Back Down The Abyss

Fourteen months ago I bought a bottle of Deschutes Brewery's Abyss, the 2009 version, and wrote about it here. I wasn't sure I'd like it because of how dark and how, well, stout it was, but I ended up thoroughly enjoying it.

Over the course of the past year I've tried a few other stouts and most of them haven't really been all that great to my palette. In the buildup to the Abyss 2010 release I read quite a few early reviews and found many of them talked about how 2010 was better than 2009, and that 2009 may have been the worst of the series (2010 is the fifth, I believe). Considering I enjoyed 2009 that made me excited for the 2010 version, which after cracking the bottle I did like it, though perhaps not as much as the hype.

But that got me thinking a little bit. After enjoying 2009 Abyss when it was released I went out and bought two more bottles to save, because like with the others in Deschutes' Reserve series these come with a Best After date. Well. 2009 Abyss hit the Best After in November of 2010, so it seemed like a good time to open one of the saved bottles to check out the changes in the flavor profile, if any.

That idea also filled me with a little trepidation, after finding out saving Black Butte XXI for a year didn't necessarily - to me - make it better. Still, I figured worth a try. Besides, last Monday was the NCAA national championship football game, and it seemed like a good time to crack a special occasion beer.

I've got one word for the aged 2009 Abyss: Wow! Even if my team had managed to win the game (this is where I pretend it never happened, like it seems like all other Duck fans are as well), this bottle would have been the star of the night. When fresh the flavors in this bottle had been sharp and distinct, the 14 months of aging not only mellowed them all out, but the smoothed edges now dance together beautifully.

All of the original flavors are still there - the coffee, the chocolate, the vanilla, the licorice, the molasses - and all are identifiable, both on the tongue and in the nose, but the complexity blending of the flavors makes it difficult to pick out just one at a time. You don't pick out chocolate; instead you get chocolate with a licorice background. You don't pick out molasses; instead you get molasses with an edge of vanilla.

This is a strong beer alcohol-wise, measuring in at north of 11% when it was first released. I thought it would pretty much end my night drinking this bottle, but unlike the Black Butte XXI - which absolutely became stronger through the aging process - Abyss 2009's alcohol was hidden without the same almost sickeningly sweetness. Perhaps this masked the impact of the alcoholic strength - or maybe I was just well rested and it didn't hit me as hard - but the strength of the beer didn't seem like other 11% beers I've had in the past. This includes the fresh 2009 Abyss, the aged Black Butte XXI, and the recent fresh Bourbon County Stout 2010.

For any beer bloggers and reviewers, both professional and amateur, who weren't as pleased with 2009 Abyss when it was first released, I strongly encourage you to open a bottle of 2009 if one was saved and try it now - you may change your mind.

Sadly I now have just one of these bottles squirreled away, waiting for a suitable drinking time. Hopefully 2010 will age just as well as 2009 did.

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