Imperial Eclipse Stout - Old Fitzgerald

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To state the blatantly obvious, I'm a beer guy. But I don't exclusively drink beer. After the Scotch de Silly debacle last week, I poured myself a glass of Port wine. I know very little about wine, but I enjoy a glass on occasion and could see myself exploring that world with the same enthusiasm as I have for beer (someday, but not today). And I will often start a night with a couple beers, but finish with a dram of scotch or, lately, bourbon.

Even if you're only into beer, I think you'll recognize that Pappy Van Winkle seems to have the reputation of "best Bourbon in the world", as evidenced by the "ermegerd Pappy" reactions surrounding beers aged in old PVW barrels (you can see some nerding out over PVW and barrel selection in the comments section of my Buffalo Trace BBVD review). But if you think the insanity around PVW barrel aged beers is excessive, just try to find youself an actual bottle of Pappy Van Winkle. Since it's got that reputation as the "best", everyone who wants to get into whisky (and apparently everyone does these days) tries to get themselves a bottle. Most liquor stores have waitlists with thousands of names on them, but they only get allocated a handful of bottles a year. Auctions, raffles, secret handshakes, these are tough bottles to land.

So why am I babbling about Pappy when this beer was aged in Old Fitzgerald barrels? Well, it turns out that Old Fitz was the original Pappy. For years, Old Fitzgerald was made at the now-defunct Stitzel-Weller distillery, which just happened to be where Julian "Pappy" Van Winkle toiled away at the art of Bourbon (legend has it that the distillery sported a sign that said "No Chemists Allowed"). If you ever find a bottle of 1970s era Old Fitzgerald, well, you've struck gold. Of course, that distillery is closed now, the Van Winkle family kept their own brand, and the Old Fitzgerald label was sold to Heaven Hill.

So far, I've loved all of FiftyFifty's Eclipse stouts, each variant aged in barrels from different expressions of whisky. This marks the fourth variant I've had, and while they're all uniformly excellent, there are some big differences between the variants. My two favorites, the Rittenhouse Rye and Elijah Craig 12 variants, are very different. The EC12 retained a lot of stoutlike character and roast, while the RR went the super rich direction, huge caramel and vanilla barrel character. Evan Williams came somewhere between the two, but perhaps leaning more towards the EC12 in terms of its flavor profile. And now we have Old Fitz, which isn't at the extreme of the RR, but leans that way. Let's take a closer look:

Imperial Eclipse Stout - Old Fitzgerald

FiftyFifty Imperial Eclipse Stout - Old Fitzgerald - Pours a deep dark black color with half a finger of tan head. Smells of bourbon, oak, vanilla, and caramel, quite nice. Taste is filled with rich caramel, with that bourbon, oak, and vanilla powering through the middle, with a bit of roast emerging towards the finish (not as much as Elijah Craig or Evan Willaims, but more than Rittenhouse Rye). Mouthfeel is a little less carbonated than I remember from the other variants, but we've otherwise got the same profile. Full bodied and rich, it's not a monster, but a well balanced sipper. Overall, another fantastic entry in the series. I cannot wait to crack into some 2013 variants, assuming I can get ahold of them! A-

Beer Nerd Details: 9.5% ABV bottled (22 oz. blue wax). Drank out of a snifter on 11/23/13. Bottle No. BR 3. 2012 Vintage.

So one caveat to my comparative results is that I never had any of these side by side. If my local beermonger gets more of these this year (including, ermegerd, a Pappy variant), I'll try to put together a comparative tasting or something. My wallet won't appreciate it (these are pricey beers), but I think it would be a lot of fun.

Port Barrel Aged Scotch De Silly

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Oh boy, I've been down this road before. I can't stand even the slightest hint of diacetyl in my beer. That buttery/butterscotch flavor that seems to be a common component in a lot of English pale ales just kills a beer for me. I've been over this before, so I won't belabor the point, but this was a Scotch Ale made in Belgium, then aged in Port barrels, what could go wrong? Diacetyl, apparently.

