Dismiss Notice
Subscribe to BeerAdvocate magazine for only $9.99! (Limited time offer, US delivery only)

Dark Horse Reserve Special Black Ale | Dark Horse Brewing Company

Your Rating: None

Want it   Got it 
Dark Horse Reserve Special Black AleDark Horse Reserve Special Black Ale
Very Good
1,259 Ratings
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

Bros Score:
User Ratings & Reviews
Sort by:  Recent | High | Low | Top Raters | Alström Bros
Ratings: 1,259 |  Reviews: 598
Photo of hombreverde
3.87/5  rDev -1.5%
look: 3.5 | smell: 4 | taste: 4 | feel: 3 | overall: 4

Appearance: Very dark color, almost like strong black expresso. CanĀ“t see through glass. One finger head. Some carbonation on the sides of the tulip.

Smell: Notes of coffee. Sweet malt.

Taste: Cherry, burnt taste, alcohol fumes, not sticky, slight sour notes in the back of the mouth. Fully roasted malt.

Mouthfeel: Thin with evenly balanced carbonation.

Overall: Loads of coffee flavors coming through. Will gladly drink the rest of the 6 pack!

 453 characters

Photo of abraxel
3.65/5  rDev -7.1%
look: 4 | smell: 4 | taste: 3.5 | feel: 3.5 | overall: 3.5

A - Quite black (I already used the "none more black" reference in another review, but it fits here, too). A few fingers of chocolate-brown head that settles relatively fast, but leaves thick trails along the glass.

S - As I started pouring, the smell almost immediately hit me; at first just sweet, dark, slightly fruity malts, then upon closer inspection there's a whole lot of roasty malt and a bit of hops.

T - Here the roastiness takes over in force, with some citrusy hops mixed in. The tasty sweetness that was so prevalent in the smell is much more hidden. The roasty/hoppy combination lingers perhaps a little too long. Good, but could be better.

M - Smooth, just a hint of carbonation. Not bad.

Overall, an above-average beer, but I don't know where the "reserve special" in the name came from, since neither of those words seems quite appropriate.

 862 characters

Photo of Daktyls
4.2/5  rDev +6.9%
look: 4 | smell: 4 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 4 | overall: 4

A: Pours a dark, motor oil black color with a small tannish/mocha head that dissipates quickly to a fine lacing on the top of the bear.

S: Dark and malty for starters, not too much else that is immediately present. There's a little bit of chocolate and cocoa, but not too much else.

T: Again, a lot of smoked malts and a tiny bit of hops. There's also a little bit of vanilla and a slight bit of coffee.

M: Light amount of carbonation with a nice big body. The alcohol is a little present on the finish, but certainly not overwhelming.

O: Overall, quite good. This is definitely going to go onto the buy again list. Everything works well here.

 647 characters

Photo of robwestcott
3.88/5  rDev -1.3%
look: 4 | smell: 3.5 | taste: 4 | feel: 4 | overall: 4

poured cold and black from the tap at the brewpub to a standard pint with a long lasting, foamy, mocha head leaving lace to the rim.

subtle dark malty aroma with plenty of chocolate following up.

this one's dark, smoky, coffee, chocolate. nice blend of flavors.

big bodied, creamy smooth, subtle bitter all about the tongue, semi sweet chocolate follows up.

drinkable - a pint or two.

overall - my first beer on my first stop at dark horse. very pleasant beer, big and flavorful.

 485 characters

Photo of RedSpecial1
4.97/5  rDev +26.5%
look: 4.5 | smell: 5 | taste: 5 | feel: 5 | overall: 5

This beer pours a thick, dark, black with a thin bit of brown head. The smell is robust and roasty with hints of dark chocolate, reminds me of a campfire. The main flavors are dark roasted barley and a nice dark chocolate flavor. This beer is thin enough to sip easily, but robust enough to coat the mouth with a pleasant flavor that lingers nicely. This is a great beer, lots of strong flavor, but smooth as well.

