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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

1,073 Ratings
very good

(view ratings)
Ratings: 1,073
Reviews: 563
rAvg: 3.94
pDev: 10.66%
Wants: 54
Gots: 62 | 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: 1,073 | Reviews: 563 | Display Reviews Only:
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.

mentor, Jan 14, 2008
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.

flowerysong, Jan 08, 2008
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.

HardTarget, Jan 07, 2008
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...

msubulldog25, Jan 05, 2008
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.

BuckeyeNation, Dec 30, 2007
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.

lilbigbudy, Dec 29, 2007
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.

bashiba, Dec 29, 2007
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.

KAF, Nov 05, 2007
Photo of letsgopens
4/5  rDev +1.5%
look: 4 | smell: 3.5 | taste: 4 | feel: 4 | overall: 4.5

On-tap at the Dark Horse Tap Room in Marshall, Michigan, this interesting selection pours a deep opaque black with a mocha tan head that recedes and leaves good lace.

The aroma posses some toasted malt and earthy cocoa. Fairly mild on the nose, but very pleasurable.

Dark, bitter, and earthy cocoa. Some decent coffee as well. I also detect some faint smoke and a nice toastiness. Leafy hops are present in the finish as is some juicy dark fruit.

Creamy and thick on the palate but lightens up to a relatively cleaner finish. Low to moderate carbonation. Well balanced and complex. I absolutely love this place.

letsgopens, Nov 02, 2007
Photo of joe1510
4.15/5  rDev +5.3%
look: 4 | smell: 4.5 | taste: 4 | feel: 4.5 | overall: 4

12oz Bottle
$8.69 6-Pack
Village Dell and Wine, Rice Lake

Reserve Special Black Bier pours black without a hint of light coming through when backlit. A three finger brown head formed on the pour and slowly fell to one finger becoming extremely creamy. Leaves some decent patchy lacing on it's way down.

Roasted malts kick things off and lead into a mildly fruity (figs, prunes), nutty aroma. Cocoa shows itself complimenting the nuttiness. Mild alcohol fumes way in the back. Complex and warming.

Roasty malts combine with a mild lactic quality quickly leading into the nuttiness that was present in the aroma. Cocoa and mild brown sugar lead their way to the the finish the cocoa becoming most dominant. A hint of fig peeks in and out throughout the palate.

Heavy body with a smooth silkiness as it slowly works it's way over the palate. Becomes slightly gritty on the swallow. Leaves my mouth watering after each sip.

Good balanced moderate bodied Imperial stout keep this going down easy. I could see myself putting a few of these away on a cold winter evening.

Another high quality brew from Dark Horse. I've sampled three or four of their offerings (all being darker, heavier styles) and everyone was excellent. I said it before and I'll say it again to the brewers at Dark Horse...Please find a distrubutor in Chicagoland.

joe1510, Oct 07, 2007
Photo of GRPunk
4.1/5  rDev +4.1%
look: 4 | smell: 4.5 | taste: 4 | feel: 4 | overall: 4

Bottle poured into a tulip glass

A- This beer poured a jet-black color. There was some reddish-brown coloring at the edges. There was a thin head that looked something like a chocolate malt. The head gave way to a light lace that left behind a light stick.

S- The aroma seemed to fit the description of an imperial stout. Scents I picked up were chocolate and plum.

T- Its flavor was chocolate and roasted malt. There was a bitterness like that of dark chocolate. There was an enjoyable warming alcohol flavor and some hop bite.

M- Nice and thick as I would expect for the style.

D- It was a nice slow sipper. It wasn't too overpowering to drink another in a single sitting.

Overall- This is a good representation of the style. I could see drinking this as a nightcap/winter-warmer throughout the cooler months.

GRPunk, Oct 02, 2007
Photo of hellcatsjg
3.75/5  rDev -4.8%
look: 3.5 | smell: 4 | taste: 3.5 | feel: 4 | overall: 4

Appearance: Dark black, just like they say. No head at all save for the slightest layer of foam.

