Recently in Stillwater Category

Stillwater As Follows

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The label sez this is "An Eschatological ale", which sounds gross, but is actually about the study of the end of the world. I guess I need to get my mind out of the gutter this week. Anywho, this is yet another ale brewed in honor/mockery of the overplayed Mayan calendar thing last year, and I suppose the Belgian Strong Pale Ale style is, for some odd reason, commonly used for such apocalyptic themes. La Fin Du Monde ("The End of the World"), "Duvel" (a "Devil" of a beer), and so on. Of course, that puts this up against some pretty stiff competition, so let's see how it holds up:

Stillwater As Follows

Stillwater As Follows - Pours a cloudy straw yellow color with massive amounts of fluffy white head and high retention. Smells sweet and spicy, pure Belgian yeast, some biscuity notes, perhaps even some orange peel. Taste also starts sweet and spicy, actually lots of spice, white pepper, coriander, clove, and the like, some earthy hop presence emerging in the middle, finishing dry. Mouthfeel is highly carbonated, crisp, refreshing, and again, finishing dry. Would make a great palate cleanser for meals. Overall, a wonderful Belgian style pale ale, well balanced and complex, this could stand toe to toe with the best Belgium has to offer. A-

Beer Nerd Details: 9% ABV bottled (750 ml capped). Drank out of a goblet on 2/9/13.

Stillwater hasn't wowed me with my last few samples, so this one was a welcome return to form. I don't have any additional Stillwater in the immediate pipeline, but being basically MD based, I can usually get a crack at their new stuff. Particularly interested in trying more of their barrel aged series, even if my experience with them so far hasn't been all that great...

The tale of this beer begins back at Stillwater's first anniversary, when they made a Belgian Strong Dark in the mold of a foreign export stout. That beer was called 25 To One, and has since been tweaked a bit, renamed Folklore, and moved into Stillwater's regular lineup. In addition, this is one of the base beers for their barrel aging program, and several different versions have been made. What I have here is a beer aged in 20 year old Pappy Van Winkle barrels. Only 1200 bottles made, a steep price tag, and a gorgeous minimalist label, but alas, I found myself a little disappointed by the contents of said bottle:

Stillwater Folklore - The Tale of Van Winkle

Stillwater Folklore - The Tale Of Van Winkle - Pours a very dark, almost black color with a skimpy, light brown head. Smell is all about bourbon and oak (maybe some coconut from the barrel aging too), with just the faintest hint of roasted malts. Similarly, the taste is comprised mostly of bourbon, with oak falling into the background and whatever roasty smoke character exists is almost completely muted. The bourbon doesn't feel like it'd be overpowering either, but it's really the flavor that is emphasized the most here. Mouthfeel is surprisingly thin for a barrel aged brew, well carbonated, some boozy burn from the bourbon. Overall, while certainly not a bad brew, it's a bit disappointing. Bourbon is the star here, with the base beer contributing little. I like me some bourbon, but this just isn't balanced very well and the base beer doesn't seem to stand up to the barrel aging process very well... B-

Beer Nerd Details: 8.4% ABV bottled (375 ml capped). Drank out of a snifter on 11/24/12.

Opinions on BA and Ratebeer seem to be wildly divergent, but I'm definitely not the only one who thought the bourbon overpowered the base beer. I still like Stillwater quite a bit, and some of their other barrel aged beers seem to have a better reputation, so I'll be keeping my eye out for those.

My Hands Are So Tired!

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Tired Hands Brewing Company continues to be the most interesting new local brewery around here, and it seems I'm not the only one on board. Apparently Tired Hands is in the frontrunner for RateBeer's coveted New Brewer of the Year award. Despite only having launched a few short months ago, Tired Hands' brews hold six of the top 10 spots on RateBeer's charts. Score one for the home team, let's have a look at some more of their beers:

Tired Hands Single Hop Saison Nelson Sauvin

Tired Hands Single Hop Saison (Nelson Sauvin) - The second in a series of beers showcasing different hop varietals and blurring the line between saisons and IPAs. Last time I was at Tired Hands, I was most pleased with the Simcoe version, and now I get to try the one made with New Zealand hops known as Nelson Sauvin. Pours a very light, cloudy straw yellow color with a finger or two of head... Smells utterly fantastic, bright citrusy fruit and some floral notes matched with a hint of bready, spicy yeast. Taste packs a whole lot of flavor, lots of that juicy citrus hop character and saison yeast spice come out to play, punctuated by a dry, earthy bitterness in the finish. The mouthfeel is a little low on the carbonation... It's still really good, but I wish there was a little more here. Easy enough to drink, and certainly a solid offering, but I enjoyed the Simcoe slightly more... on the upper end of B+

Beer Nerd Details: 5% ABV on tap (8 oz). Drank out of a wine glass on 10/13/12.

