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Dark Horse Reserve Special Black Ale - Dark Horse Brewing Company

Not Rated.
Dark Horse Reserve Special Black AleDark Horse Reserve Special Black Ale

Displayed for educational use only; do not reuse.
very good

1,018 Ratings
very good

(view ratings)
Ratings: 1,018
Reviews: 561
rAvg: 3.95
pDev: 10.38%
Wants: 52
Gots: 53 | FT: 3
Brewed by:
Dark Horse Brewing Company visit their website
Michigan, United States

Style | ABV
American Black Ale |  7.50% ABV

Availability: Year-round

Notes/Commercial Description:
No notes at this time.

(Beer added by: xlperro on 05-28-2002)
Beer: Ratings & Reviews
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Ratings: 1,018 | Reviews: 561 | Display Reviews Only:
Photo of jbierling
4.35/5  rDev +10.1%
look: 4.5 | smell: 4 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 4 | overall: 4.5

According to Dark Horse's web site: ABV 7.5%.

The Reserve Special is the oldest of all beers in the Dark Horse family. Its thick and when poured into a glass its color is extremely dark. Best described as a strong black ale.

Appearance: Black color.

Smell: Pleasant.

Taste: Very smooth. Finished strong.

Mouthfeel: Moderate carbonation

Drinkability: Fun. Unique bottle and artwork. Loved the name. "Reserve" indicates something special and it fits the billing.

jbierling, Sep 25, 2011
Photo of ckeegan04
4.4/5  rDev +11.4%
look: 4.5 | smell: 4 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 4.5 | overall: 4.5

A - Pitch black with the thinnest of brown foamy head. Beer is inpenetrable even when held up to a light source. Foam quickly dissipates to the thinnest of rings and leaves spotty lacing around the glass.

S - Big aroma of roasted malt. Lots and lots of roastiness. In addition, I pick up notes of chocoalte and just a hint of dark fruits. The roasted malt really just dominates the entire thing though.

T - Roasted malt up front and lots of it. As that taste passes I get some bittersweet chocolate, a hint of vanilla and what I recognize as a touch of oak despite this not ever seeing wood as far as I know. Some dark fruits and a touch of spice sneak in on the finish.

M - Medium to full bodied and a touch sticky. Near perfect level of carbonation gives the beer just a hint of life on the tongue while still maintaining that near full bodidness.

O - An excellent beer. Not sure why it isnt just labeled a stout because that sure is what it tastes like to me. A great display of what can be done to showcase malt flavors without needing a big, hoppy slap in the face.

ckeegan04, Sep 20, 2011
Photo of Evil_Pidde
4/5  rDev +1.3%
look: 4 | smell: 4 | taste: 4 | feel: 4 | overall: 4

A: Pours pitch black with brown head. Slow dissipation leaves decent lacigns.

S: Roasted dark malts, a bit smoked. Some dark bitter chocolate and strong black coffee.

T: Very like the smell: heavy roast on the malts, some smoke. Lots of dark chocolate and strong black coffee. Some vanilla in the taste. Some mild piney notes.

M: Long lovely bitter aftertaste. Body is full and carboantion is mild. Oily smooth.

O: If I had to describe this beer: a mix between Schwarzbier, Smoked beer and Imperial Stout. Nice!

Evil_Pidde, Sep 04, 2011
Photo of kagent777
4.05/5  rDev +2.5%
look: 4 | smell: 4 | taste: 4 | feel: 4.5 | overall: 4

12 oz bottle obtained in a trade with (I am pretty sure) zrab11. Thanks Zach! Poured into my goblet.

Appearance: This is one dark beer, with a slight tan head that settled too quickly and left a little ring around the edge. Really, I cannot see through this one and the edges have more of a brown hue than ruby.

Smell: Smells of dark flavors smoke, wood, brownies. The malts are clearly present in a nice roasty way.

Taste: The roasty malts take center stage with a little coffee and dark chocolate type flavors. There is a bit of edgy char with a little bit of bite. This beer is not completely smooth and that is OK with me. There is a small pleasant grassy citric hoppiness that lingers in the background near the finish. The finish goes on for a while.

