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: 267 | Ratings: 632
Photo of wheelinshirt
1.85/5  rDev -50.7%
look: 2 | smell: 2 | taste: 1.5 | feel: 2.5 | overall: 2

Really disappointed with this one. I have had their IPA before and i remember enjoying it, but this beer was a mess. Way too carbonated and not balanced at all. The hops and carbonation drown out any malt character. I also got a metallic taste to this one that stayed for some time. Not an enjoyable beer.

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Photo of jtierney89
2/5  rDev -46.7%
look: 2 | smell: 2 | taste: 2 | feel: 2 | overall: 2

Nice garnet color with perfect clarity and a tall peach colored head. Slightly roasted malt on the nose with underlying earthy hops and dark fruit. Kind of complex nose, not over bearing but lots of scents. Bread crusts, toast with jam, buttered biscuit, smells like an english tea house.

Burnt slightly bitter malt up front. Body's on the lighter side, lots of carbonation. Tastes of biscuits covered in very jammy jelly on the mid palate. Finishes extremely dry but leaves a deep fruit after taste. The fruit presence is by no means big but in my personal opinion too big for the style. The bitterness employed primarily by the roasted malt though is very nice. Unfortunately the fruit aspects of this beer do not play well with the earthy hop finish or burnt malt presence. If it was gone I'd love this beer. Oh well.

Clean and dry, just that damn overbearing fruit.

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Photo of beernut7
2.09/5  rDev -44.3%
look: 3.5 | smell: 2 | taste: 2 | feel: 2 | overall: 2

Pours a hazy straw color with a creamy head. A heavy yeast aroma is predominant and hints at improper storage before purchase. The brew is overly hoppy with a harsh mouthfeel and minimum malt presence. A floral hop spice starts to work it way though toward the bottom of the glass. I have a feeling this is an old bottle that has been stored at a to-high temperature. The whole brew hints at a great beer, but the flaws of this bottle eclipse the goodness.

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Photo of mentor
2.17/5  rDev -42.1%
look: 2 | smell: 2.5 | taste: 2 | feel: 2.5 | overall: 2

Thanks to Francisweizen for this one. Freshness stamp is 042306. Pours a ridiculouos 4 finger head from just half of the bottle. WTF? Light tan head over a very cloudy orange rust liquid. Decent lacing left on the glass. Smells tangy. Mango, orange, and pine sol. Tastes tart to start. Frutiy with an early burst of carbonation on the front flat of my tongue. Yeasty and malty in the middle with some acrid carbonation piercing a bit gently. The very end has a dish-soapy twang that I don't like, and it's combined with chalky malt character. Aftertaste is a sequel of the tart start. I also get a metallic character that I'm wondering if it's hops or just a result of foul preparation. This beer sucks. There is an amazing sameness between this beer and their Philadelphia Pale Ale, although the pale ale has noticable citrus hop character. Mouthfeel is medium, I guess. It's hard to tel, because the moment I start to swirl the beer in my mouth it explodes into a glob of foam. This beer is vastly overcarbonated.

Edit: Wow, this beer received the lowest score I've ever given. I've only reviewed craft beers up to this point...time for me to dig into some macro-swill.

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Photo of woodychandler
2.7/5  rDev -28%
look: 3 | smell: 3 | taste: 2.5 | feel: 3 | overall: 2.5

The gravity pour created only thin wisps of head. Color was a hazy amber, kind of like weak tea. The nose was lightly malty, definitely on the sweet side. Mouthfeel was medium with a mild bitterness on the tongue. Finish had a mild bitterness, but mothing worth getting excited about. Personally, I felt it was the least of the three, to include Brawler and PHL PA, on that particular Cask Night.

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Photo of AlexJ
2.73/5  rDev -27.2%
look: 4 | smell: 3.5 | taste: 2 | feel: 3.5 | overall: 2.5

Clear, dark chestnut brown pour with a frothy beige head that leaves thick deposits of crusty lace as it slowly fades.

Aroma is quite simple, caramel malts, a bit of buttered bread, and some jumbled hop notes.

Flavor is very diactyl, with buttery caramel followed by sharp, bitter hops that take no form or profile. Just plain bitterness, and ratrher unpleasant.

