Few names are as ubiquitous in the craft beer world as Sierra Nevada. So much so that some of the classics have been spotted on major movie screens.

Started in 1979 by a couple of homebrewers in Chico Calif., Sierra Nevada dredged their way through the American beer market of the early 1980s paving the way to the panoramic big sky beer-scape of today. The work of Ken Grossman, Paul Camusi, and Steve Harrison in expanding the minds and palates of Americans cannot be overstated.

Barrel Aged Narwhal is named after a most unusual creature known mostly to those who dare to venture towards the icy blue waters near the Arctic Circle. Even then, to lay eyes on this unicorn of the deep blue is an incredibly rare sight. Even more rare than that is the Barrel Aged Narwhal; found in the dark dusty corner of your local craft beer purveyor with strict buy limits. Presented in a corked and caged 750ml Belgian style bottle this beer comes in at a whopping 12.9 percent ABV and 62 IBUs. Pale, caramel, chocolate, honey, Carafa III, and roasted barley make up the grain bill, with Challenger hops handling the bittering, and various Kentucky bourbon barrels used for the aging.

The pour is exactly as I would expect; jet black body with a tan head of fine texture around one inch in height. The nose is filled with sweet oak barrel and booze up front followed by chocolate chip cookies, caramel, dark roasted coffee, and vanilla. Booze is a bit too forward although at just shy of 13 percent ABV and being aged for eight months in bourbon barrels I shouldn’t be too surprised.

Diving into flavor brings forth coffee cake dipped in bourbon-extracted vanilla balanced by a bitter chocolate and char on the finish. Carbonation is spot on perfect, being both soft and plentiful, and head retention is also great with a nice layer of foam consistently persisting sip after sip. The body is a bit thinner than I would like it to be, the booze a bit heavy and a slight lingering astringency keeps this from being flawless. Even so, Sierra Nevada’s Barrel Aged Narwhal is an exemplary bourbon barrel aged imperial stout.

Sierra Nevada Barrel Aged Narwhal
BREWERY: Sierra Nevada Brewing Co.
LOCATION: Chico, Calif. & Fletcher, N.C.
STYLE: Imperial Stout
ABV: 12.9 percent
IBU: 62
PRICE: $20
RELEASE DATE: 2013
AVAILABLE IN: 750ml
BEERS POURED: One
Overall, Barrel Aged Narwhal is a top notch representation of what a heavy hitting barrel-aged imperial stout should be. The aroma is enticing and flavors are balanced sans a touch too much booze and char astringency. Scour the depths and seek the Narwhal.
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