Mouthfeel: A full bodied beer as you might expect. The carbonation is perfectly subtle.

Overall: This is a nice alternative to stouts or porters, I enjoyed it very much. I would get this one again, if given the opportunity.

kagent777, Aug 31, 2011
Photo of Holland
4.28/5  rDev +8.4%
look: 4 | smell: 4 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 4.5 | overall: 4

A: black as the night - is this a stout? The head is a brownish color, and it starts around 1-2 inches and dissipates to become a ring of lacing with some very fine bubbles left behind on top.

S: coffee, smoked wood, heavily roasted malts, a bit of butterscotch

T: starts with a coffee flavor, then some bitterness and sourness, then butterscotch, wood, earthy tones

M: medium bodied with quite a bit of hops to balance it, and just the right amount of carbonation to bring out the hops and coffee flavor bitterness. Nice!

O: this is a bier to savor - it's more beastly than you'd think. I paid $10 for the 6 pack, so solid deal for this quality beer. Still haven't had a bad one from Dark Horse - this one could take #2 of theirs.

Holland, Aug 28, 2011
Photo of pmarlowe
3.53/5  rDev -10.6%
look: 4.5 | smell: 4 | taste: 3 | feel: 4.5 | overall: 3.5

Tulip glass. Thanks to scoot1969 for this one.

A: Pours a viscous black with a finger of dense, dark khaki head. Pretty good retention and nice sheets of lace.

S: Big roasted and smoke malts with secondary dark chocolate and espresso.

T: Roasted/smoked malt and espresso. Pretty dry, and not much chocolate to balance it, which makes this a little difficult to drink too much of. Tiny bit of alcohol noticeable.

M: Full bodied and mild carbonation is very good for the style.

O: I'm not sure what distinguishes this from a stout. But anyway, this is not bad for a stout-like beer, solidly on the roasty end of the spectrum (which is not really my cup of... beer).

pmarlowe, Aug 26, 2011
Photo of brystmar
3.8/5  rDev -3.8%
look: 4 | smell: 4 | taste: 4 | feel: 4 | overall: 3

Thanks to france44.com for shipping this to me in Brooklyn!

A: Pours black as night with a finger of dark tan head; mild to moderate beads of lace adorn the glass.

S/T: Strong coffee in the nose, along with roasted malts, toffee, hints of sweetness. Taste follows suit: very strong, bitter coffee hits right up front. Sweetly roasted malts and booze are right behind. For an 8.5%, this tastes pretty darn strong. Bitterness carries on through the dry finish. You sure this isn't a stout?

M/D: Medium-bodied, feels much too thin. Feel like I've been saying this a lot lately, but this brew needs more body. Boozy taste means drinkability suffers.

A solid craft brew!

brystmar, Aug 23, 2011
Photo of mostpoetsdo
3.98/5  rDev +0.8%
look: 4.5 | smell: 3.5 | taste: 4 | feel: 4.5 | overall: 4

A: Pours a deep, dark black. Medium tan head, half an inch thick. This thing is nearly opaque, leaves behind some good lacing. Intimidating.

S: Smells like cocoa powder and rocks. Weird combination. Coffee grounds, too.

T: Up front is a load of roasted malt, followed by thick cocoa flavors. Super roasty, touch of coffee. Has an earthy sense to it, like gravel and soil. Finishes fairly bitter, hoppy bite at the end. Not entirely stout tasting, a hoppy porter? "imperial black ipa?"

M: Awesome carbonation. Velvety smooth. Medium body, a pleasure.

O/D: Flavors are welcomed, be it a different beer. Too mineral tasting to enjoy multiple, but oddly enjoyable. Would love to age this.

mostpoetsdo, Aug 19, 2011
Photo of Rhettroactive
3.25/5  rDev -17.7%
look: 3.5 | smell: 3 | taste: 3.5 | feel: 3 | overall: 3

From 12oz bottle to Jackie O's tulip on 7/26/11
*From notes

Another well deserved shout-out goes to siege06nd. Thanks for the hook-up, guy!

