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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

Educational use only; do not reuse.
very good

1,090 Ratings
very good

(view ratings)
Ratings: 1,090
Reviews: 567
rAvg: 3.94
pDev: 10.66%
Wants: 54
Gots: 73 | 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:
Beer added by: xlperro on 05-28-2002

No notes at this time.
Beer: Ratings & Reviews
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Ratings: 1,090 | Reviews: 567 | Display Reviews Only:
Photo of Overlord
4/5  rDev +1.5%
look: 4 | smell: 4 | taste: 4 | feel: 4 | overall: 4

Thanks LinD for the extra!

Pours a dark black with a light tan head. Almost more RIS looking than anything else. Obviously robust carbonation. Smells like roasted malts and chocolate.

Taste offers redolent burnt/roasted malts, some caramel backing, and strong coffee and chocolate notes. Really seems more like a stout than strong ale, but regardless, nicely done. I could use a bit more complexity, as the "roastedness" gets a bit overwhelming after a while.

Photo of brewgetter
4.55/5  rDev +15.5%
look: 4.5 | smell: 4.5 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 5 | overall: 4.5

Pours a syrupy black with a very dark tan head with nice retention...beautiful. Smells of caramel and chocolate, I can smell a little hops, and some nice earthiness as well. Wow, the taste is dark molasses, coffee, bittersweet chocolate. Really thick but some nice carbonation as well, leaves the mouth coated, but has a dryness too. Hops come out late in the profile, not as much as, say, darkness, but a very nice addition. Some fruity undertones as well, complex and super roasty. I wasn't sure what to expect as I haven't had anything from this brewery yet, but I was quite impressed. The fact that they make this beer year round is fantastic as well.

Photo of SaucyA
4.08/5  rDev +3.6%
look: 3.5 | smell: 4 | taste: 4 | feel: 5 | overall: 4

A - Completely opaque black with a quick receding one finger khaki head. Slight lacing present.

S - Coffee, roasty malts, chocolate, alcohol, burnt. Somewhat complex.

T - Chocolatey, smokey, burnt malts, slightly bitter finish. Bittersweet, nutty, mocha. Complex. Tasty.

M - Perfect carbonation and body. No complaints anywhere.

D - Maybe not the best thirst quencher, but easy drinking and sessionable if you're nursing. More of an American Stout/Robust Porter in my eyes, but if you're in the mood for something that transcends styles a bit, pick one up.

A solid brew from a solid crew. Definitely a repeat buy.

Photo of JDV
3.48/5  rDev -11.7%
look: 3 | smell: 3.5 | taste: 3.5 | feel: 3.5 | overall: 3.5

Bottle courtesy of, and shared with ford9719.
Pours big and black with a smallish tan head. Smell is dark and roasty with a big smoky tone to it. Although the flavor of dark smoky roastiness was nice, it was a bit thinner bodied than expected, overall. Didn't get any coffee flavors in this. Would definitely like to try again and a nicely made beer. Thanks Chris!

Photo of cokes
3.7/5  rDev -6.1%
look: 4.5 | smell: 4.5 | taste: 3.5 | feel: 3 | overall: 3.5

Black indeed! Opaque and trimmed with a lasting stack of brown suds.
The nose is Imperial Stout incarnate. All sun-roasted tar, molasses, liquorice, hazelnut-vanilla-chocolate candies, port, and wintergreen.
While the nose is full of pomp and bombast, it treads rather meekly across the mouth. I've never encountered such a drop-off before. Watery coffee. Caramel. Cigarette butts. Carob. Wet paper. Prune. Liquorice. Spruce. It's like an Imperial Stout Lite, and, in part, that's exactly what it is, but instead of focusing on any one element, it merely dulls everything uniformly. The fact that oxidation has already set in to relatively fresh bottle is also a concern.
Thickish up front, then sagging to a flatlined medium build. It's a drinkable stout. But its appearance and aroma set the bar higher than it can maintain.

I feel like I've been overly negative, hence this afterword. I've more or less rated this an Imperial Stout (or Double Stout), as that is what I feel it most resembles. It's enjoyable, no doubt (especially at its price point), but lacking compared to the competition. To me, this is quite reminiscent of Old Rasputin....something that I know isn't best-in-class (in my world), but I buy periodically since the price is attractive. Yet every time I still feel a little bit cheated. At the end of the day, it's good to have around.

