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Narwhal Imperial Stout - Sierra Nevada Brewing Co.

Not Rated.
Narwhal Imperial StoutNarwhal Imperial Stout

Educational use only; do not reuse.

826 Reviews
no score

(Send Samples)
Reviews: 826
Hads: 4,676
Avg: 4.14
pDev: 22.95%
Wants: 269
Gots: 1,244 | FT: 44
Brewed by:
Sierra Nevada Brewing Co. visit their website
California, United States

Style | ABV
Russian Imperial Stout |  10.20% ABV

Availability: Rotating

Notes & Commercial Description:
Beer added by: JohnGalt1 on 10-14-2012

No notes at this time.
Beer: Reviews & Ratings
Sort by:  Recent | High | Low | Top Raters
Reviews: 826 | Hads: 4,676
Photo of mjpolzin
3.77/5  rDev -8.9%
look: 4 | smell: 3.75 | taste: 3.75 | feel: 3.75 | overall: 3.75

Split a 4 pack with my brother in law. Always excited to try a new imperial stout. This one was somewhat of a disappointment though.

The pour into the glass was very dark but not as thick as some of the better imperial stouts. As was mentioned in many of the reviews on this site, the smell was of alcohol with some roasted malts in the background. The taste was very similar to the smell and unfortunately the alcohol taste masked what could be a very good imperial stout with some chocolate, dark fruit and malts hiding behind the alcohol burn.

I have another bottle of this. Perhaps with some age on it, the alcohol taste will die down a bit leaving behind a much better beer.

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Photo of Beersnake1
3.77/5  rDev -8.9%
look: 4 | smell: 3.75 | taste: 3.75 | feel: 3.75 | overall: 3.75

Appearance: Pours black with a finger of light brown head. Head disappeared quickly - probably 20 seconds.

Smell: Not overwhelming. Toasted malts with some hints of dark fruit. Even a bit sweet. A bit smoky and a hint of caramel.

Taste: The taste follows the smell nicely. Fairly mellow, with a taste of toasted malts, caramel, and a bit of coffee. Not as burly as some other imperial stouts, but a nice smooth flavor. The alcohol content doesn't come through.

Overall: Nice beer from Sierra Nevada. Pleasantly smooth, but not extremely distinct from others in its class.

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Photo of TheManiacalOne
3.78/5  rDev -8.7%
look: 4.25 | smell: 3.75 | taste: 3.75 | feel: 3.75 | overall: 3.75

2012 release poured from a 12oz bottle into a US tumbler pint glass.

A: The beer is a deep dark black color, with a large dark brown head that fades slowly and leaves a thick lace on the glass.

S: The aroma contains roasted malts, chocolate, coffee and a touch hops.

T: The taste starts out with a hearty roasted malt character that is quickly followed by a strong hops presence for the style. Then some sweet flavors of coffee and chocolate come in. There’s a decent balance, but the order in which the flavors appear is what makes this beer more distinctive from other stouts to me. The after-taste is slightly sweet.

M: Crisp and a little smooth, medium body, medium carbonation, finish is slightly sticky.

O: Tasty, goes down ok, not too filling, strong kick, good representation of style, it’s a good beer but there are others in the style that I would choose first.

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Photo of JednoPivoProsim
3.78/5  rDev -8.7%
look: 4.5 | smell: 4 | taste: 3.5 | feel: 3.5 | overall: 4

Poured from a 12 FL. OZ. bottle into a pint glass. Bottled on day 279 of 2012 (October 5). ALC. 10.2% By VOL. 2012 Vintage Narwhal Imperial Stout.

Appearance: As always, love the SN artwork. Pours a a viscous oil black liquid. You could eat this with a spoon. Body is jet black, not a hint of light shines through. Relatively thin, albeit robust, dark tan head with carbonation bubbles that cling to the side of the glass. Overall, very impressive and different from any beer I've ever seen.

Smell: Aroma of muted dark roasted malts. Slightly bitter aroma. Toffee, caramel, definite alcohol smell.

