While craft beer is often associated rightly with the west coast, a competing hotbed certainly exists in the state of Michigan.
What, with Bell's, Founders, and others pumping out excellent brews, one could certainly make the case that Michigan is at least geographically the heart of America's craft brew scene.
In Michigan this writer trusts. Tonight's beer is the pride of Marshall, a Battle Creek suburb of that state. And home to some 7,000 and, thus, over ten-times more inhabited than this man's childhood town.
From Marshall, we are offered the Dark Horse Brewing Company's Reserve Special Black Ale.
Reserve Special Black Ale, 7.5% ABV
Adequate description of this unique beer could stretch paragraphs (see below), but summarizing takes but three words: liquid, smokehouse barbecue.
Delivered in a bottle...
...And what an interesting bottle indeed.
The standard of beer art is set by 21st Amendment. Dark Horse labels are a bit less artistic, but equally as fun. This one depicts a horse, though not so much dark, rather gray, and sketched leisurely with broad strokes by simple marker. In the background, lightning strikes upon the tophat of a figure who appears mostly concealed but, by outline, appears Colonial in nature. Ol' Benjy Franklin, one would assume.
Playful. Here's to hoping the quality of the beer matches that of its vessel.
To the eye, the beer seems properly named. It is, in fact, black. Like midnight. In a cave. With any opening thoroughly barricaded. Explicitly dark.
A small but creamy head settles atop the liquid like dimpled, dirty whipped cream resting upon a glass of Brent Crude.
The aroma is fun and interesting. It's the scent of just-extinguished campfire. The olfactory apparatus is teased with the rustic scent of smoldering embers.
As the Reserve Black Ale meets the tongue, the beer's damp peaty characteristic is immediately unleashed. Imagine the scent of wet moss on the north-side of a tree twisted in to some sort of delectable nectar.
The follow-through delivers Mesquite liquid smoke that lingers.
That's the beginning and the end of it. And, in between, the beer's fullness emerges and splashes the palate with robust anise, like that of black licorice.
Despite all the smoke and "dark" flavors, some brightness is revealed via an infinitely subtle tropical hop presence that serves only to accent the more bold aspects at play.
The Dark Horse Brewing Company struggles to categorize this beer, indicating that "The Reserve Special Black Ale has a hard time being called a stout or porter" (see here) and TheCraftBeerGuru agrees. Too dry to be a porter and certainly lacking the creamy mouthfeel of stouts.
So what is this, other than unique, tasty, and good?
The Special Reserve Black Ale is a nice "change of pace" beer.
Let's apply a college football analogy This is definitely not the "Alabama" of beers. More like a Boise State or TCU; a sort of intriguing, playful little diversion worth occasionally paying attention to.
As a three star beer (of a possible five), The Special Reserve Black Ale from the Dark Horse Brewing Company receives TheCraftBeerGuru.com's recommendation.