The northwest corner of the United States is recognized as one of the country’s best areas for craft beer. Located almost dead center in Oregon, one of the area’s largest states, is Bend. 

Considered by Travel Channel to be one of “The New Top 10 Beer Cities,” Bend is home to a little over 100,000 people but 22 breweries. One of those breweries is Deschutes Brewery.

Deschutes originally began as a brewpub when it was established in 1988. by Gary Fish. It is named after the Deschutes River, which flows right through town.

Fish wanted to create a community-based business “where friends, family and strangers could come together over some great food and a house-brewed pint of beer.

In its first year, Deschutes sold 310 barrels. However, by 1993, it could no longer keep up with production and moved to a 16,000-square-foot brewing facility. In 2012, it expanded again and added upgrades, including a water reuse system and a carbon dioxide capture system, which reduced their environmental impact. As of 2016, Deschutes produces over 250,000 barrels making it the 8th argest craft brewery in the U.S.

Additionally, in 2016, Deschutes revealed plans to open an east coast location in Roanoke, Va. named Roanoke Brewery. Although it already has a taproom and restaurant in the area, the new brewery is anticipated to begin production next year, pending final plans with the city.

Deschutes is an exciting brewery because, unlike others, it is known for a wide variety of beers. With its beer available in 28 states and internationally, their most popular offerings cover nearly every beer style. 

One of its most anticipated beers is The Abyss.

First brewed in 2006, The Abyss is an imperial stout released annually in both bottled and draft-only versions. Bottles have typically been the 22-ounce variety. However, in 2020, the brewery announced that The Abyss would be available in four-packs of 12-ounce bottles.

The Abyss is brewed with 2-row pale, chocolate, and black malts, roasted and black barley, wheat, and Nugget, Cascade and Delta hops. Its adjuncts are blackstrap molasses, cherry bark, licorice, and vanilla bean. Each year, a percentage of the beer is aged in bourbon, wine, and new American oak barrels. 

Although the base version is released every fall, there have been many variations over the years:

  • The Abyss – Cognac Barrel Aged
  • The Abyss 20th Anniversary
  • The Abyss NITRO
  • The Abyss Multi BA Imperial Spiced Reserve Stout (2015)
  • The Abyss Cognac (2015)
  • The Abyss Rye (2015)
  • The Abyss Brandy (2016)
  • The Abyss Scotch (2016)
  • The Abyss w/ Cold Brew Coffee (2016)
  • The Abyss Rum (2017)
  • The Abyss Tequila (2017)
  • The Abyss Old World (2019)
  • The Abyss Port (2019)

The 2019 version was bottled on Sept. 12, 2019, and had 50 percent of its contents aged in a blend of the three barrels. It has an 11.2 percent ABV with an IBU rating of 74. 

Poured from a waxed 22-ounce bottle into a snifter glass, the imperial stout is jet black in color with a silky, tan head that hangs around for quite a while. Carbonation is moderate, in line with BJCP style guidelines and lacing is very impressive, even after several sips.

The Abyss is very aromatic for an imperial stout, presenting notes of bourbon, chocolate, vanilla, and light cherry and roastiness. The first sip has strong chocolate notes and surprisingly little of the barrel. There is no booziness and the barrel influence is all but gone in the flavor profile. Bitterness levels are very high, lingering for an extended period of time. Despite the addition of vanilla bean, it is not sweet though it is sticky, likely from the blackstrap molasses.

This stout is a full-bodied beer with a medium mouthfeel. It is extremely smooth, almost like it was carbonated with nitrogen. As the beer warms in the glass, the various flavors blend a little better, and bitterness levels recede a bit. The spiciness from the cherry bark was not initially noticeable, however, it comes out subtly at the higher temperatures and adds a note of complexity. Its finish is still bitter but strong and does not drop off.

Deschutes The Abyss 2019
BREWERY: Deschutes Brewery
LOCATION: Bend, Ore.
STYLE: Imperial Stout
ABV: 11.2 Percent
IBU: 74
PRICE: $18.49
RELEASE DATE: October 2019
AVAILABLE IN: 22-ounce bottles
I have had The Abyss once before. It was the 2011 version and I remember it being very enjoyable at the 2012 Great American Beer Festival. However, I was even more impressed with this 2019 release. The strong and complex flavor profile, combined with the full mouthfeel, created a wonderful drinking experience. Even with an 11.2 percent ABV, the beer is not overbearing and goes down smooth from the first sip to the last. It also finishes strong, a sign of a well-made beer. While it was extraordinarily bitter for an imperial stout, I still found this to be a unique feature, even if I would dial it back a bit if I was the brewer).
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