Barrel-Aged Narwhal
Sierra Nevada Brewing Co.

Barrel-Aged NarwhalBarrel-Aged Narwhal
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Russian Imperial Stout
Ranked #29
Ranked #535
4.35 | pDev: 8.51%
Sierra Nevada Brewing Co.
California, United States
Barrel-Aged NarwhalBarrel-Aged Narwhal
Notes: This deliciously dark treat is our bold Narwhal Imperial Stout aged in oak Kentucky bourbon barrels. Black as midnight, this intense stout is incredibly complex with notes of dark chocolate, rich roasted grains, and espresso seamlessly blended with hints of vanilla and toasted coconut with a slight touch of honey from aging in the oak spirit casks. Nearly as rare as its nautical namesake, try it out while you can because, like the creature itself, it will disappear into the blackness soon and leave nary a trace behind.

Additional Info:
Narwhal was aged for 8 months in fresh bourbon barrels (a combination of Willett single barrel, Heaven Hill and various Beam brands).

ABV: 12.9
IBU’s: 62
Bittering Hops: Challenger
Malts: Two-row Pale, Caramel, Chocolate, Honey, Carafa III, Roasted Barley
Reviews: 333 | Ratings: 1,981 | Log in to view all ratings and sort
Photo of StJamesGate
4.33/5  rDev -0.5%
look: 4.25 | smell: 4.25 | taste: 4.25 | feel: 4.5 | overall: 4.5

Viscous jet black with solid puffy pocked sepia foam; wood, humus, vanilla, brown sugar nose; dark chocolate, prune, soft whisky, big of black grape, then Italian espresso + a little sweet vanilla creme comeback; big, chewy, dead smooth, no heat.

4.25 4 4.25 4.5 4.5

So. Smooth.
This won’t blow away some people because it’s just so restrained + mellow, but that’s actually a tribute to the skill. No huge roasty coffee/chocolate assault, no boozy whisky hit, no chewing-woodchips barrel - simply a very understated collection of all the elements of a good stout. And a surprise ending: not the typical roasty hit but a cream soda candied oak hit that almost turns marshmallow + makes things bright + fun. Plus: absolutely no burn, 11% doesn't kill head retention - lots of other little things done right. Drinks almost like a liqueur.

SN doing what everybody else, but less showy, and so much better for it.

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Photo of Ralt
4.94/5  rDev +13.6%
look: 5 | smell: 4.75 | taste: 5 | feel: 5 | overall: 5

I buy all I can when available. A treasured barrel aged imperial stout. I drink stouts all year. This beer is great with ribs, Mexican meals, steak, burgers. My favorite!

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Photo of AmeriCanadian
4.27/5  rDev -1.8%
look: 4 | smell: 4.5 | taste: 4.25 | feel: 4 | overall: 4.25

Awfully damn close to everything you would look for in a RIS, with some nice barrel aspects thrown into the mix. Abundances of licorice (but not overwhelmingly so), dark roast, charred wood, raisin bread, dark fruits, vanilla, rye, baker’s chocolate, and baking spices on the nose and tongue. And just the slightest, rightest tinge of subtle sweetness to cap it all off. It might not be the most exotic or complex stout, but it’s really outstanding in every way you’d hope it would be. Just a damn fine beer.

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Photo of DoctorZombies
4.44/5  rDev +2.1%
look: 4.5 | smell: 4.25 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 4.5 | overall: 4.5

Canned 12/20/19. Poured at 57 degrees, one finger of fizzy, rocky dark tan cap sits atop black, with grey cola edges liquid; minimal cap retention; solid ring; sudsy lace and very thin legs on swirl. Nose is chocolate, bourbon, and char; roasted coffee beans as liquid warms. Bittersweet dark chocolate and bourbon upon entry; cocoa nibs, vanilla, oak, coconut, lite char, brisket burnt ends; no hops; coffee on backend. Smooth, creamy tongue coating; rich, full body; moderate minus carbonation; medium warmth from 11.9%; dry oaky finish. Overall a wonderful stout - full but not syrupy or adjuncty feeling; great blend of bourbon/oaky notes with the chocolaty base; tasty roast linger; bourbon is a fine compliment to this otherwise excellent RIS style beer.

