Dark Horse Reserve Special Black Ale | Dark Horse Brewing Company

very good
590 Reviews
Dark Horse Reserve Special Black AleDark Horse Reserve 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:
No notes at this time.

Added by xlperro on 05-28-2002

For Trade:
User Reviews
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Reviews: 590 | Ratings: 1,237
Photo of superspak
4.2/5  rDev +5.8%
look: 4 | smell: 4 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 4 | overall: 4

12 ounce bottle into tulip glass, bottled on 6/11/2013. Pours pitch black color with a 1-2 finger dense tan head with good retention, that reduces to a small cap that lingers. Nice soapy lacing clings on the glass. Aromas of big dark chocolate, roasted malt, cocoa, coffee, light char, toast, toffee, floral, and roasted earthiness. Damn nice aromas with great balance and complexity of roasted/dark malts; with good strength. Taste of big dark chocolate, coffee, roasted malt, cocoa, char, toast, toffee, floral, and roasted earthiness. Moderate roasted bitterness on the finish; with lingering notes of dark chocolate, coffee, roasted malt, char, cocoa, toast, toffee, and roasted earthiness on the finish for a while. Awesome complexity and balance of dark/roasted malt flavors; with a great bitterness/sweetness balance and no cloying flavors after the finish. Medium carbonation and medium-full bodied; with a very creamy, slick, and moderately chalky mouthfeel that is great. Alcohol is very well hidden with minimal warming noticed after the finish. Overall this is a highly excellent robust porter style. All around great balance and complexity of roasted/dark malt flavors with big robustness; and very smooth to sip on. A highly enjoyable offering.

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Photo of damndirtyape
4.09/5  rDev +3%
look: 3.75 | smell: 4 | taste: 4.25 | feel: 4 | overall: 4

Served in a Libby globe porter/stout glass. No date. Pour left lots of sediment behind in the bottle. Washing out the bottle later I found the sediment was really caked on.

Appearance: Black with a cola brown hint at the edges when held up to the light. Thin tan foam ring at the edges, with only an occasional tiny island of lacing noted.

Smell: Roasted malt, cocoa powder, burnt sugar, and also something woody and slightly pungent as it warms up. Interesting, but odd as well.

Taste: Chocolate roasted malt, bittersweet chocolate, a lingering espresso bean bitter finish. Like a rich chocolate cake in a glass, but not too sweet, more chocolate than anything else.

Mouthfeel: Nicely thick, close to creamy but not quite. Carbonation just right - little pin pricks of carbonation on the tongue that linger a bit. Definite stickiness after the carbonation subsides.

Overall / Drinkability: I know this beer is listed as a strong ale, but it strikes me as a stout, and an imperial one at that. Very tasty and I could see myself buying it again, but one an evening is enough. I wish I had some cookies to go with it, but pretty good by itself.

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Photo of PicoPapa
3.85/5  rDev -3%
look: 3.75 | smell: 3.75 | taste: 4 | feel: 3.75 | overall: 3.75

12oz bottle. Pours a pitch black color with a half inch of medium brown head. Some lacing. Earthy aroma with lots of dark fruits and chocolate. Hints of smoke. The taste is smoke with some nice roasted malts and dark chocolate. Earth as well but not nearly as much dark fruit flavor as the aroma lead me to expect. Bitter dark chocolate with more roasted malts at the end. Medium bodied with a bit of an oily mouthfeel. Not sure what it is classified as but this one reminds me of a Porter. Regardless, pretty solid beer I'd have again. Good balance of the bitter dark chocolate and the smoke/roasted flavors.

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Photo of lacqueredmouse
4.41/5  rDev +11.1%
look: 4 | smell: 4.75 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 3.75 | overall: 4.25

330ml bottle purchased from Beer Cartel in Sydney.

Pours a deep black, oily with a blood-red edging to it. Head forms a solid crust of mocha chocolate that coalesces into larger bubbles and rings the top of the glass. Lacing forms in lovely tiny little patches. Carbonation is very fine and forms in tiny vertical streams. It looks very good.

Nose is wonderful. Deep, brown, sweet and nutty, with a chewy, dark caramel character and a bright sharp roast character to pierce it. It's extremely mellow, and sweet without being heavy or sickly. It's based around wholesome grain sweetness and rich unprocessed sugar. It's really, really lovely stuff.

