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Bourbon County Vanilla Rye

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I thought I had missed out on this Bourbon County variant that people are losing their minds over. Back when Goose Island started doing Bourbon County variants, there was a Vanilla version that has been highly sought after ever since (despite apparently having fallen off a cliff). This new release has also been turning some heads and my local beermonger missed out on a case and I was too apathetic to go hunting for it until a friend mentioned that a local beeratorium was tapping a keg. Peer pressure, it gets things done.

The difference between this and the 2010 variant? Those fine Chicagoan Geese Cellarmen used Rye barrels instead of Bourbon, and even incorporated some "rye spice" into the base beer recipe (not sure if that's some rye-derived spice or if they're talking about stuff like fennel or cardamom). The vanilla beans are different as well, using a 70/30 split of Madagascar and Mexican vanilla.

For some unfathomable reason, the word vanilla is often used to indicate that something is bland or boring, but vanilla is one of my favorite flavors. There's a reason it's often used as a base for other flavors, and when you combine the intensity of something like BCBS with vanilla, well, the results are pretty impressive. Many thanks to Danur for holding my beer for this rather pedestrian picture. It was pretty damn crowded. Let's get to it:

Bourbon County Vanilla Rye

Bourbon County Vanilla Rye - Yep, looks like regular ol BCBS, pitch black with a tan head (maybe the head is lighter in color in this version?) Smells great, that vanilla comes through strong, a great complement to the bourbon and oak, but I'm also getting a sorta ice cream cone feeling mixed with a little roasty malt, chocolate, and even some coffee. Taste has that BCBS base awesomeness, lots of caramel, oak, and bourbon, plenty of booze too, but the vanilla really comes through and brings out some of the roasty and chocolatey elements, perhaps even a little coffee-like flavor. It doesn't feel quite as huge as regular BCBS, but as a result the complexity rises, yielding new tastes on each sip. I usually hate it when people pepper their tasting notes with ridiculous comparisons, but here I go: Pizzelles (the ones my mom makes, without anise), chocolate covered coconut, malt balls, sugar cookies, I feel like I'm drinking a bakery. Mouthfeel is full bodied, rich, and velvety, with ample carbonation and a pleasant boozy bite, not quite the beast of regular BCBS, but that's a high bar to clear. Overall, this is a fantastically complex, tasty treat. Being boring, I probably still prefer regular ol' BCBS, but I'm weird that way - this is a superb beer worth seeking out. A

Beer Nerd Details: 13.6% ABV on tap (6 ounce pour). Drank out of a mini-snifter on 1/10/15.

Of the variants of BCBS, this is my favorite (with special mention to Bourbon County Barleywine, which is it's own animal) so far. Of course, I've not had Rare or the original vanilla or Proprietor's Reserve, so take that with a shaker of iodized salt, and it's not like I won't be seeking out new variants next year. I'm just a sucker for Bourbon County anything.

Firestone Walker Stickee Monkee

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Firestone Walker's excellent barrel aging program essentially grew out of their Anniversary beers. For their first entry in that series, they brewed 4 different beers and aged them in 6 different barrels (yielding 10 lots to blend, as it was their 10th anniversary). Some of these have gone on to become standard annual offerings on their own, like §ucaba or Parabola, but some have only been released in minute quantities at the brewery itself (or perhaps the occasional beer week surprise). For the past few years, Firestone Walker has been releasing larger doses of individual components in one-off bottles, and Stickee Monkey was 2014's entry.

They describe the base of this beer as a Central Coast Quad, and unlike many of their other beers, the ingredients are mostly "undisclosed". What we do know is that it "formulated to sit on the sweeter and malty side so that we could utilize it for blending" (bottle sez 22 IBU, which is indeed pretty low for such a big beer) and that it incorporates Turbinado brown sugar from Mexico in place of the traditional Belgian candi sugar. The result is decidedly more barleywine-ish or perhaps old-ale-ish than Quad-like, but I'm not complaining about this barrel of monkeys, it's delicious:

