Dismiss Notice
We're celebrating 10 years of BeerAdvocate magazine with $10 print subscriptions for US residents.

Subscribe now!

Narwhal Imperial Stout | Sierra Nevada Brewing Co.

Log in or Sign up to start rating.
889 Reviews
no score
Send samples
Narwhal Imperial StoutNarwhal Imperial Stout

Brewed by:
Sierra Nevada Brewing Co.
California, United States

Style: Russian Imperial Stout

Alcohol by volume (ABV): 10.20%

Availability: Rotating

Notes / Commercial Description:
No notes at this time.

Added by JohnGalt1 on 10-14-2012

For Trade:
User Reviews
Sort by:  Recent | High | Low | Top Raters
Reviews: 889 | Ratings: 4,927
Photo of doktorhops
4.5/5  rDev +8.7%
look: 4.5 | smell: 4.5 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 4.5 | overall: 4.5

Now that I’m back in BNE, QLD (Brisbane, Queensland for my non-Australian readers) I paid a visit to The Archive cellars and had a squiz at their finest American brews, and there are indeed ample new and delightful things that I have yet to try so here is one: Sierra Nevada’s Narwhal Imperial Stout. At 10.2% [DON’T FORGET THE .2!!!] ABV, I would consider anything over 10% to be a decent bold beer and SN are champs when it comes to slapping the tongue (with flavour!), so I will tread lightly here my friends, there is a label-conjured sea monster awaiting me.

Poured from a 355ml bottle into a Duvel tulip.

A: I’ve become bored of describing Imperial Stouts as they all look the same if done well (opaque black, caramel brown head, 9/10) so instead I decided to do it in Haiku:

Blackest beer boldness
Nothing can penetrate it
A happy man died here.

S: BIG vanilla scent pervades the entire cacao nib chocolate aroma of this brew - I dig it man! Aside from that we have a nice (cakey) biscuit base, coffee hints and brown sugar. The TL;DR here is: vanilla & chocolate, NOM-NOM-NOM. 9/10.

T: Flavour comes on all the more sinister than the aroma with some oily smoke notes, roasted espresso and a hard wooded character. Although the above vanilla and chocolate notes are there they do end up taking a backseat to the big-talking bold flavours. Granted at 10.don’tforgetthe2% ABV this is a brew not to be trifled with, unless you’re making a trifle with it, in which case: trifle away! Aftertaste has a weirdly (for a Stout at least) sneaky bitterness that creeps up and surprises you jump scare style. 9/10.

M: Not that I’ve drunk engine oil before (at least not intentionally) but this fine brew has the viscosity of a decent 10W-40, one of the most viscous multi-grade oils. Carbonation in this case is negligible as with a brew this heavy it’s hard to tell. 9/10.

D: So where does it land on the olde “stout-o-meter”? For better or worse it is right up there with Old Raspy, though Old Rasputin was had at a time when I was entranced by the bolder of Imperial Stouts, I wonder if I would rate it so highly today? A question for another time - all you need to know is if Narwhal is worth your time, a big “yes” and a hearty “cheers!” is my answer. 9/10.

Food match: Cubans... the people... nah, the cigars.

 2,347 characters

Photo of GreesyFizeek
4.28/5  rDev +3.4%
look: 4.25 | smell: 4.25 | taste: 4.25 | feel: 4.5 | overall: 4.25

2013 vintage.

This one pours a pretty deep and dark black, with a small head, and a bit of lacing.

Smells like deep earthy roasted malt, a bit of booze, coffee grounds, and still a good amount of hops even for this age.

This is an imperial stout that packs a serious punch and doesn't let up. It's still a good level of piney hoppiness, even for a 2013 vintage, with lots of bitter dark chocolate, tons of roasted malt, a coffee flavor that kind of reminds me of used grounds. It's slightly abrasive, but in a good way.

This is pretty thick and chewy, with a normal level of carbonation.

One of the best easy to get Imperial stouts out there, and one that ages extremtly well taboot.

