Reserve Special Black Ale
Dark Horse Brewing Company

Reserve Special Black AleReserve Special Black Ale
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American Black Ale
Ranked #93
Ranked #8,741
3.96 | pDev: 10.35%
Dark Horse Brewing Company
Michigan, United States
Very Good
Reserve Special Black AleReserve Special Black Ale
Notes: Conceived in a dimly lit room on a blistery cold night in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, but born and raised here in Marshall Michigan. The Reserve Special is the oldest of all beers in the Dark Horse family. It has an incredibly “thick” presence and when poured into a glass its color is so dark it’s eerie. The flavors explode onto your taste buds with heavy malt, roast, and chocolate, but stay very balanced. The Reserve Special Black Ale has a hard time being called a stout or porter but it fits nicely into the category of a delicious strong black ale.
Reviews: 605 | Ratings: 1,278 | Log in to view all ratings and sort
Reviews by Floppydu:
Photo of Floppydu
3.74/5  rDev -5.6%
look: 5 | smell: 3.5 | taste: 4 | feel: 3 | overall: 3.5

Appearance: This baby is black! Oh man, the pour was a dark mofo. A mocha head with very light lacing. There is no seeing through this beer.

Aroma: Chocolate and coffee, some roasted malt.

Taste: A nice light creamy mouthfeel with coffee right up front. Bitter chocolate comes and lingers on the tongue. Nice hop bite finishes this beer.

Overall i expected something lighter, but i guess i overlooked the American Strong Ale descriptor. I dug this beer it's a bitter guy, almost a mix of a stout and a Cascadian Black Ale. A lot of the flavor is right up front and I'm a fan of the prolonged bitterness. This is a great beer to sit and watch a movie with it's gets better as it warms.

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Floppydu from New York, Mar 09, 2011
More User Reviews:
Photo of BeerAdvocate
4/5  rDev +1%
look: 4 | smell: 4 | taste: 4 | feel: 4 | overall: 4

From BeerAdvocate Magazine Volume II, Issue II:

Here we have a great example of originality in American craft brewing. Put a donkey on the label and say that it is somewhere between a Stout and Porter, and it is a Strong Ale as well. Odd label, not an exact style, we love the concept. Dense tiny bubbly brown lace forms off of a hard pour. Is there anything darker than black because this is one sooty beer. Aromatic with molasses, dark chocolate, dark roasted ice coffee, black currants and a mild ester alcohol. Super smooth with a feigned semi-syrupy body, light on the carbonation. Charred wood, molasses and intense dark cocoa flavors lock down the taste buds for a good while. Some sweetness breaks out in the middle with a juicy nugget of burnt black berries. Hops are mild with a slightly balancing bitterness and vague herbal flavor. Ends with a bitter burnt flavor that never seems to go over the top.

The darker the better and one hell of a kick to the taste buds. Big, bold, complex and in-your-face. No need to debate on whether it is a Stout or Porter or even a double of the style, its good drinking. Enough said.

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BeerAdvocate from Massachusetts, Nov 13, 2009
Photo of keithmurray
4.63/5  rDev +16.9%
look: 4.25 | smell: 4.25 | taste: 4.75 | feel: 5 | overall: 4.75

Appearance - dark brown nearly black color with mocha head

Smell - black licorice, dark chocolate, roasted malts, espresso

Taste - much like the smell - dark chocolate, roasted malts, espresso, black licorice, vanilla

Mouthfeel - full bodied, viscous, medium carbonation, slight sweetness in the front, bitterness lingers in the back, the mouthfeel has the thickness of an imperial stout, which I like

Overall - impressive beer that drinks like an imperial stout, I will be seeking out more of this

Price Point - $2.09/12 oz bottle

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keithmurray from Connecticut, Mar 23, 2014
Photo of Sammy
4.21/5  rDev +6.3%
look: 5 | smell: 4 | taste: 4 | feel: 4.5 | overall: 4.5

A supreme stout. Exceeding the lineup of Rogues. Looks like yummy chocolate drink. Stout roasted, with chocolate aroma. Creamy mouthfeel with roast. More so than coffee, which works for me. Enough of a drink experience, that you don't know the alcohol until..klunk. Glad I bought a six-pack. Dry mouth aftertaste.

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Sammy from Ontario (Canada), Jun 17, 2004
Photo of UCLABrewN84
3.97/5  rDev +0.3%
look: 3.5 | smell: 4 | taste: 4 | feel: 4 | overall: 4

Thanks to drewone for sharing this one at jmgrub's tasting.