Smell: Coffee and chocolates. Not much to it but good smelling.

Taste: Big coffee flavor up front. Chocolates as well. Lacks the roasted flavor you get with a lot of stouts. Finishes a bit bitter. Again, not much to it, but still good.

Mouthfeel: Smooth, almost no carbonation. Decent thickness, could maybe have a bit thicker feel though.

Drinkability: Easy to drink. Seems to have low ABV and is not as heavy as many stouts, could use a more complex taste though. I could have several of these in a night, which gives it a good score here. Decent stout overall, not great, but good.

hellcatsjg, Sep 23, 2007
Photo of Rudgers73
3.43/5  rDev -12.9%
look: 4 | smell: 3.5 | taste: 3.5 | feel: 3.5 | overall: 3

Served at the pizza plant in Williamsville, NY.

I saw it and thought it was a schwarzbier, although they couldn't really tell me what style it was. Looking for something sessionable, and didn't get it.

Served a a deep brown with a dark tan head. The head was 1/4 inch tall when they brought it to me and it quickly fell to a ring around the perimeter. When I smelled it I knew it was either a baltic porter or a big stout. Chocolate malt, roasted and burnt, slight flavoring hops poking through, and carbon. The taste was big, bold, burnt at first then regressing to more of a nutty flavor. Bitter hops right at the end dry it out for the next sip. The mouthfeel is dry, chewy, and bitter. The drinkability is good for the style.

Rudgers73, Sep 22, 2007
Photo of soupyman10
4.2/5  rDev +6.6%
look: 5 | smell: 4 | taste: 4 | feel: 4.5 | overall: 4.5

Perfect black beer, with no highlights at all. Big three fingers of reddish tan frothy head that leaves excellent lacing all the way down. Nose is really strong on dried fruit, prunes, and some light roasted malt and spices. Taste is likewise. Spice up front, then strong dried fruit. A ton of roasted malt shows up later on in the flavor. Very tasty beer, although perhaps not the most complex. Creamy, full bodied, with solid carbonation. Liked this one a lot. The big flavor totally covers the alcohol, although these'll catch up with you if you don't pay attention.

soupyman10, Sep 19, 2007
Photo of Enola
4.5/5  rDev +14.2%
look: 4.5 | smell: 4.5 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 4.5 | overall: 4.5

Many thanks to Wcudwight for the bottle.

This is likely one of the best of the style that I have ever had. The beer is pitch black with a decent tan head. Some lacing but not too much. The smell is oatmeal,chocolate and some coffee. The same things show up in the taste. The beer is very smooth for the style. The abv does not show. Drinkability is high, maybe a little too high as this beer is good enough that it could pose some problems near the end of the sixer.

Enola, Sep 16, 2007
Photo of Dogbrick
4.25/5  rDev +7.9%
look: 4.5 | smell: 4 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 4 | overall: 4

This beer pours a shiny black color with a thin light beige head that turns wispy quickly. Very little lacing apparent. Roasted malt and caramel aroma. Medium-bodied and smooth with a pleasant roasted character. Coffee, malt and hops flavors make this one enjoyable. The finish is hoppy and leaves a charred wood aftertaste. One of the better Porters I have tasted in awhile.

Dogbrick, Sep 12, 2007
Photo of david131
4.53/5  rDev +15%
look: 5 | smell: 4.5 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 4.5 | overall: 4.5

A- Absolutely pitch black in color. When held to a light, you can see some carbonation rising along the side and some sediment in the bottom. The head is stunning- it is light brown and thick. Once it settles down, it maintains a nice thin covering over the entire surface.

S- Chocolate, coffee, some caramel. Very roasty. Not the most complex, but very appealing.

T- Some sweet chocolate and coffee. Delicious. Some hops are definetly noticeable, but are not over the top and add a great level of complexity to the brew.

