Recently in Barleywine Category

Bourbon County Brand Fun

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Every year, beer nerds bemoan the influence of big beer and in particular the never-ending succession of breweries that sell out to the great satan, AB Inbev. And every year, a not insignificant portion of same line up hours in advance of the Black Friday release of Goose Island's Bourbon County Brand Stout and associated variants. This year, I heard tales of people getting in line overnight and still getting shut out of some of these variants. To give some context beyond the timing component (which is surely enough of a weird thing by itself), in the Philadelphia area, temperatures were somewhere around 15°F, which is mighty cold. Me? I rolled up right as a local beer distributor was opening, and picked up a full allotment... then popped over to another place on my way home and picked up some more. All told, it took about an hour, and most of that was just because the poor sales clerk at the first place was all alone and had to build up all the mixed cases that people were ordering, so it took a while (it was all very orderly and friendly, but I felt bad for the guy anyway). (Update: Even further context - most of this stuff can still be found on shelves somewhere. Maybe a tad overpriced, but it's out there if you're looking for it.)

Taste The Rainbow

Anyway, this year there were 8 different variants of BCBS, though two are Chicago-only releases. As usual, my favorite is the plain ol, regular BCBS. I suspect Vanilla could give it a run for its money over time, if previous iterations of Vanilla variants are any indication (the 2014 Vanilla Rye was phenomenal as recently as 2017). This year also mucked around with my other favorite release, the Barleywine. In its original incarnation, the Barleywine was phenomenal. After the 2015 infection-plagued batch, they tweaked it (in particular, aging it in fresh bourbon barrels rather than third-use barrels), but it was still great. This year, it's not being offered at all, being replaced by a coffee-dosed version and a new Wheatwine. As we'll see below, this represents an interesting change of pace, but ultimately left me craving the old-school barleywine (especially circa 2013/2014). All the other variants have their place and are interesting spins on the base, but not strictly necessary. Alright, enough preamble, let's get into it:

BCBS Vanilla

Bourbon County Brand Vanilla Stout - Pretty standard BCBS-like pour, black with not much tan head. Smell is more vanilla forward than previous BCBS takes on vanilla, straddling the line on artificial (I mean, not Funky Buddha levels artificial, but it's more prominent than you'd expect), but either way, it smells nice to me. Taste is still delicious, standard BCBS profile with that added vanilla marshmallow sweetness, quite nice. Mouthfeel is thick and full bodied, rich and sweet without being cloying, well carbonated. Overall, it's not quite as great as VR was the last time I had it, but that one got better with time, and it's quite possible that this will too (of course, it's also possible that this will turn into an artificial vanilla flavored mess - only one way to find out). For now, it's my favorite of the variants this year. A-

Beer Nerd Details: 14.9% ABV bottled (500 ml). Drank out of a snifter on 11/23/18. Bottled on: 05SEP18.

Bourbon County Brand Wheatwine Ale

Bourbon County Brand Wheatwine Ale - Pours a clear pale amber color with just a cap of fizzy off-white head that quickly resolves to a ring around the edge of the glass. Smells sweet, candied fruit, maybe banana and coconut, and lots of boozy bourbon. Taste starts off sweet and rich, maybe some light toffee, and that candied fruit, banana with bourbon and a small amount of oak kicking in as well. Mouthfeel is rich and full bodied, sticky, well carbed, with plenty of boozy heat. Overall, it's a nice change of pace, but it's not really a substitute for the regular barleywine. It feels like a slightly more substantial version of pale-colored BBA beers like Helldorado or Curieux, meaning that it doesn't quite take on the BBA character as well as darker barleywines/stouts, but is still pretty good. I suspect this one could grow on me. B+ or A-

Beer Nerd Details: 15.4% ABV bottled (500 ml). Drank out of a snifter on 11/24/18. Bottled on: 13AUG18.

