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Dark Horse Reserve Special Black Ale | Dark Horse Brewing Company

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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:
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Ratings: 1,259 |  Reviews: 598
Photo of Espenoza
4.15/5  rDev +5.6%
look: 4 | smell: 4 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 3.5 | overall: 4

A - Pours an opaque pitch black with a nice mocha colored head.

S - Strong roasted malts and surprisingly smokey, definitely an alcohol smell on the back end.

T - The taste is very similar smell, strong roasted malts with a strong smokey flavor. I'm almost getting a hint of espresso on the back-end along with a nice boozy touch.

M - Definitely an alcohol presence but it's a nice bite. Good mouth feel, I was a little surprised by it's lightness for being such a dark beer.

D - The flavors are so strong and complex that I don't see myself drinking more than one in one sitting. I'll definitely have this beer again but not until I can find it again.

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Photo of thebeerdoctor
4.4/5  rDev +12%
look: 4 | smell: 4 | taste: 5 | feel: 4 | overall: 4

One of the sweet benefits of being a professional beer consultant, is that sometimes clients "pay it forward". As was the case here, when one kind store owner sold me a six pack of Dark Horse Reserve Special Black Bier for $5.99!
This is a sleeper in the American craft beer world. A delicious dark ale that is located somewhere between stout and porter. "Strong ale" is applied by the brewery, and by American and British standards this is accurate. But in Belgium, at 7.5% abv, this would be considered moderate. Nevertheless, a most enjoyable complex recipe. That is truly a joy to imbibe, from start to finish.

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Photo of Damian
4.55/5  rDev +15.8%
look: 4.5 | smell: 4.5 | taste: 5 | feel: 4 | overall: 4

Drank on-tap at The Independent, Somerville, MA
Served in a pint glass

The beer poured an inky, near pitch black with only hints of brown along the edges. A small, frothy, coffee-colored head lasted throughout most of the drink. Sticky sheets of webbed lacing trickled all down the glass.

The aroma was rich and smooth. Super roasty and quite smoky. Semi-sweet chocolate and black coffee notes came through strong. Slightly creamy and a touch boozy.

The taste was simply outstanding. Similar to the aroma in many regards except perhaps and bit more intense. Roasty and full up front. Dark chocolate notes dominated the center. Sweet caramel malts and molasses notes appeared as well. Espresso was also quite noticeable. The finish was crisp, dry and minerally with a lingering, roasty, slightly bitter aftertaste. I really enjoyed the interplay between the milky, chocolate-like sweetness and the roasty, dry notes.

The mouthfeel was creamy, smooth and supple. Medium to full bodied for the style (what is the style exactly?) with a fine, moderate effervescence.

Although I loved this beer, the style classification definitely threw me for a loop. By calling it a "black bier," I was thinking that it was going to be a German-style schwarzbier. The BA label of "American strong ale" does not really define it well either. Personally, I would describe this beer as something between a foreign export stout and an imperial stout. In any case, it is quite an impressive offering.

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Photo of herman77
3.98/5  rDev +1.3%
look: 4.5 | smell: 4 | taste: 4 | feel: 4.5 | overall: 3.5

A: Yes, this is straight black as the name implies. Has a inviting light brown head that has great retention. Tons of tiny bubble lacing all the way down.

S: Fully roasted black malt, some toffee, chocolate and coffee in the mix as well.

T: Tons of roasted malt and charred wood. Almost a burnt toast taste up front that gives way to a sweeter, molasses/toffee malt taste with a hint of coffee and bittersweet chocolate. Has a bitter/dry coffee aftertaste that is a little sweet. Very robust and malty!

M/D: Very smooth, not much carbonation. Borderline heavy body. Drinkability is okay, I would get tired after 2 or so.

Interesting style, in-between a porter and a stout?

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Photo of Reagan1984
3.65/5  rDev -7.1%
look: 4 | smell: 4 | taste: 3.5 | feel: 3.5 | overall: 3.5

Pours like a stout, smells like a stout. Listed as a "Strong Ale" I don't get it.
From their web site.. "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."

Not sure they are really calling it a Strong Ale there. but whatever.

Thick tan head forms about a finger+ thick and slowly settles. Visually it's a thick looking beer and the color is a deep/dark brown. Totally opaque with no light getting through at the edges.

Aroma is dark roasted malts, ash and charcoal. A hint of coffee grinds.

