Ninkasi

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Over at Badass Digest, Devin Faraci adds an unlikely member to their Badass Hall of Fame:

A Sumerian godess, Ninkasi was a specialist god. She let other gods deal with the mundane shit like creating the world or healing the sick or governing the rains. Ninkasi got down to business, and her business was brewing. Ninkasi was the Sumerian goddess of beer.
He then goes into the Hymn of Ninkasi, which apparently doubles as a recipe for beer itself (paging Dogfish Head: I think you have a new candidate for your Ancient Ales series). The post also goes into the oft-repeated rumor of beer helping create civilization, a subject that is apparently gaining credibility (it's probably still wishful thinking, but whatever). In any case, here's to Ninkasi, the brewing god.


Update: Apparently there's a brewery called Ninkasi Brewing Company in Oregon. Go figure. Looks like they make some good stuff too, though I don't recall seeing any of them around here (they seem to be West Coast only at this point, and of course since I'm in PA, no shipping to me either).

Adventures in Brewing - Part 1

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Well, I've made the leap into the realm of homebrewing. I've noticed lately that while I do participate in a number of creative activities, most of what I end up creating is virtual (i.e. it's all done on the computer). There isn't anything wrong with that, of course, but I've been itching to make something out here in meatspace, and brewing beer should help me scratch that itch.

I stopped by a local brewshop yesterday and picked up a brewing kit, complete with a Brewer's Best English Brown Ale ingredient kit (which should make something akin to a Newcastle Brown Ale). A Trappist brew master, I am not, but it seems like a good place to start (a step ahead of the venerable Mr. Beer, but far below the all-grain brewers). My first brewing attempt is tonight, so wish me luck. Beer nerd details are below, and I'll post an update after I've finished.

Brew #1: English Brown Ale
November 7, 2010

3.3 lb. Amber liquid malt extract
2 lb. Amber dried malt extract
8 oz. Caramel 60L malt grains
4 oz. Chocolate malt grains
6 oz. Crushed Carapils malt grains
1 oz. Willamette Bittering Hops
1 oz. Willamette Flavoring Hops
0.25 oz. Willamette Aroma Hops

Steeped grains in about 2.5 gallons filtered tap water at around 150°F for 20 minutes (some of the thinner grains filtered out of the bag before even putting it in the pot - is that bad? I just poured the debris into the pot too...). Removed grain bag slowly, letting whatever water was left in there drain out. Brought wort to a boil (mental note: allow more time to heat and boil water), removed from heat, added liquid and dried malt extracts, stirred vigorously, brought back up to a boil (again, I've underestimated how long it takes to bring even hot wort back to a boil and even had trouble keeping it at a good rolling boil - it was a very light boil). Once it was boiling again, added bittering hops. Kept at a small rolling boil for 45 minutes, added flavoring hops. Boiled 10 more minutes, added aroma hops. Boiled for 5 more minutes, then took off heat and placed pot in my sink (which was filled with some cold water and some ice) to quickly cool. This didn't work as well as I'd hoped, and I'll probably need more ice next time. Got the wort down to manageable temperature and poured it into my fermentation bucket (attempting to remove sediment with a controlled pour through a sanitized strainer, but wasn't super successful with that). Added some extra water to the bucket to bring up the 5 gallon mark, pouring from high up to aerate the wort. Pitched yeast, stirred a bit, threw the cap on, and installed the airlock. Done!

Original Gravity: 1.040 (this is a bit low, but the temperature of the wort was still a bit high at the time (around 80°, which can throw off the hydrometer because calibrated for 60° measurements). Correcting for temperature, I'm estimating something around 1.042-1.043. Still 0.002 or 0.003 off from the recommended O.G., but this will hopefully still work well enough. I'm guessing the ABV will be a bit lighter than predicted, but that should be ok.)