A: Pours like a stout. Robust cocoa in color with a chocolate chip cookie lookin', 1.25 finger moderate head.

S: The first thing that stands out here is the minerality. It's got an earthy-cocoa thing going on that sounds good in theory, but in reality comes off a bit manufactured and fake.

T: A touch of bitterness from the hops hits the palate first, then a solid amount of funky dark malt. It's packing a major dirt, mud and cigar tobacco flavor that overwhelms most every nuance that I assume should be present.

M: Whispy and thin. It tries hard, but it simply can't climb Mouthfeel Mountain.

O: Dark Horse's Reseve Special Black Bier Ale is a letdown. I was expecting a rich and complex black ale, and instead got a rather ho-hum and really weird little beer. Off bottle maybe? It's possible, and I'd certainly try this again to compare, though I'm not in a rush to do so.

Rhettroactive, Aug 07, 2011
Photo of russwbeck
4.45/5  rDev +12.7%
look: 4.5 | smell: 4 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 4 | overall: 5

A: The pour is very dark with a bubbly brown head. The lacing is great, retention is average. Looks a lot darker than I was expecting.

S: The smell is quite roasty. Dark coffee, roasted malts, smells like a strong porter.

T: The taste here is a lot fuller than I was expecting. Very strong roasted malts and coffee. Bolder than some stouts I've had. The flavor really coats the mouth well. Chocolate and other sweet undertones try to balance it out, but boy is this dark and dry!

MF: Surprisingly light given the big taste and dark pour. Only about medium body with a nice amount of carbonation and no alcohol noted.

O: Great beer. Really impressed here. I cannot get over how big and rich the taste is. I wish I could get this more around my parts!

russwbeck, Aug 01, 2011
Photo of waltonc
3.68/5  rDev -6.8%
look: 4 | smell: 4 | taste: 3.5 | feel: 4 | overall: 3.5

Thanks to Doodler for giving this to me last fall. Pours black with a nice tan creamy head. Creamy cocoa and coffee on the nose. Taste is a blend of bitter chocolate, slight creaminess, almost as if there's a bit of lactose in here, and some bitter hop presence. Nice, creamy mouthfeel with medium/high carbonation. Overall, a pretty good beer. I don't care for the strong hop component of this beer, but otherwise, quite good.

waltonc, Jul 21, 2011
Photo of womencantsail
3.78/5  rDev -4.3%
look: 4 | smell: 4 | taste: 3.5 | feel: 4 | overall: 4

A: The pour is just about black in color with a finger or so of tan head.

S: Nice chocolate aromas to it to start with, as well as some espresso. There is a strong roasted malt aroma and perhaps just a hint of soy sauce. A slight smokiness along with some nut shells.

T: Smokey and roasty, I wasn't quite expecting that. Not much of the chocolate/cocoa notes that were there on the aroma. A decent amount of bitterness is also present. Some toasted nut flavor on the long finish.

M: Medium in body with a smooth, medium carbonation.

O: I could have done without the smoke, but this was a pretty enjoyable beer.

womencantsail, Jul 20, 2011
Photo of OneDropSoup
3.65/5  rDev -7.6%
look: 4.5 | smell: 3.5 | taste: 3.5 | feel: 3.5 | overall: 4

Stopped in at Rugger's Pub in Pittsburgh's South Side, saw a Dark Horse tap handle, & asked the bartender what it was: "Black Bier. It's a cross between a stout & a porter." Hmmm.

Poured into a shaker: Straight up black body, nicely rolling, soft mocha head. Leaves gauzy lacing that drifts down the sides.

Fairly grapefruity, lemongrassy hop nose with a baked dough, bready kind of malt character bringing up the rear. Good smell, just not getting a whole lot of it.