M- A little lighter for the style due to the amount of carbonation. But, this is not a bad thing. A tad dry on the finish though.

D- This was wonderful and I will definitely be enjoying this on a regular basis (less than $10 a 6-pack...). Highly recommended.

david131, Sep 04, 2007
Photo of wcudwight
4.38/5  rDev +11.2%
look: 5 | smell: 4.5 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 4 | overall: 4

The best looking stout I've seen yet! Dark as coal and the depths of a West Virginia mine allows more light into it than this beer. Huge chocolate colored head rises to 2 fingers and half way through the glass is still holding strong at one finger. Head is thick and velvety in texture.
Smells like dark fruits, roasted malts and maple syrup.
Full of strong black coffee and rich chocolate flavors. I also get a hint of Golden Delicious Apple, which adds a very nice twist. Wonderfully bitter finish.
Full bodied in the mouth but remarkably drinkable.
Thank goodness I bought a sixer, but this beer is worthy of a case purchase.

wcudwight, Sep 02, 2007
Photo of IntriqKen
3.53/5  rDev -10.4%
look: 4 | smell: 3.5 | taste: 3.5 | feel: 3.5 | overall: 3.5

Poured almost black with a tan head that makes a sticky ring almost immediately.

Aromas of dark chocolate and faint espesso.

Dry taste of powdered cocoa and coffees finishing with a bit of bitter citrus hops.

Aftertastes of the cocoa and hops.

Very nice and unusual dry double American stout.

IntriqKen, Aug 18, 2007
Photo of baos
3.2/5  rDev -18.8%
look: 3 | smell: 4 | taste: 3 | feel: 3 | overall: 3

A: Black. Not much of anything head wise. Little ring around the tub, though.

S: Coffee although rather faint, and a little coco puffs.

T: Not bad, An alcohol bite with chocolate and roasted malty caramel.

M: Pretty heavy, with no bubbliness.

D: Not bad, but wouldn't be my first choice of the black ales I've had.

baos, Aug 12, 2007
Photo of scoobybrew
3.93/5  rDev -0.3%
look: 3.5 | smell: 3.5 | taste: 4 | feel: 4.5 | overall: 4

This was poured from the bottle into a pint glass. The color is jet black with a modest head that settles to a fine layer of foam on top. Rich chocolately malt aroma with some traces of alcohol make up the scent. The flavor is mostly dominated by the coffee and chocolate-like roasted grains but hops are strong enough to balance the malt out and make themselves known. Alcohol is also noted. The finish is finishes slightly dry. It has a thick, full body which is very smooth with moderate carbonation.

Overall, this is a very interesting and wonderful beer. It's kind of potent, so I don't think I'd have too many of them in one session, but it's definitely worth picking up more. (I got this one in a mixed 6er.)

scoobybrew, Aug 08, 2007
Photo of trevorwideman
3.83/5  rDev -2.8%
look: 4 | smell: 4.5 | taste: 3.5 | feel: 3.5 | overall: 4

12oz bottle poured into a snifter.

Pours black as used motor oil with a big 3/4 inch frothy tan head. Bit of wet lacing, and what I imagine to be a medium carbonation. Intense and pungent aroma of bitter roasted coffee, semi-sweet chocolate, heavily roasted malt, anise, molasses, vanilla, dates, prunes, raisins...wow.

Taste is right smoky off the hop, as smoky as a Rauchbier almost. Earthy and scorched and peaty, like an Islay scotch. The sweeter notes are quite subdued, much more so than I thought they would be. There's hints of dark chocolate, molasses, and aniseed, but not much else. Surpsisingly one-dimensional, focusing almost solely on the bitter and ignoring any sweeter balancing notes. That said, it's still good, just lacking the complexity I was expecting in the nose. Mouthfeel is medium, not too heavy at all, but perhaps a bit overcarbonated. Drinkability is good, but hampered a bit by the booze.

