Reviewed: Perennial Vanilla Bean Abraxas 2018
Product description: [From Perennial’s website] Abraxas has always had vanilla in the mix, but our vanilla variant has an even bigger punch of rich Madagascar vanilla beans. [From the bottle] Ale with ancho chili peppers, cacao nibs, and cinnamon sticks with vanilla beans. 11.5% ABV
Perennial Artisan Ales – Perennial Vanilla Bean Abraxas 2018 – 750mL served in stemless snifter – 11.5% ABV
Abraxas is one of my all-time favorite beers. True story: my cat is named after this beer! The first time I tried it was in 2012, and I remember it was a showstopper. Even though the vanilla version has been out since 2012 as well, I’ve never had a chance to try it until today!
The label on this bottle isn’t too different from regular Abraxas with a black dripping effect background instead of a ruddy color. In small font in the bottom center of the label is the syndicated recipe for the beer, which states “ale with ancho chili peppers, cacao nibs, and cinnamon sticks [new line] with vanilla beans.” So just look for the very center bottom of the label for the words “with vanilla beans” for identification.
Like the previous Perennial imperial stouts I’ve reviewed, BA 17 and Maman, Vanilla Abraxas is used motor oil black even as it comes out of the bottle with no light penetration whatsoever. Once in the glass, extremely impressive ruddy to brown foam erupts and sticks around with outstanding retention for this style. The bubbles are fine and create a sheen, reflective effect. Bringing up the glass, there’s a robust autumn spice blend of cinnamon and nutmeg along with pumpernickel bread. There’s only a touch of peppery spice, so the overall effect is similar to a pumpkin porter. Neither the vanilla nor the ancho chilis are detectable at this stage.
A few sips in, it’s clear this is something special. The mouthfeel is silky smooth with a rich coating effect. Instead of having spices dominate, the primary flavor is melted buttery dark chocolate truffle. Chili pepper heat is toned down quite a bit to a 2/10 spice level. It’s a luxurious beer with moderate sweetness at a 5/10 and powerful roast for balance with bitterness peaking at an 8/10. Like in my reviews for some Moksa dessert stouts, the vanilla addition isn’t glaringly obvious. Instead, it adds depth to the beer and helps round out the flavor. I was fortunate to try this vanilla bean version side by side with regular Abraxas. My takeaway is that the regular version is spicier with bigger ancho chili presence. In addition, the regular Abraxas has hefty black licorice in both the aroma and flavor that I don’t get with the vanilla. The alcohol presence also seems to be better tempered with the vanilla version. And though I don’t have a good explanation, the vanilla version seems to be softer and creamier in mouthfeel. Overall, I enjoyed the vanilla more, but you do lose some of that chili pepper heat. For some, that may be the whole reason for seeking out Abraxas.
Two major things, I believe, contribute to this beer’s enjoyability over the BA 17 and Maman. First, it isn’t barrel-aged, which I thought didn’t do any favors for those previous imperial stouts. The barrel added sharp tannins, more booze, and dried out these beers when they really needed extra sugar for balance. Second, Abraxas (the base and its variants) contains lactose. Usually I’m not a fan of milk stouts, but in this case, the lactose addition is precisely what Perennial’s base imperial stout recipe needs. The mouthfeel is delightful, allowing you to enjoy every aspect of the beer. The spice additions are just icing on the cake.
I didn’t find this version to be an in-your-face Mexican hot chocolate experience like some other beers in this niche like Westbrook’s Mexican Cake or Stone’s Xocoveza. Instead, I found it to be incredibly well-rounded with perfect mouthfeel, mild heat, excellent fall spice flavors, and tons of melted dark chocolate. It’s a great beer that I believes does exactly what it set out to accomplish.
Stay tuned for the review of this year’s Coffee Abraxas!
* * *
The Full Pint is a fully independent website dedicated to bringing you the highest quality reviews of today’s craft beer. Our team has no financial conflicts of interest with the beer industry in order to give you the least biased information out there in today’s craft beer world. Please use the comment section below for general comments about this beer and/or our review. If you would like to see a specific beer reviewed or have general comments on reviews, please email info(at)thefullpint.com. For more information on how we review beer read here.