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Photo of Steve_Studnuts
3.67/5  rDev -15.6%
look: 3.5 | smell: 3.25 | taste: 4 | feel: 3.25 | overall: 3.75

Big 'ol head takes its sweet ass time in dissolving, leaving behind sticky little dots of lace. Nose is very bourbon forward, with more subtle notes of vanilla and caramel rounding things out. Taste is far softer on the barrel than the nose would lead you to believe, which is a good thing; it smells slightly harsh. This is all soft notes of bittersweet chocolate, cherry cordial and oaky barrel juice. Mouth is a little thin and oily. This is good, but it's not blowing me away like it does a lot of people. May just need a little more time to mature. I'll sit on these other cans for awhile and see what happens.

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Photo of GrumpyGas
4.24/5  rDev -2.5%
look: 4.5 | smell: 4.25 | taste: 4.25 | feel: 4 | overall: 4.25

16oz can dated 030620C falls into the snifter as an oily, black, liquid capped with a 1/8in chestnut brown foam that quickly recedes to an edge-hugging ring. Agitation causes sheets of leopard lacing that rejoins the ring.

Aroma is boozy oak, licorice, espresso, and caramel, flowing seemlessly into the flavors of vanilla, cocoa, with a hint of coconut.

Mouthfeel is smooth and creamy while maintaining a bitter roast bite. Full, not quite coating the tongue, but leaving a slightly sticky residue with a roasty aftertaste.

Overall a solid sipper: I recommend a cigar rather than dessert.

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Photo of flagmantho
4.24/5  rDev -2.5%
look: 4.5 | smell: 4.25 | taste: 4.25 | feel: 4 | overall: 4.25

Poured from 16oz tall can into a tulip. Canned 12/20/19, although for a beer like this, I'm not too concerned with freshness.

Appearance: rich, utterly black body with a thick finger of frothy dark-tan foam atop. Mysterious and attractive.

Smell: I get tons of licorice in the aroma, along with a general booziness, some vanilla, and just a dash of chocolate. I like it.

Taste: big, rich and boozy. Vanilla, wood, licorice, toffee, and maybe hints of dates and tobacco. It's a rich, complex beer; there's a lot going on here. The finish has a hint of roastiness appropriate to the style. The flavor is thicc; I quite like it indeed.

Mouthfeel: medium-rich body with a good level of carbonation and a good, smooth creaminess. I like it a lot, although I'm surprised it's not even richer still.

Overall: a delicious imperial stout. OK, maybe not perfect, but darn good indeed.

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Photo of DokiDokiLitFam
4.49/5  rDev +3.2%
look: 4.5 | smell: 4.25 | taste: 4.75 | feel: 4 | overall: 4.5

Currently writing this review on my third can. Wasn't sure how I felt about this until cracking the third one. Packaged 12/20/19. Pretty fresh. Cool looking cans.

Pours a dark brown with a finger of mildly rocky head. Foam is on the darker side of some that I've seen. Compact bubbles at the bottom, bigger ones at the top. Fades pretty quickly. Mild lacing.

Nose is oak, coconut, roasty malt, maybe a hint of chocolate. The oak is the strongest quality, but not overpowering. It seems more like plain barrel aging rather than the mentioned bourbon barrel. The nose feels more neutral than what a bourbon barrel presence would indicate. But everything comes together nicely here.

Taste opens with all of these flavors and more. Much more expressive than the nose. You get the oak/wood, roasty malt, coconut, dark chocolate, a slight hint of coffee, and a very light touch of spice, almost like cinnamon. This brew is deceptive and perhaps a little unassuming at first, but once you taste it, it definitely surprises you. It appears a little sweet and bright on the nose and the taste is really well balanced. Nobody could ever accuse this brew of being too sweet or too bitter. This is just right. All the flavors come work together to create this really complex, unraveling entity. I'm sitting here writing this and the taste just keeps moving and changing. Really great stuff.

The mouthfeel is perhaps the only disappointing quality of this brew, and even then it's not bad. Medium bodied with mild carbonation. It feels a touch thin for what you'd expect in a barrel aged, high ABV stout. But still that does not at all ruin the experience.

