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 jwhancher
3.94/5  rDev +5.1%
look: 5 | smell: 3.5 | taste: 4 | feel: 4 | overall: 4

A: Pours a clear amber color with nice thick off-white head. Lazy carbonation - good for the style.

S: Faint malt aroma. Bready & sweet. No real presence of hops.

T: Solid malt character. Caramel notes well evident along with the bready notes. Finishes sweet.

M: Very light on the carbonation, yet gives a nice malty, creamy feel. Above medium bodied.

D: Nice tame, drinkable beer with good taste. Makes a very good session beer.

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Photo of argock
3.43/5  rDev -8.5%
look: 3.5 | smell: 3 | taste: 3.5 | feel: 4 | overall: 3.5

Poured from 12oz brown bottle into a clear glass mug. No freshness date evident. Single purchased at Wine Warehouse (Charlottesville, VA) for $1.70.

A: Burnished dark brown with light amber tint and 1-finger off-white tightly bubbled head with average retention and thin threads of lace.

S: Very light with caramelly maltiness and herbal hops, tending more toward malt

T: Flavor is good but still reserved with toffee caramel countered by herbal, earthy hoppiness.

M: More robust feel than either aroma or flavor with medium body and soft carbonation. Aftertaste is caramel malt with papery finish.

D: Not bad but pretty mundane. I wish the flavor matched the nice mouthfeel with something more interesting in either the hops or the malt department.

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Photo of PittBeerGirl
3.45/5  rDev -8%
look: 3.5 | smell: 3.5 | taste: 3.5 | feel: 3 | overall: 3.5

A- Body is a translucent rust color. Pours with a minimal fizzy white head that subsides pretty quickly but traces of lacing are still left behind in the glass.

S- Nose is mild and is pretty much a combo of spices and caramel malt.

T- Flavor is very interesting. Upfront is predominately added spices, with a solid sweet caramel malt backbone. Some herbal hop bitterness comes through for the finish but the main character is definitely the spices.

M- Medium to high tingly carbonation and light to medium weight body. The consistency of the spices actually really comes through in the mouthfeel.

D-Despite my lower rating for this-I found this to be a pretty good, enjoyable beer. To me-it seems to be more of a novelty beer than anything else but its still something I'd like to revisit. Its nice to see Yard's beers around again!

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Photo of Greenlabel
4.06/5  rDev +8.3%
look: 4 | smell: 3 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 4 | overall: 4.5

Purchased a 6-pack of Yards ESA on a recent trip to NJ and am enjoying one in a Yards pint glass.

Pours a reddish copper color with medium head. A slight caramel malt nose. Has a rich malty flavor but also a reasonable hop presence. Clean mouthfeel and overall very light on the palate. I was surprised to see that its ABV was over 6%. Despite the ABV, I would consider this to be a satisfactory session beer.

On my next trip to PA or NJ, I'll definitely be purchasing this ESA again.

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Photo of mvanaskie13
3.93/5  rDev +4.8%
look: 4 | smell: 3.5 | taste: 4 | feel: 3.5 | overall: 4.5

Poured from the bottle a deep mahongy brown, with coppery edges and frothy, cream colored head.

Smell was lightly malty at first and as it warmed a several of the other aromas were enhanced, with some light caramel and toffee scents.

Taste was solid, roasted malt upfront followed by a caramel, with slight toffe/chocolate flavors, with light earthy undertones as it finished.

Mouthfeel was good, light carbonation and a nice lingering malty aftertaste.

Very drinkable, my type of stronger than normal session ale, session ale.

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

Appearance: This beer looks great right out of the bottle. A nice deep, brownish color with a nice head to top it off. The head is nearly the same color as the tannish label, fairly pure and clean. Holding this glass up to the light, one can see the subtle pieces of sediment that hang in suspension.

Smell: This beer has a great aroma. No bitterness, just a pleaseant fruit smell. I can't quite place the exact fruit, but its there. I am pretty excited to drink this.

Taste: Incredibly smooth. Wow. A very subtle bitterness overshadowed with a nice ale taste.

Mouthfeel: Like I said, this is very smooth. There is nothing aggressive about this, afterall it's an ale. The aftertaste is very nice, kind of a fading sweetness into a dryer bitterness.

Drinkability: From the second you open one of these up it begs you to drink it. Very inviting disposition both in taste and smoothness. I could drink a few of these in a night. Overall, this ale is deserving of its "extra specialness".

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

Poured into an oversized pub glass.

Bulbous, creamy off-white head that leaves ample sticky lacing. This brew is a
deep burnt orange/amber in color.

Smells of sweet toasted caramel malt and herbal hops...

Nice big malt upfront and a bready yeast middle with a hearty, mildly bitter
herbal hop finish with only the faintest hint of alcohol.