Port Barrel Aged Scotch De Silly

Brasserie de Silly Port Barrel Aged Scotch De Silly - Pours a deep, dark amber brown color with a finger of whitish head. Smells sweet, lots of vinous fruit (presumably from the port), but uh oh, is that diacetyl I'm picking up here? Taste starts off well enough, nice rich malt backbone, some fruit, a vinous note from the port, maybe a hint of oak, but also that slight diacetyl note that I just can never stand in beer. And it lasts through the finish, too. It's not super prominent, but it's really dragging this beer down for me. Mouthfeel starts out great, full bodied and rich, but it thins out a bit towards the finish. Overall, dammit, this is an otherwise excellent beer, but I will brook no diacetyl. Would still prefer this to most crappy macro beers, but it's a big disappointment. C+

Beer Nerd Details: 9% ABV bottled (750 ml caged and corked). Drank out of a tulip glass on 11/22/13. Vintage: 2013.

I really enjoy a glass of Porto from time to time, so it's depressing that every time I try a Port barrel aged beer, it turns out like this. One day, I'll get one that works. One day.

Buffalo Trace Big Black Voodoo Daddy

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I'm sure it's blindingly obvious that I love me some barrel aged beers. And while I've dabbled with beers aged in exotic spirits barrels like Tequila or Rum (not to mention sours, can't forget those), Bourbon barrels are clearly where it's at. But you can't just dump your beer into a barrel and expect it to come out perfect. There are some clear misfires out there (that aren't that bad, per say, but pale in comparison to the best stuff...) I think that FiftyFifty's Eclipse beers have shown us that the type of Bourbon in question is also a factor.

Indeed, there's a million factors to consider here. What condition is the barrel in? How long did the barrel have Bourbon in it? How long will the beer be in the barrel? What's that base beer like? What's the environment (i.e. temperature, humidity) for the barrel? And so on. Clearly those barrel masters have their work cut out for them.

Whoever is running Voodoo's barrel room has certainly made a pretty good name for themselves. Black Magick aged in Pappy Van Winkle barrels is an amazing beer (and I'm not alone in that assessment). The recently released (and sadly not secured by any Kaedrin operatives) K13 Barleywine is tearing up the trading forums too. So maybe my expectations were a little too high for this beer, which is Big Black Voodoo Daddy aged in Buffalo Trace barrels. It's not bad at all, but it sadly doesn't quite live up to the example of the Black Magick beers. Or, you know, maybe this barrel aging stuff isn't as exact a science as we'd like to think...

Voodoo Brewing Buffalo Trace Big Black Voodoo Daddy

Voodoo Buffalo Trace Big Black Voodoo Daddy - Pours a deep, dark, viscous looking black color with a minimal cap of light brown head that quickly resolves down to a ring around the glass. Smells of burnt caramel, vanilla, oak, and a heaping helping of bourbon. Taste has more roast than the nose would have you believe, less caramel too, along the lines of the regular BBVD, though the bourbon, oak, and vanilla are clearly there. Mouthfeel is thinner than expected, though still full bodied, not quite as rich and chewy as I was expecting. None of this is bad, I was just expecting something slightly different. Indeed, the more I drink, the more this grows on me, and in the end, I'm really enjoying it. Overall, it's a very good beer, better than the base (even though, d'oh, I graded the base beer the same - stupid ratings inflation). Perhaps not quite the amazing brew that Black Magick was, but still very good! B+

Beer Nerd Details: 12.5% ABV bottled (22 oz. blue waxed bomber) Drank out of a snifter on 11/16/13. Bottle #: 000096. Bottled Nov 27, 2012.

I've been doing this blog long enough that my grades have started to suffer from some form of inflation. I guess they can't all be A level beers, eh (but looking at the grade archives, maybe the can all be B+ level? - ed Quiet you!) I do have the other two BBVD variants, one aged in Pappy Van Winkle barrels (which legend fortells will part the skies and bring forth an angelic choir whilst you drink) and one aged in Lairds Apple Brandy barrels (which certainly worked well for Grand Met), so perhaps this one is just the odd man out.