Medium bodied, with a chewy, creamy mouthfeel and soft carbonation. Very difficult for me to finish due to the unpleasant bitterness, which doesn't happen too often.

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Photo of budgood1
2.78/5  rDev -25.9%
look: 3.5 | smell: 3 | taste: 2.5 | feel: 3.5 | overall: 2.5

this special ale pours out a very cloudy dark ruby color. yeasty dregs and a foamy head. hard to pin down aroma....almost antiseptic...with some other malty notes. strange, not recognizable flavors. it's like sucking on plastic...slight spice characteristics...hints of belgian like fruity maltiness. hops seem earthy and grassy. medium mouthfeel and smooth in character and finish. either i have little experience appreciating this style of bitter or i'm just not used to it. not really that enjoyable to me.

thanks to frank4sail for the sample!

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Photo of LilBeerDoctor
2.86/5  rDev -23.7%
look: 4 | smell: 3 | taste: 2.5 | feel: 3 | overall: 3

On tap at Tria. Pours amber with a thick tan head. Aroma of light sweet malt and raisins. Flavor is pretty much dominated by raisins. Weak palate and I'm not a fan of the flavor either.
Aroma: 6/10
Appearance: 4/5
Flavor: 5/10
Palate: 3/5
Overall: 13/20

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Photo of cubedbee
2.92/5  rDev -22.1%
look: 4 | smell: 2 | taste: 3.5 | feel: 3 | overall: 2.5

Pours a dark reddish copper with a finger of loose head which sticks around as a ring all the way through the beer. Aroma is a little caramel, a little floral hops, and unforunately a little soy sauce. This is the second ESB I've tried where I smelled soy sauce, so it might be something with me, but it's definitely offputting. Luckily, the smell doesn't carry over to the taste. The taste is a caramel malt with a slight buttery flavor and a fairly strong floral hop finish leaving some lingering bitterness. Mouthfeel is a little too carbonated and prickly on the tongue. The smell ruins this beer for me, but even without it I'd say it's only an average brew.

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Photo of TheFightfan1
2.99/5  rDev -20.3%
look: 4 | smell: 2.5 | taste: 3 | feel: 3.5 | overall: 3

poured into my BA mug. Pours a cloudy amber color with a thick off white heading. Very good lacing.

Smell is malty,kind of bitter with some dark fruit's and some spice hop's.

Taste is very bitter and kind of sour. Dry aftertaste,also kind of yeasty.

Mouth is medium bodied with decent carbonation.

Drink is ok, nothing spectacular but for 6.3% Abv I guess it's average.

I was disappointed with this beer I had high hopes going in but a big letdown in the end.

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Photo of mactrail
3.01/5  rDev -19.7%
look: 3.5 | smell: 2.5 | taste: 3 | feel: 4 | overall: 3

Large and malty. Great big flavors of juniper, resins, dank malt. Tastes like it's been sweetened and spiced, like some kind of holiday grog. Tastes good at first sip, but gets weirder as you drink.

Served in a big English imperial pint nonic. Pulled from the fake hand pump. Plenty of carbonation and a nice sudsy foam, with lots of lacing in the glass. No aroma to speak of. Winey and tastes like some new kind of Long Island Iced Tea. On the cask at Local 44 in Philadelphia. Interesting but I don't get it. [Transcribed from notes written on 05/30/2012 visit.]

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Photo of Knapp85
3.03/5  rDev -19.2%
look: 4 | smell: 3.5 | taste: 2.5 | feel: 3.5 | overall: 3

This beer pours out as a brownish copper color that looks quite nice in the glass. The head in pretty good too, it kinda shrinks down to a thin film that lays on top of the beer as you drink. The aroma wasn't too bad. I found it to be pretty good on the nose. The flavor kinda disappointed me a bit. I felt that the bitterness of the beer wasn't all there. I feel that it was kind of avoided or forgotten. To me this just didn't taste much like an ESB. The mouthfeel is pretty good, it's a medium body with some light carbonation.