Photo of merlin48
4.05/5  rDev +2.8%
look: 4 | smell: 4.5 | taste: 4 | feel: 3.5 | overall: 4

Didn't know what to expect from this one. Initially thought it would be a schwartzbier. Pours an almost black body with a small cocoa head that has some garnet hues. Some nice sheet lacing. Looks like a stout. Aroma of burnt dark malt, chocolate, and red apples. Medium body has a subdued carbonation. Taste has a biter bite from both hops and dark roasted malts. A red apple fruitiness softens the edges quite a bit. A very interesting brew here. More like a stout than anything else.

Photo of sleazo
3.88/5  rDev -1.5%
look: 3.5 | smell: 4 | taste: 4 | feel: 4 | overall: 3.5

A_Pours a medium rich dark brown. The head is very small and dissipates into a small slick fairly soon.

S_Nose is of fairly sweet malt with hints of roasted smoke. Middle of the road as far as strength of the nose goes but fairly pleasant enough.

T_A bit on the sweeter-side, there is a nice sort of sweet roasted malt/caramel note there. Follow through is a bitterness derived from a good deal of smoke. Drinks like a porter I would say.

M_On the syrupy side, moderate carbonation.

D_The smoke can get to be a bit much but there is a a lot to like here. I am enjoying this though that aftertaste can be a bit of a hurdle.

Photo of sfoley333
4/5  rDev +1.5%
look: 4 | smell: 4 | taste: 4 | feel: 4 | overall: 4

Poured from 12oz bottle into New Belgium snifter. Poured a midnight black color with mocha tan head. Smell is mixture of chocolate, roasted malt, and coffee. Taste is burnt flavors of malt and coffee with a sweet finish. Mouthfeel is full body with a low level of carbonation that helps maintain its creamy feel. A great drinking beer with a huge body and bold flavors.

Photo of ChainGangGuy
4.43/5  rDev +12.4%
look: 4 | smell: 4.5 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 4 | overall: 4.5

Appearance: Pours a black body with a thin, off-white head.

Smell: Roasty chocolate malts with a hint of smoke and a sprinkling of licorice dust.

Taste: Rich dark maltiness with flavors of lightly sweetened chocolate and licorice. Touch of smoke. Smidgen of nuttiness along the way. Meager amount of earthy bittering hops. Drying, chocolatey finish.

Mouthfeel: Medium-bodied. Medium carbonation.

Drinkability: Very nice. Packed with flavor, but relatively light enough to pound down a few of these, even at 7:00AM in the morning.

Photo of ALESwhatCURESya
4.03/5  rDev +2.3%
look: 4.5 | smell: 4 | taste: 4 | feel: 4 | overall: 4

A-Deep, inky black with deep mocha film that quickly turns to a ring on the outside of the glass. Pretty opaque.

S-Fresh coffee grounds and a touch of anise. Heavy on the roastedness and maltiness.

T-Nice, raw flavor with huge roasted overtones. The coffee and burnt anise come through quite nice.

M-Sharp and bitter from the roasted grains, but very smooth and well balanced.

D-This brewery almost always delivers. Nice crisp stout that any stout fan would enjoy.

Photo of barleywinebrewer
4.03/5  rDev +2.3%
look: 4.5 | smell: 4 | taste: 4 | feel: 4 | overall: 4

A - nice solid black brew, good sized tan head

S - Roasted grains, french roast coffee and a sweet undertone.
T - solid roast characteristics but a quick switch end of sip to a fig / molasses sweet side.
M - medium bodied, nicely carbonated, semi dry finish
D - Nice drinkable brew, doesn't overpower and has a nice roasty-ness about it.

Photo of SaCkErZ9
4.3/5  rDev +9.1%
look: 4.5 | smell: 3.5 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 4.5 | overall: 4.5

Thanks to hoppymeal for this one.

Dispensed from a 12oz bottle into a pint glass. Jet black beer with a very creamy and rich tan mocha colored head. Looks beautiful.

Aroma is quite chocolatey and malty. Slight hop aroma, citrusy. Possible some oatmeal in there as well. Kind of subdued, a little disappointing there.