Well, it took a lot longer than I expected (between 3-4 hours). 2.5 gallons of water plus steeped grains/malt extract takes a while get back up and running on my setup (I have an electric stove, so temperature control is limited here, and honestly, it was even a bit difficult to keep it at a good boil without putting the lid on (but you're not supposed to do that really, so I tried to avoid that)). Part of it is also that it's my first time, so I was trying to be attentive and didn't really take any time away from the kitchen to do other stuff (next time I'll probably read a book or something, knocking out two birds with one stone). I'll need to check in tomorrow morning to (hopefully) report on the bubbling of the airlock (which would mean that fermentation is underway). In any case, it was an interesting session, and I think I've learned a lot, which is probably the best I should be hoping for at this point. Hopefully the next session will go a bit smoother (not to mention the wracking/bottling process for this batch).

Update 11/8/10: I was a little worried this morning when I didn't see any activity in the airlock, but when I got home from work, all appeared to be well. I have no idea how active it's supposed to be, but it's going at about one bubble per 20-25 seconds. Looking around the interwebs, this seems to be ok. There are too many variables to be sure, but at least there is some bubbling going on... So now we play the waiting game.

Update 11/9/10: Well, now this thing is bubbling up a storm. Intervals between bubbling have decreased to about 3-4 seconds. Once again, no idea how active it's supposed to be at this point, but this seems promising.

Update 11/20/10: Beer has been bottled. Read a recap here...

(Cross posted at Kaedrin Weblog)

Double Feature: Again IPA

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Another duo of India Pale Ales. Sometimes IPAs can taste a bit... samey, but the beers in this post (and the previous double feature), are quite distinct and flavorful. I drank these as I watched a double feature of She's Out of My League and Monsters, seemingly disparate movies that had some surprising similarities. Sure, one's a dumb-fun comedy and the other is ostensibly a sci-fi horror film, but they both seem pretty narrowly focused on the romantic relationship at their core. This was expected for League, but surprising for Monsters, though ultimately the post-mumblecore improvisation yields some uninspired dialogue (but there's a pretty great climax to the film). So while I found the movies surprisingly similar, it seems that IPAs are surprising me with how different they can be:

Victory Hopdevil Ale

Victory Hopdevil Ale - Another local favorite, I've had many a Hopdevil over the years. Pours a nice dark orange/amber, with a mostly clear appearance. A small finger of head. Smell is of floral hops, a delicious bitterness throughout the entire taste, from start to finish. Powerful, but not overpowering. Good carbonation and medium body... You wouldn't think it would be so smooth, but it's compulsively drinkable. I could (and have) drink these all night. A-

Beer Nerd Details: 6.7% ABV bottled (12 oz). Drank out of a pint glass.

Dogfish Head 90 Minute Imperial IPA

Dogfish Head 90 Minute Imperial IPA - One of the great things about Dogfish Head is that every one of their beers has a story behind it. This beer was their first continually hopped ale, meaning that instead of adding bittering hops to the wort at the beginning of the boil (later adding taste and aromatic hops), they add hops continuously throughout the entire boil, a little bit at a time. To aid them in this, they used that stupid vibrating football game - they set it up above their boil, threw a bunch of hops on it, and as the field vibrated, the hops gradually fell off the board and into the pot. (This method was apparently abandoned for obvious safety reasons, and more specialized hardware created for their larger scale operations). A bit lighter in color than the Hopdevil, but a perfect head, and hoppy aroma with some more complex citrus and floral notes. A more roasty malt flavor, perhaps even a bit less bitter than the hopdevil. A more complex taste, with a nice lingering bitterness that cuts the alcohol well. Still, given that high alcohol content, I don' t know that I'd want to drink a bunch of these at once (like I could with Hopdevil), but on the other hand, it's a big flavorful hop bomb that's tough to beat. A

Beer Nerd Details: 9.0% ABV bottled (12 oz). Drank out of a pint glass.

Another hard to beat pair of IPAs, though somehow, I'm doubting that this will be the last of the great IPAs I review on this blog.

The Session: Wheat Beers

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On the first Friday of every month, there's a beer blog roundup called The Sessions. Started by Stan Hieronymus and hosted by a rotating group of bloggers, each Session has a chosen topic, and this month's is being hosted by BeerTasters.ca and covers the general topic of Wheat Beers:

Feel free to take this topic in any direction you like, specific reviews, historical information, or any other twist you'd like to use. Wheat beers are a pretty wide topic and actually cover German style Weizen, Heffe Weizen, etc. along with Belgian style Witbier and even Flavoured Wheat beers.

