I know I haven’t written to you in a few years…well, okay, quite a few years. Oh, alright, the last time was during the Eisenhower administration. Whatever. The point is, I apologize.
It wasn’t because I forgot you or that I ever doubted. When I was lying in bed, my daughter’s head resting on my arm, trying to get her to go to sleep because, “Hey, Santa won’t come if you’re awake!“, I wasn’t thinking that it was going to be me drinking up that God-awful Kroger store-brand egg nog. I was telling her what was in my heart. And, besides, I knew my wife would suck it up and drink the egg nog, if I bitched long enough. And cut it 50/50 with brandy.
So, it wasn’t like I gave up on you. It’s just that…well, you stack up enough Christmases with people giving you socks and underwear and anything from Hickory Farms and bizarre kitchen utensils and containers for your cuff links and tie tacks or – worse – cuff links and tie tacks, you kinda begin to believe that, well, maybe fun Christmas gifts have sorta passed you by. And, honestly, given what I’m about to ask, I am probably getting ready to unwrap a 14K reindeer turd, yet again.
This is an unusual request, I know, but what I would really like, this Christmas, is for Deschutes Brewing to fuck up something about 2018’s “The Abyss”. I don’t know what your level of “beer savvy” might be (I know distribution, up there at the North Pole must be patchy, at best) but The Abyss is a mammoth, complex, slightly intimidating (not to me but probably to a LOT of brewers) American-style Imperial Stout, brewed with blackstrap molasses and vanilla beans and black licorice and other magical stuff, possibly sourced by melting down Puff the Magic Dragon, I dunno. Whatever it is, I have been as in love with it, for eleven solid years, as I have ever been with all but a tiny handful of humans, my dogs, one old Stratocaster that I sold twenty-nine years ago, and one small, Jewish cheerleader at my old high school who shot down my one date request the way the Air Force nailed Japanese Zeros over the Pacific. I get a sample from Deschutes every year and, every year, I have to grab a counter top when I open the box, lest I swoon, fall down, and bruise one or the other (or both) of my primary frenums. (Frenae?)(Who knows?)(And, to be fair, who cares?)
Now, Santa, I realize that asking for a gift in the form of somebody else’s ill fortune is not very noble and possibly even immoral and maybe even violates one of your arcane criteria for winding up on the “Naughty” List. But it was either ask for this or ask – again! – for Donald Trump and Mitch McConnell to be kidnapped and sold to the slave trade and wind up the house bitches of some gargantuan Somali warlord named Bubba. I think – though I can’t imagine why – that may actually be illegal. So, Deschutes it is. I want some tiny thing, some almost imperceptible flaw, something that 99% of everyone who doesn’t work for Deschutes and 85% of those who do, would never even notice. Something just a tad out of balance, maybe a bit of that cherry bark infusion that had a shred of moss on it. It wouldn’t hurt their sales. There aren’t that many of us who have tasted and consumed every single edition of this and, of that number, I may be one of only ten or twenty or so who has to write about it and, as Bill Shakespeare said, therein lies yer basic Rub.
I’m tired, yer honor, sir, your majesty…or whatever title suits you. I am, at this point, very nearly as old as you and I think about and dread writing this all flippin’ year because I have to, once again, come off like a drooling fan-boy imbecile, flinging adjectives and inadequate descriptors about like monkeys flinging their…well, you get the picture. What I’ve been fecklessly doing is trying to sum up an Experience that, for me, comes close to religious Rapture, minus all the ascending and weird choral music. I’ve said that this is the best liquid I have ever poured into my Munching Cave and have, by the way, taken a TON of shit about it from wine weenies and whiskey snots. But it is…and their 2017 edition is, damn it all to hell, every inch the masterpiece as all the rest of ’em.
