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Narwhal Imperial Stout - Sierra Nevada Brewing Co.

Not Rated.
Narwhal Imperial StoutNarwhal Imperial Stout

Educational use only; do not reuse.

824 Reviews
no score

(Send Samples)
Reviews: 824
Hads: 4,671
Avg: 4.14
pDev: 22.95%
Wants: 269
Gots: 1,243 | 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: 824 | Hads: 4,671
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 themind
4.43/5  rDev +7%
look: 4.75 | smell: 4.25 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 4.75 | overall: 4.25

This is a very well crafted Imperial Stout. The beers pours a near perfect head with its rich dark color. The aroma is roasty with slight coffee coming thru. The taste was excellent! cocoa and roasted coffee make up this potion of love from SN. The mouth feel was awesome and the 10% ABV was hidden well. Overall this was a great beer that I would purchase again for sure.

Bottom Line: if its on the shelf....grab it!

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Photo of gillagorilla
3.61/5  rDev -12.8%
look: 4 | smell: 3.5 | taste: 3.75 | feel: 3.25 | overall: 3.5

Poured into a Burley Oak snifter.

A: Pours a thick 3 finger head with nice lacing. Quite dark, but I wouldn't say pitch black.

S: Roasted malts. There is a bit of sweetness in there once you swirl it real nice.

T: Lots of roasty flavors with a bunch of malt in there for good measure. Not too sweet. Eh.

M: Quite carbonated. Prickly. Much smoother once it warms up.

O: Not a big fan of the mouthfeel on this one. I don't know what to say about this one. It's not really appealing to me. Not a big fan of the flavors here. Nothing compared to the BA version. Good.

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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 tkdchampxi
4.43/5  rDev +7%
look: 4.75 | smell: 4.25 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 4.25 | overall: 4.5

Bottom Line: Great, syrupy stout that reminds me a lot of coca cola and beer, but in a good way. Not as good as your Founders Breakfast Stout, but still very enjoyable, and worth the ticket price.

Appearance: Dark, with a very small head, when poured down the side of the tulip glass.

Smell: Cold, refreshing, a little piney, a little bit like a cola.

Taste: Coffee flavor typical of a stout, but subdued. Sweeter than a typical stout, that really reminds me of coca cola.

Mouthfeel: medium low on carbonation, but with a silky, syrupy texture. Maybe it could use a bit more carbonation?

Overall: Finally got to have my first Narwhal, and I'm happy to say that it lived up to its reputation of being a great stout, worth the $10/4pk price.

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Photo of Tsar_Riga
4.13/5  rDev -0.2%
look: 4 | smell: 4 | taste: 4.25 | feel: 4.25 | overall: 4

A - A thick, dark, opaque black beer which generates a dark tan head with an aggressive pour.

S - There is, not surprisingly, a strong alcohol note, with a big malty blast. Coffee and chocolate notes are secondary. The booze overwhelms here.

T - This is a big beer, delivering on the smell. Beneath a complex combination of malts, caramel, coffee and chocolate is a build of booziness that comes in big for the finish. Surprisingly, the brew is not particularly bitter, nor overwhelmingly sweet, even though every flavor here seems to be turned up to 11.

M - Heavy enough to coat, but with carbonation sufficient to keep it from getting cloying.

O - A drinkable brew that does not hide its 10%, but still manages to be quite drinkable. Suggests many of the qualities of a barrel aged imperial stout, which is a real trick since it was not. The alcohol does cloud somewhat the complexity below, so I cannot say it is the best imperial stout I've had, but it is a good one. A very good one.

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Photo of BrownNut
4.43/5  rDev +7%
look: 4.5 | smell: 4 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 5 | overall: 4.5

Updated 10/29/13 after aging one of this same 2012 versions for 11 months. Served a little cooler than room temp from a tulip. The original scores for the fresh version are the ones I'll leave in place as the official scores. Here's the current review of the aged 2012 release then the original review of the fresh 2012 release below that:

A - 4.25 - Black with a nice darker khaki head that settles fairly quickly

S - 4.25 - Unmistakeable black malt char aroma alongside something almost perfumey that I've smelled elsewhere in the beer world, like maybe in a weizenbock or somewhere. A kind of clean smell. Unexpected and unremembered from last time.