Taste is a combination of pine, citrus zest hop, quickly followed by a dark & roasty bitterness. I notice a very mild sweetness in the middle, like a hint of caramel, but quickly swallowed up by that roast bitterness. Pretty much dominated by the bookend bitter flavors. Sweetness grows a little & balances as it warms, but still very much on the bitter side.

Pretty aggressive mouthfeel, again bitter at the front, back, & afterwards.

Not bad overall, a little imbalanced at first but evens out a little with time. Can't say anything really stood out, but I wouldn't avoid it.

OneDropSoup, Jul 16, 2011
Photo of ebby82
4.13/5  rDev +4.6%
look: 4 | smell: 4 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 3 | overall: 4

Pours a tar like black into a ping glass with very little head.

The aroma is roasted, almost burnt malt, and hops.

The taste is a mixture of roasted malt and hops. Quite bitter and quite delicious.

The mouthfeel is a bit thicker than I would like, and it's certainly a sipper.

Overall, an interesting and tasty beer. It tastes more like a Black IPA than an American Strong Ale to me, but thats probably a moot point.

ebby82, Jul 15, 2011
Photo of JonathanG
4.25/5  rDev +7.6%
look: 4.5 | smell: 4 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 4 | overall: 4

I picked this up while on a trip to Michigan about 2-months ago now during the 2nd week of May, so thought I better get around to tasting this one. Purchased at the Lager Mill, in Frankenmuth, MI. No freshness date on bottle.

A: Very, very dark brown, and that's only at the rim with backlighting. It looks jet black from the side, with a froth-like dark tan/light brown head. Sort of looks like a really good pull of espresso with fresh crema on top.

S: Lots of burnt notes, with dark espresso grounds, burnt caramel/black strap molasses, dark roasted malt, and dark chocolate liqueur notes.

T: A hint of sweetness that comes across as round burnt caramel, but finishes relatively dry. Some roasted malt and grain notes on the finish, in addition to the espresso and dark cocoa notes that carry over from the nose. Nicely bitter, without being overwhelming, at least to my taste buds, which tend to like a bit of bitterness.

M: Slightly creamy and a little glycerol viscosity, yet still mildly tingles the tongue.

O: One of my first black biers, this is definitely one I'd come back to! Wasn't sure if I'd like the style or not, but I do. Too bad I'll have to go back to Michigan to get it.

JonathanG, Jul 11, 2011
Photo of shanblur
3.88/5  rDev -1.8%
look: 4.5 | smell: 3.5 | taste: 4 | feel: 3.5 | overall: 4

Poured from a 12 oz bottle into a snifter. No freshness date on bottle.

A - The darkest of blacks. Very opaque, with a dark tan 1 finger head. Very small amount of lacing.

S - Roasted malts and dark chocolate

T - Tastes very smoky like a rauchbier. There is some hints of chocolate and espresso. A bit bitter on the finish.

M - Medium bodied with a light carbonation

I liked this beer. Another good one from this brewery.

shanblur, Jul 09, 2011
Photo of ModemMisuser
1.7/5  rDev -57%
look: 3 | smell: 3 | taste: 1 | feel: 3 | overall: 1

Had on tap at Dark Horse.

As a Dark Horse fan, I had high hopes for all their beers. This one disappointed. I'm not sure why others rate this one so relatively high. Though, as a genetic bitter taster, maybe I'm tasting compounds in it that others cannot taste, or taste only very mildly.

All I tasted were burnt, acrid, bitter flavors, and I didn't enjoy the beer. Could not even finish the flight's sample cup.

ModemMisuser, Jul 06, 2011
Photo of plfahey
4.22/5  rDev +6.8%
look: 4.5 | smell: 4.5 | taste: 4 | feel: 4 | overall: 4.5

12 oz. bottle poured into a shaker pint.

Appearance-Inky black hole and totally impermeable to light with a tall cap of dark tan (almost brown) foam, with moderate retention.

Aroma-Intoxicating aroma of alcohol and sinfully dark chocolate cake/brownie batter. Secondary notes of molasses, brown sugar, and espresso. Dark fruits (prune and plum) are present, along with light earthy hops. Smells phenomenal.

