ESB Special Ale | Ska Brewing Co.

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ESB Special AleESB Special Ale

Brewed by:
Ska Brewing Co.
Colorado, United States

Style: Extra Special / Strong Bitter (ESB)

Alcohol by volume (ABV): 5.70%

Availability: Year-round

Notes / Commercial Description:
No notes at this time.

Added by Bitterbill on 10-26-2003

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Reviews: 183 | Ratings: 399
Photo of benito
1.64/5  rDev -54.2%
look: 2 | smell: 3 | taste: 1 | feel: 1 | overall: 1.5

Here we go with another subpar offering from Ska...

Out of a can, this pours orange with good head and lacing. The bouquet points to carmel overtones as one would expect from an ESB as well as a strong nuttiness. These promising prospects don't see much follow through in the flavor of the beer itself, with is neither hoppy nor carmel-filled, but rather consists of an awkward fizziness and seaweed
taste. The 'bitter' of ESB seems to have been taken a little too literally and punches me at the back of the tongue with each swig, a reminder that this beer both lack flavor and subtlety. I'm left with a bad aftertaste that is the unnecessary result of an underflavored and imbalanced brew.

What would have made this a better brew? ESBs are a style about which I feel rather flexible, but I think that the biggest issue here is the lack of balance between hops and carmel malts. A nice ESB should have a good, sweet body matched with a nice dose of hoppiness: a yin and yang of style that, unfortunately, isn't to be found in this can.

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Photo of Greencoat
2.13/5  rDev -40.5%
look: 2 | smell: 1.5 | taste: 2.5 | feel: 1.5 | overall: 2.5

Can from Chip's in Kill Devil Hills, NC. Pours to a very hazy rusty orange with a quickly dissipating one finger, beige head, Nose is buttery toffee. Weird. While ESB is one of my favorite styles of beer, I can't say that I'm looking forward to drinking this after that smell - there isn't even a hint of hop presence. The hop selection is too citrusy for this style and malt profile. It starts out with a nice bitterness, but finishes too dry for an ESB and has a very watery feel to it. This beer is a mess. From the bizarre nose to downright poor ingredient selection, I would honestly drink BMC over this. It reminds me of my first homebrew. I would not recommend this to a friend.

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Photo of jrallen34
2.16/5  rDev -39.7%
look: 3.5 | smell: 2.5 | taste: 1.5 | feel: 3.5 | overall: 2

I drank this from the can into a pint glass.

The beer is medium clear gold with a decent white head, good lacing and retention.

The aroma is light hops.

The taste is really bad, all bitter, like a scotch ale with some very weird aftertastes. Mouthfeel is heavy but not drinkable.

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Photo of AgentZero
2.19/5  rDev -38.8%
look: 3.5 | smell: 2 | taste: 1.5 | feel: 3 | overall: 3

A - It looks like a pretty normal beer, nice gold color with a good head and decent lacing down the sides.

S - I'll be honest, I'm not really sure what is going on here, smell some hops and spice, but this is not what I was expecting from a bitter, which I am a fan of.

T - I find this horrible. Too creamy, not a good take on the style, and the bitterness is lost in some sort of sweet, almost syrupy, taste. I find this to be fairly gross and am not drinking it after a few sips.

M - Good carbonation and goes down smooth.

D - Easy to drink other than it just tastes bad.

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Photo of fightingwords
2.29/5  rDev -36%
look: 3.5 | smell: 2 | taste: 2 | feel: 3 | overall: 2.5

Bought a 6 pack on a recent climbing trip to CO.

A--poured a clean golden copper. Fizzy off-white head about 1 finger strong and it fell to a pretty characteristic esb style barely-there-presence. Looked rather classic to me.

S--very unpleasent corn and cheap grain odor. Picked up some spicy hop odors but nothing like the typical bready full on malt notes and fresh earthy hops I like in this style.

T--very similar to the nose. no real participation from any of the ingredients, just an ethanol and spicy flavor that is miles from the typical buttery smooth biscuity malts and earthy hops.

M--not bad, typical low carbonation and light body. might be a touch heavier than others but not way outside the range you'd find in others. Clean finish.

D-- not very drinkable in my opinion. Just not a beer that excites me.

Way bummed out. At 8.50 a 6 pack I was expecting way more, and I passed over Avery's 14'er for this mess.