OK, after a taste I have to say this is clearly a stout like beer. I realize that Strong ale is one of those catch all categories, but if you line up 20 random Strong ales, this one would be the thumb on the hand. Dark bitter roasted malts, charcoal, bitter coffee grinds. A touch of black licorice every now and again. The lingering burnt/bitter flavor is powerful and a strong part of this beer.

Thick, almost creamy texture. A bit dry which makes me think this is like a thick Dry Stout. Just a spot of prickly carbonation.

I chose this first this evening since I was saving stouts for later. So it threw me for a bit of a loop. I shouldn't blame the beer for that. Slow one to enjoy and it just bugs me that this is listed as a Strong. This is a pretty good Dry Stout, not loving it as a Strong ale the way I think of them.

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Photo of tigg924
3.65/5  rDev -7.1%
look: 4 | smell: 4 | taste: 3.5 | feel: 3.5 | overall: 3.5

Appearance: 1/3 inch head, opaque, black in color

Smell: chocolate and toasted malt

Taste: burnt malt, dark coffee, and chocolate

Mouthfeel: medium/light bodied, sweet with a slightly bitter end, low carbonation

Drinkability: A very drinkable strong ale that hides the abv well. It tastes like a slightly more complex schwarzbier. I could have a couple of these to sip, but am not likely to go out of my way and order this.

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Photo of indiapaleale
4.32/5  rDev +9.9%
look: 4 | smell: 4.5 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 4 | overall: 4

Pour - settles like a stout or a porter. Super dark brown to black with a thin mocha colored head. No light gets through this one, it reminds me of an Imperial Stout almost.

Aroma - coffee, soy sauce, teriyaki, dark roasted malt, charcoal, burnt wood, burnt sugar, dark chocolate, cocoa powder, caramel and vanilla. Yes, this has a lot of nasal complexity.

Taste - sweet, bitter, malty, tangy and creamy all at once. This hits your pallet at full speed and gets your tastes buds revved up immediately. Its an all out assault of coffee grounds, dark roasty/toasty malts, soy sauces, burnt toffee and caramel goodness. Be ready for a tongue that will be working overtime to handle all that this one has to dish out because its not a simple dark ale, this is something different, something special-er.

Overall - complex and delicious. I am still processing the first sip and all it offered. My tongue is dry and yet thirsty for more of this intriguing elixir. Vanilla, coffee, bitter chocolate, caramel and dark roasted malts galore. Hooray for non-conformity.

Would I buy more of it? - yes. I'll be buying more of this for sure. No doubt about it.

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Photo of tippebrewcrew2
4.05/5  rDev +3.1%
look: 4.5 | smell: 4.5 | taste: 4 | feel: 4 | overall: 3.5

In my opinion this is one of the most underrated beers on the shelfs of indiana beer stores. Pours black as black. I would say it resembles that of an american porter. Lots of coffee, dry bitter finish, with a medium hop profile. This is a very chewy, complex beer. Its very rich with deep notes of dark chocolate and a velvety texture. Great beer.

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

Near black color where no color can shine through. Light beige head, but it leaves a blanket of lace that drains to a ring after each sip. The head settles to a single layer of minute bubbles.

Dark bitter coffee-like aromas. Blindfolded, I would think that this is a dry stout.

Dry and extremely bitter from black patent malt. More burnt than most dry stouts. The aftertaste is of coffee grounds. The taste is chewy but the body is thin (for the style). The potency is hidden by the strength of the bitter dark malt. Overall, quite delicious.

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Photo of ArthurShipkowski
3.98/5  rDev +1.3%
look: 4 | smell: 3.5 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 3 | overall: 4

Appearance: Dark, not much head.

Smell: Initially a roast and grapefruit odor, fading just to roasted.

Taste: Dark, roasted, hop-bite giving way to bran. Very similar to a number of imperial stouts.

Mouthfeel: Nice carbonation, but a little thin in my opinion.

Drinkability: Quite good. The thinness might make it a little too drinkable, if you catch my drift.

Overall, quite nice and enjoyable -- sort of a pocket imperial stout, trimmed down a bit.

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Photo of palmdalethriller
4.06/5  rDev +3.3%
look: 4.5 | smell: 3.5 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 4.5 | overall: 3.5

A very enjoyable beer overall.

This beer is absolutely jet black. American string ale? Maybe American strong stout is a better description, even the nose smells like a stout with roasted malt smell and a slight herbal hop aroma. A bit hoppier in aroma than a typical stout, but this is no ipa in that regard.

The taste is heavy on the roasted and black malts, with a choclatey sweetness underneath it all. At over 7% there isn't really any burn, but it definitely smacks of charcoal on the finish. It's pleasant for a while, but the acrid bitterness on the finish gets pretty old.