Taste is also excellent, although it has a lightness that surprised me at first. Mild nutty entry develops into a big, broad burnt caramel sweetness that keeps going for some time. On the back, it develops into a sweet coffee-vanilla character like an affogato. Vanilla and a touch of very dark chocolate linger in the aftertaste. Wonderful stuff.

Feel is surprisingly light for everything else that's going on—in some sense it works, because the palate survives so well on its own anyway, but I wonder what a bigger, fuller version of this would be like.

Overall, though, this is exceptional stuff. I pretty much picked this up on a whim: I've very much enjoyed some of the other Dark Horse beers, but there was nothing particularly attracting me to this one. I'm very glad I did select it though: this is truly a very, very good beer.

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Photo of vandemonian
3.68/5  rDev -7.3%
look: 4 | smell: 4 | taste: 3.5 | feel: 3.75 | overall: 3.5

Dark Horse Reserve Special Black Ale seems like a stout to me. The finish was too dry and metallic.

A: Black colour and a 4 mm head that lasts quite well. 4

S: Roasted malt aroma. 4

M: Roasted malt and strong, dry charcoal flavours. The finish is dry and bitter.
Don't like the finish. 3.5

M: Low carbonation. 3.75

O: 3.5

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Photo of rudzud
3.99/5  rDev +0.5%
look: 4.25 | smell: 4 | taste: 4 | feel: 3.75 | overall: 4

Received this as an extra in a trade. Poured into my Duvel tulip.

A - Pours a nice deep dark brownish black with a one finger dark brown head that fades quickly to leave light wisps and a thin halo. Not too too shabby.

S - Lots of dark fruits here, raisins, nice dark chocolate, sweet malts, caramel and molasses.

T - Taste is more of the sweet malts, syrupy sweet, lots of dark fruits, raisins, chocolate, coffee, some acrid roast notes. Not too sweet, lots of roast.

M - Mouthfeel is a touch on the thinner side, light carbonation, makes this almost slightly syrupy.

O - Overall, not a bad strong ale. I like the amount of roast, chocolate, and coffee in this one. Its very solid. With the mouthfeel was a bit better.

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Photo of TheRougeBastard
3.18/5  rDev -19.9%
look: 3.5 | smell: 3 | taste: 3 | feel: 3.5 | overall: 3.5

Poured a jet-black into my HD pilsner glass (a birthday present) leaving a nice two-finger tan colored head. First impression was that this more a porter or stout than anything, mouthfeel and aftertaste confirmed that impression. I was expecting a black "IPA" based on much of what is written, though a black ale does not an IPA make, despite what some beer " aficionado's" would have you believe. Overall, this was a decent brew that one can enjoy without getting hammered...unless you consume a lot. The only LIMFAC is lack of bitterness I've come to expect from this genre, of course some might find that more to their liking.

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Photo of smakawhat
4.33/5  rDev +9.1%
look: 4 | smell: 4 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 4.25 | overall: 4.5

Poured from the bottle into a nonic pint glass.

A good sized swiss cheese looking tan cocoa brown head, of a good three fingers off the pour is made. Body is classic dark walnut brown, nearly black. Very dark and opaque. Pretty solid and basic, and quite dark.

Porter like roast, and a chewy grain. Hints of bulgur and dark roasty coffee. Slightly dry but with some creamy like density. This smells more like a very creamy robust porter than a strong ale. Deep roasting density of malt almost into black bean thickness smelling. Not sure where this is going, but it's a very nice brew so far.

Real nice surprise on the palate. Very light body, almost unexpected from the nose, a fruity ester quality like a classic strong ale, and a great roast coffee finish. Creamy mouthfeel hits with a coffee angle nicely on the swallow. Good bitterness of hop and mellow citrus and grapefruit which is only noticeable on the swallow. The lightness strangely seems to carry extremely well flavor wise on the palate.

Overall a very unique tasting brew, a roast hoppy strong ale, quite neat, I really dig this beer.

