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: 184 | Ratings: 400
Photo of StoneTSR
4/5  rDev +11.7%
look: 4 | smell: 4 | taste: 4 | feel: 4 | overall: 4

APPEARANCE: This is another very good looking beer from Ska. It pours an slightly pale orange-copper and the head on top of my Delirium Tremens tulip glass was about a half an inch thick allowing the 12 oz. can to be poured into the glass for a near perfect fit. The head dissipated very gradually until a thin film remained on top, concentrated in the center of the glass. Some lacing stuck to the top of the ring, but not much else after that.

SMELL: The aroma was noticeable as soon as I poured. The one drawback to cans, in my opinion, is that it can be tough to smell a beer through the top of a can and too often I drink Ska’s beer directly out of the can with no glassware. On the rare occasions I drink a Modus Hoperandi out of a glass I am always reminded that while it is great out of the can once it opens up in a glass, it is a simply outstanding beer. I can already tell the ESB is going to be better out of the glass. The aroma is a fairly strong, sticky pine.

TASTE: Like the nose, this beer is a lot more piney than most other ESBs I’ve had. It also happens to be pretty bitter for the style as well, a rare case of an ESB actually living up to its name, which I like. The pine is followed by a pleasant hoppiness that mellows just before the end of the sip, leaving a little malt and citrus on the tongue. As it warmed I began to pick up a faint hint of caramel as well. Very solid.

MOUTHFEEL: I’ve found that most of Ska’s beer is pretty well carbonated and this one is no different. It is a lively beer that sparkles like crazy and does an excellent job at cleansing the palate. I am eating some Triscuit-like crackers with cheddar and Black Forest Ham and one sip of the ESB is clearing my palate. It is a nice pairing by the way. As for the weight of the ESB, it sits very lightly and at 5.7% would be sessionable for an IPA/Double IPA fan like myself.

OVERALL: This has got to be one of the strongest flagship beers out there. Well, that is, if Modus isn’t now considered their flagship beer. Either way, this is a strong, readily available beer. If I am having a hard time deciding what to get at a bar I almost always go for either the Modus or the ESB, they are excellent beers, particularly for the price point. At $8.99 a 6-pack and usually $5 or less at the bar (in Chicago) you could do a lot worse for your money.

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Photo of matjack85
3.85/5  rDev +7.5%
look: 3.5 | smell: 3.5 | taste: 4 | feel: 4 | overall: 4

I found this 12oz aluminum can at the Binny's store in Plainfield, IL for $1.49. They do have a best by date on the bottom rim of the can, but you'll need a magnifying glass to read it. Mine says Best by 12-23-11, so it's plenty fresh. There is also a pair of dancers on the can with the words "Lip up fatty" above them. I have absolutely no idea what that means.

The beer poured a burnt orange/amber/copper color that turned light orange when held to light. The 1-finger white head lasted several minutes and it left tons of lacing.

The beer had a heavy fruit smell along with sweet caramel, malt, and even hops lurking in the background.

The beer was nowhere near as bitter as the name would imply. Instead, it's nicely balanced with sweet malt and caramel on one side, with mild bittering hops on the other. I don't know where all the fruit went that I found in the smell, but it wasn't noticeable in the taste. I liked the balance of flavors in here.

This is a light, spritzy beer with high carbonation. It also leaves a light, lingering bitterness after the swallow.

Very easy to drink with no trace of alcohol. I enjoyed this one.

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Photo of OttoPeeWee
3.46/5  rDev -3.4%
look: 4 | smell: 3 | taste: 3.5 | feel: 4 | overall: 3.5

Second tasting of the day from Ska. Overall this is a decent brewry (the other beer was the motis hop...). They seem spot on with their own take on this ESB and the american IPA. The look is pretty standard ESB golden brown with creamy head that dissapates. The smell is grainy funky although I prefer more fruit in the ESB's (yes a flaw!). There is also a faint whiff of alcohol. I'm not sure why at this ABV. The taste is malt butter with a different hoppiness than an ESB like Fullers. Not bad. Great value for the 12 pack I bought. I don't mind the cans, but check out PBR and go back to the drawing board on the graphics.

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Photo of mltobin
3.33/5  rDev -7%
look: 3.5 | smell: 3 | taste: 3.5 | feel: 3 | overall: 3.5

Can, which was poured into a pint glass.

Appearance is amber with a one finger beige head. The smell has bread, caramel, malts, and faint hops. Ska`s esb tastes fairly sweet, with more of that caramel from the nose, also some light tropical fruit. Its` bitterness is fairly subdued, and a body that leans towards thin. This is a decent ESB and it would quench you thirst on a summer day.