Tired Hands Hop Hands

Hophands - This is one of their sorta flagship brews, a rather light pale ale that's quite well balanced. Another straw yellow beer, slightly cloudy, finger of bubbly head. Smells of grassy, citrusy, piney hops, not quite as potent as the Nelson Sauvin Saison, but well balanced citrus and pine aromas with a bit of floral character. Taste is light and hop forward, again with the combo of citrus and pine and grassy hops, some low intensity bitterness in the finish. Mouthfeel is crisp and light, very easy drinking, downright quaffable stuff. Clocking in at 4.8% ABV, I could drink this all night. Overall, a really nice pale... that I should really try by itself some time. Provisional B+

Beer Nerd Details: 4.8% ABV on tap (4 oz). Drank out of a mini-pint glass thingy on 10/13/12.

Tired Hands/Stillwater ArtiSnale

Tired Hands/Stillwater ArtiSnale - A collaboration with Stillwater Artisanal and a most excellent local beer bar (if you read this blog, you've seen lots of pictures of beers from this place), Teresa's Next Door (which is really just down the road a bit from Tired Hands). This is a big stout brewed with... snale shells? Ah, I see what they did with the name there. Kinda riffing on oyster stouts, I guess. Pours a very dark brown color with a finger of light brown head. Smells of roasted malt and coffee. Taste follows the nose, lots of roasty malt and coffee flavors, but the finish takes a light, sweet, pleasant turn that I can't quite place. In RateBeer's newsletter, they mention that there's "a touch of salinity, likely from the usage of escargot shells" which is probably what I was detecting in the finish there. Mouthfeel is medium bodied, making this drink like a smaller beer, but that's actually very nice. Not my favorite beer evar, but very well crafted stuff and apparently the snales actually added something to the proceedings. B+

Beer Nerd Details: 8% ABV on tap (4 oz). Drank out of a mini-pint glass thingy on 10/13/12.

I apparently just missed out on Vampire, their Halloween-themed IPA brewed with blood oranges that seemed to be turning heads. Ah well, the joys of the small local brewpub - no way I'll be able to keep up with all their brews, but it's probably worth trying!

Stillwater Brunello Barrel Aged Debauched

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When barrel-aged Stillwater brews started showing up around here, I was a little slow to catch on and thus missed out on some of this guy's prized brews. Fortunately, I've been in the process of rectifying that, starting with this beer, a saison brewed with whole juniper bushes and a touch of smoked malt, fermented with Brettanomyces, and aged in Brunello (Italian red wine) barrels.

Now, in general, I tend to see red wine barrels used to age darker beers. Think Supplication, Consecration, Black Hole (in my cellar, will be cracking open this fall), or the recently announced Red Thunder. Brown ales, stouts, porters. And while I'm not a wine expert, this pairing makes a certain sort of sense. Red wine goes with dark beer, white wine goes with lighter colored beers. Maybe I'm just tragically ignorant in my assumptions here, but hey, I'm a big tent kinda guy, so let's get this debauchery started:

Stillwater Brunello Barrel Aged Debauched

Stillwater Brunello Barrel Aged Debauched - Pours a clear yellowish color, maybe some light orange tints too, and a finger of white head. Smells funky, with a bit of sour twang, some vinous character, and maybe some yeasty spice. Taste is sweet, lots of tangy vinous notes, some funky Brett and spicy yeast coming out... Not really sour, but plenty of acidity and grape-like tartness... Mouthfeel is light and crisp, with a burst of carbonation that fades quickly into a more wine-like finish. I'm not entirely sure how much I love that finish, actually, though it's certainly an uncommon mouthfeel. Interesting beer, really glad I tried it, but it's not something that really blew me away. I'll call it like I see it and give it a B, but it was interesting enough that I'd like to try it again sometime.