 414 characters

Photo of Gushue3
3.97/5  rDev +1%
look: 3.5 | smell: 4 | taste: 4 | feel: 4 | overall: 4

First off I have a little cold so my review may already be all fucked up. Ive been sitting on this one for a while now, pretty excited to drink it.

A- Pours almost pitch black with just a little bit of transparency. Sits in my glass blacker than Charlie Murphy with a small light brown head that goes away quickly. Little/no retention and lacing.

S- Lots of malt up front with what seems like a hint of alcohol. Semi sweet chocolate too

T- BIG roast, smoke and malt profile at first that mellows out in the middle and turns into hops. A nice medium hop bitterness to finish. A hint of alcohol too

M- Good medium amount of carbonation and other than that goes down pretty smooth

O- not much to complain about with this one. i wish my nose wasnt as stuffed. hope i did it justice

 783 characters

Photo of Genghis22
4.42/5  rDev +12.5%
look: 4 | smell: 4.5 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 4 | overall: 4.5

A - Pours a super thick dark oil looking black. Zero light penetration. Rich mocha colored head forms, but does not stick around to long.

S - Chocolately roasty malt. Vanilla and oak, lots of sweet fruit, fig and prunes. Very enticing.

T - Bitter hops hit the back of the tongue, while the front is pleasured by sweet chocolate and cocoa. There is then a rush of vanilla and a twist of fig. The aftertaste is bitter and strong coffee. Fantastic.

M - Chewy, and oil like in viscosity. Very fine carbonation that slightly prickles the tongue as the sip goes down. The finish is quite dry, but pleasing.

O - Not sure why this is an "American Strong Ale" it tastes like a damn fine stout to me. That being said, this beer is quite tasty. Rich, flavorful and a pleasing mouthfeel. The label on the bottle may look a little hokey, but the beer is very tasty. I'd buy more if I could.

 881 characters

Photo of McNealc31
4.58/5  rDev +16.5%
look: 4.5 | smell: 4 | taste: 5 | feel: 4.5 | overall: 4.5

So here is Dark Horse Brewing's Reserve Special Black Ale. It is indeed black with a creamy dark tan head. Lots of roast and toffee in the nose. Kind of smells like a Heath Bar. Wrapped in bacon.

Big, bold flavors in the first sip. Dark, bitter chocolate, smoked meat, roasted coffee. Late hop bite, too.

I really dig on this one! 7.5% ABV doesn't hurt, either. As they mention on the site, it's not quite a porter, not quite a stout, but golly is it good!

 458 characters

Photo of number1bum
4.17/5  rDev +6.1%
look: 3.5 | smell: 4 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 4 | overall: 4

Pours nearly black in color with a pretty thick two fingers of dark tan head. Looks like a stout. Head keeps reasonably well, although once it settles it's only a thin and not very full lace. Keeps a ring or two of stick on the sides.

Smell is quite bold with notes of roasted malt and chocolate, plus some milky/lacto sweetness. There is a hint of coffee as well and then a pretty substantial fruity aroma. I get a bit of orange and black currant. Smells like a milk stout with some increased fruity hop aromas.

Taste also consists of roasted and chocolate malts with a good dose of bitter coffee as well. There is a sweetness here that again reminds me of a milk stout; not sure if there is any lactose in this beer or not but it has that sort of quality, plus some sweet and bittersweet chocolate. There is a good deal of black currant flavor like the nose suggested, plus some more subtle citrus hop flavor. In the finish it is roasty and pretty bitter for a stout. A lot of good flavor here.

Mouthfeel is on the plus side of a medium body, appropriately carbonated and pretty smooth. Bitterness dries it out a bit in the finish but it has a nice creaminess to it as well.

I like this. It drinks like a hoppy milk stout to me, and it has a ton of flavor. It's smooth and even at 7.5% it's extremely easy to drink. Very tasty stuff.

 1,339 characters

Photo of cocogan
4/5  rDev +1.8%
look: 4 | smell: 4 | taste: 4 | feel: 4 | overall: 4

Poured into pint glass.

