Liquid Candy and Robitussin DM

Jim Lundstrom

Since it was such a lovely, gloomy Halloween, I contemplated treating myself to the first port of the season, but before arriving at the small collection of port, my eyes fell upon a limited edition 2013 vintage J.W. Lees’ Harvest Ale matured in Calvados casks.

J.W. Lees is a brewery based in Manchester, England, that is famous for its 11.5 percent Harvest Ale barleywine. I’ve enjoyed various vintages of this in the past, but this is the first time I had run across it aged in Calvados (apple brandy) kegs. That sounded too intriguing to pass up. Port will have to wait. But I went into this knowing I could be drinking something portlike.

It poured still and almost headless, with just the very thinnest whisper of tiny white bubbles on the edge of the clear, mahogany-colored barleywine.

The aroma is lovely, spiced apples – autumn incarnate.

The taste is that of the closest thing you are going to get to a port from a brewery, fortified with Calvados – the sweet pucker of apples, the burn of the brandy and the earthy oakiness of the barrel it sat in. All of that tempered with the cherry/berry and toffee tones of this beer’s portly nature, and you have a fine Halloween treat. Liquid candy.

If I were a patient man, I would buy a few more bottles of this and it put it away for future Halloweens.

Curiosity got the best of me the next day, and I returned to the store to buy the companion to the Calvados-aged Harvest Ale – a 2013 vintage Harvest Ale aged in Lagavulin Whisky casks.

Lagavulin Whisky is one of the smoky peat-flavored Scotch whiskys from the Isle of Islay, which is one of the five Scottish regions recognized for producing Scotch, each bringing its own idiosyncrasies into the mix – in addition to Islay, there is Lowland, Highland, Speyside and Campbeltown.

Islay Scotch whisky is often described as having a medicinal taste. I get that here in this beer, in both nose and taste. In fact, the taste reminds me of Robitussin DM, a flavor I recently became quite familiar with (I thought the Robitussin had lovely hints of chocolate and cherry).

Iodine. Why in the world would I know how iodine tastes? I can’t answer that, but I am getting a definite iodine taste. I always did prefer the light, champagney Highland Scotches to the others.

Well, I will say this is a very unique beer and I’m glad I tried it. I can only wonder what effects time would have on it.