Extra Special Ale (ESA)
Yards Brewing Co.

Extra Special Ale (ESA)Extra Special Ale (ESA)
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Bitter - English Extra Special / Strong Bitter (ESB)
Ranked #101
Ranked #35,858
3.74 | pDev: 12.03%
Yards Brewing Co.
Pennsylvania, United States
Extra Special Ale (ESA)Extra Special Ale (ESA)
Notes: Our first ever and most beloved brew, ESA helped establish a following for cask-conditioned beer in the United States back in the ‘90s. East Kent Golding hops give this English style ale a subtle spiciness, which compliments its strong malt backbone. Hints of chocolate and caramel round out this deep chestnut colored ale. Floral, earthy, smooth.
Reviews: 274 | Ratings: 648 | Log in to view all ratings and sort
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HattedClassic from Virginia

4.18/5  rDev +11.8%
look: 4 | smell: 4 | taste: 4.25 | feel: 4.25 | overall: 4.25

Beer pours a nice head. Beer is a nice brown color. Good strong malty note in the smell. Caramel with a light toffee roast comes upfront. Hops are florals but dominated by the malt. Taste is a bit more balanced but still malt heavy. Caramel notes upfront and a floral yet earthy hop note to keep it from being too sweet. Good medium body with nice thickness to it and a biting carbonation. Delicious and a great ESB.

Aug 17, 2019
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JA_26 from Pennsylvania

4.06/5  rDev +8.6%
look: 4 | smell: 4.25 | taste: 4 | feel: 4 | overall: 4

One of the first local craft brews I had starting many years ago, so it holds a fond spot in my heart, but I've noticed some batch inconsistency with ESA. When it's on, it's really on - superb balance of malt and hops. But sometimes I've gotten an off batch - not just a bottle or two, but the entire six pack or case. Fortunately that's only happened twice so far in many years of drinking ESA. But when it happened it was really disappointing.

Feb 08, 2019
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mynie from Maryland

4.27/5  rDev +14.2%
look: 4.5 | smell: 4.25 | taste: 4.25 | feel: 4.25 | overall: 4.25

This is basically an older-school ESB only slightly Americanized. That is extremely something I enjoy.

Pour is brown and medium hazy with a nice head. They give you full imperial pints at the Yard's brewery.

Aroma is malt-heavy: toasty and nicely ashen. Not biscuity to toffee-sweet, like most English ESB's, although that works here because it compliments the dry, spicy goldings hops.

Tastes like it smells: malt-forward but with a lovely hop balance. It's a milder ale, and not particularly bitter even by the standards of the late 1990s when it was introduced, but it's still a fantastically brewed beer that's a delight to drink.

Jan 14, 2019
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Skywave from Oklahoma

2.82/5  rDev -24.6%
look: 4 | smell: 2.5 | taste: 2.75 | feel: 2.75 | overall: 3

Pours to lacey buff head and clear red amber
Sweet crystal malts and...bubblegum?
Starts sweets ends tangy
Somewhat sugary and astringent. CO2 high for style.
Drinkable but heavily stylized. Not a true ESB.

Oct 24, 2018
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nick_perry from North Carolina

3.15/5  rDev -15.8%
look: 3.5 | smell: 3.5 | taste: 3 | feel: 3 | overall: 3

Orange color, rising bubbles, and a lingering ½ finger head. No noticeable aromas. A little bitter at first, transitioning to an interesting dank earthiness.

Dec 31, 2017
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thebeers from Pennsylvania

3.78/5  rDev +1.1%
look: 3.75 | smell: 3.75 | taste: 3.75 | feel: 4 | overall: 3.75

Clear orange amber with a couple fingers of tan-tinted head.

Yeasty, bready aroma aroma and taste, with some sweet caramel malt character, a hint of spice (nutmeg or cinnamon maybe?) and a modest hop bitterness on the back end.

Medium bodied with a prickly feel. Nice, quality brew.

Aug 19, 2017
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GreesyFizeek from New York

4.34/5  rDev +16%
look: 4.5 | smell: 4.25 | taste: 4.25 | feel: 4.5 | overall: 4.5

On tap at Yards Brewing Company in Philadelphia, PA.

This one pours a dark, slightly hazy amber, with a small head, and a good amount of lacing.

Smells like grassy hops, orange, caramel, and toasted brown bread.

This is one of the better ESBs that I've had. It's got a nice clean bitter finish, with grass and orange as the dominant hop flavors. There's a great malt backbone, it's nicely toasty and warm tasting, a little bit of not too sweet caramel, etc.

This is light bodied, with a very crisp mouthfeel, and a good level of carbonation.

