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circling the abyss like a shark

Deschutes Abyss and pintOnce a year the Deschutes Brewery in Bend Oregon produces an imperial stout, a portion of which is aged in new oak, in (used) bourbon, and in (used) pinot noir barrels. It is a dark dark liquid, thick (leaves legs on the side of a glass), high alcohol (10-11%), and designed to improve with age. It is a stellar example of so-called “extreme brewing”. They call it The Abyss.

Last year’s release (brewed in 2006) garnered a number of festival awards. Through the efforts of NABC member Misuba, we were able to taste last year’s release both fresh from bottling and after 10 months or so of bottle conditioning. When young, dark sugar, molasses, even liquorice flavors were fairly overwhelming. After the better part of a year, the molasses tempered and wood flavors began to step forward. There are few precedents for this style of beer and little practice as to what to expect, but it seems that it could have still improved with more age.

This release was scheduled to appear on shelves in Portland last Monday. There was some kind of delay between the brewery and the distributor. John’s Marketplace seems to have received it Wednesday; Belmont Station was certain they’d have it Friday. Each store probably received 40-50 cases.

Friday morning the beer blog on The Oregonian website declared the Abyss to be sold out in Portland, posting even before the Belmont Station shop opened at noon. By the time the NABC purchasing party arrived at Belmont Station their entire allotment was sold. We cursed the fact of our day jobs, indeed, as Mr.Wilde said, work is the curse of the drinking classes.

Out at a bar late Saturday night, a friend mentioned having seen a stack of cases at a nearby grocery store. It was too late to shop at the store and too early to attempt burglary. And then Sunday I rambled across Portland’s west side looking at buildings, which left little time to even investigate the rumor until evening. But the rumor proved true: there was almost a case and a half left when I telephoned around 8pm.

Seamus and I arrived at the grocery store and talked to a woman who stocks the wine and beer section. “A lot of people are gonna be upset you got it,” she growled. When we checked out, the clerk asked “so is this the last of it?” (she at least seemed amicable) and then carded us. If we had been buying the equivalent cost in cases of PBR (say, 13), I could have understood the age check.

We cleared sixteen bottles. They are currently in the secure room, and this weekend an armored car will transport them to the underground wine bunker.


  1. misuba wrote:

    And to think that the only reason I let it age for those months was I wasn’t so into the licorice when it was young. My usual response to a disappointing beer is to just get it over with – it usually still works, after all – but with a beer this rich but not so much what I was after at first, I just sort of forgot about it. Now I’m in the odd position of knowing it’s awesome but of having to wait for it still.

    Tuesday, January 22, 2008 at 13:27:04 | Permalink
  2. Void_Ptr wrote:

    I love escapades like these. And, really, the anticipation is better than the reward.

    Wednesday, January 23, 2008 at 11:23:07 | Permalink
  3. Ouroboros wrote:

    oh, I’m certain the reward is going to be very nice indeed; and the anticipation, it will be long

    Thursday, January 24, 2008 at 21:12:22 | Permalink
  4. Ouroboros wrote:

    Met friends at Bailey’s Taproom last night where I got two glasses of perhaps the last keg of the Abyss left in Portland before it was drained. Well, I did hear rumors of one more extant, but it was in private hands.

    Saturday, February 2, 2008 at 19:59:00 | Permalink