Dismiss Notice
Save $5 when you subscribe to 12 issues / year of BeerAdvocate magazine by selecting auto-renew.

Subscribe now →
Dismiss Notice
Join Our Email List →

And we'll send you the latest updates and offers from BeerAdvocate, because knowing is half the battle.
Dismiss Notice

Pre-order your Respect Beer "Hipster" Hoodie today!

Plus: Free shipping (US only) on orders of $25 or more until 12/18/15. Just select "Free Shipping" at checkout.

Shop now →

ESB Special Ale - Ska Brewing Co.

Not Rated.
ESB Special AleESB Special Ale

Educational use only; do not reuse.

180 Reviews
no score

(Send Samples)
Reviews: 180
Hads: 389
Avg: 3.58
pDev: 18.99%
Wants: 14
Gots: 29 | 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:
Beer added by: Bitterbill on 10-26-2003

No notes at this time.
Beer: Reviews & Ratings
Sort by:  Recent | High | Low | Top Raters
Reviews: 180 | Hads: 389
Photo of tdm168
3.98/5  rDev +11.2%
look: 4.5 | smell: 4 | taste: 4 | feel: 3.5 | overall: 4

A - dark orangish amber with a thick, dense, big, off white head that has great retention

S - bread, birthday cake, sweet, grapefruit, pineapple

T - bread, faintly sweet, light toastiness, faint caramel, pineapple, grapefruit

M - smooth, medium bodied, lightly carbonated, thins out a good deal over time

This is an interesting ESB. It has a rather bready, bold, forward malt character. It has a very citrusy hop character. It's also a bit sweet and not bitter at all. It's incredibly drinkable and incredibly refreshing. This could probably pass for an APA for most breweries. It's worth looking into.

 606 characters

Photo of bump8628
4/5  rDev +11.7%
look: 4 | smell: 4 | taste: 4 | feel: 4 | overall: 4

A nice ESB, definitely Americanized with more aggressive hops a less of the subtle malt depth of the British variety. Pours deep Amber with an off-white head. Big herbal hoppiness, grassy with an earthy note. Nice thick caramel and biscuit malt backbone. Bitter edge on the finish. Another good beer from a can at an even better bar. Star Bar Denver, CO.

 354 characters

Photo of StonedTrippin
3.46/5  rDev -3.4%
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.

 599 characters

Photo of chugalug06
3.52/5  rDev -1.7%
look: 5 | smell: 3 | taste: 3.5 | feel: 4 | overall: 3.5

Awesome white foamy head; nice lacing too. Nice clarity in an orange/redish/yellow brew. Looks great!

Heavy malt and light hop. This one could stand to be more hoppy, but it fits the style, just slightly too much caramel.

More hop on the tongue then on the nose... Nicely bitter and perfect carbonation. Biscuit-y, nutty, dry, and slightly sweet. Very sessionable, even at 5.7%. Tons of heavy caramel. Too much malt and not enough hop...

A very solid ESB, it could stand to be more hoppy, but very refreshing and enjoyable nonetheless.

 540 characters

Photo of homebrew311
3.38/5  rDev -5.6%
look: 4 | smell: 3.5 | taste: 3 | feel: 4 | overall: 3.5

Poured into DFH pint glass. Appears a clear orange with 1 cm of white head that dissipates quickly. Decent lacing left behind. The aroma is heavy with earthy hops along with notes of pine and cedar. The taste is somewhat subdued with mild earthy bitterness followed by caramel malts and a bit of sweetness on the finish. The body is medium with moderate carbonation. Overall, there is a decent amount of flavor in this brew but it does not stand out as being particularly tasty.

 478 characters

Photo of thydarkprevails
3/5  rDev -16.2%
look: 3 | smell: 3 | taste: 3 | feel: 3 | overall: 3

From a can to a duvel tulip. Pours a clear caramel with an inch thick off white head. Average lacing. Aroma is biscuit, malt, and light citrus. Flavor is bitter up front and moves to a bready malty taste. There's some toffee and caramel there as well. Mouthfeel is thin and slightly sticky. Not a bad esb.

