Extra Special Ale (ESA) | Yards Brewing Co.

very good
634 Ratings
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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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Ratings: 634 |  Reviews: 268
Photo of imbibehour
4.03/5  rDev +7.5%
look: 4.5 | smell: 4 | taste: 4 | feel: 4 | overall: 4

Poured from the bottle into a nonic pint glass. Thanks to mdaschaf for the extra!

She pours chestnut brown giving a good solid three finger head, light caramel in appearance, foamy, and dark amber brown with cherry red hues. Thick clumpy cap resides on top. Love this body color, I really like the look of this beer. Spider like lacing while drinking takes the cake!!!

Nose is a good strong roasty toasty malt, smells like a brown ale. Aggressive, clean. Fairly solid.

Taste is buttery bitter, with a good simple ordinary hop backbone. Texture has a good thickness to bring a buttery feel. Not that carbonated either which is nice. The head sticks around and adds some cream tastes too. Dark malts and roast kick in on the aftertaste reminiscent of malt brown ales.

Ovrerall, solid. Sexy looking and tastes great.

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Photo of mummbearsfan
3.76/5  rDev +0.3%
look: 4 | smell: 3 | taste: 4 | feel: 4 | overall: 4

a: appearance was a rich dark drown color.

s: I couldn't really get an aroma on this beer

t: Rich caramel maltiness hits you when you first taste this but then the bitterness from the hops hits you right after.

m: Was very light on the pallet not too heavy as the beer would seem to be if looking at it.

o: Not a bad brew from Yards, the lightness of this beer is good to go with bolder foods such as BBQ. This beer tends to be right on as far as mixing the bitterness and the rich maltiness. The brew also tends to be lighter on the pallet as well. The only downfall was the fact that you couldn't get a good aroma to sway the sweetness or bitterness of the beer.

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Photo of MrOH
3.7/5  rDev -1.3%
look: 2.5 | smell: 2.5 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 3.5 | overall: 4

Really deep copper, half finger of off-white foam that dies quickly.

Fruity english yeast, toasty malts, hint of spicy hops.

All of characteristics of the nose follow onto the palate, but man, does the yeast shine on this one. Nice dark stone fruit character. Spicy hops keep it lively. It's definitely a malty beer, but the very sturdy malt backbone is there to hold up the big yeast and hop flavors. Well done.

On the heavier side of medium, light carbonation helps to give it a bigger feel than if it were spritzier. What the style calls for.

I just wish that there was more to the smell, but I feel that this is a good, true to style ESB.

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Photo of Agold
4.04/5  rDev +7.7%
look: 3 | smell: 4 | taste: 4 | feel: 4 | overall: 4.5

Poured this beer into my new Palm tulip. It has little bit of head which leaves a film on the beer and a bit of lacing. The beer has a nice nutty mildly roasty aroma with a bit of caramel. The taste is similar, light yet substantial, nutty and mildly roasty. There is a bit of bitterness as well, but it seems to be mostly for balance, which it does very well. It has a medium, to medium heavy mouthfeel and good carbonation. It is a very refreshing well made ESB. Great beer.

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Photo of mdaschaf
3.61/5  rDev -3.7%
look: 4.5 | smell: 3.5 | taste: 3.5 | feel: 4 | overall: 3.5

A: Pours a clear brown with with a two finger, tan foamy head. Reduced to about 1/2 finger of dense foam which lasts for the rest of the time drinking the beer. Thick lacing left behind.

S: Some caramelized malt, some nuts, and a touch of toffee. There is a hint of some spice as well.

T: Hearty malt bill on this one. Some bready malt upfront with some caramel afterwards that gives a bit of sweetness. A little bit of hop bitterness on the finish.

M: Medium bodied with medium carbonation. Pretty smooth, clean drinking, slightly dry finish.

O: Pretty good beer, heavy on malt as it should be. Not incredibly drinkable, but tasty nonetheless.

D: Tasty, goes down easily, not too filling, decent kick, good representation of style, although there are better beers in the style, this is still a solid beer worth drinking for a while.

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Photo of dtivp
3.88/5  rDev +3.5%
look: 4 | smell: 3.5 | taste: 4 | feel: 4 | overall: 4

Pours a clear deep red amber with a large two finger off white head, very good retention and heavy lacing.

Aroma of bready, grainy malt with a slight toffee sweetness.

Taste of sweet grainy malt, hint of bitter hops and sweet caramel

Mouth Feel was medium body, heavy carbonation, creamy with a nice bitter ending.