They pretty much nailed the style here. It's quite wonderful.

Oct 11, 2016
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dacrza1 from New Jersey

4.14/5  rDev +10.7%
look: 4 | smell: 3.75 | taste: 4.25 | feel: 4.5 | overall: 4.25

DATE: September 2, 2016... OCCASION: much work was done today, of the spreadsheet variety... GLASSWARE: Barley Creek pint... dark amber, almost opaque body that evokes a black and tan... the creamy head, off-white and smooth, almost lactic... tough to see, but bubbly enough... nutty, caramel sweet, slightly buttery with some suggestion of citrus and hop... the first sip is sweet, soft, smooth and savory--easily can see how this "helped establish" a cask ale following... flavorful, caramel-empowered, malt-forward profile... the nuttiness is also pronounced, with a lingering citrus--orange, mostly , with grapefruit--with pear strengthening the flavor... glass lacing is thick, filmy and significant... a delicious, full-bodied ESB that finishes strongly and invites the next... at 6% ABV, substantial but drinkable...

Sep 03, 2016
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Jacobier10 from New Jersey

3.82/5  rDev +2.1%
look: 3.75 | smell: 3.5 | taste: 4 | feel: 4 | overall: 3.75

On cask @ Half Moon Restaurant & Saloon in Kennett Square, PA.

Deep amber/brown color and good clarity around the edges. Average sized white head with good retention. Mild aroma of lightly toasted malt and light fruity hops. Smooth, biscuity and caramel malt flavor balanced with ample hop bitterness. Medium bodied with low carbonation, as this was from the cask. A great candidate for being served on cask.

May 05, 2016
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PA-hunter from Pennsylvania

3.74/5  rDev 0%
look: 3.75 | smell: 4 | taste: 3.5 | feel: 4 | overall: 3.75

Poured 12oz bottle into snifter glass. 6% abv

Appearance- Pours a dark brown with a reddish tint. Heavy two finger head that steadily dissipates. Very clear.

Smell- Caramel, roasted malt, with an extra layer of molasses like sweetness. Some grains in there as well.

Taste- A toasted cracker taste is evident of a roasy malt which lingers on to a quite nutty flavor, still carrying on the toasted flavor. Sweet caramel mixes in with very faint chocolate notes, yet still has a slight medicinal taste. Hop bitterness is well present on the back end, but also never loses that sweet taste.

Mouthfeel- Medium in body with lively carbonation.

Overall- An interesting style not common which makes this beer stand out. Very complex. It has characteristics of a brown ale, a pale ale, and a porter all in one which is very interesting. Worth a try for sure.

Sep 04, 2015
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JPowell712 from Pennsylvania

3.18/5  rDev -15%
look: 3.5 | smell: 3 | taste: 3.25 | feel: 3 | overall: 3.25

It was a nice beer, but for me nothing special. It had a nice brown pour almost like an iced tea color. The aroma was almost sweet but not very strong. The taste was good. It was spicy and malty and had a nice alcoholic kick to it. This is a brewery in my hometown of Philadelphia so I can get these relatively cheap but very fresh. This beer is a nice offering, just my my favorite from them.

Jun 15, 2015
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Wiffler27 from North Carolina

4.25/5  rDev +13.6%
look: 4.5 | smell: 3.75 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 4.25 | overall: 4.25

pours a deep amber with a thick head, looks real nice

smell is nutty and sweet, a solid malt

taste is clean and malty with solid bitterness. a nice 6% ale to be honest

easy to drink and full of flavor, a great British style ale

Mar 06, 2015
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bigdeuce from Pennsylvania

3.88/5  rDev +3.7%
look: 4 | smell: 4 | taste: 3.75 | feel: 3.75 | overall: 4

Pours a deep copper color with a nice tan head. Scents of roasted chestnuts on the nose with a floral hop note. Lacing with every sip. Huge hop flavor for an ESB. A bit out of balance for the style. Toasted, nutty, with a hint of hazelnuts on the front with an explosion of citrusy hops on the back. Very sessionable beer an especially nice in the fall. Yard's English style ales stand up to the big ones from Great Britain.

Nov 01, 2014
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DuaneL from New Jersey

4.25/5  rDev +13.6%
look: 4.25 | smell: 4.25 | taste: 4.25 | feel: 4.25 | overall: 4.25

This is a yummy malty ale. In the bottle, might be a 4, but def. better on tap/ in a growler. Very drinkable! The foam stayed well overnight in the growler by the way. In our mind this is really a ESB.

