A Portly Barleywine

Jim Lundstrom

My eyes almost popped out of my head when I saw another variety of J.W. Lees’ Harvest Ale on the shelves of my local. Not long ago I mentioned two 2013 vintage Harvest Ales – one aged in Calvados casks (liquid candy) and another aged in peaty Scotch casks (Robitussin DM and iodine).
This latest is a 2014 vintage Harvest Ale aged – or “matured,” as the brewery calls it – in port casks. Port! That is physically impossible to pass up.
J.W. Lees is a brewery in Manchester, England, and its Harvest Ale is a mighty barleywine that weighs in at a hefty 11.5 percent.
And here I’ll add a sorry side note by admitting that I once fell off a bar stool because of barleywine. I was 18 and recently arrived in England for adventures. I was staying in a village called Bicker in Lincolnshire. I hadn’t been there long before I met a group of chaps my age. One night at the White Swan pub, where I was living and working, the boys I should try barleywine, which I had never heard of before that moment.
“I’m not into wine,” I recall saying, which made them laugh once again at the naïve Yank. When they finished laughing at me, they explained that barleywine is a style of beer, with more malt.
The way they did things in England back then, everyone in the group took a turn buying a round for the group. They had their pints, and I was drinking barleywine from much smaller bottles (these Harvest Ales come in petite 9.3 ounce bottles). Of course you must keep pace with everyone. There were five of us that night. I don’t recall how many bottles of barleywine I had before I found myself sitting on the bar room floor, but just enough so that the journey was not painful to anything but my ego.

The White Swan was a Watney’s house (meaning beers from the Watney Brewery dominated the lineup), so the barleywine that night must have been Watney’s Stingo. Yeah, I know, the name should have given me a warning. Hey, I was 18!
So that was the night I learned about barleywine. It’s for sipping.
That goes triple for this rich Harvest Ale matured in port.
First I have to mention the beautiful hue of this perfectly clear, glowing beer. It looks likes like a rosé, but it turns golden as you tilt the glass to your lips. Magical!
The nose is fruity alcohol. I can’t quite identify the fruit. Passion fruit (or Lillikoi, as the Hawaiians know it)?
The taste is a big, bright blast of concentrated portly grapeitude commingling with a still young barleywine. An assertive alcohol bite at the end leaves a swirling conflagration of flavor and sensation through your entire mouth – from ridged roof to the shag carpet flooring of your tongue.
I would love to give this 2014 vintage a year or two to relax to see where these intense flavors end up.


Guinness has a new beer, Nitro IPA, a nitrogen-infused India pale ale brewed with five kinds of hops. The nitro adds a tall creamy head and big creamy taste to this beer. It’s a very easy drinking, well balanced IPA – meaning hopheads won’t be satisfied. The five hops, according to the label, are Admiral, Celeia, Topaz, Challenger and good old Cascade. They combine to build on the nice malt base and leave a pleasant hoppy green flavor as a finish.