New Glarus Serendipity

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Wisconsin's own New Glarus Brewing Company has achieved a pretty fantastic reputation amongst beer nerds, especially considering that they don't actually distribute outside of their home state. Still, beers like Wisconsin Belgian Red, a beer brewed with massive amounts of local cherries and aged in oak tanks, have piqued the interests of beer nerds all over the country. Alas, last year, a severe drought caused the Wisconsin cherry crop to fail. New Glarus brewer Dan Carey took the loss in stride, improvising a new beer using whatever cherries he could scrounge and making up the difference with apples and cranberries (which fared better during the drought). The result has been almost as well received as Wisconsin Belgian Red, and they've been calling this beer Serendipity, the "Happy Accident Fruit Ale".

New Glarus Serendipity

New Glarus Serendipity - Pours a striking, bright, clear amber color (robey tones, so much clarity) with a finger of off white head. Smells of straight up fruit juice and cherry fruit roll ups, a combo that actually works well enough. The taste is sugary sweet, lots of fruity character, maybe more cranberry flavor coming out here than the nose, but not quite the lunchtime snackfood flavor implied by the nose (this is a good thing). That fruit is a little tart, but nothing approaching real sourness. Mouthfeel is smooth but very well carbonated, which helps cut through the sweetness, though you do get a sticky sweet kinda finish. Still, it's easy drinker, bright and crisp. This doesn't taste much like beer. It's kinda like one of them fancy designer fruit-flavored sodas, though it's definitely more complex and tasty than that. I'm actually really enjoying it, though I'm having trouble rating. As non-lambic "fruit" beers go, this is probably the best I've ever had, and as someone who normally doesn't put up with this sort of fru-fru nonsense, I have to admit I'm really liking this. So let's call it a B+ and go from there.

Beer Nerd Details: 4.0% ABV bottled (759 ml, waxed and capped). Drank out of a tulip glass on 2/8/13.

My hyped-up midwest beer stash, accrued via trade, is dwindling at this point. I've got two left, and one I'm going to be laying down for a while. The other is a Mikkeller collaboration with Three Floyds, which sounds beautiful, if you ask me. In the meantime, we've got lots of other interesting stuff, including some more trade booty. Exciting stuff is on the way. Tomorrow: beer club. Don't miss it.

We all know I love me some Bourbon barrel aged stouts. I won't shut up about it. But what is it about the glorious marriage of bourbon and beer that makes me love it so much? And how important is the provenance of the barrels used for beer aging? Can you really pick out different makes of Bourbon by drinking the beer aged in said Bourbon's barrels?

There are, of course, many factors to consider. What's the base beer like and how well does that match with the Bourbon? How old is the barrel? How big is the barrel? What's the physical condition of the barrel? How long has the barrel been empty? How good is the Bourbon? And there are even more factors to consider.

Now, I'm no expert, but the general rule seems to be: if there was quality bourbon in the barrel, you'll get quality beer out. Now, is using an Elijah Craig barrel all that different from using an Evan Williams barrel? If you took the same beer and aged a batch in each barrel, would you be able to pick which was which? Do Pappy Van Winkle barrels really contain magical properties above and beyond all other barrels? All bets are off when it comes to other spirits. Scotch barrel aged beer varies widely depending on the prevalence of peat smoke. Rum barrels are distinct. And so on.

So I realize that the grand majority of this post thus far has been unanswered questions. Fortunately for us, FiftyFifty Brewing Co. out in sunny California releases a series of barrel aged stouts every year, using a wide variety of barrels so that we can at least do some comparative drinking. What I've got here, courtesy of a cross-continental trade with Jay from Beer Samizdat, is a variant aged in 12 year old Elijah Craig barrels. Looking at the groupthink at BA and RB, these Elijah Craig versions seem to be the highest rated, though not by that much more than most others.

Speaking of which, those other variants have been showing up in local bottle shops, so I'll have to lighten my wallet a bit and pick them up. Research, you know. For science. Anwyho, I couldn't really wait to try this one, so I indulged pretty quickly:

FiftyFifty Imperial Eclipse Stout Elijah Craig 12

FiftyFifty Imperial Eclipse Stout - Elijah Craig (12 Year) - Pours a very dark brown color, almost black, with a finger of tan head. Smells of bourbon, oak, vanilla, and caramel, a really nice balanced aroma here, music to a bourbon barrel lover's noseballs. Taste is filled with a well balanced, rich flavor profile that is similar to the nose: plenty of bourbon, a little oak and vanilla, lots of caramel. Light, pleasing roasted notes also come through in the taste, so it's retaining its stoutness too... the mark of a balanced barrel aging job. Mouthfeel is full bodied, well carbonated but smooth and almost creamy. It's not a chewy monster, but it's not a chugging beer either - it's really easy going for such a big stout. Overall, it's a very well balanced, complex bourbon barrel stout. A

Beer Nerd Details: 9.5% ABV bottled (22 oz wax dipped bomber). Drank out of a tulip glass on 2/1/13.

I've already got my hands on the Heaven Hill Rittenhouse Rye variant, which I imagine being distinct due to the fact that it's a Rye barrel, not Bourbon, but I guess there's only one way to find out!

