Dismiss Notice
Save $5 when you subscribe to 12 issues / year of BeerAdvocate magazine by selecting auto-renew.

Subscribe now →
Dismiss Notice
Join Our Email List →

And we'll send you the latest updates and offers from BeerAdvocate, because knowing is half the battle.
Dismiss Notice

Pre-order your Respect Beer "Hipster" Hoodie today!

Plus: Free shipping (US only) on orders of $25 or more until 12/18/15. Just select "Free Shipping" at checkout.

Shop now →

Narwhal Imperial Stout - Sierra Nevada Brewing Co.

Not Rated.
Narwhal Imperial StoutNarwhal Imperial Stout

Educational use only; do not reuse.

821 Reviews
no score

(Send Samples)
Reviews: 821
Hads: 4,665
Avg: 4.14
pDev: 23.19%
Wants: 269
Gots: 1,238 | FT: 43
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: 821 | Hads: 4,665
Photo of AmitC
4.25/5  rDev +2.7%
look: 4 | smell: 4 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 4.5 | overall: 4

So now i am reviewing Narwhal, another SN product and an excellent one as usual.

Poured from a 12 oz bottle into a snifter. While pouring it is thick, dark brown. In the glass, it is dark as hell. Pure black. Head is dark tan colored not usual shining stuff in some of the other RISs that i have had. One finger thick. Not enough standing Disappears into a thing blanket and then a ring. Not enough lacing.

Aroma: Not much happening here. Dark roasted malts, somewhat burnt up. Sweet heavily malt forward nose. Very mild aroma for a RIS. Some hops that are very faint. 10.2 is very well hidden, no presence whatsoever.

Taste: Magic lies here. Charring malts enter but do not send an overtly burnt up taste. Use of coffee is apparent. Some dark chocolate. A very good amount of after taste bitterness, that is a mix of some bitter hops and roasted malts. Alcohol is hidden to a very good extent. Only when you have consumed enough does the effects start to show. This one is very delicious RIS. Strong yet with good drinkability. Finish is bitter dry. No sweetness in the taste at all.

Mouth feel: Thick bodied yet surprisingly smooth and creamy. Low to moderate on carbonation. Somewhat astringent in its taste of charred malts, smokiness and hopping.

Very enjoyable RIS. Keeps you wanting for more. Strong and powerful. To be enjoyed slowly. Let it warm a bit and let it sit. Let it linger in your mouth for as long as it can.

 1,437 characters

Photo of masleumas
4.6/5  rDev +11.1%
look: 5 | smell: 5 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 4 | overall: 4.5

One of the best imperial stouts ive had. Sierra nevada knows how to please. very dark in color, can hardly make out any light through the other side of the glass. rich finish and texture as is expected but plenty of carbonation to balance it out. i really loved this one and am on the lookout to buy it again if i can find it. amazing, rad label too.

 350 characters

Photo of lordofstarside
4.14/5  rDev 0%
look: 3.5 | smell: 4.5 | taste: 4 | feel: 4.5 | overall: 4

First bottle I've had of this, 12oz into a snifter

Pours a very dark opaque with no absolutely no transparency. A finger caramel dark foam which didn't stick around for too long, alright lacing. Smells of Strong bready malts, coffee, chocolate, cinnamon spice, a trace of hops and some alcohol. Taste of very bitter roast coffee, tart chocolate, and a touch of hops. Feel is full bodied, thick, and creamy. Nice tinge from the carbonation. Overall a solid brew from Sierra Nevada, going to enjoy the rest of my bottle with some chocolates

 539 characters

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.

 698 characters

Photo of snaotheus
4.58/5  rDev +10.6%
look: 4.5 | smell: 4 | taste: 5 | feel: 4.5 | overall: 4.5

12oz bottle poured into a large snifter

Pours black with a smallish dark tan head. Lots of fine carbonation. Smell is black licorice, roasted coffee, smoke.

Taste is awesome. Excellently balanced, not too sweet, not too bitter, not too smokey, but lots of each of these components. Cherry, chocolate, smoke, black licorice, very interesting all around.

Mouthfeel is surprisingly light and quite lovely. This is an excellent beer.

 432 characters

Photo of gkatsoris
4.8/5  rDev +15.9%
look: 5 | smell: 5 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 5 | overall: 5

A: Pitch black; period. A huge, thick, foamy head that lasted for a few minutes!!! Lots of bubbles, minimal lace. Gorgeous.