Taste: A lot going on in this one. Big alcohol up front. Bitter roasted malt. Figs, coffee, toffee. Alcohol is predominant in the flavor of the beer. Not very smooth drinking.

Mouthfeel: Very thick. Prickly bitter mouthfeel. Heavy aftertaste.

Overall: Too boozy for my liking. I'm sure this will be a hit with Imperial Stout fans.

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Photo of Glennlawless
3.78/5  rDev -8.7%
look: 4 | smell: 3.5 | taste: 4 | feel: 3.5 | overall: 3.75

Poured into a 16 oz Tulip

A - pretty much 2 finger beige/ hazel head and poured just about jet black. almost a reddish tint to the head at times in the right light haha...a really good looking beer. after head dies down a half a centimeter puck of foam remains slicing over the top of the beer.

S - Getting dark chocolate at first/and a little bit of strong espresso coffee like too... and when i really get into it i get hints of very dark fruits and a little booze. Has almost a roasted smokey feel to it as well.

T - when swishing i can definetley taste the booze...but in the finish it dies in a matter of seconds and is taken over by sweet cherry and plums and subtle hints of chocolate. not getting much coffee at all. more of a porter feel to it actually. warms your chest as it goes down....a nice sipper type beer.

M - definetley a porter type feel, creamy and medium carbonation...but not getting that thick charachteristic most R.I Stouts tend to have.

Overall, the high abv kind of scared me away....and at first your like wow this is boozy but im loving how that is taken over in the end for a really smooth finish.take your time drinking this and enjoy it... this is a big, deep beer.

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Photo of Pencible
3.78/5  rDev -8.7%
look: 4.5 | smell: 4 | taste: 3.25 | feel: 4.5 | overall: 4

A: This poured a totally opaque black with thick tan head.
S: It smelled like dry dark chocolate and roasted coffee, with some alcohol and subtle citrus zest.
T: It tasted like unsweetened dark chocolate and espresso, with some bitter resin hops. It had a harsh bitter aftertaste with notable alcohol warming.
M: It was thick and chewy with moderate carbonation. Great big body.
D: This had great looks and body, but the scent and taste weren't as impressive. It was hot and unrefined, so it wasn't very easy to drink. Maybe age will help tame this beast, but fresh is kind of rough.

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3.79/5  rDev -8.5%
look: 3.5 | smell: 3.75 | taste: 4 | feel: 3.75 | overall: 3.5

$4.50 for the 12oz bottle, served in a tulip
Bottle code 2279213:35
Sampled 03MAR13

[A] A swift pour produces a slim head of medium-dark brown color, foamy and quick to diminish. A small ring of foam around the glass is all that is left 30 seconds after the pour. The body is completely black with no transparency at any point. Short, drooping strands of lace stick to 1/3rd of the glass. No lacing.

[S] The least impressive part of the beer. Semi-sweet chocolate, fudge and cocoa powder. Neutral yeast, maybe a few berry-like esters and evident alcohol. Nothing special.

[T] General chocolate and roast - neither are overpowering. Midpalate the bitterness comes forward in the form of fresh pine and rich soil. Deep chocolate notes return after the smooth bitterness fades. Long lasting flavor.

[M] Medium body with a silky smooth texture at first, but a semi coarse, long lasting effervescence later. The latter part is not exactly complimentary to the style in my opinion.

[O] For whatever reason, Narwhal performs a little better out of the bottle than it did on draft two months ago. It was really underwhelming at that point. Today, while a bit better, it still isn't as good as some regularly available high gravity stouts, like Yeti, for example.

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Photo of vic21234
3.79/5  rDev -8.5%
look: 4 | smell: 3.75 | taste: 3.75 | feel: 4 | overall: 3.75

12oz bottle poured into a snifter. 2013 Vintage.

A- Pours black with a small amount of khaki colored head which quickly fades to the sides of the glass.

S- Notes of chocolate and coffee malts come through.

T- Heavy chocolate and coffee notes on the taste, similar to the smell. The coffee is strong and almost bittering at the back of each sip.

M- Heavy and flavorful, yet not too harsh on the alcohol for a 10% ABV beer.

