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
1,264 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: 1,264 |  Reviews: 600
Photo of horshack7
4.33/5  rDev +10.2%
look: 4.5 | smell: 4 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 4 | overall: 4.5

Appearance: Wow this is some dark beer I was not expecting it would be black with a mocha colored head. It looks like a stout or a porter but it's still neat.

Aroma: Coffee notes dark fruit or berries way in the back and I do mean wasy in the back. Carob with dark roasted malts still giving some room for dark raoasted hops as well.

Taste: More dark roasted coffee and malts. Carob as well as roasted hop. A littel bit of tart ness on the tail end but it's only a twinge. The mouthfeel is very smooth a very creamy.

Notes: This quite a unique tasting American Strong Ale. I definatly enjoy this beer. Cheers.

 612 characters

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

I'm pretty sure I picked this up from Wacky's.

Pours an opaque black, with a toasted cream head that reduces to a film and it laces down the glass. The look is good.

Smells of dark roast, coffee, light molasses, some citrus notes coming from the hops ever so slightly. Fresh strawberries and a little boozy.

The taste is much the same. The front is roast malt, bits of chocolate and espresso. Malt balls even. Very clean finish with some herbal hops balancing nicely with the dark malts. It has a nice bitter bite on the back of the tongue. Very little sweetness.

The carbonation is a moderate, slightly oily body yet remains full. This finishes super smooth and semi-dry.

There are many reasons why I lived closer to this place. One is this beer, the other is the mug club and the brew pub itself.

This isn't a porter or a stout, but it's damn good.
Black ale it is.

 874 characters

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

Pours super dark, just about a black, into a Great Divide goblet. Mocha head forms nicely into a small ring with some bubbles of lacing. Smells roasty. Coffee, bitter espresso, with hints of a vanilla milk chocolate. Notes of dark blackberries are there as well. Taste is delicious. Coffee stout-like, but with a nice complement of bitterness. It is smooth with a Heath Bar like flavor of toffee and caramel malts while the coffee lingers into a bitter, well-balanced state. Carbonation gives it a nice sting as it goes down too smoothly for its alcohol content. I'm glad Dark Horse is now in MA. Michigan is doing some good things with beer.

 642 characters

Photo of bwiechmann
3.9/5  rDev -0.8%
look: 4 | smell: 4 | taste: 4 | feel: 4 | overall: 3.5

Pours a nearly impenetrable black which seems to suck light from the room. The mocha head pours one finger thick with a pretty aggressive pour and slowly dissipates to a ring. It almost looks menacing- beautiful.

The smell is delicious. Perfectly roasted malts with a backbone of french roast coffee and bitter chocolate. Some faint camp fire smoke notes round off a great smelling beer.

The taste is wonderfully complex. Starts you off with some non-sweet dark, pitted fruits and then melds seamlessly into a noticeable roasted coffee. The malt on the back end is wonderful and leaves a slight bittertone on the tongue.

Personally, mouthfeel for me was perfect. Half way between porter and stout describes it nicely. Mild carbonation.

Drinkability is pretty good- the abv is nearly imperceptible and goes down easily.

 822 characters

Photo of britzdog
4.85/5  rDev +23.4%
look: 4.5 | smell: 4.5 | taste: 5 | feel: 5 | overall: 5


 286 characters

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.

 656 characters

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.

 615 characters

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.

 1,482 characters

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?

 676 characters

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.

 1,423 characters

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.

 427 characters

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.

 1,155 characters

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.

 348 characters

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.

 545 characters

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.

 455 characters

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.

 584 characters

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.

 406 characters

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.

 812 characters

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.

 726 characters

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.

 1,435 characters

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.

 986 characters

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.

 1,136 characters

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.

 619 characters

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.

 928 characters

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.

 1,505 characters

Dark Horse Reserve Special Black Ale from Dark Horse Brewing Company
Beer rating: 3.93 out of 5 with 1,264 ratings