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Photo of backfat
4.45/5  rDev +13.2%
look: 4.5 | smell: 4.5 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 5 | overall: 4

american strong ale? i'd guess more like a porter. pours a viscous black, motor oil, with a khaki/cinnamon colored one finger head. it looks like it's going to stain my glass. awesome. smells robust, dark chocolate, coffee, dark fruits, candied sugars. rich and complex. tastes chocolatey and velvety. bold flavor that is creamy and smooth. lingering bitters. this beer is just excellent. highly recommend.

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Photo of 05Harley
4.06/5  rDev +3.3%
look: 5 | smell: 4 | taste: 4 | feel: 4 | overall: 4

Bottle #?? Come on DH, give us some info.

Purchased through West LakeView Liquors, Chicago

Price - $10.99/6-pack

Appearance: WOW, this beer looks awesome in a glass. Pitch black with a thick brown head which settles down to a ring in the glass.

Smell: Burnt roasty aroma with chocolate and a hint of coffee.

Taste: Strong flavor with bitter chocolate and coffee. Licorice and dried fruit in the backround. Bitterness is present and comes on strong in the aftertaste.

Mouthfeel: Thick and chewy. Quite viscous leaving an oily feel. Finishes dry.

Drinkability: I've had two bottles tonight and find it pretty good. At 7.5% it's not over the top.

I'm definitely confused with the style however. This beer is clearly more like a dry stout, kind of like Obsidian stout by Deschutes but with more of a kick.

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Photo of WesWes
4.23/5  rDev +7.6%
look: 4.5 | smell: 4 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 4 | overall: 4

The beer pours a pitch black color with a thick and creamy tan head that slowly fades to lacing. The aroma is good. It has a bitter black malt scent with a bit of alcohol warmth. It has a tremendous roasted malt character with some mild chocolate malt notes. The taste is great! It has a bone dry, black malt flavor that goes down easy and finishes with tons of earthy coffee-like character. There is a bit of chocolate malt sweetness which does add some balance, but for the most part it's all black patent and roasted barley goodness. The mouthfeel is fine. It is a full bodied beer with adequate carbonation. This is a fine black ale. I would love to see this fermented with lager yeast, but I'll take this version any day.

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Photo of jlindros
3.83/5  rDev -2.5%
look: 4.5 | smell: 4 | taste: 4 | feel: 4 | overall: 3

Dark Horse finally showed up in MA, so I get to do some reviews now.

A: Not at all what I was expecting, it pours as pitch black as tar with a dark fluffy brown head that rises up 1 finger in my Chouffe tulip.

N: As soon as I popped the cap I could smell the roast and coffee billowing out of this thing. Added to that are more dark malts, hints of tobacco and dark fruit, and a little black patent malt. A little bit of some spicy hops. Reminds me a lot of Stout Trooper.

T: Wow, very rich and dark. Lots of bitterness as well. Bitterness comes from both a nice spicy hop flavor and the earthy char from the stout characteristics. Some creamy milk chocolate blends with bitter bakers chocolate. The roasted malt just overpowers all that though. Some thick molasses but very dry as if it was all fermented out. The bitterness is really high and almost overbearing.

M: Semi creamy, a little less body than I would expect but it is pretty thick and heavy. Decent carbonation.

F: Again very bitter and dry. The bitterness does seem to drop off pretty quickly though, along with the heavy roast and malt flavors. A little remaining roast flavor and bitterness lingers though. Slight bakers chocolate as well.

I would definitely call this beer a Russian Imperial Stout, not anywhere like a Strong Ale. Not sure who gave it that label. It's a pretty nice beer too, lots of roast, chocolate, creamy, but just way too bitter and dry.

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Photo of albern
3.77/5  rDev -4.1%
look: 3.5 | smell: 4 | taste: 4 | feel: 4 | overall: 3

This beer is quite syrupy, inky black, not much lacing, retention, or carbonation. It is pretty thick, creamy, dark, full palated, and a bit oily on the tongue. The beer has an aroma dark malts, molasses, maybe some coffee grinds, burnt wood, maybe some chocolates too.

This beer is a full bodied affair, very thick and syrupy and creamy. The beer has a very charred almost burnt molasses and dark malt flavor. There is some sweeter malts hidden deep underneath, but the charred, roasted, dark malts pretty much predominate. There is a slight ABV quality to the beer and there is some leafy hop in there on the back end. The aftertaste is very burnt wood taste on the tongue. I particularly like the sweetish, almost cherry chocolate flavors in the mid section of the beer, but they are way down below. The molasses and charred flavors, coupled with the leafy hop makes this a beer that is assertive. It's a decent beer for the right occasion. The aftertaste is probably the low point.