Visual: Black with a light brown one finger head. Head recedes to a half finer and lingers. Moderate lacing.

Nose: Caramel, brown suger, coffee.

Taste: Smoke, coffee, wood,and a nice sweet malt middle with noticable hop bittering backbone. Also notes of peanut brittle, and earth finishing with a slight fruity hop balance.

Mouth: Medium body, creamy smooth.

Drunkability: I like.. yes i do.

 420 characters

Photo of Kelly88
4.05/5  rDev +3.1%
look: 4 | smell: 4 | taste: 4 | feel: 4.5 | overall: 4

Poured from a bottle into an old Rasputin pint glass.

A- looks like a very thick Brew on the pour. Pours a dark brown that settles into s fresh paved asphalt road. Really nice tan head That is frothy and persistent, gradually recedes to a film of beige.

S- lots of toasty and roasty malts and a glimpse of hop residue. And maybe some scents of a used coffee mug.

T- tastes like a hoppy coffee that ate a chocolate candy bar. The coffee tasted a Tad Bitter and acidic but blended ok with the hops That are trying to escape from the malt straight jacket.

M- light to medium with excellent carbonation. Just enough to give some feel and not enough to be overbearing. Really smooth with a little bit of grit on the finish.

D- easy drinking beer That is only held back by how much you like the taste. I like it so its pretty good.

 830 characters

Photo of champ103
3.98/5  rDev +1.3%
look: 4.5 | smell: 4 | taste: 4 | feel: 3.5 | overall: 4

A: Pours a nearly opaque pitch black color. A two finger tan head forms with excellent retention. A collar of foam stay all the way down the glass. Sticky, spiderweb looking lace is left as well.
S: Roasted malt, coffee, chocolate, toffee. All the good dark malty aromas you would expect. Some very light slick and oily hops linger for a nice balance.
T: Lots of toasted malt. Lightly roasted. Creamed coffee up front, but not over barring. Chocolate and toffee. Some baked bread. Even some smoke. Lingering hops again. Very well balanced. Nothing is over barring.
M/D: A medium body, but just a bit watery. A bit under carbonated as well. Easy to drink. A good warming beer to sip on.

I enjoy this. Very well made. Something I would recommend.

 745 characters

Photo of Floppydu
3.74/5  rDev -4.8%
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.

 690 characters

Photo of rrski198
4.1/5  rDev +4.3%
look: 4 | smell: 4 | taste: 4 | feel: 5 | overall: 4

A: Nearly all balck with a big fluffy dark brown head. Outstanding lacing.

S: Strong roasted dark malt and heavy, heavy coffee smell. Very traditional coffee stout/porter qualities. The label of "American strong ale" is a fairly loose one here. This could qualify as a strong coffee stout.

T: Sweetness of cream up front followed by a huge rush of bitter spent coffee grounds. THis bitterness sticks around quite nicely and really puckers up the lips. THe flavor is very clean, well defined, and not overly complex.

M: Fairly high carbonation with a great body. Again the bitterness of the coffee really dominates the mouthfeel. THe body is absolutely spot on!

D: THis is a really well done beer. I love the flavors and the body is perfect, however, with the strong bitter coffee flavor, I couldn't sit down and do a session with this beer due to the style. With the style in mind, this is a great offering and the first i've had from Dark Horse, i will search out more in the future!

 991 characters

Photo of prdstmnky
4.02/5  rDev +2.3%
look: 4 | smell: 4.5 | taste: 4 | feel: 4 | overall: 3.5

Poured into a pint glass, jet black body with a finger of mocha head that settles to a frothy cap. Lots of chocolate, roasted malts, vanilla, and coffee in the nose - very stout like. More of the roasted malts and coffee flavors on the tongue, less sweet than expected based on the aromas, though the chocolate and vanilla comes though a bit as it warms.Medium bodied and creamy with adequate carbonation.

Another solid beer from Dark Horse.

