Extra Special Ale (ESA) | Yards Brewing Co.

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Extra Special Ale (ESA)Extra Special Ale (ESA)

Brewed by:
Yards Brewing Co.
Pennsylvania, United States

Style: Extra Special / Strong Bitter (ESB)

Alcohol by volume (ABV): 6.00%

Availability: Year-round

Notes / Commercial Description:
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.

Added by stirgy on 12-01-2001

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Reviews: 266 | Ratings: 632
Photo of stirgy
4.88/5  rDev +30.5%
look: 5 | smell: 4.5 | taste: 5 | feel: 5 | overall: 5

This was supposedly the first batch of ESA from their new brewery in Philadelphia and The Grey Lodge Pub had a conditioned cask of this beer. I had the second pint poured from it and I must say that it was truly awesome. Very creamy, murky brown color, creamy white head with a subtle malty aroma and dryness. Hints of chocolate. Spicy hop flavor which blends very well with the malts. The nearly six and a half percent alcohol content is really subdued in the flavor. Those pints were some of the best beer I have ever tasted. I have also had this beer in bottles - bought directly
from their brewery and they were excellent as well.
This is definitely a very special ale.

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Photo of UnionMade
4.87/5  rDev +30.2%
look: 4.5 | smell: 5 | taste: 5 | feel: 4 | overall: 5

The beer pours medium orangey amber, topped with a modest ivory head. The head diminishes somewhat, yet retains throughout the entire pint. Great cobwebby lacing.
The aroma is malty, with some toastiness and a very light caramel. Some biscuity aroma, with moderate, fruity esters. Hints of pear, cidery apple, and a suggestion of white grape. Mild hopping, mostly a light (fuggles?) citric aroma. Fantastic ESB aroma, with sweet malt and mild fruitiness.
The flavor is initially malty, with pronounced toasted flavor, light caramel malt, and perhaps some crystal. Some biscuity malt comes through in the middle with moderate floral/fruity esters. Light pear, cider, and apricot flavor. Hops come through lightly in the middle, adding a tanginess, building steam to provide some citric bitterness to the finish. Some white grape flavor, with a touch of yeast. Slight biscuit and white grape flavor in the aftertaste, which lingers and demands another sip. Mild, british carbonation, with a medium to full body. Absolutely superb.
A traditional english ale with complexity and flavor that really stands out from the crowd. One of the best versions of an ESB made in the US, I think. I can't begin to imagine how good this beer would be when served cask conditioned.

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Photo of dennarb
4.76/5  rDev +27.3%
look: 5 | smell: 4 | taste: 5 | feel: 5 | overall: 5

I had some Yards ESA today hand pumped at Standard Tap. It had a solid finger plus head and a clean red amber color. The first taste was good but the last was exceptional. Lots of malt beautifully complements the tangy hops. I am definitely going back for more.

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Photo of clickpush
4.61/5  rDev +23.3%
look: 4.5 | smell: 3.5 | taste: 5 | feel: 5 | overall: 5

Beautiful amber hue, bordering on ruby. Tight sticky cap of lace that hangs around until it's sucked in. Sticks to glass w every sip. Constant coat of lace an halo.
Soft & subtle aroma, slightly roasted and plenty of floral hops. Touch on tanginess... Citrus essence.
Gentle carbonation. Tons of subtle flavors: bittering hops, somewhat bitter. Lingering roast flavored finish. Lemon peel (citrus oils).

This is one of my favorite beers. Ever. At least on cask...

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Photo of nomad
4.55/5  rDev +21.7%
look: 4.5 | smell: 4.5 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 4 | overall: 5

In honor of Fergie's, Monk's, the Standard Tap, Grey Lodge, and other fine Philly bars that regularly have this beer on cask. Thank you for this offering, which comforts me week in and week out in my acclimation to this new hometown.

It takes awhile for this sweet thang to calm down after a brisk pump from a cask. Ruddy shades of brown, red, and copper appear, with a tough head that never goes away, and likes to leave stain and lace behind that would make you think it was a nitro pour. In a sturdy pint glass, as most of Philly's finest tend to serve it, this beer looks right proper.

It's a world of fresh odors down the chute that keeps on shrinking down: caramel, toffee, rose water, dried flowers, lemony herbs, a husky hop leaf reminiscent of grapefruit turned grainy, and a faint biscuit sometimes.

Simply put, its like an even, hand-crafted mix of English malts with minty herbal hop flavors washing over. As a lover of ESB's, its very tough to find a good ESB with decent availability on the market, and thats speaking of bottles. Even harder is a draught special bitter, with those fresh, sturdy, but delectable flavors of caramelly malt and refined hops. Easy to drink, as it won't be too largely this or that. Equitable, balanced, and quietly complex, like it should be. The style of ESB is not an American big flavor monster - so don't expect it to be!