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Photo of icetraxx
4.32/5  rDev +9.9%
look: 3.5 | smell: 4 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 4.5 | overall: 4.5

A: An ink black, with no light at all showing through. Pours a one finger head that dissipates into a cap rather quickly, and then it shortly dissipates to nothing. No lacing.

S: Toasted cereal maltiness, roasted malt, and a hint of bittersweet chocolate make up the aroma here. I further detect a hint of vanilla and coffee. This beer sort of smells like chocolate covered rice crispy treats.

T: Hops. I did not expect this, but the dominate flavor here is floral hops. Balancing the hops is a strong roasted malt note, almost imperial stout like. This beer sort of reminds me of a blend between an IPA and an imperial stout, but this feeling fades as I drink it, imperial stout definitely feels like the appropriate designation for this beer. The chocolate, vanilla, and coffee from the smell make their way to the taste. No rice crispy treats in the flavor profile, unfortunately.

M: Well carbonated, thick and viscous. Almost syrupy.

D: If I consider this an imperial stout, which I do, this is one of the more drinkable. As an ASA, this is less drinkable than others.

O: A refreshing take on the Imperial Stout by Dark Horse.

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Photo of rfgetz
3.8/5  rDev -3.3%
look: 4 | smell: 4 | taste: 4 | feel: 3 | overall: 3.5

Pours a deep dark brown, near black... minimal head and lacing on this one. Smell is of dark roasted malts, hints of chocolate, coffee, tar, whiffs of grassy hops. Very stout-like. Taste is of dark roasted, and sometimes burnt grains & beans - coffee, cocoa, nuts. Background holds some molasses like sweetness, dark fruits and a grassy hop prsence. Acidic and bitter at times, lacks in carbonation, dry and chalky finnish. Interesting beer that is halfway between a Stout and Schwarz, strong roasted grain profile, but bitter, lowly carbonated and dry finnish dont compliment the overall beer as well as it could have.

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Photo of bsp77
4.47/5  rDev +13.7%
look: 4 | smell: 4.5 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 4.5 | overall: 4.5

Serving glass: Poured from bottle into Nonic Imperial Pint.

Appearance: Pure black with thin brown head and light lacing lines.

Smell: Roasted aroma, but quite sweet - molasses, cookies & cream, chocolate, vanilla, licorice and something reminiscent of a Christmas tree.

Taste: Strong roasted flavor but fairly creamy and sweet. Chocolate, light coffee, cream, licorice, molasses and pine. Ends somewhat bitter, but a nice touch of creamy sweetness remains throughout. Tastes like a blend of a Stout, a Cafe Mocha and, more some reason, Anchor Christmas Ale.

Feel: Relatively low carbonation. Body is creamy, silky and smooth, but surprisingly not quite full-bodied.

Drinkability: Very nice - both very complex and easy to drink. BA and Dark Horse both claim this is not a Stout, but surely it is a Stout of some kind. It seems like a ramped-up, bitter and higher alcohol Cream Stout, with a strange dash of holiday spirit.

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Photo of Jeffo
3.48/5  rDev -11.5%
look: 3.5 | smell: 3 | taste: 4 | feel: 2.5 | overall: 3.5

Got this at De Bierkoning in Amsterdam.

From a bottle into a snifter.

APPEARANCE: Pours a one finger medium-thick mocha colored head with good retention. Comes out of the bottle pitch black and thicker looking. Some carbonation evident. Head fades to a nice wisp leaving some immediate lacing. A slight wisp remains until the end and leaves bits of lacing down the glass.

SMELL: Mild nose of roasted malts, caramel notes and chocolate. Nice, but needs to be bolder to make an impression.

TASTE: This is bolder. Roasted malts with some chocolate and piney hops up front. Nice combination. Some caramel malt sweetness through the middle leading into a bold, roasted bitter hop finish with plenty of pine flavors. Bold and long lasting aftertaste is plenty roasted and bitter with a touches of piney hoppy notes. Very nice flavor indeed.

PALATE: Medium-thin body with medium carbonation. Goes down a little prickly with a little alcohol burn at the end, and finishes slightly dry on the palate. A little light and only slightly creamy; disappointing performance here.