Overall this is a very solid and enjoyable beer, I haven't experienced many ESB's. hopefully others are similar to this one.

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Photo of JerzDevl2000
4.03/5  rDev +7.5%
look: 4.5 | smell: 4 | taste: 4 | feel: 4 | overall: 4

Picked this up via the single bottle down at Buy Rite in Jersey City. I'm not used to ESB's being this strong and this packed just a bit more punch than I first anticipated. That being said, this was a nicely balanced beer that can hold it's own with any in this category!

Loved the head on this - it lasted for quite a while and was extremely thick. I had to hold off on the pour to let it settle before getting the last ounce or so out of the bottle. The lacing matched as it stuck to the glass quite nice after each sip. The dark oak hue complemented the froth nicely even though this beer wasn't completely clear The aroma and taste was pleasing with notes of lemon, resin, caramel, and malt balancing out the tasted malt taste nicely. This was heavier than other ESB's that I've had but not so much that I couldn't tell what kind of beer this was.

The extra alcohol doesn't detract either and can barely be felt in this beer. This is about as well balanced as an ESB gets and would be a great choice for someone trying this style for the first time. All of the flavors may not mesh well together but the earthy hops that softly linger in the aftertaste serve as a reminder of what this beer is. I certainly look forward to trying this again in the near future.

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Photo of devilben02
3.58/5  rDev -4.5%
look: 4.5 | smell: 4 | taste: 3.5 | feel: 2.5 | overall: 3.5

Pours a deep red-amber color with a thick, dense, creamy off-white head. The aroma is fruity without being overly sweet, with a combination of dried strawberries, toffee, and caramel. The flavor is much more balanced if not a little hop-heavy, with characteristics of pine and earth being contrasted by malty notes of burnt caramel, toffee, and some berry sweetness. The beer has a nice medium body that stands up against the blend of flavors, but the fine, prickly carbonation (at least in this bottle) detracts somewhat. Overall, though, this one is a satisfying, hop-forward bitter that drinks like a light barleywine.

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Photo of Eriktheipaman
4.1/5  rDev +9.3%
look: 4 | smell: 4 | taste: 4 | feel: 4 | overall: 4.5

Pours a dark brown with a rose hue when held to the light.

The smell is a fruity almost grape like quality from the hops.

The taste is fairly bitter while backed up with a healthy amount of lightly roasted malt. Alcohol makes a small appearance but is blended in with the bittering hops.

A good example of the E.S.B. style for sure. A more aggressive bitter.

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Photo of bs870621345
4.02/5  rDev +7.2%
look: 3 | smell: 3.5 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 4 | overall: 4

On a quest to discover more subtle and obscure styles.

Pours a deep amber with a huge head and tons of lacing. I thought these were supposed to be lightly carbonated.

Smell is lightly of bread, nut, herbal hops, and pine hops. Too light of a smell.

Taste is explosive if you are looking for it. Herbal hops, bready and nutty hops, and a hint of caramel and pine.

Mouthfeel is full, too full for an ESB as I understand them.

Overall its a good example. I'm assuming this is sort of fresh but have no way of knowing. I would love to try this on cask, its far too carbonated and the alcohol is too high.

I am really enjoying the less appreciated style quest though.

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Photo of nickthetick
3.86/5  rDev +2.9%
look: 4 | smell: 3 | taste: 4 | feel: 4 | overall: 4.5

A: pours a deep mahogany hue into an American shaker with some copper tones in the skinnier parts of the glass. Some (maybe a finger) of tan head that thins slowly and leaves some nice lacing.
S: caramel and dark toffees, maybe a mild coffee with some cream in it. Grassy hops.

T: sweet malts, earthy and grassy. If sod tasted good, this beer would be it. Some fruity and citrus notes muddle in the end and sit on the tongue for a while.

MF: smooth, silky and a bit astringent. Good carbonation and a medium to heavy body, a filling beer.

O: solid beer and my first yards and ES.

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Photo of BeerForMuscle
3.61/5  rDev -3.7%
look: 3.5 | smell: 3.75 | taste: 3.5 | feel: 3.5 | overall: 3.75

Hand-pumped at The Abbaye.

A - Deep, dark brown with a ruby glow through the light. Super sticky and rugged hand-pumped cream head. Two fingers and rocky ontop.

S - Some grains and malts in the nose. Some sweetness in the head.