A rare item: a regularly available real ale patterned after the originators in England. If you don't understand it, well, that's a shame. If you'd like to, go to Fergie's Pub at 13th and Sansom in Philadelphia, PA where its the cheapest and best beer on draught. Well-appreciated.

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Photo of NJpadreFan
4.5/5  rDev +20.3%
look: 4.5 | smell: 4.5 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 4.5 | overall: 4.5

Yards- Extra Special

Appearance- Reddish copper with a thick lacing head.
Smell- Malt and cherries?!
Taste- Big malt flavor, like it was slighty toasted and I detect a sweet cherry flavor balancing it all out. Slight oak undertones.
Mouthfeel- Thick and smooth. Big flavor that makes you take big gulps.

Overall- Man, this was good. I drank it in 7 or 8 gulps! This goes into my top 10 easily!!

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Photo of francisweizen
4.5/5  rDev +20.3%
look: 4.5 | smell: 4.5 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 4.5 | overall: 4.5

On cask at several Philly bars over the past few months (Standard Tap, McMenamins, Etc...). Dark amber and slightly muddy in appearance with an unusually fluffy head for a cask brew. The aromas are all sweet UK bready malts and some nice UK hopping is in use here as well. The taste is lovely with a sweet maltiness in the foreground and a slightly nutty hopiness in the background. The mouthfeel is cask greatness and the drinkability is great as well. One of the best non-UK sessions beers I have ever tasted!

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Photo of number1bum
4.47/5  rDev +19.5%
look: 4 | smell: 4.5 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 4.5 | overall: 4.5

Previously had this beer about 2 years ago and thought it was decent, but it was right before they stopped brewing for awhile amidst some ownership or other changes. Trying it again from a mixed case.

Pours a reddish dark copper color with about a finger and a half of tan head. Keeps a full but somewhat thin lace, and leaves a ring or two of stick.

Smell is quite fruity and floral, with some buttery caramel and toffee as well. This is pretty much exactly what I think an ESB ought to smell like; it's pungent and very pleasant.

Taste is every bit as good. Great toffee and caramel flavor, with a dark, almost chocolaty malt flavor as well. Subtle buttery quality. Floral, fruity hops as well. Some hop bitterness in the finish too. Extremely smooth and well put together, and full of flavor.

Mouthfeel is a very creamy medium body, with a nice slickness to it. Carbonation is on the soft side and I can imagine that this beer is an absolute beauty on cask. Has a dryness in the finish too, with the hop bitterness.

I must say that this is a ton better than I remember it from my previous sampling. Lots of flavor and very well balanced and smooth. This is an outstanding ESB and I would actually buy a case of this, which is saying something because there are very few beers I'd want a whole case of at a time. Great session beer. Worth seeking out.

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Photo of oberon
4.43/5  rDev +18.4%
look: 4.5 | smell: 4 | taste: 5 | feel: 4 | overall: 4

I reviewed this in the bottle and finally tried this out of the machine,very very nice.Poured a amber color with nice medium sticky head the aroma was nice and fruity with a chocolate background.The taste shines in this form very sweet and chocolaty up front with that fruitiness in the rear and the hop dryeness in the wonderful finish.A definent malt based beer just 10 times better on cask a great experience for a beer geek.

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Photo of orfeu
4.4/5  rDev +17.6%
look: 4 | smell: 4 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 4 | overall: 5

On tap at Cole's. Coppered orange with a dense, creamy off-white head. The aroma is subtle: soapy EKG hops and a slightly buttery toasted biscuit scent predominate. The buttery diacetyl flavor emerges right away, assertive, but quite enjoyable given the style. Then soapy-leafy-earthy hops come in almost immediately followed by a wonderful biscuity malt middle and slightly mineral finish. Smooth mouthfeel, moderately prickly carbonation and medium body. All around, a great beer experience that warranted a second and third round. I ordered this expecting something enjoyable but middle-of-the-road all the same, but it turned out to be a real knockout. Extremely drinkable (perhaps only when fresh?) ESB. Recommended.

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Photo of Bouleboubier
4.38/5  rDev +17.1%
look: 4.5 | smell: 4 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 4.5 | overall: 4.5

Yards makes a dependably wondrous ESB. It's pretty much been constantly on cask at one of my favorite Philly bars, the Abbaye, for years.

Allow me to offer up front that Yards version of an ESB, while in many ways a smart, accurate representation of the style, kicks up the palate a notch or two, presenting a thumpier, decidedly American interpretation.

Pours with a generously fat, compact, cream-ish head each time. Leathery rust color - a little on the dark(er) side. This beer must not have laced in awhile, because it was lacing huge messy loads all up and down the glass. Thump.

Hoppier in the nose than is traditional - hoppier than from the bottle, for sure. I'm guessing the ample, active head may be the carrier for this the enhanced hop character, eh?