Terrific chocolate malt and coffee flavors. Wow, this one is nice. Smooth and creamy. Slightly roasty but certainly not overdone. Nice bitterness in the back from the roasted malts. Tangy as well.

This was a great beer. Glad I got the opportunity to give this one a whirl. Full bodied, terrific carbonation, smooth, slightly dry in the finish as well. Certainly worth the effort to get this one!

Photo of DrJay
3.95/5  rDev +0.3%
look: 4 | smell: 4 | taste: 4 | feel: 3.5 | overall: 4

This was an extra in a trade with cburian. Thanks Chris!
Very, very dark brown with a thin tan cap of fine bubbles. Good head retention with spotty lacing. The aroma was full of toffee, roast, milk chocolate with some sour cherry and caramel notes. Leafy hop bitterness that started strong and grew into the finish. Caramel sweetness up front, followed by mild roast and semisweet chocolate, then dry cocoa towards the end followed by lingering cherry. Medium to full bodied with very low carbonation, a little heavy. Good stuff and an easy drinking bigger beer. Unfortunately, the carbonation was just a little too low and didn't do the beer justice.

Photo of Blakaeris
3.8/5  rDev -3.6%
look: 4 | smell: 3 | taste: 4 | feel: 4 | overall: 4

Pours very dark, almost black with a creamy tan head.

Aroma is smokey dark grain and plenty of chocolate. Overall rather mild.

Taste is surprisingly hearty. Strong dark grain and coffee bitterness get your attention. Generous chocolate, caramel, and hints of molasses bring balance. Finish is bitter and clean with lingering licorice and alcohol notes.

Mouthfeel is medium-full. Quite dry and smokey.

A well crafted stout. The nose was underwhelming, but the flavor is big but balanced. Bitterness complemented with sweetness, and no off flavors here. An easy drinker for the high ABV.

Photo of tayner
2.93/5  rDev -25.6%
look: 4 | smell: 3.5 | taste: 2.5 | feel: 3 | overall: 3

12 ounce bottle with no freshness date.

was expecting an ale, got a stout out of this bottle for sure. poured black with a huge foamy head that ended up eventually settling into a ring with a slight film across the top.

Bitter citrus/floral hops up front with roasted malts, coffee, bitter chocolate all prominent as well.

Tastes thick and grainy. is this brew unfiltered?

This one doesnt seem balanced enough for me for some reason, too much bitterness in the finish for me, not enough balance. One of these is enough, but worth trying. not my thing

Photo of lightindarkness
4/5  rDev +1.5%
look: 4.5 | smell: 4 | taste: 3.5 | feel: 4 | overall: 5

A "slightly older" bottle, without any dating. All Dark Horse Brewing could offer was that it was definitely pre new-labeling-contract-era, without any specific date.

A - Black, with a thin brown head. Some lighter colored sediment suspends itself in the pour.

N - Dark roasted and black malts, espresso, cocoa, licorice, and an undeniable scent of soy sauce.

T - Milder on taste than many others of the same style, but more drinkable as a result. Up front chocolate, espresso, with oaky vanilla. good rich flavor with a mellow smoothness. Rises in bitterness toward the end, with smoky coffee and dark chocolate flavors. Finishes with tobacco and some hop character, along with plenty of grains.

M - Smooth/rich, with good sticky quality. Minimal carbonation leaves it somewhat soft and flat, but does not detract. Certainly less intimidating than some of its Imperial Stout cousins.

D - I think for the style, this is an extremely drinkable beer. It possesses all of the imperial stout character without being unnecessarily heavy or daunting.

Photo of objectivemonkey
3.95/5  rDev +0.3%
look: 4 | smell: 3.5 | taste: 4 | feel: 3.5 | overall: 4.5

Into a pint glass, pours about as dark as a bier will get, pitch black without any tints even when held up to a lamp. The head is a dark brown, lasts for a bit before receding to almost nothing, and little lacing to be had. The aroma is, of course, dark and mean, roasted toasted malts, but kind of quiet, and maybe lacking in some complexity... a really nice aroma, just give me more... lots more.