 443 characters

Photo of ribby
4.16/5  rDev +5.9%
look: 5 | smell: 4 | taste: 4 | feel: 4 | overall: 4.5

This is one of the darkest beers I have ever seen. 'Black' indeed. It pours with a big head that is a medium brown, quite dark for foam. The taste is a nice balance of dark roasted malt and hops, with a nod to the malt. You could call this a stout and no one would question you. With the vigorous carbonation, the mouthfeel is quite good, and the overall package makes this very drinkable. I've only had this and Crooked Tree from Dark Horse, but I will be checking out some other brews.

 487 characters

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

A. Pours a black oily beer with a thick tan head that has good retention, carbonation and really good lacing that clings rather nicely to my beer mug.
S. Dark Chocolate and coffee dominates the aroma here, but also notice some dark fruits and molasses.
T. Taste chocolate, followed by some coffee, dark fruit, molasses and finishes off with some floral hops leaving a mix of citrus and chocolate at the end. The ending taste remains in the aftertaste. The way this taste reminds me of a mix between a stout, porter and an IPA due to the floral hops.
M. A nice smooth creamy feel that leaves a little stickiness on the mouth and finishes off quite dryly.
D. This is a great medium bodied feel beer that is smooth and very enjoyable to drink. This beer has a different taste than most stouts or porters, but it is a great taste that fans of stouts, porters and even IPA's should try.

 882 characters

Photo of CuriousMonk
3.83/5  rDev -2.5%
look: 4 | smell: 3.5 | taste: 4 | feel: 3.5 | overall: 4

On tap at ChurchKey in Washington, DC. Poured into snifter glass. This beer was served in near room temperature which is the norm at ChurchKey. Pours an opaque black with a 2 finger brown head that fizzled pretty quickly and spotty lacing throughout the session. Nose is powdered cocoa, roasted malts, smoked barley and a touch of coffee. Taste is charred dark chocolate, roasted coffee beans and chalky cocoa with some bittering hops in the finish. Full creamy mouthfeel and low carbonation going on. I didn't know what to expect and this one surprised me. I understand this was the very first brew by Dark Horse so I was glad to have tried this one out!

 655 characters

Photo of jmdrpi
4.36/5  rDev +10.9%
look: 5 | smell: 4 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 5 | overall: 4

jet black with massive tan colored head. good lacing, and the head stays to the bottom of the glass.

big roasty aroma of coffee and maybe some chocolate. a rich complex taste that is nicely balanced between dry roasted flavor, coffee, and a touch of sweetness.

super smooth mouthfeel thicker body, lower carbonation. very easy to drink, and it only gets better as it warms.

 377 characters

Photo of joshrosborne
4.25/5  rDev +8.1%
look: 4 | smell: 4 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 4.5 | overall: 4

This is really, really good stuff. I'm not entirely sure how it's not a stout or porter, but strong ales can mean pretty much anything, so whatever.

Pours black as night without much of a head at all. You can smell some coffee, honey, and a bit of smoke. The taste is coffee and chocolate w/ a bit of burnt (good burnt, not bad). Mouthfeel is medium. A good amount of carbonation w/o being over the top. I'm used to beers this color being like syrup. Definitely not the case here. Overall, a great, drinkable beer. Whatever style it is, it's good. I'd put it in the porter or stout category, but it's irrelevant at the end of the day.

 635 characters

Photo of haazer
4.05/5  rDev +3.1%
look: 4 | smell: 4 | taste: 4 | feel: 4.5 | overall: 4

Sampled at the Philly Winter Beerfest. Poured into the plastic goblet.

A- Good carbonated brew. Very dark brown to almost black in color. A bubbly caramel colored head sits atop the beer.

S- Coffee upfront. Transitions into tea/mint leafs. Roasted malts. Then lastly in the background is a smokey, charcoal aroma.

T- Roasted caramel malts. Little bit of chocolate. Toasted marshmellow. Tastes a lot like a porter.

M- Medium bodied brew. Milky smooth.

D- I thought this was a porter initially but realized its an american strong ale when coming on BA. Good mouthfeel and taste to this, I'd certainly have again.