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Photo of ZoomanCru
2.38/5  rDev -33.5%
look: 2.5 | smell: 2 | taste: 2.75 | feel: 2 | overall: 2.25

App: Pours a typical amber orange with a thin head that dissipates quickly leaving good lacing. Retention is for the birds, almost completely gone in less than a minute. Some flakes floating around. Not a good a sign, but could be a natural result of can conditioning. Well within BB date.

Smell: Light toasted smell, with a slight cheesey characteristic. Some odd fruit notes like pinapple.

Taste: Mildly sweet and bitter simultaneously with a fair amount of diacetyl butteriness. Tastes a little raw, as though it wasn't fermented long enough before canning. A little astringent, metalic and off tasting on the back end.

Mouth: Thin and a little under carbonated. Swallows dry, but leaves a lingering astringency on the tongue.

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Photo of swanmann
2.39/5  rDev -33.2%
look: 3.5 | smell: 2 | taste: 2 | feel: 3 | overall: 3

The can poured deep amber orange with a moderate amount of sticky orange hued head. It smells of juicy citrus and caramel. I would not peg this as ESB. It's fairly sweet with barely detectable hops. I don't see a date on the can anywhere, but I would like to think that other samples are better. I love other brews from Ska.

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Photo of rawfish
2.44/5  rDev -31.8%
look: 4 | smell: 2.5 | taste: 2 | feel: 3 | overall: 2.5

Pours a clear dark amber with mild orange highlights when held up to the light. Yellowish head is small and sickly looking and peaks at one finger. Decent retention and lacing on the glass.

Whoa where's the bready malts here, smells more on the sweet side with molasses, toffee and a bit of cocoa on the nose. Add to that some citrus and apples with adjunct grain that gets in the way as well. Odd.

Not a fan of this. Medicinal hop bitterness has no balance and I detect flavors of grape skin, dark fruits and citric acid. The bitterness is rather persistent throughout the drink but the herb and medicinal hops drag on with the tartness. Grape children's tylenol syrup with burnt grains that ends bitter.

Rather well carbonated with a sticky mouthfeel despite being a bit thin. Lots of flavor for the thin body too bad it's not pleasant.

Ugh, the bitterness was there but not accompanied by any balance or pleasant flavors, I would contend that the malt is here due to the color and sweetness but there's no real mesh with the herbal hop flavors and odd citric notes.

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Photo of JLaw55
2.5/5  rDev -30.2%
look: 2.5 | smell: 2.5 | taste: 2.5 | feel: 2.5 | overall: 2.5

This one tastes like burnt malt and stale hops. The balance is way off, and the flavors are not all that pleasant.

Would Drink Again: No
Would Purchase Again: No

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Photo of tonistruth
2.75/5  rDev -23.2%
look: 3 | smell: 3 | taste: 2.5 | feel: 2.5 | overall: 3

A- dark straw with a bubbly off white head, good retent and some soapy lacing

S- oily, herbal, fruity (apricot, mango, peach)

T- buttery, herbal, citrus rind, some spicy hop, and a dry herbal finish

M- oily, light body with a dry finish

D- one of ska's better brews (IMHO) but still just decent, not as balanced as im used to ESB's being

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Photo of JamisonM
2.81/5  rDev -21.5%
look: 3.5 | smell: 2.5 | taste: 2.5 | feel: 3 | overall: 3.5

Poured into a tulip glass

A: orange copper color off white head and it goes down fairly fast lace on the glass however

S: faint malts faint hops smell is week

T: grainy malts come forward first hops are in the background no kick from this beer it needs more hops! its not bitter at all on my palate

M: mouth is light carbonation medium to high

D: yea its drinkable but why would u want to?

overall: an american bitter should be more bold with hops I did not like this, I sort of think I am being generous with my scores, maybe because I do like this brewery but this beer I wont have again unless they change the recipe, I hope they do!

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Photo of kojevergas
2.85/5  rDev -20.4%
look: 3 | smell: 3 | taste: 2.75 | feel: 3 | overall: 2.75

Aluminum can served into a Samuel Smith's conical pint glass in me gaff in low altitude Los Feliz, California. Reviewed live. Expectations are low; I keep trying beers in the style but few impress me.

Served cold. Side-poured with standard vigor as no carbonation issues are anticipated.

A: Pours a one finger beige colour head of fair cream and thickness, and above average retention. Body colour is a clear copper. Translucent. No yeast particles are visible. No bubble show.

Sm: Sweet toasted malts, clean barley, pale malts, diacetyl/buttery notes, and bready grains. An above average strength, appealing aroma.

