Review: Slow Elk, Big Sky Brewing

Slow Elk
Big Sky Brewing Co. — Missoula, MT

  • Style:  Oatmeal Stout
  • Bitterness:  20 IBUs
  • ABV:  5.4%
  • SRM:  45
  • Malts:  Not specified
  • Hops:  Not specified
  • Sampled:  12 oz. bottle

Description: "Happens every year; people shootin' cows. That's how the Slow Elk got its name. Enjoy the creamy texture, great malt complexity, and the unequaled smoothness of this Northern Rockies Oatmeal Stout. Stock your fridge the easy way and keep an ear open for the unmistakable bugle of the Slow Elk." — Big Sky Brewing Co.

Random thoughts:  Oatmeal Stouts are an underrated style. Their smooth and creamy texture set them apart. In addition, their roasty malt flavors make them perfect for fall and winter! If you've never tasted this style, you should. I even brewed my own Oatmeal Imperial Stout which turned out quite well. I'm tasting Slow Elk as part of my series on fall seasonal brews.

The tasting:  Very dark brown (near black) in color with a tan head that dissipates fairly quickly. Aroma is dominated by espresso and roasted malt, with notes of bittersweet chocolate. Flavor is very similar to aroma with the addition of light earthy hops. Overall bitterness is low and alcohol is not noticeable.  Slow Elk is light to medium bodied and has an effervescent mouth feel. It finishes with roasted malt a slight tangy flavor, which provided an unusual, but nice ending. The tanginess was very mild—definitely not sour or tart.

Rating:  3 star.  Good.  I would drink this again if someone gives it to me.  The body was a bit thinner than I was hoping for. I also didn't experience the creamy texture that, for me, is the hallmark of the style. If you're looking for a fall beer that's not an Oktoberfest or made with pumpkins, give Slow Elk a try. 

Have you tasted Slow Elk? What's your favorite fall seasonal?

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Beer Run: Fall Seasonals

Fall is officially here! It may be one of the four seasons, but from a beer perspective, Fall gets shortchanged. While summer beers still linger on grocery store shelves, winter beers are already emerging. The autumn beer season may be short, but it's a good one!

Two of the more popular fall varieties are Oktoberfests and pumpkin beers. Last year, I profiled bunch of pumpkin beers. This year, I'll limit myself to just two gourd beers. Instead, I've assembled a nice mix of fall seasonalsmany are new releases:

Have you tasted any of these? What are your favorite fall seasonals?

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Review: Oktoberfest, Pyramid Brewing

Pyramid Brewing Co. — Portland, OR

  • Style:  Autumn Lager
  • Bitterness:  Not specified
  • ABV:  6.7%  
  • Malts:  Pilsner, Munich, Carapils, Carared, Caramel
  • Hops:  Nugget and Mt. Hood
  • Sampled:  12 oz. bottle

Description: "A strong malt backbone is delicately balanced with hop bitterness to create an Oktoberfest with a deep amber color and rich caramel flavor.  The perfect beer to celebrate the fall season." — Pyramid Brewing Co.

Random thoughts:  Oktoberfest is a new release that replaced Juggernaut as Pyramid's fall seasonal. The real Oktoberfest (in Munich, Germany) kicked off this past Saturday. I'm participating in the world's biggest beer bash in absentia by drinking this beer. This is part of my series on fall seasonal brews.

The tasting:  Copper in color (perfect for fall), clear, with an off white head that dissipates fairly quickly. Aroma of caramel and toasted malt, spicy hops, and a hint of smoke. It's definitely a malt-forward beer. The flavors (and proportions of each) are similar to aroma. A mild malt sweetness emerges in the middle. Oktoberfest is light to medium bodied, softly carbonated, and finishes with toasted malt and a light spicy hop bitterness.

Rating:  3 star.  Good.  I would drink this again if someone gives it to me. Most of us probably won't be able to party in Munich under the Oktoberfest tents this fall. Instead, pick up this beer and have your own Oktoberfest!

Have you tasted Oktoberfest? What's your favorite fall seasonal?