 688 characters

Photo of cherche
3.53/5  rDev -14.7%
look: 4 | smell: 3.5 | taste: 3.5 | feel: 3.5 | overall: 3.5

L: jet black, mocha head, decent retention and lacing
S: tobacco, leather, coffee, cocoa in that order
T: in line w nose, heavier on leather, then tobacco
M: sticky and thick, nice but less of the thick milkshake feel I like with imperial stouts and more of the thickness you get with syrup
O: decent beer but after having founders imperial stout, bells expedition stout, old raspy, and Fremont darkstar many many times an imperial stout like this is pretty much meh.

 467 characters

Photo of Mikeszab
4.58/5  rDev +10.6%
look: 4.5 | smell: 4.5 | taste: 4.75 | feel: 4.25 | overall: 4.5

Pours nice and dark as oil black
Nice lacing as poured into a snifter
Taste is nice dark roasted malt, coffee, dark chocolate
Surprisingly little burn with a 10.5 abv.
Overall a great imperial stout worth trying.

 218 characters

Photo of jasonpeckins32
4.76/5  rDev +15%
look: 4.75 | smell: 4.25 | taste: 5 | feel: 5 | overall: 4.75

Look: Black as the darkest night. Thick, foamy, brown colored head sits atop of the beer. Very nice.

Smell: Rich, roasted, dark malts. Sweet. Some chocolate. Tobacco. Black licorice.

Taste: One of the better tasting russian imperial stouts I've had in recent memory (and most are usually quite tasty). A big roasted backbone is flanked with flavors of caramel, brown sugar, coffee, chocolate, cola, and black licorice.

For a stout this heavy bodied, it sure is as smooth as can be. It's an impressive beer. This will likely become my go-to stout, providing I'm able to get more of it while it's in season.

 624 characters

Photo of NiceTaps
4.04/5  rDev -2.4%
look: 3 | smell: 4 | taste: 4.25 | feel: 4 | overall: 4

12oz bottle dated 9/11/15, in a tulip.

Opaque jet black color with a 1F dark tan colored head that fades quickly to an oil sick. Minimal lacing.

Smell of coffee, dry chocolate, lots of roasted malt. Some alcohol as it warms.

Healthy dose of roasted malt flavors. Strong coffee and a touch of unsweetened chocolate. Black cherry.

Full creamy body with tingle. Smooth and balanced. Just a touch of alcohol on the end, but no burn. Underlying oiliness.

It packs flavor and big beer punch. A sipper, very good.

 511 characters

Photo of q33jeff
3.68/5  rDev -11.1%
look: 3.5 | smell: 3.5 | taste: 4 | feel: 2.75 | overall: 3.75

** 09/25/15
Bottle to pint glass. Nice looking pour. Dark black , Nice tan head. Aroma is toasted malt, dark chocolate. Taste is mostly burnt toast, coffee, tobacco leather. Strong and bitter flavors, not bad, but not smooth at all.
Lost head to head with Firestone Walker Velvet Merlin.

 303 characters

Photo of rarigney
4.28/5  rDev +3.4%
look: 4 | smell: 4 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 4.25 | overall: 4.25

12 ounce bottle, bottled on 11/3/15. Pours very dark with very little dark tan head. Aroma of roasted malt. Tastes of roasted malt and chocolate. A hint of the alcohol content is also present. A well balanced, very drinkable RIS.

 229 characters

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

Still not available in central Mississippi, finally had Narwhal at the Beerhive Pub, Salt Lake City, Utah, poured from 12-oz. bottle, stamped "PKGD 08/10/2015," into thick-walled tumbler. It was not worth the wait, but only because I hate waiting for beer.

 257 characters

Photo of Czarkazm
4.34/5  rDev +4.8%
look: 4.25 | smell: 4.5 | taste: 4.25 | feel: 4.5 | overall: 4.25

2014 Vintage. A muddy coca-cola brown color on the pour. In the glass, the body is black, nearly opaque, with just a tint of light shining through along the edges. The head disappears quickly from a creamy looking light brown to a thin tan film. A little bit of age turns this one into quite a complex stout. Getting strong licorice notes in the smell up front, along with bitter dark chocolate, molasses, burnt brown sugar, heavily roasted malts, prune juice, coffee beans, and vanilla. Full mouth feel, silky texture, well balanced. The flavor is more roasty, dark malts, charred caramel, bittersweet chocolate, espresso, wood earthiness, slight stale hop bitterness, and a touch of booze. Don't remember it being this good.