Firestone Walker Stickee Monkee

Firestone Walker Stickee Monkee - Pours a striking clear chestnut brown color with a cap of tan, fizzy head that quickly resolves into a ring around the edge of the glass. Smells of rich caramelized fruits, plums and the like, maybe some molasses, with huge barrel character, vanilla, oak, and bourbon. Taste follows the nose with a large, rich caramel presence, very sweet (but not cloying), a hint of fruit in the background, molasses, and that huge barrel presence brings the vanilla, oak, and bourbon, big time. Mouthfeel is full bodied, rich, and chewy, with ample carbonation to offset the sweetness, though it does finish with a bit of a sticky presence. Pleasant booze makes itself known with a little heat and warming in the belly. Overall, what we have here is a superb, complex, and intense barrel aged brew. A

Beer Nerd Details: 13.4% ABV bottled (22 ounce boxed bomber). Drank out of a snifter on 12/27/14. 2014 Vintage. Bottled 04/18/14.

I will never tire of Firestone Walker's barrel aged beers, despite being somewhat difficult to procure using standard methods. Even their sours and wilds are starting to come along. Up next: Firestone XVIII (14% of which is actually Stickee Monkey, heh). After that, well, Firestone has said that Double DBA will no longer be bottled, setting the stage for some sort of replacement. To my knowledge, this has not been chosen yet, but I'm guessing Parabajava (a coffee infused version of Parabola, relatively new) or Bravo (BA imperial brown ale, been around since the beginning). In any case, I'll still be hunting down bottles of §ucaba and Parabola, because they're so reliably great.

Cascade Sang Royal

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I was going to just make a Royale With Cheese joke and whine about the metric system, but as with the beer itself, DDB beat me to it by a few years. Instead I'll have to rely on pedantic translation backgrounding, like Sang Royal being French for "Royal Blood" and how popular it is to pretend that a given grape-based beverage is blood. Indeed, we're about the celebrate the birth of the guy who popularized the concept in just a few days.

The last couple Cascade beers I've had wound up being a little disappointing. The Vine, another grape-based beer, was fine I guess, but not as sour or oaky as I've come to expect from Cascade (It tasted more like a tripel dosed with grape juice than a funky sour). The Blueberry had a slight case of the Smoketômes, which was clearly not doing it any favors. Given the expense of acquiring these bottles, I wasn't sure if this would be worth the stretch, but it's one of their better regarded beers (which is saying something) and it's not like I haven't had some great beers from them, so I rolled the dice and I'm glad I did.

So what makes this one so special? Well, it's a blend of red ales that have been aged in wine (depending on where you look, these are Pinot Noir or Cabernet Sauvignon barrels) and Port barrels for up to 20 months on Cabernet Sauvignon grapes. It clocks in at a rather hefty 10.12% ABV, which I usually view as a little too high for a sour. Something about high alcohol and high acidity is hard to get right, but I'll be damned if Cascade didn't figure it out. This ain't a gulper, to be sure, but it's phenomenal:

Cascade Sang Royal

Cascade Sang Royal - Pours a dark ruby red color, almost brown, with half a finger of off white head that quickly resolves into a ring around the edge of the glass. Smells fantastic, vinous fruit, sour cherries, vinegar, a little oak and vanilla. Taste is very sweet, lots of dark vinous fruit, sour cherries, tannins, plenty of oak and vanilla and a pretty bracing sourness throughout, but especially in the finish. As it warms, more funky, earthy notes emerge, tobacco and leather come out and mesh well with the sour fruit. Mouthfeel is rich and full bodied, that oak really contributes here, moreso than most 10+% ABV sours, a pleasant vinegar acidity too. Overall, yep, pretty fantastic here. A

Beer Nerd Details: 10.12% ABV bottled (750 ml caged and corked). Drank out of a flute glass on 12/19/14. Vintage: 2012 Project.

So Cascade certainly came through on this one. I'm sure opinions vary on the $25+ price tag, but it is phenomenal beer. A few more Cascades in the Kaedrin pipeline, including Bourbonic Plague and Figaro, coming early next year.

Double Duckpin

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A couple years ago, a friend invited a bunch of folks over for a barbecue and, naturally, beers were involved. Everyone was to bring cans of beer, and flush with a couple cases of Heady from the original Operation Cheddar, I naturally opted to share the wealth. Much beer was had, I ate some great pulled pork (courtesy of The Dogs of Beer), a French press and full leaf hops appeared, and merriment was had by all.

