Welcome back, my friends. Today’s offering is nothing less than a majestic, alcoholic sea beast, leaping through icy waves and dodging ice floes in order to pour into our glasses and be oh so tasty. What the hell am I talking about? It’s Sierra Nevada’s Narwhal Imperial Stout, named after one of the coolest whales, and really just being a total surprise to me. I didn’t know Sierra Nevada made anything even remotely close to a stout. But, at least they started out on the right foot. I mean, the label has an awesome picture of a Narwhal on it, and everyone knows that the Narwhal is the most metal of whales. So let’s all go sharpen our whale horns, and get our drink on.
Upon prying off the cap, a huge bloom of darkness rises up, ensuring me from the get go that Sierra Nevada know’s what it’s doing. Bitter chocolate, heavily roasted malts, coffee, and an underlying herbal earthiness all swirl around each other, framed by sweet molasses that ensures all of this darkness stays contained. Sweet and bitter tangs tumble over each other at the back end of each breath, securing that true Russian Imperial Stout vibe early on – dark, rich, earthy and bold. Letting it sit for a few minutes allows some hints of black cherries and currants to show up at the edges, after they’ve come out of hiding. They don’t impart much of their essence – just enough to be known through all of that blackness.
The first taste from the bottle is just as dark as the aroma. Roasted malts and coffee start out, riding atop a crazy potent alcoholic wave that almost burns the throat. Coffee remains the major flavor throughout, but the alcohol kick is so in your face, it dissolves the flavors from your tongue fairly quickly. It also lacks the super thick syrupy-ness of other stouts, feeling almost dry on the tongue because of the alcohol. There is a somewhat clinging bitterness at the back of the tongue, comprised of mostly coffee and malts, but the herbal notes and chocolate don’t seem to make an appearance just yet.
Poured into a snifter, the aroma becomes surprisingly hoppy, with a mellow coffee base. Roasted malts take up position at the edges of each breath, while a piney breeze from the hops swirls in and out, bringing a citrusy crispness that resides just under the surface. There are still no hints of chocolate or the earlier herbs though, just bold roasted coffee and malts. Visually, it pours a thick light-devouring black, with a moderately thin khaki head.
The first taste from the snifter finally marks the arrival of the chocolate I’ve been waiting for. Riding the alcohol wave with the coffee and malts, bittersweet chocolate shows up like a Narwhal leaping through a bitter arctic storm. The mouth tingles almost instantly, and though it feels much thicker after it has been poured, each taste ends fairly dry after just a few moments on the tongue. The fruit from the initial aromas are no where to be found, but that’s ok. It’s just pure, frigid darkness, perfect for those sea unicorns. The alcohol harshness is kept under control by the sweetness of the chocolate, but just barely. I think it’s actually the spirit of the whale god itself, casting its whalish divinity over this bottle. And that’s possibly the most epic thought I’ve ever had. Rock on.
I’m always iffy when it comes to Imperial stouts. Quite a few times, I’ve had examples that tasted as if I was drinking a bag of Ricola that had been buried in a pile of coffee beans. Sierra Nevada’s Narwhal, fortunately, did not fall under that category. It was super strong in the coffee aspect, but the herbal notes were limited to a faint breath from the initial aroma. Beyond that, bold coffee and huge roasty malts bring a surging tide of dark flavors. All of this is laced with a massive alcoholic kick that almost burns as it goes down. Because of this, you’ll need to go super slow. Take your time, lest the Great Narwhal spirit swoop down and impale you through the chest with it’s might demon horn. Just chill, and let the fiery coffee kick wash over you. It looks as harsh and potent as it tastes, with a body of liquid midnight. On the tongue, it is surprisingly short lived, mostly due to its unmasked alcohol. The base notes of coffee and malts linger for a while though, clinging for dear life. It was a tad pricier than some of the other Imperial Stouts I’ve had, but the overall taste makes up for that by a huge margin.
I recommend drinking this on the coldest of winter nights, preferably with a giant basket of fried cod in front of you. It’s also a great social beer. Despite its darkness, it feels warm and inviting. Sierra Nevada’s brutally delicious Narwhal Imperial Stout skewers itself an A-.
Lasting Strength: 9/10
Overall: 9.3/10 A-