A nice imperial stout, but nothing too mind-blowing. I will be sitting a few down for some aging.

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Photo of Mora2000
3.8/5  rDev -8.2%
look: 4 | smell: 4 | taste: 3.5 | feel: 4 | overall: 4

The beer pours a black color with a large tan head. The aroma has some roasted malt as well as some dark fruit. The flavor is very similar. There is a good bit of smoke and heavily roasted malt. I also get some sweet chocolate and cherry notes, as well as a good dose of alcohol. I also get a bit of tobacco in the flavor. As the beer warms I get a huge amount of black licorice flavor, which I am not a huge fan of. Thick mouthfeel and medium carbonation.

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Photo of rdilauro
3.8/5  rDev -8.2%
look: 4 | smell: 4 | taste: 3.5 | feel: 4 | overall: 4

Tis the stout season and I've been trying them all. Another nice beer from Sierra Nevada.
The pour was black, not quite jet black, but the first thing I noticed as I poured was a lot of carbonation.

The taste was more chocolate than coffee to me, perhaps a little blueberry in there. I was surprised by the amount of carbonation. That was the one thing that sort of left me a bit while tasting this one.

Because of the carbonation, I really had a hard time feeling the complete mouthful and then the final after taste.

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Photo of deadonhisfeet
3.8/5  rDev -8.2%
look: 4 | smell: 4 | taste: 3.5 | feel: 4 | overall: 4

2012 bottling. Poured from a bottle into a Brooklyn Brewery snifter. There's a ton of carbonation here. I get a massive head about 3-4 fingers thick without even pouring it very harshly. Nice lacing as the head dies down. It's hard to nose this beer with all that foam, but I do get some nice roasted notes, espresso, and a touch of dark fruit.

The beer has a full body, creamy feel, and a very traditional RIS flavor profile. Big bready malt notes up front that quickly get bitter as roasty, burnt toast and fruit flavors join in. Lots of bitter coffee and chocolate in this one and very little sweetness, save for the front of the palate. The finish is quite long and satisfying and leaves a lingering roasty flavor.

Overall, I expected this beer to be average and I was pleasantly surprised. It is a well-constructed RIS, though just a little bitter for my taste.

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Photo of CowsandBeer
3.8/5  rDev -8.2%
look: 3.5 | smell: 4 | taste: 3.75 | feel: 3.75 | overall: 3.75

Bottle picked up late last year. Poured into a snifter at cellar temp.

Look: A gentle pour gave off a dirty sand colored head of about one finger. Quickly dissipated and reduced to a thin ring with a film. Didn't expect much anyways given the high abv. Black body with some very faint reddish highlights. I can smell it as I pour. This is going to be big.

Smell: Nice nose. Burnt malt, big brown sugar, molasses, used coffee grounds, a bit of sweet plums and prunes. Some cardboard, little spicy alcohol, tar, and ashtray. The most dominant note here is definitely that thick, big brown sugar coming from the malts.

Taste: Bitter dark chocolate, more of that sweet brown sugar, burnt marshmallows, rice krispies treats, french press coffee, some alcohol bite and burnt toast.

Mouthfeel: Soft carbonation makes it an ideal sipper. Very chewy. Finishes dry.

Overall: Big stout with a really chewy body. Excellent night cap. One bottle would be fine for sharing with someone else. I can see how with more time, if the sweet malty notes keep coming out, this could turn into some almost port like material. Curious to try one again in six months and see how it's progressed.

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Photo of Dave1999
3.8/5  rDev -8.2%
look: 4.5 | smell: 3.75 | taste: 3.75 | feel: 3.75 | overall: 3.75

Pours pitch black with a small tan colored head.

The smell is dark malts, alcohol, coffee and chocolate.

The taste is sweet and malty with a fair bit of alcohol.

The mouthfeel is smooth and creamy but just a little lighter bodied than I'd like for the style.

I really enjoyed this and it is available at a decent price. I don't think I'd pick this over ten fidy or stone RIS though .