There are very few guidelines here, just have some fun drinking Wheat Beers in the fall instead of the summer.

So there. I'm no expert on the style, but I've had plenty of wheat beers over the years. One of the reasons I wanted to start this blog was so that I'd gain a better understanding of beer, and while I've had a few great wheat beers lately (notably, Unibroue's Blanche De Chambly, a great beer I didn't even realize was a wheat beer, and Dogfish Head's Namaste, which is also pretty good, in a more traditional wheat beery way), I've found that having to write about beer makes me think differently about beer. While I've been drinking lots of craft beer over the past couple of years, I've only been blogging about it for a few weeks, so I'm not sure if I can trust my memory on the beers I just mentioned. So tonight I tried out a semi-local Hefeweizen:

Flying Dog In-Heat Wheat

Flying Dog In-Heat Wheat - I've had several Flying Dog beers, while they're eminently drinkable, they're rarely exceptional (the one exception might be the Raging Bitch IPA, which was pretty great). This shouldn't really matter, but Flying Dog also has amazing labels on their bottles. Apparently the owner of Flying Dog was good friends with Hunter S. Thompson, and through that connection came artist Ralph Steadman. He's got a distinctive art style, and the labels on all of Flying Dog's beers are awesome. Anyway, I found myself in a beer distributer the other day, and the Flying Dog variety case seemed like a pretty good idea, and among the variety was this Hefeweizen. It pours a light orange/yellow color. There's a bit of a haze too it, but I could still see my hand through it pretty easily. Smells a little yeasty with some citrus thrown in. Sweet, light, crisp wheaty/yeasty taste with a finish that's a little more tart than bitter. A little bit of citrus flavor, but the character of this beer isn't especially strong. It's light and refreshing, but it's not lighting the world on fire either. Like most of Flying Fish's offerings, it's quite drinkable and would make a nice summer session beer, but it's not exactly the best wheat beer I've had or anything. I'll give it a solid B-. Not something I'd seek out regularly, but it's still pretty good.

Beer Nerd Details: 4.7% ABV bottled (12 oz). Drank out of a pint glass.

Later in the night, I had a few IPAs, which I must admit, put this one to shame. Part of that might be that wheat beers aren't often meant to be huge flavor bombs, but I do like the wheat beer style, and there are many that I'm looking forward to trying. So here's a list of other Wheat beers I'd like to try (that I've never had before):

  • Weihenstephaner Hefeweissbier (duh)
  • St. Bernardus Witbier
  • Victory Whirlwind Witbier (pretty sure I've had several of these one night, but it's been a while)
  • Victory Sunrise Weissbier
Any other recommendations?

Grindhouse Double Feature: Tripels

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One of the crimes of modern cinematic history is the failure of Grindhouse at the box office and the subsequent lack of proper DVD/BD distribution (which was, in itself, a result of the bad box office). Grindhouse was one of my favorite movies of 2007, so this was most distressing to me. Sure, the two feature films that made up the total experience were available individually, but they were different cuts of the films and they were missing one of the key features of the Grindhouse experience: the trailers. Amazingly enough, this egregious oversight was recently corrected with the Blu-Ray release of Grindhouse (in it's full cinematic glory). Tonight, I watched that movie, and took the opportunity to retry two of my favorite beers. As I write this post, I'm watching the movie with the Audience Reaction Track on. It's kinda lame. Just a lot of hooting, cheering, and hollaring. But the movie is awesome, so there's that.

Westmalle Tripel

Westmalle Abby Tripel: Brouwerij der Trappisten van Westmalle is a Belgian Trappist Brewery, one of only 7 in the world. Yes, this beer is brewed by Monks, and as it turns out, they're among the best brewers in the world (and have been for a long time). Some reading around on Wikipedia indicates that this brewery in particular is responsible for inventing (or at least popularizing) two key Belgian beer styles: the Dubbel and the Tripel (which I'm drinking tonight). Pours a hazy golden color with an impressively huge head. Lots of bubbly activity in the head, good retention and a smell of sweet malty goodness with a little bit of fruit and some spiciness added in for good effect. Taste of fruity malts and a yeasty kick, with a nice warming booziness. Good carbonation and medium body, a near perfect taste. It's not hard to see why this beer is considered the standard for the style. A

Beer Nerd Details: 9.5% ABV bottled (750 ml, caged and corked bottle). Drank from a goblet.