Pours an opaque black with a foamy dark khaki head that settles to an oily film on top of the beer. Tiny dots of lace form around the glass on the drink down. Smell is of dark roasted malt, cocoa, and coffee. Taste is much the same with a medium amount of roasty bitterness on the palate with each sip. This beer has a good level of carbonation with a crisp mouthfeel. Overall, this is a good beer that is tasty but pretty roasty.

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UCLABrewN84 from California, Oct 07, 2012
Photo of Mooslerfitness
1.4/5  rDev -64.6%
look: 4.75 | smell: 1.5 | taste: 1 | feel: 1.5 | overall: 1

not what I was hoping for taste of chocolate melted on a chared oak plank
And im drinking the ashes taste lingers in mouth for long time mine had a date of 2/17/14 almost year old ? I poured out it was so bad

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Photo of metter98
4/5  rDev +1%
look: 4 | smell: 4 | taste: 4 | feel: 4 | overall: 4

A: The beer is absolutely jet black in color. It poured with a quarter finger high dense tan head that gradually died down, leaving a large patch of bubbles in the center of the glass and a collar around the edge.
S: There are moderate aromas of coffee beans and roasted malts in the nose.
T: The taste is similar to the smell, but is much stronger and also has some hints of smoke and chocolate along with a light amount of coffee bitterness in the finish.
M: It feels medium- to full-bodied on the palate and has a moderate amount of carbonation. The roasted malts leave a bit of dryness in the finish.
O: I enjoyed drinking this beer because it delivered a lot of flavors of coffee beans and roasted malts without the heavier body of a Russian Imperial Stout. Any traces of alcohol are very well hidden from the taste. There is also a good balance between the malts and hops.

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metter98 from New York, Nov 15, 2012
Photo of BeerIsland
4.15/5  rDev +4.8%
look: 4 | smell: 4 | taste: 4 | feel: 4.5 | overall: 4.5

I bought this beer at the Brass Rail in Cambelltown a couple months ago then left it on the workbench in the garage. I spied it yesterday and thought it was time to check it out before it turned into a pumpkin. Well, it's a very nice beer and not so much a load that one couldn't drink it in the summer (84 degrees today). Like noted below, the frothy head quickly skittered away but laced the glass (16oz tumbler) as it went down. The Black Bier is very dark and opaque but looks very nice in the glass. Big malts on the nose toasty but not sweet.
Very smooth with a nice balance and a lingering finish. Initially, incredibly drinkable; hard to believe it's 7.5. (I think I better slow down!) The garage storage doesn't seem to have affected anything.
Not sweet at all, sort of like a Schwarzbier on steroids. I wasn't expecting a sweet beer and can see how this classifies as a "black ale". I think the hops are in the background keeping a nice tang in the finish. All in all, very nice.

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BeerIsland from Pennsylvania, May 31, 2010
Photo of ncvbc
3.67/5  rDev -7.3%
look: 3.5 | smell: 4 | taste: 3.5 | feel: 4 | overall: 3.5

Nearly black in color with a thin tan head that falls pretty quickly. Smell is mainly sweet up front along with a bit of roast and hop bitterness. Molasses, some dark fruit, almost milk chocolate. Decent sized roast character. Kind of husky and grainy with a light nutty scent. Taste is much of the same. A bit all over the place but when together, it is nice. More of a roast presence than sweetness in flavor. Definitely a hop presence that doesn't work so well with the rest of the brew. This seems like a Schwarzbier/Stout hybrid with a hop presence that is a little over the top. Mouthfeel is actually nice. Creamy and the hop presence doesn't create a huge bitterness. Actually seems like a Schwarzbier type feel but a little bigger. A little smoky in the finish along with roast. Not overly bitter, again. Overall, fairly drinkable but not the most exciting brew in the world. It's interesting but still not completely convincing. Somewhat boozy, which hurts this one. Maybe a bit less hoppy goodness and tune up on the stoutage...I think it could be great.

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ncvbc from North Carolina, Nov 06, 2008
Photo of jrallen34
2.71/5  rDev -31.6%
look: 4 | smell: 3 | taste: 2.5 | feel: 3.5 | overall: 2

I drank this from a bottle into a chalice.

It pours a motor oil black with not much head and poor lacing.

The aroma is ok but nothing special. There are notes of coffee and light hops.