Mouthfeel is medium and creamy

This is a damn good ale. Would be a good one to go with for gatherings. It is
light enough to session, but by no means light. Nice big flavors...

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

First, let me say I love the bottle (mine was not the one pictured on BA, but similar). The colors and graphics are very colonial America, which is befitting a brewery based in our nation's birthplace. And with a name like "Extra Special," this beer is off to a good start.

The beer pours with a nice cream-colored, spongy head which settles gently into a happy, thin film over the top. The color is dark amber, with a gradient of burnt orange visible against bright light. It is slightly murky, but you can still see the lines of bubbles rising to the surface.

There is definitely a warming darkness to the smell. Very much a mixture of spices and caramel - although I can't tell if this is going to be more on the bitter side or more on the sweet side. Regardless, the smell is strong and intriguing.

Ooh. That was unexpected. Modest carbonation gives way to a well-concocted balance of hops and malt, with a roasty, earthy finish. The aftertaste is almost like a coffee or espresso. I really don't get a lot of bitterness from it, but that may be my mind playing tricks on me as a result of the lasting impression of the caramel and coffee flavors. Overall, the beer is smooth with a moderate body. I could drink several of these in a sitting.

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Photo of rhoadsrage
3.46/5  rDev -7.7%
look: 4 | smell: 3 | taste: 3.5 | feel: 4 | overall: 3.5

(Served in an American pint glass)
A- This beer has a deep amber brown slightly dense body with strands of carbonation gliding to the surface in slow motion. There is a beige bubbly head that turns creamy.
S- This beer has a soft malt flavor with a light toast note when it is warm and a soft dry hop finish.
T- There is a soft toasted malt note with soft roasted bite with a slight tartness in the finish. There is a soft hop bitterness that becomes pungent and lingers a bit after each sip.
M- This beer has a medium-full mouthfeel with no alcohol heat.
D- This beer is a smooth drink with nice but soft flavors. The tart hops come through as the beer warms but the malt stays soft.

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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 number1bum
4.47/5  rDev +19.2%
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 Durge
4/5  rDev +6.7%
look: 4 | smell: 4 | taste: 4 | feel: 4 | overall: 4

A dark chestnut color, slightly cloudly with a mellow orange glow. The head is a modest off-white cover with decent lacing. The aroma is a nutty malt with a pleasant floral hops. Nice. The flavor brings a great paradox of bitter granny apple and orange blended with sweet caramel malt. The bitterness is clear and prominent yet there is plenty of mellow grain. Medium bodied but a slight resinous feel. Quite right for the style in my book. Plenty drinkable but it has good personality.

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Photo of Pinto21
4.05/5  rDev +8%
look: 3 | smell: 3 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 4.5 | overall: 4.5

Pour is a deep amber. Low head that fades quick. Ok lacing

Aroma of malts, caramelly. slight bit of hops, english herbal in nature.

Balance of malts and hops in mouth. Then hops come out ahead. more of a herbally type. Def nice english hops (Goldings? maybe fuggle too?). Initial malt taste is of caramel/ slight biscuit, but once the hop bitterness fades, it leads to more of more roasted/buscuit malts, a little deeper and darker. The hop bitterness doesnt fade quick though. The taste of this brew just sticks around for a while.

Mouth is low carbonation, which is spot on for the style. Very drinkable.

Spot on for an english ESB. A very nice tasting beer to enjoy. I feel as though I should be in an Olde Tavern enjoying this.

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Photo of Jwale73
3.7/5  rDev -1.3%
look: 3.5 | smell: 3.5 | taste: 4 | feel: 3.5 | overall: 3.5

Thanks to edbeer for the opportunity to try this one. Served in a standard pint. Poured a deep, translucent mahogany with a half inch loose, off-white head that reduced its volume in seconds before settling into a fairly consistent skim; some slashes of lacing revealed during the tasting. Mild nose - aromatic hops on a malt backbone. Taste was caramel malts interspersed with some bittering hops that lingers between quaffs. Mouthfeel was light-medium with a consistent background effervescence. Not my favorite style per se, but this is a solid example of an ESB. Well worth seeking out - I'd love to try this one on cask.

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

Big thanks to NJpadreFan for this brew!

12oz. brown bottle poured into an imperial pint.

A: Pours a deep, ruddy amber. A short head on the pour without much retention. Decent lacing, though.

S: A little bit of English hopping, floral and grassy. There's a nice sweetness that is faint but rich at the same time. Very caramelly and maybe a deep as a light molasses. Odd but intriguing.

T/M: The sweetness doesn't have the depth of molasses in the taste but definitely a darker caramel that is controlled. The hops don't really come through too much. Body is medium to medium full with smooth carbonation.