The taste, however, is not shy. With a fine carbonation and coating texture, the bitterness sinks into the tongue, roasted, toasted and burnt to a crisp malts, anise, molasses, maybe some coffee and a woody something. The burp tastes pretty good too:) The body, however, looses some strength, feeling a bit thinner later. One thing I must say, I don't know how accurate these classifications of stout/double stout/impy/whatever, but this beer is called a black bier by its maker, and it tastes just like that... black, dark, mean, with no redeeming qualities. Tasty.

Photo of mentor
3.4/5  rDev -13.7%
look: 2.5 | smell: 3.5 | taste: 3.5 | feel: 4 | overall: 3

Gross yeast culture growing in the neck of the bottle. Pours a three finger dark brown head over a pitch liquid. Some of the head is soda-pop-like as it fizzles away quickly. The rest forms a half-finger layer that persists as a fluffy caved in layer. Entered into GABF as an american style stout, not a imperial stout.

Smells molasses, chocolate, roast, woody citrus hops. Nice sweet aromatic hop character riding the alcohol makes this very inticing. Tastes roast, with hop bitter and sweet chocolate underneath. Citrusy woody character from the hops mixes with the dry of the roast. Add in the alcohol drying effect and overall the wet of the malt doesn't make the supporting role. Roast is almost strong enough to take on the ashy role that comes with overuse. Sour from black patent is present, but not dominant. Makes itself known in the end and aftertaste mostly.

Heavy body and thick smooth mouthfeel. Medium carbonation.

Photo of flowerysong
3/5  rDev -23.9%
look: 3 | smell: 3 | taste: 3 | feel: 4 | overall: 2.5

Appearance: Looks like thick coffee. Minimal head quickly dissipates.

Smell: Fruity and roasty, with vanilla and floral hops.

Taste: Rich coffee character from the roasted malt, medium malt sweetness, mild hop bitterness. Mild fruity esters. Finish is a coffee-like bitterness that coats the roof of your mouth.

Mouthfeel: Rich and creamy, medium-low carbonation. Slight alcohol warming on the finish.

Drinkability: I wouldn't turn it down, but I wouldn't seek it out. One-dimensional and lacking in balance.

Photo of HardTarget
3.53/5  rDev -10.4%
look: 4 | smell: 3.5 | taste: 3.5 | feel: 3.5 | overall: 3.5

Bottle Inspection: No info

Aroma: Black bread with some paper, dark malt extract.

Appearance: Black opaque with ruby edges, thin dark tan cover with a solid collar that laces well.

Flavor: Heavy rich malt, a fair amount of paper (no date on the bottle = brewer takes the hit), a mild hop bitter in the finish. Some charcoal harshness blended with some coffee smoothness makes for an interesting complexity.

Mouthfeel: Medium heavy body but no chew, and a bit dry in the finish.

Overall Impression: A solid heavy black beer, somewhat papery but enjoybable.

Thanks to Pegasus for sharing a bottle.

Photo of msubulldog25
4.2/5  rDev +6.6%
look: 4 | smell: 4.5 | taste: 4 | feel: 4 | overall: 4.5

12 oz. poured into a pint glass; this bottle sent by hoppymeal.

A: Thick ebony, completely opaque but for a thin red-orange trim at the edges. Love that head color: a rusty tan-orange that piles up to about 1-finger, then drops to a sheeting lace and veil of film dappled with bubbly clusters.

S: Bold aroma of darkly roasted malt: semi-sweet chocolate and coffee beans, with a dollop of cream and a dash of vanilla. It's fairly simple, but is strong and quite appealing.

T: Begins more sweet, with lighter chocolate and cream predominant. In seconds the dark roasted bittering takes over and blasts the tongue with an earthy/sooty mix of burnt malt and whatever hops were used here. Finishes a little dry and chalky, but there are some sugars left in the front to offset the harshness in the back. Quite flavorful, just not superbly balanced.

M: Medium-heavy thickness. Smooth and velvety, with a terrific coating mouthfeel that keeps those sweet/bitter flavors lingering for many minutes after the last sip. This one sticks to every part of the mouth without being cloying, warms to the core without a trace of alcohol - nice!