T: Buttery and sweet, with a nice malt base of pale and light toasted malts. Some fruity character too. Pretty generic for an ESB, but well balanced. Hop bitterness on the back end.

Mf: Smooth and wet. A bit overcarbonated. Too thick. Suits the flavour profile generally well.

Dr: Drinkable but unremarkable. For an ESB, I like it but I doubt I'd get it again. Still, this one of the better Ska beers I've had for the style. Hides its ABV well.


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Photo of Ryan011235
2.88/5  rDev -19.6%
look: 3.5 | smell: 3 | taste: 2.5 | feel: 3.5 | overall: 3

Poured into a nonic pint glass on 11/1/12

Very clear, rustic amber color with a one finger cap of foam. The head doesn't last too long, but leaves swaths of lace along the way.

The aroma is rather fruity with bready notions, too. Raisin bread, figs and hints of fruit cake. Earthy hop overtones. The taste has more of a hop push, but there are is a lot of toasted bread and mild dark fruit tones to off set any bitterness. All in all, it starts to come together with warmth. Mild hop grit on the finish. The feel is medium-light with soft carbonation.

Overall, this has grown on me. I'd like to give a shake on tap sometime.

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Photo of u2carew
2.9/5  rDev -19%
look: 3 | smell: 3 | taste: 3 | feel: 3 | overall: 2.5

12 oz can.
A) Pours with a finger thick head then settles quickly leaving a thin layer of foam on top. A hazy, amber body with thin lacing on the drink down.
S) Citrus notes - orange and some lemon. Floral tones with a pleasant earthy aroma.
T) Starts with a mild malt sweetness then moves a hop bite that is quite bitter in the finish. Subtle caramel. Some alcohol in the mix - which is odd for a 5.7%.
M) Fizzy up front. Medium body. Thick tannin feel. A little bit syrupy.
D) An alright brew. I don't think I'd have another one.

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Photo of BradLikesBrew
2.98/5  rDev -16.8%
look: 3 | smell: 2.5 | taste: 3 | feel: 3 | overall: 3.5

a: dark golden body, off-white head.

s: mild aroma. toasted malt and spicy hops.

t: sweet biscuity malt and a light spicy hop finish. Rather bland.

m: light to medium body.

d: good to see more breweries canning, but this beer is average at best. A very soft take on a great style of beer. Very easy drinking, sessionable if not boring.

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Photo of NewGeneric
2.99/5  rDev -16.5%
look: 3.5 | smell: 2 | taste: 3 | feel: 5 | overall: 3

Once again thanks to tweidman420 for the generosity.
Poured into a pint glass.

A: Pours a golden orange color with gold tints around the edges. Minimal head fades quickly leaving behind splotches of thin lacing. Thin, soapy bubbles linger over the entire surface.

S: Not much that can be discerned here. Hints of toffee and malt.

T: Very grain malt presence presides over the entire engagement with this beverage. Some earthy hops make their way to the tongue but then jump back off as soon as they do. Better than the smell, but still not a whole lot going on.

M: At least it comes through here. Medium bodied, bitterness is noticeable, but done right. Slightly slick finish. I really couldn't ask for more here.

D: This one seems like it did not reach its full potential. I would probably drink it over a few other beers I know of, but I will definitely not be seeking it out.

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Photo of SirLicksalot
2.99/5  rDev -16.5%
look: 4.5 | smell: 3 | taste: 3 | feel: 2 | overall: 3

Poured from a 12-oz can into a Winnie the Pooh and Piglet tumbler.
Amber to orange color with light head that disappears quickly.
Those are the high points of ale. I was eager to really enjoy this beer, perhaps too eager. I love a good ESB, and what’s not to like about Ska? With a musical style that is exciting enough to inspire Basset hounds to Jack Russell terrier behavior, I just expected more.
The smell was a little lacking for an ESB. There was a bit of malt, a trace of hops, and if you have a human nose, I’m not sure you could even pick up the faint citrus aromas.
Taste was perhaps the biggest disappointment. In a word- weak. This was neither extra special, nor strong bitter. Nicely carbonated, maybe even refreshing, but not at all bold. This ale would not pair well with the exotic gaminess of a freshly caught squirrel, but could serve as an adequate thirst quencher after an unsuccessful squirrel hunt. This was not a bad beer, just a bad ESB.
Oh, bother.

