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Jester King and Fantôme Del Rey

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The label sez: "We continue on, forward, like phantom people, towards subtle dawn." I don't know what that means, and the ghost infamously never shares its secrets, so we'll just have to let that be, I guess.

The beer itself was originally brewed in Belgium at Fantôme, with Dany and Jester King brewer Garrett Crowell collaborating on the recipe. Speaking of which, unlike most Tômes, we know a little more about the recipe here. It's made with dark candi syrup, truffle honey, coriander, and black peppercorns. After the initial batch in Belgium, Jester King made a batch back at their own brewery and subjected it to extended fermentation and partial barrel aging (and using their distinctive well water and a melange of native, mixed-culture yeast and bacterial beasties.) The name Fantôme Del Rey roughly translates to Ghost of the King, which is actually pretty evocative. But how's the beer?

Jester King and Fantôme Del Rey

Jester King and Fantôme Del Rey (Texas Version) - Pours a striking clear golden orange color with a solid finger of dense white head that has great retention and leaves some lacing as I drink. Smells very funky, lots of dusty, musty Belgian funk going on, a little earthy, some unidentifiable spices, and an underlying fruitiness peeking through. Taste is candy sweet up front, a little sticky fruit, hints of spice and earthy funk, finishing with a whisper of tartness. Mouthfeel is medium bodied, a little low on the carbonation (but there's plenty there), some stickiness, and only a hint of acidity. A little more carbonation would have done this well. Overall, this is a very nice beer, atypical for Fantôme, which I guess makes sense since this is the Texas version. Well worth checking out. B+

Beer Nerd Details: 8.8% ABV bottled (750 ml capped and corked). Drank out of a tulip glass on 4/8/18. Blend #1 - 03.22.16.

Always down for another Tôme, and Jester King is certainly a brewery I should seek out more often. Many thanks to fellow BeerNERD Gary for procuring this bottle for me in his many travels.

Hoppin Frog Barrel Aged InTENsity

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And now for something completely different. I know I'm supposed to be writing about this beer, but I've been doing this for almost 8 years at this point and thus getting a little repetitive. Please indulge me. Doubly so, because I'm going to talk about the (for some reason) much maligned Dean Koontz. For the uninitiated, he's a very prolific horror/suspense author that is usually dismissed as a second-rate Stephen King.

To me, though, he's an important author in that he's the one that got me to start reading books. I wasn't, like, illiterate or anything, but I mostly only read books when forced to for school, and Koontz got me reading for pleasure. No coercion necessary! Sure, his novels get repetitive, he has some specific bugaboos that he always focuses on (there's a Scooby-esque satanic bad guy that seems supernatural but often isn't and then a good guy with Police/SWAT/FBI/CIA/Army/Marine/etc... training takes him on and usually falls in love with a strong single mother with a precocious child and adorably intelligent dog along the way), and the stories can be repetitive, but they tend to be pretty interesting and a lot of fun. Movies based on his books have been almost uniformly bad, which might also be part of why his reputation suffers.

Unfortunately, his prolific output also means there's a lot of stuff out there that isn't quite as good as his best (to put it kindly), and from what I've read recently, he hasn't really come close to the success he had in the 80s and 90s. Even given his tendency to repeat himself, when you've got about 100 books in print, it's a little more difficult to find one that suits you, and people these days usually aren't willing to give an author a second chance (a fair strategy for dealing with media overload, to be sure). For the record, I'd recommend checking out Lightning, Phantoms, Midnight, Strangers, or maybe:

Intensity by Dean Koontz

Pretty much the last great book of his that I remember reading was called Intensity. Granted, he didn't use goofy capitalization to emphasize a brewery's tenth anniversary (see? This post is coming together. Kinda.), but I have to admit that when I saw this bottle of beer, I immediately thought of Koontz's novel. It was one of the flood of serial killer tales that besieged us in the mid 1990s, and to my mind, one of the better ones. A gruesome but well paced and compulsive read.