Moderately strong bitterness and (in order of respective presence) toffee, caramel, and a touch of chocolate in the flavor. Bold malt backbone.

Compared to cask or out of the bottle, the growler pours sport a wee bit more carbonation, giving it a wee bit scrubbier bite on the tongue than maybe it should. That and the potent bitter of the hops give it staying power. But I ain't craving that so much.

One of the most drinkable domestic ESBs I've come across, and if it weren't for the fact that it packs a little more of everything - that is: hops, malt, and alcohol - I wouldn't hesitate to give this a 5 on drinkability. It starts to wear thin after 4-5 pints - but I strongly endorse, nonetheless.

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Photo of NeroFiddled
4.35/5  rDev +16.3%
look: 4 | smell: 4 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 4.5 | overall: 4.5

Yards ESA shines on draft, and a fresh cask or keg can can deliver a marvelous pint that draws you back again and again! This dark amber/copper ale reveals slightly-hazy orange highlights when held to the light, and a creamy dollop of short but long-lasting off-white froth atop. Bright, grassy, leafy, and floral hops greet you in the nose along with the signature Yards fruit and mineral yeastiness and wafts of hop-laced, caramel-accented malt. It's smooth across the palate with a medium body and a delicately zesty, gently restrained carbonation. Fruitiness and malt combine upfront in the flavor before it becomes a bit more complex as the leafy/grassy/floral hop flavors and a solid bitterness arrive to dry things out. It's not overly complex, but this is not a one-sided beer by any means, and that leads to a great drinkability. When it's on, it's on! And it's always worth the price of admission to see if you've found your pint for the night! Always delicious and sometimes brilliant, this is a slightly strong session-ale that's not to be missed!

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Photo of EricAleLove
4.35/5  rDev +16.3%
look: 4 | smell: 4 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 4.5 | overall: 4.5

Overall very good beer.
12oz bottle pour into glass.

A-Dark red with foam thick head on pour that went to thin head, good lacing.

S- caramel and bready roasted aroma, hops on deep smell.

T- Sweet initialy followed by toffe and chocolate notes. finish with bitterness of hops.

M- very good, crisp and smooth. low carbonation level.

D- very good, fairly balanced, chalk it to one of my favorites, good ABV wish it was slightly lower, had a couple with a light dinner.

Worth the trip to Yards and having to share with friends.

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Photo of micromaniac129
4.35/5  rDev +16.3%
look: 4 | smell: 4 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 4.5 | overall: 4.5

Pours a lovely rich amber hue. Soft carbonation under a loose foamy head. The beer itself is clear with no haze.
A nice aroma of complex malts with sutle nuiances of caramelized malts. Hop bouqet of earthy and woody notes.
There is a nice pronounced malt character here that is rather complex in it's additoode.
Hops are lightly present, bringing up the rear with a sutle earthy bite.
A medium body beer that's smooth and well rounded. It's a bit dry with a slight bitter after taste.
Classic tasting beer that's loaded with style.

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Photo of alehopman
4.35/5  rDev +16.3%
look: 4 | smell: 4 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 4.5 | overall: 4.5

On draught at the brewery. Poured slightly darker than the average pale ale with an initial large head that settled nicely to one finger. Stuck to the glass on the way down.

Aroma is of English hops, classic Fuggles/Goldings combo and a good showing of malt as well.

This has a great flavor of English malt (this brewery seems to like malt from the great island) that reminds me of a great best/premium bitter. A slight burnt caramel element is present. The brewery has a direct gas fired brew kettle and this is the likely origin of that flavor. And in keeping with that a wonderful restrained hop presence at the start with a pleasant lingering bitterness.

There aren't enough o's in smooth to describe the mouthfeel.

Drinkability...what can I say other than I would have this as a steady sessioner. Oh yeah...

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Photo of GreesyFizeek
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.

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Photo of WilliamPhilaPa
4.33/5  rDev +15.8%
look: 4.5 | smell: 4 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 4 | overall: 4.5

Pours a deep bright orange color with a head sticky, frothy, creamy head. On the nose is a slight fruity. On the palate, slightly sweet, slightly acidic, nicely hopped, slightly malted, fruitiness, hints of caramel, slighty biscuity, and nice bitterness. This stuff is great. I would have to guesstimate that this (ESA) is their biggest seller.

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Photo of kenito799
4.3/5  rDev +15%
look: 4.5 | smell: 4.5 | taste: 4 | feel: 4.5 | overall: 4.5

See my review from the bottle.
Had a cask-conditioned sample from a beer engine at Dawson's, a fine Philly beer bar in the far reaches of Roxborough/Wissahickon.

