Showdown: NorCal Imperial Stout

Imperial Stout Garage.

Imperial stouts are great. I think that’s a fairly agreed upon statement. What’s not to love? Roasted malts, chocolate, sweetness, awesome. Winter is the perfect time for the style and the PNW makes some of the best. Does Northern California count as the PNW? As a midwesterner, I think it does. I was standing in the beer aisle while doing some grocery shopping recently and decided to grab a couple impys because nothing else stood out. They sat in my fridge for a few weeks and then decided a comparison would be a fun thing to do … because it’s kinda my thing. So, which NorCal imperial stout will punch out the other? I’m stoked to find out. 


Sierra Nevada Narwhal – 10.2% : Pours black with a tall, dark brown head. A very slick, molasses, sticky roasted malt profile. Some burnt malts and dark chocolate but mostly a super bold and sweet molasses filled imperial stout. I mean, wow, this is sweet. The roasted notes are overpowered but the sweet malt, which kind of drowns everything out. The 10% is drowned by the sugars, which makes it fairly dangerous. It’s a real good impy, no doubt. It’s just a bit too sweet to be something I can have very often.

A Wise RIS.

North Coast Old Rasputin – 9% : Thick black pour with a tall and firm deep tan head. Intense roasted malt notes, mild coffee, cocoa, light pine and earth notes. Full bodied. A bone dry finish increases the roasted feel on this imperial stout. A lingering bitter sweet burnt malt stays with you long after your sip is gone. Intensely dry and roasted and delicious. I should drink more of it. 

There ya have it. Old Rasputin bests Narwhal in a battle of Northern California Imperial Stouts. The Narwhal is nice but too sweet for my liking. I used to enjoy the Rasputin rather often in my earlier craft beer days but have drifted away from it in recent years. It’s nice to have it again and reminded of just how great an imperial stout it is. I think it’s gonna start making a regular appearance in my fridge once again.