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River Horse Special Ale ESB | River Horse Brewing Co.

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134 Reviews
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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.

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Reviews: 134 | Ratings: 162
Photo of Brianmerrilyn
3.73/5  rDev +17.7%
look: 4 | smell: 3.5 | taste: 4 | feel: 3.5 | overall: 3.5

@08 Long Island Brew festival, poured into heffe glass, the color was beautiful caramel with dark red accents. A somewhat disappointing small head which faded into a cap quickly, almost no lacing. The taste was low sweetness and Mouthfeel was very light. Pleasant experience overall and would recommend as a nice starter.

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Photo of BeardedBoffin
3.09/5  rDev -2.5%
look: 4 | smell: 2.5 | taste: 3 | feel: 3.5 | overall: 3.5

A 12 ounce bottle of River Horse ESB poured into a pint glass revealed a fairly attractive dark amber ale with a nice appropriate head. The aroma was very light, but I think there was some barely detectable hints of grain and a smaller hint of hops. Nice carbonation on the palate and fairly light bodied. The flavor was similar to the aroma, mainly grain with almost no hops. I was hoping for a bit more.

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Photo of brantadid
2.8/5  rDev -11.7%
look: 3 | smell: 3 | taste: 2.5 | feel: 3 | overall: 3

poured into a pint glass with next to no head. Diminished to next to no head.

A lot of spice in the nose. Some cinnamon and nutmeg which was very unexpected.

Nice balance between hop and malt. Slightly more hoppy than malty.

Moderate carbonation.

Not a standout, but a nice beer.

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Photo of RoBotGod
2.74/5  rDev -13.6%
look: 3.5 | smell: 2 | taste: 3 | feel: 2.5 | overall: 3

This beer looked a little better then it tasted. After taking a few sniffs I didn’t pull a whole lot. Very light hops and a little grain aroma. The taste was light and not a whole lot to it as well. It didn’t taste bad, there just wasn’t a lot of content. There was slim not of bitterness when it warmed up. Usually from a extra special BITTER I tend to expect a little bit of bitterness. Over all I just think it’s a light copper ale.

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Photo of Georgiabeer
3.33/5  rDev +5%
look: 3.5 | smell: 3 | taste: 3.5 | feel: 3 | overall: 3.5

Pours a decent copper with a touch of chill haze. Not much head and no lacing. Smell is extremely light but with a touch of metal and dry malt. Taste isn't bad. Clean, slightly metallic, very slight hint of dry malt, touch of bakers chocolate and floral hops. Mouthfeel is a little slick. Pretty drinkable session beer. Not very alcoholic, fairly lightly flavored and clean but with a touch of decent flavor. Not my favorite, but I wouldn't complain if this was a fallback at a bar with mostly bmc.

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Photo of EStreet20
3.23/5  rDev +1.9%
look: 3.5 | smell: 3 | taste: 3 | feel: 4 | overall: 3.5

12 ounce bottle, shaker pint.

A - Nice copper color. Finger and a half of chinky off white head. Looks pretty nice.

S - Weak smell of sugary malts.

T - Taste is pretty decent. A smooth, clean tasting brew. A bit of sugary sweetness in there. Decently balanced.

M - Medium body lets you take deep sips.

D - Coud be a good session beer at 4.5 % abv but more flavor would be nice.

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Photo of russpowell
2.72/5  rDev -14.2%
look: 3 | smell: 3.5 | taste: 2.5 | feel: 2 | overall: 2.5

Purchased in alexandria, va

Pours a hazed amber/ice tea color with 3 fingers of lively sand colored head. Very good lacing, some head retention & hazed all the way to the bottom

S: Jammy notes

T: Fruitty with some astringent notes up front. Some hop tea& then diathechyl. Some spicy hop & fruitty (apricot) notes follow, but notenough to save this.

MF: Light & prickly & not pleasant

Drinks slow, too astringent, not sure how long this one was sitting in a fridge in that store, but this failed to impress & makes me hesitant to try anything else from these guys. This really reminds me of one of my first (crappy) batches of homebrew, avoid

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Photo of jwc215
2.51/5  rDev -20.8%
look: 3 | smell: 2 | taste: 2.5 | feel: 2.5 | overall: 3

Pours copper - decent clarity - with a thin head that soon disappears to nothing - poor head retention. Little spots of quickly canishing traces of lacing on glass.

The smell is indescribly off - seems like a homebrew that didn't quite come out right. Fortunately, it is mild. Other than that though, can't say there's much to it.

The taste is rather raw. Again, like an off home brew. It almost has something to save it - almost. Swwet malt balanced out by water more than anything. This is the most un-ESB ESB that I;ve had. Sweetness is not overwhelming, so something is balancing it out. A fruitiness is hinted at, but lost. There is a tea-like earthiness. That must be it. But, other than controlling some of the sweetness, adds little to the taste.

