Here's my entry for the Open It! weekend being hosted by good buddies Mark and Andy. The concept is simple; find a bottle you've been hoarding, and Open It. Then tell everyone about it. I love it. Plus, we all know beer geeks are hoarders at heart.
JW Lees's 2007 Harvest Ale is my choice. I know that in the grand scheme of things, 2007 is hardly a great vintage - only three years - but in many ways, the beer represents a watershed for me. 2007 was the year that I took the plunge with all this 'Real Ale' that I'd been sniffing around, and finally gave up the Chrome font for the Pumpclip. Not only that, but I wanted to tell people what I'd found; how good these beers were, and why I think they should stop pissing around with Carlsberg and put their money elsewhere. A rabid technophobe, I discovered Blogger, and the rest is history.
Buying beer then meant going up to BeerRitz, and stocking up. If I had never seen it before, it went in the basket. Although leaning heavily towards US brews in the early days, this bottle caught my eye. It had a nice-looking Autumnal label. It looked a little...hand-crafted. Plus, it had a date on it; I knew then this meant it was special. So in the basket it went, and before long it was sitting in the Beer store, ready to be enjoyed. Or not. Thousands of beers have shared JW's living space since then. Compatriots from all over the world; in, out, in, out...JW must have been either really pissed off, or breathing a sigh of relief at being spared one more time. In truth, I couldn't open him -he was from one of those nascent, cherished trips to the BeerRitz where I knew nothing. Fast forward to Manchester, earlier this year. Having a chinwag with Mark over Marble's wares in The Marble Arch, and discovering he had an even older Harvest Ale. I decided pretty much there that it was time to Open It.
So - a snowday yesterday and a free evening to relax and enjoy the beer. Was it worth the wait? Yeah, of course it was. Truly seasonal; the 2007 Harvest Ale poured toffee-amber, without much of a head. As some of the yeast settled, I took a whiff and got a noseful of alcohol warmth and residual sweetness; toffee, raisin, biscuit, vanilla - in fact, at one point I convinced myself it smelled of Bakewell Tart.
On the sip it's much smoother than expected; a thick mouthfeel was offset by a faint prickle of carbonation which lifted the beer away from being too cloying. Like I said, the taste is filled with masses of Dundee Cake and Brown Sugar, with hints of smoke, a touch of cherry and a faint hit of chocolate - or is that the vanilla again? Despite its' strength, it remained balanced and easy to sip and with the snow falling outside this made an excellent companion to the evening.