Sierra Nevada Brewing Co – Narwhal Imperial Stout

There is something nice about seeing a brewery you think you’re very familiar with branching out and creating a beer you almost thought was out of their league.  Sam Adams has been doing this a lot lately.  They continue to produce bigger beers in their more craft line-up that tend to be pretty good.  I know a few years ago I had pinned them as being the makers of Boston Lager, a few seasonals, and an okay variety pack.  Now they seem to try to be keeping up with the big craft beer boom that is taking place.  Not to be outdone, it would seem that Sierra Nevada is doing the same thing.

I’m fairly certain I can credit Sierra Nevada with being the first brewery to introduce me to what hops really are.  Drinking any noncommercial beer, you’re surly exposed to hops of some sort.  However, as you delve deep into the realm of craft beer, you soon find out what hops really are in many pale ales, IPAs, and double IPAs.  I can still remember the first Sierra Nevada I had.  I went to a Velvet Revolver concert in Philadelphia that my then girlfriend, now wife, had gotten me tickets for.  We went out to eat first, and I decided to try out a beer I had never had before: Sierra Nevada – Celebration.  I was certainly not well versed in hops at the time, but that seemed like the strangest beer I’d ever had.  I remember not really being able to get it down.  Years later I’ve found an appreciation and love for hops. Now, years after experiencing my first hoppy beer, I see the same company branching out and putting out some fairly good craft brews.  I’ve enjoyed their Ruthless Rye, Hoptimum, and other various big beer offerings.  Now I’m glad to see them taking maybe the biggest jump into an imperial stout.

Sierra Nevada states this brew is inspired by the mysterious creature that thrives in deepest fathoms of the frigid Arctic Ocean.  Sadly I first realized the Narwhal existed thanks to everyone’s favorite holiday classic “Elf”. I suppose this beer may be best representative of the environment I would imagine the Narwhal exists in most of the time.  It’s a dark, thick and murky brew.  I’ve seen a few haters on Untapped bash this beer before I could even pick it up, but haters aside, I was really excited to grab a four pack of this when I saw it debut on the shelves of my local store.  I was just hoping haters were gonna hate, but I would love this one.

This one poured out a super dark black oil color with a very thin brown espresso head on top.  The head grows quite slowly and diminishes extremely quickly.  There is some really light lacing that develops on the side of the glass, but you get a lot more sticky residue left over.  The beer is far too dark to give any sense of clarity, and you can only see a little light activity in the glass when you agitate the contents.

The smell is fairly thick and dominated by some very big roasted notes.  There is some ample rich chocolate aroma that accompanies the roasted notes, and you get some very pleasant big coffee scents that blend in really well.  The beer seems to have an overall hefty oaky aroma.  The sweet malts are definitely the show stealer, but you do smell a little bit of the hop scent on the nose.

For a brewery I typically associate with hops, they really managed to make sure to back off on them for this brew.  The big sweet malts kick the brew off.  The huge sweet chocolate flavors come in real quick.  Sierra Nevada says the chocolate flavor is bakers chocolate, and I’d actually happen to agree with them.  It tastes like they started to make a cake and decided to go with a beer instead.  There are some nice light roasted notes at the beginning right before some light hops kick up for the transition to the back half of the brew.  The second half of the beer is really dominated by huge roasted flavors.  The espresso coffee flavor comes up big on the second half as well; however, there is just enough residual chocolate to keep the beer from being dominated too much by the slightly overpowering roasted flavors.  The beer finishes slightly bitter, which I find kind of off putting in the end.  The beer finishes with the bitter notes, oak, and coffee.  It’s rounded out with almost a little burnt flavoring.

This beer is certainly a mouthful.  The overall mouthfeel of this one is a rather thick roasted quality.  The beer certainly has lots of big flavors; however, you get some very nice mellow carbonation throughout that helps to mellow out a little bit of the big flavors.  I happen to think the roasted flavors are slightly out of control, and I find the bitter flavor something less than desirable.

I wouldn’t say this is the imperial stout to end all big stouts, but I happen to like it quite a bit.  Sure there are better ones out there, but I would be more than happy to finish off my four pack.  The only other thing I might do is throw one of them in my cellar to see what time does to it.  Either way, I’ll be having this beer again, and you should too.

Teacher Grade: B

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1 Comment

  1. Yours is the second blog I follow to review this beer. I’ve been eying it up on the shelf for awhile now. Don’t think I can resist much longer. Well, resist is the right word really, “stop deciding to buy other things instead”, yeah those are better words.


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