Peaks and Pints Fancy Pants Sunday: Deschutes The Abyss
Named for a sharp hook in the Deschutes River in Central Oregon’s high desert, the city of Bend was the abyss; decades ago, it was a bump on the state highway between golf resorts Black Butte Ranch and Sunriver. Lumber ruled the roost until the two large timber mills closed in 1994. Then, Californian Gary Fish opened Deschutes Brewery in downtown Bend on Bond Street, back when Bond Street was the abyss. Deschutes has since grown to become one of the United States’ representative craft breweries, distributing from coast to coast and making Bend synonymous with beer in the minds of many. Deschutes Brewery is still family and employee owned, the brewery known for brewing a diverse line-up of award-winning beers including their Russian Imperial Stout, and the subject of this week’s Peaks and Pints Fancy Pants Sunday: Deschutes The Abyss.
According to old-school spellcheckers Merriam and Webster, the term imperial means (1) anything relating to an empire or emperor, or (2) something of superior or unusual size or excellence. The first definition was what British brewers had in mind when they started making imperial stouts, and the second is why many American craft brewers are using the term for a variety of beer styles today.
Peaks & Pints calls it an imperial stout because that’s become a brewer’s custom. It began in the 1700s when English brewers were favored by the Russian court. Catherine [the Great] desired English beers and so the English brewed beers for her court, which at that time was in St. Petersburg. The beers had to survive the long shipping up through the North Sea, through the Baltic, up to St. Petersburg, so the English would make big, highly alcoholic versions of their beers. They called them imperial, particularly imperial stout, because they were meant for the Empress of Russia.
Following the earlier trend, the Russian imperial stout style was inspired by British brewers in the 1800s to win over the Russian Czar. High alcohol content, plenty of malt, low carbonation, and lots of roasted and chocolate flavors characterize these beers.
The most formally recognized and award-winning barrel-aged brand for the brewery, The Abyss is an exclusive barrel-aged imperial stout that is released every November. Brewed with licorice, cherry bark, and molasses, the dark malt character is amplified, creating layers and layers of flavors that can be unraveled as the beer warms in the glass. Deschutes utilizes a Trappist yeast capable of handling the high alcohol (11.6% ABV) and ages in a blend of new American oak, bourbon, and wine barrels.
For better or worse, barrel-aged Russian imperial stouts are viewed by many (especially those who spend time on beer-rating sites) as the apex of craft beer achievement. Peaks & Pints tends to agree, especially the 2023 barrel-aged version of Deschutes’ Russian imperial stout, The Abyss.
You fancy, Deschutes The Abyss!