November 15, 2009

Aging beer: Abyss vs. Top Sail, and more

Though I'm mostly interested in wine, there's a place for serious beer in this blog. Last night I attended an annual winter beer and cheese gathering hosted by my friend and blog reader Dudley. The event attracts local brewers, vintners and regular folk like me, though I guess I've moved into vintner category.

When I arrived the crowd was packed around a dining room table full of mostly west coast U.S. beers and domestic cheeses. My contributions were 22oz bottles of 2007 Deschutes Abyss and the 2008 Top Sail Reserve from Full Sail Brewing. I paired them with an Oregon produced Perrydale cheese, recommended by Steve's Cheese in NW Portland.

I was curious to see how the Abyss ages, and how it compares to another oak aged beer in the Top Sail. I've heard the the Abyss, for all its youthful intensity, might not necessarily improve with age. Sure enough, I found the roasted coffee and chocolate tones in the 2007 Abyss to be a bit muddled with age, especially compared to a 2009 edition of the Abyss at the tasting that showed better to my taste. The 2007 was no slouch. It's still very enjoyable. I'm just not sure it requires or rewards aging. It think it's better to enjoy these bottlings in their exuberant youth.

In comparison, the 2008 Top Sail -- purchased nearly two years ago on release in early 2008 -- showed beautifully. There was much more nuance in the aromas and flavors, without the heavy roasted notes of the Abyss. Instead, lots of sweet bourbon caramel and spice, thanks to aging in bourbon casks. I thought this might make the beer a little vulgar and obvious, but there was no denying the delicious flavors and long finish. Matched with the slightly fruity and caramel sweet Perrydale, which the Abyss trounced, the Top Sail was excellent. I think you could hold this beer longer still, but it's already in a great place. I'll look forward to the 2010 release that I imagine should be out around the new year.

Otherwise, the gathering was an excellent chance to taste intense beers and sample a wide range of impressive domestic cheeses. Another great match with the Perrydale was a 2008 (I believe) Goose Island Bourbon County Stout from Chicago. It was black as night, roasty and rich, but impeccably balanced. I would think the Perrydale wouldn't have stood up, but the pairing worked.

Finally, someone brought a magnum of the 2003 Anchor Christmas Ale, but it seemed a little tired to me, especially compared to a delicious 2009 edition. This is another beer I find not so great with more than a year of age. Thanks Dudley for another great event.

1 comment:

Dudley said...

The beer night was a lot of fun. The variety of beer and cheese was impressive - all sourced from CA, OR or WA. I agree the Deschutes Abyss is best enjoyed within 6 months of release. The licorice, molasses and coffee in the brew tend to blend and overlap when aged for longer periods. The Deschutes head brewer agreed with your observation. The younger beer tends to show the individual elements. Also the Anchor Special Ale is not bottle conditioned, so the flavor and aromas fade with time.

Your Top Sail rocked!