T - 4.25 - The char from the nose translates directly onto the palate. As does whatever that perfumey note is. Different here, but you can tell they're related. Over time, the char seems to give way to the semisweet dark chocolate. Late in the glass it's more mellow and balanced in terms of char vs. choc. The aftertaste starts off as a nice char and you think that's all it will be but, but it quickly reveals notes of dark chocolate sweetness peeking out.

M - 4.5 - Nice heavier mouthfeel, yet not exactly viscous. It seems heavy at first when you pull it in, but then it settles somewhere south of there. Kind of neat.

O - 4.25 - That nice black malt char taste is basically what I want out of an imperial stout. This one delivers in spades. And it has a tasteful and classy undertone of dark chocolate. I don't know what that perfumey element is but it works as something to give this its own identity. There are three elements I was able to identify, but I think it is less complex than some imperials. As I look at my original review and scores from when I had it fresh, I don't think aging it 1 year really did anything worth waiting for. It changed, in some cases for minor improvement and in some for minor degradation and in others just different. Overall I say it's better fresh.


A - 4.5 - Pours dark brown with some light around the edges but goes opaque black in the glass. Lovely thick textured tan head that endures for quite a while.

S - 4.0 - Mostly chocolate on the nose with a hint of char underneath. Possibly a leather note in there.

T - 4.5 - On the palate, the char and the chocolate switch places, with the char coming more forward, though overall it's fairly balanced. It just barely approaches chocolate sweetness. That appears more on your hard palate and lips after you swallow than in the main taste. A bitter char/bitter chocolate aftertaste lingers.

M - 5.0 - Wow. This is a top 5 mouthfeel, maybe top 3. I just googled the words luxurious and luxuriant and apparently neither is what I'm going for, but you get the intent. Wonderful. It's not pudding-like, as are some big imperials, which is something I like. It's closer to medium bodied than pudding bodied. Call it north of medium. But it's just so well done. I've never thought about mouthfeel being balanced, but that's what this is - balance between the silkiness of a thick pudding-like mouthfeel and the drinkability of a medium bodied beer.

O - 4.5 - Fantastic. Sierra Nevada just doesn't disappoint. I bet you could go through the gallery of beers that didn't make it out their door because they didn't measure up to their standards and find a bunch of great beers. Because the ones that make it out the door are just flat professional. These guys are master craftsmen. Their way is not the flashy way - it's the balanced, understated way, which delivers top quality humbly. Their touch is so deft and delicate.

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Photo of RonfromJersey
4.33/5  rDev +4.6%
look: 4.5 | smell: 4 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 4.5 | overall: 4.25

Pure black body, topped by a fist worth of dark tan micro-bubble foam.

Big roast coffee aroma, chocolate undercurrent, hints of dark fruit.

Taste starts off with a wave of Hershey syrup. Follows with a big cup of black coffee. Nips of dark fruits.

Big thick slick oily chewy. It's a good one.

A superior Imperial Stout I hope to enjoy again for years to come.

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Photo of BurgeoningBrewhead
4.27/5  rDev +3.1%
look: 4.5 | smell: 3.75 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 4.5 | overall: 4.25

Pours like engine oil into a snifter; jet black with a thin brown head that fades into a loose topping of foam after a few seconds.
Smells of dark roasted metallic malt; coffee and chocolate, both dark and sweet. Simple but foreboding smell, unassuming but unapologetic.
Taste is very big, and much more complex than the smell suggests. Dark coffee and chocolate blends with sweet chocolate and dark fruit, as well as a thick booziness that warms as you drink.
Mouthfeel is thick and smooth, awesome.
Overall, this is a solid RIS. Definitely one of the more extreme examples, but a great one for those who love huge stouts.

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Photo of mynie
4.24/5  rDev +2.4%
look: 4.25 | smell: 4 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 3.75 | overall: 4.25

On tap at The Pint in West Lafayette, IN. Ordered it because why not, what the hell.

Smells fairly tame, even as it warms. Big nodes of roasted barley combined with some light wisps of espresso and alcohol fire.

