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.
887 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: 887 | Ratings: 4,919
Photo of JohnnyMc
4/5  rDev -3.4%
look: 4 | smell: 4 | taste: 4 | feel: 4 | overall: 4

Another release in the High Altitude Series that houses big names like Hoptimum and Bigfoot!!

Pours out pitch black with a thick, mocha/tan head that lingers for a long time given the ABV.

The aroma has huge notes of semi-sweet chocolate, coffee and dark roasted malt.

The taste is also primarily chocolate and coffee, but there are the dark roasted notes and a surprising amount of hops that makes the beer somewhat bitter and dry. This is very balanced between the sweetness from the coffee and chocolate and the bitterness of the hops and coffee. The ABV is well masked with only a slight warming effect.

The mouthfeel is big, rich, creamy, silky and smooth.

A very nice effort from Sierra Nevada! Not the greatest Imperial Stout and I would have liked a little more complexity, but an extremely solid example of the style.

 834 characters

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

Bottle pkg 11/06/14:
Pours black as night, if seemingly a little thin. I didn't do a vigorous pour, so head was light, receding to edges in a thin tan rim. Smell is deep roasted malts, coffee, woody, dark chocolate, maybe a light smoke.

Taste (initial, still a tad cold) was a bit bitter, with less black coffee taste than I expected, it was almost a woody flat cola or root beer. Even though it wasn't sweet, the malts came through after the initial bitterness, almost in reverse of malt sweetness backed by bitterness. Carbonation that was not obvious in the pour played on the tongue more than expected going into the end taste. Body is pretty full, feel mildly oily. The end tastes were a bit more chocolatey (also the beer was warming).

After warming (which was key), the flavors unsurprisingly mellowed, carbonation bite faded, chocolate came out a bit more, and my overall impression improved.

Expectations might have caught me slightly. I thought this was a solid beer, but not as exceptional as I've heard people state (hopefully not confusing with BA plaudits). Definitely will grab this again when available but a four pack is enough for me.

 1,163 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 StoutHunter
4.01/5  rDev -3.1%
look: 4.5 | smell: 4 | taste: 4 | feel: 3.75 | overall: 4

I picked up a four pack of Sierra Nevada's Narwhal Imperial Stout a couple weeks ago for $10.99 at The Lager Mill. Russian Imperial Stouts are one of my favorite styles and Sierra Nevada is one solid brewery so I couldn't pass up the chance to give this beer a try, so lets see how it goes. This is the first time this beer has been bottled, 2012 vintage. Poured from a shorter brown 12oz bottle into a snifter.

A- I like the name and the artwork for this beer, it's nicely done and it's pretty unique much like the animal it's named after. It poured a nice and dark motor oil black color that didn't let any light come through and it had two and a half fingers worth of fluffy light mocha colored head that died down to a thin ring that stayed till the end and left some nice and sticky patches of lacing. This is a very good looking beer with a nice dark color and more head then usual for this style, there's not a damn thing wrong with it.

S- The aroma starts off with loads of dark roasted malts that have a higher amount of sweetness to them and imparted some roasted, charred, chocolate, molasses, cocoa powder, coffee, black licorice, and a slight bit of tobacco towards the end. I don't pick up any hops in the aroma but I do get a sweet boozy aroma. The aroma is nice and it's very true to style, the booze shows up a little too much, but it doesn't hurt this beer that much.

T- The taste seems to be pretty damn similar to the aroma and it starts off the same with lots of roasted malts that have a higher amount of medium sweetness and impart some highly roasted flavors along with some chocolate, coffee, and a slight tobacco and black licorice flavor. After that comes a sweet molasses flavor followed by a good amount of dark fruits that add some complexity to the flavor. On the finish I get some warming alcohol that makes the flavor a little boozy and the aftertaste is full of sweet roasted and charred malts. This beer tastes good and is very true to style, it has nice complexity, but the boozyness hurts it a little.

M- Not that smooth, somewhat creamy, a little sticky, very rich, full bodied, and it had a pretty good amount of medium carbonation. The mouthfeel was ok, but it would be nice if this was a little smoother.

