1. The wait is over! Download the BeerAdvocate app on iTunes or Google Play now.
  2. Get 12 issues / year of BeerAdvocate magazine for only $9.99!

ESB Special Ale - Ska Brewing Co.

Not Rated.
ESB Special AleESB Special Ale

Displayed for educational use only; do not reuse.

346 Ratings
no score

(send 'em beer!)
Ratings: 346
Reviews: 175
rAvg: 3.57
pDev: 13.45%
Wants: 15
Gots: 20 | 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)
Beer: Ratings & Reviews
Sort by:  Usefulness | Recent | High | Low | Top Raters
Ratings: 346 | Reviews: 175 | Display Reviews Only:
Photo of jrallen34
2.1/5  rDev -41.2%
look: 3.5 | smell: 2.5 | taste: 1.5 | feel: 3.5 | overall: 2

I drank this from the can into a pint glass.

The beer is medium clear gold with a decent white head, good lacing and retention.

The aroma is light hops.

The taste is really bad, all bitter, like a scotch ale with some very weird aftertastes. Mouthfeel is heavy but not drinkable.

jrallen34, Nov 05, 2009
Photo of oberon
4/5  rDev +12%
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.

oberon, Oct 17, 2009
Photo of coldmeat23
3.53/5  rDev -1.1%
look: 4 | smell: 3 | taste: 3.5 | feel: 3.5 | overall: 4

GLASS: Kostritzer Mug
TEMP: Cellared @ approx 50 degrees

My can jumped to life when I pulled the tab. It didn't spray or anything, but it foamed up and over, very quickly. Somewhat like a nitro can.
It pours a medium golden color with hints of orange. Massive, craggy, head forms. Retention is very good and lacing is in large spots and very sticky.

Mild nose. Malty bread-like notes and spicey hop notes. Light hints of caramel and cherries.

Mild notes of hop bitterness, balanced by a touch of malt sweetness. Light hint of sweet fruity breads.

Medium body with good carbonation level. Smooth and slightly thick feeling.

Drinkable, but not really my style.

coldmeat23, Oct 13, 2009
Photo of Brewsta
3.2/5  rDev -10.4%
look: 3 | smell: 3 | taste: 3 | feel: 4 | overall: 3.5

Overall, a good beer to sit back with and enjoy on an overcast, cold Denver afternoon. The bitterness was fitting this style, although it might be pushing the limit for drinkability. The auroma seemed to disapate as the drink warmed in my glass and left a thin head.

I've had this beer in previous years and really liked the smoothness and drinkability. I was a little surprised at the level of hop bitterness that met my mouth, as I have had the impression, in the past, that this beer leaned more towards a English ESB. My mistake.

Brewsta, Oct 11, 2009
Photo of dwheeler
4/5  rDev +12%
look: 4 | smell: 4 | taste: 4 | feel: 4 | overall: 4

What a great beer! Nice looking amber colour, a few more bubbles that you might expect from an ESB but it is US after all, and from a can. I like the can, and hope more brewerys do the same.

Smell, earthy hop goodness, a touch of biscuit malt.

Taste, this is a true american version of an ESB, lots of hop character, but not over the top. A dry beer, but still some malt there to just balance the hops, but this is still a great hoppy beer.

This is super drinkable, wow, really nice. I am hooked, a great US interpretation of an English classic, well done and I enjoy this more than the original style.

dwheeler, Sep 21, 2009
Photo of merlin48
3.85/5  rDev +7.8%
look: 4 | smell: 3.5 | taste: 4 | feel: 3.5 | overall: 4

Twelve ounce can pours a hazed honey amber body with a small offwhite head. The head has some staying power and leaves some attractive patchy lace.

Aroma is subtle, with faint notes of toasted biscuit, caramel, and spicy hops.

Medium body is nicely carbonated.

Taste has a dominant spicy and earthy hop bitterness. Toasted caramel malt and a vague hint of ripe pear provide a nice balance.