Yards Olde Bartholomew

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I tried to find out who this "Old Bart" really was, but the only thing I could find was that he was "a free spirit who bent elbows with the best of 'em", which is pretty cool, to be sure, but not quite informative enough. There feels like a story here, and one that is not related to Saint Bartholemew (who has his own fair share of wacky stories). Nevertheless, what we've got here is a by-the-books English barleywine:

Yards Olde Bartholomew

Yards Olde Bartholomew - Pours a very striking, clear orange amber color with a finger of white head that leaves a bit of lacing as I drink (the clarity is surprising since the older blurbs about this beer indicate that it's unfiltered, but this is so clear that this fact must have changed when the switched their bottling line to 750s). The aroma feels very English, lots of Euro hops, earthy, herbal, very spicy hops, with some malt sweetness peeking out too. Taste is very sweet, with those earthy, herbal, spicy hops providing the bulk of flavor, and some malt character peeking through with a clear bit of booze lasting through the finish too. Mouthfeel is tightly carbonated, smooth, heavy, a bit boozy. Overall, this is a solid beer, but it's a bit simplistic for a a big, full 750. B

Beer Nerd Details: 10.3% ABV bottled (750 ml capped). Drank out of a snifter on 11/15/13.

Yards continues to be one of the local breweries I take for granted, but they do put out a fair amount of interesting stuff, so stay tuned. Maybe I'll luck into a Barrel Aged version of this, which I feel could be a big improvement...

Three Floyds Moloko

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In the Anglo-Russian slang of A Clockwork Orange, the word "Moloko" means milk, hence Three Floyds brewing a milk stout and slapping a Clockwork Orange-inspired label, right down to the swelled up font and the suspenders. It's my favorite of Three Floyds' labels, gorgeousness and gorgeousity made flesh, but as always, it's what's inside the bottle that counts.

In the book and movie, the drink is actually called a Moloko Plus, which is milk plus drugs. Alex and friends go to "milk bars" to drink up and prepare for a little ultra-violence. Sometimes Three Floyds' beer is also referred to as Moloko Plus, which is mildly disturbing, but my bottle sez nothing of this "Plus" and I didn't get anything more than a little buzzed from drinking it. As far as I'm aware, at least. So gather round, my droogs, it's time to head to the milk bar for the ol' in out (er, um, ok, maybe that metaphor doesn't exactly fit here. Heh, I said "fit". Ok, let's just drink this stuff.)

Three Floyds Moloko

Three Floyds Moloko - Pours a deep, dark brown color, almost black, with a finger of light brown head. Smells sweet, definitely got that milk stout character down pat, light on the coffee, chocolate, and roast, but those components are there. Taste is very sweet, some coffee and chocolate, very light on the roast, lots of lactose sweetness though. Mouthfeel is very smooth, well carbonated, full bodied but not as overbearing as it could have been (not as chewy as I expected, and this is a good thing), probably the best part about this brew, actually. Really easy drinking despite the sweetness. Overall, what we've got here is an above average milk stout. B+

Beer Nerd Details: 8% ABV bottled (22 oz. bomber). Drank out of a snifter on 11/9/13.

Another solid brew from Three Floyds, and unfortunately, the last of the booty from my Chicago trade (never fear, we're planning a winter trade for some barrel aged Revolution, which is exciting).

November Beer Club

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Tonight was Beer Club, a gathering of beer minded friends from work who get together every month at a local BYOB for libations and fun. This month, we hit up a local BBQ joint, which is always nice. Got me some smoked Chorizo, Brisket, and some fixins which made for a great accompaniment to all the beer. And there was a lot of it this time around. The picture is actually missing a bunch of bottles because we did not account for people showing up later with their own stuff.

beerclub-november13.jpg
(Click for larger version)

So yeah, lots of stuff this month, so these notes are almost certainly useless, but for the sake of posterity, I'm including them anyway. Because I'm a good person, that's why. Yeah, let's get to it: in approximate order of drinking (not necessarily pictured):

