In the beer nerd world, top of the line imperial stouts are some of the most sought after beers around. More so when they are limited release. One of the great imperial stouts comes from Oregon brewery Deschutes called Abyss. Released each year to much anticipation it comes in black wax dipped 22 oz bottles. Each year Abyss is made with licorice and molasses 33% of it is aged in bourbon barrels. At 11% these beers are meant to be aged. Unfortunately unlike other Deschute beers Abyss has not been available in Texas, well this changed this year. To celebrate coming to Texas I wanted to do a Vertical of Abyss to highlight just how well this beer ages. Lucky for me (and thanks to Monsters of Beer) I just so happen to have Abyss 06-09. With a friend of mine scoring an early bottle of Abyss (I just grabbed a couple today) all was set to do a 5 year vertical this past Sunday. Me and 5 other beer nerds gathered to taste, here are my notes (as well as comments made by others).
Abyss 2006 - This is the original, the first release by Deschutes. As expected it poured a dark brown almost but not quite black, good carbonation is evident in the pour. The nose is of dark fruit licorice, anise. Many at the table were surprised by how apparent anise was on the nose. Some vanilla and bourbon were also there. The mouthfeel is amazing, rich silky. Some roasted malt bitterness not only from the black patent malt but some hops. Very little if any oxidation. Tongue coating and rich with dark fruits like raisins, prunes and figs. At 5 years this is ridiculously good and if well cellared has many years left.
Abyss 2007 - It pours a dark brown with a thick head than the 06. More boozy notes on the nose, but otherwise its not as strong an in your face as the 06. Around the table we agreed it seemed much younger than the 06. We confirmed our initial thoughts upon drinking the beer. It wasn't nearly as complex as the 06, more dryness, less astringent. Lots of roasted malt, but very little fruit characteristics. I mentioned to others at the table that there were more coffee notes in this version and most agreed comparing the bitterness in the beer to over extracted coffee. There was a staleness to this beer. Not bad, but the 06 blew the 07 away.
Abyss 2008 - This was more like it. The nose here is much bigger than the 07, closer to the 06, a little sweeter some residual sugar on the nose. More oak and bourbon on the nose as well. Good mouthfeel, chocolate, some citrusy notes as well as some dark fruits. Lots of roasted malts here some coco as well. None of the licorice notes that we got from the 06. There was a weird graininess that many around the table mentioned. Not that there was sediment in the bottle it was more a feeling of it. A great nose to this beer. While I am not sure how much longer I would age the 07, I think the 08 has many more years to go.
Abyss 09 - This one was the one I was least looking forward to. Unfortunately I had heard many stories that this beer was infected and had soured. As soon as we opened it up the storied I'd heard proved true. While it poured a beautiful black color, the darkest so far with a wonderful head, the nose gave truth to its nature. Sour cherries, lots of sour lactic notes. Strange as it was, it was drinkable. Some (me) liked it more than others. To me it tasted like milk chocolate covered sour cherries. Others got a metallic like astringency almost vinegary taste. Its not bad, but it's a shame this occurred as I can't imagine that this is cellar worthy due to its defect.
Abyss 10 - We end our vertical with the newest of the bunch. It pours dark, darker than all the rest. A rich deep coal black with a thick tan colored head. The head is actually not as dark as others for whatever that's worth. The nose is full of rich vanilla and oak and bourbon flavors. The mouthfeel is dry, so. very. dry. A heavy dose of alcohol as well, and very little fruit flavors. Fruity esters and toasted oak are the big players here. This is drinkable, but definitely needs some age to help mellow things.
As we finished the vertical we kept going back to the 06 and how incredible that beer was. By far it was our favorite and if we had to rank it the order would probably go: 06, 08, 10, 07, 09. What amazed many of us was how different each beer was. There wasn't a gradual transition from one beer to the next. Some were very heavy with dark fruit, others heavy on licorice and malts, and yet others were heavy with oak, vanilla and bourbon. Deschutes has done a wonderful job with this beer and its definitely cellar worthy material. If you can pick up a few bottles of 2010, drink one, and keep the others to try in 5 or 10 years. I want to thank Dave and his wife, Chris, and Casey and his wife for participating the vertical and for bringing other beers to the gathering. It was a wonderful time.