OVERALL: A decent offering from Dark Horse; I quite enjoyed this one. The taste was quite nice and it went down pretty quickly, and with a thicker more robust mouth-feel, this beer might actually turn some heads. At the moment, however, it lacks the body to bring the flavor over the hump, and on the whole doesn't quite live up to its potential. Too bad really. This is one I'll have again, but I don't think I'll be in a rush.

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Photo of Jeebs
4.23/5  rDev +7.6%
look: 5 | smell: 4.5 | taste: 4 | feel: 4.5 | overall: 4

A: Pours an amazing bitch black with a thick and creamy 1 finger brown head. The head slowly dissipates leaving amazing lacing down the glass. This beer looks simply beautiful!

S: This beer smells amazing! Nice toasted malts, chocolate, molasses and some alcohol.

T: Toasted malt, coffee, maybe some fudge with a slight bit of alcohol. This beer leaves a nice toasty after taste which is very pleasant.

M: Full bodied and thick with a nice smooth creamy mouthfeel.

D: Very enjoyable beer! Looks, smells, and taste great perfect for a nice chilly evening, I'm just not sure if I would want multiple of these.

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Photo of cpetrone84
4.42/5  rDev +12.5%
look: 4.5 | smell: 5 | taste: 4 | feel: 4.5 | overall: 4.5

A-pours a motor oil looking liquid that is completely opaque black. the head is thick creamy but only about 1 finger after an aggressive pour. it is a dark java brown color that lingers for about a quarter of a minute and leaves a light lacing on the glass.

S-the nose is huge and delicious! it brings a huge malt aroma with roasted malt, espresso, and milk chocolate. a touch of citrus hops hits at the very end

T-the taste is not quite as good as the nose. it brings roasted barley and grain, quite a bit of espresso, and hints of dark bakers chocolate. some citrus hops and bitterness come in towards the finish

M-this is a full bodied beer, smooth and creamy, almost chewy. perfectly carbonated, and slightly astringent.

D-i really like this beer! very tasty and awesome mouthfeel. it tastes more like an imperial porter but is just great!

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Photo of natelocc787
4.28/5  rDev +8.9%
look: 4.5 | smell: 4 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 4.5 | overall: 4

This one crosses the line between porter and stout, a hybrid. Not sure why this beer is ranked as low as it is, it is fantastic. Bursting with flavor, many roasted notes but not burnt. Smooth, bitter, black and roasted. Graham cracker, chocolate, coffee, fudge and brown sugar all fight for dominance in an extremely well balanced beer. The best I've had from Dark Horse and a real treat. Creamy, silky feel, very mellow despite the big flavor. Highly recommended.

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

I've seen this on the shelves numerous times, but finally thought, what the heck, let's give it a shot! Glad I did. Review is from notes taken on 1/18/2010 and the pour is from the bottle to a snifter.

Appearance: Pour is darkest brown/near black; no head to speak of, just a thin ring of dark tan foam around the center of the surface; body is entirely opaque and looked a little viscous on the pour; slight and scant lacing in the thin rings that don't last long -- overall it looks more like an Imperial Stout...

Smell: Deep dark roasty and even slightly (burnt) caramel sweet maltiness; a very earthy/dirt-like aspect, but not in a bad way -- kind of like a burnt toasty/grainy aspect; slight presence of alcohol that grows a bit as it warms.

Taste: Very nice overall -- nice burnt roastiness that is espresso-like in nature; a semi-sweet syrupy chocolate is mixed in with the roastiness; a very earthy and woody (charred and a little smokey) presence that really lingers in the aftertaste; alcohol becomes a little more apparent as it warms as well.

Mouthfeel: Medium bodied with pretty strong carbonation; their is a very nice coating left behind that holds the flavors and aftertaste quite well and the belly is left a little warm.

Drinkability: Really enjoyable with great flavors and a nice earthy warmth to it; I'm not really sure if would do well with age or not, but I'm willing to give it a shot and throw a few in the back of the closet and see how it does with some time on it.

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Photo of treehugger02010
3.06/5  rDev -22.1%
look: 4 | smell: 3 | taste: 3 | feel: 3 | overall: 3

I got a bottle of this beer out of a Dark Horse Brewing Company variety case. I poured it into a pint glass.
Appearance: The body is very black, not see through. The head in only a finger tall, dark tan, almost purple in color, great retention and good lacing.
Smell: The aromas are sunny (if that makes sense), roasted coffee and nutty notes.
Taste: The flavors are tart, roasty and peanut butter.
Mouthfeel: The mouthfeel is too crisp with a medium body.
Drinkability: This beer isn't bad.
Don't drink and review.

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