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Photo of mdfb79
3.9/5  rDev -1.8%
look: 4 | smell: 4 | taste: 3.75 | feel: 4 | overall: 4

From 05/15/13 notes. Had this on tap at Pony Bar on the UES in NYC. This was a want of mine so glad to see it at their anniversary party. 14 oz. pour in a pint glass.

a - Pours a dark brown mahogany color with one inch of light tan head and moderate carbonation evident. Some light lacing on the glass.

s - Smells of roasted malts, burnt malts, toasted malts, caramel, chocolate, some light coffee, and some molasses. Nice nose, tons of roasty notes and malts.

t - Tastes of roasted malts, bitter coffee, bitter dark chocolate, toasted malts, burnt malts, caramel, and some vanilla. Nice taste, a decent amount of bitterness. I like the nose a bit better.

m - Medium body and moderate carbonation. Pretty easy to drink, light bitterness.

o - Overall a pretty nice beer; lots of roasted notes and malts throughout, with some bitter coffee and chocolate in the taste. Reminds me more of an american stout but whatever, it's a pretty good beer. Would have it again.

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Photo of barczar
3.99/5  rDev +0.5%
look: 4 | smell: 4.25 | taste: 3.75 | feel: 4.25 | overall: 4

Pours an opaque onyx with minimal deep tan head that dissipates to almost nothing.

Booze, chocolate, roasty malt, and coffee form the initial aroma. Tobacco and nutty notes add complexity. There's a hint of soy and plum sweetness.

Flavor is roast malt dominant, initially a little sweet and chocolatey, but turning coffee bitter and a touch charred at the finish. Underlying notes of resin and grapefruit are present. There's a bit of toasted malt nuttiness, but roast overpowers.

Body is on the thick side, velvety, with minimal carbonation and slight alcohol warmth.

Lots of roast malt character and coffee, with an interesting underlying hop citrus profile. Just enough chocolate to add character, though I'd rather it be more prevalent.

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Photo of ehammond1
3.54/5  rDev -10.8%
look: 4.25 | smell: 4 | taste: 3.5 | feel: 2.75 | overall: 3.25

Bottle (2012)

Acquired via trade
Thanks, joshrosborne!

An appropriately pretty black ale: black throughout and a small, but persistent, creamy brown head of small bubbles. I can't exactly say why, but I thought this really looked like Bell's Expedition Stout as it poured from the bottle. Sticky, lined, brown lacing left down the glass. No doubt about it, this is a pretty beer.

Plenty of roasted malt and baker's chocolate make up the abundance of the aroma, along with a touch of a cream sweetness. A mild pine hop presence as well.

The flavor follows the aroma: lots of roast and black malt, a touch of chocolate, and coffee creamer sweetness, interestingly. There's a touch of licorice as well. Nice flavors. Comes together nicely. The flavors fall apart though as the beer warms and the thin mouthfeel shines through.

Thinner in body than anticipated. Lower-medium bodied with low, but creamy, carbonation.

A nice, sweeter stout.

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Photo of dbrauneis
3.98/5  rDev +0.3%
look: 4 | smell: 4 | taste: 4 | feel: 3.75 | overall: 4

A: Pours an opaque yet clear jet black in color with minimal amounts of visible carbonation and some very dark amber highlights. The beer has as finger tall foamy dark mocha head that reduces to a very thin film covering the majority of the surface of the beer and a medium thick ring at the edges of the glass. Light to moderate amounts of lacing are observed.

S: Moderate to strong aromas of dark roasted malts with some light notes of roasted coffee and pine/resin hops.

T: Upfront there are strong flavors of dark roasted malts with some notes of roasted coffee, dark chocolate, and just a touch of smoked malts. There are some light to moderate flavors of pine/resin and earthy hops. Moderate amounts of lingering bitterness in the finish.

M: Medium to full bodied with moderate amounts of carbonation. Smooth with some moderate amounts of dryness in the finish.

O: Very easy to drink for the style (American Strong Ale) and the higher ABV - drinks like a smaller beer and is pretty enjoyable.Nice complexity to the flavors.

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Photo of plaid75
4.43/5  rDev +11.6%
look: 4.5 | smell: 4.5 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 4.25 | overall: 4.25

On draft at Croxley's, Smithtown, New York.

Poured a deep black hue with a one finger frothy tan head. There was very good retention and sticky lacing.

The smell featured dry cocoa powder, charcoal and a touch of caramel.

The taste consisted of tiers of dark chocolate, charcoal, smoke and caramel yet maintained a clean and unmuddled flavor profile.

The mouthfeel had an upfront creamy fullness that finished very dry.

Overall a superior ale. Very well done.