Overall I thought this was a good beer and a good example of the style, it had just about all the aspects that I look for in the style with some good complexity, but it didn't seem to be as balanced as some of the better RIS's. This beer had ok drinkability, it's a sipper and the flavors did a good job at holding my attention, but I think one would be enough for me, it might start to be to boozy after that. What I liked the most about this beer was it's complexity and it's appearance, they were both pretty good. What I liked the least about this beer was the mouthfeel and the drinkability, it was a little rough around the edges and it would be nice if this beer was smoothed out a little. I would buy this beer again, it's pretty solid and affordable for the style, I might keep a couple bottles for the cellar to see how they change overtime and I would get a four pack if it's released again. All in all I thought this was a pretty solid Russian Imperial Stout, but it lacked the balance and refinement that some of the better ones have, it's good but It can't hang with the world class RIS's like Founders RIS or Bell's Expedition Stout. Sierra Nevada makes some solid beers and this one's no exception, they seem to be one of the most constant breweries and I respect that. 2013 Edit, I had a year old bottle recently and it smoothed a little with some great chocolate flavors, ages well so far.

 3,658 characters

Photo of mattkoon
4.01/5  rDev -3.1%
look: 4.75 | smell: 3.75 | taste: 4 | feel: 3.75 | overall: 4.25

ive had this beer on tap before- this is the first time out of the bottle. the color is black- opaque when held up to light. the smell is full of dark malt and chocolate. the flavor is blackened dark chocolate malt, black coffee and alcohol, not surprising with the 10.2% abv. this is a super solid stout.

 305 characters

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

First review. Bottle (2012 vintage) poured to Black Tuesday glencairn glass.

A - Pours opaque black with an inch of of tight mocha head. Spotty lacing lines the glass.

S - Licorice, smoke, baker's chocolate, slight coffee notes. As it warms I sense some darker fruits (plum, date, and sweet grape). Nice smelling beer.

T - Sweet plum, slight roast, coffee grounds, and vanilla. Long lasting dark chocolate on the finish. Really impressed.

M- on the thinner side of medium-bodied. A bit syrupy, which helps bring out a bit of the coffee and darker chocolates.

O - Really Impressed by this beer. Really dug the darker fruit and chocolate notes. Excited to see where this goes in a yea or 2.

 693 characters

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

A- Easily the darkest beer I ever tried. It's almost black with a thin one finger dark tan head.

S- Dark Chocolate, Coffee with a dense coco base.

T- Robust, Big, Malty, Roasty, Coffee, Semi-Sweet Chocolaty with a welcomed bit of bitterness... almost perfect.

F - Smooth, lightly carbobated and slighty oily.

O- One of the better Sierra Nevada brews. I could drink this quite often. This is not my favorite style but I enjoyed this beer very much.

 452 characters

Photo of divineaudio
4.01/5  rDev -3.1%
look: 4.5 | smell: 3.5 | taste: 4 | feel: 4 | overall: 4.5

12 oz into my deschutes snifter.

a - pours deep, dark brown, almost black. formed a finger of dense, dark brown head upon pouring that eventually calmed to a thin film, leaving behind a thick sheet of lacing bordered by small spots. a damn fine looking beer.

s - roasted malt, charcoal notes, faint dark chocolate, faint alcohol astringency.

t - notes of dark chocolate, char, and faint tobacco supported by roasted malt goodness. faint, earthy hop character, but just enough for balance. has an alcoholic bitterness that fades into a dark chocolate bittersweetness and lingers for a bit.

m - full bodied, adequate carbonation, medium co2 profile. faint alcohol warming.

o - pretty damn enjoyable, but a little hot and rough around the edges. quite drinkable for 10%, but certainly could use some time to mature. gonna pick up some more of this and sit on them for a while. definitely a welcome addition to the imperial stout category.

 942 characters

Photo of Gmann
4.02/5  rDev -2.9%
look: 4 | smell: 3.75 | taste: 4.25 | feel: 3.75 | overall: 4

Pours a pitch black color with a smallish dense brown head that dissipated into a slight cap leaving a wall of lacing.

The aroma is of a mild roast malt. Some subtle chocolate notes. Some anise spice. Hits the right RIS aroma notes.

The taste is of a big bitter roast. Burnt pumpernickel notes and scorched caramel. A booze soaked raisin fruit character. An herbal flavor which may come from the alcohol. Again subtle chocolate notes.

Big chewy feel, slightly tingly carbonation. Sweet but mostly bitter on the palate. Quite sticky in the finish. Boozy.

Very good RIS. Loads of flavor and complex. A bit too sticky.

 623 characters

Photo of rjp217
4.02/5  rDev -2.9%
look: 4 | smell: 3.75 | taste: 4 | feel: 4.75 | overall: 4

2013 edition bottle poured...