  • Southern Tier Krampus - An "Imperial Helles" is sorta like a contradiction in terms, but hey, it's an amped up Helles, and it works well enough. Nice uncommon hop character gives an otherwise clean beer the punch it needs. Really quite nice. B+
  • Ithaca Excelsior! White Gold - Bottle wasn't quite a gusher, and we managed to not lose any, but it was hugely carbonated and most of us poured a cup of foam that resolved into more normal beerlike appearance in a minute or two. Once we got to it, it was pretty damn good. Nice Belgian yeast character, wheat is there but not as dominant as you might think (slightly reminiscent of something like St. Bernardus Tokyo). This was one of the first beers we tasted, and I liked it a lot, but we revisited it towards the end of the night and damn, it got almost (not quite) sour. Big fruity esters started showing up when it was warm. Again, not quite sour, but it was going in that direction. All in all, I enjoyed this more than the Ithaca Excelsior Rye beer I had recently... B+
  • Victory Root Beer - Yep, it's a root beer! I'm no expert (hay, there's no alcohol in this!?), but it's really good as root beers go.
  • Sprecher Bootlegger's Bourbon Barrel Hard Root Beer - Not sure I would have pegged this as having anything to do with a bourbon barrel, let alone an alcoholic beverage at all, but perhaps the power of suggestion lead me to believe that there was some bourbon present in the taste. Or something. Ultimately, it drinks like a good root beer, which is nice...
  • Avery White Rascal - A beer I've had before and greatly enjoyed, it doesn't quite fit in with a tasting like this - it is easily overwhelmed by the other brews of the night. Still, I like this as a lawnmower beer on a hot day (alas, it's pretty cold here these days). B
  • River Horse Double Wit - I don't know if it's the 7% ABV or the way this was spiced, but it didn't really connect with me. It's not bad at all, and other folks appreciated the different take on spice and booze level, but it never quite hit me where I wanted it to. B-
  • Ken's Homebrewed Schwarzbier - We need to get on Ken to start entering his beers into untappd or something, because these are getting good. Not my favorite style, but it's a nice dark lager style beer, clean and crisp, lighter than it looks, and quite flavorful. Toasty but not quite full on roast. Me likey. B+
  • Kaedrin Xmas Dubbel - My homebrewed dubbel, with a slight dose of cinnamon when I was bottling, is actually drinking really well right now. The regular dubbel has really matured and changed a lot over time, getting more and more raisiny, but this one was more subdued (not that there's anything wrong with that). I'll leave it at B+
  • Lost Abbey Deliverance - One of my other contributions, and a beer I've reviewed before! It's still great. A-
  • Atwater Vanilla Java Porter - While opening this directly after Deliverance was a supremely bad idea, I still get the impression that this would underwhelm. It does have a nice vanilla character, but it's a little thinner than I generally want out of a stout and while I'm not a big fan of coffee, it's nonexistent here. Certainly a drinkable beer and would be welcome change of pace at a macro bar, but it's not something to really seek out. C+
  • Spring House Big Gruesome Chocolate Peanut Butter Stout - Can I just point you to a review from a couple weeks ago? No? Well too bad, cause that's what I'm doing. Still a B+ in my book.
  • Smuttynose Old Brown Dog Ale - The younger, weaker, smaller sibling to Really Old Brown Dog is a rather straightforward brown ale, which naturally has its merits (nice toasted malt and some heft to it) but again, should've probably opened this earlier in the night. Still glad I tried this, just to give context to Really old Brown Dog if not for its regular solid nature. B
  • Saucony Creek Chocolate Cherry Schnickelfritz - An object lesson in things sounding better than they taste, this seems to be a relatively well made imperial milk stout, but it's got this artificial feeling cherry aspect that sorta ruined the beer for me. Not an abomination, but not particularly good either. I guess all the beers I bring can't be winners! C
  • Ommegang Game Of Thrones #2 - Take the Black Stout - These Game of Thrones beers are actually pretty solid introductions to the whole Belgian beer world, and they work well enough for beer dorks too (a neat trick, appealing to the jaded hardcore and mainstream alike). I actually would call this more of a roasty Belgian Strong Dark rather than a full on stout, but to each their own. It's got a nice Belgian yeast character, spice and light fruit, with a hint of that roasted malt too, but the carbonation (and presumably attenuation) cuts through more than your typical stout. Still, it's very good, if not my favorite Ommegang beer. B+
  • River Horse Special Ale - No idea why this was opened so late in the night, but it's such a profoundly average beer that I doubt it would have made that much of an impression earlier in the night. There's absolutely nothing wrong wit it, and it's certainly a step up from fizzy yellow stuff light lagers, but its not really something to get excited about. C+
  • Victory Harvest Ale - I totally fell in love with Victory's Harvest Ale last year (and while I'm not a big Pils guy, the Harvest Pils was pretty good too), but this year's take fell completely flat to me. Not bad, per say, but something about this is rubbing me the wrong way. Perhaps it was a different hop variety, perhaps they used their Kolsch yeast instead of their normally clean IPA yeast, but whatever the case, it didn't inspire like last years. Again, it's pretty good, but it's disappointing. And I had this a couple weeks ago straight from the source too, so it's not just palate fatigue talking here! B
Yikes, that was a lot of beers. Luckily there were a lot of people in attendance, so my tastes were limited on most of these (yet another reason to take my notes with a grain of salt), but this was a really fun installment. Here's to hoping the December one will be just as great!