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Photo of DCon
3.38/5  rDev -5.6%
look: 4 | smell: 3.5 | taste: 3.5 | feel: 3 | overall: 3

Bought a 12 FLOUID OZ. can of this from Lukas Liquor in Ellisville, MO for $1.99. Poured from the Red Can into my Gilligan's Pub Pint Glass (from Siesta Key, FL) and has a BEST BY 11/3/10 on the bottom ridge of the can.

Aroma- Starts with HUGE spices and a strong hop aroma. Nice caramel aroma as well hanging out.

Appearance- Pours a deep copper body with 2.5 fingers of bubbly/frothy head that has GREAT retention. Lace is sticking like crazy on the sides like nothing I've ever seen!

Flavor- Very malty from the start and has a good sweetness that backs this up. Also has a decent amount of hop but nothing to attribute to the lack of bitterness... Have had many ESB's with a much stronger bitterness.

Mouthfeel- Medium Bodied, Low Carbonation, and leaves malt on the palate. Nothing "special" here.

Overall Impression- Brews from Ska are always above average but this one was right around the average ESB... Nothing really grabbed my attention but wasn't necessarily a bad brew.. I would definitely grab 1 or 2 of these when going on a float trip or camping but would rather have the canned Modus Hoperandi!

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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 Beerandraiderfan
3.53/5  rDev -1.4%
look: 4 | smell: 3.5 | taste: 3.5 | feel: 3.5 | overall: 3.5

A little darker than most esb's I've had this one came in a hybrid orange and dark amber. Caramel and a tiny amount of hops in the aroma.

Taste, pretty good, some bitter and hops, really couldn't differentiate this between an esp and a pale ale. Citrus hop, pale and caramel malt flavor, seems like a pale to me. Very well carbonated. A decent brew, nothing groundbreaking, maybe not dry enough to be a true esb, but I've always found esb's to be like pales with less hops.

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Photo of bark
3.83/5  rDev +7%
look: 4 | smell: 3.5 | taste: 4 | feel: 3.5 | overall: 4

The smell is mildly sweet with quite a lot of bitterness. Sweet bread, some fruits and hints of grass, flowers and touches of alcohol and butter.

The colour is amber with a touch of red (25 ECB). The liquid is clear. The warm beige head is finger thick and compact. It sinks slowly leaving some lacing.

The taste is a bit bitterer than I am used to from British ESBs. Otherwise, I recall all the flavours from the “originals”: Some caramel, butter, sweet fruits, hay and flowers, some passing alcohol. Medium to full body. The aftertaste got bread-like flavours, some alcohol, fruits and bitter herbs and notes of dandelions and buttercups. The lingering aftertaste got malty flavours of French loaf.

The carbonation is strong but rather short-lasting with lots of very small bubbles. The liquid is semi-smooth.

A splendid British ESB with an very gentle American twist!

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Photo of omnigrits
4.3/5  rDev +20.1%
look: 4 | smell: 4 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 4 | overall: 4.5

Poured from the can into a perfect pint glass.

A. A light copper-colour with a moderate head and not too much lace.

S. Primarily sweet nutty malts with some nice hop aroma.

T. Very much like an English ESB - malt is the main player with hops in the background. Sweet, but not too much, and with a little hop bitterness cutting through the malt. Nicely balanced hop flavour against the malts, but malt is the main player here.

M. Medium bodied.

O. Well, I've downed one of them far more quickly than I probably should and I'm about to open another. Very easy to drink.

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Photo of Teleweizen2
3.48/5  rDev -2.8%
look: 4 | smell: 3.5 | taste: 3.5 | feel: 3 | overall: 3.5

A - the beer pours from the can a smooth deep amber color almost mohogonay, but turns to a bright clear orange when backlit. there is about 2 fingers worth of snow white foam on top but lacks for retention.

S - the aroma is mild, but there is a ton of chocolate from the dark malts, a bit of red fruit, some licorice, and a hint of earthy hops.

T - a light sweetness from the malts up front as well a decent amount of chocolate that seems to completely coat the tounge. there is a nice herbal hop complement to the chocolate flavor in the middle. smooth finish with a lingering bit of hop bitterness.

M - decent amount of carbonation, could be a little bit smoother. otherwise has a nice creamy texture.

D - this British inspired ale would be just the thing on a cool Fall evening. has enough flavor to be an interesting beer but has a low enough alcohol content to enjoy more than one.

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Photo of JMad
3.58/5  rDev 0%
look: 4 | smell: 3.5 | taste: 3.5 | feel: 4 | overall: 3.5

I poured a 12 oz can into a tulip glass (it was the only clean one I had)...