A - Solid black with a 1 finger brown head that dissipates rather quickly. Nice sticky lace retention

S - Milk chocolate, nuts, campfire

T - All kinds of chocolate, some smoke, oak, hops, caramel, boozy

M - Exceptionally soft and pillowy, medium body, low carbonation

O - An excellent, fairly easy to find RIS. It's big and boozy with a lot of complexity. I really like this one though it's just a step below that next level.

 460 characters

Photo of superdedooperboy
4.02/5  rDev -2.9%
look: 3.5 | smell: 4 | taste: 4 | feel: 4.5 | overall: 4

Celebrating International Stout Day the right way. 12-ounce brown glass bottle poured into a Duvel-branded tulip glass. Served at approximately 45 degrees F.

Pours pitch black -- this thing isn't letting any light through. A small one-fingered head of mocha foam rises up and falls away just as quickly as it came. It settles to a thin cap on the surface of the brew, leaving behind a nice webbing of lace on the walls of the glass as it empties.

Roasty and chocolaty on the nose, with notes of chocolate-covered cherries and currants making their way into the mix. Rich, decadent and inviting.

Delving in, the most noticeable quality is the mouthfeel -- this stout is thick, smooth and creamy on the tongue, gliding over like silk, followed up by a light prickly carbonation that wipes it all away.

Fairly sweet in the opening, with an intense deep malt character taking hold. Chocolate, molasses, burnt toffee file in, followed in the middle by roasty espresso notes. Here, some citrusy hope notes actually find their way into the fray around the edges, but they dissolve into the rich mix just as they become perceptible. Espresso and bitter dark chocolate fall into the rear, mingling with some dark pit fruit before falling away into a bit of booziness. The alcohol warmth carries into the finish, which is rather dry and punctuated by lingering notes of dark chocolate and black cherry.

An exceptional Imperial Stout overall, with a succulent mouthfeel that is perhaps its best quality. Nothing outlandish here, just solid Imperial Stout as it should be. Why Sierra Nevada took so long to release a beer like this is beyond me, but it displays all of the attributes of quality brewing that the brewery is known for, and will undoubtedly become a quick favorite for cellaring and general wintry imbibing.

 1,816 characters

Photo of cocojoe
4.02/5  rDev -2.9%
look: 3 | smell: 3.5 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 4 | overall: 4

A: Rich black roasty color, dark mocha head

S: Very Roasty, subtle floral qualities

T: Thick, creamy, roasty, dark chocolate, semi-dry finish, some bitterness. Some floral bitter hop qualities are perceived. Chewy and delish.

M: Full-bodied, but not unbearably sweet

O: Great Imperial stout, especially for the price range. Not super sweet, roasty bitter character is still fairly prominent.

 396 characters

Photo of adam42381
4.02/5  rDev -2.9%
look: 4.25 | smell: 4 | taste: 4 | feel: 4 | overall: 4

Poured from a 12 ounce bottle into a Cigar City snifter. Bottled on October 6, 2012 per Julian dating code printed on bottle.

Appearance: Pours a motor oil black with a 1 finger creamy medium brown head which dissipates to a chocolate milk-like bubbly foam. Solid lacing for such a big beer.

Smell: Sweet milk chocolate, dark roasted malt, a touch of molasses, a hint of hops and a bit of alcohol coming through in the background.

Taste: Very dark roasted malt up front with a bit of bittersweet chocolate in the middle before ending with a nice amount of hoppy bitterness and more dark roasted malt. The alcohol definitely makes an appearance, but is not terribly overpowering. Aftertaste is bitter, roasted and long-lasting.

Mouthfeel: Full-bodied and a good amount of carbonation.

Drinkability: Good drinkability. This one would be great on a cold winter's night. For me, it's still pretty damn good on a 75 degree late January afternoon in southwest Florida.

Overall: Very good beer overall. While I don't think it compares to some of the more heralded Imperial Stouts out there, I don't think Sierra Nevada set out to blow you away with complex additions. This is a straightforward take on the Russian Imperial Stout style. I would definitely recommend this one and look forward to trying it next year (assuming they bring it back).

 1,343 characters

Photo of gcamparone
4.02/5  rDev -2.9%
look: 3.75 | smell: 4.25 | taste: 4 | feel: 3.75 | overall: 4

Poured from a 12oz bottle into a snifter. Purchased in Providence, RI.