Crooked Stave Surette

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I bet you thought I was joking when I said that every day is saison day here at Kaedrin. No? Well, whatever, here's another oak aged, Brett fermented 5 grain badass from Crooked Stave.

Crooked Stave Surette

Crooked Stave Surette - Pours a deep golden orange color with a finger of fluffy white head that doesn't quit. Smells of pure funk, earthy and musty with a hint of lemon twang on the end. Taste follows the nose, musty earth up front, a really nice oak character emerging in the middle and lasting through the finish, which also features a tart lemon kick. Mouthfeel is well carbonated, crisp and refreshing, with some lactic acidity hitting in the finish. Overall, it's a really solid Brett focused farmhouse ale. B+

Beer Nerd Details: 6.2% ABV bottled (375 ml capped). Drank out of a tulip glass on 11/9/13. Vintage: 2013. Batch 5.

I'm going to need to find a regular hookup for these guys, maybe even get ahold of some of their more adventurous stuff. In the meantime, I'll just have to deal with these other 10 world class saisons I've got in my cellar. Woe is me.

Forest & Main Palomino

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Last Friday was International Stout Day, so I opened a rare saison, because here at Kaedrin HQ, every day is saison day.

Forest and Main Palomino

Forest & Main Palomino - A saison brewed with local honey and aged in old wine barrels. Pours a hazy straw yellow color with a finger of white head and decent retention. The nose is all funk, all the time. Earthy Brett with a fruity sour note. Taste is more earthy and spicy than the nose, though a slight tart fruit character emerges towards the finish, along with a fair amount of bitterness. Mouthfeel is dry, but highly carbonated and effervescent, crisp, refreshing, with just a hint of lactic acidity. Overall, really solid stuff, better than Solaire Reserve, but perhaps not quite a top tier facemelter. B+ (borderline A- stuff though)

Beer Nerd Details: 5.5% ABV bottled (750 ml capped). Drank out of a flute glass on 11/8/13. Bottle no. 50 of 204. Bottled July 20, 2013.

Back Label

Another solid brew from the local Forest & Main, hopefully many more to come.

Oh, and I did manage to drink a stout on stout day, a fresh bottle of DuClaw Retribution. I didn't love it much last time, but that was an old bottle. The fresh one was better and certainly enjoyable, but still nowhere near a world beater.

Firestone Walker PNC

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Once upon a time, there were these wonderous drinking establishments called "Public Houses" or, as they're more commonly known "pubs". The proprietors of said establishments were known as "publicans". I'm sure that any British readers would scoff at the notion of American "pubs", but there are a few of them worth their salt here in the US. Indeed, they're a growing concern these days. However, it wasn't that long ago that such establishments were a rarity. True publicans of the day were isolated and lonely. But when American beer bar pioneers like David Keene (of SF's Toronado) or Tom Peters and Fergus Carey (of Philly's beloved Monk's Cafe) found out about each other back in the day, they decided to form a group of publicans (I'm leaving a bunch of them out here, there were several other founding members) that would get together for some libations and maybe even collaborate with breweries to make "outrageous" beers. Thus was born the Publican National Committee, or PNC for short.

