Dark Horse 4 Elf | Dark Horse Brewing Company

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Dark Horse 4 ElfDark Horse 4 Elf

Brewed by:
Dark Horse Brewing Company
Michigan, United States

Style: Winter Warmer

Alcohol by volume (ABV): 8.75%

Availability: Winter

Notes / Commercial Description:
No notes at this time.

Added by granger10 on 11-27-2003

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Reviews: 204 | Ratings: 822
Photo of Sammy
3.92/5  rDev +1.3%
look: 3.5 | smell: 4 | taste: 4 | feel: 3.5 | overall: 4

Very tasty winter warmer picked up last December in Detroit. Pours dark brown, without a noticeable head, yet some carbonation still there. Conifers and cinammon dominate the smell, ginger predominates the taste, a bit of nutmeg. Spicy sweetness, though not too sweet. Tasty. Average mouthfeel.

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Photo of UCLABrewN84
3.55/5  rDev -8.3%
look: 3.25 | smell: 3.75 | taste: 3.5 | feel: 3.5 | overall: 3.5

Thanks to GRG1313 for sharing this one at his tasting.

2013 vintage.

Pours a hazy dark brown with a foamy khaki head that settles to wisps of film on top of the beer. Small dots of lace form around the glass on the drink down. Smell is of malt, caramel, toffee, and spice aromas. Taste is much the same with caramel and spice flavors on the finish. There is a mild amount of spice bitterness on the palate with each sip. This beer has a lower level of carbonation with a slightly crisp mouthfeel. Overall, this is a pretty good beer with some interesting aromas and flavors.

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Photo of BEERchitect
4.06/5  rDev +4.9%
look: 4 | smell: 4.25 | taste: 4 | feel: 4 | overall: 4

Part of the fun in Christmas Ales is seeing what variety crawls out of the bottle next. Where other seasonal beers are rather predictable in their general taste, these holiday ales are anything but.. Dark Horse jumps out of the gate with an overall taste of toasted gingerbread!

Dark like porter, its brown body is just a shade off of stout. Complete opaqueness reinforces the notion of haze as no ribbons of light are able to pierce through. 4 Elf builds a dense lather of foam that prominently sits on top with strong staying power and trailing with broken lace.

Bold aromas of earthy sweetness and decadent spice intertwine into a toasted bread base with suggestions of molasses, coffee and chocolate. Its "Christmas-type" spices hold elements of cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, clove and allspice- all in equal parts, not letting any one to stand out over the other. A hint of campfire rises as the beer warms and highlights a scotch ale note.

Its succulent sweetness is full and rounded with those molasses and brown sugar flavors. Not left alone, other malt flavors resemble the taste of fresh ground espresso, bittersweet chocolates, roasted walnuts, and an earthen peat taste. As the holiday spices sprinkle about, the culminated taste is of fresh-baked ginger snaps. But once the ale opens up, even more savory flavors of rum-drunken stone fruits and coffee cake come alive in very adult fashion.

Medium-full in body, the beer's robust taste is nearly interpreted as complete fullness, but its creamy carbonation pulls from the beer's residual sweetness and pushes the malt off the tongue for a lightened effect. This ushers in a casual fade toward malty-dryness in the beer's waning moments. With the spice dryness and sweet alcohols rising, a taste of spiced rum persists in aftertaste.

I absolutely love the balance of 4 Elf as its spices are restrained enough so that no one type stands out. Also the ratio of sweet to spice is spot on as I go back and forth with each sip about which pulls ahead. This Dark Horse offering will likely be a standout of this holiday season. So, what's up with Dark Horse and random numbers during this time of year?

