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.
WILLIAM BRAND: WHAT’S ON TAP
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.