D: Manageable ABV and tasty. Definitely some odd flavors for the style... pretty dark, lower hop profile, lower than average carbonation(for a bottled ES bitter), and the sweetness is a bit deep for the style, even though it's not overly sweet. It kind of sucks to take points off a tasty beer because it's too far out of style.

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Photo of Cylinsier
3.77/5  rDev +0.5%
look: 3.5 | smell: 4 | taste: 4 | feel: 3 | overall: 3.5

12 oz.

Pours a maple syrup brown with thin off white lacing. Light makes it look rusty red/brown.

Smells rich and molasses sweet. Malty and slightly roasted.

Tastes similarly sweet at first, but then switches to a dull hop bitterness followed by smokey roasted notes. Interestingly dynamic.

The mouthfeel is moderately full and lightly carbonated.

A pretty good selection in the class of moderately dark ales, my first in the ESB style. Easy to drink and easy to like.

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Photo of goblue3509
3.43/5  rDev -8.5%
look: 4 | smell: 3.5 | taste: 3 | feel: 3.5 | overall: 4

Pours a copper brown color with a nice slight off white frothy head that is around one finger in size. The aroma is of roasted malt and a little sweet malt with some floral hops. Taste has a roasted and caramel malt backbone which mid way through gives way to the bitterness of floral hops. The hop bite is subtle and slightly sweet. The mouthfeel is of moderate carbonation. Overall it is a good drinkable beer, the taste isn't exceptional but there is also nothing to make you dislike the beer and it looks very nice.

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

This brew pours an impressive deep dark reddish-brown color with a nice cream colored head. Nice clarity for such a dark ale.

Light aroma of plums and roasted malts.

Taste is full bodied with a nice blend of hops, malts, and earthy flavors.

Mouthfeel is medium with nice carbonation.

I could drink a few of these, but not all night long.

Morey's Bottom Line: A pleasent surprise! Very well crafted ale. Highly recommend for fans of Red Ales (this beer is just as much a Red as it is an ESB).

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Photo of treehugger02010
3.58/5  rDev -4.5%
look: 3.5 | smell: 3 | taste: 4 | feel: 3.5 | overall: 3.5

I got this in the Yard's variety case. I poured it into a pint glass.
Appearance: The body is a cloudy dark amber color. The head is a light tan color, medium sized bubbles, great lacing and ok retention.
Smell: The aromas are muted, caramel malt and pine resin.
Taste: The flavors are caramel, earthy hops and maybe some citrus.
Mouthfeel: The body is medium to thin and very crisp.
Drinkability: This beer is very drinkable.
Don't drink and review.

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Photo of emsroth
4.06/5  rDev +8.3%
look: 3 | smell: 4.5 | taste: 4 | feel: 4 | overall: 4

12oz bottle with no date

App: Chestnut brown with small, frothy tan head

Smell: Equal parts hops and malt. The malt is caramel, roasty and nutty. The hops are dank and fruity.

Taste: Greeted by a roasty, nutty flavor. Next comes the alcohol and a slight coffee bitterness. The flavor then dies down and a lingering bitterness appears on the palette. Not something I love, but it's a good tasting beer. The bitterness is excellently balanced between the roasty malt bitterness and hop bitterness. Definitely a piney, resinous hop flavor; it's sweet but has an earthy, herbal flavor.

A medium bodied brew with crisp, small bubbled carbonation.

Definitely a very sessionable brew despite the abv

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Photo of Duhast500
3.73/5  rDev -0.5%
look: 4 | smell: 3.5 | taste: 4 | feel: 3.5 | overall: 3.5

Poured from a 12oz. bottle into a pint glass.

The color is a deep brownish amber with a foamy light brown head with some nice retention and nice lacing the stays on the glass.

The smell has a light malty smell to it. A nutty almost cashew flavor. It was a bit hard to get more than a slight auroma from this beer. Might have been the pour.

The taste is caramel, a bit of a sharp bite at first but pretty tasty. Some nice earthy hop flavor that is a little in the background.

The feel of this beer is pretty mellow. Is medium bodied and is just the right amount of carbonation.

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Photo of WCBCFrank
3.85/5  rDev +2.7%
look: 3.5 | smell: 3.5 | taste: 4 | feel: 4 | overall: 4

Yards ESA pours a slightly hazy amber-copper red. There are notes of malty caramel, biscuits, and cereal. Good body in the mouthfeel and finishes slightly mild. A solid bitter!

For the novice: Not to overpowering and great for social drinking.

Personally: The beer that made Yards famous for me....a long time ago I had one of these at O'Neals on South Street and was instantly hooked. ESA is a consistent beer in my fridge.

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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 rfgetz
4.21/5  rDev +12.3%
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.
3.75 out of 5 based on 634 ratings.
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