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Oktoberfest Starts Today! Some Interesting Facts

Oktoberfest kicked off today in Munich, Germany and will run through October 7. An estimated 6 million are expected to attend, making it the world's largest beer festival!  For more facts about Oktoberfest, check out this infographic from the My Destination Travel Blog.

Have you ever visited Oktoberfest in Munich? How did you like it?

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Oktoberfest, a stein-inspired infographic from My Destination

Click to enlarge
Made by My Destination, locally informed, globally inspired travel guides and information.

Review: Vortex IPA, Fort George Brewery

Vortex IPA
Fort George Brewery + Public House — Astoria, OR

  • Style:  IPA
  • Bitterness:  97 IBUs
  • ABV:  7.7%  
  • Malts:  Organic 2-Row malted barley, Munich, Victory
  • Hops:  Simcoe, Amarillo, Centennial
  • Sampled:  16 oz. can

Description:  "India Pale Ales were designed to withstand the long voyage to India. Today, it seems one has to design the IPA strong and hoppy enough to make the trip back as well. Vortex IPA is Fort George’s contribution to the IPA arms race. With generous additions of Amarillo, Simcoe and Centennial hops throughout the brewing, fermentation and conditioning phases, balanced with heaps of organic pale malt, we designed this to not rip the taste buds off your tongue, but rather vigorously stimulate them and your palate into a lupulin-ecstasy of pleasure.  During the cross-country truck trip our brewery made to find its home in Astoria it was nearly scattered to the cornfields of Nebraska by a tornado. We try to capture some of nature’s intensity in every pint." — Fort George Brewery

Random thoughts:  Vortex IPA was one of the first canned beers released by Fort George. (The other was 1811 Lager.) I'm sampling Vortex as part of my series on Fort George's 16 oz. canned beers.

The tasting:  Deep golden orange in color, very hazy, with a white head that dissipates slowly. Aroma of pine, citrus, and caramel. The hop aromas dominate and provide a good indication of what's in store. Flavor is similar to aroma, expect grapefruit is more pervasive than pine. Underneath all of the hop flavors is a solid caramel malt backbone, which tempers the bitterness and provides nice balance. Some light alcohol is noticeable in the middle. Vortex IPA is medium bodied, has a resinous mouth feel, and finishes with lingering hop bitterness.

Rating:  4 star.  Really good!  I want this again!  If you want a big (but balanced) IPA, Vortex is hard to beat! It has the bold hop flavors you'd want in an IPA, but the caramel malt keeps the bitterness in check. To top it off, the 16 oz. can provides the perfect size!

Have you tasted Fort George's Vortex IPA?  What are your favorite Fort George beers?

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My Brewing Apprentice

My 6 year-old son started 1st grade a few weeks ago. On the first day of school, he was asked to draw a picture of himself. The picture below is the very first assignment of his elementary school career.

As a bit of background (and as he states in the picture), he likes to help me me make beer. If you're considering reporting me to the authorities, you should know that his experience does not include any sort of beer tasting. He helps me wash bottles and likes to dump hop additions into the boil. In the picture below, we're both holding bottles and a container of hops is on the table.

He seems to be very interested in the brewing process, so I'll continue to teach him more as he grows older. While I absolutely love his picture, I just can't help but wonder what his teachers are thinking.

Hopefully, they appreciate that I'm helping him to develop his chemistry skills. If nothing else, in fifteen years, my son will be able to brew the beer for his 21st birthday party. It'll be really good beer...

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Beer & Poker: What's Your Favorite Pairing?

When most people think about beer pairings, food comes to mind. For good reasonbeer is an excellent accompaniment to food. But there's another classic pairing that's long been popular, beer and cards.

With the advent of online gaming, you can now play virtually any card game online at sites like Casino Games. However, for the classic (and old school) experience, you need a group of friend and some beer. Then the question becomes what type of beer to serve at your poker party?

Domestic macrobrews are most likely the beer of choice at poker parties around the country. However, I think we can do better. If I had to pick a single style of beer to serve, I'd probably go with a Pale Ale. If you want to be more strategic in your selection, you might consider drinking low alcohol session beers while saving the Imperials (Stouts, IPAs, etc) and Barleywines for your friends. After all, if you win their money you might as well give them some great beer in exchange!

