Cellar Raid! 2015 Barrel Aged Narwhal Review

Do you believe in unicorns? As we all know a unicorn is a mythical horse creature featuring a horn predominantly on its head. The Narwhal is the aquatic equivalent of this magnificent beast. It also happens to share its name with one of the more highly sought after beers that hits shelves nationwide.  Narwhal is one of those beers that still can be a bit of a challenge to snag, however since I have been stuck at home for about 10 days I decided to break into my cellar and pull a 2015 bottle of Sierra Nevada’s Barrel Aged Narwhal!

This variant of Narwhal is a dark imperial stout that was aged in Kentucky Bourbon barrels. According to the label, the barrel aging mellowed out some of the aggressive roastiness of Narwhals original offering. This also intensified other characteristics like the rich chocolate and malt backbone. The beer packs an impressive 12.9% ABV while clocking in at a 62 IBU rating. According to the Sierra Nevada website this beer ages within the barrel for about a year. This is a good amount of time to pick up a lot of characteristics from the barrel, but not make the beer feel rushed. 

Once I pulled the cork off of this dusty bottle and tamed the mighty Narwhal into a glass I noticed the description of “dark” was very accurate.  This stout is about as dark as any stout that comes to mind, definitely not a beer that you can see through. The beer pours with a somewhat dark coffee cream colored head that dissipated fairly quickly but left some nice lacing on the glass.  On the nose I got mostly a pleasant dark malty aroma that was backed by faint notes of oak and alcohol. This likely would have been a more intense nose had I opened the bottle 5 years ago when I bought it. However, aging a beer like this has its benefits too. The body of this beer was still thick and rich.  I’d even go as far to call it THICC as the kids say these days. This beer has a super dense body, it’s almost syrupy. The carbonation on Narwal was on the lighter side, this could be affected by the age of the bottle but it was enjoyable. As I worked through the beer I noticed I got just a little bit of a tingle in my mouth. A similar experience to the mouthfeel of a spirit like a bourbon or a scotch. Chocolate and molasses were the dominant flavors I was able to pick out of the bottle. Subtle notes of vanilla, oak, and even a bit of black licorice were hanging out in the glass as well. The beer has a sticky finish, this is not a beer that just washes away and vanishes after a sip. It’s gonna hang out with you for a bit and make you think about what you just drank. 

Unicorn beers are sought after for a reason. Over the years beers like this have built up a reputation of quality. Barrel Aged Narwhal certainly lives up to that expectation.  This beer is not only satisfying but it checks off all the boxes of what I want out of a big barrel aged beer. It’s big and burly and the type of beer that seems like it would help you survive some crazy fisherman scene out of a story like Moby Dick.  It’s a big beer that also holds up to age. Holding onto this bottle for 5 years didn’t seem to lessen any of the positive qualities of Narwhal. If anything I suspect it simply smoothed out the edges a bit more and made it a little easier to sip on. If you like stouts, or just like grabbing up unicorn beers, Barrel Aged Narwhal is worth adding to your cellar.  Now that I have drank the only bottle I had I might need to go on the hunt for a replacement.

Also, for a review of the current variant of Barrel Aged Narwhal check out the Draft Therapy YouTube Review!

John Fahrner

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