Deschutes Black Butte XXIII

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The beer: Black Butte XXIII
The brewery: Deschutes Brewery
Style: Imperial Porter
ABV: 10.8 percent

Last year, as 22-year-olds are wont to do, Deschutes flaked.

Black Butte XXII, their much-anticipated double porter brewed to celebrate the brewery's 22nd anniversary, never made it into regular distribution. Dark chocolate in the recipe failed to fully dissolve, leaving a scummy top layer the brewery's QC folks dinged for appearance. They declined to distribute any bottles of XXII, and only those lucky enough to find the stuff in a keg were able to taste it.

But 2011 is a new year! At 23, Deschutes got its act together, worked out the kinks and has delivered a porter that's impressively mature for its age.

Poured into a snifter, Black Butte XXIII looks uncomplicated -- a flat, inky ebony topped with dense khaki froth -- but layers of complexity lie beneath. The first whiff finds espresso, burnt toast and smoky brisket from charred malt; the next curacao, lent by zest from the peels of Spanish Seville oranges. A quarter of the final blend has spent time in bourbon barrels, and the aroma makes this too apparent with notes of wood-fired oak and whiskey.

Bittersweet dark chocolate and cocoa powder permeate XXIII's flavor, provided by cocoa nibs from Theo Chocolate in Seattle. Allow the beer to warm and the sweet stuff emerges: vanilla, caramel, mocha. The finish is a tea composed of smoked oak and dried orange peel, and a bitter char lingers between sips.

XXIII's wild side materializes in the form of a burly 10.8 percent ABV and added Pasilla Negro chiles. The heat of the peppers complement the burn of the alcohol, setting the mouth aglow as you sip the velvet-smooth brew.

The brewery suggests opening this bottle a year from now, which you should do. You should also pick up a second bottle to drink today. And a third for tomorrow. And a fourth for your birthday. When you pop the bottle and enjoy the best porter you'll have all year, you'll be glad for the excess.

Food Pairing Suggestions:
Duck a lʼOrange, anyone? The sugary orange sauce coating the bird harmonizes with XXIII's own orange additions, while the notes of char in Black Butteʼs toasted malt blend with the roasted duckʼs savory meat.

Zach Fowle is a Certified Cicerone, a recognized beer expert equivalent to a sommelier.

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