There is a watery thinness, and an unusual grittiness. The body is on the upper side of light. There is some fleeting coating effect. But, the feel falls apart enough to bring it to mediocre at best, even forgetting style.

I understand that styles are open to interpretation, but this one misses the mark. It's not very good, ESB or not. It does have something, a lightness about it perhaps, or a mildness, that doesn't make it drain pour, but it comes pretty close.

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Photo of dickroop
2.29/5  rDev -27.8%
look: 3.5 | smell: 2 | taste: 2 | feel: 2 | overall: 3

Poured a clear bronze with not much head and only a faint aroma, so faint I couldn't really discern anything but a kind of beery smell.

Taste was not much there, every-so-faint hops presence and kinda flabby malt flavor that gave a kind of sourish finish. Mouthfeel was weak and watery, at least the carbonation was OK. Have I been drinking so much DFH that I've burned out my taste buds? I don't think so. This is just kinda ordinary beer, like the rating says "not impressed". One could drink a lot of this... if there wasn't anything good around. And it would be better than BMC... but not much. I got this ESB in a variety-pack case, a Pennsylvania special, would never have tried the stuff if not for wanting to get some of the "Hop Hazard". This stuff is a "No-hop Hazard".

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Photo of dirtylou
3.13/5  rDev -1.3%
look: 3.5 | smell: 3 | taste: 3 | feel: 3 | overall: 3.5

12oz single, received as an extra in a trade from Warriorsoul

appearance: pours a murky copper-amber into a between the buns pint glass, quite cloudy, light beige head forms with not much retention and decent lacing

smell: oddly sour, vegetal aromas, toasty malt aromas, artificial sweetner characteristic, light caramel, peach-citrus

taste: certainly not like any esb i have ever sampled...delicate out of place sourness, grainy aftertaste, light caramel, toasty malt...different, but not all that great

mouthfeel: lightly watery, sour on the tongue, average-low carbonation

drinkability: not bad

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Photo of SixpointJMH
2.66/5  rDev -16.1%
look: 3 | smell: 2 | taste: 3 | feel: 3 | overall: 2.5

This one pours a decent looking but somewhat watery amber colour wit ha very thin head that dissolves to nothing with little to no residue left on the glass.

The aroma is a weird concoction of some sweetness, mixed vegetables and hints of what can best be described as vomit. Not very impressive at all.

The flavour axes the vomit-esque qualities but brings in an over the top sweetness that is reminicscent of bubble gum at times. Hops and malt mix nicely in the background but you can't avoid said sweetness. Mouthfeel is average and is, like the appearance a bit watered down.

The weird aroma and uber sweet characteristics of this brew are amongst the reasons I hadn't sampled a River Horse brew in quite some time until recently. Their limited amount of seasonals/special beers are pretty good to very good, but the regular lineup has always seemed to be littered with various problems. Can't really recommend this one.

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Photo of mcallister
2.8/5  rDev -11.7%
look: 3.5 | smell: 3.5 | taste: 2.5 | feel: 2.5 | overall: 2.5

A very opaque copper orange. Poured this one hard to no avail very little head, thin thin lacing with no retention. I do like the color of this beer.

Sour caramel malty aromas. Smells of sweet white fruits not very distinguishable. Slight peach and nectarine with a delicate hop ending.

Thin watery mouthfeel to this one. Lacking any sort of complexity. Basically a semi sweet caramel malt flavor with not much else going on. Very little hop presence.

Not one I will buy again.

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Photo of sacfly
2.95/5  rDev -6.9%
look: 3 | smell: 3 | taste: 2.5 | feel: 2.5 | overall: 4

12 oz, no date.
Pours a lightly hazy orange color with a thin head of medium off white bubbles. Aroma is sour… Smell reminds me of a Flemish red. Taste is watery with a mild sourness in the background. Sourness and some bitterness linger long into a dry aftertaste. Interesting. Just about the farthest thing from the ESB I was expecting. You will be massively disappointed with this as an ESB, but if you are looking for a light, easy drinking beer with a bit of sourness this is OK.

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Photo of Amar
3.39/5  rDev +6.9%
look: 3 | smell: 4 | taste: 3 | feel: 3.5 | overall: 3.5

I poured this into a pint glass but didn't notice much froth (becasue ESBs apparently have low carbonation).

Smell was sweet and really estery with strong fruity hints.

