Sierra Nevada Narwhal Imperial Stout

Review Date 7/23/2013   Last Updated 1/10/2021 By John Staradumsky

When I first saw the label for Sierra Nevada Narwhal Imperial Stout almost a year ago, I knew this was a beer I just had to try. Let’s face it: whales are cool, and narwhals are amongst the coolest of the cool. To be fair, though, it wasn’t just the label that piqued my interest. An imperial stout from Sierra Nevada? That was the notion that really made me want to find this beer.

As it turned out, I did eventually pick some up in the fall of 2012. I immediately tried a bottle and enjoyed it immensely, although I do have concerns which I will enumerate shortly. Sierra Nevada recommends this as a beer for aging, and so that is exactly what I did with a few bottles more, one of which I am popping this evening.

A little about the style: Imperial Stouts emerged as a style during the 18th century, as a special export from England to the imperial court of Czar Catherine the Great. These stouts were of high gravity and alcohol content to better survive the arduous journey through the Baltic Sea and eventually overland through the Russian Empire.

Narwhals, of course, prefer arctic climes, and do indeed inhabit areas of the Baltic Sea. Could a ship bearing crates of the classic Courage Russian Imperial Stout and pods of narwhals crossed paths oh so long ago? Perhaps, and likely the inspiration for the name Sierra Nevada has bestowed upon their imperial stout.

Sierra Nevada says about Narwhal Imperial Stout on their website:

Narwhal Imperial Stout is inspired by the mysterious creature that thrives in the deepest fathoms of the frigid Arctic Ocean. Featuring incredible depth of malt flavor, rich with notes of espresso, baker’s cocoa, roasted grain and a light hint of smoke, Narwhal is a massive malt-forward monster. Aggressive but refined with a velvety smooth body and decadent finish, Narwhal will age in the bottle for years to come.

Alcohol Content   10.2% by volume 

Beginning gravity   24.2° plato 

Ending Gravity   6.6° plato 

Bitterness Units   60

Yeast   Ale yeast 

Bittering Hops   Magnum, Challenger 

Finishing Hops   Challenger 

Malts   Two-row Pale, Caramel, Chocolate, Honey, Carafa, Roasted Barley

Here’s what I think:

Sierra Nevada Narwhal Imperial Stout pours to a jet black color with a medium sized creamy tan head formation and a luscious dark chocolate and licorice nose. Taking a sip, the beer has some very delightful powdery cocoa notes up front laced with spicy licorice and roasty espresso. The chocolate notes here are intense, like biting into a bar of deep, dark bittersweet chocolate, with the bitterness to prove it. The finish is long and dry with alcohol warmth and roasted barley notes to boot.

I love this beer, and have to say it’s a truly impressive Imperial Stout. That said, I am going to rate it down to 4 stars because of the price. At $10.98 for four bottles, it’s simply too expensive. I might feel better about the beer if I got a six-pack for that amount, but I didn’t, and I feel cheated out of two bottled. Yes, Sierra Nevada Narwhal Imperial Stout is an amazing beer, but it’s not better than Brooklyn Black Chocolate Stout, and I bought a four pack of that around the same time for $3 less.

I would certainly buy Sierra Nevada Narwhal Imperial Stout again, but not as often as I would were the price more reasonable.

Update 8/12/2018: I found a 2012 Narwhal in my stash! Rich and roasty and smooth cocoa chocolaty and raisiny with licorice  and now with prune and roast and warming alcohol. Yum! Aged out wonderfully.

Update 1/10/2021: Seeing as I drank a 2012 Narwhal in 2018, it looks like I picked up a single of 2018 that year to replace it. Tonight I decided to enjoy it, and I certainly did. I had just backfilled after all with a six-pack of the 2020 on Black Friday. Narwhal 2018 in 2021 pours to a jet-black color with a thick creamy tan head and a rich roasty nose. Taking a sip, the beer is full in body, rich roasty with dark chocolate and char roasty notes. It finishes very roasty and warming with alcohol. I would give it a full 5 stars but for the price (I paid $14.99 for my 2020).

And remember, try a new beer today, and drink outside the box.

*Pricing data accurate at time of review or latest update. For reference only, based on actual price paid by reviewer.