Believe it or not, the most memorable beer I had that day was Duckpin Pale Ale from a relatively small Baltimore brewery called Union Craft Brewing. Clocking in at a svelt 5.5% ABV, it was refreshing and quaffable in the extreme. Juicy citrus hops and tropical fruits all over the place, crisp and refreshing (perfect for the backyard barbecue setting). It was a great beer and would be a total go-to if I was closer to Maryland (even as it is, I try to keep my eyes open whenever I'm there). Tickers on certain sites have no idea what they're talking about (not that it's rated badly, per say, but still). So when news hit that they were releasing Double Duckpin, an amped up DIPA version of Duckpin, I was immediately on board. Thanks to the diligence of a friend, I snagged a can and the rest is history (thanks Danur!) The fantastic semi-local DIPA game has been getting pretty crowded of late, but that's a good problem to have, right? So let's set up our Double Duckpins (which, come to think of it, would probably just be regular bowling pins, would they not?) and go ten frames:

Union Double Duckpin

Union Double Duckpin - Pours a very nice golden orange color with a finger of white head that leaves some spotty lacing as I drink. Smells nice, juicy citrus, tropical fruits, and floral hop aromas, I'm thinking Citra is involved, maybe Amarillo (and yep, it looks like Columbus, Mosaic, Citra, Amarillo, and Simcoe are the culprits here). Taste is fantastic, nice sweet malt backbone, huge citrus and floral hop flavors, a hint of dank pine lingers in the well balanced bitter finish. Mouthfeel is perfect, well and tightly carbonated, medium bodied, surprisingly quaffable for a DIPA. Overall, we've got another top tier semi-local DIPA on our hands. A

Beer Nerd Details: 8.5% ABV canned (12 ounce). Drank out of a tulip glass on 12/5/14.

Between this, 077XX, and The Shape of Hops to Come (not to mention old hats like Victory and the one-off masters at Tired Hands) we're in pretty good shape with the DIPAs over here. Between Tired Hands and Forest & Main, we're hitting the saisons and sours pretty hard too. Now we just need to step up our bourbon barrel stout/barleywine game, and we'll really be rolling in it.

December Beer Club

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For reasons outside of my control, I was unable to attend the November Beer Club. I am, myself, doubting my commitment to Sparkle Motion, but I managed to pull it together and attend this month's beer club. For the uninitiated, beer club is a monthly gathering of like-minded coworkers at a local BYOB for good food, optional libations, and fun (which is not optional). This month, we hit up our favorite local pizza joint (and a regular delivery option here at Kaedrin HQ), America's Pie. Most attendies partook in the off-menu Pizza Pocket Pie option, a delightful deep-fried stromboli-like concoction that I have certainly devoured on occasion. Oh yeah, and we had beer too:

December Beer Club
(Click to embiggen)

For the sake of posterity, some completely unreliable thoughts on each beer are listed below. Standard beer nerd disclaimers apply, if you disagree, you're probably right and I am wrong. It has long been established that I am totally the worst. Stop harping on it, ok? In order of drinking (not necessarily the order in the pic):