D: A big, tasty stout, one of the best of the lot I've enjoyed and my first from Dark Horse. Huge chocolate and coffee bittering will make this memorable; it's one I must have again somewhere down the road. Like BuckeyeNation wrote below, I also thought this was a schwarzbier, so the imperial stout-goodness was a pleasant surprise. Thanks again, Derek, for sending...

Photo of BuckeyeNation
4.45/5  rDev +12.9%
look: 4.5 | smell: 4.5 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 4 | overall: 4.5

Impenetrable onyx with a thin slice of burnt sienna along the bottom edge of the pint glass. The fantastic looking cap is a thickly creamy beast that is beginning to lay down a (not yet broken) blanket of mocha colored lace. I'm impressed as hell so far.

The nose is very nice too. It's chock full of roasted malt and all the good things that go along with it. Baker's chocolate and crushed coffee beans share the spotlight with heavy cream spiked with vanilla. I can't appreciate hops, but then I don't need big-time hops in my big stouts. I like them, I just don't need them.

For some reason, I always thought that Black Bier Ale was a schwarzbier. Hey Dark Horse, actually putting the word 'stout' on the label would be a good idea. Adding the ABV would be helpful as well. Whether it's big enough to be a *double* stout is debatable. Whether or not it's good beer is already settled. The answer is an unqualified 'yes'.

I love the Holiday Stout Series from these guys and I love Dark Horse Reserve Special Black Bier Ale. This offering, I'm guessing, is the base beer for all of the brewery's flavored stouts. Well, I'm here to say that it's a humdinger of a roastfest. Char the beejusus out of the barley, add a ton of it, bottle and drink. What could be easier?

One of the beer's best features is the interplay between the sweetness of the malt sugars and the bitterness of the American hops. I'm reminded of a sweet stout-dry stout hybrid in a double stout's body. Again, maybe not quite double, but close enough. The usual flavors of chocolate (Tootsie Rolls?) and gourmet coffee are joined by an impressive Scotch pine character that is getting me back in the Christmas spirit.

In the final reckoning, the mouthfeel isn't worthy of double/Imperial status. That doesn't mean that it's less than good, just that it doesn't match the magnificence of the rest of the beer's attributes. It is, however, incredbily gulpworthy. Given the ABV, that's a recipe for disaster. Or would be if I had more than one bottle.

I've been looking for this beer for some time now (Thanks Talisker). Maybe it was the goofy cartoon donkey on the label, maybe it was the proven 'stout excellence' of the brewmasters at Dark Horse, who knows? All you need to know is that Reserve Special Black Bier is a lip smackingly good, stout lover's stout.

Photo of lilbigbudy
4.4/5  rDev +11.7%
look: 4.5 | smell: 4 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 4.5 | overall: 4.5

Poured extremely dark, extremely thick (lined the glass upon tipping), and absolutely no head to it.

Smelled gorgeous. Aroma seems full, some hint of dark licorice smells ...looking...forward...to...tasting....

Oh yeah, that's good. Burnt malty flavor, but in no way overwhelming. Warm feeling after gulp...nice!

Mouthfeel: Thick, but not aggressive.

Drinkability: I'd have another, but don't know how many I could have in a night. Great for havin' with some fellow beer nerds.

Photo of bashiba
4.3/5  rDev +9.1%
look: 3.5 | smell: 4 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 4 | overall: 4.5

Poured a heavy dark black with with a touch of brown highlights, no head to speak of.

Smell has a sweet creamy chocolate odor with a touch of coffee.

Taste has a great dark burnt malt flavor with a bitter chocolate finish, slightly sweet but the blackened malts bitterness dominates. Some nice hints of anise, coffee, and smoke.

Mouthfeel is farily light and a touch oilyness with a decent bit of tongue warming.

Pretty good, I will definitly be looking for more of this.

Photo of KAF
4.15/5  rDev +5.3%
look: 3.5 | smell: 4 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 3.5 | overall: 4

Very dark brown in pour with a quarter inch thick light brown head that dissapates quickly and leaves little lacing. Aroma of roasted malt and cocoa chocolate. Roasted coffee flavor with a slightly bitter finish also a hint of chocolate present but not as much as was in the aroma.

Dark Horse Reserve Special Black Ale from Dark Horse Brewing Company
88 out of 100 based on 1,090 ratings.