Pours a deep brown nearly black body with a small off white head that leaves no lacing and a little retention.

Chocolate, coffee, dark fruits, toffee, caramel come through on the aroma. Tongue matches the nose with an added roasty note, coffee and dark chocolate, finishes lightly bitter and charred. Medium body with medium low carbonation.

Solid for a stout thats always available. Love the roastyness on the aftertaste.

 499 characters

Photo of nmann08
4.02/5  rDev -2.9%
look: 4.25 | smell: 4 | taste: 4 | feel: 4 | overall: 4

2012 Vintage

Pours a dark black, soft brown head, very still and calm appearance.

Huge malty nose, sweet, smells like licorice. Chocolate and coffee fight to come through, but are muted.

Tastes are dominated by dark fruits, sweet flavors. The roasted barley taste shows up and it finishes with bitterness.

Mouthfeel is good. Creamy and rich.

Overall this is good. Personally, I enjoyed it more fresh, but could also be better with more time on it as well.

 460 characters

Photo of Dragginballs76
4.02/5  rDev -2.9%
look: 4 | smell: 3.75 | taste: 4 | feel: 4.25 | overall: 4.25

Pours black with about a 2 finger tan head that lasted about a minute good lacing. Bitter hoppy smell but not overpowering. Smokey hoppy taste little bitter. smooth feel going down little boozy feel on the tongue. Overall a good beer can't wait to try this aged a little.

 271 characters

Photo of emyers
4.02/5  rDev -2.9%
look: 4 | smell: 3.75 | taste: 4.25 | feel: 3.75 | overall: 4

12 oz. bottle poured into a Founders snifter.

Appearance: Near black with a thick 1-inch medium brown head. Decent lacing.

Smell:Cocoa powder, roasted barley, coffee, caramel malt, hints of dark fruit. Alcohol isn't really apparent. Very well done, although fairly straightforward as far as imperial stouts go.

Taste: Big roasted malt flavor up front, Coffee and dark chocolate come through again. Molasses, caramel malt, and more roasted malt on the fninsh. Definietely more alcohol heat in the flavor than in the aroma, but not in a bad way. Finish is pretty bitter with the heavy roasted malt and bittering hops.

Mouthfeel: Full-bodied and rich with medium-to-low carbonation.

Overall: Very solid imperial stout. I'd put this in the same class as Old Rasputin.

 769 characters

Photo of Pahn
4.02/5  rDev -2.9%
look: 4 | smell: 3.75 | taste: 4 | feel: 4.25 | overall: 4.25

12oz bottle into Captain Lawrence tulip.

Appearance: Long lasting frothy tan head. Several large lacing streaks. Black.

Smell: Cascade hops with an undercurrent of roasted malt. Straightforward, good. P.S. Apologies if the beer doesn't actually have Cascades in it. [edit: checking online shows me that Challenger hops were used, which--upon reading their characteristics--is a testament to Sierra Nevada's skill at using hops. They indeed do smell and taste like a citrusy version of Willamette / Northern Brewer. Great stuff]

Taste: Cocoa and roasted malt up front, underlying fruitiness in back, roasted malt bitterness in the finish (oily hop aftertaste). Flavor takes a long time to play itself out, which along with the almost-velvety mouthfeel makes every sip a delight. Solidly above average.

High ABV very well hidden--drinks so smooth that halfway through the glass you really feel a punch from the 10+% ABV. Great Winter beer, and while it doesn't wrench out as much flavor from all that alcohol as some other, superior beers (say, Hoppin Frog's BORIS), it does its job.

Mouthfeel: Full bodied. Creamy. Not as silken as Fritz and Ken's, but closer to that godly stout-feel than, say, Old Rasputin, which is humdrum in comparison. Moderate carbonation. Nice mild dryness at the end.

Overall: Great value. Well done feel, and a ton of flavor. For me, it comes off as a bit of a journeyman beer: straightforward cascade hops and roasted malt in the nose and most of the flavor, with some really exceptional mouthfeel and subtle estery flavor here and there.

Like Hoptimum and Bigfoot, a seasonal that should make value-minded beer drinkers very happy.

 1,669 characters

Photo of Beaver13
4.03/5  rDev -2.7%
look: 4.5 | smell: 4 | taste: 4 | feel: 4 | overall: 4

12 oz bottle. Pours inky black with a big creamy brown head that retains well and laces the glass.

The aroma is sweet roasted grains, chocolate, and some black licorice.