Tastes quite good, much stronger than its relatively tame ABV led me to anticipate. Very nice balance between sweet and roasty nodes, coming across both lively vinous and bitterly dark. Back end is a wee bit thin which blots out some of the complexities.

Nothing to write home about, really; just a nice, aggressive double stout.

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Photo of Jonada
3.67/5  rDev -11.4%
look: 4 | smell: 3.75 | taste: 3.5 | feel: 3.75 | overall: 3.75

2012 vintage served in a snifter

Appearance: Pours black with less than a finger of a dark tan head. Body is opaque.

Smell: Dark chocolate, roasted malt, black licorice, booze, fudge.

Taste: More of the same. Roasted malt, coffee, bitter dark chocolate, hint of dark fruit.

Mouthfeel: Lighter end of full bodied with medium prickly carbonation. Not super boozy, but the alcohol isn't exactly hidden well either.

Overall: A bit boozy, which holds this back from being great. I've had higher ABV beers that have hidden their ABV much better. Still decent, but with all of the other great imperial stouts out there, I probably won't get this again.

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Photo of rangerred
4.44/5  rDev +7.2%
look: 4 | smell: 4.25 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 4.75 | overall: 4.5

12oz bottle into a pint glass.

Pours absolutely pitch black with a smallish dark tan head that fades to a thin ring around the edge of the glass.

The aroma is full of dark chocolate along with roasted caramel and a touch of smoke. There is a healthy dose of vanilla bean and some very light wood as well.

Loads of vanilla up front on the flavor followed by some cocoa, plum, and caramel. A touch of smoke and charred wood along with burnt caramel and a little honey. Alcohol is very well restrained and just becomes noticable towards the finish. Mouthfeel is very silky with just a touch of sweet stickyness in the finish.

Overall, a very well put together and nice imperial stout. Not at all too sweet and the alcohol is barely detectable. An awesome, and affordable, imperial stout from Sierra Nevada.

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Photo of BriantheBeerGeek
4.29/5  rDev +3.6%
look: 5 | smell: 4.75 | taste: 4 | feel: 4 | overall: 4.25

2013 (Brewed on the 214th day ) poured into DFH tulip glass.

A- Motor oil black like a Russian imperial stout should be.

S- WOW, getting a lot more tropical hoppy notes than I would expect from a RIS. Malt is present though with coffee , bakers cocoa, ripe banana, cherry, tobacco, slight espresso, molasses and leather.

T-Again, WOW. Definitely a SN take on an imperial stout. Everything I look for in a RIS but with lots of hop presence. I imagine that the malt will come out more with age. Definitely one to set back a 4-pack or two for a few years. Coffee, chocolate, fig, tropical fruits, licorice, lots of roasty malts, slight alcohol, very nice.

M-Huge, as it should be.

O-I wish SN would do more malt forward beers like this, one of their best. If you love imperial stouts this is a must have.

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Photo of IronLover
4.32/5  rDev +4.3%
look: 4.25 | smell: 4 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 4.5 | overall: 4.25

Velvety black in color. Poured with a short dark tan foam that quickly reduced to a soapy cap. Dark roasted malt and powdery dark chocolate aromas with ripe dark fruit and delicate hop notes. Thick, rich, viscous feel with subdued carbonation through the middle. Dark roasted malt flavors first followed by dark chocolate. Sweetness malt and chocolate is quickly overcome by bitter dark roasted coffee and pine hop bitterness. Finishes with a tangy, bitter, pine hip aftertaste with u.derlying dark roasted malt. Beautiful color, delicate aromas, and a rollercoaster of sweet and bitter flavors. 

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Photo of abeeronthebeach
4.33/5  rDev +4.6%
look: 4.75 | smell: 4.25 | taste: 4.25 | feel: 4.75 | overall: 4.25

Tasted Blind against Old Rasputin. This was my preferred beer.

A - Light-swallowing black, accented by a bracelet of mocha coloured foam. Very thin head but what a gorgeous colour!