 305 characters

Photo of blackcompg
3.5/5  rDev -2.2%
look: 3.5 | smell: 3.5 | taste: 3.5 | feel: 3.5 | overall: 3.5

Poured from their 12oz can...

Appearance - Poured nearly 2 fingers of lite golden eggshell head, color of the beer is a brite translucent copper orange.

Smell - Wheatbread, yeast, pears, apples, lite floral hops.

Taste - Much like the nose, litely baked wheat, semi-sweet pears, touch of crisp apples, nice lightly bitter floral hops, and some lite spices like coriander and white pepper.

Mouthfeel - Lighter side of medium, this allows a little bit of the pear sweetness and malts to be appreciated, then almost medium carb cleanses slightly and gives the white fruits some tart crispness and helps to assert the floral hops. Very drinkable.

Overall - The B in this one is definitely for balanced. There are some really nice crisp and refreshing flavors going on here. Looks nice in a glass too, a very good session beer. Get the 12pk can sampler and also enjoy their killer APA, Modus Hoperandi.

 904 characters

Photo of chocosushi
4.7/5  rDev +31.3%
look: 4.5 | smell: 4.5 | taste: 5 | feel: 4.5 | overall: 4.5

Unibroue Tulip
A ~ Pours a copper-hued Amber. Crystal clear clarity. Cream colored head with great retention & little globs of baby swiss style lacing.

S ~ A melange Roasted Corn, Yeastbreads, Rain-soaked grains...orange zest & other fruits...very floral & enticing.

T ~ Wow. Soft toffee with Crisp apples...mellow Blood & Bitter Orange notes with touches of berries & toast with jam midpalette. .Hops are light with apricot & mild pepper notes...cooked peaches after some warmth...

M ~ Very very balanced. Medium-light body & very light on the palette. Faint spice. Juicy fruit flavors. Carb is fine, but not abundant. Perfect balance for the style.

D ~ Best American ESB I have ever had, HANDS DOWN. Literally could drink this anytime or any where. Supreme Craftsmanship.
Thanks Gawnphishin!!!

 802 characters

Photo of WoodBrew
3.55/5  rDev -0.8%
look: 3.5 | smell: 3.5 | taste: 3.5 | feel: 4 | overall: 3.5

The ESB from SKA is a true English Bitter. The beer pours a orange copper with thin white head that leaves a spotty lace. The smell is english bittering hops. The taste is a light malt trying to balance against a english hops. The mouthfeel is a medium body with good carbonation. Overall it is a taste beer.

 308 characters

Photo of lawlerj
3.58/5  rDev 0%
look: 4 | smell: 3.5 | taste: 3.5 | feel: 4 | overall: 3.5

Poured from a 12 oz can into SA pint glass.

A. Pours a translucent amber with a nice three finger off white head. Appears to be moderately carbonated.

S. The main thing I get on the nose is buttery and bready malt. There are some hops in the mix as well, but nothing too dominating. The aroma is fairly balanced.

T. More or less follows the nose. Bready malt and a touch of bitter hops throughout.

M. Medium bodied with moderate carbonation.

O. Overall, a solid beer and a nice example of the style. I could throw back a few more of these.

 548 characters

Photo of quaybr
3.78/5  rDev +5.6%
look: 4 | smell: 3.5 | taste: 4 | feel: 4 | overall: 3.5

Body is a golden color with a red hue. A bubbly head disappears rather quickly, leaving behind substantial lacing.

Smells of pale malt with hints of grassy hops.

Taste follows suit, only with more flavoring hops present. The flavor is really quite pleasant. Simple and well balanced. Becomes sweeter as it warms up, tasting a bit of corn.

Great carbonation level, carries the ale across the tongue exceptionally well.

This is a good beer, definitely enjoyable.

 464 characters

Photo of hopfacebrew
3.38/5  rDev -5.6%
look: 3.5 | smell: 3 | taste: 3.5 | feel: 3.5 | overall: 3.5

Poured from 12oz can to pint glass.