Beer Nerd Details: 6.7% ABV on tap. Drank out of a tulip glass on 10/7/12.

Despite not being blown away by this, I'm still looking forward to exploring more of the Stillwater catalog (of which I've only really scratched the surface), including a bottle of bourbon-barrel aged Folklore that I was able to snag recently. Quite excited about that one, actually, so expect a review in a few weeks or so.

A Saison Darkly

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Okay, I give up. We can discuss the merits and demerits of style definitions all day, we can even devise new ways to evaluate styles, but I defy anyone to make sense of the "Saison" style of beer. I do believe it's the least coherent style in the history of beer. Ostensibly a rustic, farmhouse beer, there are many classics of the style, starting with Saison Dupont, which I've come to think of as it's own subclass of saisons. Sweet and spicy, it's pretty much what I look for in a saison. But then you've got another class of saisons that are lighter and dryer, your Cellar Doors or Jack D'Ors. Then are the earthy, Brett dosed beers, a la Saison Rue. If that represented most beers that were labeled saison, I think we'd be in good shape, but then Fantôme has to explode the entire notion of the style by making super tart, even sour examples of the style. Sometimes you'll get a saison that's in the 3-4% ABV range, sometimes you get one around 10%, and anywhere inbetween.

But even after all that, there is at least one commonality between all these sub-styles: a pale color. Well fuck that. It turns out that there are a number of dark saisons too. Shit. Basically, if you pick up a beer labeled saison, you can look forward to something with anywhere from 3-10% ABV, pale to dark color, sweet and spicy to earthy and roasty or what the hell, maybe even (intentionally) sour.

On the other hand, I'm rarely disappointed by Saisons, even when they're not what I expected, and they're a pretty versatile beer, working in a great number of situations. Need something light and fluffy for summer drinkin? A saison will do ya. Need something to pair with food? Saisons, especially dry saisons, are actually a pretty good fit. Want to blow your mind? Pick up one of the higher ABV saisons. Need a sessionable lawnmower beer? Pick up one of the lower ABV varieties (these are relatively rare, but it seems to be a popular homebrew choice).

Anyways, here's my first dark saison, and like everything I've had from Stillwater, it's pretty darn good. It also marks a rash* of Phillip K. Dick inspired brews, also including the Grassroots/Tired Hands Do Saisons Dream Of Electric Yeast?** Fortunately, drinking this beer didn't inspire any paranoia... except about the saison style definition, I guess.

Stillwater A Saison Darkly

Stillwater A Saison Darkly - Pours a very dark brown color with tons of khaki coloed head and visible sediment at the bottom of the glass. When held up to the light, you can see beautiful ruby red highlights. Smells strongly of musty Belgian yeast, tons of spice and a little fruit too. Taste is sweet, with lots of spiciness and some very nicely balanced roasted malt notes. Mouthfeel is full bodied with a highly carbonated, spicy bite, and a somewhat dry finish. An interesting take on the saison style, this one grows on me the more I drink. B+

Beer Nerd Details: 8% ABV bottled (11.2 oz) Drank out of a goblet on 5/12/12.

I've always liked Stillwater, but they're emerging as a go-to brewery for me these days. And there are tons of brews I haven't sampled yet either... Nothing in the immediate pipeline, but you'll definitely be seeing more of their stuff on the blog.

* Two beers counts as a rash, right?

** But don't worry, there's plenty of PKD available for the taking. The Märzen in the High Castle, The Three Hop Rhizomes of Palmer Eldritch (oh, oh, The Tripel Stigmata of Palmer Eldrich!), Flow My Beers, the Policeman Said, The Fermentation of Timothy Archer, and probably tons of others.

Stillwater Holland Oats

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I see what they did there, and that label is pretty awesome. I don't know who the two guys are, though they certainly have nice mustaches akin to Mr. Oates in his heydey. But the real genius part of the label is the tiger, which I can only assume is a maneater.

