Falling into The Abyss

I've never been one for dark, heavy beers, specifically stouts. Wifey can tell you I've bought Guinness multiple times over the years as my tastes have changed because this is supposedly the holy grail of beer...however, I'm beginning to think people might be a tad full of it, because it's still no good to me. Or maybe it's just me, who knows.

I've tried other stouts and only liked them moderately better. One that I did like, moderately, was Rogue's Chocolate Stout. It was still not something I would get on any kind of regular basis, but it sure made an awesome beef and stout pie (yes, you need the Stilton pastry as well).

This is a long lead-in to say I've heard a ton about Deschutes Brewery's The Abyss, with many people claiming this is the best beer they have ever had. BeerAdvocate calls The Abyss the fourth-best beer IN THE WORLD - which is pretty amazing in its own right. People apparently wait all year long for this one, they stand in lines when the beer goes on shelves in November, and apparently it's completely worth it.

I still wasn't completely sold that I would like this, even after reading some thoughts on Deschutes' own blog by the owner, Gary Fish, himself about the flavors of caramel, chocolate, coffee, and licorice. I mean, I like all those things, but it's still a stout, right?

However, the flavors, the reviews, the fact it is a Deschutes product, and a desire to try new things once led me to dropping the $12 for a bottle of this last week at New Seasons Market. (Ha! I remember back when I thought $12 was an exorbitant amount to spend on a bottle! That was all the way back in...well...July. Things change fast. Just for fun, I want to point you to a discussion on the cost of specialty beers over at the much-respected Beervana blog. And yes, I did comment in agreement with the sentiment of the post.)

Like with the Black Butte Porter XXI I loved so much, The Abyss has a Best After date on it, about 14 months in the future. I decided I had to try it now anyway. I mean, if I liked it, I'd want more, right? If I waited I'd never find it again, until next year's version. If I didn't like it, it wouldn't make a difference if I tried it now or later.

So last night I cracked the bottle open. We grilled some ribeye, Wifey made some garlic mashed potatoes, we had some corn, and I managed to get the wax seal off this bottle with only minimal damage to my physical self (just one scratch, nothing too much). There has to be an easier way to get through this wax other than the sharp end of a bottle opener, doesn't there? If you have any ideas, feel free to tell me.

I popped the top off the bottle and took a deep whiff. I could actually smell the coffee, the malt, the chocolate, and possibly the caramel as well - being able to pick all of those smells out actually surprised me. Either my nose is getting better or I'm just trying higher quality stuff lately. Could be a little bit of both.

The beer poured nicely. It's thick and smooth, almost caramelly in that way. The light head it creates in the glass is a mocha color, also thick and somewhat creamy.

Of course, the most important thing is the taste. How was it? Excellent. So excellent, in fact, I tweeted about its excellence while I was taking care of a few things online.

I could pick out the different layers of the chocolate, the coffee, the caramel, the malt, and maybe a bit of oakiness too. There is supposed to be some vanilla which I couldn't find, but if you click on that blog post by Gary Fish you'll see he notes the vanilla was stronger in the 2007 and 2008 versions of The Abyss he tried at the same time. Perhaps by the Best After date it will be more obvious.

One flavor I wasn't able to recognize is licorice, which is a flavor that is supposed to be there. It's possible it's there and I just don't have a reference point for it - could be a victim of an inexperienced palatte. However, Wifey tried it and she couldn't find it either. What's significant about that? She doesn't like licorice at all and can just about always pick out any flavor she doesn't like in anything, no matter how insignificant. Does not tasting licorice mean anything, or is it a drawback? I'm not a huge fan myself, so for me it's not a big deal.

What all of this boils down to is I really liked the beer and I'll buy a couple more bottles for saving, right next to my bottles of Black Butte Porter XXI.

Do I like it better than BBP XXI? I think my gut feeling is no, but it's right up near the top. It would be great to do a side by side taste test of the two, but I will tell you that will never happen in my house. Not unless I have a tasting party.

Why? The Abyss is 11% alcohol, which over the course of 22 ounces is almost like having five or six shots of 80 proof vodka (if I did the math right). I literally haven't had that much alcohol in my body since college, which wasn't exactly recent. If I had to crack both bottles at once (of course, I could put wine stoppers in them or something and save them, but where's the fun in that?) the outcome probably wouldn't be pretty - plus I woudn't even be able to remember which one tasted better.

I highly recommend The Abyss. If you like stouts, you'll love it. Even if you don't - as evidence here by example me - you may very well like it anyway. Kudos to Deschutes for brewing something with such an excellent flavor profile.


  1. I had some Abyss last night. I noticed the coffee and chocolate and didn't get any licorice at all. I think the coffee flavor will dissipate quicker than the other flavors and you might be able to get more of the licorice later.

    I've found that the more you smell things, the more things you'll smell. The same goes for tastes (as smell is an important part of tasting).

    You might want to go to your local homebrew store and purchase some licorice root, it's not exactly the same smell as the black licorice or black jellybeans you are probably used to.


  2. "Much respected"? Have you read the impertinent comments?

  3. You sell yourself short Jeff. :)

    And Virgil, thank you for pointing that out. You are right - having little exposure to non-candy licorice, that's probably the flavor I'm looking for and not finding. I'll have to look into finding some licorice root, so it gives me a reference point - good idea!