S: As soon as I cracked the bottle I could smell this. Dark chocolate!!! Caramel. Cocao. Slight butterscotch and vanilla. A hint of expresso.

T: Delicious. Creamy dark chocolate up front, and an enjoyable bitterness on the very end. As big as this beer is, one could drink these all night. There is a longer linger on cocao and dark chocolate in the nose.

M: Rich and creamy. Very full bodied. Almost borders foamy, but in a maltshop good way.

O: I could very well see this beconing the 'next' beer of 2013. I remember when I could get KBS off the shelf at my beer store, and now...uh no. Narwal has the potential to become the next 'highly sought after/impossible to get' delicious brew.

thanks Charity (Towamencin Bev)!!!

 853 characters

Photo of tykechandler
4.08/5  rDev -1.4%
look: 4.5 | smell: 4 | taste: 4 | feel: 4.5 | overall: 4

A- pours black, little head, but with great lacing

S- malty, maybe some chocolate

T- boozy, with roasted malts, chocolate, tobacco. this beer is hot, with the slightest bit of a hop backbone. pretty intense shit.

M- feels so nice and thick. i love it.

O- nice, but pretty over-the-top. i am really glad i have another that i am aging. i have a feeling this will be just incredible in a year or two. it's good right now, but there's no way it doesn't get miles better.

 471 characters

Photo of tectactoe
4.21/5  rDev +1.7%
look: 5 | smell: 4 | taste: 4.25 | feel: 4.5 | overall: 4

Pours an inky black color, thick as can be - honestly, one of the thickest looking beers I've ever seen. Tan head, decent retention. Aroma hits with a handful of roasted malts, as expected; the bottom comes up with some bittersweet chocolates and deep, warming alcohol notes in the background. A light leathery and mild tobacco aroma as it warms, too. The taste comes through with a canvas of roasted malts upon which a painting of mild charring, smoke, deep cocoa, light black licorice, faint dark fruit sweetness, and bitterness almost resembling espresso is displayed. The sweetness comes in hardest in the form of licorice, but is met diligently with a bitterness that is present from nearly start to finish; slightly ashy and mildly floral and spicy - I'm assuming this bitterness is from the hop character, although some of it tastes like that old bitter espresso bean flavor, too. Burnt, smoked wood in the aftertaste with some ashy and leafy bitter notes. Slightly sweet, but bitterness rules the aftertaste when all is said and done. Silky as hell, super creamy and thick.

I was shocked at how delicious this was, but at the same time, I should have expected it. Sierra Nevada puts out a damn good product, no matter what it is, and Narwhal is no exception. For this price, this is a steal. Great flavors, huge body, amazing mouthfeel - if you like RISs, give this one a shot.

 1,386 characters

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.

 1,047 characters

Photo of EvanJohnson
4.55/5  rDev +9.9%
look: 4 | smell: 4 | taste: 5 | feel: 4.5 | overall: 4.5

Tried this beer side by side with a Founders Breakfast Stout. Both were great but I have to say I enjoyed the Narwhal more. It's much different and cleaner than the FBS. At the same time you don't lose any of the complexity from the malt. Not quite as much chocolate. A great beer with a smooth finish. I'm just starting to enter the world of RIS and it's off to a great start with this one!

 391 characters

Photo of Ranz
4.4/5  rDev +6.3%
look: 4 | smell: 4 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 5 | overall: 4.5

A: Poured in one of my wine glasses, it produces a slight bit of head that topped off the milky, jet-black prize. Only a slight lacing stays behind.

S: Pardon the pun, but the aroma is rather stout. Even while pouring, hints of semi-sweet chocolate slammed my nostrils, and closer inspection revealed malt biscuit with a slight tinge of alcohol.

T: There's actually a nice sweetness that balances with the roasted malt foundation. The chocolate adds a nice layer, too, and it has a dry, bitter finish. This is quite nice.

M: Thick and milky, it has a great consistency in the mouth. It's one of the better stouts for mouthfeel.

O: This is a nice surprise. I'll definitely get a six-pack next time.

 704 characters

Photo of CA_Infidel2o9
3.98/5  rDev -3.9%
look: 4.5 | smell: 4 | taste: 4 | feel: 3.5 | overall: 4

Poured from a 12oz to a Tulip

A- jet black, 1" dark brown head

S- dark roasted coffee, dark chocolate, floral, almost fruity, earthy, alcohol

T- cocoa nibs, smokey, leather, slightly fruity, alcohol

M- oily, average carbonation

O- the first 3 of the 4 pack i drank fairly quickly after i bought it and each time it was way to boozy, so i decided to sit on this one for a while, and it seems that's all this brew needed. It was pretty good and the booze had subsided considerable and i think if i would have waiting even long it would have been even better. Still IMO it's nothing to write home about and i have had better.