 617 characters

Photo of Beertracker
4.03/5  rDev +2.5%
look: 4.5 | smell: 4 | taste: 4 | feel: 4 | overall: 4

Dark Horse Reserve SBBA pours up like an overdue oil change! I mean this stuff is really ugly & black, just like we like it. The brownish-tan head doesn't stick around too long, but who really gives a rat's arse. The aroma smells like burning witches at a black mass! Serious notes of blackstrap molasses & dark cane syrup (e.g. Steen's) along with some dark cocoa, espresso roast and charred barrel notes. Huge black malt character! Alcohol is noticeable, but doesn't detract. The flavor starts off brash, but mildly sweet (burnt toffee) with a bit of chicory, coffee & chocolate/cocoa underlying before the black malt & bitterness drive this like Casey Jones running the Ole' 382 straight to hell! Big, bold expansive roasted finish that's surprisigly balanced in the end. There's maybe just a touch of astringency? This medium-slightly full bodied specialty beer is like a black three-headed goat in that it's hard to comprehend that it even exists, yet you just can't take your eyes off of it. It's a stout schwarzbier, porterish-type, strong dark mild ale! I must admit that this one was rather harsh & undrinkable a few months ago, but age has been kind to this wee black beast from Marshall. Here's to those crazy SOB's @ Dark Horse with all of the extra black malt.

CHEERS! Beertracker

 1,294 characters

Photo of MarcatGSB
3.95/5  rDev +0.5%
look: 4 | smell: 4 | taste: 4 | feel: 3.5 | overall: 4

Decanted into a La Fin Du Monde tulip on 02-15-11.

A: Pitch black. Small, caramel colored head.

Nose: Roasted malts. Pow! Could smell it as soon as the beer hit the glass. Bitter chocolate, coffee on the back.

Taste: Smokey and roasted? That's possible, it's in this beer. Coffee, more smoke. Almost too much smoke, almost. Finish is bitter, and lasting. Going to let this warm up for a minute, I believe it's a bit cold...As it warms up, I notice more overall flavor, a better balance of bittersweet malt and bitter chocolate.

Mouth: Wouldn't say this one is creamy, and the bitterness really comes through. It's got a nice feel, bit thin. Very dry, but that is expected. Wont knock it.

Overall: Enjoyable beer. Especially after letting it warm up a minute. I'll enjoy this one again.

 792 characters

Photo of beergod1
4/5  rDev +1.8%
look: 4 | smell: 4 | taste: 4 | feel: 4 | overall: 4

Pours dark brown/black with a thin brown coffee-colored head that dissipated fully. Aroma is a wonderful mix of dark fruit (plums/dates), sweet malt, roast coffee, molasses, and bitter dark chocolate. Tastes of coffee, bitter hops, dark chocolate, and a touch of sweetness. Finishes quite dry.

 293 characters

Photo of trappistlover
3.3/5  rDev -16%
look: 4 | smell: 4 | taste: 3 | feel: 2 | overall: 3.5

(12oz bottle courtesy of guy in chicago!). Pours black with khaki head. Aroma of chocolate and berries and pine. Taste is roasty bitter to along with hop bitterness and a little bit of sweetness. Thin bodied with a creamy texture. Finish is bitter. I would like this more if it were hopped less.

 295 characters

Dark Horse Reserve Special Black Ale from Dark Horse Brewing Company
Beer rating: 3.93 out of 5 with 1,259 ratings
  • About Us

    Founded in Boston in 1996, BeerAdvocate (BA) is your go-to resource for beer powered by an independent community of enthusiasts and professionals dedicated to supporting and promoting better beer.

    Learn More
  • Our Community

    Comprised of consumers and industry professionals, many of whom started as members of this site, our community is one of the oldest, largest, and most respected beer communities online.
  • Our Events

    Since 2003 we've hosted over 60 world-class beer festivals to bring awareness to independent brewers and educate attendees.
  • Our Magazine

    Support uncompromising beer advocacy and award-winning, independent journalism with a print subscription to BeerAdvocate magazine.