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Photo of brentk56
4.37/5  rDev +12.9%
look: 4 | smell: 4.5 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 4.5 | overall: 4

Appearance: Pours a dark chocolate color with a tan head that leaves a few splashes of lace behind

Smell: Smells like mincemeat pie with a whole range of holiday spices - cinnamon, clove and allspice dominate

Taste: Rich caramel and spice flavors build into a boozy chocolate concoction by mid-palate; the clove, allspice and cinnamon are powerful; after the swallow, the booziness builds a bit and adds a holiday dessert element

Mouthfeel: Full body with moderate carbonation; some warmth in the gullet

Drinkability: For those who like a nice spicy Winter Warmer, this beer is the real McCoy; a bit too high in alcohol to drink more than one

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Photo of Phyl21ca
4/5  rDev +3.4%
look: 4 | smell: 4 | taste: 4 | feel: 4 | overall: 4

Bottle: Poured a deep brown color ale with large foamy head with good retention and minimal lacing. Aroma of spices (nutmeg and light cinnamon) with a well balanced sweet roasty malt body. Taste is also very well balance between some sweet malt with notes of nutmeg and light cinnamon and maybe some white pepper? Body is about average with good carbonation and a nice creamy body and no apparent alcohol. Very well done with great balance while being easily drinkable.

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Photo of kojevergas
3.33/5  rDev -14%
look: 3.25 | smell: 3.25 | taste: 3.25 | feel: 3.5 | overall: 3.5

Picked up at a Whole Paycheck in Manhattan for something like $2.99 USD.

BOTTLE: 12 fl oz. Brown glass bottle. Pry-off crown cap. Artful label art with a red and white holiday theme.

8.75% ABV. "Winter warmer spiced ale." 36 IBU.

HEAD: ~3-4cm in height. Pale khaki colour. Nice even consistency with a nice thickness to it. Soft enough. ~8 minute retention. Leaves no lacing as it recedes.

BODY: Opaque dark brown-black. Floating yeast particles are visible within.

Appears well-carbonated. Not unique or special, but generally appealing. Head retention is better than you might expect in an 8.75% ABV winter warmer.

AROMA: Whoa - big vivid spice presence redolent of nutmeg, cinnamon, brown sugar (not a spice, I know, but it fits into that schema), cardamom, vanillin, and clove. Vague dark malts (brown and schwarz, I guess?) lend this its backgrounded sweetness. Some raisin, maybe? Yeast profile is clean, not estery; I suspect an American ale strain instead of an English strain (to its detriment).

Aromatic intensity is average. I find no overt hop notes. No off-notes. Not boozy; the aroma suggests maybe a 5% ABV beer.

TASTE & TEXTURE: Cinnamon, clove, brown sugar, nutmeg, cardamom, brown malts, schwarz malts, brown sugar. The marriage of spiciness to malts works well, but I'm missing yeasty complexities and any hop presence whatsoever. Some sprucey/evergreen-forward hops would be at home in this build.

ABV is well-disguised, but some alcohol warmth wouldn't be unwelcome, and might play to the clove-forward medicinal vibe nicely (think clovey hot whiskey on a snowy night).

Balanced but not perfectly dialed in. Texture suits the taste without really being in perfect harmony therewith. Medium-bodied, smooth, wet, slightly sticky, and unrefreshing, with moderate thickness and weight. A more gooey, soft, warm mouthfeel would better suit the spiciness of the flavour profile. This texture fails to elevate the beer as a whole or to accentuate specific flavours.

Average flavour duration and intensity.

OVERALL: A competent winter warmer with a nice spice profile and a well-hidden ABV, but little else. Discerning drinkers might find its relative simplicity underwhelming, and there's definitely room for improvement, but it's nice middle-of-the-road holiday season fare from a wonderful brewery. I'm glad I tried it once, and I'd probably buy a 4-pack if offered at better prices elsewhere in the U.S., but it wouldn't be a repeat purchase for me at the $2.99/bottle pricetag.

B- (3.33) / WORTHY

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Photo of emerge077
4.25/5  rDev +9.8%
look: 4 | smell: 4 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 4.5 | overall: 4

Thanks to TheBlackMallard for this one...

Black body, thin cap of tan foam. Pleasing aroma of gingerbread cookies, vanilla, nutmeg, the usual holiday cookie medley. Full bodied, creamy, slightly lactic feel. More stout than anything, which Dark Horse excels at. Dry spice notes similar to the nose, dominant gingerbread and vanilla/nutmeg. Not overly sweet, it's well balanced and unique for a winter warmer.

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Photo of oline73
3.83/5  rDev -1%
look: 4 | smell: 3.5 | taste: 4 | feel: 3.5 | overall: 4

Poured from a bottle into a standard pint glass.