It's been a solid twenty years since I've read it, but I still remember a lot of details, which isn't something you expect from popular airport thrillers like this. Some of these details are trivial, like the killer's choice of music for his cross country murder spree: Angelo Badalamenti (most famous as a film and TV composer for David Lynch, amongst others - and an odd choice to be employed like this). There's this recurring bit with an albino deer that was mysterious but still evocative. There's one decision from our protagonist that might be difficult to swallow, but once you get past that the book doesn't really let up. It's genuinely tense, and if I remember correctly, Koontz even sometimes reverts to present tense at times to emphasize the tension (a move that could be jarring and cheap, but which I remember working well). For once, Koontz's obvious love of dogs is subverted by his use of them in a villainous fashion. The killer's refusal to conform to textbook serial killer tropes (which was becoming a trope of itself at the time, to be sure) was effective, and there were some neat twists in that arena.

At this point, you've probably seen a dozen similar tales, so this might be old hat, but it was pretty great for teenaged me. There was a TV mini-series that was pretty much par for the course (not particularly worth seeking out, but not an abomination either), and it's worth noting that the first half of High Tension is remarkably similar to the first half of Intensity, though the stories diverge considerably from there (even so, this might be the only real worthwhile Koontz adaptation, even though it's not really acknowledged as such).

That a beer would remind me of a serial killer story is probably something best left unexplored, but since this is, in fact, a beer blog, let's take a closer look at this beer brewed in honor of Hoppin' Frog's tenth anniversary. It's a hoppy, American-style barleywine that was aged in bourbon barrels for six months, then dry hopped for some extra kick. Of course, this was released in 2016, so that fresh hop character has probably dissipated... or maybe not. Let's drink it and find out:

Hoppin Frog Barrel Aged InTENsity

Hoppin' Frog Barrel Aged InTENsity - Pours a clear, dark amber color with a half finger of off-white head. Smells of faded citrus hops, a little toffee, some boozy bourbon, oak, and vanilla edging in too. Taste starts off which rich caramel, crystal malt, and boozy bourbon, oak, and vanilla, the hops emerging more towards the finish, which also has a boozy little bite. Some mild oxidation here gives complexity without turning the whole thing into cardboard. Mouthfeel is full bodied and rich, moderate carbonation, some boozy heat too. Overall, it's bit on the hoppy side, as American Barleywines tend to be, but it's quite nice. B+

Beer Nerd Details: 12% ABV bottled (22 ounce bomber). Drank out of a snifter on 4/1/17.

I'm not sure if Hoppin' Frog still makes Naked Evil, but I remember that as being better than this one. Of course, that was like 5 years ago, and my memory of that is somehow not as distinct as my memory of Koontz's book.

Barrel of Monks Double Feature

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South Florida's Barrel of Monks has been a solid discovery and I've really enjoyed checking out their standard takes on Belgian styles (a lot of American breweries dabble in this sort of thing, but few succeed as well as BoM), not to mention their more funky efforts. There's something to be said for an expertly brewed Dubbel or Tripel, but you know me: I'm not going to turn down a barrel-aged effort either.

Speaking of which, the first of our double feature is a Bourbon Barrel Aged variant of their Father Christmas beer, basically a Belgian style strong dark brewed with mulling spices (like clove, cinnamon, and ginger). As an added bonus, Barrel of Monks is living up to their name... now I just need to procure more of their Barrel Aged wares (limited as they may be). Due to a mix up in the Kaedrin procurement department, this didn't arrive until well after Christmas, but hey, why not extend the season a little:

Barrel of Monks Bourbon Barrel Aged Father Christmas

Barrel of Monks Bourbon Barrel Aged Father Christmas - Pours a deep, dark brown color with a finger of tan head. Smells very nice, dark fruit, raisins, plums and the like, a little spice, cloves, coriander, and whatnot, plus a little bourbon, oak, and vanilla. Taste starts off rich and sweet, with that dark fruit character coming through, followed quickly by spicy phenols like clove, finishing with a boozy bourbon note. Mouthfeel is medium to full bodied, but nimble, perhaps due to the high-ish carbonation which cuts through the richness and the booziness. Overall, this is really enjoyable and they managed the bourbon barrel aging well, imparting complexity without completely overwhelming the base. A-

Beer Nerd Details: 10% ABV bottled (750 ml copper waxed cap). Drank out of a tulip glass on 1/19/18. Vintage 2017.

