JW Lees, at last

We’ve been wanting to try some or any of Manchester brewery JW Lees’ beers for a while now, but they don’t turn up in London much. This week, I (Bailey…) finally got the chance, taking Tandleman’s recommendation of a trip to the Netherton Hall near Frodsham, Cheshire.

It’s been refurbished in the last month and is now a very classy, very cosy flagship JW Lees pub. There’s a portrait of Mr Lees himself over the fireplace, which is nice. It’s obviously also a with its eye on diners, but not in a way which is likely to be an issue for even the most sensitive gastro-pub hater (there was an uncomfortable looking skinheaded lad who’d been forced into a pair of slacks and a shirt pretending to be a waiter, but that was about it).

The beers on offer were the plainly named Bitter (4.0%) and two seasonals — Autumn Glow (4.2%) and Plum Pudding (4.8%).

Autumn Glow was a nice starter, served with a creamy sparkled head and pleasantly soft around the edges. It was reminiscent of another beer, but the similarity took a few sips to pin down. Fuller’s Jack Frost? Maybe — there was some blackberry flavour there, amongst the crystal malt. But no: with eyes closed and imagination engaged, it could have passed for a very light-coloured German festbier. At any rate, very nice and quite complex.

Plum Pudding was a stunner — very fruity, but not at all sickly. A bit tart, if anything, and reminiscent of Liefmans Framboise. The best and most balanced English fruit beer I’ve ever tried, anyway, and one which Boak is now keen to have a crack at. it would mull nicely, too!

Drinking these in completely the wrong order, it was Bitter to finish. Is it a dull, or was that just the contrast? It got better when the head had was out of the way, starting out as boring Bombardier or Spitfire but finishing more bitter and fruity, like a less in-your-face version of Plum Pudding. But who knows for sure? My tastebuds were shot by this point, and I’d failed to bring the prescribed dry bread, bottled water and spitoon…

Read Tandleman on Plum Pudding here. Oh– and Lees grip glass is very peculiar, like something an alien would drink out of.


14 replies on “JW Lees, at last”

They were shut for most of November, so I guess they had a bit left over from before the refurb? Logically, I should have started on bitter, but I wasn’t feeling very logical after a slightly fraught day at work.

I’ll need to check their beers if I get the opportunity.
They charge a bit much for their grip glasses and calendars, though. Do they serve the beers in those glasses in their pubs?

Yes, they do serve in those glasses in the pubs. A bit modern for an otherwise quite traditional brand, I think — like something you’d get an alcopop in.

JW Lees is technically my local brewery – it’s about three miles from where I live – but all the pubs within walking distance seem to be Holt’s houses. Think I’ll have to get a taxi up to Middleton one weekend and go on a tasting expedition, see what I can track down.

Did you not pop in on the Lord of the Manor of Frodsham? One Djibril Cisse -ex Liverpool player – no less. The Plum Pudding sounds lovely on a more serious note.

“We’ve been wanting to try some or any of Manchester brewery JW Lees’ beers for a while now.”

Some people are just gluttons for punishment…

Lees Bitter, as a lot of locals say, is an “acquired taste.” It tends to divide people right down the middle. It does have some strong supporters-although there is a sociological reason for that-but generally it’s avoided by many drinkers. Part of the problem is that it’s often served in less than perfect condition. But when served well, it’s ok as beer goes.

Lees are known for being tight fisted with their hops. With the result that most of their seasonals taste like the Bitter. Plum Pudding being a noted exception-that really is a decent beer.

In my (limited) experience of Lancastrian beer, I’ve always rated John Willy Lees, though not as highly as Holts. The fact that my current favourite beer is Hepworth’s Prospect perhaps explains.

Comments are closed.