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Photo of Lemke10
4.34/5  rDev +9.3%
look: 4.75 | smell: 4.5 | taste: 4.25 | feel: 4.25 | overall: 4.25

Very black indeed, this pours a very dark brown/black color with a slight light brown head. If you didn't know better you’d swear it was a stout. There are some robust notes to it with a little sweet sugar too. There is a lot of flavor here for an ale. The texture is smooth, yet it is thinner than a stout. Lots of chalky malts and coffee flavors in the mix. Certainly a very interesting brew.

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Photo of CMUbrew
4.04/5  rDev +1.8%
look: 4 | smell: 3.75 | taste: 4.25 | feel: 4 | overall: 4

12oz bottle poured into a DFH snifter

A: This beer really is a black ale. One of the darkest and blackest I've seen, and it's not even a stout. No highlights or anything, just pitch black. A thin ring of dark brown foam sits around the edge, but soon fades with no head remaining.

S: Dark malts, roasted and toasted malts, dark burnt raisins, tiny whiff of clean alcohol.

T: Roasted dark malts, toasted grain, dark fruit, anise, hints of chocolate, and a slightly alcoholic finish. Maybe some sort of earthy hop presence, but either this bottle was old enough to fade them or this beer is very malt driven. Either way, tastes great.

M: Smooth and easy drinking to be sure. Carbonation is light but plenty. Body is fairly lush yet somewhat light. Really good here.

O: With all the excellent malt flavor and dark color you could swear this is a porter. I think anything really goes for this style, so it is nice that brewers can just make a good beer without worrying too much about style points. This beer is great and I would have it again.

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Photo of ADZA
4.09/5  rDev +3%
look: 3.75 | smell: 4 | taste: 4.25 | feel: 4 | overall: 4

Pours a dark black hue and I mean black with no light let in whatsoever,the smell is dark espresso mixed with milky cappuccino,cigars,raisin bread and dark chocolate,the mouthfeel is full bodied with moderate carbonation which is nicely suited and has tastes of rich dark chocolate,espresso,dark fruits,raisin bread and finished with a hoppy bitterness and overall I like it and in a style of its own borderlining on stout and black ale would drink again cheers.

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Photo of tdm168
4.26/5  rDev +7.3%
look: 4 | smell: 4.25 | taste: 4.25 | feel: 4.5 | overall: 4.25

A - pitch black with a big cap of brown, dense head that has a short-lived retention

S - red wine, chocolate, roasted malts, caramel, burnt sugar, coffee

T - chocolate, roasted malts, caramel-sugar, coffee, some faint dark fruit in the finish, warming alcohol in the finish

M - warm, medium bodied, well carbonated

I must say this is a pretty interesting beer. The appearance had me thinking stout. The nose was amazing. As soon as I poured this beer I could smell layers of aromas. Then I entered into the equally complex taste. At first there were some big, roasty, chocolate notes. Then a deep caramel presence that adds a sugary, caramel-candy flavor that meshes well with the chocolate. There are dark fruit notes in the aftertaste that also lend some depth. The alcohol presence makes this beer seem a bit bigger than it is, but that doesn't bother me too much. Overall, this is an impressive beer that is worth trying.

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Photo of scootny
3.95/5  rDev -0.5%
look: 4.25 | smell: 3.5 | taste: 4 | feel: 4 | overall: 4.25

A nice thick head atop an opaque must be black ale. Decent lacing and very nice retention. Smell is chocolate malt and coffee with a firm earthy hops. Solid English style fruitiness ties together the toffee and caramel sweetness. Taste is rather like an RIS but dryer. Much. Lots of dark roasted malts and charcoal. No sign of the abv. Figgish plum fruitiness lightly shows before a mildly astringent swallow. Earthy hops, dry finish. Feel is lighter than you might think while still chewy, carbonated with a smooth, mild character. Superb drinkability being one of its best qualities. A good roasty dark ale that goes down well .

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Photo of dfillius
4.38/5  rDev +10.3%
look: 4.5 | smell: 4 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 4.5 | overall: 4.5

Poured into a pint glass
A: Aggressive pour yields 1 finger of dark tan head with good retention. Very creamy and thick head. Opaque black liquid. Nice.
S: Coffee, bitter chocolate, slight cherry from the alcohol.
T: Stout/RIS territory. Very bitter and dark chocolate-y. Tasty! I like this a lot. Slightly too much bitterness at the end. It turns a bit astringent.
M: Nice and creamy character balances the strong roasty bitterness and alcohol bite.
O: A very drinkable take on a RIS. All the flavor, none of the booziness. Goes great with bacon. I want another and I might buy 6.