Next up in the double feature is a pretty straightforward Belgian style stout. This is perhaps not the most common or popular of the Belgian styles (inasmuch as you can really categorize them), and I must admit that this is the sort of thing that usually makes me wish I was drinking one or the other (i.e. a straight up imperial stout or a standard Belgian strong dark). On the other hand, this does fare well when compared against others of the style, which has become my expectation for BoM:

Barrel of Monks Parade of Souls

Barrel of Monks Parade of Souls - Pours a black color with a finger of light brown head. Smells sweet and a little spicy, maybe some dark fruits. Taste is very sweet, lots of Belgian yeast character, fruity esters, spicy phenols, a little caramel and maybe a faint hint of chocolate. Mouthfeel is highly carbonated, but still medium-to-full bodied, plenty of residual sugar there, but not cloying. Overall, this feels more like a Belgian Strong Dark than an Imperial Stout, but it comports itself well enough. Still, pretty good for a style that has often left me cold... B+

Beer Nerd Details: 10% ABV bottled (750 ml). Drank out of a tulip glass on 1/21/18. Vintage 2017.

While I don't think these guys are lighting up the ISO trading boards, I'm quite glad to have a somewhat regular Florida connection who can snag me some bottles. Many thanks to Kaedrin beverage compatriot Steve for slinging these my way.

Four Seasons of Mother Earth - Winter 2017

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Since I know all of you religiously check this blog and my Twitter feed looking for updates, I must apologize, as I've been absentee of late and unresponsive to your repeated pleas for new posts. You're probably also very astute and did some research and figured out that I have a tendency to enter an annual beer hibernation around this time of year, which at least partially explains my absence. That being said, my general laziness has generated a backlog of beer reviews that I can leverage during this downtime. I also plan to post the customary non-beer reviews of things like hot sauce or bourbon or tea or wine or whatever throughout the season, though perhaps not quite as much as in previous years. For now, though, let's take a look at one of those beer reviews I've been neglecting...

A few years ago, I stumbled on this Four Seasons of Mother Earth series of limited, usually-barrel-aged brews from a San Diego brewery that seemed popular enough. The Autumn 2015 brew was a barrel-aged quad, and it was quite nice. This time around, we celebrate the winter solstice with an imperial brown ale brewed with brown sugar and aged in bourbon barrels. I mean, it's not one of them pastry stouts that people get hot-and-bothered about, but I'll tell you, I was quite taken with this:

Four Seasons of Mother Earth - Winter 2017

Four Seasons of Mother Earth - Winter 2017 - Pours a dark brown color with some amber when held up to the light and a finger of off white head. Smells great, sweet, vanilla, toffee, a little bourbon and oak too. Taste hits all those notes, rich toffee, a little caramel, plenty of bourbon, oak, and vanilla. Mouthfeel is full bodied, but leavened by a good amount of carbonation that makes this seem lighter than it really is (but not overcarbonated at all, it's actually very well balanced and enhances the beer), with a decent amount of pleasant booze. Overall, this is a fantastic, complex, uncommon style and I'm loving it. A little reminiscent of Firestone Walker's Bravo, but easily its equal if not even better. A-

Beer Nerd Details: 12% ABV bottled (22 ounce bomber). Drank out of a snifter glass on 1/26/18. Vintage: 2017.

So yes, I should probably seek out more of these Four Seasons of Mother Earth Beers. And maybe not wait another 3 years before trying another. Anywho, stay tuned, I have a few more beer reviews coming, with at least a couple of bourbons and one hot sauce in the pipeline as well.

Fremont B-Bomb

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Fremont, Washington is in Seattle and basically seems like a hipster wonderland. I mean, you see it described as "bohemian" and "quirky", which basically translates to hipster. Fortunately, breweries seem to thrive in such environments, and Fremont Brewing fits the bill. They opened in 2009 and their barrel-aging program has made enough waves that those of us on the right coast have long craved a taste of their wares.