The flavor was slightly dissapointing: it was neither pronounced nor subtle. In other words, it wasn't there. You could easily sense the sweet undertones but it was very impossible to identify any flavors per se. This ale has such a light body and feels just like water especially right after you swallowed it. I had part of this ale with blueberry waffles and ended up appreciating it a little bit more but I wouldn't call this ale anything but slightly above average. So much for it being the flagship ale of River Horse!

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Photo of Phatz
3.46/5  rDev +9.1%
look: 4 | smell: 3 | taste: 3.5 | feel: 2 | overall: 4.5

Okay, so this is a decent tasty beer but *ESB* hardly. That is what it is actually classified as from the brewery but even on the Variety case (from which I got this beer) it is labeled as "Special Ale - a smooth amber ale" which is pretty accurate IMO.

Appearance: Pours a dark amber color decent head. Mediocre lacing.

Smell: There is very little aroma in this beer. Upon very harsh scrutiny you can find a hint of toasty butterscotch and a bit of soapy buttery diacetyl.

Taste: The taste here is quaffable but boring. It is very clean and thin upfront. It almost seem like drinking water to start and the flavor only begins two thirds across the palate. When the flavor kicks in it is a buttery candied malts flavor with a gentle hop character which makes it very balanced. The beer is oily and somewhat juicy with even a bit up fruit showing through the folds. The aftertaste is the biggest part of the beer and it comes in two parts; initially sweet and fruity followed by a drying mild diacetyl taste in the mouth.

Mouthfeel: It is hard to say about the mouthfeel because it changes on the way through. It appears to be very thin week and watery but yet the oiliness add a slickness and smoothness to this very 'flat' beer.

Drinkability: Really it is a straightforward chugger beer. This is one for parties, hotwings and session drinking; not one for contemplation. Unlike other fascinating ESBs this beer is not interesting but it is approachable and easy to drink.

Hope this is helpful.

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Photo of Jdiddy
2.81/5  rDev -11.4%
look: 3 | smell: 2 | taste: 3 | feel: 3.5 | overall: 3

This one leaves a lot to be desired. Very watery taste with no real malt or hop surge to be found. Definitely has hints of honey. The smell became worse after each sip to the point of a vinegar like smell. I definitely would call this an ESB and there is really nothing special about it. I will say it is drinkable mainly because it is so light. A pretty weak effort overall. Glad I only purchased a single bottle. I won't revisit this one again.

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Photo of daliandragon
3.54/5  rDev +11.7%
look: 3 | smell: 4 | taste: 3.5 | feel: 3 | overall: 3.5

Aquired a mixed twelve of these Jersey beers this afternoon at St James Beverage in the suburban hamlet of the same name. Color is pale, golden brown with los of carbonation and minimal head. Looks almost like a cider or a cream soda or something. Nose is mild with hops and fruit and that pleasant bitterness associated with English ale.
Taste is slightly watery for a bitter and could stand to have the principal flavors juiced up forty percent or so. Mouthfeel, again, is agreeable but fairly flat and not overly impressive.
This isn't a horrible effort but needs to focus the aim and produce a unifying taste that can be strengthened by continual repetition, this is just not quite right. However, if you like the style this is worth taking a flyer on.

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Photo of maximumsheehan
3.1/5  rDev -2.2%
look: 4 | smell: 4 | taste: 3 | feel: 2 | overall: 2.5

Small head that faded quickly. Pours an orangey red color.

Very sweet, honey comes through.

Flavors are balanced, caramel and honey are prominent ones.

Mouth feel:
Carbonation is barely noticeable.

Very easy to drink however it is very sweet so I didn't find myself wanting more than one.

This is an ok beer that I would certainly drink if I was offered one. I wouldn't buy it. A previous review sums this beer up perfectly, forgettable.

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Photo of jmz62565
2.91/5  rDev -8.2%
look: 3.5 | smell: 2.5 | taste: 3 | feel: 3 | overall: 3

This pours a cloudy reddish amber with a very small short lived head.The smell is average with some roasted malt,but that's about it.The taste has some roasted malt nuttiness and a slight citrus aftertaste.The m/f is light and leaves your mouth a little watery.This is an average beer and I doubt I'll try this again.

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Photo of DevilDogBeer
2.98/5  rDev -6%
look: 4 | smell: 3.5 | taste: 2.5 | feel: 3 | overall: 3

River Horse poured a hazy red, which I found as a positive sign as it means the beer was not filtered. The head was a good white color but faded half way through the beer. The smell was very malty with a sight caramel note; a fruity hop nose complemented the sweetness. The taste was a little too sweet for the style, I expect a pronounced hop character in an ESB but I did not find it here. The mouth feel was good, a nice bodied beer. Special Ale is a good drinking beer but the sweetness of it limits me to only one or two in a session. Definitely worth a try, but I don’t know about buying it case after case.