Nicely put together and spot on for style. Very sessionable.

merlin48, Sep 06, 2009
Photo of rowew
3.8/5  rDev +6.4%
look: 3 | smell: 3 | taste: 4 | feel: 3.5 | overall: 4.5

Presentation: 12 oz can, no date or abv.

Appearance: Orange with a hint of brown, lighter than I expected for an ESB. Average head and retention.

Smell: Fairly subdued - bready malt, just a bit of spicy hops.

Taste: Nice amount of hop flavor, with some malt sweetness to balance it out. very drinkable.

Overall impression: This is a nice camping beer - plenty drinkable, available in cans, but enough flavor to keep it from being boring.

rowew, Aug 27, 2009
Photo of bfields4
4/5  rDev +12%
look: 4 | smell: 3.5 | taste: 4 | feel: 4 | overall: 4.5

Large frothy head slowly fades to a lace above a crystal clear amber body.

Pale malty with light fruity and flowery flavors. Nothing too ostentatious.

Malt stays on balance with the nice pale sweetness to complement the fruity yeast qualities and a light floral hops.

Very balanced and drinkable great session beer. Nothing that will blow the beer world away, but a classic stand by that will appeal to everyone.

bfields4, Aug 25, 2009
Photo of zeff80
3.98/5  rDev +11.5%
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.

zeff80, Aug 23, 2009
Photo of bryanbrick
3.05/5  rDev -14.6%
look: 4 | smell: 2.5 | taste: 3 | feel: 3 | overall: 3.5

Got this as an extra from CosmoHopHead, thanks Matt for a killer trade. I'll try and review more beers from the trade soon.

12oz can. No freshness dating.
Going to do the review by letters, my Girlfriend just texted to meet her at a bar after work. A rare occasion.

A-Nice big frothy head, stark white, on a tan hued gold colored beer

S-Not much here, simple aromas of charred malt and some tinny hops. Tinny in tone, not from the can

T-Most flavor is from the English styled malts. The bitter counterpoint doesn't really hold up. Quick to disappear.

M-Nice creamy feel with a sort of slickness to it. Feels almost synthetic, but not unappealing.

D-A beer for any place you want the ease of cans. Camping, Ball games, etc. But there are also a lot better beers in cans these days so?

bryanbrick, Aug 20, 2009
Photo of mothman
3.2/5  rDev -10.4%
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.

mothman, Aug 12, 2009
Photo of joshuadlight
3.85/5  rDev +7.8%
look: 4 | smell: 3 | taste: 4 | feel: 4.5 | overall: 4

This is the first beer I've had from Ska Brewing.
Good color that is a shade under orange, with a chunky head that leaves intermittent lacing. More floral hops in the nose than there are in the taste. It set me up for a hoppy brew that turned out to be malt dominated. Bready and sweet notes throughout, with a roasted malt type of residual aftertaste. Its good though. Carbonation leads to a silky smooth mouthfeel that I really enjoyed. Drinkable enough, I like the style and thought this was a good representation. Pick it up if you get a chance.

joshuadlight, Aug 10, 2009
Photo of ThePeskyDingo
3.9/5  rDev +9.2%
look: 4 | smell: 3.5 | taste: 4 | feel: 4 | overall: 4

Poured with a fluffy 2 finger light beige head that dissipated moderately. Color of the beer is of copper orange. Leaves a nice splattered lacing.

Smells initially of bready malts. Then some hops come in to play.

Initial taste is similar to the smell. Bready malts hit the palate first followed by a slightly bitter floral/grassy hop flavor.

Mouthfeel is quite smooth. Slightly light to medium body with a slightly bitter bite to it. Carbonation is somewhat light, and it leaves my mouth dry for the most part while the back end of my tongue remains a bit sticky.

Easy to drink this beer, went down quicker than I expected. This beer is a sessionable one.