So the question for you is what beer would you serve at your poker party?

This post contains a sponsored link.

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Review: Witch Hunt, BridgePort

Witch Hunt
BridgePort Brewing Co. — Portland, OR

  • Style:  Spiced Harvest Ale
  • Bitterness:  40 IBUs
  • ABV:  5.8%  
  • Malts:  Caramel, Melanoidin, Pale
  • Hops:  Meridian and unspecified experimental varieties
  • Special Ingredients:  Nutmeg and Cinnamon
  • Sampled:  12 oz. bottle

Description:  "Something Wicked This Way Comes. From slightly sweet caramel malts, Witch Hunt offers intense dry hop character finished with a hint of cinnamon and nutmeg spices." — BridgePort Brewing Co.

Random thoughts:  Witch Hunt is a new release from BridgePort. In my recent interview with Brewmaster Jeff Edgerton, I learned about his inspiration for this pumpkin-less beer. This is part of my series on fall seasonal brews.

The tasting:  Deep copper in color, clear, with an off white head that dissipates slowly. It's beautiful in the glass. Aroma is full of spice! Nutmeg and cinnamon are front and center. It reminds me of a pumpkin pie, even though I know there's no pumpkin in this beer. Flavor of caramel, along with spice. While the nutmeg was stronger in aroma, the cinnamon plays the lead role in flavor. Overall, the spices mask the hop flavors. Malt sweetness is minimal and alcohol is noticeable in middle. Witch Hunt is light bodied and finishes dry with with a mild lingering spice bitterness.

Rating:  3 star.  Good.  I would drink this again if someone gives it to me.  In our interview, Jeff mentioned that pumpkin doesn't add much flavor. I totally agree. I've profiled a slew a slew of pumpkin beers over the past two years, and pumpkin flavor is surprisingly absent in most. These beers are all about spice! For me, a true "seasonal" beer should evoke the feeling of one of the four seasons. Witch Hunt does that. Take a sip, and you'll be ready for a cool fall evening!

Have you tasted Witch Hunt? What's your favorite fall seasonal?

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BridgePort's New Fall Releases: A Chat with Jeff Edgerton

Summer is winding down and fall will soon arrive. On the plus side, the change of seasons brings us new beers! BridgePort is welcoming fall by releasing two new beers—Witch Hunt and Hop Harvest. Jeff Edgerton, BridgePort Brewmaster, filled me in on the details.

Is a fall seasonal new for BridgePort?  Why did you decide to introduce a new beer for fall?

Jeff Edgerton:  We felt that we wanted a seasonal beer to transition from Summer Squeeze to Ebenezer.  A fall “harvest beer” seemed like a natural fit.

How did Witch Hunt come about?  Most spiced fall seasonals usually include pumpkin.  Why did you go a different route?

JE:  I had discovered the joy of the combination of apple pie and beer so I designed this beer with that in mind.  I wanted this beer to remind the drinker of a slice of apple pie or apple crisp.  So we used hops with a decidedly fruity character, we spiced with cinnamon and nutmeg, and we used caramel malts to make an inviting caramel color and background slightly sweet maltiness.  I have never understood the use of actual pumpkin in beer.  It has so little flavor on its own.  The pumpkin pie spices are what you taste. ·        

Did you brew some test batches of Witch Hunt and serve them in your pubs?

JE:  We brewed two test batches at OSU.  The first batch we didn’t like the spice balance.  It’s very easy to go over the top with the spice flavors. We adjusted the spice components and brewed the second batch. That was it. We did not serve these in the pub.

With the new release of Witch Hunt, will the release of Ebenezer be delayed?

JE: It’s always a little tricky knowing how to transition from one seasonal to another so the Witch Hunt will really help us to release Ebenezer at a more appropriate time. It’s a little early to release a holiday beer when it’s still 90 degrees outside. 

Does BridgePort have a barrel aging program?  If so, how many and what types of barrels do you use?