Worth a try to be sure, but the one-dimensionality makes it a litle disappointing. There's one in the cellar though, and we'll see if a couple years can bring out something new in this beer. Stay tuned.

Update April 9th, 2008: Well I didn't wait 2 years, but this bottle is now about 1 year and 3 months old. Aroma is still amazing. There's a lactic sourness I didn't notice before, and the up-front bitterness has had it's edge taken off by a milk chocolate sweetness in the background. I'd bet that that sweetness would develop further if I'd let the bottle sit a little longer. I like the balance and the interplay here. Still smoky and very bitter and roasted, but just a hint of molasses and chocolate taking the edge off. Much less one dimensional than even 8 months ago. This is a tasty brew and balls out.

trevorwideman, Aug 08, 2007
Photo of Atron67
4.13/5  rDev +4.8%
look: 4.5 | smell: 4 | taste: 4 | feel: 4 | overall: 4.5

A- poured a dark black of which even the pour out of the bottle was opaque. A big 2.5 inch head of tan foamy head that settled to a smaller volume pretty quickly but then that stayed for awhile, and there was heavy lacing left throughout
S- Roasted and chocholate malts, little notes of a fruit perhaps, cant quite tell, thought i smelled it orginally, but cant discern it
T- very roasted malty flavor with a nice bitterness that finishes it off,
M- sharper carbonation, although it is fine and rolls over the tongue well. , medium to heavy body, but nothing really heavy
D- pretty solid, im in a definite mood for stouts, and this is perfect

Atron67, Jul 26, 2007
Photo of BattleRoadBrewer
4.13/5  rDev +4.8%
look: 3.5 | smell: 4 | taste: 4 | feel: 4.5 | overall: 4.5

Served cold from a 12 oz amber bottle into a glass tankard.

Despite the aggressive pour, very little head, dark khaki, coarse bubbles, with a lot of body. Negligible lacing.

Fruity aroma with a chocolatey note and surprise hint of alcohol.

Taste and mouthfeel are better than I expected from the pour. Rich, slightly acrid, sweet, fruity, complex. Notable hop bite, more effervescense than I expected considering the head.

The lower ABV, and balanced hops and heavy mouthfeel, without ridiculous maltiness, make this more drinkable than many double American stouts. The counterpart to DIPAs and the other end of the color and richness scale. Highly recommended.

BattleRoadBrewer, Jul 15, 2007
Photo of Gueuzedude
3.15/5  rDev -20.1%
look: 4 | smell: 3.5 | taste: 3 | feel: 3 | overall: 3

Pours with a reasonably tightly beaded, full, creamed chocolate, brown colored head that is initially three-fingers in height. The head leaves a distinct lacing pattern on the sides of my glass as I work my way through this beer. The beer is an almost black color, with perhaps some dark amber notes to it. The aroma has notes of chocolate, dusty roast grain husks, toasted malt and a nice burnt, yet still sweet, raisin note to it towards the end. Interesting, after rooting around in the aroma for a bit I notice a distinct, yet subtle note that reminds me of wood, smoked malt or perhaps butterscotch; I am not sure which, but it is certainly noticeable and now I can't seem to not notice it.

Light feeling as it first hits the tongue, it picks up a medium fullness to it as it moves across the tongue. The finish is marred by an astringent, sharp, almost harsh burnt bitter note, that is thankfully not too overwhelming. Notes of bitter, French Roast, black coffee, darkly toasted bread, a burnt acidity, and a acrid char flavor. This beer has a ton of darkly roasted grain character, it is actually a bit much, but on the upside I think that it is helping to hide some off flavors that are derived from a bit of diacetyl and perhaps some vegetal notes. In the end the dark malt is just a bit too much, if the gravity was bumped up a bit it might be more in balance.

Gueuzedude, Jul 09, 2007
Dark Horse Reserve Special Black Ale from Dark Horse Brewing Company
89 out of 100 based on 1,073 ratings.