Appearance: Pours a dark mahogany color with a finger of light tan head that goes away quickly.

Smell: Stong smell of sweet malt with some mild roast, molasses, an lots of dark fruit. Mild spice, this bottle has been cellared for a year. Some alcohol as well.

Taste: Really sweet malt with dark fruit and some chocolate. Chalked full of molasses. Some spices and warming alcohol in the finish.

Mouthfeel: The body is on the thick side with smooth carbonation and a slick finish.

Overall: The age did this beer well. Still warming, but much smoother. I'd have another.

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Photo of mothman
4/5  rDev +3.4%
look: 4 | smell: 4 | taste: 4 | feel: 4 | overall: 4

Thanks to Randalld for this extra

Pours hardly and light khaki head. Leaves some slight splattered lace. Color is a deep caramel brown, pretty much black.

Aroma: TONS of spices. Nutmeg, cinnamon, maple syrup, molasse, and brown sugar. Then I get some caramel notes and ginger in the background.

Taste: First reaction is wow. This is a beast. Tons of spices again. It has a lot stronger taste then one would assume from the aroma. All the same spice notes are here, along with caramel malt. A very big beer. I also get pumpkin which I thought was there, then drank more and realized it was pumpkin.

Mouthfeel: Spiced and creamy. Medium to full bodied with a lower level of carbonation. Ends with a ton of spice and it dry.

Overall, this is a massive beer for the style. I can't believe the abv on this beer. I am really glad I got to try it. It was a good experience. I think this is a one and done however.

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Photo of oberon
3.81/5  rDev -1.6%
look: 4.25 | smell: 3.75 | taste: 3.75 | feel: 4 | overall: 3.75

Pours into a becker a deep roasted walnut brown with a creamy half finger tan colored head atop,great color and love the creamy head.Winter mulling spice and sweet alcohol in the nose,alot of nutmeg is detected.Lower carbonation with a creamy feel,it slides down easy.Spicy to the hilt on the palate with some cake-like notes,like a CHRISTmas spiced cake,the alcohol sweetness gets bigger as it warms.This a winter sipper,like others have noted, you can't drink to much of it,a full on spicy winter warmer here.

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Photo of superspak
3.9/5  rDev +0.8%
look: 4 | smell: 4 | taste: 4 | feel: 4 | overall: 3.5

12 ounce bottle into tulip glass, Winter 2012 bottling. Pours cloudy almost opaque dark reddish brown color with a small light khaki head with good retention, that reduces to a thin cap that lingers. Light spotty soapy lacing clings on the glass. Aromas of big caramel, raisin, dark bread, brown sugar, toffee, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, clove, earth, roasted malt, chocolate, and light herbal. Damn nice aromas with good balance and complexity of malt and spice notes. Taste of big caramel, brown sugar, molasses, raisin, dark bread, cinnamon, nutmeg, clove, roasted malt, chocolate, toast, prune, earth, and light herbal spiciness. No bitterness on the finish; with lingering notes of caramel, dark fruit, dark bread, brown sugar, molasses, cinnamon, nutmeg, clove, roasted malt, chocolate, and herbal earthiness on the finish for a good bit. Very nice balance and complexity of robust flavors; with a nice malt backbone over the spices; and almost zero cloying flavors present after the finish. Light-medium carbonation and medium-full bodied; with a creamy and slick mouthfeel that is nice. Alcohol is very well hidden with only a slight warming noticed after the finish. Overall this is a very nice winter warmer style. Very nice robust and balanced flavors; and very smooth to sip on. A very enjoyable offering.

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Photo of jlindros
3.82/5  rDev -1.3%
look: 3.5 | smell: 4 | taste: 3.75 | feel: 4 | overall: 3.75

Definitely the season for winter warmers, it's frigid cold outside, Pats game on, lazy Sunday afternoon.

The pours started nicely, with a tan colored foamy small head, light lacing, very dakr pretty much black beer, then came the plop of hte huge slimy snot like yeast chunks... not even sure if it's yeast. it is pretty slimy and snot like as it settles on the bottom in blob form.

