Food & drink

Craft beer: Having a whale of a time

There she blows - Narwhal imperial stout packs a punch
Paul McConville

THERE are books which look good to have on your shelf, but which are slightly more difficult to navigate once you turn to the opening page.

One such tome is the whaling-epic Moby Dick.

Once I got past, "Call me Ishmael..." I was all at sea. Notwithstanding the fact that it was on my English Literature reading list at university, I struggled to get into the murky depths of this complex tale which, apparently, isn't about whaling at all but more the human condition and God and class and all the haughty themes that the Victorian novelists seemed to love exploring.

When it comes to complexity, though, it's hard to beat a well-crafted imperial stout and when it's not far off 12 per cent and comes in a one-pint can, you have plenty of time to ponder the human condition as you sip away.

Narwhal refers to a whale-like creature of the deep, but it's also the name of an imperial stout from Sierra Nevada.

As the United States is one of the last bastions of imperial measurements, this beast of a beer comes in a pint can.

Tucked further away in the California-based brewery's cellar is the barrel-aged version, deliberately kept away from direct light to allow the Kentucky bourbon barrels to slowly do their work.

The result is a beer of expected complexity and some conflicting characteristics. Usually when a beer nudges north of 10 per cent, there is little to no carbonation, but this one maintains a fair bit of prickly fizz throughout.

The result isn't as smooth as you would expect of barrel-aged stout but it does allow the wide range of flavours to dance around the palate.

Before that, though, there are rich aromas of molasses and coffee and the initial gulp – which really should be a sip – delivers a boozy burn.

Once that settles down, all those flavours start to come through. There's hints of brown sugar, coconut and licorice with a nice lingering kick of espresso and a bit of dark, bitter chocolate thrown in for good measure.

It's got that comforting rich fruit cake characteristic you got from a barrel-aged imperial stout - and is the perfect accompaniment to a long, complex novel.

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