Enter B-Bomb, a barrel aged version of their imperial winter ale. This year's vintage of B-Bomb is aged in 12-year-old American Oak bourbon barrels and is a blend of beer aged for 9, 12, and 24-months. Despite the "winter" moniker, this isn't really winter warmer territory; no mulling spices as near as I can tell, just a big, strong, dark ale. Aged in barrels for a long time and blended. Basically, right in my wheelhouse. There are some variants involving stuff like coffee, cinnamon, or coconut, but I suspect that I would love the plain old B-Bomb the best, so let's take a gander:

Fremont B-Bomb

Fremont B-Bomb (Bourbon Barrel Aged Imperial Winter Ale) - The beer formerly known as Bourbon Abominable. Pours a very dark brown color with a half finger of tan head that manages to stick around longer than usual for this sort of thing. Smells fabulous, rich caramel, toffee, bourbon, oak, and vanilla, maybe something fruity lurking in the background. Taste follows the nose, tons of rich caramel and toffee, with a healthy dose of boozy bourbon, oak, and vanilla, a hint of roasted malt, a bit of fruit, finishing boozy. Mouthfeel is full bodied, rich, and chewy, plenty of heat and booze, appropriately moderate carbonation, well proportioned for such a monster. Overall, this is outstanding. A

Beer Nerd Details: 13% ABV bottled (22 ounce bomber, waxed). Drank out of a tulip glass on 1/12/18. Vintage: 2017.

I had a taste of this at a share a while back and it was glorious, so I've been on the lookout for more of their wares. Obviously, I want to try moar. Wink wink, nudge nudge (he sez, as if anyone is reading this).

Levante Quintuple Feature

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Drink local, they say, and so I do. Levante is the closest brewery to Kaedrin HQ, and I do find myself at their taproom on a semi-regular basis. Alas, I've been woefully neglectful of their wares on this here blog. Since opening a few years ago, they've grown considerably, both in terms of quantity and quality. In particular, they've stepped up their NEIPA game, as these last few releases illustrate (also telling: the number of people in lines for this stuff). Of course, their stout program is also strong, and while my ambivalence to coffee is well known, we'll cover a couple of coffee-dosed offerings too (hint: they're fantastic).

Levante Retail Therapy

Levante Retail Therapy - The perfect gift for dorks who work for a retail website and are breathing a sigh of relief after the usual Q4 rush (i.e. me). Brewed with spelt malt and oats and hopped with Simcoe, Amarillo, Citra, and El Dorado. Pours a cloudy, milky yellow color with a finger of white head. Smells of sweet, juicy citrus hops, fresh, green, pretty darned great. Taste is sweet and juicy, lots of citrus. Mouthfeel is medium bodied but kinda thick, well carbonated. Overall, one of the better Levante offerings, not quite Hop Cartel level good, but very nice. Probably shouldn't have given half of these away as Christmas gifts. A-

Beer Nerd Details: 6.8% ABV canned (16 ounce pounder). Drank out of a tulip glass on 12/22/17. Canned: 12/21/17.

Levante Gran Gianduiotto

Levante Gran Gianduiotto - Imperial stout brewed with lactose, Ghirardelli cacao powder, hazelnut, vanilla, and three blends of over 70 pounds of Italian Espresso from Gran Caffe L'Aquila. Pours a very dark brown color with off white head. Smells of roasty coffee, chocolate, coffee, roast, and coffee. Did I mention coffee? As it warms, it gains a sweeter, richer caramel note. Taste is a little less roasty, more rich caramel, but still plenty of coffee and chocolate, I wouldn't have picked out hazelnut blind, but since I know it's there, I can kinda see it if I do the tasting equivalent of squinting. Mouthfeel is rich and chewy, full bodied, moderately carbonated, a hint of booze. Overall, this is fabulous, even for a coffee beer. Kinda wish I didn't give most of my cans away as gifts... A-

Beer Nerd Details: 11% ABV canned (16 ounce pounder). Drank out of a tulip glass on 12/29/17. Canned: 12/21/17.