Stillwater Holland Oats

Stillwater/Emelisse Holland Oats - Pours a dark amber color with a finger of light head and some lacing as I drink. Smells strongly of floral hops, with some citrus and resiny pine also evident. It's also got some rich caramel malt character too. The taste starts sweet, then comes some caramel/toffee notes, followed by those floral, resiny hop flavors, finishing with a light hoppy bitterness. Mouthfeel is great, medium bodied, lightly carbonated, very smooth and almost quaffable. Overall, a very well crafted beer! B+

Beer Nerd Details: 6.6% ABV bottled (11.2 oz). Drank out of a tulip glass on 5/18/12.

This was actually one of them gypsy collaborations with Dutch brewers Emelisse, who seem to have a pretty good reputation amongst the beer dorks. I've seen them on tap occasionally around town, but haven't partook in any of their libations. I shall have to remedy that. Also worthy of note, this alternative label design. Heh. Stillwater is emerging as a go to brewer for me, and I have at least one more review in the pipeline for them...

Beer Club: The End is Beer

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Tonight was beer club, a meeting of beer minded individuals from my work who get together for a meal and lots-o-beer once a month. We had a good turnout this month, with quite a few interesting beers to try. As usual, we hit up a local BYOB, this time a Thai place. Good times were had by all.

Beer Club March 2012
(Click for bigger image)

For the sake of posterity, some thoughts on each beer we tried are below. As usual, conditions were not ideal, so the below probably isn't completely representative of reality. In order of drinking (not in order of the picture above):

  • Elysian NIBIRU Yerba Mate Tripel - I arrived a bit late to the gathering, so I didn't get to have a lot of this, but it was a nice Tripel style beer with a twist. Apparently part of a twelve beer series celebrating the Mayan apocalypse of 2012... (also the source of the "End is Beer" pun). I wouldn't call it a top tier beer, but it was nice. B
  • Lakefront New Grist Sorghum Beer - Wow, is this a light colored beer. Incredibly light beer in every way. Not bad, per say, but there's not a ton of flavor here either. It reminded me a lot of a less tasty but better balanced Coors Light, if that makes any sense (which it probably doesn't). Certainly not a great beer, but it has it's place. C+
  • Tröegs Nugget Nectar - I've actually reviewed this before, but I've revisited it a couple times since then and I have to admit that it gets better every time I try it. Nice hoppy citrus and pine resin character, with some earthy/herbal notes as well. An excellent beer, I'd upgrade this to a B+, maybe even higher (this was generally considered the best beer of the night by beer club homies)
  • My Homebrewed Simcoe IPA - Seemed to go over very well with the beer club folks, even the people who don't normally love IPAs. Not to toot my own horn, but this did turn out really well. Tons of citrus and a little pine from the hops in both the nose and taste. The bitterness is well matched and pleasant. Really solid beer. B+
  • Atwater Dirty Blonde Ale - A very nice, sessionable wheat ale that sorta suffered from being tasted after a few stronger, fuller flavored brews. A very nice beer, to be sure, but it was hard to really pronounce it a great beer compared to other beers in the tasting. B-
  • Stillwater Of Love & Regret - Another of my contributions to the night, I bought this last week without realizing that I'd actually had it before, so I figured I'd share the wealth. The bottle did sorta explode when I popped the cap, instantly foaming over. Luckily, we did not lose much of it, and the beer still tasted wonderful. It's got a saison style feel to it, but a little fruitiness and lots of spice too. Very nice beer and one of my favorites of the night, though some others didn't care as much for this one... B+
  • Great Lakes Conway's Irish Ale - This Irish Red Ale seems to share something with the typical English Pale Ale style, though this time around, there's enough flavor around to make it feel balanced and actually decent. I enjoyed this beer, despite not being very blown away by it. B-
  • Lagunitas A Little Sumpin' Sumpin' Ale - A very nice IPA style beer, though BA lists it as an American Pale Wheat Ale. Not sure what that means, but it turns out that it's a lot like a regular old (well, a very good, actually) IPA. Lots of American Hop Character, quite nice. I'd like to try it again sometime... B+
  • Left Hand Milk Stout - Another beer I've had before and enjoyed. Reminds me very much of Lancaster's Milk Stout - very roasty, some coffee flavors, and overall a decent roasty stout. Solid, but not one of my favorites. B
  • New Belgium Lips Of Faith - Cocoa Mole - A most unusual beer. I get lots of caramel malt and chocolate out of this, but the chipotle spice is what really gives this beer an extra kick. It was pretty good in the context of beer club, though I'm not sure I'd love to drink an entire bottle of the stuff. B
  • AleSmith Old Numbskull - My other contribution for the night, this was the biggest beer of the night, and boy does it have an intense aroma/flavor profile. Lots of caramel and citrusy, resinous hops. Really nice and I liked it a lot, but I was glad to have shared it with a bunch of other folks. Overall, might be the second best beer of the night behind the Nugget Nectar. B+
A great time was had by all, so it was another successful beer club, and as always, I'm already looking forward to next month!

