Bottoms Up

Beer and wine in the Bay Area and beyond

Beer of the Week: Deschutes Abyss

By William Brand
Saturday, December 13th, 2008 at 11:13 am in Uncategorized.

Note: One of the great beers here on the West Coast is Deschutes Abyss. I wrote this column in January, 2008. The new version of Abyss has just been released.


On the edge, Abyss has A licorice whiskey punch

Occasionally, a beer comes along that’s so interesting, it boggles the mind. Our first Beer of the Week is one of those. It’s The Abyss (***3/4) from Deschutes, Bend, Ore. In its two short years of life, it’s become a cult beer. And no wonder.

Talk about a walk on the wild side. The name’s appropriate: It’s 11 percent alcohol by volume, almost coal black with a thick, dark head. The aroma’s intense: Bourbon whiskey and licorice, among many other notes. This is a beer that slides across the palate like silk — first sweet, then a whiskey taste, then vanilla and licorice and wine and roast malt that lasts into a long finish, warmed by alcohol.

The intricate manner in which Abyss was brewed shows us how far craft brewers have come in this great beery adventure of ours. Deschutes brewer and barrel master Jake Harper said the idea came from a licorice stout and a blackstrap molasses stout both brewed at the Deschutes brewpub in 2005.

“We decided to combine them, barrel-age them and dry-hop them with cherry bark and vanilla beans,” Harper said. They brewed the beer in two sessions in a process called a double mash. Then when the mash liquid was boiled, they added three hops, strong and bitter Northern Brewer and herbal Millennium and Nugget hops, also hard licorice sticks and blackstrap molasses.

After the boil, the 500 barrels of beer were divided into two fermenters — half fermented with the house Deschutes yeast, the other with a Belgian yeast. About one-quarter of the whole batch was placed in a combination of used bourbon barrels, French Pinot barrels and regular Oregon oak wine barrels.

Part  of the brew stayed in barrels for eight months. Finally, the whole batch was reassembled into stainless steel tanks and dry-hopped. Usually that means placing fresh hops in the fermenter. But instead of hops, whole vanilla beans and cherry bark were used.

Finally, Abyss was carbonated and bottled. The only technique they left out was bottle-conditioning, adding a bit of fresh yeast to each bottle for a slow second fermentation in the bottle. They figured that at 11 percent ABV and 56 International Bitterness Units (Budweiser’s about 13 IBU), the beer didn’t need that extra step.
Abyss runs $10 for a 22-ounce bottle.


[You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.]

  • Mike

    The 08 is awesome. It blows the 07 out of the water.

  • William Brand

    That;s good news Mike. I have two bottles o ’08 in my beer fridge. Something to look forward to.

  • Renee Davidson

    I like to mix it with Bendistillery’s Hazelnut Vodka. We call it the “Cascadia.”

  • William Brand

    Abyss and vodka. Holy cow.

  • Scott

    I was wondering if anyone here can clear something up regarding the Abyss. My bottles of 2007 & 2008 say something on the labels about 33% being barrel aged while my 2006 bottle doesn’t mention this. While I’ve enjoyed each year’s Abyss, my memory is that the 2006 batch is the best. I was thinking, due to it’s runaway success in 2006, if the subsequent years were blended (aged with unaged) to make the beer go further or if this is simply a change in text on the label.

  • William Brand

    Scott…looking back at my notes, Jake Harper, who is the barrel master at Deschutes said Abyss started as a project at the Deschutes brewpub, where there’s a 10 barrel brew plant. In 2005, One brewer made a blackstrap molasses imperial stout, another a licorice stout. “That’s wheer we came up with the idea of combining them,” he said. “The barrel aging and extra hopping came later.”

    I’ve e-mailed Deschutes. But I believe, the 06, 07 and 08 all were blended with barrel-aged beer. And it certainly wasn’t to make it go further, it was to achieve the taste they were after. But stay tuned.

    ‘thebbld aging anddruying hoppiung

  • William Brand

    Hi again Scott and everybody… Jason Randles, Deschutes Marketing Manager replies about Abyss…

    Larry Sidor, our brewmaster, responded back with “The blend was exactly the same percentage as previous years. However, we used Makers Mark barrels and some others that seemed to have a much gentler oak and bourbon signature.”

    The feds made us get more specific with our barrel aged statement after the first release as well.

    Jason Randles

    So, to summarize, same blend all three years. Only change from 06 to 07 was the label. Only change in 08 is the barrels used to age part of the beer.

  • Scott

    Hi William, thanks for clearing that up. That’s what I call service!

  • William Brand

    It’s fun playing detective and in truth, brewers constantly tinker with their beer, so you could have been correct.

  • Ernie Martin

    sounds amazing! I’m a big fan of their Jubelale and buy several cases every year to hold. I’m drinking their 06 and 07 right now and they are both excellent with the 06 being my favorite. I’ll be sure to pick up some up Abyss soon. thanks for review

  • Pingback: thoughts on Deschutes Abyss - Page 2 - Home Brew Forums()

  • metabrewing

    Are you certain that The Abyss is a 500 barrel batch? This recent article on their own website states they do two 50 barrel batches. I would assume that production has picked up in recent years due to popularity, so my guess is that in 2008, it was a 50 barrel batch.