Levante Coffee Shoppe Terminology

Levante Coffee Shoppe Terminology (Barrel Aged 2017) - Brewed with a blend of shade grown, locally roasted, organic Sumatran and Guatemalan coffee supplied by Golden Valley Farms Coffee Roasters in West Chester, PA, then aged for six months in American Whiskey Barrels from Manatawny Still Works in Pottstown, PA (they do not make bourbon, but I think their standard offering is primarily malted barley and wheat, with some oats and rye). Pours a very dark brown color with a tan head. Smells great, lots of coffee, roast, and a heaping helping of that whiskey, oak, and vanilla. Taste is rich and creamy, caramel, whiskey, oak, and vanilla, with a dose of roast coffee, finishing on a pleasant boozy note. Mouthfeel is full bodied, rich, and chewy, with lots of boozy (but again, pleasant) heat. Overall, maybe I do like coffee beers (i.e. if they're this boozy), great barrel character and pretty darned great. For some reason, I feel like people are sleeping on this, as evidenced by the fact that I just bought another couple bottles about a month after I bought this one... on second thought, forget I said anything. A

Beer Nerd Details: 10.1% ABV bottled (500 ml). Drank out of a snifter on 1/5/18. (not sure when bottled, bought it at 12/21/17 release)

Levante Tickle Parts

Levante Tickle Parts - Another NEIPA that's a little short on specifics (label sez: El Dorado, Mosaic, Citra hops were used). They released this a couple months ago (I had an extra-hopped cask version at a local watering hole, and it was great), then did a rebrew in January, which is the batch I'm reviewing here. Pours a murky yellow color with a finger of white head that leaves plenty of lacing as I drink. Smells fabulous, tons of fresh, juicy citrus hops. Taste hits those juice notes hard, citrus with a little bit of dank pine in the finish, which isn't very bitter (but maybe just enough to keep things in balance). Mouthfeel is medium bodied but thick, well carbonated, decent balance. Overall, a good example of the hazier NEIPA. A-

Beer Nerd Details: 7.1% ABV canned (16 ounce pounder). Drank out of a tulip glass on 1/19/18. Canned: 1/11/18. Batch 2.

Levante Glitter Parts

Levante Glitter Parts - Another NEIPA variant, this time with added lactose, coconut, and vanilla (kinda Tired Hands Milkshake-esque), with a similar hopping schedule to Tickle Parts (Citra, El Dorado, Simcoe, Mosaic). I drank this out of a shaker pint glass because I was watching the Eagles slaughter the Vikings on Sunday, and as you can see, it was totally my glassware that put them over the edge. Pours an even murkier pale yellow color with a finger of white head that leaves lots of lacing as I drink. Smells great, those fresh, juicy citrus hops, maybe a bit more tropical here. I didn't pick up coconut directly (and probably wouldn't blind), but if you do the olefactory version of squinting, maybe it's there? Taste follows the nose, sweeter with lots of juicy citrus hops, with maybe that vanilla showing up a bit here. Mouthfeel is medium bodied with a higher viscosity than Tickle Parts, that lactose definitely felt here, well carbonated and decent balance. Overall, yep, another winner. A

Beer Nerd Details: 7% ABV canned (16 ounce pounder). Drank out of a shaker pint glass on 1/21/18. Canned: 1/11/18.

I feel like perhaps my lesser homer instincts are kicking in, as I only seem to find myself reviewing beers I love from these guys. But these last two releases were pretty killer. I will say that they make plenty of beers that I'm not entirely on board with (and in fact, their regular lineup isn't all that spectacular), so there is that. It's hard to get all fired up about writing them up on those though, perhaps a topic for another post.

American Lambic Wars

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To paraphrase Yoda: begun, the American lambic wars have. Ouch. Sorry, quoting the prequels hurts. I don't recommend it. Anyway, there was a kerfluffle with some American breweries that are taking inspiration from lambic, mostly caused by Jester King's notion of creating a specific designation that is now called Méthode Traditionelle (they originally called it Méthode Gueuze, but real lambic producers weren't too enthused by that one), complete with a protected mark for the label and everything. So far, it doesn't seem to be catching on. Allagash seems content to just keep doing their thing, as befits their pioneering status in the American lambic debate (they were basically the first to get really serious about spontaneous fermentation in the US). And de Garde seems actively hostile to the idea.

