My love for craft beer has taken me to many places but the one that I always return to year after year is Portland, Ore.
It is a magical place where in a single afternoon I can go from sipping Bourbonic Plague at Cascade to splurging on a bottle of 2011 Adam from the Wood1 to then throwing back a few pours of Flemish Kiss at the Commons.
All three of these are must stops when visiting Portland but the trip is never complete until I make it over to Deschutes.2 When I think of Pacific Northwest beer Deschutes it the first thing that comes to mind. I can’t tell you how many pints of Red Chair and Jubale ale I have put down over the past decade and don’t get me started on Fresh Squeezed,3 but there is one beer that I always hope to see on tap whenever I walk into the downtown public house.
The Abyss is Deschutes big bad 11 percent imperial stout that I look forward to every year, but in 2015 the brewery announced they were releasing a couple of The Abyss variants my mind was blown. I hunted for weeks and finally got my hands on a bottle of the rye whiskey and cognac versions. I cracked the cognac bottle a couple of months ago and it was hands down the best beer I have had from Deschutes and I am holding onto the rye variant for a special occasion.
Fast forward to 2016 and Scotch and brandy variants hit the shelves. They took a little work to find but luckily I was able to score a couple of bottles and I am finally cracking one today. Due to my long standing obsession with Scotch whisky I am starting with that one first.
After digging my way through the thick black wax I pop the top and give the bottle a quick whiff and I instantly know I am in for a treat. The beer pours the expected jet black with a quarter inch of chocolate brown head that only comes due to an aggressive pour. I bury my nose in the glass and I am met with a huge thick bouquet filled with chocolate, dark cherries, vanilla, toffee and a ton oak. The fact that the beer is 100 percent barrel-aged versus the traditional 27 percent is very noticeable. Classic The Abyss characteristics are there but turned up to 11.4 The Scotch barrel contribution does not go unnoticed with its additions of peat and a hefty oak presence. As I continue to huff this beer like a junky with a can of gasoline I continue getting more and more out of it. Roasted malts, raisins and even some licorice come through. It is one of those beers where I find myself raising my nose to the glass multiple times in between each sip.
It only takes one sip of the beer to realize the difference between this beer and the standard release. Like the nose the standard The Abyss flavors are there but in a much bigger way. The sip starts out with fudgy brownie batter with vanilla, toffee, roasted malts and coffee but as I swallow the massive oak and scotch flavors join the party. Roasted malts intertwine with the barrel charter that lingers into the finish and seemingly last forever. I feel my saying “seemingly lasts forever” does not paint an accurate enough picture. I drank a few sips of the beer and then got stuck helping the kids with something for a solid 20 minutes and I could still taste the beer when I sat back down to start writing. The 100 percent barrel aging in this beer makes a world of difference in the intensity of the flavors and adds a whole new dimension to the fantastic base beer. My only general complaint with the standard The Abyss is the lingering bitterness that seems almost out of place in the style but with this version it is still there but it is met with such intense flavors that it downplays the bitterness and really makes the finish something special.