Nose is nice, lots of holiday spices but not too much, hint of ginger, cinnamon, cardamom, allspice maybe, hard to tell but typical holiday spices mostly, under that is a big malt, dark malts but not black malts, brown sugar, caramel, some cocoa and a little creamy milk chocolate, nutty toffee and mild biscuit, and a hint of warming tingly booze.

Taste brings some more malts mainly, lots of sweet flavors, a little nutty, toffee, caramel, candy syrup, chewy nougat, etc. Also some mild biscuit and increasing toffee as it goes, little syrupy. Spices there too, hint of nutmeg perhaps, possibly little allspice, ginger, etc, but again hard to pick specifics for spices, just holiday baking spices. A very light cocoa powder in there too with a slight earthy root like nutty character. Mild booze warmth. Mild bitterness too with a hint of hop character but more from the spices I think. Finish is syrupy and sticky, a bit of a spicy hop coming through this time with more bitterness, little bit of the spices lingering, long nutty toffee and candy flavors mostly linger.

Mouth is fuller bod, little syrupy, decent carb, mild warming booze.

Overall not bad, I'm glad most breweries are keeping the spices in check this year, and not going overboard. The slimy yeast sludge is the only real issue I have with it, also maybe a little too syrupy overall.

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Photo of chinchill
3.6/5  rDev -7%
look: 3.75 | smell: 3.75 | taste: 3.5 | feel: 3.75 | overall: 3.5

12 oz 2013 bottle served in a Belgian snifter.

Pours dark brown with a short-lived tan head. Looks like a porter.

Aroma: complex and lightly spiced compared to the flavor.

Flavor: spicy with an iverload of clove. Allspice and nutmeg in more moderate amounts. Dark malts are largely masked by the spices. Dark bread with plenty of "holiday" spices in the aftertaste.

O: a very spicy winter ale with well hidden ABV

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Photo of Rifugium
4/5  rDev +3.4%
look: 4 | smell: 4 | taste: 4 | feel: 4 | overall: 4

First had: bottle shared by baybum at a March '13 tasting. Thanks, Ray!

Sampled this in a very interesting vertical line after One Oatmeal, Too Cream, and Tres Blueberry.

I honestly never heard of this one, but I quite liked it. Dark brown pour with a small tan head that left a bit of lacing on the glass. Nice spicy aroma, cinnamon, nutmeg, brown sugar, with a touch of icing-like sweetness. In the taste, all the spices that were there in the aroma, plus rich caramel maltiness, and a little vanilla icing; light herbal hops and roasty bitterness for balance. Medium body, smooth mouthfeel, quite enjoyable overall.

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Photo of dbrauneis
3.91/5  rDev +1%
look: 3.75 | smell: 4 | taste: 4 | feel: 3.75 | overall: 3.75

A: Pours a relatively clear but opaque very dark brown approaching black in color with light amounts of gentle visible carbonation along the edges of the glass and some faint brown highlights. The beer has a quarter finger tall fizzy light beige head that reduces to a large patch of very thin film covering the majority of the surface of the beer and a thin ring at the edges of the glass. Light amounts of lacing are observed.

S: Light to moderate aromas of roasted + toffee malts with moderate amounts of spices - allspice, nutmeg, and ginger stand out. Some almost woody notes to the aroma as well.

T: Upfront there is a light to moderate flavor of very lightly roasted malts, chocolate malts, and a touch of toffee malt sweetness. There is a moderate amount of spices with allspice, nutmeg, and ginger standing out. There is a light amount of woodiness and a hint of earthy hops. Minimal amounts of bitterness are present.

M: Just heavier than medium bodied with moderate amounts of carbonation. Relatively smooth.

O: This beer is a little too high in ABV to be one that you would drink several during a session but it is an enjoyable Winter Warmer (maybe a touch too spice heavy for my preference but very well constructed).

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Photo of smcolw
3.73/5  rDev -3.6%
look: 4 | smell: 4 | taste: 3.5 | feel: 3.75 | overall: 3.75

Deep mahogany brown. Only the brightest of lights pass through the brew. Modest head which leaves a lattice lace on the glass.