The taste is just bad. Its light coffee, but this beer doesn't know what it wants to be. Its certainly not an american stong ale. Its in between a porter and imperial stout.

Mouthfeel is ok, but drinkable.

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jrallen34 from Illinois, Sep 26, 2009
Photo of DabblinWiscCraft
3.99/5  rDev +0.8%
look: 3.75 | smell: 4 | taste: 4 | feel: 4 | overall: 4

Got in a build-your-own-sixer at my local grocer. This one has no bottled on date I can see, but there's quite a bit of yeasty settlement that has me a bit worried. Poured right from the fridge into my pint glass.

L: Pours coffee black with about a half-inch of khaki head that falls and dissipates pretty quickly but leaves some cling as it goes down.

S: Roasted malts and a touch of molasses in the nose. Just a bit of grassy hops coming through, as well. Some coffee/dark chocolate notes are present.

T: That's a tasty brew. It's quite sweet at the front--caramel malts/sweetbread notes--although the roasted malts balance things out nicely. The middle brings on more sweetness, with molasses coming in on top of the already sweet malts. There's just a bit of coffee in there, with dark chocolate coming across more clearly. The back end sees the sweet and roasty malt flavors continue until they run up against some clear alcohol and hop bitterness. For how sweet it starts out, this one finishes pretty bitter.

F: Medium-bodied, smooth, light on the carbonation, and decidedly bitter at the end. It has some stick, but I wouldn't classify this as overtly syrupy--it definitely lingers on the palate.

O: I've had very few offerings from Dark Horse, but this is another winner from them. It's a very full-flavored brew that--even if I wouldn't character it as balanced--works some great flavors together for a complex and enjoyable brew. Definitely recommend this one.

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Photo of cjgiant
3.75/5  rDev -5.3%

cjgiant from District of Columbia, Apr 15, 2014
Photo of beerinator
4.53/5  rDev +14.4%
look: 4.5 | smell: 4 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 5 | overall: 5

Appearance: Black bier? Ok, well yes, it's black. You're definitely not looking through this one. The brown head made stiff peaks and left nice lacing in the glass.

Aroma: Roasty, burnt malts balanced nicely in the aroma by caramel cake-y goodness. I could easily sit here and smell this for the next 30 minutes. Maybe I will.

Taste: Nice roasted dark chocolate flavors hit solidly upon the first sip. There is a bit of lactic sourness that fits in nicely with the malt. The mouthfeel is full and the finish lasts for a pleasant time on the tongue.

Notes: This beer is great. I love the flavors, the balance and the body is super. I wish I could buy this one at my local store!

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beerinator from Illinois, Mar 11, 2006
Photo of mattster
4.18/5  rDev +5.6%
look: 4.5 | smell: 4 | taste: 4 | feel: 4.5 | overall: 4.5

From notes on 13 December 2008.

Opened 12 fl oz bottle, poured into Nonic Glass.

Poured a luscious brown head atop an opaque black beer.

Smell is of dark malts and an earthy aroma. Taste is of dark caramel and nutty component. Hints of chocolate round out a wonderful brew.

Nice smooth finish on the palate and no aftertaste. No ABV listed on bottle, so I guessed it at 6% - I was surprised to see it at %7.5.

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Photo of stevenseg
3.91/5  rDev -1.3%
look: 5 | smell: 4 | taste: 4 | feel: 3.5 | overall: 3.5

Dark Horse's Reserve Special Dark Bier, which was brought to my city of Columbus, Ohio by some Dark Horse representatives direct from Marshall, Michigan to Barley's Smokehouse and Brewpub Alehouse No. 2 for a tasting, was Dark Horse's earliest creation. Before the tasting, I did a little research, and the Reserve Special is what I was most looking forward to.

The Reserve Special Black Bier was a beautiful sight resting in a Dark Horse souvenir pint glass. It was black as night with a dark tan head indicating the level of roast of the malts used. The head poured about 1 1/5 fingers, and 10 minutes later the head was still holding strong only dissipating about 10 minutes!

The aroma indicated a bit of roasted coffee and nail polish remover. Dark Horse claims that the Reserve Special is neither a stout or a porter, but this beer is clearly a stout. A great stout at that.

The Dark Horse Reserve Special has an incredible roast level. I could definitely taste the smokiness.

The bite of the alcohol and richness of the malts make this a sipper. The beer is very smooth and has a nice soft bubble feel. It's definitely a great experience you can easily get lost in.