Philly Beer Week: Stillwater Event

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Philly Beer Week kicked off last week, but since I'm one of those suburban types, I'm not sure how often I'll be able to make it into the city for the festivities. Lucky for me, there are quite a few events happening out here in the burbs, so who knows, I may end up filling my schedule with good beer this week.

First up was an event on Saturday that featured Stillwater Artisanal Ales, 12% Importers (who happen to work with Stillwater quite a bit for reasons I'll get into in a bit), and the Shelton Brothers Importers (who import a crapton of foreign beers, including the likes of Cantillon, Mikkeller, Fantôme and more). The focus of the event was Stillwater, which is another "virtual brewery" (or "gypsy brewer") like Mikkeller. Brewer Brian Strumke doesn't have a brewery of his own - he basically schedules time with breweries that have excess capacity and then brews his beers there. It turns out that the majority of his brewing is done at the DOG brewery in Maryland, and he says that once they got up and running, he doesn't need to be as involved in the day to day brewing activities. He also makes trips over to Belgium and does some limited edition stuff there that is then imported (by the aforementioned 12% importers).

I didn't get a chance to speak with him that much, but I did ask him why he seemed to primarily brew saisons and how he liked to differentiate his brews from others that specialize in the style. He seems to enjoy the variety that saisons afford, and he also mentioned that he tends to prefer dry beers, as they go much better with food. I get the impression that he really likes working with saison yeast strains as well, as there were a couple beers featured that were not typical saison styles, but which apparently used saison yeast (more on this below). I actually mentioned that I was planning a saison homebrew and was thinking of using the Wyeast 3711 French Saison yeast instead of the 3724 Belgian Saison yeast, and he mentioned that a bunch of his brews used the French Saison yeast and that if I was worried about temperature control (which I am!), that was the way to go. He talked a bit about the first time he used the Belgian Saison yeast and how hot it got during fermentation (upwards of 90 degrees), but he also has access to equipment that is slightly more advanced than my crappy plastic bucket.

I felt kinda dorky asking him about homebrew and I hope I wasn't being too bothersome, but he seemed to perk up when I asked him about it (I guess it's better or at least different than the typical questions he gets, which I imagine revolve around his "gypsy" brewing lifestyle). He gave me two pieces of advice when it comes to extract homebrewing (we were talking about saisons and dark Belgian styles): 1. Use the lightest malt extract available and 2. Try to do mini-mash as soon as you're comfortable with it, because you're otherwise totally at the mercy of the folks producing the extract (and there's apparently not much consistency or control over that part of the process). He mentioned how in his early homebrewing days he tried using one of those pots with a built in spaghetti strainer to do a mini-mash (with what I gathered were mixed results, but it was a fun story). I don't know that I'm quite ready for mini-mash just yet, but it's something to keep in mind.

Stillwater has only been around for a little over a year, but it's been getting a lot of attention and garnering a lot of "top new brewer" awards and the like, but Brian seemed to be very down to earth and focused on making good beer. I'm definitely going to be keeping my eyes out for more Stillwater beer in the future. I did manage to sample quite a few of their beers, along with a couple of others during the day (conditions weren't exactly ideal - most of the below was served in plastic cups, though I did get a glass for the first one):

Stillwater Cellar Door

Stillwater Cellar Door - Apparently the phrase "cellar door" is among the most beautiful sounding phrases in the English language. Pours a hazy light orange color with a fluffy white head. Smells of Belgian yeast and candi. Taste is sweet and spicy with just a hint of citrus. The spice in this was really different and I couldn't place it, but someone mentioned that it was sage, which makes sense. The mouthfeel is actually very dry (not surprising, given what Brian said), which really just made me want to drink more. Is it my favorite saison ever? Probably not, but it's really good and distinct from other saison offerings. B+

Beer Nerd Details: 6.6% ABV on tap. Drank out of a tulip glass.