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Photo of starrdogg
3.8/5  rDev -8.2%
look: 4 | smell: 4 | taste: 3.5 | feel: 4 | overall: 4

Beer pours black with a fluffy brown head. Smell is quite nice, a mostly chocolate and cocoa with hints of roast. Flavor doesn't come together as well as I'd hoped after the nice nose. It's got a lot of flavor with a lot more roast than I had expected. It starts out smooth and chocolatey, but halfway through it punches you with a bitter roastiness that overwhelms the flavor. Mouthfeel is medium-full bodied with nice carbonation. This is a nice stout, but the balance could be better, and the overwhelming roastiness in the finish is a bit much. It leaves a not-so-great flavor lingering on the palate as well.

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Photo of Gabriel_Vaughn
3.81/5  rDev -8%
look: 5 | smell: 4 | taste: 3.5 | feel: 4 | overall: 3.75

pours incredibly well, dark as the night, caramel lace head sticks edge of glass well

smells sweet

taste faint licorice not my cup of tea

mouthfeel is great, very easy

Not my favorite imperial stout but a wonderful beer!

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Photo of Samuel906
3.81/5  rDev -8%
look: 4 | smell: 3 | taste: 4 | feel: 4.5 | overall: 4


Black as night, thick and heavy like the darkest of motor oils. Had almost no head when poured slowly from an ice cold bottle into a tulip. Almost bizarre not seeing any head and it just adds to how insanely black it is. Some earthy brown bubbles began to slowly form but didn't remain long, and diminished to a fine lace around the glass.


Probably the weakest point of this beer. If your someone like myself who likes to frequently get a nice nose-full of your beers aroma, you won't find yourself going back to sniff this one too frequently. The aromas you expect are there - chocolate, roasted coffee, malts - but it just doesn't have the impact you would expect from an Imperial stout. I thought it smelled more like a milder Irish Stout than a heavy Imperial.


Thick, heavy and glorious with mild carbonation. Creamy, soft, and every other adjective you can apply to a good Imperial Stout. One of my favorite parts of this brew. It's like a dark, chocolatey pillow for your tongue.


Like a true Imperial Stout, coffee and chocolate are your major players here. Bitter, rich baking chocolate and cocoa... The coffee reminds me of a dark espresso roast; toasted nuts, slightly caramelly. Mild chocolatey aftertaste will make you think you just ate a Hershey's kiss. This beer is also much less sweet than I was expecting. If you're used to the diabetes-in-a-bottle stereotypical Imperial Stouts, this is a welcome change. I would like to note that as I write this and the beer warms, it really comes to life. The added flavor with the mild warmth from the impressive ABV really do make this feel like a blanket for your mouth and stomach.


In my mind, the direct competition for this beer is the Samuel Adams Imperial Stout that comes in the blue and black four pack, are similarly priced, and even features some similar artwork and stylistic themes. The Narwhal is a terrific Imperial Stout, the mothfeel is absolutely spot on, and while the flavors are strong, the taste never gets over bearing like some Imperials do. However it is nothing overly exciting or novel, and personally I feel that something like the Samuel Adams Imperial Stout would be a better overall choice. Again, I want to reiterate that this is a TERRIFIC BEER, but it has some impressive competition that just slightly edges it out. If you're looking to mix it up or just to try something new, you won't be disappointed.

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Photo of dar482
3.81/5  rDev -8%
look: 4.25 | smell: 3.75 | taste: 3.75 | feel: 4 | overall: 3.75

This is a 2013 bottle with about 9 months on it.

The beer pours black with a light brown creamy head.

The aroma has dense roasted malt, sweet chocolate, mocha coffee, a touch of dark fruit of cherries and dried plums.

The beer has a medium plus luscious mouthfeel. However, there is still an aggressive kick of alcohol, as with the beer fresh. Lots of deeply roasted coffee and malt, bitter chocolate, with a spike of alcoholic dark fruit on the finish.

The beer is certainly helped with age, but it still very alcoholic, which detracts from the palate.

