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ESB Special Ale - Ska Brewing Co.

Not Rated.
ESB Special AleESB Special Ale

Displayed for educational use only; do not reuse.

331 Ratings
no score

(send 'em beer!)
Ratings: 331
Reviews: 174
rAvg: 3.56
pDev: 14.04%
Wants: 13
Gots: 18 | FT: 0
Brewed by:
Ska Brewing Co. visit their website
Colorado, United States

Style | ABV
Extra Special / Strong Bitter (ESB) |  5.70% ABV

Availability: Year-round

Notes/Commercial Description:
No notes at this time.

(Beer added by: Bitterbill on 10-26-2003)
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Ratings: 331 | Reviews: 174 | Display Reviews Only:
Photo of BuckeyeNation


3.68/5  rDev +3.4%
look: 4 | smell: 3.5 | taste: 3.5 | feel: 4 | overall: 4

Polished kumquat with very few, very fine bubbles rising within. Their final destination is a marvelous looking lid that is equal parts ivory, ecru and pastel orange. Since it looks like plenty of lace is forthcoming, the appearance gets a big thumbs up.

Although a bit tame, the aroma is appropriate for the style. It smells like mostly pale malt was used, perhaps something in the toasted range as well. The Galena hops add a musky grassiness that is probably more appropriate than the tropical fruitiness that C-hops would have added.

ESB Special Ale doesn't qualify as special, but it's still a good little ESB. 58 IBUs in a beer of this style is definitely nothing to sneeze at. There's also enough malt to take the edges off what might have been a too raspy hoppiness. In the end, the beer is decently balanced, while favoring the good guys.

Well-toasted cereal grains dominant on the malt end of things. There might even be a hint of chocolate or roasted in there as well. In any case, malt flavor and hop flavor are fairly equivalent in intensity. To my way of thinking, hop flavor should dominate in an ale of this style... which is why the taste score is what it is.

Considering the ABV, the mouthfeel is surprisingly full and lush. The bubbles are perfectly calibrated to allow the liquid to expand on contact, which is hallmark of any good beer.

Ska's ESB Special Ale was America's second canned microbrew (Oskar Blues Dale's Pale Ale was the first). It isn't as good as that hoppy treat, but it's no slouch either. Changes in the grain bill and the hop bill would probably put it right in my wheelhouse.

Serving type: can

05-16-2009 12:09:03 | More by BuckeyeNation
Photo of mikesgroove

South Carolina

3.63/5  rDev +2%
look: 4 | smell: 3.5 | taste: 3.5 | feel: 3.5 | overall: 4

Grabbed this can out of the fridge last night, hadn't seen it around before so it was worth a shot. Served cold and poured into a pint glass, it was consumed on 11/04/2009.
The pour was nice, light golden amber in color with a smooth even white head on top that held on for a good long while, dropping nice amounts of side glass lacing along the way. Aroma was light, hints of citrus hops, a touch of light grassy notes and a noticeable touch of light spice all coming together rather lightly, but pleasantly. Taste was light as well, clean and crisp with a smooth profile. Light touches of hops sprinkled throughout a light bready and grainy base that shone through pretty strongly. Light touches of peaches and pears actually popped up as well as a nice light touch of spice and hops. Quick and clean finish left me a bit dry and looking for a little bit more.
Overall not sure on the style but the effort was there. A solid and nicely session able little ale, would go for this one again.

Serving type: can

11-05-2009 16:08:59 | More by mikesgroove
Photo of kjkinsey


4/5  rDev +12.4%

12-05-2011 22:36:15 | More by kjkinsey
Photo of jaydoc


3.5/5  rDev -1.7%

01-23-2014 03:17:29 | More by jaydoc
Photo of spycow


3.75/5  rDev +5.3%

05-03-2013 06:47:03 | More by spycow
Photo of oberon

North Carolina

4/5  rDev +12.4%
look: 4 | smell: 3.5 | taste: 4 | feel: 4 | overall: 4.5

Had this ay Sticks and Stones last night.Poured a hazed peach-like color with a tight 1/2 finger white head that held well.Aromas of caramel and fruity malt,just a hint herbal,grassy hop.Well rounded on the palate starting out with caramel/biscuit malt with some fruity esters,the hops come through in the finish giving off some citric and herbal qualities.This is very much an American version of the style with a decent hop profile in the finish,very nice.

