River Horse Special Ale ESB | River Horse Brewing Co.

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River Horse Special Ale ESBRiver Horse Special Ale ESB
162 Ratings
River Horse Special Ale ESBRiver Horse Special Ale ESB

Brewed by:
River Horse Brewing Co.
New Jersey, United States

Style: Extra Special / Strong Bitter (ESB)

Alcohol by volume (ABV): 4.50%

Availability: Year-round

Notes / Commercial Description:
No notes at this time.

Added by BeerAdvocate on 06-01-2002

This beer is retired; no longer brewed.

Bros Score:
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Ratings: 162 |  Reviews: 134
Photo of saccro
3.33/5  rDev +4.7%
look: 4 | smell: 3.5 | taste: 3 | feel: 3.5 | overall: 3.5

A - straight-up amber. nice lasting head. good belgian lace. Cream-colored head. A little hazy.

S - very fruity aromatics from yeast. very little hop aroma. good bready malt aroma.

T - fruity. Tastes kinda like fruit cocktail (peach/pear). grainy aftertaste. delayed bitterness. no real malt flavor. Kinda average. Clean.

M - medium body. medium carbonation.

D - easy to drink. quenching. nothing special (despite name).

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Photo of tone77
3.11/5  rDev -2.2%
look: 4 | smell: 3 | taste: 3 | feel: 3.5 | overall: 3

Poured from a brown 12 oz. bottle. Has a caramel color with a 1/2 inch head. Smell is mild, mostly malts. Taste is mostly of malts, some hops present, not overly flavorful. Feels medium bodied in the mouth and has average drinkability. Overall this is a fairly decent brew.

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Photo of BuckeyeNation
2.98/5  rDev -6.3%
look: 3.5 | smell: 3 | taste: 3 | feel: 2.5 | overall: 3

Coppery orange with honey hued highlights and way too many bubbles. The khaki colored crown was large after a gentle pour and doesn't have much character. It becomes slightly rocky over time and leaves almost no lace.

Toasted and caramel malts are noted in the nose, as is a pat of butter and a background sour fruitiness. The beer doesn't smell very hoppy, which is always a concern in an ESB.

River Horse Special Ale ESB isn't a bad little English-style ale, but it's no ESB. It isn't extra special (or strong), and it isn't bitter. A hoppier beer, or a bigger beer, or both, would've been preferable. Its mouthfeel lets it down as well.

Flavors include toast crust, butter toffee, tea leaves, baked nuts and tangy apricots. It's far from an unpleasant combo, but it doesn't come together very well and it isn't a classic version of the style by any means. A complete overhaul is in order, never mind the fact that this is one of the brewery's originals.

The mouthfeel is too thin, even when keeping ABV in mind, and is too harshly bubbled. While the carbonation settles down by mid-mouthful, it doesn't add even a modicum of smoothness or creaminess.

Looking back through my reviews, River Horse has never released what I would consider to be an impressive beer. Special Ale ESB keeps that dubious streak alive. Sorry, but your money is better spent elsewhere.

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Photo of thespaceman
3.51/5  rDev +10.4%
look: 4 | smell: 3 | taste: 3.5 | feel: 3.5 | overall: 4

Poured from a 12oz bottle into a pint glass:

Appearance: Pours a light amber in color, a small head emerges and quickly dissipates into thin wisps of lacing. Bubbles stream up the glass from the carbonation. This beer shows nice and clear with minimal haze.

Smell: Up front is a plethora of fruit, a touch of butterscotch and some caramel malt shows off a nicely balanced backbone. I get bits of light esters, almost apple like. Not a boring nose just not enough to write home about.

Taste: The maltiness shows off nicely in the taste, as in the taste, I get a lot of caramel properties, it's sweet yet well reserved. Bits of apple, and lighter side of fruit florals show a well balanced beer here. Finish consists of a drop of honey and some sweetness from the malt.

Mouthfeel: Slightly bitter, good carbonation all around. Medium bodied mouthfeel with a slight bit of slickness on the tongue.

Drinkability: Overall, a very drinkable ESB. I like the notes of honey like sweetness and caramel in here, they really smooth things out. At 4.5%, it's very drinkable and east to throw back a few. A good offering from a very solid brewery.