ThePeskyDingo, Jul 25, 2009
Photo of Grabbin2nd
4.43/5  rDev +24.1%
look: 4 | smell: 3.5 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 5 | overall: 5

From Notes: 7/1/09
Ska Brewing Co.
ESB Special Ale
5.9% Abv.
12oz. can into Stone Old Guardian Glass (not sure why I picked this glass)

Appearance= Cakey white 1 finger head. Plenty of carbonation. Slightly darker than I would have expected for the style. Orange color. Excellent head retention.

Smell= Bready, citrusy ESB smell.

Taste= Love this beer, seriously! Hoppy, crisp, clean, citrus, biscuit.

Mouthfeel= Perfect for the style! Lively carbonation, thin, refreshing mouthfeel.

Drinkability= Super tasty ESB in a can? Hell yea mang! Love this beer. Extremely drinkable. This is it.

Grabbin2nd, Jul 15, 2009
Photo of Crookedchris
3.43/5  rDev -3.9%
look: 4.5 | smell: 3.5 | taste: 3 | feel: 3.5 | overall: 4

appearance: Poured crystal clear. Copper/golden in color. One finger, off-white head that left minimal lacing.

smell: Some malt sweetness comes through better when a little warmer. Herbal / grassy hops. Overall a subdued aroma.

taste: Hop forward when too cold but the malt comes out as it warms up. Toasty/bready notes as appropriate for an ESB. Some metallic flavor and definitely some notes of roasted or chocolate malts.

mouthfeel: Light to medium body supported by moderate carbonation. Easy drinking, but not watery.

drinkability: Good. Smooth drinking beer. Dangerously sessionable.

Crookedchris, Jul 09, 2009
Photo of jsh420
3.43/5  rDev -3.9%
look: 3 | smell: 3.5 | taste: 3.5 | feel: 3 | overall: 3.5

this is the only craft beer in a can that i can find in IL. and i was glad to find it

pours clear golden yellowish orange with a 1/2 finger white head that left no lacing

smells of sweet malts and grassy hops

taste is a decent balance of sweet bready malts and grassy hops - and a tiny bit of alcohol and metalic flavors come through

mouthfeel was a bit to flat for me - light body

drinkability is so so - i only picked up a single but the beer has a good full flavor just wish it had a little more life - i will check this out again

jsh420, Jun 30, 2009
Photo of natasharai
3.93/5  rDev +10.1%
look: 4.5 | smell: 3.5 | taste: 4 | feel: 4 | overall: 4

Appearance: Poured with a large white frothy creamy head that dissipated slowly leaving some lacing. The beer is clear with an orange/yellow golden color.

Smell: Sweet fruity (berry-ish) malt, grassy hops, light summery aroma, and a nice malty biscuit smell.

Taste: Nice grassy fresh tasting hops up front, then the sweet malt flavor takes over resembling honey, caramel, and berries (interesting sweet character), the followed by a toasted malt/biscuit flavor, and ending with a light bitterness.

Mouthfeel: Light body, nice amount of carbonation, slight bitterness, then a nice dry feel from the roastedness of the malt and grassyness of the hops, leaves mouth slightly dry and refreshed.

Overall: Good drinkability, nice sweet flavors balanced with bitterness and roasted malt/biscuit flavors. Nice and tame flavors that all combine well together.

natasharai, Jun 18, 2009
Photo of plaid75
3.85/5  rDev +7.8%
look: 4 | smell: 3.5 | taste: 4 | feel: 3.5 | overall: 4

Poured a medium copper hue with a three finger creamy white head. There was good retention and lacing.

The smell featured a forward herbal hop with a soft doughy malt.

The taste consisted of a soft malt, some metal and a dry herbal hop.

The mouthfeel was toward the thinner side of the style.

Overall a tasty and certainly hop forward ESB.

plaid75, Jun 04, 2009
Photo of DoctorDog
3.2/5  rDev -10.4%
look: 4 | smell: 3 | taste: 3 | feel: 3.5 | overall: 3.5

Presentation: 12 oz can into a nonic. Big thanks to pokesbeerdude for sending me this one as yet another outstanding extra in a trade!

A- Copper/amber color, and slightly hazy. Pours with 2+ fingers of tan/off white head, which fades slowly to a nice cap. Ample lacing noted.