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stevenseg from Michigan, Aug 08, 2009
Photo of BugTownPub
3.5/5  rDev -11.6%

BugTownPub from Pennsylvania, Mar 06, 2012
Photo of navband
4/5  rDev +1%

navband from Michigan, Oct 20, 2014
Photo of tavernjef
4.38/5  rDev +10.6%
look: 4.5 | smell: 4 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 4.5 | overall: 4.5

Perpetual black, thick and opaque, sliced thin dark brown skim of a head, a thin collar remains mostly present; lacing in minimal strings and spots.

Aroma is low-keyed and mellow with what seems to be quite a heft of black malt roastyness, partailly sweet with a mollasses undertone, hints of deep dark espresso beans and dark chocolate keep the nose happy.

Sip....whoa! Wasn't expecting that! Wow, what a mega assault of blackened roasty stuff. Starts smooth and subdued with sweeter roasted malts with caramel, licorice, and molasses, then it gets all crazy with mega blackened malts and grains, earthy, smokey, charcoal effervescence and bittering coffee/espresso roast tones and pungent dry hop leaves. What an absolutely fantastic finish. That black roast makes itself a home across the entire palate. Oh so nice to let it just sit there and dry out the tongue. Its like taking a larger, fuller sip of espresso but its cold. Very nice appeal as far as thats concerned. The hops make for a nice meld in the finish as well.

Feel is quick to start, slick creamy front, bold, richly robust, nearly full once it procedes past midway and the finish is a fuckin' treat of roasty blackened stuff, very dry and coating with a long ever-lasting burntish quality. I may just be tasting this stuff the rest of the day.

Stout, Schwartzbier, Black Bier Ale, or what ever they want to call this is fine by me, its awesome! And whats with the worried looking smile of "Hope ya like it" cartoon donkey on the label? I wasn't gonna open it cuz of that, but now I'm glad I did.
Another fine treat I can thank trbeer for!

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tavernjef from Minnesota, Jul 13, 2004
Photo of illidurit
3.65/5  rDev -7.8%
look: 4 | smell: 4 | taste: 3.5 | feel: 3.5 | overall: 3.5

Bottle courtesy bulletrain76. Pours blackish with brown highlights and a dark tan head. Aroma is straightforward milk and dark chocolates, with maybe a lactose note. Super roasty flavor with black, roasted, burnt barley notes and an even bitterness. Dry, maybe a bit astringent. Still pretty good.

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illidurit from California, Jun 28, 2009
Photo of BB1313
4.02/5  rDev +1.5%
look: 4.25 | smell: 4 | taste: 4 | feel: 4 | overall: 4

12oz bottle poured into a standard pint glass. Pours a pitch black with a nice mocha colored head and nice lacing. Lots of coffee, dark malts, and roasted chocolate right off the bat. It also has a nice sweet butter aroma mixed in with some smoke. Tastes very bitter. Once again, lots of chocolate and coffee. Lots of roasted characteristics; slightly smokey. Mouthfeel is nice and fizzy, nothing overboard. Drinkability isn't bad, nice silky beer to enjoy. Very nice brew.

I'm kind of confused what kind of beer this is. Stout? Porter? Black Ale? Either way, it's enjoyable. If you're into those styles, definitely check this one out. Dark Horse comes through!

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BB1313 from Ohio, Jan 20, 2011
Photo of BradtheGreat7
4.12/5  rDev +4%
look: 4.25 | smell: 4 | taste: 4 | feel: 4.5 | overall: 4.25

Photo of MMBrew
3.25/5  rDev -17.9%

MMBrew from Michigan, Jul 14, 2013
Photo of HardTarget
3.53/5  rDev -10.9%
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.

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Photo of browner
4.22/5  rDev +6.6%
look: 4 | smell: 4.5 | taste: 4 | feel: 4 | overall: 4.5

Amber brown pour and a bit hazy. Very sweet palate with a bit citrus and malt. Goes down easy with little carbonation as hoppy as I would expect from a double but enjoyable. The beer is a above average to very good India Pale Ale in the American style. Laet the beer stand a bit if to cold as it comprimizes the delevery of this beer.

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browner from Wisconsin, Feb 10, 2007
Photo of gafferjohn
3.5/5  rDev -11.6%

gafferjohn from Pennsylvania, Jan 17, 2012
Reserve Special Black Ale from Dark Horse Brewing Company
Beer rating: 89 out of 100 with 1278 ratings