Stillwater Of Love and Regret - This was apparently Brian's first beer made in Belgium that was then imported back to the US. Pours a bit darker. Smells very fruity and sweet, with a taste to match. There's a very floral component to the nose that was quite pleasing and complex. And unsurprisingly, it was extremely dry (even moreso than the Cellar Door). It's a little smoother, and the alcohol is a little stronger. Overall, a pretty good brew. B+

Beer Nerd Details: 7.2% ABV on tap. Drank out of a plastic cup.


Stillwater Jaded

Stillwater Jaded - Another Import Series beer made in collaboration with De Struise in Belgium, this is a dark wheat beer brewed with a saison yeast. Beer Advocate just calls it a Belgian Strong Dark Ale, but that belies the complexity of what's really going on this beer. Pours a deep garnet color with a minimum of head. The nose is filled with dark fruit and sweet malts. Only really a hint of Belgian yeast in the nose. Taste starts sweet and finishes somewhat dry (not as much as the previous, but for a beer this big, it's relatively dry). Some caramel is apparent in the taste as well. Very smooth beer that's dangerously drinkable given the high ABV. Overall, my second favorite of the day. A

Beer Nerd Details: 10% ABV on tap. Drank out of a plastic cup.

De Struise Outblack - This is a collaboration between Stillwater and De Struise in Belgium, though I guess De Struise claims this as their own. I didn't get the full story on this one, but it seems like the recipe was a standard De Struise beer that was modified. Pours very dark with a creamy tan head (good retention). Smells a bit roasty, with just a hint of fruitiness. Taste is sweet and roasty with a nice, sweet finish (not as dry as most of the other beers I had that day). It's almost stoutish, but not quite. Too much character added by that saison yeast to really call it a stout. Another quite enjoyable beer. B+

Beer Nerd Details: 10% ABV on tap. Drank out of a plastic cup.

Stillwater / Mikkeller Two Gypsies - Our Side - Two of the world's most famous gypsy brewers collaborating on one beer. Awesome. Pours a cloudy light amber color with about a finger of thick white head. Smell is filled with citrus fruits and hops. Taste is sweet and fruity with just a hint of tartness in the dry finish. It's not super bitter or anything, but it reminds me a lot of a citrusy pale ale. My favorite beer of the day. A

Beer Nerd Details: 7.5% ABV bottled (I didn't drink the whole bottle, it was shared!). Drank out of a plastic cup.


Hof Ten Dormaal Blonde

Hof Ten Dormaal Blonde - I spoke with the 12% Importer guy (sorry, don't remember his name!) and he mentioned that this was one of his biggest new imports. It's apparently made on this crazy self-sustaining farm where the whole brewing/bottling process takes place. Apparently there's been some issues with carbonation (i.e. there's lots of it!), but it's quite good anyway. It's similar to something like Saison Dupont, but it's perhaps just a bit dryer. I enjoyed it, but didn't love it. B+

Beer Nerd Details: 8% ABV bottled (I didn't drink the whole bottle, it was shared!). Drank out of a plastic cup.

When I was talking to the 12% guy, I noted that the Hof Ten Dormaal and other famous saisons (like the aformentioned Dupont and Fantôme) are all packaged in green bottles, which don't protect at all from light (which can create off flavors and "skunking"). I asked him if he knew why and he said he wasn't really sure, but it seemed like a traditional thing. I think I will be sending some more pedantic emails to breweries in the near future!

Overall, a very satisfying experience, and I'll definitely want to check out a few more Stillwater beers (there are a few that I either didn't get to or that weren't available at the event that I do want to try, especially A Saison Darkly, which another patron recommended highly)

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Hi, my name is Mark, and I like beer.

You might also want to check out my generalist blog, where I blather on about lots of things, but mostly movies, books, and technology.

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About this Archive

This page is an archive of recent entries in the Stillwater category.

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