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Photo of ajm5108
3.82/5  rDev -7.7%
look: 3.75 | smell: 3.5 | taste: 4 | feel: 4 | overall: 3.75

You get a lot of medium toasted malt flavor, with some outside hints of roasted coffee. You can sense some hops in there as well, and some residual alchohol peaks through. Mouthfeel is smooth. Aroma is lacking, mostly just the toasted malt. Overall a good stout but not exceptional.

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Photo of stakem
3.82/5  rDev -7.7%
look: 4.25 | smell: 3.5 | taste: 3.75 | feel: 4.25 | overall: 4

12oz bottle into a matching Sierra Nevada snifter. Big thanks go to Kegatron for gifting me with some of this. The brew pours black with a khaki colored head that froths up with more than a finger that is silky and paints the wall of the glass with a full webby pattern of lacing effect. When held to the light, the brew shows some ruby clarity faintly around the edges.

The aroma displays plenty of roast imparting faint notes of coffee, chocolate, earth, char and hints of citrus to fruity hops. The alcohol is present with a bit of fruity ester. When swirled, a bit of cheesiness and sulfur emerges with some mineral components. Overall though, this is a fine smelling brew for more than 10%.

The taste includes the previously mentioned dry roasted graininess that imparts flavors of coffee, and roasty earth. A bit leathery with the most mild touch of dark fruity alcohol notes. Some hop character is present giving this a touch of citrus and complimenting fruity to pine notes. The aftertaste has a bit of baker's chocolate included. As the brew warms up, that 10% alcohol starts to become readily noticeable with an almost neutral solvent burn across the tongue.

This is a medium bodied offering with a modest amount of carbonation. It is relatively smooth and easy drinking for something above 10%. I think Sierra Nevada was well overdue in putting a RIS into their regular lineup. This one fills the void in their catalog quite nicely. I would and will drink this one again when it is made available to me. Thank you for sharing Heath!

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Photo of MaximalC
3.82/5  rDev -7.7%
look: 4 | smell: 3.75 | taste: 3.75 | feel: 4.25 | overall: 3.75

Pours a dark molasses color with a modest mocha head of course bubbles. Aroma is mild but pleasant, smelling of roasted malt and dark chocolate. The taste lures you into complacency at first blush with a smooth roasted malt flavor. This is rapidly superseded by a massive kick of alcohol and cough syrup, which in turn yields to a decrescendo of plum, dark chocolate, and spicy, herbal hops. The degree to which the flavors transition here within a single sip is something to behold. While I admire its boldness, the front end may be a bit too caustic for my tastes. It has a peppery alcoholic heat that wears you down and distracts from the finer malt character beneath it. It reminds me of Leinenkugel's Big Eddy Imperial Stout, but more heavy handed. The mouthfeel is smooth and rich, reminiscent of an oatmeal stout, and well suited to style.

Overall, this is a bold, flamboyant imperial stout whose gusto may be too great for its own good. The spicy booze masks what is actually a quite nice roasted, chocolate malt flavor. I could see myself drinking it again, but for a style brimming with superior beers, this is only above-average at best.

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Photo of Foyle
3.82/5  rDev -7.7%
look: 3 | smell: 3.5 | taste: 4 | feel: 3 | overall: 4.5

Appearance: 1” head the color of which is like coffee with lots of cream. Moderate lacing left on the glass. The color is black – no opacity even with direct sunlight. Carbonation seems to be moderate.
Aroma: dark roasted malts, dark chocolate, a hint of smokiness, some citrus peel
Mouthfeel: body is heavy and very similar to a strong cup of expresso. Finish is somewhat dry with a slight alcohol burn in the aftertaste.
Flavor: coffee, expresso, dark chocolate, smoke flavor similar to grilled meats, strong citrus peel. Overall: this is not a training wheel beer. A finely crafted product from Sierra Nevada, this beer is outstanding on a cold day when you want something to sip in front of the fireplace.

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Photo of cooler4life
3.82/5  rDev -7.7%
look: 3 | smell: 4 | taste: 3.75 | feel: 4.25 | overall: 3.75

Update after 1 year on the bottle.

A: An ever so thin head of mocha quickly recedes to a large bubble in the center. Absolutely no lacing or retention. Makes me sad.