Sep 01, 2014
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stevoj from Idaho

3.55/5  rDev -5.1%
look: 3 | smell: 3.5 | taste: 3.75 | feel: 3.25 | overall: 3.5

Cask offering at O’Neal’s Pub. The cask variety adds an element of sourness to the normally bitter nature of this beer. Nice woody, dried fruit aroma, more dried fruit in the taste. This is more of a sipper, bringing to mind dubbels and sours. Nicely done!

May 30, 2014
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delta490 from Virginia

4.04/5  rDev +8%
look: 4.25 | smell: 4 | taste: 4 | feel: 4.25 | overall: 4

Pours a deep, rich, clear brown. Like nice, handmade antique furniture brown. Has a good cap of creamy off-white head that just sits there throughout and provides a lot of sticky lacing. The aroma is dark bread malt and dark fruit sweetness. The taste starts with the malt sweetness and transitions into the nice hops bitterness. There's a great weight to the body and a silky mouthfeel. This is a great ESB.

May 01, 2014
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ThePaintedGrey from Pennsylvania

3.69/5  rDev -1.3%
look: 3.25 | smell: 3.5 | taste: 3.75 | feel: 4 | overall: 3.75

12oz. bottle poured into pint glass. Reviewing from notes.

A: Pours a dark copper with a small light khaki colored head. Head retention is weak. Head fades down to a small ring of bubbles along the edges. Some semblances of lacing left behind.

S: Some caramel malts with a fair amount of grain and breadiness. Light hint of herbal hops. Maybe a little bit of dark fruit underneath, but there was too many aromas present in the room to decipher specifics.

T: Similar to the taste. Caramel malt, slightly burnt, balanced nicely by hop bitterness. Bitterness is confined nicely, as to appeal to those not into full-on hop assaults. Some nice bready, yeasty flavors paired with light hops in the finish.

M: Very solid medium body with good carbonation. Crisp, but smooth on the palate and drinks easy. Goes down great and doesn't fill you up too much.

O: Not a world-class brew, but a damn good offering from fellow Philly locals. This one would truly shine in a bar setting, or even at a dinner table. On its own, there's better choices, but this definitely isn't disappointing. Worth a shot.

Feb 25, 2014
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Slatetank from Pennsylvania

3.61/5  rDev -3.5%
look: 3.5 | smell: 3.75 | taste: 3.5 | feel: 3.5 | overall: 3.75

I had this from the bottle, enjoyed chilled in a teku purchased from Giant Beer Garden & eatery

The color is walnut brown with translucent clarity and thick beige head with average bead and lace. The smell is toasted grain with mild yeast esters bringing a slight creamy sweet aroma. The feel is good with moderately high carbonation mild roasted texture and creamy semi-dry finish with mild sweetness in general.

The flavor has a subtle toffee and toasted malt presence with yeast bringing out a woody hop flavor near the middle with a slight alcohol warmth in the taste with slight spice and creamy caramel. Overall not a bad beer, pretty malty example of the style and on the high end of the alcohol for and ESB, but pretty tasty I would enjoy this on draft if offered.

Dec 03, 2013
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Dix90 from Pennsylvania

3.09/5  rDev -17.4%
look: 3.75 | smell: 2.75 | taste: 3.25 | feel: 3 | overall: 3

Appearance: dark brown with a slight reddish hue. Bubbly white head with little to no lacing.

Aroma: Spiciness and caramel malts up front followed by earthy tones. Sweetness kicks in then the slight burn of alcohol in the back of the nostrils.

Taste: The taste follows the nose with spicy hops, sweet maltiness and a toasty roastiness. Taste sits happily on the tongue with a bitter warmness.

Mouthfeel: full feel that swishes pleasantly. Sits nicely on the whole mouth.

Overall: very enjoyable, as part of the yards variety pack I enjoy it as often as all the others in the pack (except the brawler). A good but not great beer.

Nov 11, 2013
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scotorum from Massachusetts

4.23/5  rDev +13.1%
look: 4.25 | smell: 4.25 | taste: 4.25 | feel: 4 | overall: 4.25

Poured from the 12 oz. bottle into a Sam Adams English Nonic glass

a: Deep clear amber, finger thick off-white head receded to even surface film and considerable lacing.

s: Caramel malt.

t: Caramel malt forward, some hop balance behind. Sweet to dry finish.

m: Moderate, nice and smooth.

o: A very good American representation of an English style ESB. Not as malty sweet as it might be, or rather more bitter than it might be, but that may be the result of the American influence. I would buy this again next time I'm in the Philadelphia area, since although it is highly a regarded brewery in the eastern PA/NJ area, it is not widely distributed.

