A Sweet and Tender Hooligan

brawlThe first oak aged ale I can remember having is Innis and Gunn’s English Pale Ale.  It’s a well-mannered beer, a gentleman’s brew with a malty flavor and smoky scotch finish.  It’s a perfect companion for many situations and generally enjoyed by many folks, even mother-in laws who don’t normally drink beer.

If Innis and Gunn is a refined gentleman, then by comparison J.W. Lee’s Harvest Ale aged in Lagavulin whiskey casks is a charming Cockney rogue.  A touch more to the point (maybe even a little brutal), but somehow still quite engaging.  In fact, while many might choose the clean, upright character of Innis and Gunn, I actually prefer the scrappy charms of J.W. Lee’s…photo

The departure from refinement happened from the moment the J.W. Lee’s Lagavulin cask aged Harvest Ale hit the glass.  The pour was a bit, well, chunky, with little pieces of matter floating in the deep amber brew.  Actually, they did more than float; they rose and fell inside the glass, traveling on unseen currents of effervescence. There was something interesting going on in there, that’s for sure.  The beer’s thin head, on the other hand, was forgettable as it quickly disappeared, leaving no trace that it ever existed.

As you’d expect of any charismatic scoundrel, the beer smelled strongly of whiskey.  You can smell where this beer has been, and it’s delightful, with hints of malt, peat and raisins all working together to tell the tale.

The first sip hit me like a ruffian in a pub brawl, with an intense taste that strikes the palate all at once with the sweet and smoky flavors of malt, dried fruits and oak, followed by enough of a boozy whiskey kick to make your eye twitch.  But this slight brutality is quickly followed by a warming sensation, more than making up for any rough edges.

The bottle I had was small, which is a good thing, because this is a pretty intense beer.  This isn’t a brew I’d have on a regular basis, but is certainly one I’d pick up again and tuck away for just the right moment.  Maybe for watching Daniel Craig portray a black-eyed Bond, or while watching the Artful Dodger charm the wallets off ladies and gents in Oliver over the holidays.

At any rate, J.W. Lee’s Harvest Ale aged in Lagavulin whiskey casks is a fine companion anytime you’re seeking a little spirited mischief.

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Craft beer nerd, frequent beer blogger and occasional home brewer.

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7 Comments on “A Sweet and Tender Hooligan”

  1. November 4, 2009 at 6:27 pm #

    I’ve got a buddy who loves this beer more than life itself. Then again, he also loves Lagavulin Scotch with nearly the same fervor. I, on the other hand, harbor no such feelings for Lagavulin and was rather depressed that I purchased this.
    It does have some great things going for it. Its built upon the solid profile that is JW Lee’s Harvest Ale. If you’re a Lagavulin fan, this has the vast majority of the flavors (and adds some to boot!), and you don’t even have to deal with the burn!
    On the other hand, this beer left me feeling like I licked a salty mass of peat…

    Assuming we were to all have 3 hands, on that third hand I’d ask to take into account what JW Lees does with the Harvest Ale in Port and Sherry Casks, both of which I found to be spectacular, especially the Port.

    At the end of the day, i’d rather see beer aged in bourbon or wine casks than scotch, i suppose… Good write-up though. Glad you enjoyed it.

    • Jim
      November 4, 2009 at 6:42 pm #

      I’ve seen the port and sherry cask varieties, but decided to go with this. Maybe next time I’ll pick up the port cask aged ale. “Spectacular” is a pretty hearty endorsement!

  2. Don
    November 5, 2009 at 11:38 pm #

    Hey Jim:

    Looks like a good brew. I have a Bourbon County Stout that I have yet to taste and am looking forward to. As you can tell from the name of the brew is aged in old bourbon barrels. I think it might be a little cleaner flavor, because Bourbon is required by law to be aged in new barrels, where scotch often uses old bourbon or whiskey barrels for their aging. This probably leads to the salty peat taste of this brew that Brian alluded to.

    Just one other point, and I feel as if I didn’t make this correction I would be falling down on my half of the web site bargain. Whiskey is used when referring to American, and (yuk) Canadian, and most Irish whiskeys. Whisky is used when referring to scotch. So Scotch Whisky drops the “e” from its spelling. That is one way to tell if someone is discussing something generally good, or if they are talking about our peaty brethren from across the pond!

    • Jim
      November 6, 2009 at 1:15 am #

      What he said.

  3. November 6, 2009 at 7:28 pm #

    Sometimes terminology is important. Some whisky makers call bourbon casks sherry casks, etc. I’m not saying this one is a case of that but it’s always interesting to find out. At any rate, I think Sherry is a good compliment to an already sweet beer (especially if it’s already smoky and peaty…Scotch might detract in this case). I can’t say enough about how spectacular these beers are when aged. I drank a 10 year aged harvest ale earlier this year. Very nice, indeed!

  4. November 9, 2009 at 3:57 pm #

    Interesting post, and interesting to learn how the words can really mean something! This isn’t a style I’ve got much experience with, but I thought the Goose Island Bourbon Co Stout was unreal. Perhaps this one will go on my ‘should try’ list.

    • Jim
      November 9, 2009 at 6:41 pm #

      If you haven’t had Innis and Gunn, that’s probably the better way to go, Scott. If you like that one and think “I’d like this better if it gave me a black eye” then go for J.W. Lee’s!

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