Last month, Deschutes Brewery, as has become a tradition, sent me samples of the 2018 iterations of their two classics of American brewing art, “The Abyss” Imperial Stout and “The Dissident” Flanders-style Oud Bruin ale. I got a UPS advisory that it was being shipped. Waited. Nothing. Got a UPS email alert saying that my package had been delivered; that it had gotten its “adult signature required” the previous Tuesday. Okay…except that I, the recipient named on the shipping tags, didn’t get it and definitely didn’t sign for it.
Figuring my time at the rate I charge for freelance copywriting, that comes out to $4,032.00 it has cost me – over the past ten years of writing this site – calling UPS customer service and waiting and waiting and waiting…just for the convenience(?) of not having to drive to all these places myself and bring back said packages…which I am still contemplating doing. Even though some of them are in Texas, Georgia, Michigan, and Tennessee.
Finally, just this week – LATE! – the boxes arrived – a replacement shipment, NOT the original ones that UPS lost. They were intact, as far as I could see (UPS has also broken bottles nine different times, including one shipment that came from Italy!) and I carried them into the house the way I would handle a newborn baby, covered in fresh eggs, on a china platter, strapped to a bottle of nitro glycerin.
What was in was worth every bit of that effort.
For eleven straight years, now, I have made the statement that engenders the most derision and comment from weenies of all three major beverage segments. Wine snots, beer geeks, whiskey wanks, all of them agree: saying that Deschutes “The Abyss” is THE single best liquid – of any type! – that has ever entered my piehole is ludicrous. Beer geeks invariably barf up their current trendy faves as evidence that I have no taste. Wine snots scoff at the whole idea that any lowly beeeer (two syllables: “BEE-uh“) could even equal the majesty and the Import and the profound significance and gravitas and sophistication and depth and panache and elegance and nuance and sheer MEANING (and other shit like that) of a great wine. Whiskey wanks are the most agreeable: “Lad, c’mon, now…are ye daft?”
I first tasted The Abyss when we owned and operated a wine/beer shop in Woodinville, Washington, called VinElla. I was handed what our distributor claimed was the eleventh bottle of this new Stout ever poured in Washington state. He poured it. I tasted. And it is not an exaggeration to say that the earth shifted on its axis. It was…perfect. In 2009, when I visited Bend and found they had the wonderful 2007 on tap, after an additional two years aging, it was even more perfect. Let’s get this out of the way, in case one of the aforementioned wine snots has bumbled into this post…
Beer ages. In many cases and many styles, it has nearly the same aging potential and longevity as a big red wine. Don’t believe it? Can’t help ya. People who know both beverages know this fact and it’s just no longer in doubt.
But here’s the problem: when I do get samples of The Abyss, I have to open them and taste. I have to write about them; not this Abyss of two years later but the new one, the freshest versions. And even when I go and buy a case, I just cannot keep my hands and tongue off it. If I buy a case in February, as I’ve done the past six years, it might last until May or so…maybe.
And this 2018 edition of The Abyss is the best I’ve tasted since that legendary 2007.
It’s important to understand that Deschutes makes almost all their Reserve and Limited beers at least a little differently every year. On purpose. They tweak and nudge and work toward ultimate perfection relentlessly. The label may say all the same things but it doesn’t say what the ratios are or the provenance of the ingredients and the Deschutes brewers are savvy enough to realize that, even if they used exactly the same components in this year’s batches as last, these are agricultural products. Consistency isn’t really possible. So, they don’t try. They try to make it Better.
This Abyss is less sweet, shows more roasted flavors, far more dark chocolate, fat coffee beneath that chocolate, less molasses than usual, and a little less of the prominent licorice notes of the past two vintages. The barrel notes are more Bourbon than wine flavors and the new oak pumps up the vanilla notes and that maddening smoothness and sheer viscosity that has marked every edition. Its closest spiritual cousin is The Lost Abbey’s “Serpent” Stout, another black, mostly dry, brooding, impossibly deep Imperial Stout that lacks only a tiny bit of complexity and viscosity of equaling The Abyss.
A note of Caution has to come here: This is NOT a Stout for craft beer newbies. At 11.2% alcohol, it will straight-up knock you flat on yer ass and even past that it’s not going to give newbies any of that big fruit and softness that your pet hazy or lager will show. This is ale for Grown-Ups and grown-ups who have consumed a lot of different beers.
All the disclaimers covered, this is, to me, the single best ale ever brewed in the US, at least out of the thousands I’ve tasted. And it is that by a fairly wide margin. This 2018 Abyss is, for all intents and purposes, perfect. Perfect iteration of an American-style Russian Imperial Stout, perfect brewing, perfect judgment in its composition, perfect flavors.
In that box, also, was an ale which would have been, in any other box with any other accompanying ale, the Star of The Show. The Dissident is a part of the Deschutes Reserve Series, as is The Abyss, and has been, since its first release in 2008, one of the country’s best Belgian-style Oud Bruin (Trans: Old Brown) ales. It’s infused with tart Oregon cherries and fermented with wild yeasts and has frequently shown a somewhat aggressive sour character, which has delighted many sour beer freaks, while proving a challenge to those not fond of puckering without kissing. This 2018 Dissident, to my tastes, is easily the best one yet. The cherry flavor, which has sometimes been masked a bit by the sour, is fat and prominent and combines a lovely, friendly hint of sweetness with a sour that’s still dominant, without being pushy. The malty notes of the classic Oud Bruin are there in spades and the whole is the most balanced and drinkable and fully-realized of any Dissident I’ve tasted yet. The legendary boozy character of the Oud Bruin is front and center and the lavish 22 months in barrel give it a silky feel that is frequently missing in American Belgian-style sours. This being the best-yet Dissident means it’s also the best American Oud I’ve yet tasted and that statement includes such names like Odell and pFriem and The Bruery. It’s that good. 100 Points
A few times, in almost 47 years of writing for money, I’ve written things that follow me around, get quoted, get thrown back in my face, sometimes . I once wrote that the Italian wine, Amarone, was “the wine they’d serve at God’s wedding“. The Italians fell hard for that one and I read it in various places for eight solid years. (In Italian, that would be “il vino che avrebbero servito al matrimonio di Dio”…the one Italian sentence I now know.) Later, I called Zenato Ripassa “sex in a bottle“. Zenato used that one in their B2B materials several times and I read it all over the place on the internet.
Standing by the statement: Deschutes “The Abyss” is the Best liquid of ANY type I have ever consumed. Period. It’s not really even close. This year’s Abyss reminded me of that Zenato in its…well, for lack of a better explanation, its inevitability; the certainty that this 2018 edition of The Abyss will be an ale that I remember and dream about for many years to come…except that The Abyss’ appeal is a LOT more visceral, sensual, urgent. This and its Flanders cousin that shared a shipping box hit ya…you know, down there, as opposed to the Zenato tickling the cerebral and intellectual pleasure centers. More like, well…hot, sweaty, athletic, acrobatic, vivid, full-frontal, hyper-verbal sex. And let me spell that out for anyone who isn’t into curmudgeonly allusions: The Abyss and The Dissident, 2018, are like bottles of delightfully naughty sex; like you just might enjoy either one enough that it would be unseemly to have anyone watching. And that is almost not hyperbole. I really would not want anyone other than my wife seeing what I did when I first tasted this Abyss. All I’ll say is…it was probably either pretty damned funny or flat-out appalling.
This is one of the strongest boxes of ales I’ve ever received from Deschutes and while that is a delight and Pure Pleasure to drink, it comes as no surprise at all from one of America’s truly iconic breweries.