 734 characters

Photo of stompilator
4.28/5  rDev +3.4%
look: 4.25 | smell: 4.25 | taste: 4.25 | feel: 4.5 | overall: 4.25

Poured from a 12oz. bottle into a snifter.

A - Pours an opaque, jet black, cinnamon-colored head.

S - Baker's chocolate, olives, coffee, roast.

T - Starts with an explosion of chocolate malt notes, sweet cocoa flavors but not cloying. A slight umami "soy sauce" taste subtly swims underneath. A gentle roastiness finds its home in the mid-palate. The slightest hint of dark berries is present later in the palate, along with a light booziness. Finish is roasty, slightly bitter, and chocolatey.

M - Full-bodied, slightly less thick than many comparable stouts. No bitterness or dryness, but not syrupy or cloying.

O - Sierra Nevada are no doubt the kings of balance. Chocolatey and just sweet enough, and has every nuance of a good imperial stout somewhere.

 762 characters

Photo of GreatStoutman
4.29/5  rDev +3.6%
look: 4.25 | smell: 4 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 4.25 | overall: 4.25

2015 bottle pours black with lively, deep khaki head. Leaves no lacing.

Smell is sweet malts, cocoa and bitter coffee. Taste follows, in that order, with a thick body. Nice and chewy.

Overall, this is a really smooth drinking RIS with almost perfect balance and an excellent layer of flavors. No heat, but a hint of the booze toward the close.

 345 characters

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

Ink black with a mocha head which dissipated rather quickly.

Aroma: Coffee up front, roasted malts next, bit of chocolate, toffee.

Rotating the glass the beer is sticking to the edges with the mocha color the head was.

Taste: roasted malt overtakes the coffee in terms of flavor, but its still there. A balanced sweetness/bitter sweetness in every sip.

 356 characters

Photo of beercam
4.62/5  rDev +11.6%
look: 4.75 | smell: 4.5 | taste: 4.75 | feel: 4.5 | overall: 4.5

Visually I find this beer very engaging. To me, the Narwhal Imperial Stout aesthetic is incredibly personal, pleasing, and successful, with its exciting cetacean depiction and stylish black and white font and design. The charcoal-black pallor of this beer, when poured, proudly champions its own incomprehensibly deep, immutable, inner nature of modified sugars and transported starches, borrowed flavors and inherited tannins, all warped in a working world of yeast, a classic look for the strongest stout-porters of yore. A 12 oz bottle, capped in Nov. 15, yields an oceanic inch of sluffy, even brown foam as it's swiftly poured into a weathered 16 oz Fremont can-glass. The aroma is incredible, and will be described out of order shortly. Moving to taste, there is a harmonious fruitiness in this imperial stout; something many in the imperial category contend for yet very few achieve. Yet in addition to this dark, syrupy, imperious figginess comes an extremely defined and refined hop topography; a loud statement of aromatic, piney bitterness, potentially a result of the bold addition of Challenger hops, reportedly added late in the boil. The flavor here is really far out there, and especially the smell. But it truly comes as no surprise nor small victory that Sierra Nevada can offer such a triumphant brew. I'd like to add as an aside that flavor wise, what comes to mind as a rival could very well be Old Rasputin from North Coast. I'd love to see these two compared neck and neck. These are some top beers here folks. But, anyway, to get back on track, the secret method to the Narwhal's supreme taste here, in my opinion, is its enlightened, sleepy windows into flavors of coffee and chocolate, which themselves play back into and throughout the beer remarkably and extensively, finishing with whispers of smoke. Super masterful flavors, definitely buoyed by the look and smell. If someone were to mistake this for a Russian, I would pardon them. The feel here is good. It's not absolutely amazing, It's pretty good, solid. More descriptively, the feel itself is kind of sour, in a way, and has more of a tartness than oatmeal. With that said, wow, it's sturdy from tip to tummy, it's feel only improves with time elapsed from the sip. In other words, it has an exceptional aftertaste.

This is a successfully fruity Imperial Stout.With it's high abv and sweetness, one could fairly get away with calling it Russian. This beer is not hard to drink. Good people make this beer. Try it with an open heart, and see if it's for you. I am very impressed.