Serving type: can

10-17-2009 13:27:14 | More by oberon
Photo of emerge077


3.63/5  rDev +2%
look: 4 | smell: 3.5 | taste: 3.5 | feel: 3.5 | overall: 4

Cheers to pmcadamis as the 1st IL BA to review! Never saw this one around Chicago until today, at In Fine Spirits on Clark St.

Pours a bright orange, nice clarity, and a billowing head of foam. It starts foaming right out of the red can. It leaves a sticky ring of lace near the rim of the glass. Head seems to maintain itself well.

Sweet and nutty aroma, it reminds me a little of Thai peanut sauce. Light bitterness and nutty malt in the flavor. Light-bodied and clean, it would probably be easy to have a couple. Lower carbonation, with a nutty residual aftertaste. Aroma was a little metallic at first, but it blew off quickly. It's not bad, but i'm not sure that this is one i'd go for again.

Serving type: can

12-18-2007 03:18:17 | More by emerge077
Photo of zeff80


3.98/5  rDev +11.8%
look: 3.5 | smell: 4 | taste: 4 | feel: 4 | overall: 4

A - Poured out a clear, copper/amber color with a small, tan head with some big bubbles. It left thin rings of lace on the glass.

S - It smelled of grass, citrus and burnt toast maltiness.

T - It tasted bitter with grassy hops. It had a good burnt toast malt backbone.

M - It was crisp and sharp. A light to medium-bodied brew.

D - This is a pretty good ESB and yet another great canned craft beer.

Serving type: can

08-23-2009 01:23:31 | More by zeff80
Photo of NeroFiddled


4.1/5  rDev +15.2%
look: 4 | smell: 4 | taste: 4 | feel: 4 | overall: 4.5

Ska's ESB pours a handsome amber robe beneath a short head of creamy off-white foam that holds well and leaves some nice patches of lace at the outset of the glass. It's hoppy and malty in the nose with a bit of caramel and some leafy/grassiness, followed by some very pleasant berry-like fruitiness. I wouldn't be surprised at all if they were using the Fuller's yeast strain (White labs WLP002?). In the mouth it's medium-bodied and lightly crisp with a moderate, fine bubbled carbonation (at around 2.38 volumes CO2). The flavor is round, and very well-balanced between delicate English hops and softly caramelish and biscuity malt. But there's also a delicate note of chocolate that gives it quite a bit of charm. It's moderately bitter, and finishes fairly quick and dry with just a bit of leafy, spicy, floral and grassy hops left behind. Very nicely done, and quite drinkable!

Serving type: can

06-18-2007 20:22:56 | More by NeroFiddled
Photo of TheManiacalOne

Rhode Island

3.68/5  rDev +3.4%
look: 4 | smell: 3.5 | taste: 3.5 | feel: 4 | overall: 4

Acquired from kiltedtxn, courtesy of the Nice Cans BIF so a big "Thank You" goes out to him. Poured from a 12oz can into a US tumbler pint glass.

A: The beer is a light golden brown color, with a large off-white head that fades slowly and leaves a spotty lace on the glass.

S: The aroma is a little faint but contains caramelized malts, and touches of hops and citrus.

T: The taste starts out with mildly sweet flavors of caramel and some citrus that are quickly followed by a hearty malt character and bready flavors of grain and nuts. The hops presence seems a bit subdued but is strong enough to bring some balance. The after-taste is slightly bready.

M: Crisp and smooth, medium body, medium carbonation, finish is clean and dry.