JE:  We have done barrel aging using Jack Daniels barrels, Maker’s Mark barrels, and local Pinot Noir barrels. We also do some beers as oak-aged using virgin oak chips in the tanks. Our next Big Brew release will be an Oak-Aged Old Knucklehead following Hop Harvest. All of these methods create interesting and unique flavors.  Most of this has been for the purposes of creating one-off beers and we don’t have a “barrel-aging program” in the formal sense. We own some barrels, sometimes we buy a few barrels, but nothing on a regular basis.

This year’s Hop Harvest is a pilsner, which is a departure from recent years. Why did you change the style?

JE: The Hop Harvest beer has always been a platform for experimentation for us and we have made tweaks and adjustments to the recipes every year.  This year we decided to use a pilsner malt (Great Western Malting Superior Pilsen) base and a lager yeast and make an Imperial pilsner style fresh hop beer.  We used Austrian Aurora hops in the kettle (pellets) for bittering, and about 4 lbs/barrel of Oregon grown Tettnang fresh hops from Goschie Farms in the hopjack.

In your opinion, how does the experience of drinking a fresh hop beer differ from a beer made with traditional dried hops?

JE:  If you’ve ever been in a hop dryer full of fresh green hops you realize that many components of hop aroma and flavor are lost during the necessary drying process. Our unique ability here in hop country is that we can take advantage of our proximity to the fields and try to capture some of those beautiful aromas and flavors once a year. It’s difficult to put into words but it’s a more complex flavor that we try to capture the best that we can.  We get one shot a year.

When will Hop Harvest ’12 be brewed and released? 

JE: Bridgeport’s Hop Harvest Pilsner is already in kegs and will be bottled by the 19th of September. It should hit the store shelves around the last week in September.

Thanks to Jeff for taking the time to share the details about his new fall releases! Here's my review of Witch Hunt, part of my upcoming series on new fall seasonal releases.

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Review: 1811 Lager, Fort George Brewery

1811 Lager
Fort George Brewery + Public House — Astoria, OR

  • Style:  Lager
  • Bitterness:  Not specified
  • ABV:  5.1%  
  • Malts:  Organic 2-Row malted barley, cracked maize
  • Hops:  Sterling and Galena
  • Sampled:  16 oz. can

Description:  "Two centuries ago, on the site of what is now the Fort George Brewery block, fur magnate John Jacob Astor’s expedition boldly built a trading post they called Astoria—the first US settlement west of the Rocky Mountains. Today, we’re proud to craft the Official Bicentennial Beer of Astoria.  Many West Coast brewers in the 19th century had no ice, so they improvised an effervescent beer by brewing lager yeasts at higher-than-normal temperatures. Described as a “refreshing drink, much consumed by the laboring classes,” it’s the inspiration for 1811 lager." — Fort George Brewery

Random thoughts:  1811 Lager, along with Vortex IPA were the first two beers that Fort George released in cans. Made for Astoria's bicentennial, 1811 is brewed with lager yeast at higher than normal temperatures. I'm sampling 1811 Lager as part of my series on Fort George's 16 oz. canned beers. This beer is quite popular with some of the local bloggers. Beervana's Jeff Alworth awarded his coveted Satori Award to 1811.

The tasting:  Golden color, hazy, with a white head that dissipates slowly. Aroma of bread, light grass, citrus and spicy hops. The hop aromas were stronger than I expected for a lager, but still nice. Flavor similar to aroma, except the grapefruit hop bitterness was more pronounced in the middle than the grass and herbal spice. Light alcohol is present in aroma and flavor. There's a touch of malty sweetness in the middle, but the hop bitterness quickly kicks in to temper it. It's light bodied, has an effervescent mouth feel, and finishes very dry with a lingering grassy hop bitterness. 

Rating:  3 star.  Good. I would drink this again if someone gives it to me.  If you're looking for a traditional lager, know that 1811 definitely veers towards the hoppy side. It's a great example of a NW lager. Hops providing the NW component, as you might expect.

Have you tasted Fort George's 1811 Lager?  What are your favorite Fort George beers?