Oct 25, 2013
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Jeffreysan from Maryland

3.57/5  rDev -4.5%
look: 4.75 | smell: 4 | taste: 3.25 | feel: 3.25 | overall: 3.5

12 oz bottle poured into a pint glass

Appearance: Pours a gorgeous dark caramel/brown color with a quarter of a finger of white-colored head that disappeared into a thin lacing of foam that covered the entirety of the top of the beer.

Aroma: Very malty with some slight roasty notes too. Very bready, with some slight herbal notes.

Taste: Slight malt flavors in the front, followed by a hoppy finish, but not too hoppy. Some good caramel notes too, but overall a little thin in the flavor. Not impressed.

Mouthfeel: Medium. The beer is slightly smooth, with some good carbonation to tickle the tastebuds.

Overall: This is a pretty good beer, but not one of my favorite beers from yards. I much prefer the Tavern Ale, Tavern Spruce and George Washington Tavern Porter over this ESA.

Aug 29, 2013
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DrDemento456 from Pennsylvania

3.69/5  rDev -1.3%
look: 3.75 | smell: 3.5 | taste: 3.75 | feel: 3.75 | overall: 3.75

A - One dark ESB clear in color with a 1/2 inch of mocha head.
S - Smell is well... mild. Hops and malts with some tea leaves but its mostly faint.
T+M - Quite smooth tasting with mild herbal hops, some bready tones, bitter tea leaves, and a clean malt sweetness. Despite it's higher than average ABV it drinks like to medium in body.

OverallI may get this again, or the IPA but most likely the DIPA. Damn tasty!

Aug 22, 2013
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metter98 from New York

3.68/5  rDev -1.6%
look: 4 | smell: 3.5 | taste: 3.75 | feel: 3.5 | overall: 3.75

A: The beer is very dark reddish amber in color and has a moderate amount of visible carbonation. It poured with a finger high light beige head that gradually died down, leaving a thin head covering the surface and lots of lacing down the sides of the glass.
S: Light aromas of herbal hops and earthy yeast are present in the nose.
T: The taste is similar to the smell, except that the malts impart light amounts of toasted malt flavors and faint hints of sweetness while the hops lend a very slight amount of bitterness.
M: It feels a bit more than light-bodied on the palate and has a moderate amount of carbonation.
O: This beer is very easy to drink and seems to have a good balance between the malts and hops.

Jul 16, 2013
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WissBrauSean from Pennsylvania

3.71/5  rDev -0.8%
look: 5 | smell: 4 | taste: 3.5 | feel: 3.5 | overall: 3.5

I poured this beer at about 55 degrees F from a bottle into a standard pint and it has a very deep amber to mahogany colour that is crystal clear with a one finger tan head of super fine bubbles that stay as a nice thin cap on the beer and leave and excellent dragon tooth pattern on the glass.

The aroma is of toasted malts, bread, and raisins with a faint whiff of corn in the background. I could be confusing that with something else, but it resembles corn. It's really pleasant considering.

The taste starts off sweet on the tongue and as it travels back it releases dark fruits with bread and as the beer comes to a close hop bitters that seem earthy to me coat the tongue and the back of the tongue where some spicy black pepper comes through leaving a mild but dry end to the beer that seems slightly more bitter than some ESAs. And if you wait long enough, you will taste a medicinal taste like Band-Aid's smell or like pine sol. It's very faint, but I see what people are talking about. That may be the hops. Interesting. It's like a band-aid on my tongue. I'm not sure that I like that.

The mouthfeel is a bit silky and sweet with a medium body, but it leaves a coat on my tongue that is a product of the dry hops I am assuming. The carbonation is around moderate.

Overall, I am not too happy with this beer. It's good, don't get me wrong, but don't think I will seek this out in bottle again. I have had this on tap and it was a different experience. A much better one. The corn aroma and the Band_Aid flavours really put me off as well as it was a bit too bitter for my taste and, I feel, the style if indeed it is an Extra Special/Strong Ale. I will still give it a mid to high 3's out of five. It's not crap, but it's just not for me.

Apr 16, 2013
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tone77 from Pennsylvania

3.37/5  rDev -9.9%
look: 4 | smell: 3.25 | taste: 3.25 | feel: 3.5 | overall: 3.5

Poured from a brown 12 oz. bottle. Has a bronze color with a 1/2 inch head. Smell is mild, a bit of malts. Taste is well balanced malts an hops, a bit light, easy drinking but just seems to be lacking any punch. Feels medium bodied in the mouth and overall is a decent beer, but nothing great.

Apr 04, 2013
Extra Special Ale (ESA) from Yards Brewing Co.
Beer rating: 84 out of 100 with 648 ratings