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Thursday, March 06, 2003

Upon Tasting J. W. Lees Vintage Ale

Ah! Sweet mystery of life, at last I've found you...

J. W. Lees Harvest Ale: vintage 2001, rich, full-bodied, potent, racked into a wooden pin whose prior resident had been Lagavulin's peaty, salty whisky, and allowed to slumber since then.

All the longing, striving, seeking, waiting, yearning...

The folks at Sean Bolan's Pub in Federal Hill, Baltimore, MD purchased a wooden pin (5.4 gallon cask) of this elixir in 2002. They aged it undisturbed in their cellar for one year. They tapped it for us unworthy ruck last evening, Thursday, 6 March 2003.

The burning hopes, the joys and idle tears that fall!...

Here was a worthy successor to the late lamented Eldridge Pope Brewery's Thomas Hardy barley wine: a lusty 11.5% alcohol level yet still a beer, nearly still but with a whisper of spritzig, revealing itself with peel after peel of complexity. The carbonation was mere points over nil, but that seemed appropriate for quiet sipping and contemplation. No sparkler was used so the beer tumbled nearly headless from the wood.

In appearance, J. W. was burnished brown and copper, the age in wood having contributed several degrees of shade to that of the bottled version. The aroma, in order of appearance: a quick whiff of pencil graphite, then waves of dark rum, raisins, dried plums, peat, sea air, Scotch whisky, vanilla, shortbread biscuits, malted milk candy, and the pungent aroma of a roaring fireplace. The body was all soft shoulders and dangerous curves, the aromas reappearing as flavors in teasing combinations, different with each sip.

Smokiness of the Lagavulin-soaked wood lounged blissfully in the finish, a counterweight to J.W.'s voluptuous maltiness and potency.

Sean Bolan's served the ale befittingly at a temperature of 55 or so degrees. One's afterglow was several degrees more ardent.

'Tis the answer, 'tis the end and all...

Early in the evening, a gentlemen walked into Sean Bolan's looking for a mainstream 'lite' beer. Failing that, he settled for a Sam Adams Light.

Looking around, he noticed several of us sniffing our goblets. "Why do you keep smelling your beer," he asked? "Try one," we suggested. He did. And Mikey, he liked it! "Never had anything like this before!", he grinned broadly as he drank the glass empty.

Cask beer usually shines best as a vessel for fresh, session-styled, and complex bitter or mild. J.W. Lees Vintage Harvest Ale is an exception to that rule.

With apologies to Victor Herbert, I sell this beer for Legends, Ltd.