For its barrel-aged imperial The Abyss, Deschutes turned to a cornucopia of specialty ingredients. Blackstrap molasses, vanilla bean, cherry bark, and something called “brewer’s licorice” all end up in this lauded annual, which remains a must-buy for beer collectors across the nation. Now that the 2018 reserve is on the shelf, it’s time to stop and consider what the latest edition of The Abyss adds to the beer’s legacy. After 14 years, can this illustrious monster of a beer still deliver a challenge?
You’d expect a beer named The Abyss to pour an inky black, but this beer’s appearance exceeds even those expectations. The Abyss is liquid charcoal. At room temperature, a brownie-colored colony of big, loose bubbles forms over the top, adding some dimension to an otherwise blacked-out body.
The adjuncts come alive in the nose. The licorice erupts in a rocket of star anise. The cherry bark comes over the top with the sweet essence of sapling wood. Then, there’s all the Kentucky bourbon fragrances from the barrel. The aroma of a beer is supposed to invite you in. In the Abyss’s case, it absolutely sucks you into your first sip.
A decade and a half of perfection has not deterred Deschutes from putting out provocative editions of The Abyss year after year. It’s a beer that earns its legendary status with every bottling.”
The Abyss is so-named for its unfathomable depth. You get hot booze, bitter candy, kilned malt, and floral vanilla. Though the licorice adds a syrupy quality to the body, it’s not overbearingly thick, going down cleanly every sip. One beguiling note is a subtle leathery quality. For something with so much hidden character, it’s one turn that’s unexpected in the wrong way.
A decade and a half of perfection has not deterred Deschutes from putting out provocative editions of The Abyss year after year. It’s a beer that earns its legendary status with every bottling. The 2018 Reserve has one mild flaw, but don’t let that deter you from grabbing an armful of bottles for your fridge and cellar.