S: No updates. Slightly muted.

T: Up front you get some dark fruits and caramel. Flavor transitions to loads of dark chocolate, nuances of roasted coffee beans and almond milk. This beer continues to be much more heavy on the backend flavors.

M: Silky as ever. Not a hint of the ABV.

O: I thought the flavor was more intense the first year, but this one has aged wonderfully. Overall the flavors become more tightly integrated and mouthfeel silky smooth.

2012 Edition

All hands on deck!! We have a 'boozy'!

A: Poured half finger mocha colored head that settled to a thin rim of foam around the edges of the glass. Color is midnight black. Carbonation is very fine and no floaties can be seen through the murky darkness. 10 minutes after the pour, I wanted to see lacing, but it has evaded me.

S: Roasted malt, toasted almonds, espresso, bakers chocolate. Really fantastic.

T: The flavor is more pronounced on the backend is it courses through the plate. Begins with some clove and vanilla. Transitions to flavors of molasses, plums, and milk chocolate with some roast and smoky ash. I find it quite amazing that I can't detect the ABV at all. Well done.

M: This stout is feels wet and slick much like the foamy sea during a storm. Velvety smooth, almost too smooth for the style however. Carbonation is very fine and beer is slightly sticky.

O: Solid RIS from Sierra Nevada. This brewery just keeps delivering the goods!

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Photo of bmwats
3.83/5  rDev -7.5%
look: 4 | smell: 3.5 | taste: 4 | feel: 3.5 | overall: 4

Poured from a 12 oz bottle into a standard pint.

A: Black. Pours about a finger and a half, foamy, brown head. Disintegrates slowly. Eventually settles to a thick blanket with a foamy buildup around the sides of the glass. Sporadic lacing.

S: Earthy malt tone, dark chocolate, with a little black licorice.

T: Unsweetened dark chocolate, lots of licorice, pecan shells.

M: Thick, hearty, and syrupy. Slight bitterness lingers throughout.

D: Sip and enjoy.

Atmosphere is solid. Dark, intimidating appearance, nice head, and fair lacing. Nose is basic and characteristic dark chocolate and licorice. Tastes like is smells.... bitter chocolate and licorice. Overall, this is a pretty good quaff.

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Photo of Gosox8787
3.83/5  rDev -7.5%
look: 4 | smell: 3.5 | taste: 4 | feel: 3.5 | overall: 4

Presentation: 12 oz. stubby bottle from a four pack. Poured into a Dogfish Head tulip and served chilled.

Appearance: Dark brown to black in color. Pours a really nice, one finger medium brown head with decent retention. Recedes into a nice thin lacing.

Aroma: Roasted malt and a light smoke note. Nice bit of coffee beans and light milk chocolate. A tad more smoky than sweet.

Taste: The ABV is extremely well hidden in this beer. Light coffee bitterness with a nice smoke touch that weaves in and out. Some very light milk chocolate sweetness as well. Some leather and earthy notes as well. Really well balanced.

Mouthfeel: Medium to full bodied and smooth throughout. Carbonation is on the low end.

Overall, a really balanced and tasty off the shelf imperial stout. It does feel a little boring and one note at times. The smoke and roasted malt characters create a nice background and the booze is very well hidden. I could use a bit more sweetness to offset the smoke and earth tones. A good buy but not up there with my favorite stouts.

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Photo of Swettenham_Shire
3.83/5  rDev -7.5%
look: 4 | smell: 4 | taste: 3.75 | feel: 3.75 | overall: 3.75

Poured into pint glass...

Appearance: pours a dark brown/black color with 1 finger tan head; lacing doesn't stick around
Smell: amazing malt, chocolate, and coffee scent mixed with alcohol
Taste: follows the nose; getting a sweet and bitter aftertaste
Mouthfeel: heavy; can feel the booze
Overall: I was happy to try this stout from Sierra Nevada, but probably won't seek it out anymore. I prefer others in this beer style

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Narwhal Imperial Stout from Sierra Nevada Brewing Co.
92 out of 100 based on 826 ratings.