This is the fourth incarnation of Deschutes’ award-winning Imperial Stout, and they’ve stayed remarkably consistent with the recipe throughout: brewed with licorice and molasses, with a third of the brew aged in oak bourbon barrels and blended back with the other two-thirds. I suspect the recipe is tweaked slightly from year to year (playing with the amount of molasses, say, or changing the malt bill around) but the end result is a consistently great beer.
And it’s one that will only get better with age; Deschutes has taken to listed “Best After” dates on the labels of their big beers, and I can personally attest that aged Abyss is simply amazing.
So what about this 2009 vintage? Here’s the deal: rather than the typical review I do—tasting notes broken out in the (classic) format of “Appearance-Smell-Taste-Mouthfeel”—I figure I’ve reviewed this beer enough times that I’m mostly repeating myself, so instead I’m going with a more free-form, stream-of-consciousness approach.
It pours a thick black with the dense, creamy head typical of this beer—chocolate-tan colored and it leaves nice spidery lacing on the sides of the glass as it slowly recedes. Visually The Abyss is spot-on every year and it just looks delicious and thick.
In the nose it’s sweet Turkish coffee and cocoa powder, and I have to say I think it is actually subtler on the nose this year from what I remember last year—to be sure, all the aromas I picked out then are here now, but it’s more restrained, and they come out in layers of complexity hidden in the subtlety.
One of my points last year was I thought the 2008 vintage was too hot and young on its release; the first thing I noticed with 2009 is that, while there is the heat of a young high-alcohol beer, it’s not nearly as strong right out of the bottle as the 2008. There’s lots of charred wood and bitter dark chocolate and some vanilla in the bourbon notes—yes, the bourbon is there in the heat, and it’s sticky and thick and wafts up into the nose as you drink. But there’s not a hint of the astringency even though it’s super roasty.
It might seem a little weird to say, but there is a lot of restraint in this year’s vintage, which I think is a mark of maturity: Deschutes has produced an 11% Imperial Stout that hits the mark and doesn’t have all the over-eager green, hot character one would expect from being just-bottled. That’s no small feat. And I suspect that, as good as previous years’ versions of The Abyss have been, this 2009 version is the one that people are going to be knowingly nodding about in the next few years.