Flavor-Whoa-whole lot of dark roast in the flavor. It starts and finishes with black espresso and burnt coffee grounds. In the middle, there is some mention of sweet brown sugar, bittersweet dark chocolate and cocoa shells, along with just a hint of the dark fruits from the nose. Finish is somewhat acrid from the dark malts with moderate hop bitterness as well. Very slight earthy hop flavors in the finish as well. Alcohol shows through as warmth, but is entirely unnoticeable in the flavor. Aftertaste is mostly bitter coffee grounds and just a touch of chocolatey sweetness. Yummy.

Mouthfeel-Medium full body, and moderate carbonation. Roast bitterness is a bit acrid, but not overly harsh and certainly not astringent.

This beer is seriously awesome. I'm not sure what separates this from a russian imperial stout, but it is awesome. Very tasty, super flavorful, and impressively drinkable for its enormous flavor and relatively high (and might i add well hidden) alcohol content. A bit heavy on the dark roasts as you drink it, but still, yum.

plfahey, Jul 05, 2011
Photo of ElizabethCraig
2.6/5  rDev -34.2%
look: 4 | smell: 4 | taste: 2 | feel: 3 | overall: 2

On tap at Dark Horse Brewing Company - this is an abbreviated review.

Taste is strong dark chocolate, dry and extremely bitter. My husband and I are both pretty sensitive to bitter tastes - he was completely overwhelmed by the bitter taste and I could only take a few drinks of it.

I have a problem, for example, with a lot of 'charred' black roasted coffees. As a coffee roaster, I kind of resent those bitter flavors being foisted on the public as the 'ideal' coffee when it's only 1 roasting style on a spectrum of tastes.

This is one example of a beer that I know others may really like and appreciate, but if you're very sensitive to bitter charred tastes and don't find them appealing, you may not like them in your beer.

This beer improves greatly (to my palate and preference) once it's near room temperature. My complaint is that I don't want to wait to drink beer until it's warmed up that much.

ElizabethCraig, Jul 04, 2011
Photo of NEhophead
4.05/5  rDev +2.5%
look: 4 | smell: 4.5 | taste: 4 | feel: 3.5 | overall: 4

12 fl oz brown bottle, served in a snifter.

Pours an inky, near opaque molasses. Creamy, chocolate-colored head with pretty good retention. A few patches of spotted lacing.

Semi-sweet caramel and milk chocolate aromas up front mask a more earthen, roasted malt character. Very fragrant, rich espresso with hints of smoke and a creme brulee sweetness.

A complex sweetness that is reminiscent of dulce de leche and creme brulee. As the sweetness subsides, an intensely bitter roasted malt character comes to the forefront. Dark chocolate and espresso is aided by hints of licorice and smoke. The finish is very dry and extremely bitter. Dried nuts, espresso, and earthen herbs fill the aftertaste.

Full bodied; very active, even hairy on the palate on account of the intense hop presence and roasted, bitter qualities.

An intensely flavorful brew that highlights some rather dark flavor qualities. The mouthfeel is a bit of a deterrent to enjoying more than a few of these at a time.

NEhophead, Jun 27, 2011
Photo of busterthecat
3.83/5  rDev -3%
look: 4 | smell: 4.5 | taste: 3.5 | feel: 3.5 | overall: 4

No date on Bottles or 6pk case. Poured into a SA perfect pint glass. $9.69 a 6 pk.

A- Pours a nice rich dark brown. A tight foamy mocha brown head forms and sits for a little before fading to a filmy cap. Sits very dark brown in glass. Not like any Strong Ale i've ever seen. Stout like.

S- A big strong aroma of chocolate, smooth coffee and roasted malt. The chocolate notes in the aroma are great. Captures both a smooth creamy sweet chocolate shake quality that is really well complemented by the mocha/coffee notes. Great Aroma that makes you want a sip.

T- Mostly coffee and heavily roasted dark malt on this one. There is some big astringent coffee bitterness that boarders on metallic, without falling of the edge. The chocolate is less pronounced then the aroma and adds some secondary flavors. Not very complex.