T - A bitter ale with a nice dry bite. Sweet grains, dry hops, sweet malt.

M - Nice creamy, slick body. Very smooth on the tongue and the slightly warmer temperature added to the drinkability here. Low carbonation.

O - A great mixture of flavor and texture. Nice chewy grains and a slick ride.

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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 mltobin
3.83/5  rDev +2.1%
look: 4 | smell: 3.5 | taste: 4 | feel: 3.5 | overall: 4

Served on-tap in Philly.

Appearance is an amber tone with little head. Its` smell has caramel, fruit, grass and pleasant in general. For the taste, I noted roasted malts, some hops, more sweetness. MF is a bit silky with bitterness in the finish. This ESB from Yards is a good representation of the style and was happy with it.

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Photo of Kegatron
3.68/5  rDev -1.9%
look: 4 | smell: 3.5 | taste: 3.5 | feel: 4 | overall: 4

On cask, via hand pump, @ Local 44 (Philadelphia, PA) on 4/3/11. Served in a pint glass.

Pours a clear dark copper, topped with a finger of smooth and foamy eggshell-white head. This retains with a rich ½ finger of froth, soaping the sides of the glass with heaving lace. The aroma smells grassy and citric, with a rich underlying mix of caramel and buttered bread. Some earthy hop character adds a touch of bitterness to the nose. As this warms, more and more butter flavor starts to emerge.

The taste is a smooth tangy mix of caramel malts, light toast, and earthy citrus. A light green and spicy bitterness gives this a gentle kick, leading into a mostly dry finish of lingering roast, sugars, and even a light smack of butter. The mouthfeel is medium bodied, with a lighter feeling smooth crispness that keeps this flowing easily in the mouth.

This was easy and flavorful drinking here on the cask (especially for the size) and I'm glad that I gave this Yards take on an ESB a shot. I think that I could have put a couple of these down easily.

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Photo of pzrhsau
3.76/5  rDev +0.3%
look: 4.5 | smell: 3.5 | taste: 4 | feel: 3.5 | overall: 3.5

A: Rich ruby color descends to a fine crimson/pomegranate color with a light tan head that sticks to the glass:
S: Slightly fruity malt aroma backed up by some hops and a very cereal/oat grainy aroma.
T: A mild roasted grain flavor gives way to some good bitterness and ends with some fruity notes that really remind me of banana.
D/o: Not too overpowering to the palate but does have a decent aftertaste. Decent alcohol content that doesn't really come over the top. Very Drinkable which pairs well with the other beers from this brewery.

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Photo of Wasatch
3.83/5  rDev +2.1%
look: 4 | smell: 3.5 | taste: 4 | feel: 3.5 | overall: 4

Thanks goes out to G311 for this brew.

Pours a nice golden brown color, nice carbonation, nice one-finger creamy off-white head, with some nice sticky lacing left behind. The nose is malty, slight hop note, and caramel. The taste is slightly sweet, malty, nice little hop note, and caramel. Medium Body, nice little bitter/dry finich. Drinkable, this is a pretty tasty brew, glad to have had a chance to try it.

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Photo of sitarist
3.92/5  rDev +4.5%
look: 4 | smell: 4.5 | taste: 3.5 | feel: 4 | overall: 4

Another blind review thanks to sholland119.

Pours a nice deep amber, with copper, and brown highlights. There is a thick, dense, khaki colored head that falls to top coating, and ring that leaves a few spots of lacing.

I smell dried fruits, fruitcake, puff pastry, dates, faint hints of tobacco, and nutmeg. Agitating it reveals earthy, root, and pine scent. Nice complexity and balance. Its a beer to ponder over.

I taste dried fruits, caramelized dates, spice (anise, nutmeg, and coriander), apple peel, green pepper corns, and peat. Lacks the balance that the nose had...too spicy/peppery.

Slightly sticky, medium body. Carbonation is present but is unnoticeable under this warm, sticky brew. A bitter warmth lingers on my tongue.

A great sipper to enjoy while contemplating the days events. Some time in a cellar would round out its rough edges.

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Photo of Clydesdale
4/5  rDev +6.7%
look: 4 | smell: 4 | taste: 4 | feel: 4 | overall: 4

A: Pours a deep, hazy amber/copper color. The tall, amber-tinted head has a dense, frothy consistency. Retention is very persistent, and some dense, sticky lacing sticks to the glass as the head fades.