D: Tasty, goes down easily, not too filling, mild kick, good representation of style, while there are better beers in the style this beer is still worth sessionning with for an evening

Serving type: can

05-09-2010 04:40:56 | More by TheManiacalOne
Photo of russpowell


3.9/5  rDev +9.6%
look: 4 | smell: 3.5 | taste: 4 | feel: 4 | overall: 4

Head drops off quickly, but nice prickly hop taste and malts curl around your tounge, Some citrus hint,but mostly tangy bitterness. Nice tan coloration; some cloudiness, Has a great finshI will happily take cans of this in to the woods & save some weight!

Serving type: can

08-13-2005 06:12:06 | More by russpowell
Photo of Mora2000


3.68/5  rDev +3.4%
look: 4 | smell: 3.5 | taste: 3.5 | feel: 4 | overall: 4

Thanks to blutt59 for sharing this can.

The beer pours a yellow color with a white head. Not quite what I was expecting from an ESB. The flavor is toffee malt with some earthy hops mixed in. The flavor is grassy hops, earthy hops and some bready malt. Medium mouthfeel and medium carbonation.

Serving type: can

08-16-2010 23:07:59 | More by Mora2000
Photo of StonedTrippin


3.48/5  rDev -2.2%
look: 4 | smell: 3 | taste: 3.5 | feel: 4 | overall: 3.5

nice beer from ska, pours a really nice caramel color, clear as day, with a one inch thick white head that has some moderate retention ability. looks great in a schooner at euclid hall denver. smells off, kind of vinegary or something, definitely a malty beer, but does not smell too appetizing. flavor is much much better, nice english malt profile, caramel notes and the flavors even of a brown ale, roasty and sweet a little bit. finishes clean. feel was nice, medium bodied with relaxed carbonation. an excellent session ale. overall nice brew, not a huge esb guy, but this was really enjoyable.

Serving type: on-tap

05-22-2012 22:51:16 | More by StonedTrippin
Photo of Gueuzedude


3.48/5  rDev -2.2%
look: 4 | smell: 3.5 | taste: 3.5 | feel: 4 | overall: 3

Pours a brilliantly clear red-copper color with a frothy light tan colored head. The aroma is light and spicy with notes of caramel and a bit of herbal/ citrusy hops. The taste is lightly sweet up front, and finishes with a mellow bitterness. This beer is quite light on the palate with a nice balance between a caramel grain note and a bit of spicy hops. As it warms and sits on my palate a hint of toasty malt character begins to develop. This beer is quite the quaffer, and is definitely a session type brew, though I would like to see a just a hint more hop character to balance the malt and a bit more fruity yeast character. Though this is certainly in line with a British Special Bitter.

Serving type: can

07-10-2005 01:51:36 | More by Gueuzedude
Photo of jwc215


3.85/5  rDev +8.1%
look: 4 | smell: 3.5 | taste: 4 | feel: 3.5 | overall: 4

Pours amber with a thick head that slowly descends to a thin cover. Some lacing sticks to glass.

The smell is of caramelish sweetness with earthy, buttery, floral/fruity notes.

The taste is of caramel and vanilla sweetness upfront. Earthy, almost woody, bitter hops balance the sweetness. Mildly buttery. Pineapple-ish fruitiness comes forth as drink progresses. Sweet, though restrained by bitterness, esp. in the finish. I was between two scores, but gave it the higher because of the pleasant taste, though I don't know if I would recommend it if someone asked for a good example of the style.

The body is a bit thin, but holds up well enough.

Well, although it didn't shine forth as a great example of the style, there is something about it I found enjoyable.

Thanks to bitterbill for including this one!

Serving type: can

05-04-2007 15:07:25 | More by jwc215
Photo of Halcyondays


3.75/5  rDev +5.3%
look: 3.5 | smell: 4.5 | taste: 3.5 | feel: 4 | overall: 3.5

12 oz. can,

A: Pours dark gold/light amber with a soft finger of white head, spots of lace.

