Just the Right Amount of Audacity
A Review of Special ESB by Ska Brewing Co.
Posted on 7/30/2011 by Chops
For centuries beer was a regionally isolated product. Drinkers did not enjoy a great deal of variety to choose from and opening one's eyes to new experiences involved lengthy periods of dangerous travel. Consequently, localized brewing signatures became deeply rooted traditions. Innovation and interpretation were rare. Not so in today's globalized world. Beer fans can find local versions of any style of beer in any part of the world. Canadian Belgian dubbels? Yup. American German bocks? Sure. Gone are the days of rigid tradition, replaced by modern interpretation.

The Ska Brewing Company out of Durango, CO is well known for their audacious brewing methods. The craft what they want, when they want, how they want, all under the influence of Ska music (hence the company's name). So when you come across a brew like the Ska ESB Special Ale, the last thing you should expect is a traditional ESB. Beer snobs will call it a bastardization. Beer geeks will call it artistic. You know what I call it? Damn interesting.

In the glass, this beer looked much like a good ESB with a coppery honey hue. It came with a foamy white head that had nice retention. On the nose, I found a thin candied malty aroma with a faint hop sting. To be honest, it actually smelled a lot like a baseline American amber ale. The intro was a mishmash of English and American traits, so I had no idea what to expect going into that first sip.

Hmm, interesting. Not really an ESB, not really an amber ale, not really English, not really American. But, the beer was quite tasty and satisfying. If I had to compare it to something, just imagine a light and malty APA. I found plenty of sweet caramel notes along with some tropical fruits and toasty earthy malts. The hop profile was quite restrained and acted more as a secondary note. The beer had a light body and felt a bit too thin on the palate. The finish was airy clean and exited with a faint malty aftertaste.

Overall, Ska's ESB Special Ale struggles to find an identity, but that's kind of the point. Ska isn't interested in brewing faithful interpretations, they brew what they like. It's a respectable philosophy that will, of course, inevitably rub some fans the wrong way. However, that doesn't change the fact that the Ska ESB Special Ale is a delightful session ale with great flavor, one that I can happily recommend to any and all beer fans. If you're looking for a solid ESB, this beer will leave you scratching your head. But if you're looking for a solid American brew to enjoy with friends while listening to good music, then look no further.

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Special ESB by Ska Brewing Co.
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