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Photo of thydarkprevails
3/5  rDev -16.2%
look: 3 | smell: 3 | taste: 3 | feel: 3 | overall: 3

From a can to a duvel tulip. Pours a clear caramel with an inch thick off white head. Average lacing. Aroma is biscuit, malt, and light citrus. Flavor is bitter up front and moves to a bready malty taste. There's some toffee and caramel there as well. Mouthfeel is thin and slightly sticky. Not a bad esb.

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Photo of Beaver13
3.02/5  rDev -15.6%
look: 4.5 | smell: 2.5 | taste: 3 | feel: 3.5 | overall: 3

12 oz can. Pours a hazy golden orange with a creamy white head that retain fairly well and laces the glass.

The aroma is sweet corny caramel malts with some fruits and floral and metallic notes.

The flavor is sweet toasted caramel malts with some decent bitterness in the finish. The mouthfeel is medium bodied with smooth carbonation, slightly watery.

Overall, a decent bitter with good balance of sweetness and bitterness. I don't normally care for the toasted/nutty notes but this one was better than I remember.

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Photo of mikereaser
3.03/5  rDev -15.4%
look: 3.5 | smell: 3 | taste: 3 | feel: 3 | overall: 3

A - Pours an amber color with a good 2 inches of foam that quickly faded leaving a little bit of lacing but not much down the glass
S - faint pine hops and caramel malt, but not alot in terms of aroma
T - caramel malts with a piney hop bitterness in the middle, almost a burnt aftertaste to it that leaves me not wanting more, finishing with a bit of a lemon and orange but not very noticable
M/D - light to medium bodied with some nice carbonation. Its still not the most exciting flavor and the burnt taste just makes this one hard to finish. Overall an ok beer but not one i'll search out.

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Photo of ArrogantB
3.03/5  rDev -15.4%
look: 3.5 | smell: 3 | taste: 3 | feel: 3 | overall: 3

12 oz can that I poured into a pint glass. Dark orange color and cloudy. Smell was malty. The taste was metallic, yeasty and not pleasant. The mouthfeel had a grittiness to it that I did not like. I hope this was an old one or something cause it was not good at all.

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Photo of bryanbrick
3.04/5  rDev -15.1%
look: 4 | smell: 2.5 | taste: 3 | feel: 3 | overall: 3.5

Got this as an extra from CosmoHopHead, thanks Matt for a killer trade. I'll try and review more beers from the trade soon.

12oz can. No freshness dating.
Going to do the review by letters, my Girlfriend just texted to meet her at a bar after work. A rare occasion.

A-Nice big frothy head, stark white, on a tan hued gold colored beer

S-Not much here, simple aromas of charred malt and some tinny hops. Tinny in tone, not from the can

T-Most flavor is from the English styled malts. The bitter counterpoint doesn't really hold up. Quick to disappear.

M-Nice creamy feel with a sort of slickness to it. Feels almost synthetic, but not unappealing.

D-A beer for any place you want the ease of cans. Camping, Ball games, etc. But there are also a lot better beers in cans these days so?

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Photo of emmasdad
3.05/5  rDev -14.8%
look: 3 | smell: 3 | taste: 3 | feel: 3.5 | overall: 3

Poured from the can into a shaker pint. When I popped the tab the beer rushed out of the top and down the sides; WOW, a gusher. Medium gold color with some off-white foam. Somewhat bready and sweet, with no real hop character. Pretty disappointing actually, after some of the beers I've had from Ska.

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Photo of BeerAmbassador
3.08/5  rDev -14%
look: 3 | smell: 2.5 | taste: 3 | feel: 3 | overall: 4

Poured a two fingered head but quickly dissapated. Amber hue.

Not much of an aroma. Just a little hops and malt. Maybe a little fruitiness.

Taste is good, although not much hop bitterness. up front malt character, some caramel and other malt flavors.

Pretty good carbonation, nice and creamy mouthfeel. Maybe a little less carbonated than a typical beer but it works in this case.

Very nice drinkability goes down very smooth and definately a good session beer. This is the kind of thing I wouldnt mind taking camping and sitting around the fire with.

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Photo of kpoole25
3.1/5  rDev -13.4%
look: 3 | smell: 3 | taste: 3 | feel: 3 | overall: 3.5

12 oz can to glass. Orange-copper color, off-white head. Malty nose. Taste wise, it seems to hit the malt and mineral notes of English ESB, but the hops stick out as American style pale ale, it seemed to overpower the mix for me. Fairly drinkable but left thinking there are better alternatives.

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ESB Special Ale from Ska Brewing Co.
3.58 out of 5 based on 399 ratings.
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