The Barleywine Experience

Normally I wouldn’t put a post up on beer outside of the usual “Top 5” or “Top 10” of a particular seasonal or style, but I had an experience the other night that is worth noting.

J.W. Lees Harvest AleI was attending my monthly BJCP (Beer Judge Certification Program) class, and this month we covered American/English Strong and Old Ale, as well as American and English Barleywine. It goes without saying that we tasted a wide array of beers, all very nice, but two in particular stood out: Thomas Hardy’s Ale, and J.W. Lees Harvest Ale. Howard (our instructor/tutor/teacher) happens to be a connoisseur of this style category, and was nice enough to bring 2 bottles each of these beers from his private collection, to give us a truly accurate taste of what these beers can do with a little age on them.

We sampled the 2003 Thomas Hardy, and the 2001 J.W. Lees. It comes and came as a surprise to everyone that I have never had either of these beers before. As the years have grown, I’ve increasingly become a fan of big beers, however I’m not a big hophead, and for the most part the only Barleywines I have had have been of the American variety (which traditionally are more bitter and arguably less balanced than English versions), most of what I’ve had have been way too green to appreciate, and in being too young a lot of the time they just represented a heavier double or imperial IPA.

This sampling galvanized the notion to all of us attending that Barleywines are designed to age, and they probably age better than any other beer out there. The flavor and complexity of these ales was borderline indescribable…..the word I used for them was “structured honey.” I’d give the edge to J.W. Lees, probably due to the fact that it has a few more years than the Hardy’s, but both were just plain amazing. It’s worth seeking these beers out – they are hard to find, and depending on the vintage, can carry a pretty scary price tag – but purchasing current vintages and hiding them away in your cellar will be well worth it. In short, this is one of many reasons why we drink good beer.


Thomas Hardy Ale

J.W. Lees Harvest Ale


1 Comment

  • Hannah February 9, 2009 @ 10:02am

    Deron – “The flavor and complexity of these ales was borderline indescribable…..the word I used for them was “structured honey.”‘… poetry, baby… poetry.

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