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Photo of metter98
4/5  rDev +0.8%
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 MusicaleMike
3.69/5  rDev -7.1%
look: 3.5 | smell: 4.5 | taste: 3 | feel: 4 | overall: 4

No bottle date.

Black ale with two fingers of mocha colored head that dissipates to nothing but a rim of lace on the edge. No lacing.

Notes of chocolate, blackberry, coffee and raisins. Smell is great, and promises a rich, full body.

Flavor is acrid, roasted malts, with hints of coffee and dark fruits. Not quite as complex as the aroma, but decent enough. Bitterness is biting and lasting.

Thick, full body. Great mouthfeel for this style. Decent carbonation.

This is an American Stout. I think it is a good version and would recommend this beer to others. Pair with something chocolate. Probably great with BBQ as well.

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Photo of BarryMFBurton
4.07/5  rDev +2.5%
look: 4 | smell: 4.5 | taste: 4 | feel: 3.5 | overall: 4

However unappealing this label may be (amateur art of a donkey with lightning in the background), Dark Horse certainly has some good beers. Here’s to not judging a book by its cover.

A: Wow, am I pouring a cup of coffee? This pours immensely dark, showing a slight maple syrup redness near the bottom of the glass. Dark brown head rises slowly to a half-inch then plummets to nothing, looking even more stout-like. Slick lacing sticks around for a quick second and falls back down.

S: Roasty coffee extends first from the nose, layered over a nice thick aroma of chocolate syrup; how is this not a stout? The roasts are big, but not enough to keep this from smelling very sweet overall, especially considering the rich vanilla and caramel profile mixed in throughout. Hershey’s lovers rejoice, because this one smells like a chocolate factory.

T: Now this is a coffee-lover’s beer: nothing but bold flavors of slightly acidic, roasted Arabica beans on the front end. Smoky malt flavors proceed to pick up a hint of mild herbal hops, melding char with notes of pine and lemon zest. Sounds like a stout, I know, but there’s something to it that keeps it grounded in something different – a metallic undertone keeps the acidic flavors in the spotlight, thinning out the body from pure chocolate and cream. Residual sugars still make their appearance, though, with a resounding chocolate, cherry (simple syrup), toasted coconut, and vanilla coffee creamer character. Finishes with a taste of bitter roasts and cocoa powder, defiant in remaining dry and smoky.

M: As thin and drinkable as you could get from a beer this dark; reminiscent of a Samuel Smith beer with all those acidic and metallic tastes in such a thin body. Carbonation is fizzy, like watered-down soda.

O: This beer really took me by surprise, but in the best possible way; I am an absolute roast fiend, and this filled my kilned malt quota for a while. We’re not talking Dark Horse Lite – this is a totally different beer. And for only two bucks a bottle, this is a hell of a deal.

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Photo of StJamesGate
3.77/5  rDev -5%
look: 3.5 | smell: 4 | taste: 3.5 | feel: 4 | overall: 4

Unctuous jet black with on the slightest purple tinge in direct light and barely a ribbon or violet-brown film – seriously, like motor oil.
Black grapes, molasses, ash and tar on the nose – the darkest of dark malts.
Fig, treacle, blackberry jam, a touch of dark chocolate, a big roasty hit and cedar chip and orange rind hops.
Port barrel ending and bitter, charred linger. Medium to full, chewy, oily, sticky.

RIS or hoppy porter? Hits like a sledgehammer with the dark flavors but there are hops there, too. Heavy duty, with just a bit too much charcoal.

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

Poured like a stout, with semi-fizzy tan bubbles and a head that was creamy and frothy. Body was black with total opacity.

Smells of roasted malts, coffee, and just a bit of chocolate and fruit (not much). Dryish smell is probably a product of the beer not being a full-blown stout, and it's quite nice.

Taste is where the hoppy backbone comes out quite a bit, with a clean, bitter start and an acidic, almost sour, finish. Roast malts take more of a backseat, but are still quite flavorful. It's a good balance overall, and more skewed towards the hop side of it, which I like.

Feels creamy yet acidic, with a medium weight body that is silky overall. Easily sippable, and very drinkable for the strength of flavors. Strong effort from Dark Horse.

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Photo of UCLABrewN84
3.97/5  rDev 0%
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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Dark Horse Reserve Special Black Ale from Dark Horse Brewing Company
3.97 out of 5 based on 1,237 ratings.
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