Mini-Vertical: Abyss 2007 and 2009

Last night a friend brought over a bottle of this year's vintage of the Abyss, and I grabbed a bottle of the '07 for a side-by-side. Mainly we were just shooting the breeze, but I have found that adding vintage specialty beers has its conversational virtues.

Beer raters on BeerAdvocate currently consider this to be the third best beer on the planet, edged marginally by Westvleteren 12 and Pliny the Younger. (Pliny the Elder, a superior beer, trails by just a hair more and is in fifth--but I digress.) It is a beer that always creates a furor at release, and I am fairly certain that you could trade older bottles of the Abyss for an older Camry on the gray market.

All of which leaves me somewhat ambivalent: I am not an Abyss-head. I tried the first vintage green and found it undrinkably intense. The black malts were grinding in their bitterness and the overall presentation was just too rich. I've encountered some triple-chocolate cakes of a similar ilk--too much of a good thing. No worries, though--I put the bottles in the cellar and figured I'd wait it out. Indeed, on election night I revisited the '06 and with two years it had stewed quite a bit. Still intense, but the edges had mellowed and it came together. At Christmas we tried another bottle of the '06 (just one left!) and again, nice.

So I wasn't surprised to find the '07 in fine form. After a couple years, the beer takes on just a plummy hint of oxidation (mainly an aromatic), and all the violence of the malts, bourbon, licorice have taken a step back, put down their weapons. They blend much more gracefully, and I found a lush dark chocolate character there, just on the good side of bitter.

What really shocked me was the '09. It was far more drinkable than the '06--the last green Abyss I tried. The body is lighter, and a bright floral note somehow survived the process. You find it both in the nose and on the palate, unsullied by the motor-oil it inhabits. It's really a revelation, bringing out a kind of lavender flavor from the dark malts. Readily quaffable and not particularly agressive--at least by comparison. It's odd; I'm not sure I would even recommend aging this one (though of course I will). That fresh, delicate note won't survive bottle aging, and it's really something to behold.

Deschutes made quite a bit more Abyss this year and you can still find it on shelves. You might appreciate grabbing a bottle and sampling it green.