 'Boozy forward' was the collective thought when sampled - if desired, one could slowly sip it for quite sometime, savored like a liquor.
Prior to sampling the brew, we were told that the Lagavulin whisky ale was the most unique in flavor out of the four. Matured in wooden casks of Lagavulin Malt Whisky, this ale paralleled the hazy amber color of the rest and had a minimal, off-white head. The super balanced scent took us by surprise, illustrating smokey campfire aromas, as well as ash and scotch liquor notes. The powerful smokey taste gave way to a woodsy finish.
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