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Photo of Braudog
3.05/5  rDev -18.7%
look: 3 | smell: 3 | taste: 3.5 | feel: 1.5 | overall: 3

Bottle at my personal mecca, Brickskeller, Washington. Dark copper with a thin head. Metallic caramel aroma. Thin body. Bit grainy, gristy and carameled, but overall the thinness detracts far too much. Gets a bit better as it warms with more malt bases, boosting my impression. (#2775, 4/6/2007)

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Photo of Romulus141
3.08/5  rDev -17.9%
look: 4 | smell: 3.5 | taste: 3 | feel: 3 | overall: 2.5

Poured into a pilsner glass.

Appearance: Pours a nice, dark, golden brown. With an aggressive pour a half inch thick head will appear, but dissipates. A ring of foam remains around the edge, and lacing sticks to the edges of the glass. What's interesting is that in the pilsner, the bottom of the beverage appears to be lighter in color than the top, for a cool hue balancing effect. Quite nice.

Smell: Sweet smell, although there is some alcohol aromas there are still present. Not too much to intrude, but the alcohol smell is definitely there. The sweet aroma is faint.

Taste: Starts sweet with some earthy tastes, and is followed up with a bitter kick as it leaves to go down the throat. The aftertaste lingers a little longer than I would have liked. Some taste of alcohol is there too.

Mouthfeel: Some body, but not thick. Slick as it passes over the tongue, but nothing overly impressive. Nothing that stood out to me.

Drinkability: I could drink a number of these easily. However, they're not my favorite. I would probably reach for something else over this, mostly because of the bitter aftertaste.

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Photo of EmoBeerGuy
3.09/5  rDev -17.6%
look: 2.5 | smell: 3.5 | taste: 3 | feel: 3 | overall: 3

I think I may have gotten a bad batch of this ale and for that reason this review is pending my trying this one over again.

This one has little head and had a lot of chunky setiment on the bottom (for this reason i think it may have turned). Flavor wasn't horrible though. Tasted much like an English ESB and works well within that style which, really, isn't one of my favorites. Anyways, a fairly easy drinking beer. One that I WILL try again.

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Photo of Dix90
3.09/5  rDev -17.6%
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.

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Photo of kbutler1
3.1/5  rDev -17.3%
look: 3 | smell: 3 | taste: 3 | feel: 4 | overall: 3

Bottle. Pours a very deep reddish rust mahagony color with surprisingly a very small head of slight tan that collars around the glass. Lots of wheat in the nose but thats really all I am getting. No real hops aroma. Sweet malty taste with a hop and wheat flavored after taste. Lingering bitterness. Medium mouthfeel. Not terrible but not great either. Kind of just ok.

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Photo of gr0g
3.13/5  rDev -16.5%
look: 3.5 | smell: 3 | taste: 3 | feel: 3.5 | overall: 3.25

Review from notes taken on 01/15/2012.

Dark mahogany in color with a one-finger white head. Some lace curtains are left behind. Aroma is primarily of caramel and toffee notes from the malt, while a floral hop note backs them up.

Toffee malt and fruity esters on the palate. Hops contribute a a pronounced bitterness, but one that's well below IPA levels. A slight solvent presence on the finish detracts from the experience. I think I'd pay a little extra and pick up some Fuller's ESB over this.

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Photo of akorsak
3.15/5  rDev -16%
look: 3.5 | smell: 3.5 | taste: 3 | feel: 3 | overall: 3

A 12 oz bottle courtesy of guinnessfan.

A: The esb is a slightly hazy brown color that has some auburn orange highlights. The head was thick on pour, measuring almost 2 fingers and has left a small covering of lace in the glass.

S: The aroma is malty, primarily a nut flavor. I also pick up a hint of cinnamon or nutmeg floating around with the malt. Hops providing a strong bitter component.

T: The ale strives to be a good esb but falls short on several fronts. The malty body is nutty but seems to have a spicy edge. As the ale warms, the malt body comes out a bit more but never really dominates. The hops are not especially bitter either, barely even registering taste-wise.

M: The ale is more spicy than bitter, it creates an enjoyable taste and body even if it isn't quite ESB material.

D: The alcohol is creeping upward with the ale, limiting the drinkability. The strange spicy body would most likely cause me to pass on a 2nd pint.

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Photo of TongoRad
3.15/5  rDev -16%
look: 3 | smell: 3 | taste: 3 | feel: 3.5 | overall: 3.5

I'll be damned if I can make out the freshness stamp on the bottle, but it's there.