 627 characters

Photo of magictacosinus
4.16/5  rDev +0.5%
look: 5 | smell: 4 | taste: 4 | feel: 5 | overall: 4

SN, you are incredible. You know that I'd for sure drink something called a "narwhal imperial stout." Poured out of a 12oz bottle into a snifter.

The color is expected - a impenetrable, dark slick that smoothly pours out into the glass and produces a surprisingly huge head that carries its way all the way to the top of the glass. My God are the alcohol leggings large on this one. They're literally climbing to the top in long strings of carbonation! This is extremely thick and filling in appearance. Nothing could slice through this, and the generous carbonation definitely shines here - no matter how long I let this sit, it never lost its head completely. Simply a stunning take on the RIS style. It definitely made my stomach slightly retreat in fear looking at it.

The smell is predictably boozy, but there's a lot more going on for it than that. There are big bold, baker's chocolate aromas, combined with deep coffee grounds (resembling French roasted beans), and a combination of dark fruits and grassy zest. A best way to describe it is a combo of coffee, cocoa, buckwheat, dark cherries, and tamarind. All coated with insanely strong alcohol. Definitely good, but that alcohol kinda makes me a bit dizzy after whiffing at it long enough.

The flavor is a bit different though - just like Mission Dark Seas, this is an example of a West Coast RIS where the alcohol is not as present in the flavor than in the aroma. That is NOT to say that it isn't - this is a 20.8 proof beer after all - but it only shows up way at the finish. Instead, there are strong, dark malty flavors that get to the palate, combined with more coffee that chocolate, and topped with a unique yet vicious hop zest. This is definitely not for the faint of heart. I had to go really slow with this thing. The alcohol finish was ridiculous as it warmed up, but thankfully none of the flavors were thrown off. The mouthfeel as pretty much as perfect as its appearance. Lots of surprising carbonation, but also a near syrupy, bready thickness that never let itself go.

Of these latest "extreme" offerings from SN, this is one that I preferred a hundred times over Hoptimum. There's an incredible amount of balance going on here, which is saying something as this one of the most intense takes on this style I've had since Old Rasputin. However, it is quite easy to finish, but it requires patience. That alcohol will get to your head if you're not careful, and it's dry enough to be taken slowly but never gets astringent so that it will left alone. Even though I definitely won't be having this every day, it's truly fantastic one from SN!

 2,623 characters

Photo of mscudder
4.12/5  rDev -0.5%
look: 4 | smell: 4.5 | taste: 4 | feel: 4 | overall: 4

Sierra Nevada, RIS you say? Totally in. Served in a snifter.

A - Nice deep black hue with a big two+ finger khaki head. Leaves some nice lacing behind.

S - Nice aroma filled with sweet chocolate, roasted malts, light espresso and perhaps a touch of vanilla. Robust as I desire.

T - Dark chocolate hits the palette first, and it hits heavy. Bit of espresso behind adding some bitterness to the brew. It carries some earthy tones which I failed to detect on the nose. Roasted smoothness throughout.

M - Large medium body with fair carbonation. Chewy feel with a relatively dry finish.

O - I prefer a bit more sweetness and less bitterness for an RIS that chooses chocolate as its most prominent ingredient. That said, this is an enjoyable RIS I would not mind having again. Good job Sierra.

 793 characters

Photo of AdamHart22
4.14/5  rDev 0%
look: 4.5 | smell: 3 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 4.5 | overall: 4.5

Poored into a plain tulip snifter without a pretentious or trendy brewers logo on it.

A - exactly what I was looking for. I especially liked the head, which was a very dark tan and looked great.

S - the weakest attribute of this stout. Get some molasses and soy, and some alcohol. Non remarkable but pleasant.

T - excellent. Drank half the bottle from the fridge, the other half at about 55 degrees. It was better at 55 degrees. Flavors opened up nicely without exposing any bitterness. I get the molasses, a hint of soy, and all kinds of malty sweetness. Very easy to sip in front of a woodstove with a good book, which is exactly what I did.

M - what you would expect from a quality RIS. Heavy, syrupy, and thick. Would have been a 5 but its just a bit cloying. I am really nitpicking here.