S: Very malty, English nose, hint of spearmint from the hops.

T: Strong malt flavour upfront which is then attacked by a lot of American hops. Mint again comes back with some citrus rind, lemon.

M: Soft carbonation, easily quaffable which is good in this style.

D: A solid bitter, pretty much an American Red Ale, OK, but not approaching Fuller's.

Serving type: can

08-04-2010 02:39:21 | More by Halcyondays
Photo of kojevergas


2.84/5  rDev -20.2%
look: 3 | smell: 3 | taste: 2.75 | feel: 3 | overall: 2.75

Aluminum can served into a Samuel Smith's conical pint glass in me gaff in low altitude Los Feliz, California. Reviewed live. Expectations are low; I keep trying beers in the style but few impress me.

Served cold. Side-poured with standard vigor as no carbonation issues are anticipated.

A: Pours a one finger beige colour head of fair cream and thickness, and above average retention. Body colour is a clear copper. Translucent. No yeast particles are visible. No bubble show.

Sm: Sweet toasted malts, clean barley, pale malts, diacetyl/buttery notes, and bready grains. An above average strength, appealing aroma.

T: Buttery and sweet, with a nice malt base of pale and light toasted malts. Some fruity character too. Pretty generic for an ESB, but well balanced. Hop bitterness on the back end.

Mf: Smooth and wet. A bit overcarbonated. Too thick. Suits the flavour profile generally well.

Dr: Drinkable but unremarkable. For an ESB, I like it but I doubt I'd get it again. Still, this one of the better Ska beers I've had for the style. Hides its ABV well.


Serving type: can

01-13-2013 12:33:13 | More by kojevergas
Photo of MarkyMOD


4.25/5  rDev +19.4%

06-03-2013 01:51:05 | More by MarkyMOD
Photo of tempest


3.43/5  rDev -3.7%
look: 4 | smell: 3.5 | taste: 3.5 | feel: 3.5 | overall: 3

Picked up a can at Chip's Wine and Beer in Kill Devil Hills. I like a good ESB, but this came off more like a smooth Americn amber. In fact, it reminds me of New England Brewing's Atlantic Amber which is also from a can. It's basically a smooth caramel malt beer that finishes dry and with a moderate spicy hop kick. Nothing really stands out here, but it's certainly not a bad beer.

Serving type: can

06-25-2010 01:08:41 | More by tempest
Photo of oriolesfan4


3.88/5  rDev +9%
look: 3.5 | smell: 3.5 | taste: 4 | feel: 4 | overall: 4

Part of a mixed 12 pack enjoyed on the beach in the Outer Banks. A nice solid, all around beer. Medium bodied with some caramel notes and malty sweetness, some decent hop presence upfront with a nice clean finish. Not particularly my favorite style, but this one was pretty well done and well balanced and I would try it again for sure.

Serving type: can

08-26-2012 22:07:22 | More by oriolesfan4
Photo of woodychandler


4.03/5  rDev +13.2%
look: 3.5 | smell: 4 | taste: 4 | feel: 3.5 | overall: 4.5

CAN you believe it? Ska Beer in a CAN!?!

A good aggressive pour resulted in a huge, rocky, off-tan head with good retention. The nose had a light sweetness. The color was a slightly hazy medium-amber. The mouthfeel was medium with a slight bitterness on the tongue. The finish also had a light, pleasant bitterness. There was some lacing evident in the glass at the end. Overall, it was a solid example of an ESB, plus the fact that it was canned made it even more attractive.

A re-review: CAN you believe it?!? A stop-over in CHI-town headed west and I was no longer CANtankerous. I was CANnabalistic on the train and loving it!

More environmental friendliness on the CAN: "Golf - Luge - Recycle - BBQ - Toboggan - Recycle - Fish - Luau - Recycle - Live - Hike - Recycle". Indeed! Time to "Lip Up, Fatty!"

