Vintage Isn't Just For Wine

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Courtesy of Marc over at my favorite local watering hole, Brannigan Brothers, I enjoyed an exquisite J.W. Lee's Harvest Ale, vintage 1997. 11 year old beer. The bottle said it was 7.5% abv...but after 11 years of bottle conditioning and sitting around with eyast, it had the sow burn of 11+%.

This harvest ale is technically an English Barleywine, which is a kind of strong ale. A barley wine typically reaches an alcohol strength of 8 to 12% by volume and is brewed from specific gravities as high as 1.120. It is called a barley wine because it can be as strong as wine; but since it is made from grain rather than fruit, it is in fact a beer. In the United States, barley wines are required for this reason to be called "barley wine-style ales." In fact, the Beer Judge Certification Program differentiates between English and American-style barleywines. J.W. Lee's, brewed in Manchester, UK, is definitely of the English style.

The beer poured into our snifters a muddy brown color, with a chill haze to it that clarified as it warmed. Some sediment was evident in my glass, but I probably poured a little eagerly and violently. No biggie. As I swirled it before I smelled it, it left a viscosity on the glass like "legs" in a good strong wine. It poured with a low, off-white head that dissipated quickly.

The aroma was everything we dreamed of. Dark fruit likes prunes abounded on top of layer after layer of molasses. Brown sugar flew all over the place like a confectioners kitchen. Under it all was a peppery spiciness. It all ended on a sort of bready note.

The taste was so complex it illicited laughter. Sticky-sweet, with plenty of caramel and even some thick, sticky honey. As in the aroma, there was a silly amount of brown sugar and molasses; imagine this kind of cookie being baked, what with honey, molasses, brown sugar and caramel chips. A gorgeous warming alcohol presence adds some spice to this brewed confection. As the drink warmed, there were some beautiful earthy hops that emerged to remind you that indeed, this is a beer and not some heaven-sent dessert.

The mouthfeel is slightly lighter than massively heavy. Make sense? Like being able to bench press 250 pounds; maybe you can, but it's still damn heavy. The decade in the bottle lightened the body just a bit, but not much at all. Velvety smooth, warm from alcohol but not at all hot, this beer coated my tongue like the most expensive blanket.

Unbelievable beer. It wasn't just a pleasure to drink this beer, it was a comfort.

8 comments:

Mike 8:46 AM  

Wow. I've never had the discipline to age a bottle-conditioned ale. Usually stay unopened for about . . . oh, I dunno', maybe 6 hours.

A friend of mine has a couple bottles Thomas Hardy 1994 still waiting to be opened. He lives in San Diego and he's long been on notice that one of those fuckers is going down for the count soon as I hit town.

Bob "Serious McLiteral" 8:00 AM  

Good to see a beer review. I also like the site updates and the added links.

Good work Smitty.

As you know, I finally revisted Brannigan Brothers. I hadn't been back since the previous owner drove it into the ground. You were right about the beer selection. It is pretty awesome.

I had Founders Breakfast Stout - from the tap.

Smitty 8:09 AM  

Dude. Marc actually puts the breakfast stout on tap through nitrogen. Adds a TON to the coffee flavors...

Bob "Serious McLiteral" 8:50 AM  

So did that place change owners or just management?

Smitty 9:02 AM  

Owner is the same. Don't remember his name. The GM is new: Marc Wolbert. Knows. His. Shit.

B Mac 9:44 AM  

Come to think of it, I can think of a little going-away shindig that needs a home...

Christian 10:50 AM  

With verbage like that you should write for Penthouse forum. Or Martha Stewart Living magazine. Wow. I'm all warm and ready for a tug of brew now.

Also sampled Stone Pale, based on your rec. Mmm. Partook of Ruination as well but almost too 'fruity' for me. Citrus-y?

Sopor 1:07 PM  

Hmm... this stuff sounds sublime! I've always wanted to try some Vintage Harvest...

I like the site update too!

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