Reserve Special Black Ale | Dark Horse Brewing Company

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Reserve Special Black AleReserve Special Black Ale
Very Good
1,272 Ratings
Reserve Special Black AleReserve Special Black Ale

Brewed by:
Dark Horse Brewing Company
Michigan, United States

Style: American Black Ale

Alcohol by volume (ABV): 7.50%

Availability: Year-round

Notes / Commercial Description:
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.

User Ratings & Reviews
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Ratings: 1,272 |  Reviews: 601
Reviews by kkipple:
Photo of kkipple
4.25/5  rDev +8.1%

More User Reviews:
Photo of BeerAdvocate
4/5  rDev +1.8%
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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Photo of Sammy
4.21/5  rDev +7.1%
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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Photo of metter98
4/5  rDev +1.8%
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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Photo of Mooslerfitness
1.4/5  rDev -64.4%
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 UCLABrewN84
3.97/5  rDev +1%
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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Photo of keithmurray
4.63/5  rDev +17.8%
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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Photo of oberon
4.07/5  rDev +3.6%
look: 4 | smell: 4.5 | taste: 4 | feel: 4.5 | overall: 3.5

On tap at Ashley's in Ann Arbor,poured a near jet black but there was a noticable crimson hue when held up to the light a thinner quick to faid almond colored head atop.Aromas were roasted and sweet with notes of molasses and French Roast coffee and bitter chocolate no hop presence to this one.Big and sweet up front with some molasses and dark fruit notes very roasty with just a hint of earth in the finish wich doesnt dry it out much.Its a big hearty beer sweet and it packs a punch

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Photo of RoyalT
4.18/5  rDev +6.4%
look: 5 | smell: 4.5 | taste: 4 | feel: 4 | overall: 4

Appearance – The body is, yes, black, with a very dark tan head that was gorgeous and enchanting. It came up wonderfully, left some nice lacing, and never did go all the way down. I can even see some foam at the BOTTOM of my glass.

Update on Appearance: No, wait, that’s darkly tanned sediment at the bottom of my glass. Now it gets a “5”.

Smell – Big, burnt malts and milk chocolate lead the way here. The sugars are of the refined cocoa variety. I can also pick up some coffee grounds. Nice.

Taste – Boy, is this bitter. The sweet chocolate from the nose steps back a bit, which is good because I enjoy smelling these flavors in a stout a little more than tasting them. I am now licking coffee grounds out of my golden cone filter.

Mouthfeel – Full-bodied and bitterly dry. This is probably the driest Imperial Stout that I’ve had to date. You almost need to chase this with a pale lager or something.

Drinkability – This is for true stout lovers only. If you want over-the-top burnt coffee ground madness, this is for you.

Comments – A big thanks to garthwaite for sending me this offering from Dark Horse.

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Photo of DaPeculierDane
3.63/5  rDev -7.6%
look: 4.5 | smell: 4 | taste: 3.5 | feel: 4 | overall: 3

Black as a somber alleyway on a moonless night. Thick looking, I mean really thick, semi-solid even. Head is light brown and heavily and root beer like, foamy and chunky. Retention is solid. Obviously unfiltered.

Great aroma. Just plum chalk full of dark, dark malts. Reminds me of black bier, fitting name. Lots of chocolate, grain husks, some chicory, and wood.

Smooth. Very nice. Thick, luscious, creamy body. Plenty of coffee and chocolate with a heavy astringency, some wood, and an oddly faint sense of citric hops. Smoky. Semi-dry.

Not that drinkable for me. To much smoke and astringency but in general probably good.

Great bottle.

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Photo of DanGeo
4/5  rDev +1.8%

Photo of MadScientist
3.71/5  rDev -5.6%
look: 4 | smell: 3 | taste: 4 | feel: 3.5 | overall: 4

This pour an intense jet black with thick brown head.

Rich malt aroma and american hops with some carmel and coffee aromas. There is a light alcohol hint in there but overall the aroma is subtle.

The flavor has a one two punch of strong hops bitternes and medium dark grain bitterness. There is a little bit of malt sweetness for support and moderate citrus hops flavor in the middle before a dry finish with a long hop flavor and bitterness in the aftertaste.

medium heavy body with low carbonation and a very slight astringency that seems grain derived. A slight alcohol warming.

A big, bitter and malty brew with juicy citrus hops flavor.

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Photo of alex4sure23
3.5/5  rDev -10.9%

Photo of Grinz12
3.71/5  rDev -5.6%
look: 3.75 | smell: 4 | taste: 3.5 | feel: 3.75 | overall: 3.75

Photo of orbitalr0x
4.13/5  rDev +5.1%
look: 4.5 | smell: 4 | taste: 4 | feel: 4 | overall: 4.5

Nice ass on the label of this one! Pours from the bottle a super dark midnight black with an impressive two fingers of frothy tan foam on top. Nice sticky lacing with no light daring to escape. Aromas of dark, roasty burnt malts with powdered cocoa accents and a hint of coffee. Some dark fruits (black currants) float in and out along with a slight note of cream. Quite nice.

First sip brings a wall of rich, roasted, toasty slightly burnt malt flavors melded with lots of powered cocoa and good helping of bitter instant coffee. Dark fruits show up again in the flavor with a touch of smokiness. Finishes with a brash residual bitterness and a touch of green, herbal hops on the way down. A bit astringent on the palate and overall a very enjoyable double stout.