Bourbon County Brand Coffee Barleywine

Bourbon County Brand Coffee Barleywine - Made with Intelligentsia Finca La Soledad coffee beans - Pours a very dark amber brown color with a cap of short lived off-white head. Smells of... coffee, and that's pretty much it. Maybe some underlying sweetness from the malt or bourbon if you really search for it, but mostly coffee. The taste starts off more like a barleywine, rich caramel and toffee, but then that coffee comes in and starts wreaking havoc. Alright, fine, this might be my coffee ambivalence talking, but in truth, it stands out more here than it does in the stout because at least the stout has complementary flavors. Here it sorta clashes. I mean, it's still tasty and it's not like I would turn down a pour, but coffee and barleywine together just aren't my bag. This represents yet another change of pace that is all well and good, but come on, the regular barleywine was awesome, and this isn't really an improvement. B+

Beer Nerd Details: 15.1% ABV bottled (500 ml). Drank out of a snifter on 11/25/18. Bottled on: 27SEP18.

Bourbon County Brand Midnight Orange Stout

Bourbon County Brand Midnight Orange Stout - Made with orange zest and cocoa nibs - Pours dark brown, almost black, with almost no head. At first, it smells like a pretty standard BCBS profile, but then that citrus and chocolate really pops, especially as it warms. Taste follows the nose, that orange and chocolate popping nicely, especially as it warms. Indeed, the warmer it gets, the more and more this feels like its own thing. The chocolate and orange really overtake the base at higher temps and I'm not entirely sure that's for the best. Mouthfeel is rich and full bodied, moderate carb, plenty of booze. Overall, its a very nice take on the BCBS base, and I tend to like this more than the other fruited variants I've had... B+

Beer Nerd Details: 15.2% ABV bottled (500 ml). Drank out of a snifter on 12/1/18. Bottled on: 18SEP18.

Bourbon County Brand Bramble Rye Stout

Bourbon County Brand Bramble Rye Stout - Speaking of other fruited variants, this is BCBS with raspberries and blackberries. Pours a similar color with a bit more head than normal. Smell is overwhelmed by jammy fruit. Well, "jammy fruit" is the nice way to say it. You could also say "fruit by the foot with a dash of Robitussin", but that's probably a bit unfair. Taste has a nice rich sweetness to it, but that is again overwhelmed by the fruit, not quite as tussin-heavy as the nose, but still not quite "right". It's like they buried BCBS and a bunch of fruit in Pet Sematary and it came back "wrong". I mean, it's not bad, but I'd rather be drinking regular ol' bcbs. Unquestionably my least favorite of the year, and vying for least favorite variant of all time. B-

Beer Nerd Details: 12.7% ABV bottled (500 ml). Drank out of a snifter on 12/3/18. Bottled on: 24AUG18.

Certainly an interesting crop, and the Chicago exclusives like the Reserve (aged in Elijah Craig barrels) and Proprietor's (I think some sort of chocolate monster this year) sound great. Still, I always fall back on the original BCBS, and drink plenty throughout the year. Here's to hoping they bring back the Barleywine next year. In the meantime, stout season will continue with a local brewery's take on a BBA stout series, though perhaps I'll mix things up a bit and review something different next. Until then, keep watching the skies! Or, uh, this space. You'll probably find more beer talk here, and not the skies. But you should probably watch the skies too.

Xyauyù Gold Label 2011

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A solid decade of beer obsession has weakened certain of my more frugal impulses, sometimes to the extreme level of buying beers like Baladin's line of still barleywines like Xyauyù. It'll put a hurting on your wallet for sure, but I must say, there's nothing else quite like it.

Baladin's Matterino "Teo" Musso is one of the folks leading the charge in Italian beer, and likes to experiment with beers like this, which he calls a "sofa beer", presumably because he used real sofas in making the beer (or just, like, sitting on a couch and sipping this is cool. What I'm saying is that sofas are either an ingredient in the beer or a place where you'd want sit whilst consuming. One of those two things.)