As Planet Terror ends and the glorious fake trailers begin, I pop the cork off what could be my all time favorite beer:

Unibroue La Fin Du Monde

Unibroue La Fin Du Monde: The perfect beer. Pours that same hazy gold color, with that same large, active head. There's a bit less retention here, and the smell is more spicy. Taste has a similar malty goodness, and the spiciness is more pronounced - lots of coriander and orange peel detectable here, and maybe a little clove (these spices are seemingly favored by Unibroue, as a lot of their paler ales have that sort of mixture). Spicy sweet, this beer is perfectly balanced. Medium body and good carbonation, with perfect taste and like the Westmalle, the strong alcohol content gives it a nice, warming, boozy kick. The name translates to "The End of the World", and given that name and the high alcohol content, this makes for a great last beer of the night (or, you know, if you ever think the world is going to end)! A+

Beer Nerd Details: 9.0% ABV bottled (750 ml, caged and corked bottle). Drank from a goblet.

Whew, drinking two 750 ml tripels in one night is perhaps not entirely advisable, but if you ever cross paths with either of these, give them a shot. You won't be disappointed.

Boxcar Original Ale

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Earlier this week, I lamented the beers of Yards, a local brewery that I've never really connected with. Last night, whilst on a drunken quest for pizza, I spied a sixer of Boxcar Brewing's Original Ale. I'd just recently heard about this online, as the brewery is apparently located in West Chester, PA, which is where I live, so this is probably as local as it gets (distribution is limited to Southeast PA at this point). As we've already established, I'm a total homer, so I immediately picked up the six pack and anxiously awaited the pizza and beer meal I was about to consume.

boxcar original ale

Boxcar Original Ale: Pours a light, hazy yellowish color, with a small head. The head did retain itself and there was lots of "lacing" as the beer nerds call it as I drank. The smell was lightly sweet, with some citrus thrown in for good measure. Taste was also a bit mild, with some malts and hops coming through, and a hint of that citrus flavor as well (it's a bit lemony, which is a nice touch). BA calls it an American Pale Ale, but it feels more German in style, maybe even something with wheat in it. It strikes me as a nice summer ale, light and crisp. Unfortunately, when you put all this together, you don't really get anything that stands out too much. I don't really detect anything wrong with it, but at the same time, there's nothing particularly amazing about it either. It's light and mild, which is fine, I guess, but not something I'm going to immediately run out and shove into people's hands telling them that they need to try it. This is apparently the only beer that Boxcar makes right now (having just launched earlier this year), and it shows a lot of promise. With some tweaking, I think this beer would come out better, but as of right now, there's not much to differentiate this from the throngs of other startups. I'm sure part of this is my homer instincts talking, but I'll give it a provisional B- (I suspect some might rate it lower).

Beer Nerd Details: 5.0% ABV bottled (12 oz). Drank out of a pint glass.

I don't really understand why new breweries start with this kind of mild beer. I suppose it's inoffensive, but at the same time, it's not particularly memorable either. I look forward to new and hopefully more ambitious efforts from this brewery. Even if I don't see myself falling back on the Original Ale too often, I think it does show a lot of potential from this tiny upstart. In any case, Victory remains the champion home team for now.

Jackass and Young's Double Chocolate Stout

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There's something commendable about the cast of Jackass and their willingness to endure pain and suffering for the sake of comedy. Sure, people farting or getting hit in the genitals with a ball isn't exactly highfalutin, but I'll be damned if I wasn't laughing. A few years ago, one of the more pretentious movie critics I actually enjoyed listening to, on the podcast formerly known as Cinecast (#32, if you want to listen in), made a surprisingly vigorous defense of the first Jackass movie. His argument is that our society is, in some ways, constructed to avoid pain, and that the Jackass guys are laudable because they intentionally attempt to do things that no one else would ever think of doing. Yeah, that's a pretty nerdy take on a movie prominently featuring poo, but it is an interesting perspective. Why do we avoid pain, and is that limiting our lives?