Spicy as if there is black and cayenne pepper in the brew. I detect vanilla and oak as well. Nice complex nose.

Dark malt start with a biting peppery bitterness. The swallow is dry and staying to be bitter. The aftertaste is surprisingly brief considering the biting finish. Neutral body with an elevated carbonation level.

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Photo of womencantsail
4/5  rDev +3.4%
look: 4 | smell: 4 | taste: 4 | feel: 4 | overall: 4

Bottle from 2009 courtesy of Derek. Thanks!

A: The beer pours a dark brown/amber color with a small khaki head.

S: Sort of reminiscent of the Anchor Christmas beers. Light roasted malt character followed by spices, especially pumpkin pie type spices. There are mild herb notes that give this one a bit of a woody note. Some toasted malt, chocolate, caramel, and toffee are also there.

T: There is a bit more chocolate to the flavor than let on by the aroma. Still a lot of the pumpkin pie spices with a mild woodiness of herbs. A restrained roasted malt character with a touch of bitterness and different dark fruits.

M: Medium bodied with medium carbonation.

O: This was one of the better spicy/herbal winter beers I've had.

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Photo of mdfb79
3.7/5  rDev -4.4%
look: 4 | smell: 4 | taste: 3.5 | feel: 4 | overall: 3.5

From 01/02/11 notes.

a - Pours a dark brown color with one inch of off white head and light carbonation evident.

s - Smells of spices, cinnamon, ginger bread cookies, and nutmeg. Pretty nice.

t - Tastes of spices, ginger bread, cinnamon, nutmeg, alcohol, and bready malts.

m - Medium body and moderate carbonation, smooth body.

d - A nice spiced beer. I really enjoyed the smell, but the high ABV definitely comes through a bit in the taste. Would have again.

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Photo of woodychandler
4.16/5  rDev +7.5%
look: 4 | smell: 4.25 | taste: 4.25 | feel: 4 | overall: 4

I am continuing to eradicate the Bottle Backlog here at Chez Woody while alternating with The CANQuest (tm). The forecast snowstorm may be helpful in my being successful in this endeavor!

I Pop!ped the cap on the Bottle & utilized a gentle pour as is my new wont. I am coming to realize that I may have been doing even the freshest of beers a disservice with my heavy-handed pours & inverted Glugs, so I am backing off. If the idea was to raise head, I can accomplish that with a swirl once the beer is in the glass. Having done so, I had a finger of fizzy, foamy, light-tan with low retention. Color was Dark Brown to Very Dark Brown (SRM = > 27, < 34) with NE-quality clarity & ruby highlights. Nose was heavy with cinnamon, but there were other spices in there, also, just none that I could easily discern. It also had a dark bready maltiness so that it smelled like spice cake. Not space cake! That is for later. Mouthfeel was medium-to-full, not quite full, but close. It was a thick beer on the tongue, as though a dollop of something had been scooped onto it. The spices were just what I needed on a cold winter's day in January in advance of a creeping snowstorm! It definitely had a warming quality without being overwhelming, or worse, making me feel that it was oversaturated with spices. The prevalent taste was cinnamon, but the hops seemed to impart a cool wintergreen/peppermint flavor, also. The finish was quite dry, as you might imagine, thanks to all of the spices involved. I was really happy with this warming up my winter's day!

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Photo of Alieniloquium
3.74/5  rDev -3.4%
look: 3 | smell: 4 | taste: 4 | feel: 3 | overall: 3.5

12 oz. bottle poured into a CBS snifter. 2010 vintage thanks to chpueblo22.

Appearance - Pours a dark brown body that is nearly completely opaque. Transparent as I pour it and a bit translucent at the edges. Not much of a head and really only a ring of lace to speak of. I let a few chunks of sediment fall into the glass. They are now clinging to the bottom and slide into the body as I drink it.

Smell - Earthy malts and strong toffee. Huge spice presence. Cinnamon. Like a pre-flambe bananas foster. Booze, as well.

Taste - Not as pleasant as the aroma. The flavors are nice, but they don't blend well with the finish for me. Spice and toffee up front, but it isn't sweet at all. Dry, quite dry. The finish is bitter with a significant spice presence. I enjoy drinking it, but after I finish a sip it doesn't linger on the palate in a pleasant fashion.