Overall this a fantastic brew. First two cans I had didn't really blow me away, so I figured I had to sit down a give it my due diligence and really pay more attention. Upon a closer inspection, and a more patient mindset, this is a masterful brew. If you don't give it the time though, it's easy to overlook. This is a subtle, complex monster. Like a 20 minute Prog song that requires more than one listen to wrap your head around it. Sierra Nevada did great with this. Amazing brew. Cool looking cans. I like the four pack format making it more accessible. Well done.

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Photo of Gajo74
4.43/5  rDev +1.8%
look: 4.75 | smell: 4.25 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 4.25 | overall: 4.5

Having had and enjoyed SN Narwhal quite a while ago, comparisons to that and this barrel aged version will be hard to qualify. I will rate it on its own.

From the can it pours a very viscous and very dark brown color. A surprisingly large tan foam head displays excellent retention for such a high ABV. In contrast to the color coming out of the can, it looks pitch black in the glass, very elegant, and with lacing.

The nose opens with strong notes of toffee and caramel, followed by barrel notes of oak and wood. Sweet aromas of brown sugar, chocolate, and dark fruit, particularly raisin. Although it doesn’t smell particularly boozy, the notes of bourbon begin to pick up along with the dark nutty and roasted malts.

Full bodied, rich and complex with a smooth mouth coating feel and gentle carbonation. Despite the viscosity and big flavored doughy and biscuity malt, there is excellent balance and a well placed alcohol character that renders it not too boozy or sweet. A brightly flavored opening of cherry, raisin and plum balanced well with outstanding spirit characters including spicy notes of bourbon whisky and oak. Flavors of bittersweet dark chocolate, nutty malts, roasty espresso, and minty earthy hops add a developing bitterness. Further still, a developing chocolate fudge and brown sugar sweetness adds further to the complexity. The finish is long and sticky with a bourbon spice.

Dangerously drinkable at first, it became more of a sipper as the alcohol crept in; I drank all of the 16oz can and it hit me hard. Wonderful barrel aged RIS!

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Photo of Dan-Man
4.94/5  rDev +13.6%
look: 5 | smell: 4.75 | taste: 5 | feel: 5 | overall: 5

2015 Sierra Nevada Barrel-aged Narwal
12.9% by vol., 750ml

Pulled out of my wine cabinet...
Pours a deep dark chocolate color with minimal lacing.
Initial whiff of bourbon with notes of dark roasted malt and oak barrel. Full bodied, imperial stout expression in the taste with chocolate and a hint of whiskey. Long smooth pleasing finish with mocha and vanillin oak. Superb barrel-aged imperial stout.

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Photo of JJKBeerLvr
4.84/5  rDev +11.3%
look: 5 | smell: 4.75 | taste: 5 | feel: 4.5 | overall: 4.75

Poured from a 16-oz can into pint glass in April 2020. There is a packaged date of 20Dec2019 on the can. I drank this within 1 month of purchase.

Appearance: Deep black color with thin dark-tan head. Head lasted a short time, and left a very thin head. The head had very fine bubbles. There was only a little lacing on the glass.

Smell: Nice aroma into the room while the beer was being poured. Strong aroma of bourbon, smoked malt, and some coffee. Also some chocolate and vanilla aroms. Overall the Bourbon, malt, and coffee aromas dominates the others.

Taste: Strong flavors of stout malt, bourbon, and coffee. Also sweet flavors of chocolate and vanilla along with a slight bitter hops edge. This are strong flavors, and it has a very nice after-taste that lasts a long time. The after-taste has a strong bourbon flavor. Overall a nice balance and very drinkable.

Mouthfeel: Full-bodied, but it is very drinkable. It is smooter than many imperial stouts, but not overly smooth like a milk stout or another stout like Guiness. Strong alcohol which matches the 11.9% listed.

This is an excellent and very enjoyable Russian Imperial Stout. It has a nice mix of smoked malts, coffee, bourbon, and other flavors, which makes it enjoyable. I like the overall balance, and none of the flavors dominate the others too much. The flavors balance each other very well between the bourbon, smokek malts, and sweet chocolate and vanilla flavors. This is one of my favorite RIS.