Overall: Pour this one stiff, folks, and enjoy.

 2,618 characters

Photo of Benjo87
3.82/5  rDev -7.7%
look: 5 | smell: 3 | taste: 4 | feel: 4 | overall: 4

Look - black in the glass with a 1 finger tan coloured head.

Smell - dark fruit, coffee, light alcohol. Mainly dark fruits. It's a little bit faint.

Taste - Whoa, not what I was expecting. It has a ton of flavour. It's not dry at all. It's very strong, not in alcohol, but in flavour. Strong espresso coffee dominates for me. Has a lot of of punch. Very nice.

 362 characters

Photo of zimm421
4.01/5  rDev -3.1%
look: 4.25 | smell: 3.75 | taste: 4 | feel: 4.5 | overall: 4

Pours a jet black with a light brown head. The nose is sweet, slightly fruity and has good roast character. The taste starts out with chocolate and fruitiness, and is quickly followed by hoppiness. The finish is roasted malts and hop bitterness. The mouthfeel is smooth and creamy. Personally, I think this is better with a bit of time on it to help round out the hops and bring the maltiness to the forefront.

 410 characters

Photo of Parmesan
4.47/5  rDev +8%
look: 4 | smell: 4.5 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 4.5 | overall: 4.5

L: Pours a pitch black color with a small brown tan head and a few fingers of lacing on the glass.

S: Cherry and other dark fruits, chocolate, roast malt and a little bit of coffee. Smells very inviting.

T: Chocolate, a little vanilla, some cherry and stone fruits, some nice roasted malt and a nice slight bitterness. Very good tasting beer.

F: Creamy smooth, low carbonation and a very full body, a little alcohol burn but not too much.

O: One of my favorite imperial stouts.

 481 characters

Photo of Hyllus
4.94/5  rDev +19.3%
look: 5 | smell: 4.75 | taste: 5 | feel: 5 | overall: 5

Somebody will have to explain to me the ratings for this beer (92?). This imperial stout is spot on in style, taste, and full-bodied feel. It pours black, thick and rich. Surprisingly (for a 10.2% abv), the alcohol is not at the forefront. Instead, the chocolate, coffee and dark fruits prevail and confirmed in the taste. Overall, Narwhal is a world class beer.

 362 characters

Photo of BSiegs
4.42/5  rDev +6.8%
look: 4.5 | smell: 4.25 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 4.25 | overall: 4.5

Deep black pour with two fingers of light brown head. Head retention and lacing are good. The nose is roast, chocolate, coffee, malt. The taste follows exactly, a lot of roasted malt, chocolate, coffee. The body is full with low-moderate carbonation. The finish is dry and bitter. Overall, a really well done, classic RIS.

 322 characters

Photo of rorykanderson
4.03/5  rDev -2.7%
look: 4.25 | smell: 3.75 | taste: 4 | feel: 4.25 | overall: 4.25

Great stout. Poured from a bottle capped in late August. Pours black with a nice frothy, light brown head. The aroma doesn't stand out and has a slight plastic note. Taste of barley, grain, wood, light hops, baker's chocolate. Real nice bitter body with a creamy mouthfeel. Easy to sip without any trace of heat. Excellent beer for the money that definitely has potential to be a go-to high ABV stout.

 401 characters

Photo of Hoppy_Time
4.09/5  rDev -1.2%
look: 4.75 | smell: 3.75 | taste: 4 | feel: 4.5 | overall: 4.25

Look: Black as night with a quickly dissipating brown head.
Smell: Surprisingly little aroma, was expecting a little more upfront, though the chocolate malt does get stronger as the head dissipates.
Taste: Rich sweet chocolate at first giving way to the roasted coffee and malts, then a lingering almost peat like bitterness.
Feel: Smooth but not without a tingle from the carbonation and the alcohol, good viscosity, not thin but also not syrupy.
A stout worthy of its recommendation, it is obviously good but doesn't seem fully rounded out.