The flavors and aromas of this fine ale are augmented tremendously by the full, creamy head that is produced by the engine. This creates an outstanding mouthfeel that balances the bitterness even more. A great session beer from the cask (as long as you aren't driving home, 6% ABV!).

We visited the Yards brewery the day before I had this, and the brewer, Josh, being a huge fan of low alcohol English session beers, named the ESA and the Jefferson Tavern Ale as his personal favorites of the fine Yards pantheon. He said that he had tried producing real English-style session ales (at 3.5% ABV or so) but there just isn't a market for them in the US. While I sometimes appreciate a hugely hopped IPA, it's really not the style I favor so I am with Josh in finding the ESA really nice, and the Jefferson even better despite its 8% ABV.

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Photo of brentk56
4.3/5  rDev +15%
look: 4 | smell: 4 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 4 | overall: 4.5

Appearance: Pours a hazy medium amber color with a fluffy head that leaves a smattering of lacing behind

Smell: Caramel and earthy English hops on the nose

Taste: Starts out with a nice caramel malt flavor, with the earthy hops making their presence known by mid-palate; mineral flavors appear as well; after the swallow, the tea-like hop flavors continue to pair nicely with the caramel backbone

Mouthfeel: Medium bodied with moderate carbonation

Drinkability: Well-balanced example of the style; a great session beer

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Photo of MaineBeerMan
4.3/5  rDev +15%
look: 4 | smell: 4 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 4 | overall: 4.5

Murky dark amber color with a nice big head of off white foam. Head dissipates to a thin layer and leaves some nice lace.
Spicy hop aroma with a bit of caramel and some earthy (yeast?) notes.
Tasty sweet breadlike malt arrives first with some hints of chocolate, then the hops take over with a bitter blast on the back of the tongue that fades slowly on a rather long finish.Nice and smooth on the tongue with a medium carbonation.
This is a nice ESB, I would drink it again given the chance, I think it may be a bit underrated on the site.

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Photo of edskirk3
4.29/5  rDev +14.7%
look: 3.5 | smell: 4.5 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 4 | overall: 4

This beer was my first review on BA, and the case that I had happened to be overcarbonated, so I've decided to re-review Yards Extra Special.

A 12 oz bottle, from a Yards variety case, with a smudged freshness date/code. I'm assuming it's fairly fresh because 1) I live in Philadelphia, and 2) The box has a new design.

Also the ABV is 5.5% according to the label which disagrees with the number they have on file at this site. I guess the brewers have been tweaking the recipe. Anyway,

Pours a goldish amberish brown. Not quite a pale beer, not quite a dark one. White froth gently wears away to nearly nothing. Not much lacing.

Smells like toasted malt, caramel, and some hops; a very busy nose.

The taste is very well-balanced. There's caramel malts, hop bitterness, and a buttery creaminess. No feature dominates over another. Aftertaste is creamy with underlying hop bitterness.

The carbonation is perfect, there's just enough without being flat. Body is medium. Lips are sticky after finishing the glass.

This would do well in session, and also with novice beer drinkers. It has everything in it but is not overpowering. I wish more bars around here would have it on tap because I really think it would catch on with everyone.

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Photo of beerluvr
4.25/5  rDev +13.6%
look: 4 | smell: 4 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 4.5 | overall: 4

Slight medium tan head settles over clear amber tinged reddish liquid. Excellent classic ESB nose: biscuity/sweet malt and fresh hoppiness balanced to perfection. The taste was more hoppy than malty sweet, the dryness of the hops really compliments the malt base. The complex flavors were all the more complex on this cask version. Finished long and bittersweet.

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Photo of scotorum
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.

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Photo of donniecuffs
4.22/5  rDev +12.8%
look: 3.5 | smell: 4 | taste: 4 | feel: 4.5 | overall: 5

Into an American pint glass; poured amber/brown with one finger of off-white head and decent lacing. Smelled of molasses, honey, and malt. The taste revealed caramel apple, maple syrup, honey, and maltiness; dissolving to a sweet finish. Creamy, medium-bodied, modestly-carbonated texture. Good session beer. Couldn't help but wonder how this would taste on cask.

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Photo of rfgetz
4.21/5  rDev +12.6%
look: 4.5 | smell: 3.5 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 4 | overall: 4.5

A - Cloudy copper in appearance, although very little head from hand pumping, leaves thin rings after each sip

S - Light malt and grains, notes of carmel. Not aggressive like some other English Bitters.

T - think cereal (malt, grain, slightly nutty)

M - Nice body to it, lets me know what im drinking.

D - Very good, drinkable session beer. Great balance of flavors, nothing too overpowering. Some other ESBs may be more robust, but the balance is welcome.

Note: Hand pumped is the way to go on this one, but the bottles, although slightly more mild, are still very good in their own right.

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Extra Special Ale (ESA) from Yards Brewing Co.
3.74 out of 5 based on 632 ratings.
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