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Review: Sunrise Oatmeal Pale Ale, Fort George Brewery

Sunrise OPA
Fort George Brewery + Public House — Astoria, OR

  • Style:  Pale Ale
  • Bitterness:  Not specified
  • ABV:  5.2%  
  • Malts:  Organic 2-Row, oatmeal, chocolate malt
  • Hops:  Rainier and Cascade
  • Sampled:  16 oz. can

Description:  Nice and Creamy session-style American Pale Ale.  Good beer for drinking anytime of the day, even when the sun is rising, due to its dry nature with Mild bitterness and lovely hop aroma.  This beer is based on the first beer ever produced at the Fort George Brewery, Beer #1, We decided to add 50 lbs of Oatmeal to make it even better. Famous quote: “I’ll have just one more OPA, please.” This beer has become a staff staple. — Fort George Brewery

Random thoughts:  Oatmeal in a beer? It seemed like a strange idea before I tasted my first beer brewed with oatmeal (a stout). Then I realized what the fuss was all about. Oatmeal can add an incredible silky smooth mouth feel. I even brewed by own beer with oatmeal and was thrilled with the results. This is part of my series on Fort George's 16 oz. canned beers.

The tasting:  Light golden orange in color, hazy, with a white head that dissipates very slowly. Aroma of light caramel with grapefruit and floral notes. While overall aroma is fairly subdued, the hops are most noticeable. Flavor is dominated by bitter grapefruit hops from the front to the finish. If I was tasting this blind, I would have thought it was an IPA. Sunrise OPA is medium bodied and has a smooth mouth feel, It's moderately carbonated and finishes with a long lingering grapefruit bitterness. 

Rating:  3 star.  Good.  I would drink this again if someone gives it to me.  I wasn't crazy about the intense, one note hop bitterness. It was far more than I expected for a Pale Ale. My guess is they used more early boil bittering hops and less late boil aroma hops. I've tasted this before, and remember liking it better. Perhaps my tastes have changed.

Have you tasted Fort George's Sunrise OPA? Did you results differ from mine? What's your favorite Fort George 16 oz. can?

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An Evening at Explore Your Craft - Portland

In mid-July, I attended Explore Your Craft in Portland. Sponsored by Widmer Brothers Brewing and Draft Magazine, it was a unique event that combined food, beer, and art. Here's the event description from the Explore Your Craft website: 

"DRAFT has partnered with Widmer Brothers Brewing to create Explore Your Craft, an evening celebrating the artistry of brewing, cooking, visual art and musical performance. Centered around the Widmer Brothers’ collection, a chef-designed menu features dishes made specifically for and with Widmer beer, served at pairing stations throughout the space. A visual and musical feast fills the room, with a live performance artist and unique soundscapes from some of the area’s most celebrated musicians. Once inspired by pints and plates, patrons can pick up a paintbrush and join our artist in creating a special, one-of-a-kind work of art."

If you like beer and food, this was the place to be! There were 4 food stations. Each with 4-5 appetizers, paired with a beer from Widmer Brothers. Attendees were treated to all-you-can-drink pours of this taplist:

Shaddock IPA
Nelson Imperial IPA
Citra Blonde Summer Brew
Drifter Pale Ale
Pitch Black IPA
Drop Top Amber Ale
Marionberry Hibiscus Gose
Raspberry Russian Imperial Stout
Kill Devil Brown Ale

The food was delicious and the pairing were well done. I won't attempt to describe it and will let my pictures do the talking. In addition to Portland, Explore Your Craft will be held in six cities across the USA during the next few months. If it makes a stop near you, don't miss it! Check the website for updates.

Minneapolis:  September 13, 2012
Washington, DC:  October 10, 2012
San Francisco:  Date TBD
San Diego:  Date TBD
Seattle:  November 15, 2012
Boston:  Date TBD

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Ancho Molasses Rubbed Buffalo Sirloin

Goat Cheese, Hazelnut Arugula Salad.  Alder Smoked Bean Spread on Crostini

Charcuterie from Olympic Provisions

Roasted Apple Chicken Pate and Pimento Cheese Spread with Crostini 

Crushed Orange and Chili Pork Sliders

Artisanal Cheese from Cheese Bar

Dark Chocolate and Bacon Canapes with Candied Orange Rind and Smoked Sea Salt

Dark Chocolate Brownie w/ Raspberry Aspic. Incredible paired with Raspberry Russian Imperial Stout!


