Sierra Nevada Narwhal

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Sierra Nevada Brewing Co.

Chico, CA

Narwhal Imperial Stout

10.2% ABV

Sierra Nevada has seemed to get better and better as the year’s gone along. Brux was a great new collaboration and this year’s batch of Hoptimum was a big step up from the previous year’s batch. But with Narwhal, their new seasonal imperial stout, they created what could be their next Bigfoot.

The beer is a pretty standard imperial stout, and there’s nothing that really sets the beer above a lot of others in the style. But what might otherwise be written off as a new seasonal beer is one more complex and unique base imperial stouts I’ve had in a long time. And the fact they slap a date on the neck makes me think this is something that could get even better with age.

Narwhal has a really thick and silky pour to it. It’s absolutely pitch black in the glass, as an imperial stout it wont to do. The head on top was surprising. There was about a finger to a finger-and-a-half worth of a brown bubbly head that didn’t dissipate as quickly as I expected it to. Even a few minutes after pouring, there’s a slight bubbly film over the top with a big group of bubbles toward the center of the glass. That imparts some really nice, thick lacing and alcohol legs.

The first thing that hits you on the nose is the roasted coffee aroma. It’s a big, rich dark coffee smell, but it’s mellowed out slightly by this equally big chocolate note. It’s a slightly sweet, slightly bitter dark chocolate note along with a dry hit of cocoa. There’s a bit of a plum or fig note to it as well. Nicely balanced with the roasted and sweet notes.

Those bitter dark chocolate and coffee notes hit your palate hard on first sip. It’s a very strong roasted quality and lingers on the back of the tongue as well. But the mouthfeel on this thing is really, really big. It’s not thick or syrupy, but it’s just such a big flavor that it takes over your entire mouth. Those sweeter fruit and chocolate notes are unmistakable, but it wouldn’t be a Sierra Nevada beer without hops, which are definitely present on the finish. It’s a biting, citrus hop note that sticks to the back of the tongue while the roasted coffee flavor lingers nicely.

Narwhal is an incredibly solid and complex imperial stout made even more impressive by the fact this is the first year Sierra Nevada’s made it. It’ll be interesting to see what time does to it. I see some of those hop note fading away and a sweeter, more roast-forward imperial stout developing. Only time will tell, but I’ll certainly be coming back for more in the future.

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