Beer Review 0285: Sierra Nevada Narwhal Imperial Stout

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Meet the newest offering from Chico, California’s Sierra Nevada, a big Imperial Stout named after migratory whale that has a tusk.

Established in 1980, Sierra Nevada is the product of homebrewers Ken Grossman and Paul Camusi. Today, they are one of the biggest United States craft breweries around, producing the second best-selling microbrew, Sierra Nevada Pale Ale. You can find their bottles in just about every grocery store in the continental US. The company recently announced plans to expand and open a second facility on the east coast in Asheville, North Carolina, to help with distribution.

Narwhal was just released in the fall of 2012, and is the newest beer in Sierra’s “High Altitude” series, which includes Bigfoot Barleywine (96 points) and Hoptimum (97 points). Coming in at 10.2% ABV (alcohol by volume), this is indeed a big beer, and it is brewed with a bevy of malts: Two-Row Pale, Caramel, Chocolate, Honey, Carafa, and roasted barley. IBUs (International Bitterness Units) on this whale are 60.

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Pouring made for a small, dark tan head, creamy in texture and lasting atop a jet black beer. The liquid was opaque but did feature translucent light brown edges when held to the light. Classic Stout here. I couldn’t tell about the particles or sediment because of the darkness of the brew; however, nearly every single Sierra Nevada beer I’ve ever enjoyed had some sediment floating around. Narwhal poured muddy and viscous, and the lacing wasn’t much to report but there were plenty of alcohol legs when the beer was agitated in the glass.

The nose featured lots of sweet malt, with big notes of dark fruit. There were raisins, prunes, and even dark cherries, coupled with the standard Imperial Stout scents of dark chocolate and coffee. There isn’t as strong of an aroma here as you might imagine, but it does smell inviting.

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On the taste, there’s lots of dark chocolate and coffee up front, black and fresh roasted. A sweetness kicks in on the middle of the sip, bringing on more of the chocolate tempered with the dark fruit, as present in the aroma. The finish comes on bittersweet, with a dark baker’s chocolate, but turns moderately bitter as it unwinds, presenting a burnt toast and astringent hop.

This is a very nice but also very safe Imperial Stout. The best component of this brew is the chocolate, which gives you notes of sweet milk and dark chocolate, all in different parts of the taste. That being said, you really can’t go wrong here, especially for the price point and alcohol content. If you want a really solid Imperial Stout that has excellent base flavors, give this a try.

Sierra Nevada Narwhal Imperial Stout, 90 points. Price: $9.99 US for a four pack.

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