A - The beer pours a darker color than I expected: a dark orange/amber color with a 1 finger head with decent retention and lacing.

S - Not much to report. A sublte malt character but nothing really.

T - The beer has a nice bitterness and citrus hop character. Some nice toasted caramel malt flavors balance the well out fairly well. The beer finishes clean and crisp.

M - Medium bodied with a lof of carbonation.

D - Pretty drinkable.

Note: This review was a re-post from my former account, jmkratt, which was hacked and I lost all my reviews...sorry for the redundancy.

Serving type: can

Reviewed on: 02-19-2011 02:58:20

 666 characters

Photo of dankster
3.2/5  rDev -10.6%
look: 3 | smell: 3 | taste: 3.5 | feel: 3 | overall: 3

A- clear amber with very little head

S- Malty, not much hop presence noted but some brew sugers are coming though for me.

T- smooth and flavorful. some candy notes like candy corn tasted. big malt and a small hops aftertaste

M-clean and clear. goes down well without coating the mouth at all.

O- Good example of a english esb. but others are better. i recommend trying if you like the syle. 5.7% abv hides good. good price too at $8 a sixer. Another solid offer from ska brewing.

 483 characters

Photo of Durtdiggler
3.85/5  rDev +7.5%
look: 3.5 | smell: 3.5 | taste: 4 | feel: 4 | overall: 4

Poured from can into a Belgian style beer glass. 1 Finger head, minimum amount of lacing. Copper/Amber hue with cloudiness.

The aroma is neutral; no big hop profile mosty sweet malt.

The strong attributes are the tasting and mouth feel.

Malty, sweeter profile upfront with the tasting with a slight bitter finish that ends very clean but not too dry. No grassy notes. I think its well balanced but favors malt.

Mouth feel is very smooth and soft, not too carbonated, flat or syrup. It goes down real easy.

Great every day beer for fall, spring temperatures when you're not in the mood for strong IPA. Really enjoyed it.

 628 characters

Photo of ZenAgnostic
3.43/5  rDev -4.2%
look: 4.5 | smell: 4 | taste: 3.5 | feel: 3 | overall: 2.5

12oz can poured into a pint glass. Bottom rim of can stamped BEST BY 03/16/11.

Appearance - Cloudy amber body. Pours two finger offwhite head with decent stick and good retention.

Smell - Spicy hops. Orange. Vaguely floral. Mild bodied.

Taste - Bitter. Mild to moderate body. Hoppy with zesty citrus overtones. Mild maltiness. Somewhat metallic.

Mouthfeel - Astringent. Medium bodied. Somewhat syrupy/sticky. Not refreshing, in other words. Lacks effervescence.

Overall Drinkability - Middle of the road. Doesn't shine. Off-characters aren't dominating, but are definitely annoying.

 587 characters

Photo of mastodonj
3.92/5  rDev +9.5%
look: 3.5 | smell: 4 | taste: 4 | feel: 4.5 | overall: 3.5

A 12 oz can poured into a diconic glass.

A nice dark amber, reddish hued ale. Just minimal to medium
lacing that does not last. Slightly beige head.

Caramel, spice and rye?.

Of course, there is plenty of bitterness with a good tingling sensation on the tongue and a great clean finish.

 289 characters

Photo of SirLicksalot
2.99/5  rDev -16.5%
look: 4.5 | smell: 3 | taste: 3 | feel: 2 | overall: 3

Poured from a 12-oz can into a Winnie the Pooh and Piglet tumbler.
Amber to orange color with light head that disappears quickly.
Those are the high points of ale. I was eager to really enjoy this beer, perhaps too eager. I love a good ESB, and what’s not to like about Ska? With a musical style that is exciting enough to inspire Basset hounds to Jack Russell terrier behavior, I just expected more.
The smell was a little lacking for an ESB. There was a bit of malt, a trace of hops, and if you have a human nose, I’m not sure you could even pick up the faint citrus aromas.
Taste was perhaps the biggest disappointment. In a word- weak. This was neither extra special, nor strong bitter. Nicely carbonated, maybe even refreshing, but not at all bold. This ale would not pair well with the exotic gaminess of a freshly caught squirrel, but could serve as an adequate thirst quencher after an unsuccessful squirrel hunt. This was not a bad beer, just a bad ESB.
Oh, bother.