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Photo of tlinner
4.1/5  rDev +28.9%
look: 4 | smell: 4 | taste: 4 | feel: 4 | overall: 4.5

Pours a dark amber that would be pretty clear if there wasn't so much sediment floating around. And seriously, there's a LOT of sediment. If I swirl the glass, it moves as if trapped in Jell-O. The head is big and frothy and leaves behind nice lacing. The smell is very sweet. Melon, caramel, and something that's indescribable; like that smell of "clean" when you walk into a Wal-Mart. The taste is, again, very sweet. There's caramel, honey, light fruits, and there's that "clean" feeling again. It's actually reminding me of a really crisp apple when you first bite into the skin. The mouthfeel is slightly acidic, but pretty smooth overall. I'm puzzled by the less-than-average reviews of this beer; I really liked it, even though it certainly doesn't taste like any ESB I've ever had. Maybe it's that mysterious crispness that makes me enjoy it so much...wait a minute, after a second glass, I figured it out. Apple crispness? Caramel malt? It tastes like a candy apple!

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Photo of oriolesfan4
3.62/5  rDev +13.8%
look: 3.5 | smell: 4 | taste: 3.5 | feel: 3.5 | overall: 3.5

A darn solid beer right here. Pours a cloudy brownish color, some lacing seen on the glass. Smell is of caramel and some roastiness. Taste is medium bodied, some nice caramel notes come through with subtle hops. Nice smoothness to this one.. a little bit boring taste wise but a good beer overall.

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Photo of LilBeerDoctor
3.68/5  rDev +15.7%
look: 4 | smell: 3.5 | taste: 3.5 | feel: 4 | overall: 4

Reviewed on 10/26/2009. Bottle. Pours a slightly hazy amber/brown with a thick off-white head. Aroma of sweet malt, oatmeal, light spices, overall kind of odd. Flavor of tons of sweet fruits: peach, apricot, pear and apple. Not really a fan of the aroma, but I'm really enjoying the fruitiness. Reminds me of one of those canned mixed fruit cups. I didn't have high hopes for this beer initially, but I ended up really enjoying it.

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Photo of tjd112
3.23/5  rDev +1.6%
look: 4 | smell: 3.5 | taste: 3 | feel: 3.5 | overall: 3

Poured into a Chimay glass

A - Brown-ish copper color, thick head
S - Only subtle maltiness, with hoppiness reminiscent of an IPA.
T - Bitter, sort of a tea like flavor with some caramel notes.
M: Very dry
D: Despite having a low-alcohol content, I feel this is more of a sipper than something to wash down food with.

Serving type: bottle

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Photo of Clydesdale
2.73/5  rDev -14.2%
look: 3.5 | smell: 3 | taste: 2.5 | feel: 2 | overall: 3

A: Pours a moderately hazy copper-orange color. The medium-sized head has a faint burnt orange tint and a fairly dense, frothy texture. Retention is above average, with some solid lacing.

S: A solid maltiness up front; a bit of sweet caramel. Some pleasant but nondescript fruitiness. Some mild earthy/spicy hop aromas are present, but are quite subdued.

T: A moderately full maltiness up front. Some pale malt is accompanied by a sweet caramel touch. Notes of fruit, diacetyl, and brewed tea. Hops are light for the style, and quite tame by any standard.

M: Light bodied. Carbonation is soft and fading. Faintly dry in the finish.

D: This is very tame. It isn't awful - it's sort of like a decent red ale sans any hop flavor or balance. Drinkability is admittedly solid, and the low ABV would make this a reasonable session choice. Otherwise, difficult to recommend.

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Photo of mikesgroove
2.97/5  rDev -6.6%
look: 2.5 | smell: 3 | taste: 3 | feel: 3 | overall: 3

An ESB from my home state, what would there be not too like. I was anxious to give this one a whirl and grabbed it for lunch yesterday. Unfortunately things did not go entirely as planned. Served cold and poured into a pint glass, this one was consumed on 08/23/2009.

Appearance 2.5 - A foamy mess here. Not a gusher but about as close to one as I care to get. Took about three pours to get the whole bottle into a glass, not the way we care to start out the day for sure.

