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Narwhal Imperial Stout | Sierra Nevada Brewing Co.

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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:
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Reviews: 889 | Ratings: 4,928
Photo of caskstrength
3.76/5  rDev -9.2%
look: 4.5 | smell: 3.5 | taste: 3.5 | feel: 4.5 | overall: 4

Unicorn whale!!

Pours dark and stouty with carbonation as expected. No floaties or anything.

Smells are roasty. Coffee, but the good coffee, not the simple stuff. Maybe some darker fruits, but those are subtle (more with letting it warm, but still in the back.)

Tastes are roasty stout. Look up stout in the taste dictionary, and this how your tongue would define it. Coffee and bitter dark chocolate weave into the smoked roasty flavors, and some fruits hang out at the back of the tongue, but they barely hang on. Just like the smells, they are there more as it warms.

Smooth mouthfeel, nailed this part. Bitterness maybe a little much on the finish, but works with the flavors.

Solid, straightforward imperial stout for those who want the classic roasty vibe. Job well done. And the price is great.

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Photo of utopiajane
3.76/5  rDev -9.2%
look: 4.25 | smell: 3.75 | taste: 3.75 | feel: 3.5 | overall: 3.75

Pours completely black with a frothy mocha colored head that left rings and patches of sticky lace. Nose is bold espresso coffee, unsweetened chocolate , a hint of prune, licorice and a bit of alcohol. The alcohol smells solvent and detracts from the nose. There is blackened malt character on the nose with a hint of smoke. The drink is syrupy. First thing you notice is that the body of the beer is thin and has a slick mouthfeel. The alcohol is prominent on the palate. The malt is black and roasted to perfection. Dry, bitter and not burnt. The coffee and the chocolate are smooth but neither of those is sweet. I kept waiting for caramel or molasses and it did sweeten on the nose as it warmed so that made the alcohol seem less bitter. I also lost the fruits I observed on the nose and this one could have used some raisin or some dried dark fruits. That kept the taste very bitter also. Finished dry and with some alcohol dryness too.

Thanks jzeilinger for the chance to try this beer. =)

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Photo of Stevedore
3.76/5  rDev -9.2%
look: 4 | smell: 3 | taste: 4 | feel: 4 | overall: 4

(Note: my personal scoring system goes in whole numbers only)

2012 vintage 12oz bottle with bottling date 279 Julian, drank in snifter today 2/5/13

Aroma- A crisp roasty sweetness remniscent of burnt sugar, with some chocolate and coffee in the nose which I have to work a bit for. Pretty average for an imperial stout. (3)

Colour- Black cola-colour pouring with a 2-3cm brown head that sticks around for a good five minutes. Lacing is persistent but spotty. (4)

Flavour- Bold chocolate and roasted black coffee. A little bit of vanilla as well as hints of smokiness. (4)

Mouthfeel- A nice thick body with ok carbonation. Nothing special. It runs a bit dry with a good amount of heat. Aftertaste is of burnt malt and black coffee but doesn't linger all that long. (4)

Overall- Above-average, good-tasting double stout that comes with fairly complex flavors. But it's running rather hot and I think some age will do it some good. I'll stash a few away for next winter. (4)

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Photo of Lawl3ss
3.76/5  rDev -9.2%
look: 3.75 | smell: 4 | taste: 3.75 | feel: 3.25 | overall: 3.75

Chilled 12 oz. stubby into a shaker pint glass. 2013 vintage.

Look- Pours deep ruby brown, quite opaque. Finger and a half of dense toffee-colored head that refuses to settle. Decent lacing.

Smell- Dark roast, milk chocolate, blackcurrant. A little booze in the background. Nice.

Taste- Bold albeit standard profile. A bit of molasses and raisin stand out, dominated by bittersweet chocolate, charred biscuit, and medium roast coffee. A little boozy, not really surprising considering the 10%+ ABV. Not too sweet. Finishes with a moderately assertive herbal bittering, roast lingers.

Mouthfeel- Medium-full body, some astringency from the booze keeps it from being creamy. Slick feel, carbonation crisp. Not too heavy, but, well.... I was expecting something a bit more substantial.

Overall- Accessible. SN's not going too crazy with this, and that's probably a good thing. Still definitely worthwhile, and very reasonably priced for the category. Sic this on your friends when they talk about Guinness being "oh so dark"- they'll be pleasantly surprised rather than sickened.

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Photo of Bosoxfan20
3.77/5  rDev -8.9%
look: 3.75 | smell: 4.75 | taste: 3.25 | feel: 3.5 | overall: 3.75

A- 12 oz bottle pours pitch black. Caramel head of 1.5 fingers. Quickly dissipates . Decent lacing, but not up to par with what i usually see from Sierra Nevada.

S- Wow. What a fantastic highlight of this beer. Supreme notes of chocolate and coffee. Powerful.

T- Coffee flavor is the most prevalent with a touch of coco and caramel. I would have loved it if the flavor would have followed the nose much closer. I felt like some of the chocolate notes were lost in the overpowering phenolic flavors of the alcohol. A touch of hops. Warm, dry finish.

M- Full bodied, good carbonation. A little dry, but still fairly smooth. Alcohol quite present.

O- Maybe the best smelling beer i have ever had. I really had high hopes for it based on the aroma. Unfortunately, the beer took a step back in the flavor. Maybe my expectations were that this would be on the same level with other imperial stouts as Old Rasputin from North Coast, but it is a step or two below that in my opinion. I can expect some alcohol presence with an abv of 10%, but it was a little too boozy for my taste. None the less, still a good beer, but just a little underachieving in my mind.

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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 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.

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Narwhal Imperial Stout from Sierra Nevada Brewing Co.
4.14 out of 5 based on 4,928 ratings.
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