Sunday, November 30, 2008

Deschutes the Abyss (& yesterdays Pumpkin Beer) taste-off

The Abyss...where to begin? The month long (or year long) quest to get a few bottles, only to see they were available in Reno after ordering them from BevMo in Roseville...the wait since Friday to crack one open? Hey, it's harder than it sounds. Anyway, I don't think I've ever had higher expectations going in than I had for this beer. It's an 11% imperial stout (my favorite style) brewed with molasses and licorice. 33% of it is then removed, aged in oak bourbon barrels, and blended back in with the rest.

A. Deschutes has been my favorite brewery for years

B. a couple years ago they brewed a Barleywine. It had a highly noticeable black licorice aftertaste that blew me away. I was expecting similar with this one.

C. pretty much any site that reviews beers has this one in the 99th-100th percentile, and has almost all highly positive reviews.

appearance-pours as black as night. like motor oil with a brownish dark-burgundy head

nose-smells of roasted chocolate malt, with a slight hint of bourbon, alcohol, & molasses

mouthfeel-in a word...awesome. thick, smooth. Hannah had a tiny sip and literally chewed it (before asking for more, which we declined)

flavor-near perfection. multi-layered. had some characteristics similar to other imperials such as Rasputin, but to the Nth degree. More everything, without being harsh or overpowering. Pretty stinking smooth and highly complex beer.

We had it in a brandy snifter. Similar to the Black Butte XX, this was 33% barrel aged, and in both cases, I wished it was 50% at least. I think 100% is too either mellows out the character of a beer too much or too much Bourbon flavor covers up the flavor of the beer. With 33%, the Black Butte XX (while still VERY good) was a little harsh, and the Abyss had just a touch of that. Now, I'm really nit-picking here. This beer was exceptional in every way. The "Lord Of The Rings" of imperial stouts. Among the best, but there is just a tiny bit of room for improvement. Easily my favorite imperial stout. But my favorite beer??? I may have to do a Celebrator, Old Guardian, Fuller's, Abyss taste-off one day to settle that one.

As I was waffling between A & A+, my teacher friend Ben reminded me one does not have to have a perfect score to get an A+, so given that there were only 2 tiny things I think Deschutes could do to make this a perfect brew (age half in barrels & more licorice on the finish like the Barleywine)...A+.

So, Ben and I were both in the 97-98 range on a 1-100 scale, and both gave the beer an A+. Abby is not a big fan of imperial stouts, or super strong beers of any kind, for the most part...but she could see the qualities & complexities of the beer as well, and gave it a B. While this brought our overall score down to a low A or A-, it also is a good grade for someone who isn't crazy bout the style.

As an afterthought to the Abyss tasting (and to make room for all the really good beer from black Friday), Abby & myself, along with my younger brother Mikey & my father, had ourselves a little Pumpkin beer taste-off last night. I'll save the extreme details, except for the predictable and entertaining fact that both male relatives (who are not big fans of microbrews in general) liked the weakest (in both abv & beer -but high in spice flavor) beers the best. More pumpkin, less beer please.

1. Shipyard Pumpkinhead-this is the thinest beer of the 4. Not nearly as bad as I remembered, but take away the spice and I wouldn't touch it. Pops & Mikey both gave it an A and ranked it #1 of 4. Abby & I, despite our difference of opinion on Pumpkin spice in beer (I like it, she doesn't) ranked it 3rd, her with a B-, me with a C. So it got a total score of 8 with a B+ avg.

2. Buffalo Bill's Pumpkin Ale-I've had this one the most. It's actually got a nice taste (only if you're into the spice). Nutmeg, allspice, pumpkin...and they're not subtle at all, which is good, since the beer behind the spice also would not be worth it's weight Our grades on this one didn't vary much, and all four of us thought it was 2nd best of the 4. Total score of 8 with a B average. 2 B+'s from the male fam, B from Abby, C+ from me.

3. Dogfish Head Punkin-the only one of the 4 with a 'real' beer behind it-a 7% brown ale, but for big pumpkin spice fans, it just not too exciting. My Dad didn't likr the harshness from the hops. Abby & I both thought it the best of the 4 & gave it a B, while my brother & Dad thought it 4th of 4 and both gave it a D. Total score of 10, with an average grade of C.

4. Harvest Moon (Blue Moon)-lacking inspiration. We all agreed this one sucked. High of a C, while I generously gave it a D. We all ranked it 3rd or 4th, since it had a crap beer behing the spices, and the spices were among the weekest of the four brews. Total score of 14, avg grade of C-.

DFH Punkin is the only one of these I'd probably buy again, although I'd drink a Buffalo Bills if one was offered...and I won't go out of my way to fing this Dogfish beer like I have in the past.



SnowLeopard said...

Wow Chris- that's quite a review there! I can almost taste that first beer- sounds like it was worth the wait. :)

HiAltDawg said...


Booze Bros. enforced some crazy 2 bottle limit on Abyss and Double Bastard (don't even get me joustin' that windmill) so I waited until the Ben's up by Bonanza got em in and I had the Abyss last night and it rocked. I liked it better than XX. Now I just remembered I better get a bottle for Tuesday when Dark Knight arrives on blu-ray.

I ended up buying a case of Double Bastard. I kicked one over to Garner @ NW (he always gets a cut of the good stuff for squaring me away my rookie year) and plan on cellaring a couple to match v next year's.

Between Abyss @ 11% & Double Bastard @ 10.5%, I'll be an Adonis at my next marathon.

SnowLep's first beer--now, that's funny!