Mouthfeel is big with a nice creaminess and ample carbonation. The carbonation helps cut through this one making it more drinkable. This is a tasty stout that I wouldn't mind having around. Goes down quite easily and I would love to have a few on a cold night. Dark Horse continues to impress. Thanks to Cornboy for the opportunity.

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Photo of blitz134
4.3/5  rDev +9.4%
look: 4 | smell: 4 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 4 | overall: 4.5

Nearly pitch black, only hits of dark brown at the edges. Tan head that reduced down to only a ring around the glass with a slick surface on top. No lacing to speak of.

Super nice dark toasted malts, black coffee and dark chocolate. Hints of smoke waft in as well.

Really robust flavor. Dark toasted malts run around unchecked, char and black coffee again. Smoke again. Very similar to the smell.

Mouthfeel is medium to full. Carbonation is low. Its hard to say this is fully b/c it isn't quite creamy, but it is slick. Flavor sticks around and lingers.

This is pretty damn drinkable to have this strong of a flavor, but I like my stouts like this and not overloaded with sweet flavors. Overall its very simple with dark toasted flavors, but just good. Good stuff...a must try.

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Photo of supa0525
4.25/5  rDev +8.1%

Photo of nickadams2
4.28/5  rDev +8.9%
look: 4.5 | smell: 4 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 4.5 | overall: 4

A_Pours jet black with a thick,creamy brown head with great retention. Thick lacing covers the glass.

S_Molasses,roasted malt,coffee.

T_Same as the nose and then some.Rich molasses, espresso, brown sugar,cream, bitter chocolate, and lots of roast.

M_Thick and creamy. Definitely full bodied with moderate carbonation.

D_Pretty heavy stout ale but I have no problem putting down a few.

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Photo of dandaugherty1221
3.87/5  rDev -1.5%
look: 4.25 | smell: 4 | taste: 3.75 | feel: 4 | overall: 3.75

Photo of SD-Alefan
4/5  rDev +1.8%

Photo of Todd
3.66/5  rDev -6.9%
look: 4.5 | smell: 3.5 | taste: 3.5 | feel: 3.5 | overall: 4

12oz brown bottle with a very amateur drawing of a donkey (?) on the label. Noted as a "Black Bier Ale" but there's no denying that this is an Stout.

Pours thick, ultra-black, topped with a 3-fingered creamy coffee coloured head containing signs of cascading and holds amazing powers of retention and climbing stickiness. Unfiltered.

Lovely aroma. Robust. Full of roasted black malts with notes of grain husk, astringency, wood and chicory.

Smooth, rich, solid medium-bodied and extremely robust. Astringency is dominant and assertive. Flavours of dark ripe fruits, wood, earth, sherry, nuts, black-strap molasses and a twang blends with a limey citrus hop character (what one might find in a Schwarzbier). Notes of aging (oxidation) are also present within the wood and wet paper flavours. Finish dry with lingering lime and molasses flavours.

Quite the brew ... would have sat better with me if the brew hadn't shown so many signs of oxidation, and without a freshness stamp there's no real way of telling how old my sample is. Still, very worthy of a try ...

Thanks to trbeer.

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Photo of shapudding
4.69/5  rDev +19.3%
look: 4 | smell: 5 | taste: 5 | feel: 4.5 | overall: 4

No dating.
WOW! This is sooo not what I was expecting at all! I had no idea what I was in for. This one poured out like an imperial stout. Pitch brown with a thick caramelly creamy brown head that reduced quickly to a bit of a dusting and a thick ring. Huge aroma. Total shocker here too. Scents of lambic, rich imperial stout, alcohol, with tons of hoppiness. Merlot, chocolate, coffee, deep and roasty. Smooth and slightly creamy with a bitey carbination that snaps at you towards the end of the sip. Nice toasty dark hoppiness with a good bite. Blackened toast, dark bittersweet chocolate and espresso. This is damn luscious. Great flavors and feel. Nice one!

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Photo of BeerIsland
4.15/5  rDev +5.6%
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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Photo of merlin48
4.07/5  rDev +3.6%
look: 4 | smell: 4.5 | taste: 4 | feel: 3.5 | overall: 4

Didn't know what to expect from this one. Initially thought it would be a schwartzbier. Pours an almost black body with a small cocoa head that has some garnet hues. Some nice sheet lacing. Looks like a stout. Aroma of burnt dark malt, chocolate, and red apples. Medium body has a subdued carbonation. Taste has a biter bite from both hops and dark roasted malts. A red apple fruitiness softens the edges quite a bit. A very interesting brew here. More like a stout than anything else.

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Photo of warriorsoul
4.33/5  rDev +10.2%
look: 4.5 | smell: 4 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 4 | overall: 4.5

Thanks to Eyedrinkale for this one...
Pours a thick dead black color with no light passing thru...a half a finger of cocoa-colored head with a gentle pour. Most of the head disappears rapidly with very little lacing.
An excellent aroma filled with chocolate colored cherries, cocoa powder, a vinous character and just a hint of smoke.
The taste is fabulous and just what I was expecting from the nose...less a hint of sweetness that I am glad to see.
A nice hop profile to bitter it up ever so gently and the smokiness really drys up the finish.
Mouthfeel is a bit thinner after seeing this one pour out, but it is by no means thin...fits right into a double stout IMO.
Carbonation is spot on and the drinkability is thru the roof if you remotely enjoy porters/stouts.
Another winner from Dark Horse...I am quite jealous I cannot obtain more of this anyone?

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Reserve Special Black Ale from Dark Horse Brewing Company
Beer rating: 3.93 out of 5 with 1,272 ratings