A  historical  brew  with multi-faceted appeal...

Seasonal brews have been with us since the earliest midst of brewing time.

Beers to mark a specific ceremony or event have their origins in our earliest form of communal living. Whether to celebrate the joys of a forthcoming nuptials, or to mark the more sombre affair of the annual Audit, in nearly every case a special beer was required to mark the occasion!  

Some however are more specific, and have almost pagan roots, acknowledging the importance nature played in the annual cycle of our everyday existence -  and 'Harvest Ales' are one such beer.

As a style however it seems to have followed two distinct historical paths.

One interpretation of  'Harvest Ale' was for the the finished brews themselves to be brought to the farms by the Squire or Landlord during the harvest period as a gratuity for the workers to quench their thirsts!

This tradition was still very much alive in the rural areas of Ireland in the 1950s and 60s with a story relayed to me by Mr. Maurice Morrison when harvesting malting barley in Midleton, Co. Cork.

A small wooden barrel of stout (believed to be Guinness) was made available to the workers in the field - and went by the name of  'Harvest Porter'  (being a lower strength version of the stout) - and was much appreciated by all concerned!

The other  tradition did not refer so much to the consumption of the previous seasons wares, but a celebration of the new  'Harvest'  itself, and more akin to our ancestral roots, and in more recent times the brewers of the American West Coast have adopted a variation of this theme with new season hops, often unkilned, providing the link with the new born Harvest.

In Britain however, whilst there are several brewers who produce variations of the style at the lower alcohol level, one beer in particular stands out as representing a tangible link with the past, by not just using new season hops, but malt also - Lees Harvest Ale.

Using freshly kilned East Kent Goldings, and newly harvested Maris Otter Malting Barley, Lees Harvest Ale weighs in at a formidable 11.5%alc.vol.! 

In so doing it falls into the Barley Wine / Old Ale class of old, but as it has the ability to age further in bottle 'Stock Ale' also. 

Although its strength would have been a familiar site to our forebears, Lees Harvest Ale is the only regularly produced vintage dated ale of this strength made in the UK today.



A fascinating variation on this are the special releases of Harvest Ale produced for the US market.

Aged in wood there are three versions in the range, Port, Calvados and Lagavulin Whisky.

In the US there is considerable interest in ageing beers in cask and the complexity of flavours it can bring, and in 1999 Lees were approached by their American importer to produce a range solely for US release.

All three beers derive from the original Harvest Ale blend, but are aged in cask for two months prior to bottling.

The higher alcohol level ideally suites this form of maturation, and all three are distinctly flavoursome with immense character and depth.

As with the original Harvest Ales all will gain further in complexity when aged in bottle.

Lees Harvest Ale has a unique position to play in UK brewing heritage and successfully brings the past into the present.

Long may it remain fruitful... and bring the Harvest to bear for many more years to come!


For further details of UK  releases of Harvest Ale go to:


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