This beer is one such collaboration. Apparently "concocted over a copious amount of Orval" one night, this is an Imperial Buckwheat Stout aged in Tequila barrels for 13 months. It was one of the components for Firestone Walker's XVI Anniversary blend, but has since been bottled all on its own. It didn't quite get the release of their other component brews and it wasn't really distributed, but since the aforementioned Tom Peters and Fergus Carey are publicans over at Philadelphia's own Monk's Cafe and founding members of the PNC, they got a few bottles, which I manged to snap up (along with some other tasty treats). Let's see what's up, shall we:

Firestone Walker PNC

Firestone Walker PNC Imperial Buckwheat Stout - Pours a very dark brown color with half a finger of tan head. Smells of rich caramel, toffee, oak, vanilla, and booze (presumably that tequila coming through, though it's not a dominant aroma at all, well rounded). Taste follows the nose, rich caramel, toffee, and lots of oak and vanilla. Faint hints of roast show up as it warms. The booze is there too, but it's not nearly as dominant as I thought it would be (this is a good thing though), and the tequila matches up well with the stout base. I wouldn't be surprised to learn that this involved some other barrels too, like retired Firestone Union barrels or even Bourbon barrels. All of Firestone Walker's barrel aged brews share a certain profile, and this one is no exception, despite the use of Tequila barrels that give it a unique spin. Mouthfeel is full bodied, rich, and chewy, well carbonated, and this is where that booze really shows itself (again, in a good way). Faint hint of hot booze in the finish and that warming sensation in my belly. Overall, maybe not quite the revelation of Parabola, but still superb in its own right. A-

Beer Nerd Details: 13.7% ABV bottled (22 oz bomber). Drank out of a snifter on 11/2/13. 2013 Vintage. Cases: 450.

Another delicious barrel aged treat from Firestone Walker. Still waiting for Velvet Merkin to show itself in the area. The hunt is on. Stay tuned.

La Cabra Brettophile

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Last year, the Brewers Association estimated that the number of breweries-in-planning had surpassed 1300. I'd wager that a sizeable portion of these are paper tigers that will never actually see the light of day. Others, though, have been building an underground following with their homebrewed beers. One such operation is La Cabra Brewing, out of Malvern, PA (just a hop and skip away from Kaedrin HQ), where brewer Dan Popernack has been busy dialing in his portfolio and building up his fleet of barrels. Since La Cabra is not federally licensed as a brewery, he can't actually sell his wares, but he does maintain an email list and periodically releases beers for feedback purposes. I have been fortunate enough to procure a couple of these brews. A few weeks ago, Joe Sixpack published an article focusing on a few local breweries-in-planning, including La Cabra, and I hope to have an interview with Dan in the near future, so I'll leave it at that for now. You'll be hearing more about La Cabra soon!

In the meantime, let's check out one of these beers. Brettophile is a golden ale fermented entirely with Brettanomyces and aged in new American oak. My kinda beer, so let's see how it turned out:

La Cabra Brettophile

La Cabra Brettophile - Pours a very pretty, almost radiant golden orange color with a finger of white head. Smells full of Brett funk, mild barnyard, earthy with a big dollop of fruity esters. Taste starts off with some earthy barnyard funk, a hint of spice, with a noticeable oak character pitching in towards the middle, and a juicy tartness that starts in the middle and intensifies through the finish. The sourness opens up a bit as it warms, lemons and pineapple, but it's still very well balanced. Mouthfeel is well carbonated, crisp, refreshing, with a pleasant pucker factor from the sourness. Overall, this sucker could compete with the big boys for sure. A-

Beer Nerd Details: 6.8% ABV bottled (750 ml caged and corked). Drank out of a goblet on 11/1/13. Vintage: 2013.

The label sez that this beer "May contain trace amounts of awesome.." which is simply untrue. It's all awesome! Or maybe I'm just excited by the prospect of another local brewery that has the ambition to do some crazy barrel aged stuff like this. Also, free beer always tastes better. Still, I think this one is a true winner and could really put this brewery on the map when the finally get off the ground.

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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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