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Photo of firesidewithphil
4/5  rDev -8%
look: 4 | smell: 4 | taste: 4 | feel: 4 | overall: 4

I haven't had the base beer but the BA Narwhal is a big heavy, wood and bourbon stout. These are the flavors at the forefront and it is not very sweet. The beer is bitter, dry and has a bit of tanginess. It definitely let's you know that you will be getting a buzz off this one.

Overall, I consider it an above average stout that is intense from start to finish.


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Photo of Specialmick
4.65/5  rDev +6.9%
look: 4.5 | smell: 4.5 | taste: 4.75 | feel: 4.5 | overall: 4.75

Look....what a good stout is supposed to look> Black with brown head dissipated pretty quick.
Smell... smell of molasses and bourbon. not subtle on the bourbon side. rich. Big boy smell lip smacker worth distinct bourbon taste without the burn. Brown sugar sweet with a little coffee back end
Feel...super slick with such pronounce bourbon. not usually such a fan of that because its overpowering but with this it is incredibly smooth.. i will assume as this warms it with be even smoother!!! Brown sugar sweet finish awesome this is good. super yummy nice . I think I need more of these . grab them if you see them

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Photo of NYNorseman
4.71/5  rDev +8.3%
look: 5 | smell: 4.5 | taste: 4.75 | feel: 4.75 | overall: 4.75

This is a keeper! I grabbed a few four packs at our local beer store today and this is a delicious concoction!! It is decadent , rich, malty, loaded with chocolate and coffee notes. The barrel aging works its magic and this stout emerges after its year of cellaring more than sea worthy. At 11.9 ABV, it is incredibly smooth and perfect for a cool night. This complex beast is a top ranked imperial and it deserves its place.

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Photo of BB1313
3.78/5  rDev -13.1%
look: 4.25 | smell: 3.75 | taste: 3.75 | feel: 3.75 | overall: 3.75

Canned on 12/20/19. 16oz can poured into a tulip. Pours almost black with a dark khaki head that falls leaving nice retention and lacing. The aromas are malt forward. Lots of dark fruits along with some chocolate. Hints of wood/oak, but the bourbon goes unnoticed in the aroma department. The flavors are pretty bold. Lots of chocolate. Nice blend of dark chocolate and chocolate syrup. Hints of caramel, toffee, coconut and vanilla. More dark fruits coming through. Hints of anise and black licorice. The oak/wood comes through, but the bourbon flavors are pretty subtle and mild. Hops do their thing. Solid bitterness. Low sweetness. Malts do their thing. Finishes warm, but it's not hot or boozy. Mouthfeel is full-bodied with moderate carbonation. It's fluffy and slick. Makes for a nice sipper.

This might not be the craziest bourbon barrel-aged stout, but it's still a nice for what it is. It drinks big, but the actual bourbon flavors are pretty subtle and mild. The bourbon aromas go unnoticed. It's still enjoyable and fun to drink.

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Photo of Tsar_Riga
4.25/5  rDev -2.3%
look: 4.25 | smell: 4.25 | taste: 4.25 | feel: 4.25 | overall: 4.25

2015 bottle.

A - Pitch black body with hints of brown as highlights, completely opaque, light tan head on the pour, quick to fade to minimal cast across the top. No real lacing.

S - Strong hit of alcohol and barrel, vanilla and coconut aspects that come from the bourbon barrels, and some dark fruit sweetness beneath.

T - Follows the nose, with bourbon flavors exploding out front, vanilla and barrel, coupling with a strong malt foundation, chocolate and raisin sweetness from the stout, and a snappy coffee acidity and subtle bitterness in the finish.

M - Prickly carbonation in the pour, huge warmth from the alcohol, and a clean quick finish that scrubs the weighty body clear.

O - This is a beautiful barrel aged stout, well built and carefully layered. A real treat.