S: Toasty/bready malt and caramel are fairly prominent. Some earthy, herbal, and modestly citric hop notes. A bit of soft, estery fruitiness as well. Faint cocoa as the beer warms.

T: A firm, toasty and caramel-sweet malt flavor. Earthy and herbal English hops dominate flavor-wise, but there's a light citrus peel character to it as well. Some fruitiness - equal parts dried fruit and lightly perfumy notes - adds interesting but uneven depth. Perhaps a touch of evident alcohol.

M: Medium-firm body. Actually a bit sticky. Carbonation is appropriately active. A lasting, sticky/caramel malt aftertaste lingers.

D: There's a lot going on with this beer, most of which I find enjoyable. It's definitely malty and sticky, with some moderate sweetness. There's also a nice, medium hop profile, along with some yeasty esters. It manages good balance without necessarily being overly smooth or subtle.

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Photo of corby112
3.76/5  rDev +0.3%
look: 4.5 | smell: 3.5 | taste: 4 | feel: 3.5 | overall: 3.5

Sampled on draft at the North Star on 2/5/11.

Pours a dark chestnut brown color with dark mahogany edges when held to a light source and a two finger frothy, pillowy off-white head. Very god retention, only slowly fading into a lasting cap that leaves sporadic splotches of soapy lacing behind.

Earthy aroma that is hopper than expected with lots of dank, floral pine needle balanced by a sweet malt backbone. Subtle citrus notes with hints of caramel and biscuit.

Medium bodied with a very good balance of earthy and citrus hops countered by a sweet malt backbone. Again, this beer is hoppier than anticipated with a nice blast of bitter earthy pine needle flavor as well as some subtle citrus rind flavor. This is quickly countered by a sweet caramel malt presence with hints of toffee, biscuit and hazelnut.

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Photo of mountsnow1010
3.98/5  rDev +6.1%
look: 4.5 | smell: 4 | taste: 3.5 | feel: 4.5 | overall: 4.5

First cask beer ever!

a - Nut brown with a creamy white head, heavy lacing.
s - Very floral aroma. Smells almost like honey as well.
t - Almost like a bitter grapefruit with toasty malts and honey in the background, emphasized in finish. A slight rubbery or plastic-y taste that I'm not a huge fan of; not super noticeable but does detract from overall experience
m - Super creamy with light pleasant carbonation, very nice thick body.
d - Easily could have several, very drinkable.

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Photo of micromaniac129
4.35/5  rDev +16%
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 clickpush
4.61/5  rDev +22.9%
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 Soonami
3.8/5  rDev +1.3%
look: 4 | smell: 4 | taste: 3.5 | feel: 4 | overall: 4

Yards Extra Special Ale, is the original beer that Yards made in 1994, so it has a special significance to Philadelphia and the drinkers that call the city of Brotherly Love home. It was one of the instrumental beers that kicked off the craft beer movement here. This is a classic beer. It has a deep reddish-amber color with a long-lasting film of white foam that sticks around. The beer smells like rich caramelized malt with a earthy woody hop aroma. There is a hint of browned apple skins and lightly toasted bread. The beer tastes malty with a graininess in the front with a slightly molassess sweetness, hints of apple cider, bruised pears and then finishes a little sticky with residual sweetness and a nice herbal hop bitterness. This beer is nice and soft and with a medium-full body. I feel like there are a few defects compared to the bet ESB examples. First, the fruit quality of this beer is a bit too subdued me, and tastes slightly oxidized. The beer is probably also a little too bitter, and the bitterness is too harsh and lingers on your tongue too long, leaving weird, almost metallic aftertaste. This is a solid beer, but I can only imagine drinking this after having only light american lagers to drink for decades and then trying this!

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Photo of Teleweizen2
3.93/5  rDev +4.8%
look: 4 | smell: 3.5 | taste: 4 | feel: 4.5 | overall: 4

From notes.

A - pours a very deep copper with some brown hues. A bubbly 2 finger off white head crowns the deep clear liquid. Dissipates after a few minutes. Decent lacing.

S - a well balanced mixture of caramel and chocolate malts and some spicy herbal hops.

T - chocolate and burnt caramel flavors coat the tounge then a rush of pepper hops in the middle followed by a dry finish.

M - smooth. Somewhat creamy. Fuller side of medium bodied and carb is right where it should be.

D - a nice easy drinking ale. Balanced flavors is where this beer really shines.

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Extra Special Ale (ESA) from Yards Brewing Co.
3.75 out of 5 based on 634 ratings.
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