 978 characters

Photo of LXIXME
4.03/5  rDev +12.6%
look: 4.5 | smell: 4 | taste: 4 | feel: 4 | overall: 4

I poured this from an inch or so above the glass, I like doing this, in that beers seem to release a better or fuller aroma this way and also it allows me to sit and watch the head settle into it's lacing and with beers that have a nice aroma and look, it's just simply fun to watch and build a little anticipation of whats to come. Anyway, back to this particular beer, it pours a big off white if not slightly tan head that settles nicely into a pretty nice lacing above a clear copper golden colored beer.

The aroma of this beer is a quite nice roasted caramel malt slightly on the sweet side with a slight influence from the hops in a slightly bitter and pine influenced background.

The aroma is transferred very well throughout the drinking of this beer, more sweet roasted caramel malt with some notes of bitter pine to almost citrus hoppiness coming through. This follows through very well in a dryish aftertaste with some caramel notes throughout.

I really enjoyed this beer for some reason, even though I kinda been taught that bottle beer is better, I can honestly argue that with beers like this coming out of a can.

 1,130 characters

Photo of ONUMello
3.48/5  rDev -2.8%
look: 3 | smell: 2.5 | taste: 4 | feel: 4 | overall: 3.5

12oz can poured into a pint glass
A: Orange color and a 1/2 finger head that quickly dissipates.
S: Muted; some grain, caramel and not much else.
T: Rich, with toasted grains, a dose of bitters and a toffee/caramel note.
M: Medium-bodied with a long finish.
O: Solid beer, that didn't impress me at first, but the longer I sip it the more I like it.

 349 characters

Photo of beeragent
3.33/5  rDev -7%
look: 3.5 | smell: 3 | taste: 3.5 | feel: 3 | overall: 3.5

Poured into a pint glass from a 12oz can.

A - Pours a medium gold, forming a thin white head that quickly fades. Medium spot of lace on the glass.

S - Light malt aroma on the nose, but nothing else is really noticeable.

T - Again, the malt takes the front with a light bready taste. Not much in the way of a hop profile. Kind of a let down.

M - Medium bodied. Low carbonation and clean finish.

D - Not being a real fan of ESB's to begin with, I found that I enjoyed this one more than most. Having said that, the hops just didnt seem to be present in this one, tasting more like an amber ale than anything. I'll have to come back to this as I explore the style more.

 671 characters

Photo of Eriktheipaman
4.08/5  rDev +14%
look: 4.5 | smell: 4 | taste: 4 | feel: 3.5 | overall: 4.5

Pours a clear copper with AMAZING white head and lacing.

The smell is on the malt side but with a good hint of spicy hops.

The taste is equal parts hops and malt. Basically a very balanced English Pale Ale. Spicy hop flavor and bitterness on the front, with a nice bready malt on the back.

Good beer and a great style. I feel the average B rating is partially because craft drinkers expect more than the bitter style delivers. What do I know though...

 454 characters

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

APPEARANCE: This is another very good looking beer from Ska. It pours an slightly pale orange-copper and the head on top of my Delirium Tremens tulip glass was about a half an inch thick allowing the 12 oz. can to be poured into the glass for a near perfect fit. The head dissipated very gradually until a thin film remained on top, concentrated in the center of the glass. Some lacing stuck to the top of the ring, but not much else after that.

SMELL: The aroma was noticeable as soon as I poured. The one drawback to cans, in my opinion, is that it can be tough to smell a beer through the top of a can and too often I drink Ska’s beer directly out of the can with no glassware. On the rare occasions I drink a Modus Hoperandi out of a glass I am always reminded that while it is great out of the can once it opens up in a glass, it is a simply outstanding beer. I can already tell the ESB is going to be better out of the glass. The aroma is a fairly strong, sticky pine.