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Photo of lastmango
4.42/5  rDev +1.6%
look: 4.5 | smell: 3.75 | taste: 4.75 | feel: 4.5 | overall: 4.5

Poured pitch black with a foamy two finger tan head that dissipated quickly to a thick film. Light lacing. Very faint aroma of graham cracker, oak char and bourbon. Robust flavors of dark chocolate, toasted coconut, oak barrel aged bourbon, dark fruit, caramel, with a extremely long black licorice finish. Medium body with medium light carbonation. Very nice light silky mouthfeel.

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Photo of jrc1093
3.1/5  rDev -28.7%
look: 4.25 | smell: 3 | taste: 3 | feel: 3.25 | overall: 3

Canned on 12/20/19

Pours a clean, dense black body with milk chocolate accents at the surface and a finger of light mocha foam; good head retention stays until a creamy collar, paper-thin spots of cap, a minimal webby lacing are all that remain.

Aroma opens with a touch of sweet vanilla, brown sugar, and boozy whiskey before guiding into more dominant notes of toasted oak, faint rye spice, and coconut husk fading against the ever-present and hot barrel character.

Taste brings heavily charred roasted malt upfront, accented with burnt coffee beans while softening into a sweeter dark chocolate mid-palate; earthy spice and coconut husk resume in the back end as plummy esters and a dense barrel char mark the finish and leave a spaced-out, acrid lingering.

Mouthfeel starts off with a thinner-than-expected body, soon building with a moderate, subtly fluffy carbonation; a touch oily with a mild malty grit along the mid-palate coming in to a soft finish with a mild alcohol lingering.

The foundation barely intact, this is an unusual (and unexpected) miss from Sierra Nevada; the barrel character is weak and sloppy, never elevating the robust base beer beyond a boozy, semi-acrid detail that is, to be honest, unwelcome. Simply put, the base beer is a far more nuanced, easier drink.

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Photo of NeroFiddled
4.46/5  rDev +2.5%
look: 4.25 | smell: 4.5 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 4.25 | overall: 4.5

Sierra Nevada Brewing Co. "Barrel-Aged Narwhal"
one pint can, "PKGD 1222019C07:27" and sampled on 03/13/2020
$5.99 @ Total Wine & More, Cherry Hill, NJ

Notes via stream of consciousness: It's black beneath a creamy head of brown as expected. The head is three finger widths tall and settling slowly. The aroma expresses dark malt, oak, alcohol, coconut, vanilla, and an apple-like fruitiness. The flavor opens up that dark malt to include notes of bittersweet dark chocolate, black licorice, very dark caramel, molasses, and a few drops of black coffee. The coconut and vanilla help to round that out and make it seem fuller, while the alcohol, oak, and a firm bitterness dry it. Being a Sierra Nevada beer there are some hops there but they're not as bright as they are in the original version, and they tend to lean towards the background. I'd call them herbal and leafy at this point. Dark chocolate, dark caramel, coconut, and licorice linger in the finish but then fade leaving those hops to hold on for a few moments more. In the mouth it's medium bodied and gently crisp-then-smooth. All in all it's a very streamlined and highly drinkable Imperial stout that could certainly be a bit deceptive and dangerous.
Review #6,979

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Photo of DefenCorps
4.39/5  rDev +0.9%
look: 4.25 | smell: 4.5 | taste: 4.25 | feel: 4.5 | overall: 4.5

Can, Feb 2020 release

Black with a dark brown head with excellent retention and minimal lacing, this looks solid. The nose is a classic barrel aged Russian imperial Stout. Dark chocolate, anise, a touch of chicory, a noticeably boozy nose with bourbon, light vanilla, chocolate ganache. Effortless balance. Moderate dark roasted malt with moderate bitterness, a touch of bittersweet dark caramel. There's a lot going on.
The palate opens up boozy but harmonious, with anise cookies, dark chocolate, creamy dark chocolate ganache, boozy bourbon and a kiss of vanilla and dark caramel. The mid palate focuses on roasty and bitter flavors with grain, char, a potent but tasteful near acrid bitterness that pairs well with the dark chocolate flavors. What is striking is the ability to retain balance and drinkability while focusing so heavily on the more bitter flavors, eschewing the adjuncts and sweetness that's all the rage these days. Excellent.

