Saturday, 11 September 2010


At the GBBF this year, I bumped into Dave 'Hardknott' Bailey about 20 minutes after the festival opened. I was trying to ease myself into an afternoon's drinking with a few session ales, but Dave had waded into the bigger American IPAs already. 'I've got a bit of a thing for stronger beers' he said, somewhat ruefully.

I know what he means.

Higher %abv beers pack a certain punch that weaker beers don't, and I'm not just talking about the alcohol. Whichever way they go - sweet malt sugars left unmetabolised by exhausted yeast or fully attenuated spicy dry beers - there's a depth of flavour there that a creatively mashed, well-hopped lower %abv never attains. There's a sweet spot for me around 6 or 7%abv where beers start to get really satisfying. Satisfying in the sense that they do actually feel nourishing. Maybe it's just that I'm dog-tired at the moment, and my body appreciates the extra carbohydrates of a slightly sweeter beer. Or maybe it just likes the gentle flush of alcohol.

Either way, there's no getting away from the fact that JW Lees Harvest Ale is both sweet and strong. In fact, it's such a sweet beer that it almost doubles as a dessert - figs and toffees, bananas and brandy all feature. And it's such a strong beer (11.5%abv) that it only really makes sense as a beer that closes a meal, or precedes bed.

The latter, in this case.

Tags: JW Lees, harvest ale, strong beer, hardknott


  1. 6-7%abv is probibly the gravity band that I am least fond of. Beer in that territory tends to be to strong to session on but not big enougth to be truly satisfying (ofcourse thier are exceptions)

    Im abit schizophrenic in my tastes tho. Favourate style ordinary bitter second favourate Imperial Stout!

  2. I had the latest HA the other night and got maple syrup on the palate, very disconcerting, reminded me of my breakfast (muesil & maple) — also have a 98 in the cellar, that will be interesting.

  3. Kieran - I guess it depends on a lot of things really, but these days I find that I'd rather drink two beers at 7.5%abv than three beers at 5%abv. Conversely, a sub 4%abv beer is good fun for a session - nay, essential for a long session.

    Adrian - I have to say that I found this bottle to be tooth-rottingly sweet. If it was a soft drink, I'd not have finished it. Maybe I should have served it colder, but that seems to miss the point. And I think it would have had to have been fridge cold to balance the sweetness properly.

  4. I think 5% is also to strong for a session, even tho I recently made my pro brewing debut with a 5.3% beer that I described as sessionable.

  5. If you drink half pints of 6-7% beer for every one of the 3.5-4.5% beers you would have had in your "session", doesn't that make 6-7% beers "sessionable" ...

    I like traditional session beer. If I'm out drinking and making a day of it, it makes a nice starting point. I'm with Dave though, the above approach is the way to go if you ask me.



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