  • Anderson Valley Blood Orange Gose - Salty and sweet, with lots of that tart blood orange character making itself known. Not a mind-blower, but very nice nonetheless, would make a great summer beer. Decent way to start the night though! B+
  • SoChesCo Marianne IPA - A homebrewed IPA from one of our regular attendees, this is part of pair of IPAs brewed as one batch, then split in secondary. This one is straight up IPA. The other was does with fresh chopped ginger (it would be titled Ginger IPA, get it?) As IPAs go, this is pretty standard stuff, clearly using Chinook somewhere in the recipe. Very nice! B+
  • Kaedrin Christmas Ale (2011) - My homebrewed Christmas Ale... from 3 years ago! It's holding up reasonably well. Much of the spice character has faded away, but the base was robust enough to make for a decent light drinking option. When fresh, this was probably right up there with my favorite batches of homebrew. After 3 years, it's definitely degraded a bit, but it's still worth drinking. B
  • Maredsous 8 - Brune - Pretty standard Belgian Dubbel stuff, though this seems much more raisiny than I remember. B
  • Spring House The Martians Kidnap Santa! Egg Nog Stout - Wonderful nose, milk stout with a heaping helping of vanilla and a light spice. The taste doesn't quite live up to that, though it's certainly fine. Definitely worth trying. B+
  • Jack-O-Traveler Shandy - I'm not much of a shandy kinda guy, but this is bad even for a shandy. Something about the Pumpkin mixed with the lemon just doesn't work. As noted at the table, it kinda tastes like Lysol. I'm feeling particularly ungenerous at the moment, so we'll go full F
  • Earth Eagle Puca - A pumpkin porter, this had a fabulous, spicy nose, though like the Spring House beer above, the taste just didn't hold up to the nose. It's certainly a fine beer though, and worth trying if you like that sorta dark pumpkin option. B
  • Shiner Bock - Tastes like Texas! Obviously nothing special, but it still holds a nostalgic value with me. B
  • ShawneeCraft Frambozenbier - Despite yesterday's disappointing, mildly infected Bourbon Barrel Porter, I shared this beer with everyone, and they seemed to love it, just like I did. B+
  • Hardywood Gingerbread Stout - I've heard many things about this sucker, and now that Hardywood is distributing up here, I'm starting to see these things show up more often. Alas, I have to admit that amongst the typical Pumpkin/Holiday spices, Ginger is probably my least favorite, so this was good, but not quite the mind-blower I'd been lead to believe. (Oddly, I love gingerbread cookies and gingersnaps, but I guess this just had the wrong proportions). I'm sure I could easily drink an entire bottle of the stuff, but I'm glad I got to try it in this tasting atmosphere. Now, the Bourbon Barrel version of this beer is another matter entirely! That's something I really want to try. B
  • Victory Earth & Flame - A collaboration with a tiny local brewery called Earth+Bread brewery, this is a smoked Scotch ale aged in Bourbon Barrels. The smoke is pretty well muted by the Bourbon Barrels, leading to a nice fruity, bourbony character. Not quite top tier (and not quite at the level of Otto in Oak, another BBA smoked Victory beer). Something I'd definitely like to revisit in more detail. B+
  • Vicarus Winter 2013 - This is great up front, Belgian Strong Dark, highly carbonated and very dry up front, with some raisiny character apparent in the finish (which is not as dry as the initial taste would have you believe). That being said, I can't help but feel that this would probably have been better if it were fresher. Still quite decent B
  • Terrapin Coffee Oatmeal Imperial Stout - Holy coffee, Batman! My ambivalence to coffee in beer is legendary, though I've grown to appreciate some of the more subtle varieties that have a lot of other things going on. This one is almost pure coffee grounds, which I imagine folks who love coffee would be really into, but which doesn't translate well to me personally. B
  • Goose Island Bourbon County Brand Stout (2014) - The latest incarnation is as good as ever, and if anything, it's not as hot as the past couple years (it's actually "only" 13.8% ABV this year, apparently an artifact of a cool spring and summer). The great satan of AB/Inbev or not, I love this beer. A
And that's all for now. Already looking forward to January.

Various and Sundry

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Astute readers will note that the grand majority of reviews here are for beers that I drink at home. This is not to say that I don't visit any local drinking establishments, just that I'm usually with other people and I don't want to be that dork who ignores his friends to write obsessive tasting notes. However, I do take my fair share of pictures and maybe check in to Untappd or somesuch. So I do have a fair amount of beer porn in my picture repository that doesn't really see the light of day. Until now! Enjoy these pictures and muddled recounting of various and sundry beers I've had recently, including a rather epic Birthday lineup. In fact, let's start there. It all started, naturally, at Tired Hands:

Tired Hands Cant Keep Up 8

Tired Hands is a small but very popular operation, so every once in a while, especially on weekends, they sell through more beer than is ready. At that point, Jean dips into the cellar and blends up a stopgap, often using some proportion of barrel aged awesome. The resulting beers are called Can't Keep Up, and this was the 8th installment in the series, made with beer from one of Christian Zellersfield's barrels (if he really exists). And my oh my, it was spectacular. Perhaps not quite Parageusia levels awesome, but for a beer that was whipped together under duress, it was rather spectacular. Speaking of spectacular, the other highlight of Tired Hands that day was a Citra IPA called Psychic Facelift. It turns out that I'd already visited Tired Hands earlier in the week and loved this, indeed, I even housed a growler of the stuff.

