Friday, May 20, 2016

A Whale A Week: Deschutes The Abyss 2010

Now in my second year, A Whale A Week is my challenge to try (with an array of beer loving friends) a rare beer for every week of the year.  Last year I had a great time with this and have continued it for 2016.  Not every beer will be a truly "white whale" beer, but all are hard to find and a treat to try!  I've had a brief hiatus in these posts due to lack of time and travel to Oregon (check out my extensive travelogue of that trip here as well...)

Deschutes The Abyss 2010

This week we focus on a classic beer from Deschutes Brewery in Bend Oregon.  I've loved this brewery since I had my first Black Butte Porter while visiting my cousins out in Eugene many years ago.  Sarajo and I got a chance to visit the brewery a few years back when one of aforementioned cousins was kind enough to get married in Bend.  The Abyss was one of the early commercially available Russian Imperial stouts that got a lot of attention and was eagerly hoarded when it came out.  We'll call it a Proto-Whale.  Also back in the day Deschutes didn't have quite the availability across the USA that it currently boasts and getting a bottle in Minnesota was only through bootleg channels.  Enter my mom (Heddy) who lived in Oregon for several years, and would mule me back 6-9 bottles each November when it released out there!  Luckily now we get at least a nominal amount of Abyss here each year.  

The Abyss released in bottle for the first time in 2006.  There was a hiccup at one point in 2009 when the batch was infected (probably with the sour cultures from The Dissident) and is still gleefully called "Abyssident" by beer geeks like me.  The beer is complex, made with brewer's licorice, blackstrap molasses, vanilla beans, and cherry bark.  Portions of the beer are then aged in a combination of new oak, bourbon barrels, and wine barrels--then blended together before release.  As a result of this, the beer is more subtle than some bourbon booze bombs, making it easier to drink.  Ratebeer puts this beer at 100, and Beer Advocate rates it at 99.  While this beer is now readily available (and hence not super whale-ish) the 2010 vintage is certainly hard to come by in 2016, so I'm doing it!  Of course now, they've released some even more rare variants with rye whiskey and cognac barrel versions.  I hope to get to try these soon!  If anyone wants to share one for AWAW tasting I'll share my 2008 bottle...

Our judges for this session are me (BJCP National ranked judge, homebrewer 25+ years); Sarajo (my wonderful wife, lover of stouts); and Matt Messier (former Oregon native, beer geek, self proclaimed Deschutes fan-boy); Theresa (Matt's lovely wife, beer drinker but not a beer geek).  We met Matt at our local watering hole the Iron Tap in Waconia and realized we were neighbors...yet another way in which the social aspect of beer has led us to meet new friends!  

Aroma:  In which some of us are more sensitive to oxidation than others...

Eric: Deep earthy notes invade the nasal passages in a way that I can almost taste on the back of the tongue!  Licorice root present, but not overly anise-y.  Dark coffee roast notes.  Sweetness and molasses caramelized sugar.  Mild vanilla.  Light oak, bordering on papery oxidation as it warms up. 
Matt: Proper to the nose--makes me want to devour it now!
Theresa: I'm sensing wet dog.

Appearance: In which we gaze into The Abyss and hope it does not gaze back...

Eric: Pitch black.  Like staring into a...what's the word I'm looking for here?  Pit?  Chasm? Hole?  Rift?  Crevasse?  Void?  Hmmm, it'll come to me.  Mid-tan head with large bubbles, which fades to a wispy finish.  
Matt: Looks like a good root beer--a bit bubbly.

Flavor: In which we taste lots of coffee

Eric: Complex as anything!  Off-sweet up front, but the end is fairly dry with lingering flavors of dry cocoa, coffee grounds, and light anise.  Mouthfeel is medium to high with lots of mouth coating action.  Burnt sugar.  Mild dark fruit and cherry as it warms up.  Oxidation present, but adds complexity rather than detracts from the beer. 
Matt: Lasting flavor!  Starts smooth with molasses flavor, but ends with a coffee tinge.

Overall: In which the ladies bring down the curve with their hating...

Eric: This has more coffee flavors than I remember, but I love coffee so no harm no foul.  Great balance of sweet and dry in such a strong beer.  Mild oxidation for such an elderly statesman of a beer.  Hold up remarkably well and I'd place it in the top echelon of my favorite Russian Imperials.  4.5
Matt: Very enjoyable.  Being a Bend, Oregon native, I'm biased.  I would never turn this away!  4.25
Theresa: It was pretty good until I swallowed it.  2
Sarajo: A little cardboardy.  3.5

Overall Score: 3.56

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