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Photo of ChrisMon02
4.29/5  rDev -1.4%
look: 4.5 | smell: 4.25 | taste: 4.25 | feel: 4.5 | overall: 4.25

Great looking as it pours thick but somehow pulls of an awesome chocolate cream head and lacing. Malt balls, oak, slight char, vanilla, subtle bourbon and faint coffee. Really nice medium-full mouthfeel. Coating but never cloying. Flavors play well together resulting in a satisfying experience. Worth every penny. Recommended.

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Photo of rypkr
4.29/5  rDev -1.4%
look: 5 | smell: 4 | taste: 4.25 | feel: 4.75 | overall: 4.25

Look is unreal - is this a 12% guinness? Rich and frothy 2 finger head.

Smell - somewhat muted. It has the roasty characteristics of barrel aged expedition that I'm searching for but overall pretty tame.

Taste - hell yeah. If this is a year round "shelf beer" it's going to be the best thing in the shelf. This is a cross between BA 1050 and BA expo. It's got the body and richness of ba1050 and the roastiness of BA expo but it lacks the complexity and depth that expo carries. Its creamier than both and maybe richer than both, ten fidy included. Somehow I still prefer the aforementioned 2 more.

Feel - pretty phenomenal. It's as thick as 1050 and equally as rich and creamy.

Overall - world class. If this is truly going to be year round from Sierra nevada it will be the best year round stout I've ever had.

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Photo of The-Adjunct-Hippie
4.02/5  rDev -7.6%
look: 4.25 | smell: 4 | taste: 4 | feel: 4 | overall: 4

16 oz can dated 12/20/19, poured into snowman chalice.
Following an original Narwhal for notes comparison.

Deep black with some dirty dark brown edging and a creamy beige head of 2 fingers, receding to 1. Sparse lacing.

Aromas of cola, caramel, toasted pecan, slight coconut, slight vanilla, charred malt, and very slight wet whiskey barrel. Sweeter and less beer-y than regular Narwhal, and less charred/smokey as well. Less chocolate too. (4)

Flavor brings coca-cola, slight vanilla, slight molasses, some piney bitterness, slight burnt chocolate, and slight smoke. Very underwhelming. (3.75)

Feel is thin and creamy and slick, like a nitro oatmeal stout. Moderate alcohol heat. (3.5)

Overall this was a huge disappointment. I was hoping for more here. Regular Narwhal is better, but we'll see what some years of age do to this one. (3.75)

3.82 out of 5

EDIT : Scores adjusted somewhat, this next can seems to be quite a bit better, more coconut and vanilla, though still disconnected. Still not much barrel but some underlying sweetness possibly from that barrel. I still can't say it's a world class BA beer and doesn't stack up to the greats in the least, but is enjoyable. $6 a can not really worth it but I've already invested in it, so I gotta say in the moment, it's enjoyable. For the price, Bell's BA Expy is better. This one is still a little thin and nitro-ish, though not as noticeable as the first can. It has some body and heft. If you are curious buy a single. Might be a good way to gauge whether it's for you or not. Decent to Outstanding. (Original Score : 3.82 / 5 )

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Photo of joe16siny
4.29/5  rDev -1.4%
look: 4.5 | smell: 4.25 | taste: 4.25 | feel: 4.5 | overall: 4.25

Pours deep black with a small tan head. The flavor was a bit light, I expected a much more deeper flavor but it all was in a perfect balance and was REAL EZ to drink. Alc at 11.9% is well hidden. Need to do a side by side with a reg Narwal.

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Photo of bbtkd
4.08/5  rDev -6.2%
look: 4.25 | smell: 4.25 | taste: 4 | feel: 4 | overall: 4

Sierra Nevada Barrel-aged Narwhal Imperial Stout, 11.9% ABV. Pours thickish and black with a two-finger light brown head that left no lacing. Nose is bourbon, chocolate, and roast malt. Taste is roast malt, oak, light chocolate, bourbon, quite bitter. Excellent mouthfeel, overall excellent.

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Barrel-Aged Narwhal from Sierra Nevada Brewing Co.
Beer rating: 96 out of 100 with 1981 ratings