I just got out of Jackass 3D, and things have changed slightly. This time around, I'd say that the movie makes me wonder why society is constructed to avoid bodily waste products like vomit, urine, and feces. Oh no, wait, it didn't. But it did remind me of that defense of the original Jackass, and I wish I had some sort of crazy disgusting beer to drink right now so that I could describe the experience for you, but alas, I have no Bud Light Chelada or Crazy Ed's Cave Creek Chili Beer handy. Before taking in the cinematic wonder that is Jackass 3D, I did spend some time at another crappy sports bar... naturally, the selection was limited, but there were actually a few interesting beers on tap, so I tried out a stout, a style I've been meaning to get more acquainted with and which could potentially have provided me with a solid base for the vomit induced by the film:

Youngs Double Chocolate Stout

Young's Double Chocolate Stout: Pours a nice dark black color with a full, thick and creamy head that was retained for a surprisingly long time. I couldn't really pick up much in the way of smells, but the taste was a solid chocolately flavor. It was a nitro pour, so it was very smooth and creamy (it had very little carbonation) It was chocolately sweet, but it had a bitter character as well - it wasn't exactly the familiar hoppy bite of an IPA or anything, but I guess that's why they call it a chocolate stout. It has a full body, but not quite as heavy as I expected. I've never really been a big fan of Stouts and while this is certainly something I can drink, it's not something that's really converted me to a Stout fan (as winter approaches, I plan on trying out more in the style though, so I guess we'll see). It's a solid beer, probably even better than I was expecting, but it's not lighting the world on fire either. I'll give it a B

I suppose drinking a heavy, full bodied stout on a full stomach before watching the latest vomit-inducing Jackass film is somewhat daring, but unfortunately, I didn't actually throw up. I would really have enjoyed describing for you, in detail, the tastes and mouthfeel of the beer coming back up, but alas, it wasn't to be. I'm sure some of you are taking that as a good thing, but I'm thinking of myself as a failure tonight. Thanks a lot Jackass!

Beer Nerd Details: 5.2% ABV on Nitro Tap. Drank from a pint glass.

Yards IPA

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I really want to like Yards. They're a local brewery and their selection is varied and even interesting. They've got this historical Philadelphia thing going on and heck, their labels are cool! Plus, you know, I'm a homer. If the beer is made close to here, I'll try it out. Yet, every beer I have from them seems to underwhelm. They're never bad, per say, they just never seem to really knock my socks off. Their IPA is a pretty good example:

Yards India Pale Ale: Pours a nice amber color with a decent head. Typical IPA hoppy smell (which is good), but the taste is pretty light on flavor (which is bad). You get some maltyness and the bitter hoppy slap at the end, but it's all rather weak. And there's a little bit of an aftertaste too, something that makes this beer hard to recommend. The beer nerds at BA seem to think more of this, so perhaps the tap I had it from was screwed up or something (it was at a crappy sports bar that had a whopping 2 craft beers available, so that's not beyond the realm of possibility). Maybe it's just that I've been having some exceptional IPAs of late, and this is certainly better than the light-lager swill most sports bars specialize in, but I still say give this one a pass. C+

Beer Nerd Details: 7.0% ABV on tap. Drank out of a pint glass.

Inexplicably, I still have not given up on Yards. They've somewhat recently started a series called the Ales of the Revolution, where they're recreating beers (allegedly) brewed by folks like Washington, Franklin and Jefferson (and apparently, there exist Bourbon Barrel Aged versions of each, though I haven't seen any around yet). Maybe I'm a sucker for the revolutionary gimmick, but I want to try these.

Double Feature: IPA

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During lat night's end of the Phillies season (sob), I was drowning my sorrows in a couple of India Pale Ales. I love a good IPA, but sometimes I feel like IPAs taste a bit... samey. However, the two I had last night were both exceptional and distinct.

