River Horse Special Ale ESB | River Horse Brewing Co.

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 BWH3
2.84/5  rDev -10.7%
look: 3.5 | smell: 2 | taste: 3 | feel: 3.5 | overall: 3

A-copper fairly still average head retention.

S- caramel malt and wet hair. not too pleasing

T - a tart apple taste with the lightest caramel accent. little bitterness and little creaminess. the bitterness is mineral and mild.

M- light, still, average retention

D- average mid Atlantic esb

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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 smcolw
2.83/5  rDev -11%
look: 3.5 | smell: 3 | taste: 2.5 | feel: 3 | overall: 3

This amber pours with a slight chill haze and features a modest head with a mild lace that slides down the glass side. The aroma is predominantly caramel with a touch of hop. I also detect an unpleasant metallic smell.

The caramel aromas translate into caramel flavors that last into the aftertaste. This has a very light hop for the style. The carbonation is moderate to high and the body is thinner than the coloring would suggest.

Much more malty than most ESB's, and certainly more watery. I wouldn't recommend it past a curiousty tasting.

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Photo of necoadam
2.83/5  rDev -11%
look: 3.5 | smell: 3 | taste: 2.5 | feel: 3 | overall: 3

The label states that it's their special ale with the letters ESB on the bottom right side. So, they say this is an ESB huh...

Poured out a copper/amber head with a thin layer of carbonation on top. Smell consisted of caramel, malts, and a biscuity aroma. Taste was a bit of a let down. Started off with a malty biscuity backbone with some caramel and sweetness mixing in the middle, but that was it, and even those flavors were on the light side. Mouthfeel was medium with a lack of carbonation I thought. Quite a disappointing brew. Not a true ESB, or even an amber ale. These guys are capable of producting much better beers I would think.

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Photo of Jdiddy
2.81/5  rDev -11.6%
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 mcallister
2.8/5  rDev -11.9%
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 brantadid
2.8/5  rDev -11.9%
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 whartontallboy
2.78/5  rDev -12.6%
look: 3.5 | smell: 3 | taste: 2.5 | feel: 3.5 | overall: 2.5

Light copper pour, medium-sized white head that didn't retain very well. Not much carbonation, either.

Smell is thin malt with a significant off note that has an almost metallic scent. There's some baked bread, etc, but that's about it.

The flavor is similarly weak with bready malt, but the off note in it just keeps coming through. It's kind of a metallic sweetness that I've noticed in some other River Horse beers. The maltiness could use some notable hop presence to round it out; as it is, it's just kind of malty with the metallic note and a hint of diacetyl.

Overall: Eh. Pretty weak, especially to call itself an ESB. The "S" stands for "special!"

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Photo of ppoitras
2.74/5  rDev -13.8%
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 RoBotGod
2.74/5  rDev -13.8%
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 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 russpowell
2.72/5  rDev -14.5%
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 JunkYardJake
2.7/5  rDev -15.1%
look: 3 | smell: 3 | taste: 2.5 | feel: 3 | overall: 2.5

12oz bottle poured into pint glass.
Redesigned bottle says nothing about being an ESB. Pours a dark amber wich looks brown at certain angles. Small head that fizzles quickly. Smell throws me for a loop since I was expecting an american amber, which is what the bottle says. Heavy toffee malts with some toasted grain and a little butterscotch. Taste follows the nose pretty well. Malt forward, a little buttery and some caramel and licorice. Tastes much bigger than 4.5% as I notice bit of alcohol on the palate. Mouthfeel is a little chewy. Went down easy enough but I'm glad I only have one.

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Photo of Pencible
2.7/5  rDev -15.1%
look: 3 | smell: 3 | taste: 2.5 | feel: 2 | overall: 3

This poured a hazy honey color with tons of off-white head (foamed out of the bottle as soon as I popped the top). It smelled like polished copper and grass and lemon hops, with fresh wheat and dusty barley. It tasted like copper and wild yeast and lemon hops, with some barley. It was watery with tons of carbonation, and had a bitter aftertaste. Overall this was a super fizzy beer that had decent flavor but was pretty bland. It was tough to enjoy or critique through all the carbonation. I'm not a fan.

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Photo of hops4me
2.69/5  rDev -15.4%
look: 4 | smell: 2.5 | taste: 2.5 | feel: 2.5 | overall: 3

I am an instructor to 15 Marine Corps captains. During the holiday leave block we all said we would bring back a six pack from the state we were taking leave in. This was my selection. After reading some mediocre reviews, I decided to test it. I wish I bought the Oatmeal Stout instead. The appearance is the only thing good about this beer. It pours a bright gold to amber with a big fluffy head. Ample lacing sticks to the side of the glass. I don't get too much in the aroma. Maybe a little grainyness and no real hop aroma to speak of. The taste is the same. A little malt sweetness but nothing else. The mouthfeel is light with a weird drying happenning to my mouth. I guess it has "drinkability" due to its light nature but the flavor is not there. I would rather spend a dollar or two less and get Yuengling if I am looking for something light and quaffable. Looks like I am going to have to purchase something else because I am not giving this to my students.