It must have had to do with the altitude as my pours kept producing massive rocky, two-finger heads. This one was ecru. The deep-amber color with its NE-quality clarity put me in mind of BUPGOO. Nose had an earthy, grassy quality. Mouthfeel was medium with a subdued malty sweetness on the tongue. Finish was semi-dry with hops and malt battling it out for supremacy. Special!

Beach/Shore: Bet!

Serving type: can

06-10-2008 11:27:14 | More by woodychandler
Photo of Zorro


3.53/5  rDev -0.8%
look: 4 | smell: 3.5 | taste: 3.5 | feel: 3.5 | overall: 3.5

Pours a clear amber colored ale with a good tan head.

Smell is lots of roasted malt and caramel with a spicy and herbal hop scent. Faint scent of citrus here too. Spicy alcohol note in the scent.

Taste is a little sweet with a strong vanilla and caramel flavor. Hop flavors take 3-4 sips to catch up with the malt sweetness in this one. Hops are both herbal and citrus in nature here with a woody hop taste at the end. OK bitter in the end but the flavor is really more pale ale than ESB.

Mouthfeel is good.

Not a bad drinker here and one of the few micro-brews that comes in cans especially for camping and the outdoors.

Serving type: can

11-28-2005 01:29:39 | More by Zorro
Photo of DoubleJ


3.58/5  rDev +0.6%
look: 4 | smell: 3.5 | taste: 3.5 | feel: 4 | overall: 3.5

So...why not a can with Ska's other offerings? At least I don't need a bottle opener for this one. On to the beer:

Poured out of the can, it looks good at first look. Muddy orange colored body, with a thick layer of soapy suds that continues to hold up. A pretty solid aroma, one that works for me. Honey, buttery, fruity, husky grain. Hints of metal from the can. To taste, it is a lighter tasting ESB. It has a mild diacetyl character which is rounded off by a dominant honey flavor. A little grainy, a little fruity. Processed bitterness poses a backdrop to it all. The liquid is medium in feel, but easygoing. A pleasant honeydue and light buttery flavor linger on in the aftertaste.

After dissapointments with my first two Ska offerings, their Special ESB delivers. It must be the cans.

Serving type: can

03-17-2009 02:49:31 | More by DoubleJ
Photo of Wasatch


3.55/5  rDev -0.3%
look: 4.5 | smell: 3.5 | taste: 3.5 | feel: 3.5 | overall: 3.5

Thanks goes out to Bitterbill for this one.

Pours a very nice cloudy golden orange color, nice carbonation, nice one-finger plus creamy head, with some nice sticky lacing left behind. The nose is malty, slightly bitter, with some slight spice. The taste is malty, slightly bitter, with some slight spice. Medium body. Drinkable, not a bad brew.

Serving type: can

10-15-2008 00:13:33 | More by Wasatch
Photo of mothman

United Kingdom (Wales)

3.2/5  rDev -10.1%
look: 4 | smell: 3 | taste: 3 | feel: 3.5 | overall: 3.5

Poured into Sam Smith Pint Glass

Pours ½ finger of creamy white head. Color is a slight hazyed golden orange. Decent head retention, leaving some nice lace rings.

Aroma: Caramel and bready malts. Some dull hops are present as well. This reminds me a lot of a pale ale. Nothing special going on here.

Taste: I get a lot more hop bite here than I was expecting. Caramel malts and some citrus zest here. Now, it is reminding me more and more of a pale ale.

Mouthfeel: Some bitterness, but fairly smooth. Medium bodied with a well amount of carbonation. Ends with bready malt aftertaste, very dry.

Overall, not a very big fan of this esp. Reminded me more of a pale ale. Not something I would buy on a regular basis, but not something I would completely ignore.

Serving type: bottle

08-12-2009 01:51:07 | More by mothman
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ESB Special Ale from Ska Brewing Co.
81 out of 100 based on 331 ratings.