Aroma 3 - Light hops here, not terribly aromatic at all. Pine maybe? Not really discernable. Lots of grain and light fruit notes.

Taste 3 - Same here, grain steels the show with a light touch of almost peach like fruit coming through, not much at all in the way of hops ever really comes through, which really is a shame.

Feel 3 - Over carbonated, it had the seltzer kind of effect to it for sure. Got in the way of the flavor at times and really was not winning me over by any stretch.

Drinkability 3 - Ehh, I mean it's not terrible, but I would not really being going out anywhere looking for it, I have had worse.

Overall - I will have to pass on going through with round two on this one. Again nothing terrible here but I will have to pass on this one.

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Photo of TheFightfan1
3.43/5  rDev +7.9%
look: 3.5 | smell: 3 | taste: 3.5 | feel: 4 | overall: 3.5

This was the last beer to review in the variety pack. Poured a hazy amber color with a decent white heading.

Smell has an ok roasted malt aroma but immediatley is overrun by burnt sugar. Very feint aroma's of each but I got something finally after swirling for a while.

Taste and Mouth is decent in malts but has a oily buttery aftertaste.Burnt caramel with some bittering hoppiness to this beer which is medium bodied and good carbonation. A sugary kiss that stick's to the lips for a little while.

Drink is decent a good beer to try but nothing worth seeking out .

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Photo of bonkers
3.63/5  rDev +14.2%
look: 4 | smell: 3.5 | taste: 3.5 | feel: 3.5 | overall: 4

I poured from a 12 ounce bottle into my SA pint glass. It pours a hazy copper with a moderate white head, a bit of lacing. The aroma is a bit sweet, a bit grassy. The beer is a bit sweet on the palate, nothing real complex. The bottle is right, it almost taste like it has honey in it. The beer is a light bodied session beer, that is very easily drinkable.

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Photo of maddogruss
3.72/5  rDev +17%
look: 3 | smell: 3.5 | taste: 3.5 | feel: 4 | overall: 4.5

Got a bottle of this in a River Horse mixer.

A: Pours a murky, amber body with a small, white head with decent retention and lacing until the finish.

S: A sweet, toffee roasted malt smell with some bitter notes.

T: A decent, roasted toffee, malt taste that was pretty nice. Slight bitterness was evident underneath the malts as well as within the aftertaste. As it warmed up, a slight muskiness developed later one to really start balancing out the bitterness.

M: A fairly smooth and crisp mouthfeel that was nice in complimenting the beer.

D: A nice mouthfeel and taste combination makes this beer pretty drinkable. The crispness is refreshing and a slight muskiness of the sweet malts did well to balance the beer later on.

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Photo of GrandpaGeorg
3.78/5  rDev +18.9%
look: 3.5 | smell: 3 | taste: 4 | feel: 3.5 | overall: 4.5

From the sampler pack (from Perfect Pour, of course). Poured a soft brown in the glass, with a huge fluffy head of foam that fell quickly but left a nice lacing of foam all the way down. A touch more carbonation than expected, but a nicely drinkable mouthfeel. Mild biscuity malt flavor with a subtle malt bitterness to round out the flavor profile. No strange aftertastes and was easily quaffed even after it warmed. Would make a nice session beer. Nothing fancy. Just flavorful and refreshing.

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Photo of dacrza1
3.48/5  rDev +9.4%
look: 3.5 | smell: 3 | taste: 4 | feel: 3.5 | overall: 3

Situation: Final exams have began--time to celebrate prematurely!
Glassware: Kisatsky's Pub shaker...
Appearance: Burnt orange-brown body with a crispy, fresh white head that settles to a lacing-less moustache..
Aroma: Robust, hoppy scents--a bit much in the hopper for an ESB (though indeed this is an American brewer)...
Palate: medium-bodied and rather smooth finish after an abrupt start; the throat is stoked ablaze with each passing sip...
Taste: buttery with sweet toffee and vanilla (?); hops provide initial runch but ease off; aftertaste is pleasantly even...
Overall: No insult, but can't think of something more to say either way--works as the twelve-pack filler with a sessionable sweetness....