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Photo of moulefrite
2.68/5  rDev -15.7%
look: 3.5 | smell: 3 | taste: 2.5 | feel: 2.5 | overall: 2.5

Starts out alright with a fairly clean caramel color and a fluffy/sticky beige head. That's where the story ends. Aromas are average at best, and feature sweet malt extract, and a hoppy aroma redolent of hairspray? Some buttery elements as well rise to the nostril(s). In the mouth the beer is quite dilute-watery in fact. Roasted grain, buttered popcorn, and a rather un-refreshing level of sparkle. This is a pretty boring beer, and I don't really want to finish it, but it was part of a beer of the month club purchase bought by a buddy-and it is free...ok I'll finishit.

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Photo of SixpointJMH
2.66/5  rDev -16.4%
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 ToasterChef
2.65/5  rDev -16.7%
look: 3 | smell: 3 | taste: 2.5 | feel: 2.5 | overall: 2.5

Poured from a cellar temperature beer into a pint glass. The beer is clear with a light brown color. There was a large head of small off-white bubbles. There is a lot of carbonation rising within; A lot of bubbles are clinging to the sides and bottom of the glass. It looks as though it is over carbonated. It has a mild hop aroma that is slightly off in some way. Maybe it is all the gas coming form the dissipating head that is influencing the smell. There is touch of hop to the flavor, but it's hardly strong enough to call this an ESB. Otherwise it tastes watery and slightly piney. It has a light body and a ton of carbonation. I can feel bubbles in every corner of my mouth. There is a little coating, but nothing memorable. What is more noticeable is the feeling my stomach has with all of this gas in it, even after just a few sips. I'm afraid this beer is going to make me burp a few times. All of this carbonation makes this glass hard to finish. I will say that this bottle is a little old, and that may be why the flavor isn't that bitter and there is so much carbonation. I don't think I get another bottle of this, unless I knew it was very fresh.

 1,162 characters

Photo of droomyster
2.63/5  rDev -17.3%
look: 3 | smell: 2.5 | taste: 2.5 | feel: 3.5 | overall: 2.5

I like a few River Horse beers this is not one of them. Pours a clear copper with a small head and lots of sediment. Smell reminds me of the essence of a watermelon sucker with a tootsie roll in the middle; it doesn't smell beer-like at all; no trace of hops. Tastes not at all like and ESB. In fact, it hardly tastes like a beer at all. Cloying malts and over-yeastiness is not tasty to me in the slightest. I hope that RH either reworks this beer or else scraps it, because I know from other styles that they are able to make some pretty good beer.

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Photo of Thads324
2.61/5  rDev -17.9%
look: 4 | smell: 3 | taste: 2 | feel: 3.5 | overall: 2.5

Poured from a bottle into a perfect pint :

A: pours a deep amber/copper with a honey glow, white head that dissipates quickly to nothing.

S: smells of sour fruit and old apples. Very little hop aroma, just sweet and then sour fruit.

T: a sweet malt followed by more of the sweet and almost old fruit flavor. There's a hint of hop towards the end but it isn't all that noticeable with all the odd sweet fruit flavor.there's a biscuit malt after taste with a slight hop at the end.

M : little carbonation with a slight linger of this fruit.

D: weak, real weak

Disappointed in a brewery I'm usually high on. Seems like a poor blend of malts. I don't know if it's old or what. Not a fan at all...not an esb at all

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Photo of Hagbard
2.59/5  rDev -18.6%
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 HeroicDoses
2.59/5  rDev -18.6%
look: 4 | smell: 2.5 | taste: 2.5 | feel: 2.5 | overall: 2.5

Poured a midnight copper with a long lasting fluffy head. Looks pretty good in a pint glass. Smell is average at best...nothing to write home about. Has a caramel taste, but falls a little flat. Overall nothing really jumps out about this beer. Almost like you really have to search for it's character. In the end though it's not that bad, it basically comes off as just an average beer. To me River Horse overdoes it more often than not (Hop A Lot A Mus for example), but this beer does the opposite (it doesn't do enough). The finish is like eating an actual caramel...sticky and sweet. Would I buy this again? No. But would I say it's crap? No. It's just an average beer.

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Photo of MuddyFeet
2.52/5  rDev -20.8%
look: 2.5 | smell: 3 | taste: 2.5 | feel: 2.5 | overall: 2

Not what I was hoping. A very lifeless beer with not much going for it--but also nothing hugely negative about it. Pours a brick red, and at first it was clear but upon further inspection it appeared rather hazy. Also, I could not get a head to form on this beer. Full bodied, but flat feeling. Flavor is almost sour apple juice. I can barely find the presence of any hops. Malts come through rather thick and almost tastes as if some rye was added into the hop bill. Reminds me of really bad homebrew.

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Photo of jwc215
2.51/5  rDev -21.1%
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 bonbini26
2.5/5  rDev -21.4%

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