Along with the Bigfoot barleywine, Narwhal—a rich, roast-y imperial stout with bold Italian espresso notes—is one of Sierra Nevada’s most beloved annual release. Both sport fairly high ABVs and lots of malt, and both are exemplars of their styles. The formula is a winning one, but do not sleep on the Barrel-Aged Narwhal, which Sierra Nevada is offering in limited release in a four-pack of pounder cans—it is one of the legendary California brewery’s greatest beers ever.
The split between original gravity and finishing gravity is the same with the Barrel-aged version of Narwhal as the typical formulation of Narwhal. The key differences are in the IBUs—Barrel-Aged Narwhal is almost 20% less bitter than Narwhal, which takes the edge off of a premium imperial stout—and the ABV. Barrel-Aged Narwhal is an undisputed heavyweight champion at 11.9%, which is also like 20% more boozy than regular Narwhal. That’s a true miracle, akin to Jesus turning wine into even stronger wine.
Barrel-aged Narwhal pours with a creamy head, that dissipates fairly quickly, giving way to a beautiful, full-bodied, onyx-colored stout. The typical coffee flavor of the Narwhal gives way to more chocolate notes and an overall nutty flavor from the blend of multiple malts. The remaining bitterness of the Barrel-Aged Narwhal is pretty clean, which is the hallmark of the Challenger variety of hop. Sierra Nevada also shows a deft hand with aging, using a combination of whiskey barrels procured from Willett, Heaven Hill, and Jim Beam. I tasted a little caramel and vanilla sweetness in Barrel-Aged Narwhal, but also a bit of peat-induced earthiness—one pint of this and a short-stack of Oreos and you will be wondering why you don’t self-isolate more often.