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Photo of ppoitras
2.74/5  rDev -13.6%
look: 4 | smell: 2.5 | taste: 2.5 | feel: 3 | overall: 3

12oz bottle purchased as a single somewhere in NoVA, either WF/Vienna, WF/Annadale, Norm's, or Rick's.

Poured into an imperial pint glass, formed a 1/4" beige head above the mostly clear copper brew. Head settles down a layer of foam, with nice lacing. Aroma is almost sickly sweet for the style, little evidence of hops. Taste, unfortunately, continues along this road. Somewhat corny sweetness, with the slightest of bitterness not even close to doing its job of balancing (or more) here. Mouthfeel and drinkability are okay, but the sweetness just puts a damper on the whole experience.

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Photo of Hagbard
2.59/5  rDev -18.3%
look: 3.5 | smell: 2 | taste: 2.5 | feel: 3 | overall: 3

Pours deep orange with a small white head. It's hazy and cloudy, apparently unfiltered. The aroma is almost nonexistent, but what's there is a malty sweetness with a strange soapy note in the background. The taste is very underwhelming. There's not much there past a vague malty sweetness. Hops seem nonexistent. It finishes like it starts...there's a serious lack of flavor here. This is clearly a "crossover" beer, but I think it fails at even that. There isn't very much taste and what's there isn't terribly interesting or appealing.

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Photo of tgbljb
3.17/5  rDev 0%
look: 3.5 | smell: 4 | taste: 2.5 | feel: 3 | overall: 3.5

Upon its emergence from the botlle, the beer presented itself as a deep amber liquid with boisterous white puffy head that fell to a chunky coating that refused to leave. The aroma is a toasty sweetness that was immensely pleasureable to the nose. Where is the taste? I can detect a slight presence of malt, but I feel its really trying to hide. Finish is sweet and a bit dry but reallly is unremarkable. The beer was very easy to drink because there flavor was so light.

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Photo of GCBrewingCo
3.25/5  rDev +2.5%
look: 3.5 | smell: 3.5 | taste: 3 | feel: 3 | overall: 3.5

The beer poured into the glass tea colored with a very slight haze. The head was frothy and tall and large bubbled. The bottle opened with a noticeable whoosh and with a large release of carbonation.

The aroma was slightly corny (DMS) followed by a light caramel and a low fruity aspect.

The flavor was light caramel with a nice fruity component. The flavors were difficult to acertain with such a high carbonation level. The carbonic bite in the flavor was high. The bittering of the beer was low, but kept the caramel malt from becoming overpowering. As the carbonation dropped off more bready flavors emerged.

The finish was dry with a slight lasting caramel and a very low fruit character. The body was medium, but the carbonation level was off the charts making it seem much less. Not a bad beer, but nothing to get excited about or to seek out.

12 ounce bottle purchased at Vintage Cellar.

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Photo of sliv
3.02/5  rDev -4.7%
look: 2 | smell: 2.5 | taste: 3 | feel: 3 | overall: 4

I spent a long time staring at the beer refrigerators in the store down the street from me, trying to decide if I wanted something new or something familiar. I must have looked lost, since the owner came and recommended this one to me, as well as the Tripel Horse (to be tasted tomorrow…) I have had such good luck with his recommendations in the past, that I was positive this would be a worthy beer. However, on sampling I discovered that I didn’t find anything “extra” about this ESB except maybe extra mediocre.

This beer poured a thin, weak head. The head subsided almost immediately into nothing. Looking through the glass, I could see a faint haze swirling about in the honey-amber-copper color. I didn’t notice too much carbonation at first glance, but the bubbles were there…you just have to look for them.

Right away I could smell light sweet malts. This beer has promise. Something metallic underneath, though. Not sure what it is. Bad 6-pack? Old beer? Bad water? Not a strong odor, but definitely there, lurking behind the nice malts.

Very light taste in this beer. No single thing really stands out. Very basic light ale. The sweet malts are there, and the metallic smell is now a faint metallic taste, but not so much to overpower the malt. Very light aftertaste here. Nice finish. Seems very balanced.

Mouth feel:
Only a very slight bit of carbonation. I would have preferred a little more, so that you notice the beer is there. This is light and sweet, but not cloyingly so. These go by very quickly.

This is a very easy to drink beer, but there’s nothing truly outstanding here. The metallic taste fades away after about half a bottle. I could definitely drink this one all night. I hardly noticed that I was almost finished with the second beer almost as soon as I poured it. This reminds me of a hundred other forgettable ales that won’t make you sick, and can be had again and again and again and (well, you get the idea)

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River Horse Special Ale ESB from River Horse Brewing Co.
3.17 out of 5 based on 162 ratings.
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