The beer was a copper color with a thin off-white, soapy looking head. It smells a bit sour with hints of lemon and caramel. The taste has a lemony bitterness up front followed by a sweetness that is washed over by a biscuit flavor. There is a pleasant lingering bitterness in the aftertaste. It feels a little watery, the carbonation's ok and the finish is dry. This is an easy drinking beer with lots of flavor. I enjoyed it and would drink it again, it's well balanced and very drinkable.

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Photo of wmtxbb
3.32/5  rDev -7.3%
look: 3 | smell: 3.5 | taste: 3.5 | feel: 3 | overall: 3

Can poured into a pint glass

Appearance: light level of lacing on top of a caramel colored brew. Nothing amazing.

Smell: Crunchy amber malts, sweet malts, light phenols and floral hop aroma.

Taste: Aggressive bitterness up front, followed by a caramel fruity malt flavor, the floral hops, biscuit, and a lemon zing. Interesting combination: the bitter character is stronger that usual for the style, but it suits this particular beer.

Drinkable, but not something I'm going to search for in the future, not because this beer is off-putting, but because ESBs are not a beer I typically enjoy. This particular ESB is moderately above average for an ESB; while it fits the style, it doesn't offer any new take and it doesn't distinguish itself from the others.

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Photo of chicagoabbot
3.46/5  rDev -3.4%
look: 4 | smell: 3 | taste: 3.5 | feel: 4 | overall: 3.5

Can into a ESB it's not, but it's a decent beer, better than indicated by the rating. Decent head on it on top of the right color body for the style. However, it's not nearly dry enough or bitter enough. This would be more properly called a pale ale

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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 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 alli4051
3.56/5  rDev -0.6%
look: 3.5 | smell: 2.5 | taste: 4 | feel: 3.5 | overall: 4

Poured from a 12oz can into a SA perfect pint.

Pours dark burnt orange with a slightly off-white head. Head is average sized but dissipates slowly and leaves some chunky lacing. Scent, honestly, there's not a whole lot there, some murky malts but that's all I'm getting. Taste is nicely balanced, pleasantly subtle is how I would describe it. Earthy malt profile with some nice citrusy hop tones up front. On the light side of medium with a clean finish. ESB was a style I never understood, and then it clicked today as to what exactly it was supposed to be and I felt stupid. With my new found understanding of the style this seems to be a good example. Goes down easy and I'm happy to keep throwing them back. Got this in a variety pack and definitely could have gone for more than the four that were in there.

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Photo of jeffaz02t
3.3/5  rDev -7.8%
look: 3 | smell: 3 | taste: 3.5 | feel: 3 | overall: 3.5

A: Amber, with an off-white head. Head poured thick, bit dissipated quickly into about a quarter inch of lace. Glass was very clean, but very little lacing.

S: a little pine from hops, and caramel. I have noticed that a lot of their brews have a similar vibe in the malt profile. This is a good thing as it is pretty tasty and provides a good contrast to the hops.

T: The hops come across right away, though not nearly as strong as the smell might suggest. This fades into a caramel sweetness and then into a copper/penny type of aftertaste.

M: On the thin end of medium. Thought it would be a little fuller.

D: Could drink many due to its relative thinness for its style.

Notes: Would buy again in a single can, not in a 6er. Not bad, but not in my top picks in its style.

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Photo of Ego
3.83/5  rDev +7%
look: 3.5 | smell: 3 | taste: 4 | feel: 4 | overall: 4.5

picked up some down in the obx...

2 fingers of slightly off white foam, caramel/burnt orange hue, carbonation is active, head retention is good... lacing is spotty, pretty nice looking, you'd bang her... but you're not sure you would date her long term.

almost a little of that euro-heineken stank to it, brown herbal hops, the malt is there but is a touch less sweeter than I expect from this style, some old orange rind smell in there also. interesting but nothing to woo me or boo me.

taste etc...
Fuller's ESB was one of my first loves, and many times I am disappointed by what american brewers do to this style, usually they go over the hop top (while I love mad hops this is not the style to hammer imo), this is an exception, this is an extremely friendly beer for session-ing, it is light without being watery, it has that buttery/caramel hop finish with just some bitterness much like it's english counterparts, this really drinks easy.

if this was on tap at the local pub I would have it, it isn't the greatest beer in the world but man sitting around shootin the shite drinking this and BSing with buds ? this works.

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Photo of Lemke10
3.48/5  rDev -2.8%
look: 4 | smell: 3.5 | taste: 3.5 | feel: 4 | overall: 3

I bought a single can of this from Woodman's in North Aurora, IL for $1.50 in Fall 2010.

Pours a golden amber color as the scent of hops erupt from pouring into a chilled pint glass. Drinking past the decent head there is a semi-mild bitter taste to it. No where near as bitter as an IPA however. A nice hoppy taste that makes this beer fairly decent.