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Photo of EPICAC
3.53/5  rDev +11%
look: 3.5 | smell: 3 | taste: 3.5 | feel: 4 | overall: 4

This was another beer served on cask. Again, it was served lightly chilled in a mug. River Horse ESP pours a very cloudy, copper color. The aroma is mild overall, but what's there is pleasant: toasty malts, and citric and fruity hops. The aromas could stand to grab you a little bit more.

Toasty malts first hit the tongue followed by a light, bready sweetness. The flavors quickly move into a citric and herbal hop finish. The flavors are pleasant, but seem a bit muddled, with nothing really standing out. This ESB is light-bodied with low carbonation and a husky texture in the finish.

This is a decent session beer, though I think it could be a bit bolder without sacrificing drinkability.

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Photo of originalsin
3.37/5  rDev +6%
look: 3 | smell: 3.5 | taste: 3 | feel: 3.5 | overall: 4

The pour is a deep amber with little head.
Smells somewhat interesting. Floral hop aromas and caramel malts dominate.
This beer doesn't exactly taste like an ESB- there are too many sweet malt flavors going on for me and the bitterness is very mellow.
Otherwise, the beer is medium bodied, well carbonated, and pretty drinkable.

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Photo of emsroth
3.94/5  rDev +23.9%
look: 3 | smell: 4 | taste: 4 | feel: 4 | overall: 4

12oz bottle

App: Slightly darker than amber. A small, one finger head that turned into a thick lace on the top of the beer.

Smell: Sweet floral and piney hops. Smells great but much more like an APA

Taste: A malt in line with the british ale styles: slightly toasty and a bit watery. A little bit sweet. Ends with a slight bitterness. Light taste.

Medium body; very drinkable.

Not the best of the style, but a tasty, highly drinkable brew.

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Photo of Gyle41386
2.31/5  rDev -27.4%
look: 3.5 | smell: 2.5 | taste: 2 | feel: 3 | overall: 2

Poured from a 12 oz bottle into a pint glass. Thanks, mikereaser.

Pours a hazy amber color. Tons of carbonation. Big head doesn't really retain well, and practically none of it sticks. Flurry of activity in the glass.

Really weird musty aroma. I'd be lying if I tried to describe it as anything else.

Just a weird flavor overall. Doesn't make me think ESB at all. It's pretty malty sweet, with a weird metallic kind of finish. Maybe some fruitiness, but there's just not much depth to the flavor.

Medium body. Feel starts out creamy, then is broken up by the lively carbonation. Decently smooth, although it's a bit of a chore to drink it all.

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Photo of plaid75
3.5/5  rDev +10.1%
look: 3.5 | smell: 3.5 | taste: 3.5 | feel: 3.5 | overall: 3.5

Poured a murky dark copper hue with a half finger foamy white head. There was decent retention and lacing.

The smell featured soft caramel malts and a tea like herbal hop.

The taste consisted of a light grainy malt and a slightly herbal hop. A touch of sweetness toward the finish.

The mouthfeel was toward the thinner side of the style with little carbonation.

Overall a decent ESB. Not something I would search out.

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Photo of MetalHopHead6
2.84/5  rDev -10.7%
look: 4.5 | smell: 3 | taste: 2.5 | feel: 2.5 | overall: 3

12oz bottle poured into a shaped pint glass.

River Horse Special Ale ESB pours a deep cloudy gold with a massive pillowy head that took up half the glass. The head over-stayed its welcome, a bit, and left thick foam on the glass. This is a striking-looking beer for any style.

The smell and taste, on the other hand, are in the midst of a style-identity crisis. This is more Hefe than ESB. The smell is faint and malty-sweet and the flavor is strong...and malty-sweet. There is very little hop presence and very little bitterness.

The feel, aftertaste, and lingering impression of River Horse Special Ale ESB is like cotton candy: sticky, sweet, and not so special.

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Photo of Martin2D
3.48/5  rDev +9.4%
look: 3.5 | smell: 3 | taste: 3.5 | feel: 3.5 | overall: 4

A - Golden amber with a large, carbonated type head that fades with no lacing

S - Just hints of hops, some malt and some soapiness

T - Malt on the forefront, hops in the background. Mild bitterness and dry on the finish.

