As for the great "drink it now or let it age" debate, we stand clearly on the fence. Distinct and delicious on release, the flavors meld and fuse into an entirely different pleasure a year on.
Aroma: This is a big beer with a huge aroma profile and a whole lot of everything going on. As you’ve seen in the past, I am big on sensory stimulation, and the olfactory inputs of this beer were almost overwhelming. There were distinct dark coffee notes, like a good French Roast or Espresso Roast. Dark chocolate followed up with hints of vanilla, likely imparted somewhat by the oak barrel aging. A mild hop spiciness then made an appearance followed by low notes of dark fruit that reminded me of ripe Bing cherries. Hints of molasses preceded a subtle alcohol aroma. All of these were followed by roasted grain notes. Like I said, a lot of everything.
Appearance: The Abyss poured a very dark brown, with a thick, rocky, persistent brown head. It was visibly thick and viscous as it left the bottle. The luscious head remained present throughout the beer’s time in my glass.
Flavor: As with the aroma, there was a lot of everything going on with the flavor of this beer. It started with some huge coffee flavor followed by distinct dark (as opposed to milk, bittersweet, or unsweetened) chocolate. I detected some grain-imparted bitterness before the bitterness from the hops peeked through. Layer after layer of flavor complexity came out of this beer, especially as it warmed; the flavor show evolved and morphed into a whole slew of flavor acts. Initially, I detected hints of licorice and molasses. After some warming, those flavors gave way to more dark cherry, raisin, and especially whiskey flavors. The initially mild alcohol flavor became more noticeable with warmth, but remained in-check, never dominating the other flavors, but rather complementing and assisting them with their contributions to the experience.
Mouthfeel: In the style guidelines, the word, “luscious” is used to describe the mouthfeel of Imperial Stouts. Where The Abyss is concerned, I would say, “luxuriant”. A small sip can fill the entire palate and a large mouthful can be simply overwhelming. As it made its way through my mouth to my throat, a pleasant warming sensation played through the game of the other flavors—the telltale sign of this beer’s 11% ABV. It is a sweet, malty finish with no sign of dryness whatsoever.
Overall: In a word, I would describe this beer as complex. If you gave me two words, I would say complex and complicated. Deschutes says they brew with black strap molasses, licorice, cherry bark, and vanilla. They age 6% of the beer in oak bourbon barrels, 11% in oak barrels, and 11% aged in oak wine barrels. Many of those flavors were immediately detectable, others are more reluctant to make a showing until the beer has warmed. However or whenever they present to you, take your time with this beer. Savor it. Enjoy it. But buy several years’ worth so you can age them and be able to compare them against each other in a couple of years. If you like big, full-bodied stouts, you will not be disappointed.