O - At 10.95 a 4 pack, this is an incredible deal. I have payed that price gladly for bombers that weren't as good. Give this one a try if you see it. Great job, again, by Sierra Nevada.

 984 characters

Photo of spoony
4.2/5  rDev +1.4%
look: 4 | smell: 4 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 4 | overall: 4

From a 12 oz bottle into a snifter.

A-The brew is pretty much black in color and opaque. Maybe a bright light would get through, but you would have to work at it. The head is one (fat) finger of dark brown foam that fades slowly.

S-I smelled light whiffs of roasted coffee, dark chocolate, toasty malts, and a little bit of toffee. Not heavy or cloying. Lighter and more floral than most RIS beers.

T-Taste is similar to the smell, i.e., some chocolate (although the chocolate taste is not as bitter and cocoa forward as the smell), a little bit of roasted malts, toffee, and a surprising amount of floral flavors, too. Only mild, roasted bitterness at the end, and very little alcohol on the front or back end.

M-The feel is lighter than most RIS beers I have had. There is a little wave of carbonation that quickly fades on the palate. The carbonation may turn off some serious stout fans, but I thought it worked.

O-I would call this a highly drinkable RIS. This brew certainly isn't some barrel-aged, bourbon-wannabe monster, but it hit a sweet spot for me. The flavors are well integrated and reasonably complex and, when combined with the lighter mouthfeel, I could definitely see myself drinking this again on a chilly winter evening.

 1,246 characters

Photo of zeledonia
3.01/5  rDev -27.3%
look: 4.5 | smell: 3.5 | taste: 2.5 | feel: 3 | overall: 3

Pours black in the glass, light coming through coffee brown at the edges. Two fingers of mocha brown head, good retention and nice lacing. Solid.

Smell is faint for an imperial stout. Light cocoa makes up the most of it. A little milky. Not bad, but I want more potency.

Taste starts out roasty, and quickly takes a downturn. I initially thought it was chili pepper spice, but now it's coming through as an off, bitter, cardboard-paper-glue sludge. This is truly foul. I'll drink enough to finish my review, but no more. So I drank a little more, and a strange thing happened. It warmed up, that nastiness faded, and it became, well, consumable. And then it warmed up a bit more, and it became passable. Still not something I'd call good, but no longer something I'd call bad.

Mouthfeel is fine. At least, what I can perceive through the nastiness is fine. Heavy body, medium carbonation, lasting finish.

This beer is weird. Based on comparisons to other reviews, I wonder if I got a bad bottle. Or maybe my sense of taste is just that different. As it warmed up, the bad flavors faded, and it became, well, okay.

 1,117 characters

Photo of mmapes
3.54/5  rDev -14.5%
look: 4.5 | smell: 3 | taste: 3.5 | feel: 4.5 | overall: 3.5

Found 4-pack bottles labeled 2012. Poured into pint glass. Big foamy head with lots of staying power. Smoke (toasty malt? No, smoke.) and "beer" on the nose. Color is deep dark brown as it pours, and black in the glass.

Nice oily coat on the tongue, heavier than some imperial stouts. I like stouts thick (like this one). Smoke is prominent but not overbalanced -- not as strong as the scent suggests. Kind of sweet, smoky finish. Very well balanced. Maybe not so bold-tasting as heavier Russian imperial stouts like Czar or Palo Santo Marron. The flavor is all grain. I don't get notes of spices or fruit, so I'm not sure it's as complex as I might have guessed from other reviews. But it does serve as a good, grainy, pure example of an imperials stout.

Would probably buy again.

 783 characters

Photo of Gatch
4.08/5  rDev -1.4%
look: 4.5 | smell: 4 | taste: 4 | feel: 4.5 | overall: 4

A: Deep black with a dark brown head that's thick and creamy leaving decent lace and retention.

S: Great, sweet, roasted malt aromas with hints of molasses, dark fruit, currants, and some booze.

T: Big roasted malt paired with bittersweet chocolate and super dark coffee. A bit of earth, dark fruit, molasses, brown sugar, and warming, sweet booze.

M: Crazy smooth, massive flavor, and the right body and feel. Stellar at room temperature.

O: Everything is spot-on. A very well-crafted RIS. A fun and tasty sipper.

 518 characters

Photo of kagent777
4.23/5  rDev +2.2%
look: 4.5 | smell: 4 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 4 | overall: 4

This beer was purchased begrudgingly from the Utah system on December 15th, even though this bottle has been bottled since Oct 12, 2012 according to the date code. I poured it into a CCB snifter after about thirty minutes of being out of the fridge

Appearance: Black with some legs as I swirl it around the snifter. Not much of a head, but that is not expected. Appears to be well carbonated.