TASTE: Like the nose, this beer is a lot more piney than most other ESBs I’ve had. It also happens to be pretty bitter for the style as well, a rare case of an ESB actually living up to its name, which I like. The pine is followed by a pleasant hoppiness that mellows just before the end of the sip, leaving a little malt and citrus on the tongue. As it warmed I began to pick up a faint hint of caramel as well. Very solid.

MOUTHFEEL: I’ve found that most of Ska’s beer is pretty well carbonated and this one is no different. It is a lively beer that sparkles like crazy and does an excellent job at cleansing the palate. I am eating some Triscuit-like crackers with cheddar and Black Forest Ham and one sip of the ESB is clearing my palate. It is a nice pairing by the way. As for the weight of the ESB, it sits very lightly and at 5.7% would be sessionable for an IPA/Double IPA fan like myself.

OVERALL: This has got to be one of the strongest flagship beers out there. Well, that is, if Modus isn’t now considered their flagship beer. Either way, this is a strong, readily available beer. If I am having a hard time deciding what to get at a bar I almost always go for either the Modus or the ESB, they are excellent beers, particularly for the price point. At $8.99 a 6-pack and usually $5 or less at the bar (in Chicago) you could do a lot worse for your money.

 2,358 characters

Photo of matjack85
3.85/5  rDev +7.5%
look: 3.5 | smell: 3.5 | taste: 4 | feel: 4 | overall: 4

I found this 12oz aluminum can at the Binny's store in Plainfield, IL for $1.49. They do have a best by date on the bottom rim of the can, but you'll need a magnifying glass to read it. Mine says Best by 12-23-11, so it's plenty fresh. There is also a pair of dancers on the can with the words "Lip up fatty" above them. I have absolutely no idea what that means.

The beer poured a burnt orange/amber/copper color that turned light orange when held to light. The 1-finger white head lasted several minutes and it left tons of lacing.

The beer had a heavy fruit smell along with sweet caramel, malt, and even hops lurking in the background.

The beer was nowhere near as bitter as the name would imply. Instead, it's nicely balanced with sweet malt and caramel on one side, with mild bittering hops on the other. I don't know where all the fruit went that I found in the smell, but it wasn't noticeable in the taste. I liked the balance of flavors in here.

This is a light, spritzy beer with high carbonation. It also leaves a light, lingering bitterness after the swallow.

Very easy to drink with no trace of alcohol. I enjoyed this one.

 1,141 characters

Photo of OttoPeeWee
3.46/5  rDev -3.4%
look: 4 | smell: 3 | taste: 3.5 | feel: 4 | overall: 3.5

Second tasting of the day from Ska. Overall this is a decent brewry (the other beer was the motis hop...). They seem spot on with their own take on this ESB and the american IPA. The look is pretty standard ESB golden brown with creamy head that dissapates. The smell is grainy funky although I prefer more fruit in the ESB's (yes a flaw!). There is also a faint whiff of alcohol. I'm not sure why at this ABV. The taste is malt butter with a different hoppiness than an ESB like Fullers. Not bad. Great value for the 12 pack I bought. I don't mind the cans, but check out PBR and go back to the drawing board on the graphics.

 626 characters

Photo of mltobin
3.33/5  rDev -7%
look: 3.5 | smell: 3 | taste: 3.5 | feel: 3 | overall: 3.5

Can, which was poured into a pint glass.

Appearance is amber with a one finger beige head. The smell has bread, caramel, malts, and faint hops. Ska`s esb tastes fairly sweet, with more of that caramel from the nose, also some light tropical fruit. Its` bitterness is fairly subdued, and a body that leans towards thin. This is a decent ESB and it would quench you thirst on a summer day.

 388 characters

ESB Special Ale from Ska Brewing Co.
81 out of 100 based on 180 ratings.