Stone IPA

Stone IPA: Stone is known for being very aggressive in their marketing and their beers. This is one of their more "normal" brews, but damn if it isn't one of the best IPAs I've ever had. It pours a light, clear golden/orange color with a decent sized head. Smells floral and citrusy. The taste starts sweet, with a crisp, bitter finish. Refreshing, tasty and superbly balanced mixture of sweet and bitter. I actually had this on tap earlier this week and loved it then too (honestly, it seemed even better on draft, though that could have been because of all the drinking done before I got to this one). Not sure how many of these I had on that occasion, but it's definitely something I could drink all night. It's a solid A, and one of my favorite discoveries of late.

Beer Nerd Details: 6.9% ABV bottled (12 oz). Drank out of a pint glass.

Dogfish Head 60 Minute IPA: Dogfish Head is a brewery known for its mad scientist stylings, producing flavor and alcohol bombs that are best consumed in relatively small quantities. This one, though, is very drinkable. Pours a little darker than the Stone and the smell is less citrusy and more bitter. Not as refreshing as the Stone either, but there's a more flavorful bitter finish. Bitterness is definitely the center of attention here. It lingers a bit longer and is more complex than most IPAs. I guess not as well-balanced as the Stone, but it's hard to really find any fault here, especially if you're a hophead. A-

Beer Nerd Details: 6.0% ABV bottled (12 oz). Drank out of a pint glass.

There we have it. It's hard to beet this duo, though I've got another double feature planned with a few more aggressive IPA style.

Yuengling Traditional Lager

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In Pennsylvania, if you want a Yuengling, all you need to do is ask for a "lager". This seems to amuse outsiders quite a bit, but for us, it's just normal. Yuengling is pretty much my default beer. It's available everywhere, it's dirt cheap, and it actually tastes good (a thousand times better than macro beers like Bud, Miller, etc...). I've drank so many of these that I don't know that I can really write a review, as its taste is pretty much hardwired into me. I take a sip, the muscle memory kicks in, and I grin. Does it knock my socks off like something out of a Trappist brewery? Well, no. But I can drink 6 of these without having to take out another mortgage. And I can actually find them in a bar. (I'll give it a B.)

Yuengling Poster

Once you leave PA, it doesn't seem anywhere near as ubiquitous, though everyone seems to enjoy it. Friends at school would often load up their cars on the way home, not just so they had their own secret stash, but because their pops wanted some too. (Of course, when the default beer at college is Natural Light, Yuengling actually does seem like some sort of Trappist rarity, but I digress.) There's something about the Yuengling brand that's just endearing. Perhaps it's the storied history - it is America's oldest continuously running brewery, after all. Or maybe it's just local pride. Whatever the case, it seems to strike a chord with people around here. Would it continue to do so if the brewery expanded their distribution?

A few years ago, Yuengling expanded their operation to Florida, effectively covering the entire east coast. I remember seeing it on tap in Florida once and being shocked (alas, they didn't quite have the "lager" lingo down, earning me a confused look from the bartender). I assume west coasters have never even heard of it. Well that will probably be changing soon:

Now, the fifth-generation brewing scion and sole owner is poised to make his riskiest move yet to expand the nation's oldest beer maker. Yuengling (pronounced ying-ling) announced last week that it signed a letter of intent to buy a former Coors brewery in Memphis, Tenn. The facility would be the Pennsylvania brewer's largest and could more than double the company's overall capacity and allow it to expand distribution into multiple states beyond its 13-state footprint in the Eastern U.S.
Will it make it all the way to the west coast? I wouldn't be surprised either way. The company is apparently quite conservative when it comes to expanding (which makes sense, considering their longstanding history), so maybe this will just be a mid-west thing. I'd be curious to see how west coasters like this beer though. The storied reputation in this area and limited distribution elsewhere could end up being its downfall if expectations get too high. In any case, if you've never heard of it and you start seeing it popping up, give it a shot. It's not liquid crack or a transcendent experience or anything, but it is a great session beer. (thanks to Jay for the link)

Update: Funnily enough, the beer nerds at BeerAdvocate call this an "American Amber / Red Lager". I just labeled it as a "lager" without even thinking. Heh. I was also expecting the judgement of the beer nerds to be a bit harsher, but a "B-" is probably about as good as I could ever hope for here.

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