Whatever the case, there are plenty of smaller names getting in on the action. I've had three beers recently that all claim to be inspired by lambic in one way or another, whether it being the way something is aged, or the ingredients, or the spontaneous fermentation, or in one case, I'm not sure it resembles lambic at all, except it's sour. And yet, all three were pretty great. First up:

Tahoe Mountain Evolution of the Barrel

Tahoe Mountain Evolution of the Barrel - A blend of one, two and three year old sour golden ale fermented and aged in oak barrels. As far as I can tell, not spontaneously fermented, but the aging and blending resemble geuze... Pours a mostly clear golden yellow color with a finger of fluffy white head. Smells great, earthy funk, vinous fruit, lactic, a little oak. Taste has a good depth to it, earthy funk leavened by vinous fruit, stone fruit, a heaping of oak, and a well modulated sourness. Mouthfeel is well carbonated and crisp, with a moderate acidity and medium body. Overall, this is fantastic. A-

Beer Nerd Details: 6.7% ABV bottled (375 ml). Drank out of a flute glass on 12/8/17.

Logsdon Spontane Wilde

Logsdon Spontane Wilde - They say this is made in a traditional "Methode van Lembeek" (suck it, Jester King), and it actually does seem like they're going for something like lambic - unmalted wheat, aged hops, spontaneously fermented, oak aged, pretty close. The result pours a bit darker than the above, with lots of carb and head. Smells great, barnyard funk, tart fruit, and oak. Taste hits similar notes, a little more fruit in the taste, but plenty of funk and oak. Mouthfeel is dry, highly carbonated, and effervescent, moderately acidic and a little puckering. Overall, really good, but it feels a lot like your typical Logsdon beer. A-

Beer Nerd Details: 7.4% ABV bottled (375 ml). Drank out of a flute glass on 12/8/17.

Phantom Carriage Crawling Eye

Phantom Carriage Crawling Eye - They say this is "Lambic-inspired" but they don't really say what that means and after drinking this, um, I don't think it particularly resembles lambic. But it's still really good. Also, I love the classic film references. Classy. Pours a mostly clear yellow color with just a little short-lived head. Smells of sweet, vinous fruit, sour twang. Taste hits that lactic sourness pretty hard, with a little funk and vinous fruit, and some oak leavening things. Mouthfeel is low to medium carbed, bright and acidic. Overall, really good. Not at all like lambic. A-

Beer Nerd Details: 6.3% ABV bottled (500 ml). Drank out of a tulip glass on 12/27/17.

Not exactly in the same game as Belgium, but really nice nonetheless. I should really hunt down more Allagash or Jester King to really dig into this more.

Tree House Doppelganger

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Tree House is one of those little Northeast breweries with a cult-like following where dorks line up for hours on end for a chance to snag a few cans of NEIPA sludge (I kid because I love). I've had a few tastes of their stuff before, and they're uniformly excellent, so maybe queuing up for sugar water isn't quite that dumb (ugh, who am I kidding with this?)

This particular beer is an imperialized version of their Alter Ego beer, itself a variant (or Alter Ego, hur dur) of Julius that adds tons of Mosaic and a little Amarillo to the dry hop. Everyone follow that? No? Too bad, here comes the boring tasting notes:

Tree House Doppelganger

Tree House Doppelganger - Pours a cloudy golden yellow color with a finger of head that has decent retention. Smells great, like an orange juice soaked pine cone, juicy citrus, tropical fruit, pineapple, dank, resinous pine. Taste starts of sweet, that juicy citrus pitching in during the middle, followed by pine and a well balanced bitterness towards the finish. Mouthfeel is medium bodied, well carbonated, and nimble, almost quaffable. Overall, what a surprise, another dank-ass winner from Tree House. A-

Beer Nerd Details: 8% ABV canned (16 ounce pounder). Drank out of a tulip glass on 1/5/18. Canned on 12/27/17. Batch: THE MAN WHO STEPPED INTO YESTERDAY

Fabulous, as expected. Will always be on the lookout for more from them. Many thanks to fellow Beer Nerd Adam for the cans...

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

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

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