M- Big flavors with only a medium body. The feel is perhaps a bit thinner and light then I would like for a beer with the above flavors. It does linger decently. Pretty crisp for such a dark beer. Wet on palate. Some zingy bite from semi-metallic quality.

O- This beer is much more fit to be a stout then a strong ale. A good buy and an easy drinker. Glad I picked this up. Looking forward to trying more from Dark Horse. A good morning beer.

busterthecat, Jun 26, 2011
Photo of SWMeyer4141
4.15/5  rDev +5.1%
look: 4 | smell: 4.5 | taste: 4 | feel: 4.5 | overall: 4

Wasn't too sure what this beer was, got two bottles.

Appearance-Looks like a Stout. Dark brown ith a mocha 1.5 finger head. Tight bubbles. Dissipates pretty quickly. Good Lacing.

Smell-Dark Chocolate and malts. Dark fruits and hops. Intriguing.

Taste-Lots of Roast. Porterish. Chocolate, Coffee, and some nice bitterness. Very Balanced. Mouthfeel is great...

Mouthfeel-Smooth, Creamy. Medium carbonation, lots of body. Very drinkable.

Overall-This is a Porter in my eyes. Very roasty and balanced with plenty of flavors. Nice brew.

SWMeyer4141, Jun 26, 2011
Photo of Kayn169
4.22/5  rDev +6.8%
look: 4 | smell: 4 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 4 | overall: 4

12oz bottle poured I to pint glass, at DMK burger in Chicago. I immediately went at bought Some at my local liquor store.

A- Deep brown body, nice 2" Khaki head. Looks like a higher carbonated, lighter bodied stout

S- Very nice. Smoky malts, and a little sweetness.

T- Smoky roasted malts hit me up front, followed by bitter chocolate nibs. Maybe a little Molasses

M- So much lighter than the color would lead you to believe. Really suprising. Nice carbination really lends a hand to the feel of this beer.

O- originally ordered this beer at a local burger joint. Wasn't expecting much, so when I tried it, I was very surprised. Really good. Not the best I've ever had, but VERY GOOD

Kayn169, Jun 24, 2011
Photo of jbertsch
3.9/5  rDev -1.3%
look: 4.5 | smell: 5 | taste: 3.5 | feel: 3 | overall: 4

Poured into a tulip. This appears black, with a khaki head 2-finger in size. The head fades to a ring after a bit.

Aroma is of fudgy chocolate brownies, crème brulee, creamed coffee, and a little sherry.

The flavor profile consists of bakers chocolate up front. Crème brulee in the middle, and a slight alcohol kick at the end. The taste is shorter and thinner than expected, but still good.

Mouthfeel is oily and slick, and a little fizzy. Not so creamy. Medium body.

Overall, this was enjoyable. I think this is more of an imperial stout with some slight barleywine characteristics.

jbertsch, Jun 23, 2011
Photo of J0E
4.05/5  rDev +2.5%
look: 5 | smell: 4 | taste: 4 | feel: 4 | overall: 4

A: Poured into a goblet style glass, it is very black with the slightest brown on the edges. About a half inch of light tan head that dissipated fairly quickly.

S: Slightly roasted malts and chocolate - something like a stout or a porter. Not overwhelming as there is still a bit of a hoppy citrus/herbs coming through. Slight amount of coffee, maybe some raisin in there too.

T: Very robust with the malt character, giving way to the bitterness of the hops which then melts away to dark chocolate on the finish. The alcohol is well hidden beneath it all. I wouldn't have guessed this was 8.5% (although their website says it's 7.5% - still seems higher than expected).

M: Smooth, but higher carbonation that you'd expect from something this dark like a stout.

O: This was the first time I'd had this one from Dark Horse, and I'd drink it again no problem. I'm glad it's a year round so I don't have to wait to have another.

J0E, Jun 23, 2011
Dark Horse Reserve Special Black Ale from Dark Horse Brewing Company
89 out of 100 based on 1,018 ratings.