 542 characters

Photo of dacrza1
4.16/5  rDev +0.5%
look: 4.5 | smell: 4 | taste: 4.25 | feel: 4.25 | overall: 4

DATE TASTED: January 8, 2016... GLASSWARE: Mad Elf tulip... OCCASION... enjoying another Friday night of Shark Tank... APPEARANCE: midnight black body that is as dark as its label... brown, creamy head rings well and holds steady despite the 10+% ABV strength ... AROMA: mocha, cappuccino, peat, sugary sweets, and chocolate... roasted malts mix with some woody scents and leafy accents... PALATE: smooth, smoky and full-bodied... the weight is palpable but incredibly light on the tongue... the aftertaste is slightly alcoholic, but also malty and weighty... TASTE: chocolate and peat are rapt in holy Arctic wedlock here, with coffee, toasted malts and some hidden citric elements make for a beer worth sipping... big, bold and flavorful.... OVERALL: another Sierra Nevada winner? Indeed...the strength and life of this imperial stout challenges other 12 oz. and some cork and cagers too....maltier than the usual imperial, and a dessert in itself...

 952 characters

Photo of AleYes
4.54/5  rDev +9.7%
look: 5 | smell: 4.75 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 4 | overall: 4.5

Just got a 4-pack in Maui with a label stating pkgd 9/29/14. It was dusty, but I was desperate; not many big beers available. I was going to bring some good beers with us on the trip, but we brought a few bottles of Champagne and wine, instead. :( We live on the East coast, so a 13 hour + layover trip to Maui is a special occasion. Thankfully, my wife likes beer, too.

It is a nice, easy to drink, too easy to drink at 10.2%, beer with a nice smooth taste, not sweet, not bitter, nice roastiness, slight char, chocolate and coffee notes, mild lingering licorice, slightly malty, toffee finish. A pleasant, easy to drink beer; alcohol well-hidden. Nice, small bubble carbonation, and not heavily carbonated. I don't know if that is due to the aging or if it starts that way, but I like low carbonation beers. Head went from a creamy head to almost non-existent within a couple of minutes; that isn't an issue for me. Apparently it ages well, even on a supermarket shelf for almost a year and a half. Now starting my second beer - too easy to drink... :) I still prefer Old Rasputin, my fav, the elixir of life on nitro tap.

Edit: After reading some of the reviews of this beer, it seems that the better reviews, such as mine, involve this beer having been aged for at least a year or more. So I guess it ages well, and improves with age. Lucky me, then. And thankfully for me, Maui residents and most visitors do not have an affinity for good beer.

Now back to some Maui Brewing beers tomorrow. Going to the brewery in Kihei.

 1,546 characters

Photo of DoctorZombies
4.17/5  rDev +0.7%
look: 4.25 | smell: 4 | taste: 4.25 | feel: 4 | overall: 4.25

Black pour with cinnamon tan head; thick cap and fairly thick lace; no clarity under cap. Roast malt and coffee bean nose. Flavors of bittersweet dark chocolate, roast malt and roast coffee. Medium plus mouthfeel; semi creamy tongue coating; moderate carbonation. Excellent roast malt linger; alcohol well hidden.

 313 characters

Photo of katybee
4.5/5  rDev +8.7%
look: 4.5 | smell: 4.5 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 4.5 | overall: 4.5

Wow, this is good!

Pours very dark with thin tracing of tan foam that sticks and sticks, it's full bodied, smooth, creamy....and the flavor hits you like a ton of bricks.... Well, it is imperial, so it packs a punch, but it's everything promised on the classic label "notes of baker's cocoa and dark roasted coffee" with a slight raisiny, molasses chewy edge too, without being citrus or sweet. Everything a dark beer should be, in my book.

 443 characters

Narwhal Imperial Stout from Sierra Nevada Brewing Co.
4.14 out of 5 based on 4,927 ratings.
  • About Us

    Your go-to website for beer (since 1996), publishers of BeerAdvocate magazine (since 2006) and hosts of world-class beer events (since 2003). Respect Beer.
  • Extreme Beer Fest® Cometh

    February 3-4, 2017. Boston, Mass. Limited tickets available. Prepare for epicness.

    Learn More
  • Free Trial Subscription

    Reside in the US? Interested in a free 1-month trial subscription to the print edition of BeerAdvocate magazine?

    Yes! Sign Me Up!