This is a barleywine (#BiL) that has been exposed to air in order to kick off an intentional bout of oxidation, then aged for 2.5 to 3.5 years before release. It's bottled without carbonation and comes completely still. The whole process is tremendously unusual for beer, but has an air of dessert wines like an old tawny port or sipping sherry. I suppose some barleywines actually live up to their name. There's a whole bunch of variants, including ones aged in differing barrels and tea or tobacco or other wacky ingredients, but to my mind, the regular ol' gold label is pretty spectacular by itself.

I realize that most people won't pony up $45-$50 for a single 500 ml bottle of beer, but I will say that this pricing does put it in the company of well aged port, sherry, and madeira wines, which aren't exactly cheap (and are often significantly more expensive). Not an everyday beer in any sense, but as a rare splurge, I think it's worth the stretch and would fit a digestif role fantastically. After all, Barleywine is Life, and it doesn't get much more lifelike than this:

Baladin Xyauyù Etichetta Oro (Gold Label) 2011

Baladin Xyauyù Etichetta Oro (Gold Label) 2011 - Pours a clear, dark amber color, almost brown, no head whatsoever, flat as a board. Smells wonderful, raisins, figs, rich caramel, toffee, molasses, some nutty aromas, an intense nose. Taste hits those rich caramel notes, toffee, molasses dark candied fruits, dried plums, raisins, figs, a nice nutty character, some oxidation showing but in the best way possible, and a heaping helping of booze. Mouthfeel is completely still, flat, but still rich and full bodied, not quite syrupy, with a pleasant boozy heat. I used to be bothered by low carbed beers, but somehow it doesn't bother me here at all, and indeed, I can't imagine this having the same impact otherwise (not sure if this just means I've gotten over a carb sensitivity issue or if it's just this one beer that works). Overall, this is some spectacular stuff, though rating something so unique is a bit of a challenge. I'll call it an A-, but still recommend the experience if you've got the stomach for spending that much (some places will do a thing where they pour you a 3-5 ounce glass, which won't be particularly cheap, but definitely more manageable than a whole bottle. This was how I got my first taste of this years ago - it blew me away and made the decision to bypass frugality and purchase a bottle much easier.)

Beer Nerd Details: 14% ABV bottled (500 ml waxed and corked; packaged in a tube). Drank out of a snifter on 8/31/18. Vintage: 2011.

As mentioned above, there are variants, though I've only ever seen one or two. That being said, I may pull the trigger on one of those someday, though probably not anytime soon. That being said, I have another beer review coming for something uniquely pricey and boozy, so stay tuned.

Athens to Athens, Grist to Grist

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So Jackie O's Pub & Brewery is located in Athens, Ohio, and for this beer, they collaborated with Creature Comforts Brewing in... Athens, Georgia. This is surely not a coincidence and in fact, evidence of a deeper conspiracy. There is an Athens in New York and we all know the OG Athens in Greece. It's spreading. Fortunately this conspiracy seems to be aimed at making beer, so we might as well take advantage.

This is a smoked barleywine style ale aged in bourbon barrels for about a year, which sounds all well and good... except for that "smoked" bit, which warrants suspicion. Sometimes this means you'll be wondering who put their cigar out in your beer, but fortunately in this case, our collaborators either went with a light touch on the smoke, or the bourbon barrel treatment mellowed things out enough that it's adding complexity without overwhelming the base. For grist thou art, and unto grist shalt thou return. Well that doesn't make sense, but the beer is pretty good:

Jackie Os Athens to Athens, Grist to Grist

Jackie O's Athens to Athens, Grist to Grist - Pours a murky cola color with finger of light tan head. Smell has a bit of caramel, bourbon, oak, and vanilla, and a background of residual fruity sweetness. Taste is sweet, lots of caramel, more bourbon, oak, and vanilla than the nose would imply. If I do the tasting equivalent of squinting I can detect a hint of that smoked malt coming through, but it's not one of those situations that will leave you wondering who put their cigar out in your beer, it's just a sorta background note of tobacco that adds complexity. Mouthfeel is rich, full bodied, and well carbonated. Overall, this is pretty damn good. A-

Beer Nerd Details: 11.5% ABV bottled (375 ml). Drank out of a snifter on 7/15/18.