If you cannot manage to lay down a banana peel for Veronica and all those other sketchy, Oregonian, tree-huggin’ Deschutes elves, as they labor at the 2018 Abyss, at least ship me a pallet-load of new superlatives, willya? I’m now officially down to using Google Translator and wound up, in my first draft of this post, describing The Abyss 2017 as “mahdottoman syvä“, in keeping with my Scandinavian roots, “casta agus géilleadh” from my Irish side, and, from the 61% of me that Ancestry DNA, just this past summer, revealed is from Belgium and the Netherlands, “een festival van bitterzoete chocolade, teer, melasse en aardachtig hout“. I finally changed it because I showed the post to my wife and she said, “Have you been into the cough syrup again? What is all this shit?“, in her lovely, direct way that I have come to cherish…and fear.
But, short of that pantload of new adjectives, here we go again:
The Abyss 2017 is immediately and unquestionably complex and wildly engrossing, and you really do not need any particular beer savvy to understand that. The flavors in The Abyss are again, as they always are, instantly clear, distinct, pure, and forward. The blackstrap molasses shows up first, as though somebody had dipped a brush in that prelude-to-rum magical goo and painted your tongue with it. Next comes bittersweet chocolate, dark caramels, black coffee, and oak-tannin vanillin. Just as these swell to their black crescendo, along comes the woods – the cherry bark, the three different types of oak barrels used for aging – cinnamon, vanilla bean, and the fat, herbal licorice from an addition of real black licorice candy. The texture is like diluted pancake syrup; a viscous oil slick that paints the tongue and provides a looooong, lingering finish…
See the problem, Santa? This is from my review of the 2010 Abyss: “The effect is nothing short of hedonistic: Viscous, impossibly smooth, decadently rich, complex as differential calculus, and showing absolutely nothing of its whoppin’ 11 % ABV…The flavors are so numerous and so subtle that it’s like reading a good mystery novel…Coffee, dark chocolate, caramel, black cherry, currants, smoke, toasted bread, and, yeah, licorice and molasses all rest atop a tasteful and – again – appropriate sweetness; just the right amount of sweetness to amplify the flavors with becoming cloying.” I could have really just copied and pasted in that review. It’s depressing, for a writer; akin to a 60+-year-old rock star having to sing his first hit song every night for 40 years.
The sad truth is that Deschutes has become SO casually expert at making dark beers in the American style of high viscosity and forward hops that stuff like The Abyss and Black Butte Porter and Obsidian Stout remind me of that old Mozart quote. When asked about his prolific composition of those ornate, complex musical opuses (Opi?)(Again, who gives a shit?) that can sprain your tongue if you try to whistle ’em, Wolfie shook his wig and snorted, “I write music as a sow piddles.”
If you could give me this, Santa, this ONE measly thing in next year’s Abyss – too late for 2017 because that’s already in my glass and it is, once again, impossibly and aggravatingly perfect – this one tiny detail that will let me issue the tiniest “Gotcha!” ever uttered by a critic. If you do this one thing, I will officially withdraw my standing request of the past 46 years for the villa in Valpolicella with the cellar full of old Amarone. I have to feel that giving you the chance to hit the “delete” button on that one would bring you some joy, as you’ve delighted in denying me several editions of Fender Stratocasters, a Ibanez Ragtime, a Land Rover, and, back in 1988, that Saville Road bespoke suit and the cases of Scotch from the Oban distillery, picked up in person by me. This would be the Big Enchilada of Denial of Service to Steve Body; the one you could use to scare bad children, instead of that “stocking full of coal” bullshit that we both know hasn’t scared a single child since the late 1800s.
Let Deschutes add one ounce less licorice or molasses or too few vanilla beans and I swear to you I will find it and have something to write about for a change. Yes, I may still ask for the Trump/McConnell white slavery tableau because…well, a man has to have Hope. You can ignore than one, on me, (but DON’T. Really) as long as I can salvage a few tattered shreds of my dignity as a writer and not come off like a boot-licking sycophant again, for the twelfth time. I’ll still probably have to give the damned stuff 100 points, even with some minor flaw, but I will at least know that nobody at Deschutes has sold their soul to the devil.
Thanks and Merry Christmas…although I don’t know why I’m telling you that,
(P.S.: I am not above bribery, so if you’d like a bottle or two of The Abyss, I know a guy and I’ll hook you up on Christmas night because , fuck me, how much eggnog can one man drink?)