The flavor is some sweet lactic chocolate quickly followed by a big roast bitterness, some black licorice and a little dark fruit and coffee. The mouthfeel is medium to full bodied with low carbonation.

Overall, a solid imperial stout.

 408 characters

Photo of StoutItOutLoud
4.03/5  rDev -2.7%
look: 4.5 | smell: 4 | taste: 4 | feel: 4 | overall: 4

2013 vintage. 12-oz poured to tulip. Consumed 2-20-2014.

Thick and viscous. Opaque black; large, frothy, 3-finger mocha head. Decent alcohol legs coating the glass. There's a cap holding out.

dark roast coffee; grassy hops; baker's chocolate. wish there was more dark fruit here

one dimensional - dark chocolate-hops roastiness. alcohol less noticeable than ten fidy

well-carbonated. medium mouthfeel.

 405 characters

Photo of IKR
4.03/5  rDev -2.7%
look: 4.5 | smell: 4 | taste: 4 | feel: 4 | overall: 4

Appearance: Very dark brown, looks black unless it's held up to a light. Has a generous light beige head. Good looking beer.

Smell: Chocolate and coffee/roasted malt aroma. Nice nose on this one.

Taste: Chocolate, moderate roasted malts notes and a mild hop presence. The finish is fairly dry and clean.

Mouth-feel: Medium to full-bodied with a moderate level of carbonation appropriate tor the style.

Overall: A beer that's tastes good, is priced well, and is reasonably accessible. Sierra Nevada does good tasting value packed beers as well as anyone.

 557 characters

Photo of HopHunter19
4.03/5  rDev -2.7%
look: 4 | smell: 4 | taste: 4 | feel: 4.25 | overall: 4

A - 4 - nice dark black/brown espresso colored beer with a nice mocha head that dissipates but still leaves nice lacing.
S - 4 - big roasty notes, dark chocolate, cocoa, char, black malt
T - 4 - roasty, creamy/umami character, dark chocolate, cocoa, bitter
M - 4.25 - big thick impy stout. alc covered. aftertaste is burnt marshmallow, roasty malts
O - 4 - definitely a more roasty imperial stout. At 10.2% it feels a little lighter than some of the beers I'd compare it to - Founders IS, Bells Expy. That said it's still a legit imperial stout.

 546 characters

Photo of nUgZ
4.03/5  rDev -2.7%
look: 4.5 | smell: 4 | taste: 4 | feel: 4 | overall: 4

12 ounce bottle poured into a snifter.

A: Pours black in color with a minimal head and some lacing.

S: Roasted malts with some espresso and a hint of dark chocolate and alcohol.

T: Tons of espresso with nice roasted malts, nuts, and some dark chocolate. Alcohol is barely noticeable.

M: Medium bodied with good carbonation. Easy to drink for an Imperial Stout.

O: This is a very nice example of a Coffee Imperial Stout. It could use a little more body, but overall it's very good, especially for the price. I will be buying more.

 535 characters

Photo of happy4hoppybeer
4.03/5  rDev -2.7%
look: 4.5 | smell: 4 | taste: 4 | feel: 4 | overall: 4

Pitch black with beautiful tan head, leaving considerable lacing on the glass. This looks like an Imperial Stout all right.

Very strong aromas of coffee, alcohol, chocolate etc. Very big on the alcohol.

Roasted/toasted barley, cocoa and coffee beans hit the tongue. Very creamy, fairly big body, medium carbonation.

As far as imperial stouts go, this stands among the finest.

 378 characters

Photo of JayQue
4.03/5  rDev -2.7%
look: 4 | smell: 3.5 | taste: 4.25 | feel: 4.5 | overall: 4

Sierra Nevada is the Toyota of beers. Not always the cutting edge innovator, but consistently excellent with every offering. Narwhal pours a dense black color with a big dark tan head (on a hard pour). Good head retention, good lacing. Smell is about average for a big stout...Chocolate and rich malts. Taste is very good. A hint of alcohol while the beer was cold. As it warmed up, no harshness at all. About as smooth as an Oatmeal Stout, despite the big abv. Main flavors are rich malts and some chocolate. Expertly blended and very flavorful.

Mouthfeel is as smooth and rich as you could expect at this abv. Overall an excellent RIS. Well work a try.

 655 characters

Narwhal Imperial Stout from Sierra Nevada Brewing Co.
4.14 out of 5 based on 4,919 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 FestĀ® 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!