Beer Run: Fort George's 16 oz. Cans

In March 2011, Fort George Brewery + Public House in Astoria, began distribution of its beer in 16 oz cans. It started by releasing 1811 Lager and Vortex IPA. Since then, it has added three additional beers to its can lineup.

Unfortunately, I have not yet had the chance to visit Fort George in Astoria. So until I make the trip, I'll get to know Fort George better by tasting each of their canned brews:

Have you visited Fort George Brewery + Public House? What's your favorite Fort George Beer?

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Review: Quick Wit, Fort George Brewery

Quick Wit
Fort George Brewery + Public House — Astoria, OR

  • Style:  Wit
  • Bitterness:  Not specified
  • ABV:  5.2%  
  • Malts:  2-Row malted barley, organic wheat malt,
  • Hops: Liberty
  • Special Ingredients:  Coriander, lemongrass, elderflower
  • Sampled:  16 oz. can

Description:  "A Belgian Style ale that’s very pale and cloudy in appearance due it being unfiltered and its high level of wheat. Wit beer is traditionally brewed with coriander and orange zest.  Ours uses organic pale and wheat malts, ground coriander, organic lemongrass (to impart a citrus character) and wild-crafted elderflower. There is no bitterness evident in this beer whatsoever, which gives your palate room to explore the smooth wheat malt and tantalizingly exotic spices that will quietly entertain your thirst." — Fort George Brewery

Random thoughts:  Wits are a great style for summer.  They're low in bitterness, light and refreshing. I'm sampling Quick Wit as part of my series on Fort George's 16 oz. canned beers.

The tasting:  Golden orange in color with a white head that dissipates very quickly. This beer is not filtered and it's very hazy in appearance. Strong aroma of coriander, clove, white pepper, and lemongrass. I don't know what elderflower tastes like, so I'm not sure if I can detect it. Flavor of coriander, bread, orange zest, and lemongrass. Overall, it's complex with many layers of flavor. Hop bitterness is very low and a touch of alcohol is noticeable in the middle. Quick Wit is light bodied, has a effervescent mouth feel, and finishes dry with a spicy clove and lemongrass. 

Rating:  4 star.  Really good!  I want this again!  Although summer has unofficially ended, we're still likely to have great summer-like weather that will pair perfectly with this beer. Among the wits I have tasted, the lemongrass gives Quick Wit a unique twist. If you haven't tasted a wit or other Belgian-style beers, this will provide a good introduction to the spicy flavors that result from Belgian yeast. It's also an excellent example of how herbs (other than hops) can provide flavor to beer!

Have you tasted Fort George's Quick Wit?  What are your favorite Fort George beers?

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A New Look for Widmer Brothers?

In March 2011, Widmer Brothers redesigned their label and package designs in an attempt to unify branding and "bring the focus back to the beer". Here's my original coverage. At the time (and even now) I didn't like the redesign because the labels were "cookie-cutter" and boring. As a whole, the redesign gave the Widmer beer portfolio a common look. However, it robbed the individual beers of a unique visual identity. That may be about to change.

Widmer Brothers Brewing Co. recently received government label approval for O'Ryely IPA and Columbia Common. As you can see from the images below, these labels have an entirely new look. I think they're stunning!

I love the return of the original "W" logo. This version, sans the red background and wheat springs is simple and elegant. Its prominent placement provides the brand unity Widmer achieved through the redesign. But now, each beer has a different visual identity via unique artwork.

These are the only two labels that have been revealed, so it remains to be seen if Widmer will stick to a limited blue / green color palette. Regardless, I think these labels are beautiful and I can't wait to see more! 

So, what do you think of this new look?  Do you prefer Widmer's current or new designs?

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