S - Not quite as forceful as implied by the colour but tantalising due to its subtlety nonetheless. Dundee cake (it's like Christmas cake) and treacle were the main characteristics I picked up. A murmur of coca cola once it warms up a little followed by a sweet, rich rum booziness.

T - Surprisingly sweet. Leads with treacle and follows with a booziness reminscent of a good single malt. By this I mean that it had that sort of smokiness or peatiness in its bite. To me it tastes like dark dried fruits soaked in whisky.

M - Creamy, thick like treacle or molasses. Chewy and pliable.

O - What a cracking beer for the price. Took Old Rasputin to the cleaners. Did a good job of civilising its 10% Abv which always wins brownie points with me. I was concerned I might be overpowered by this beer a I was recently by Rochefort 10 but this was not the case. Underrated.

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Photo of Kuaff
4.65/5  rDev +12.3%
look: 4.25 | smell: 4.75 | taste: 4.75 | feel: 4.5 | overall: 4.5

I enjoyed this RIS in my snifter at cellar temperature.

A full, bulging two fingers of light cocoa-colored foam form the head. The body is black, to put it simply.

Smells surprisingly fruity! I think I'm getting raspberries and, incredibly, freshly-picked blueberries. It's fantastic, as well as something I never imagined I'd smell in a stout. Moving on... there are also raisins, a rich semi-sweet chocolate scent, and a bit of molasses. A really awesome blend of aromas.

The berries are in the flavor a little too! It's like brownies with a strawberry or raspberry topping at first. That's what it's like early on... pretty sweet like chocolate milk, but also with a subtle, complementary fruity tartness. The back end brings a ponderous roastiness of coffee and dark chocolate that contrasts the initial sweeter flavors superbly.

The feel is thick and heavy as a narwhal (durhurhur), and the carbonation is calm like the sea at slack tide.

This isn't "just another" Russian imperial stout to me. It has some of the aroma notes and flavors of a Belgian strong dark ale, but still retains all the essential requirements for retaining stout status. And all of it's distinctive qualities mesh together beautifully. Not to mention it kind of has the consistency and taste of a chocolate milkshake, to my delight. Just as a Narwhal is a unique whale, but still a whale, this is a unique stout, but still very much a stout... and a very nice one.

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Photo of Flounder57
4.1/5  rDev -1%
look: 4 | smell: 4 | taste: 4.25 | feel: 4 | overall: 4

12 oz bottle was poured into a tulip glass.

Appearance: This beer poured a one finger mocha head that reduced to a thin layer. It is a pitch black color with no clarity or bubbles seen coming up through the glass.

Smell: sweet chocolate, molasses, roasted coffee, a little warm alcohol, and dark fruits.

Taste: Chocolate, roasted coffee, tobacco, molasses, a little smoke, and dark fruits.

Mouthfeel: Smooth, warm alcohol, full bodied, medium carbonation, and delicious.

Overall: Pretty solid RIS by the boys from Stone. Might have to move up to their 22 RIS and the espresso version as well. This beer definitely got better as it warmed up too.

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Photo of Thelonious_Mahler_Crate
4.72/5  rDev +14%
look: 4.75 | smell: 4.5 | taste: 4.75 | feel: 5 | overall: 4.75

2013 Narwhal


Appearance: Black as it should be. Narwhal resembles a textbook imperial stout.

Smell: Deep, rich, malty greatness.

Taste: See 'smell.' This beer packs a flavorful punch, especially after warming a bit. Coffee, malt, maybe some nuttiness. I haven't been to beer school. I just know it's awesome.

Mouthfeel: If one aspect of his beer hits the 'perfect' mark, it's this one. Narwhal's a nice creamy, chewy number, and the alcohol content bites your mouth at the end. To me, that's pleasant, and reminds me what sort of fine genre beer I'm drinking.

Overall: Narwhal, while not particularly rare, was somewhat of a whale for me. It's been hyped quite a bit by both the internet, and a few friends of mine, and it did not disappoint. I'd really like to taste it back to back with Old Rasputin and Stone Imperial Stout. Regardless, it's a fantastic brew I'd recommend to any fan of the genre.

