It is almost time for another year's version of The Abyss, Deschutes Brewery's incredibly popular Imperial Stout. The 2011 edition is being released just under a week from now, and I have already received my sample bottle. The other night I sat down with two other New School contributors to see if this year's version lives up to the hype.
My review for last year's review panel of The Abyss 2010 lamented the overblown hype of the beer, but I then admitted it delivered on all fronts. This year's version is not quite a whole new ballgame, but things have changed with the beer's production. After the controversy over infected bottles of The Abyss that turned sour, the brewery has opted to pasteurize and filter the barrel-aged beer to prevent such a tragedy from happening again. Would this affect the flavor of the beer?
In addition to that question, this year's recipe seems to be slightly different. I could not find a specific ingredient list for last year's edition, but I don't recall the use of cherry bark or Pinot barrels in previous vintages. Here is what Deschutes has to say on the newest edition:
2011 marks the sixth release of The Abyss, which is the heart and soul of Deschutes Brewery’s Reserve Series. Notes of smooth chocolate, silky caramel and a creamy coolness adorn a luxurious body designed for indulgent interruptions to the everyday. Double “kettle to the metal” mashes included brewer’s licorice and blackstrap molasses. Tempered with vanilla bean and cherry bark and aged in Bourbon, Pinot Noir and Oregon Oak barrels, the phrase “outrageously coddled” comes to mind.With that I will get into the review, but first note that we all found this beer to be distinctly different that other editions, with the primary change being a very present fruitiness throughout.
Review 1 by SNOB Ritch
Pours deep black, with a lasting brown, creamy head. It has a strong vanilla aroma with hints of raisins and dates; roasty. The first taste is of cherries and dark fruits, then gives way to oak and pinot wine flavors, finishing with dark, bitter roast. As the beer warms up more of the cherry and wood flavors come out. This year's version seems to have more roasty bitterness than I remember in past releases, but it's not astringent. While I'm sure it will age well, this may be the most "ready to drink now" Abyss that I've had. I really like it.
Score: 5 out of 5
Review 2 by ElGordo
Body is a deep dark brown, very near black, with a small amount of rich, creamy tan head. Aroma of rich, roasted dark malt, oak, vanilla, and a touch of licorice. The palate is rich and complex. Fruity notes come through up front, with cherry and raisins popping up. A caramel sweetness arises briefly mid-palate before quickly yielding to the huge roasted malt character, along with a big note of licorice. It's impressive that this is ready to drink right off the bat; it lacks the heat of previous releases in their younger days. I'll be interested to see how this holds up as the months and years go by.
Score: 4.5 out of 5
Review 3 by Samurai Artist
Pours a thick and creamy head, one of the most lasting dark mocha heads that seriously sticks around at a 1/4 of an inch even after a few minutes after being poured. The nose has a strong licorice aroma right off the bat, then a strong sweet and tart cherry aroma with hints of americano. A not-supririsingly thick and rich body shows off serious cofffe bitterness that is typical of the style, with notes of charcoal and a sugary borderline dessert sweetness. Again, an extremely fruity cherry and raisin flavor settles in amongst the heavy roasty bitterness; it reminds me a bit of a power bar chock ful of tasty nuts and dried fruit and stuck together with a sticky sweet syrup. Hints of oak and spice barely seep through its tongue-coating, black coffee and molasses body. A very enjoyable beer, though its fruitiness makes it quite a different beast. I enjoyed last year's 2010 version a bit more, though.
Score: 4 out of 5
Your first chance to try this year's The Abyss at it's Portland release party:
Tue, Nov 15, 11 am - 10 pm
Deschutes Brewery Portland Public House
210 NW 11th Ave.Portland, OR 97209