A Short Historical Background
American craft brewers have established a reputation for gravitating towards big flavors - bold, floral hops, or deep roasted maltiness both appear regularly in American offerings - especially here on the west coast. Certain historical styles offered new territory to explore for craft brewers since their rise in the late 70s and 80s. The most prominent style of which is the popular India Pale Ale (IPA), a style that is available coast to coast in the United States and is arguably the favorite style of the American craft beer world. However, the origins of the India Pale Ale can actually be to traced to Great Britain exporting beer to India - the contents of which were high in alcohol and hops content which were essential for preservation on the journey halfway around the globe. High hops content in particular may have been preferred shipping method because of their ability to protect against infection by wild yeasts on the long journey.
Imperial stouts, such as the one we are sampling today in Sierra Nevada’s Narwhal Imperial Stout, share a history with the widely popular India Pale Ale. During the same time that Great Britain was shipping strong pale ale to its troops in India, it was also making a hefty profit shipping heavy porters and stouts, at the height of their popularity in England, to the Baltic Sea region of Northeastern Europe. In those countries of Russia, Poland, and the area now made up of the Baltic states such as Lithuania, stouts and porters were extremely popular. In fact, they are still produced there today. Historians have suggested that the famous Russian Czar Peter the Great insisted on importing these dark, cold weather beers from England. Later on, it was even rumored that the mysterious Rasputin, adviser to the last czar of Imperial Russia, favored these stouts.
Sierra Nevada’s Pale Ale influenced Narwhal is black with light tan foam, and has a taste profile as deep and dark as its appearance. Aromas of unsweetened Baker’s brand chocolate mix with a hint of toasted malt flavors made crisp by a significant but not overpowering hops note on the aftertaste. It feels a bit thicker than your average beer, almost reminiscent of a milkshake. Reaching the double digit threshold at 10.2 percent ABV (Alcohol By Volume) , this is a strong beer that makes you do a slight double take after you start to notice the effects at just over half a beer. However, the heavy aromas and flavors ensure that the taste profile is not dominated by a “hot” alcohol taste. Instead, that aspect is balanced with formidable levels of malt, hops, and dark chocolate flavors.
Pairing cannabis with such a distinctive and robust beer is quite a task. With such a strong sedative effect from the high levels of alcohol and hops in the Narwhal, a sativa is the safest route to go for a pairing that won’t knock you out after a single beer and hit. And what better sativa than Chocolate Thai to complement the dark, cocoa flavor profile of the Narwhal.
Chocolate Thai is a landrace strain of historical importance, arriving (likely as an unintended consequence of the Vietnam War) in the US in the 1960s in the form of the renowned “Thai Sticks.” If you spend enough time with a veteran smoker from the 60s or 70s, you’ll likely hear about the fabled Thai Stick - seedless Thai sativa wrapped around a stem with legendary potency. These were often rumored to have been dipped in hash oil or opium. For the most part, however, these Thai Sticks, known for their heady chocolate/coffee aroma were most likely simply Chocolate Thai. It is unclear what relationship modern Chocolate Thai strains have to this original strain of legend, but today the strain still delivers as a potent, delicious, daytime sativa.
Like the Thai Sticks before them, these are airy, light buds that are about as far from a dense indica bud as you can get. The visual impression is reminiscent of other popular sativas such as Green Crack – a bold green, covered in dark orange hairs. The effect is undeniably sativa - a functional, cerebral, and thought provoking high.
Such stimulating sativa effects often lead me down a path towards a slight case of anxiety, but with the hops and alcohol content of the Narwhal, I happily enjoyed a more stimulating mental experience. Furthermore, Narwhal is a great cold-weather beer. In California, we experience only a limited amount of that, but I found this pairing to be great for a wet, windy day, perhaps spent next to the ocean - or on a snowy day by the fire if that applies. The high ABV of the Narwhal adds a comforting warming element, almost like whiskey. The aromas of the Thai strain bring out their chocolatey counterparts in the stout, which adds to the cocoa impression of the Narwhal. The coffee and chocolate tastes of the Thai strain are a bit subtler than you might expect, but they become much more noticeable alongside the bold, chocolatey stout. The rougher, earthy aroma of the Thai is similarly pleasantly subdued by the beer.
Chocolate Thai is a cerebral experience, and is a perfectly pleasant pairing in terms of taste and effect I would definitely recommend it as a warm solution and great companion for times of reflection and meditation during the winter months.