Smell: Unsweet chocolate, coffee, roast and charcoal. A bit of boozyness also.

Taste: All of the flavors carry over from the smell, I also pick up on some dried dark fruit (figs, raisins, and dates) and licorice. I cannot tell if the bittering on the finish is from the hops or the roast. It all works really well together.

Mouthfeel: The carbonation is a little strong for my taste, while the body is smooth and rich. The finish is very long and bittering from the level of roast.

Overall: I like this beer quite well, but I am not sure it is worth more than double the price of Old Rasputin. I need to taste them side by side to be able to do a better comparison. Utah really screwed the pooch on pricing on these (4/bottle retail). I am glad to have had one, but unless Utah lowers the price, I cannot purchase any more. I imagine this would age really nicely, too.

 1,266 characters

Photo of dfillius
4/5  rDev -3.4%
look: 4 | smell: 4 | taste: 4 | feel: 4 | overall: 4

Poured into a pint. Enjoyed with polenta and bean salad
A: 1/3 finger of dark brown head with good retention. Nearly opaque dark brown/black liquid. A tad more head please - it faded to nothing.
S: Milk chocolate, toasted fennel seed, black pepper. Only a very slight amount of booze when warmer, thankfully. Not harsh.
T: Some breathy esters open, coffee and chocolate dominate. Very dark chocolate. Quite hoppy middle. Bright citrus and pine. Hops stand up well to the malt. I'd prefer the estery breath to not be there.
M: Smooth open, bitter hoppy middle, roasty bitter dry finish. Robust and not hot. Some chest warmth, but not on the palate.
O: Enjoyable, solid RIS. I wouldn't expect less from Sierra Nevada. I would buy again. 1 is enough for a night. I'm interested to try it aged to see if the slight booze calms down.

 828 characters

Photo of benclimbs
3.88/5  rDev -6.3%
look: 4 | smell: 3.5 | taste: 4 | feel: 4 | overall: 4

A very nice, highly drinkable imperial from Sierra

Pours black and viscous with a slight brown head

Smell is dry and dark - coffee and burnt malts and hints of spice...nice but not outstanding

Taste is very nicely balanced, bitter espresso, cocoa and licorice and a spicy finish.

Overall a success, would definitely buy this again - a great deal too @$10 or per 4/pk for such a big beer - one to enjoy around the christmas tree!

 434 characters

Photo of draheim
4.17/5  rDev +0.7%
look: 4 | smell: 4.5 | taste: 4 | feel: 4.5 | overall: 4

12oz into a tulip. Pours a jet black w/ a 1-finger tan head.

Aroma is bitter, roasty: coffee, chocolate, dark fruit. All that's missing is the bourbon.

Taste follows nose. Rich bitter chocolate, deep roasted malt, coffee.

Mouthfeel is just right. Medium-bodied, balanced; crosses the palate effortlessly. Nice bitter finish.

Overall a rock-solid imperial stout. Well done Sierra Nevada. Once again a no-nonsense, straightforward, excellent beer.

 449 characters

Photo of LilBilly666
4.58/5  rDev +10.6%
look: 5 | smell: 4.5 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 5 | overall: 4.5

Outstanding Stout! I didn't think I'd ever find a replacement for Founders Breakfast Stout, but this is damn close. This beer opens up beautifully as it warms. A great aftertaste with plenty of coffee kick. Thick tan/brown head into a Duvel "tulip" glass. I'm not sure what the official style term of that glass is. I've been holding out to try this guy, and I wish I hadn't, because Sierra is known for it's more hop forward beers. I'd love to have one of these year round or daily..

 484 characters

Photo of dahlen22
3.85/5  rDev -7%
look: 3.5 | smell: 3.5 | taste: 4 | feel: 4 | overall: 4

Appearance: Black with a decent head.

Aroma: Chocolate and coffee notes.

Taste: Same as the nose. Cocoa, coffee, with a nuttyness and smooth and velvety on the palate.

Overall: Good beer for the colder winter months (forget this in the warmer months). Was well balanced, smooth, and the alcohol is well hidden considering the abv. For you casual stout (guinness) drinkers, this one might be too big, but if you love real stouts, this is a keeper. Cheers!!

 459 characters

Narwhal Imperial Stout from Sierra Nevada Brewing Co.
92 out of 100 based on 821 ratings.