Very nice, but situations like these always make me wonder: what would a more "normal" version of this be like. I tend to think the same beer without smoked malt would be better, but maybe I'm just yelling at clouds here.

Smog City Bourbon Barrel-Aged O.E.

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The O.E. in this beer's name actually does stand for Olde English, complete with the anachronistic pseudo-Early Modern English spelling... that we know from the classic 40 ounce malt liquor of choice that we may or may not have duct taped to both hands in college (an act of breathtaking stupidity we called "80 ounces to freedom" but which was later dubbed by our cultural superiors as "Edward Fortyhands", probably a more fitting name), Olde English 800. Alas (or fortunately, depending on your point of view), this is not barrel aged malt liquor, but rather an excellent english-style barleywine aged in bourbon barrels for over a year (some sources say 15 months, the label is more vague). Unfortunately (or fortunately), it doesn't come in 40 ounce bottles. Pour one out for #BiL:

Smog City Bourbon Barrel-Aged O.E.

Smog City Bourbon Barrel-Aged O.E. - Pours a deep, dark amber brown color with a half finger of off-white head that quickly resolves into a ring around the edge of the glass. Smells amazing, rich caramel, toffee, brown sugar, hints of fruit, and that bourbon, oak, and vanilla. Taste hits the same notes as the nose, caramel and fruit, plenty of bourbon, oak, and vanilla. Mouthfeel is well carbonated, rich and full bodied, though maybe not quite as much as the nose would have you believe. Overall, this is pretty damn fantastic. A-

Beer Nerd Details: 13.1% ABV bottled (500 ml waxed). Drank out of a snifter on 7/13/18. Bottled 5/14/18 #BIL

It's not going to unseat ADWTD or Aaron as favorite barleywines, but few would, and this is much easier to get your hands on.

Good Measure Tawny

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A couple of years ago, Alex from dontdrinkbeer.com noticed that while there was a Facebook group for seemingly every style of beer, there wasn't one for Barleywine. So he created Barleywine is Life (#BiL) and the group quickly became a wretched hive of scum and villainy. Seriously, it's a crazy little group of people and there's a surprising amount of drama. I know, it's the internets, what do you expect, but this is still a step above the usual dank memes and inappropriate comments (in, like, a good way).

Anywho, the date 8/17 has become something of a holiday to the group (817, like BIL, get it?) so I figured I'd break out the one VT barleywine I procured during during the most recent Operation Cheddar... Tawny is an English Style Barleywine (that's good) aged in maple syrup bourbon barrels (very good) with vermont table grapes (Um... I don't know what to think about that). Let's dig in:

Good Measure Tawny

Good Measure Tawny - Pours a copper amber color (dare I say, tawny?) with a finger of off white head. Smells sweet with a distinct vinous character, those grapes coming through, and maybe some of that syrupy goodness too. Taste starts sweet, malt and fruit, that distinct vinous character again, some caramel, toffee, oak, and vanilla, finishing with some dry grape notes (a tannic sort of dryness, like a dry red wine). Mouthfeel is rich, well carbonated, and full bodied, a bit of boozy heat, drying tannins in the finish. Overall, it's good, but I'd rather the grapes were left out of it. B

Beer Nerd Details: 14% ABV bottled (500 ml). Drank out of a snifter on 8/17/18.

It was certainly nice to break up the giant wave of IPAs I've been drowning in of late (it's the struggle, you know?) with something like this, and while I wasn't a huge fan of the grape addition, it was at least an interesting experiment. I'd be curious to try more Good Measure stuff next time I'm in VT. I'm going to have to plan a trip for cooler months of the year so I don't overload on IPAs and Saisons the way I tend to do during the summer months.

Kane Object Permanence

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Object Permanence is the idea that objects continue to exist even when you are no longer observing them. Unfortunately, beer does cease to exists if you insist on drinking it. Doubly unfortunate when the beer is as good as this one.