A decanted pour shows a slightly hazy dark copper with a long lasting one finger head.

Moderate aroma- creamy, slightly berry-like esters, caramel and some fresh floral hops.

Bittering hops dominate the palate. There's a touch of dark caramel and fruit as well. Finish is crisp and the bitterness lingers. Not particularly bad, but kinda boring. A good fallback option.

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Photo of JPowell712
3.18/5  rDev -15.2%
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.

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Photo of dedrinker
3.18/5  rDev -15.2%
look: 3.5 | smell: 3 | taste: 3 | feel: 3.5 | overall: 3.5

This one looks much like the pugilist: dark amber/ brown.

Hardly gives off much aroma - is it a little malty smell? maybe some more of that tree fruit (same yeast?) and a hint of toffee? I can't be sure.

And if most of taste is smell, then how is it that I can taste it? By its' warming up in my mouth? So do they recommend to bring the beer up to body temperature before drinking? So it kinda tastes malty with a little hop edge on the back. Geez, nothing extra special here at all.

Medium body, mixed fruit and bittering hop finish. It aint bad, but if I was at a bar and ordered a pint of this, I'd be bummed.

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3.21/5  rDev -14.4%
look: 4 | smell: 3 | taste: 3.5 | feel: 2.5 | overall: 3

Hand pumped from cask into a pint glass.

A: Handsome looking. Average head is creamy and very white which is somewhat surprising given the very dark brown body. The head retention was decent. Lacing was seemingly excellent but a few more sips revealed that the stick was from the head only and any lacing from the body ended up sliding down the glass and back into my beer. This brew has a clear body, although it is so dark that it's clarity is hard to notice. The color is a reminiscent of mahogany wood with a dark, cherry finish. Amber lines the glass.

S & T: Malty as expected with predominant notes of molasses. Light herbal, piney, resiny hops. The yeast bill is leathery and brothy. The aroma is a little weak for such a dark brew. Flavors reminiscent of the aromas as well as coriander come through. Lightly sweet and lightly bitter.

M: The mouthfeel seems lacking and uninspired. The medium body has a thin texture but a pleasant creamy quality. Carbonation is soft. I realize part of my negative comments could be attributed to the fact that this Yards was served on cask but my contention is that if a beer's more natural qualities aren't enhanced when casked, then why is it on cask in the first place?

D: Extra Special (as in ESA) sounds promising as if this combination of words shouldn't be thrown around. Honestly, I feel like they could have left the 'ES' out of the name and simply called it an ale. Overall, a pretty average brew. Maybe it doesn't really belong on cask as the result seemed underwhelming and contrived.

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Photo of SixpointJMH
3.24/5  rDev -13.6%
look: 4.5 | smell: 3 | taste: 3 | feel: 3.5 | overall: 3.5

this brew from yards starts out wonderfully by building expectations with a stellar appearance, but tanks back into the land of average thereafter. pours a great looking cloudy amber colour with a big creamy off-white head. nice stickiness and great overall appearance. smells of malt, hop, and a bit of fruit sweetness (plum or grape, perhaps). the taste is average at best, much like the smell. there's a bit of a hop kick in here along with a bitter malt finish that is on the dry side. again, this one's nothing special, but it's not bad either. there's nothing striking that would warrant my seeking this one out on a regular basis, but i certainly wouldn't turn one down if offered to me.

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Photo of aaronh
3.25/5  rDev -13.3%
look: 4 | smell: 4 | taste: 3 | feel: 2.5 | overall: 3

This dark amber beer pours with a huge loose head and a slight haziness. The head slowly fades and leaves a decent lacing behind. The aroma immediately brings bubble gum to mind, with cherries and citurs notes evident. A hint of hops may be detectable behind the overall sweet, fruity nose. The first sip is more bitter than the aroma would have led me to believe. The wonderful bitterness is lightly supported by some malt in the background. The finish is a little dry, and some metallic aftertastes are present. Also a bit of a medicinal note lingering on the palate. A bit a fruitiness shows through the flavors a subsequent drinks are taken. The beer feels thin on the tongue, but itfeels like it is trying to hold on to the back of your tongue as it gradually fades down your throat. A little distracting when combined with the odd aftertastes. A bit of a disaapointment from Yards.

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