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Photo of thagr81us
3.65/5  rDev +2%
look: 3.5 | smell: 3.5 | taste: 3.5 | feel: 4 | overall: 4

Thanks to tr4nc3d for this one as an extra in a past trade. Served from can into a Dogfish Head Signature glass. Poured hazy yellow orange with a minimal white head. Maintained excellent lacing throughout the glass. The aroma was comprised of sweet malt, hops, and a slightly nutty note. The flavor was of only sweet malt and hops. It had a light feel on the palate with mild carbonation. Overall this was a pretty nice ESB. Had a very well balanced flavor and nice aroma. However I feel the flavor and aroma was a little simple and not very complex. If there would have been more complexity to this one it could have been something quite special. Still a nice brew that I am glad I got the opportunity to try.

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Photo of birchstick
3.4/5  rDev -5%
look: 4 | smell: 4 | taste: 3 | feel: 4 | overall: 3

A - pours a clear copper color with a billowing white head

S - smells of piney hops and loads of caramel hops. Spot on for the style with a little more hop presence than normal

T - Some caramel and bready malts are followed by a piney hoppy bitterness. I was hoping the smell would translate to the palette a little better (this is way more malt than hop forward), but oh well - this is still very good.

M - big and full and goes down smoothly...nice

D - this is a pretty good ESB. I don't know if I would particularly seek this one out, but I know I will buy it again at some point.

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Photo of dirtylou
3.36/5  rDev -6.1%
look: 4.5 | smell: 3.5 | taste: 3 | feel: 3.5 | overall: 3.5

12oz can, mixed 12 pack from Binny's in Schaumburg

appearance: another great pour from a Ska can into an imperial pint - cloudy copper body, fluffy full white head with strong retention

smell: fresh cut flowers, toasted grain, light hops, lemon zest

taste: kind of a flat flavor profile - flowers, sweet malts, grain, lemon, taffy.

mouthfeel: a little dry, medium-light

drinkability: fine

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Photo of Bizz88
3.36/5  rDev -6.1%
look: 4 | smell: 3 | taste: 3 | feel: 4 | overall: 4

This "Four Corners" brew poured a clear medium amber from a 12oz can with a two fingered off white head with some light lacing. Aromas of malt and grains with a touch of hops. A malty citrus on the palette with a bitter metallic finish, good carbonation in a medium body that paired well with a smoked trout pate on whole wheat toast. Yeah right! Decent enuf brew for more than one.

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Photo of SanDiegoBeerLove
3.48/5  rDev -2.8%
look: 3.5 | smell: 3 | taste: 3.5 | feel: 3.5 | overall: 4

12oz can with 1/20/2011 Best Buy date.

A - Amber/Brown color with about an inch of Head that fades leaving a light film.

S - Smell of Caramel, Roses, Lemon, Grass, and much more like Champagne than an ESB.

T - Tastes of dried fruits, Grapefruit, Celery, and Bourbon as it warms up. It tastes more like an Amber but less malty.

M - Medium body, good carbonation, and crisp mouthfeel.

D - A good drinkable beer and glad it is in cans. Good Pairing with saltier foods.

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Photo of eclaycamp
3.38/5  rDev -5.6%
look: 3.5 | smell: 3 | taste: 3.5 | feel: 3.5 | overall: 3.5

Having come away thoroughly impressed with Ska's Modus Hoperandi, I figured I'd try out what I can only assume is their flagship beer in the ESB Special Ale. I appreciate that Ska cans their beers, as I think it's one of the next big trends in craft brewing.

Pours a light caramel color with a crowing head and good clarity. Medium to lightly carbonated. Grainy smell with a mild earthiness. Reminds me of crunchy snack food, like corn nuts or sunflower seeds. Some light lemony hop character is also present in the aroma. Mouthfeel is lightly carbonated and slightly watery. Makes the beer very easy to drink. Taste is primarily toffee malt with some hop bitterness finishing the whole thing. The body of the beer doesn't stand up to the flavor profile. You start drinking the beer and there's this big time rush of malt, but everything sort of caves in on itself and you're left with hop bitterness and not much else. Has a weird sort of mineral and metallic finish.

While this isn't the most mind-blowing ESB I've ever had, it's certainly serviceable and gets bonus points for being canned. If you're determined to try one of Ska's beers, I'd point you towards the Modus Hoperandi, though you could certainly do worse than this beer. It won't blow your socks off by any stretch of the imagination, but it's a serviceable entry into the ESB category.

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ESB Special Ale from Ska Brewing Co.
3.58 out of 5 based on 400 ratings.
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