Kane was one of the brewers that made this Pennsylvanian take notice of New Jersey, which sez a lot, and I've been particularly impressed with their barrel program. A Night to End All Dawns and its associated variants are spectacular, but alas, I keep losing the lottery and have to make due with the generosity of friends at shares to get a taste of the stuff. I've had a few tastes of other Barrel Aged goodies from them, which have been uniformly great. Fortunately, I did manage to procure this bit of life, an English Barleywine with a complicated malt bill aged in bourbon barrels for over a year. The beer is gone, but the idea continues to exist even though I can no longer drink it. Or something like that. What is this, a psychology blog? No, it's a beer blog, so read my dumb tasting notes:

Kane Object Permanence

Kane Object Permanence - Pours a murky brown color with a cap of off-white head. Smells fantastic, rich toffee, caramel, a hint of dark fruit, and a great bourbon, oak, and vanilla character. Taste follows the nose, rich toffee, caramel, dark fruit, and a boozy bourbon, oak, and vanilla character. Mouthfeel is full bodied, rich, and chewy, almost creamy, moderate carbonation provides just enough levity, some boozy heat but nothing unwieldy. Overall, this is fantastic, one of the better examples of life that I've had. A

Beer Nerd Details: 11.8% ABV bottled (750 ml waxed). Drank out of a snifter on 4/20/18. Vintage: 2016 (batch 1?)

I've recently come into a couple of more Kane bottles. One is last year's vintage of Object Permanence (huzzah), and the other is a BBA anniversary beer from them. Stay tuned. I may not wait two months to write that one up (assuming I drink it soon). Fingers crossed for this year's ANTEAD lottery too.

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.

Siren Maiden 2015

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England's Siren brewing started luring unsuspecting and wary travelers to their doom a few years ago, and the first beer they brewed was a big American-style barleywine - their "maiden" voyage, if you will. They promptly stashed the result away in various wine and spirits barrels and got a crew together to come up with a harmonious blend at the end of the next year. They never fully empty the barrels, though, leaving at least 10% left and refilling the remainder with fresh Maiden for the following year's batch. A sorta hybrid solera type system going on here, and I find myself reminded of a few big American efforts along similar lines. The solera-esque nature recalls the Bruery's Anniversary beers, the same-beer-in-different-expressions approach is like FiftyFifty's Grand Cru, and the whole Anniversary blend thing reminds me of Firestone Walker's Anniversary beers... Pretty good company, if you ask me.

This particular edition is the third in the series. About 50% is fresh American-style barleywine, the rest was the previous year's batch aged in a variety of barrels: 33% Auchentoshan (non-peated Scotch that has a reputation as a lighter whisky that makes a good component in blends), 21% Red Wine, 15% Jack Daniels, 9% Pedro Ximenez, 9% Madeira, 4.33% Tequila, 4.33% Glentauchers and 4.33% Banyuls. I've been somewhat lax at covering the whole British beer scene on this blog (hey, I've got a crapton of American breweries to keep up with here, give me a break), but this is the sort of thing that makes me want to succumb to that Siren song:

Siren Maiden

Siren Maiden 2015 - Pours a dark amber-hued brown color with a finger of off-white head. Smells of dark fruit, toffee, oak, with a little whisky and wine character coming through. Taste starts off rich and sweet, with some oak, fruit, and toffee kicking in, but dries up a little towards the finish, which has the remnants of a bitter hop bite. As it warms, more of that dank, aged hop character emerges. Mouthfeel is rich and full bodied up front, but thins out a little in the finish, a little booze heat, but nothing untoward, medium to high carbonation, but on point. Overall, a damn fine, complex barleywine. B+

Beer Nerd Details: 11.9% ABV bottled (500 ml waxed cap). Drank out of a snifter on 7/7/17. Vintage: 2015.

I may have to dig a little deeper into Siren's catalog, as this was quite pleasant. Would love to try other vintages to see how much the differing blends and barrels contribute.

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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 Barleywine category.

American Wild Ale is the previous category.

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