Tired Hands Psychic Facelift

It seems like Tired Hands always has great IPAs on tap, but this wan was exceptional even for them. Huge, juicy citrus character, absolutely quaffable stuff. Just superb. It's rare that I drink the same beer more than twice in short succession these days, and I think I had about 2 liters in the course of a couple days (I totally should have filled the larger growler, but hindsight is 20/20). Anywho, after some time there, we headed over to Teresa's Cafe (a few miles down the road) for some more substantial food and, of course, great beer. I had a Pliny the Elder, because how can you ignore that when it's on tap? Then my friends proved adventurous and generous, and we went in on a bottle of Cantillon Iris:

Cantillon Iris

It was fantastic, great balance between funk, sourness, and oak, really beautiful beer. And you can't beat the full pomp and circumstance, what with the proper glassware and pouring basket thingy... I had a few other beers, and they were all good, but I had a great birthday.

Some more random beer porn:

Double Sunshine

I guess I could have put up some Double Sunshine for trade, but I just couldn't handle having these in my fridge. I had to drink them.

Flying Dog Single Hop Imperial IPA Citra

It's no Double Sunshine, but I was very pleasantly surprised at how much I enjoyed this Flying Dog Single Hop Imperial IPA (Citra). I usually don't enjoy IPAs when they get into the 10% ABV range, but this was extremely well balanced between sweet and bitter, and it had that great Citra hop character, tropical fruits, floral notes, and even a bit of herbal goodness. I've always enjoyed Citra-based beers, but I think I'm starting to really crave the stuff, which is going to be dangerous.

Bulldog Top Banana

This was from a long time ago, but it was another surprise, ordered totally at random one night. It's Bullfrog Top Banana, and it was a really solid saison made with bananas. I know that sounds a bit gimmicky and it's not one of those crazy funkified saisons either, but the banana fit seamlessly into their standard saison yeast profile, and it was an absolutely refreshing and tasty brew. Worth checking out if you see it. I should checkout this PA brewery sometime, perhaps go to a bottle release or something. Time will tell.

And that just about covers it. I hope you've enjoyed this rather lame stroll down beer lane. Until next time!

Carton 077XX

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Pennsylvanians like myself tend to give New Jersey a hard time in all things, and beer is no exception. Of course, this sort of attitude is kinda like high-school-style posturing and is probably not all that true. Still, while they've got some mainstay breweries like Flying Fish or longtime specialty breweries like Ramstein, it used to be an otherwise unexciting beer destination. But lately, there have been a few newer breweries making waves, like Kane and Carton.

I still have not sampled any of Kane's brews, but Carton has been showing up with regularity in the Philly area (on tap, at least), and they've been a welcome addition. In particular, I've enjoyed their Boat beer, one of them so called "session IPAs" (aka American Pale Ales or as Beerbecue suggests, Half IPA or HIPA). Based on reports from my beer mule, the brewery is a rather small operation, and they don't really distribute their cans much. Fortunately, beer mules gonna mule, so I got some Boat beer and this lovely Double IPA called 077XX. I initially thought the name was some sort of weird code number applied to experimental hops, but it's actually a reference to the local Monmouth County zip codes, most of which start with 077. And hot damn, this is one fantastic little number:

Carton 077XX

Carton 077XX - Pours a very pretty, almost clear yellow color with a couple fingers of fluffy head that leaves plenty of lacing as I drink. The nose is beautiful, juicy citrus hop aromas abound, tropical fruits, some pine and floral notes as well. Taste is very sweet, with that juicy hop character pervading the taste and the pine and floral notes hanging around as well. Mouthfeel is well carbonated, much lighter than expected, crisp and refreshing up front, a bit sticky towards the finish, and considering the non-trivial 7.8% ABV, dangerously drinkable. Overall, this is absolutely fantastic, and I will most certainly be seeking this out again. A

Beer Nerd Details: 7.8% ABV canned (16 ounce). Drank out of a Willibecher glass on 9/19/14.