M - Medium carbonation and light in body.

D - Very low ABV and not much extreme flavor going on. Very good session beer, but nothing out of the ordinary.

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Photo of PEBKAC
1.78/5  rDev -44%
look: 2 | smell: 1.5 | taste: 2 | feel: 3 | overall: 1

Nice seeing fresh River Horse around town again. Say hello to the handsome hippo on the label posing for the portrait. :)

Big forceful spurt as the cap comes off. Poured into a cheapie pint glass.

Not a gusher, but it pours like one. Several inches of off-white insulation foam stiffen up & park it. Underneath, it's murky & gunky, & a little less appetizing then your standard amber. Pebble-sized bits & floaters litter the bottom of the glass.

Smell is a lot of caramel that I wasn't expecting. ...and a whole lot of butter. Really obvious amounts of greasy margarine. Was this recipe part of the list of reformulated beers? I was assured this was fresh. Oh man, that is ugly. I mean, I sort of like this is some beers, but that's not what I was looking forward to.

Taste is... gah... really sweet. "...careful addition of carapils malt adds a slight sweetness you might mistake for honey." Eek! Maple candies, honey spread, buttermilk creaminess. Not much stickiness, just spoonfuls of sugar. A little toast & burnt newspaper on the very back of it, & maybe a squirt of orange zest in there somewhere, but that's it. This is like a really bad attempt at a Biere de Miel clone.

Carbonation is well to do, but that alone won't help me finish this. The pale is a so much better sessioner then this weak reach around. Not really offensive, but just impossible(for me at least). Probably could waste the rest of this on an orange glaze for some chicken though.

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Photo of wiseguy142
4.55/5  rDev +43.1%
look: 4.5 | smell: 4.5 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 4 | overall: 5

First thing I notice: SHIT- bottle conditioned. Get to eat hop flakes this whole time. Should probably pay more attention to the bottle next time. That being said, this is the most sediment I've ever seen in a bottle conditioned beer. Lots of very large hop particles left clinging to the bottom/side of the bottle after the pour, not to mention what I got in the beer. No biggie, I guess I'm used to drinking homebrew anyway, but it's definitely something that could be improved.

Pours a great murky iced tea color.. VERY unfiltered and authentic looking. Amazing creamy, frothy head. Really pleased with that. I love it when ou get little dollops of foam on top of the beer even after most of the head has subsided. (Note: even further into the review this head is still creamy and amazing. It's like it keeps getting regenerated)

Aroma smacks me in the face immediately with the sweetness. Lots of crystal malt with a unique fruity character to it. My nose is a little stuffed so I'm sad I'm missing out on some of the complexities I know are in here. Reminds me of a candied apple of all things.

Taste is rich and malty. Reminds me of a lighter version of an Altbier or a English Pale Ale blended with a Dopplebock (that would be weird..). Slight honey character to it with a good backing of pure hop flavor and balanced bitterness. Damn. This is one of my new favorite beers.

Mouthfeel is almost like the beer evaporates in your moth, but not due to excessive carbonation. It's just that smooth. There's something nagging me a bit towards the finish of the beer about the mouthfeel but I can't pinpoint it.. reminds me too much of my own homebrew I guess. Maybe a little dullness in the hop taste towards the end or slight oxidation... but seriously this is good.

I feel slightly seduced by this beer. It's like the hot girlfriend I never had. Every time you take asip you get a nice forthy head back on top. It doesn't taste like hop soda like a lot of American craft beers and doesn't have the consistency of Diet Coke. This is a real beer with some real flavors. Will definitely pick up some more later.

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Photo of allergictomacros
3.5/5  rDev +10.1%
look: 3.5 | smell: 3.5 | taste: 3.5 | feel: 3.5 | overall: 3.5

Pours a lightly hazed copper with a medium-small head. Nose is malt, husky grain and some caramel. Fairly dry in flavour, with a light toast and some faint herbal notes. Light in body but not overcarbonated and finishes fairly cleanly. Good, sessionable ale.

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River Horse Special Ale ESB from River Horse Brewing Co.
Beer rating: 3.18 out of 5 with 162 ratings