S- Very light malty notes, and a slight mineral/metallic twinge.

T- Slight tea-like hopiness. Fairly grainy with muted sweetness. A bit of minerally / hoppy bitterness.

M- Moderately carbonated with a light-medium feel.

D- Fairly good. ESB's tend to not be the most interesting from a flavor standpoint, IMO, but an easy drink that could be sessioned.

Future outlook: Not available here, so moot...

DoctorDog, May 29, 2009
Photo of rwdkosak
3.75/5  rDev +5%
look: 3.5 | smell: 4 | taste: 3.5 | feel: 4 | overall: 4

Poured into tulip out of the fridge produced a shortlived small head over clouded gold color. Smell was hop, mild malt maybe a bit of citrus in the end. Taste was similar, bitterness came toward the later third of the tasting, not overpowering, decently balanced. Overall mouthfeel was good and at a lower ABV, it's quite drinkable. Maybe not my favorite but would have it again.

rwdkosak, May 28, 2009
Photo of BuckeyeNation
3.68/5  rDev +3.1%
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.

BuckeyeNation, May 16, 2009
Photo of BradLikesBrew
3/5  rDev -16%
look: 3 | smell: 2.5 | taste: 3 | feel: 3 | overall: 3.5

a: dark golden body, off-white head.

s: mild aroma. toasted malt and spicy hops.

t: sweet biscuity malt and a light spicy hop finish. Rather bland.

m: light to medium body.

d: good to see more breweries canning, but this beer is average at best. A very soft take on a great style of beer. Very easy drinking, sessionable if not boring.

BradLikesBrew, May 11, 2009
Photo of Domingo
4.15/5  rDev +16.2%
look: 4 | smell: 3.5 | taste: 4 | feel: 4.5 | overall: 5

Not sure why I've never bought this before, but I'm glad I did.
Pours a deep gold to amber color. Like their IPA, the head from the can is pretty rocky and does a good job of sticking around.
Smells like graham crackers and toasted grain.
Up front, the graham cracker flavor really carries through. Lots of bready flavor in the middle and a finish that's clean, with just enough earthy hops to keep it from being overly sweet. A little bit of a tea flavor in there adds a little UK authenticity, too.
Mouthfeel is ideal for drinking on a warm day, but not watery in the slightest.
This stuff goes down like water, though...seriously.
Wish I'd bought this earlier. Reminds me of a better Fat Tire moreso than a UK special bitter, but I'm okay with that. I really like this one a lot.
Along with 90 Shilling and Laughing Lab, this is one of the best session brews in the state.

Domingo, May 10, 2009
Photo of Goliath
3.5/5  rDev -2%
look: 4.5 | smell: 3 | taste: 3.5 | feel: 4 | overall: 3.5

Pours a brilliant clear amber color with a two inch off white head. Great retention and some lacing as well.

The aroma is alright, but a bit boring. It's somewhat reminiscient of a macro lager, somewhat. I get some grain, sugar, and caramel.

The taste is decent. A nice malt profile with notes of caramel and raw grain. It's slightly sweet up front with a subtle hop bitterness that lingers on the back end. It's definitely a nice little ESB.

Mouthfeel is medium bodied and nicely carbonated with a large and crisp bubble.

Drinkability is fairly high. Easily sessionable with presumeably low ABV and a nice flavor profile.

Goliath, Apr 30, 2009
Photo of Monsteruss
3.35/5  rDev -6.2%
look: 4 | smell: 3.5 | taste: 3 | feel: 3 | overall: 4

When poured into a glass, the foam was light wheat in color, somewhat thick and lacey. The color was a nice honey and gold in the light. The smell was very fruity and had a bit tartness to it. The taste had a blandish fruity overtone with a nice hops undertone and a bitter aftertaste. Mouthfeel - clean and smooth. Drinkability - went down the gullet well and had a good session.

Monsteruss, Apr 28, 2009
ESB Special Ale from Ska Brewing Co.
81 out of 100 based on 346 ratings.