I'll have to get around to reviewing some of Carton's other stuff. I've had many a Boat beer, but never reviewed. I've also had Epitome, a decent and powerful black IPA that I'd like to try again at some point. And I've had a few others that don't seem as common (I had a sip of a friends coffee IPA the other day, not really my thing, but well made). And, of course, I really need to get out to Kane sometime. And I'll have to stop giving New Jersey a hard time about their beer. With beers like this, that'll be easy.

Hill Farmstead Triple Feature

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We love Hill Farmstead here at Kaedrin, so when we took a slight, uh, 9 hour detour into Vermont to nab some of their prized beers, we availed ourselves of everything we possibly could. While I'm not a particularly huge fan of growlers, I absolutely had to fill up my limit whilst I could. Growlers are not known for their longevity but fortunately, these are beers that do not last long in this household. First up, Harlan, a beer I cracked open for a little scenic drinking just a few hours after returning from my trip.

Harlan IPA

Hill Farmstead Harlan IPA - A slightly bigger version of Edward Pale Ale that is dry hopped with additional Columbus hops. Pours a very pretty, cloudy pale orange color with a couple fingers of fluffy white head. Smells intensely of citrus hops, stone fruits, oranges, and your typical grapefruit notes along with a big dank note that isn't quite pine (I suspect the pine would be more prominent if this weren't so fresh). The taste follows the nose with tons of citrus hop flavors and that fresh dankness too. Light malt backbone, but not as bitter as you'd expect from such a hoppy beer. Mouthfeel is perfect, medium bodied, well carbonated, quaffable. Overall, this reminds me a lot of the type of stuff you see at Tired Hands, and I think that speaks well of both breweries. A-

Beer Nerd Details: 6.3% ABV from a growler (fancy 2L swing top). Drank out of a Hill Farmstead Charente glass on 8/14/14. Growler filled on 8/14/14.

Society and Solitude #5

Hill Farmstead Society & Solitude 5 - As of right now, this is the best received entry in this series of experimental DIPAs. This one features a rather fantastic blend of American and New Zealand hops. Pours a murky yellow color with a finger of white head that leaves lacing as I drink. Huge citrus aroma, oranges, tangerines, grapefruit, mangoes, the whole shebang. The taste is dominated by those citrusy hops, with that same melange of tropical fruit notes. It got a well balanced sweetness to it, evened out by hops, but not bitter. Mouthfeel is medium bodied, perfectly carbonated, absolutely quaffable. Overall, a spectacular IPA, the clear winner of this trip so far (and that's saying something!) A

Beer Nerd Details: 8.4% ABV from a growler (750 ml swing top). Drank out of a Hill Farmstead Charente glass on 8/16/14. Growler filled on 8/14/14.

Friendship and Devotion

Hill Farmstead Friendship & Devotion - Brewed in collaboration with Luc Bim Lafontaine, formerly of Dieu du Ciel! (and soon to be heading up some sort of special Japanese brewery), this is an IPA that is described as "citrusy, salty IPA with notes of grapefruit". Pours a very pale orange color with a finger of white head that leaves some lacing as I drink. Again with the big citrus hop aroma, tropical fruit, herbal and grassy notes, but also some sweetness... Taste goes along similar lines, lots of citrus hops, hints of pine in the background, and something else playing around in the middle. HF sez that it's salty, so maybe that's what I'm getting, but it's not like it's a gose or something - if its salty, it's tucked into the rest of the flavor profile pretty well. Mouthfeel is medium bodied, well carbonated, and yes, quaffable. Overall, another winner, though perhaps not quite as much as the above two... A-

Beer Nerd Details: 6.6% ABV from a growler (750 ml swing top). Drank out of a Hill Farmstead Charente glass on 8/16/14. Growler filled on 8/14/14.

So there you have it. I'm getting pretty close to exhausting Hill Farmstead's standard brews. Someday, I may have to fill a growler with something I've had before, like Abner. The horror! Already looking forward to it!

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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.

Email me at mciocco at gmail dot com.

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