Mouthfeel - Overly bitter for the style. The spice and malt backbone are nice, but the finish is just awful. Well carbonated and surprisingly thin. I suppose that's a result of the dryness of the drink.

Overall - A strange dichotomy of nice flavors and a disappointing finish. I'll finish the glass no problem, but the aftertaste is pretty off-putting.

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Photo of WVbeergeek
4.03/5  rDev +4.1%
look: 4 | smell: 4 | taste: 4 | feel: 3.75 | overall: 4.25

Dark porter-esque appearance light khaki tan head, fine speckled lacing sporadic yet satisfying in it's look. Aroma has a dark cola like sweetness, blended with candy cane and other assorted spices, honey, ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg, etc. Flavor dark chocolate creamy lactose, a barrage of spices, provides bitterness and balance it's like pureed candy cane and Christmas tree pine in an imperial cream stout form. Mouthfeel is fuller bodied carbonation is creamy smooth with lingering spices between sips, overall the type of winter warmer that is so different it's actually a joy to experience.

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Photo of WoodBrew
3.99/5  rDev +3.1%
look: 3.75 | smell: 4 | taste: 4 | feel: 4 | overall: 4

The Dark Horse 4 Elf is quite decent. It poured an opaque black with thin white head that left a spotty lace. The scent was spice and nutmeg. The taste carried clove and spice. The mouthfeel was medium in body with smooth carbonation. Overall this was a decent Xmas beer that was certainly drinkable after the first few sips.....once the pallet was adjusted....good.

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Photo of smakawhat
4.41/5  rDev +14%
look: 3.75 | smell: 4.5 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 4 | overall: 4.5

Poured from the bottle into a nonic pint glass.

Deep dark mahogany red, a bit opaque with not too much hues and slightly muddy looking. Manages a tan very creamed two finger head, that easily sinks to a simple one finger puck very slowly.

Excellent classic winter warmer aroma. Hints of nutmeg, big sweet brown spices of clove and cinnamon. Excellent bready tones very much like a fruitcake going on, just excellent.

Palate is just full of classic balanced flavors. Huge gingerbread notes on this thing, with great dry nutmeg and cinnamon character. Simple malt backbone with a moderate feel. Aftertaste leaves a great dry hint of fig and spice. Warm ginger comes with

This is an excellent warmer, nailing all those classic spices and bringing more to the palate than just a sugar rush and a mess.

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Photo of Billolick
3.99/5  rDev +3.1%
look: 3.75 | smell: 4 | taste: 4 | feel: 4 | overall: 4

12 ounce bottle w/o bottling/vintage dating.

Pours dark and murky, slight darker head, leaves fine scattered lace bits.

Dark chocolate nose.

Flavorful. with more chocolate, dark caramel malty notes.

Pleasant and warming winter warmer.

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Photo of MasterSki
3.4/5  rDev -12.1%
look: 4 | smell: 4 | taste: 3 | feel: 4 | overall: 3

Got a few of these from Scott (heliosphann) in an in-person trade. Served in my Pisgah pint glass.

A - A half-finger of tan foam that dissipates quickly and leaves a nice ring. Attractive dark cherry wood color, although there's some white sediment at the bottom of the glass.

S - Cinnamon, nutmeg, graham cracker - it doesn't seem that far from some of the pumpkin beers I've tried (not surprising considering the similar spices). There are also some berry and milk chocolate notes. For a spiced beer it's pretty good - nice balance.

T - The taste is less good - there's some serious spice and it leaves a really bitter aftertaste (and not in the hoppy or roasty sense). There are a few notes of sweetness and cinnamon but they're on the periphery.

M - Medium body with lively carbonation that tingles the lips and tongue. Goes down pretty smoothly. Nothing special, but pretty solid. Really dries out my mouth.

D - I don't think I could have more than one of these, and even one was a struggle. There's just way too much spice.

Glad I got to try this, but it's not really my kind of thing.

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Dark Horse 4 Elf from Dark Horse Brewing Company
3.87 out of 5 based on 822 ratings.
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