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Photo of BMMillsy
4.44/5  rDev +7.2%
look: 5 | smell: 4 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 4.75 | overall: 4.5

Poured pitch black into generic snifter with small brown head. Aroma is roasty chocolate, and more roasted chocolate. Flavor follows with bittersweet chocolate and a very nice roasted finish. Extremely smooth with just the right carbonation. Thick but easy drinking. Like velvet. I would compare this closely with Oaked Yeti, with less sweetness and more bittersweet. This is a phenomenal brew feom SN. Easily rank this above some of the more hyped impies. I really can’t find anything wrong with this one.

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Photo of mashedpotatoes
4.83/5  rDev +16.7%
look: 5 | smell: 5 | taste: 4.75 | feel: 4.75 | overall: 4.75

A supremely righteous Russian Imperial Stout. Chewy, STRONG, and delicious. Tons of coffee and chocolate right up front. Complex, multi-blend of 6 different malts. The only con would be the strength of the alcohol coming through but that is forgivable given the greatness of this brew. You will be hard-pressed to find a better example of this beer. Enjoy and cheers!

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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 Mongrel
3.94/5  rDev -4.8%
look: 4 | smell: 3 | taste: 4.25 | feel: 4.25 | overall: 4.25

Had on tap in a little 9 oz snifter. I swear there was no smell whatsoever coming off this beer. Maybe it was served too cold.

Drinks more like a porter than a stout - supremely roasty with coffee and hop bitterness and a little roasty tang. Creamy center and mouthfeel that's really the star of the show. Like any good stout/porter, it grows in complexity as it warms, bringing out a little vanilla, caramel, anise and chocolate syrup. Despite the sweet flavors, this beer still finishes extremely dry.

Don't get me wrong, this is a very solid stout/porter, but not quite up to the level of luxury and complexity of something like an Expedition Stout.

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Photo of maxcoinage
4.44/5  rDev +7.2%
look: 4.5 | smell: 4.25 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 4.5 | overall: 4.5

Poured from 12oz bottle (2013 Vintage) into oversized snifter with a solid inch head that was mocha colored and took it's time to settle down. Color of the beer is pitch black.

The aroma consists of dark chocolate, coffee, dark fruits.

Taste includes dark roasted malt, coffee, caramel, very noticeable booze, some hoppy bitterness

Mouthfeel is rather thick, but not as much as you'd think at over 10%, medium carbonation, leaves a nice coating on your mouth and throat.

Overall it's a very enjoyable RIS, as I like boozy stouts, though I could see how some might think this is too hot. Looking forward to see how this changes with some age on it.

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Photo of wedge
3.6/5  rDev -13%
look: 4.25 | smell: 3.5 | taste: 3.5 | feel: 4 | overall: 3.5


Deep, dark black color with a lean tan head that drops to a luscious, creamy covering. Smells dark and malty...spicy fruit, licorice, molasses, and a slight oxidized/aged aroma in back. Somewhat rich, but definitely big and roasty malt flavor. Char, cocoa, espresso, and dark fruity esters. Again, a particular spiciness permeates the flavor along with a heavy bitterness in the finish. Booze is thankfully low, though there is an expected warming deep down in the throat. Big bodied and creamy, but dry. I liked this a bit more during the first half, but the bitterness is becoming a little distracting. A solid RIS that I think is worthy of aging a couple more bottles for longer to see what happens.

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Photo of jtierney89
3.3/5  rDev -20.3%
look: 3 | smell: 3 | taste: 3 | feel: 4 | overall: 4

Incredibly deep brown color, almost black, from what i can tell good clarity and about two fingers of mocha colored head. Charcoal heavily roasted grains, bit of asphalt, mocha and dark cocoa.

Not as heavily bodied as I thought it would be but a pretty good beer. I expected a bit more from sierra, but it's a pretty standard imp stout. Faintly creamy, bitter black chocolate, dark roast coffee, herbal hop, low astringency, bitter malts and bitter hops finishes dry. Overall good, clean tasting, on the heavier side of medium bodied, lingering burnt coffee, black chocolate and earthy hop flavors. A touch soapy and minty.

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Narwhal Imperial Stout from Sierra Nevada Brewing Co.
92 out of 100 based on 824 ratings.