Daisy Cutter Pale Ale

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Half Acre is one of them hyped up Chicago breweries, but the "Half Acre" in question actually "resides along the banks of the Delaware River in eastern PA". The Chicagoans who run Half Acre actually grew up right outside Philadelphia, which is why they started distributing a few kegs to this area before they even expanded beyond the greater Chicago area. I had this on tap a while back, but I've only recently started seeing cans of their infamous Daisy Cutter recently.

Daisy Cutter is just a lowly pale ale, but it's got a pretty rabid following, to the point where folks used to propose all sorts of absurd trades with the stuff. I get the impression that that sorta douchery has subsided a bit, but then, I just saw someone asking for Kern River Citra and listing this as a potential trade, so maybe not (though it looks like there's plenty of more reasonable trades being offered these days too). Is this beer really a midwest wale? Probably not, but it's still pretty damn good.

Half Acre Daisy Cutter

Half Acre Daisy Cutter Pale Ale - Pours a clear golden color with a finger of white head that leaves plenty of lacing as I drink. Smells of dank, piney, resinous hops, with some citrus and floral notes for good measure. Taste goes more in the floral direction than the nose, but that dank pine is still prominent with some citrus tagging along too. Nice, well matched bitterness in the finish. Mouthfeel is well carbonated, light to medium bodied, darn easy to drink. Overall, this is some great stuff for a regular ol' pale ale from Chicago. B+

Beer Nerd Details: 5.2% ABV canned (16 oz. tallboy). Drank out of a tulip glass on 1/27/13.

As pale ales go, this is a pretty solid choice, definitely something I'll get again sometime, and if Half Acre continues to distribute around here, I'll hopefully be able to snag some of their other releases.

Speedway Stout

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Ticking another top 100 coffee-based imperial stout, though this one is definitely more my speed than most, as the coffee adds complexity without being too prominent. Trolling Alesmith's Beer Advocate page reveals that there are over 20 variations on this beer, some using different varieties of coffee (including the dreaded weasel poop coffee, Kopi Luwak), many aged in bourbon barrels (amongst other spirits barrels), and some really weird ones with shit like Pistachios or Spearmint.

What I've got here is the regular, widely-available version, brewed with fancy Ryan Bros. coffee, featuring the silkscreen bottle and silver foil wrapping. Newer bottles seem to have a grey/black color in the wrap, so I'm not sure what's up (and I'm pretty sure this dude on BA who suggests that "The silver foil contained a substance that, when heated sufficiently and ground to powder, could be used for the mass production of meth" is just a wiseass). Regardless, this is a beer to seek out, and if you ever see those barrel aged variants, buy two, drink one, and send me the other (though I'm pretty sure you're more likely to drink both once you realize how awesome it is...)

Alesmith Speedway Stout

Alesmith Speedway Stout - Pours a thick, very dark brown, almost black color with a finger of light brown, creamy looking head that has great retention and leaves tons of spotty lacing as I drink. Smells of rich, dark crystal malts, a little roast and some coffee notes too, but they're in the background. Taste starts with those sweet, rich caramel flavors, quickly moving into a light roasty flavor, not much in the way of coffee at all, perhaps some chocolate showing up in its place. There's a nice hoppy component as well, with some resinous notes showing up and even a slight bitterness that goes well with the roast and chocolate character. Some hot booze shows up in the taste as well. Mouthfeel is rich and chewy, full bodied, a little alcohol burn in the mouth followed by the warming sensation in the belly. Overall, I can see why this is a prized brew and would love to try, well, just about any of the variants (of which there are many). A-

Beer Nerd Details: 12% ABV bottled (750 ml). Drank out of a snifter on 1/27/13.

Alesmith is truly awesome, I'm going to have to find a way to get ahold of some of their barrel aged stuff. In the meantime, I'll have to settle for their standard lineup... which is still pretty awesome.

Sweetgrass American Pale Ale

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So after a particularly grueling day of work, I come home to find a package of beer from the West Coast, courtesy of Jay over at Beer Samizdat. Truly a sight for sore eyes, and filled with otherwise ungettable beer. I cracked this pale ale open on the spot, and it was just what I needed at that moment.

Grand Teton are apparently quite the trailblazers, literally rewriting laws back in the 80s and even introducing the concept of growlers to an unsuspecting populace... back in 1989! Truly ahead of their time. So let's take a closer look at one of their staple brews:

Grand Teton Sweetgrass APA

Grand Teton Sweetgrass American Pale Ale - Pours a hazy, bright orange color with a couple fingers of head and lots of lacing as I drink. Smells of bright citrus hops, some pine, and maybe even some crystal malt. Taste features a malt backbone that's a reasonable platform for the bright citrus and pine hop flavors, finishing with a solid bitterness. Mouthfeel is light, crisp, and easy going, not quite something I want to quaff quickly, but it's really nice. Overall, a solid, above average APA. B+

Beer Nerd Details: 6% ABV bottled (12 oz.) Drank out of a tulip glass.

So yeah, not exactly a Zombie Dust killer, but few beers can aspire to that, and as I mentioned above, it was perfect for that time and place. Plenty of other exciting stuff in that package from Jay, which will start to filter into the blog in the next few weeks. Some superb stuff coming too, so stay tuned.

Hill Farmstead Arthur

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In the great fetch quest of life, breweries like Hill Farmstead are a boon to beer nerds because when all is said and done, you've got your hands on really good beer (unlike most fetch quests, which normally result in the equivalent of 20 cases of flat Bud Light). Fittingly, fetch quests are also sometimes referred to as FedEx quests, which, given the distribution reach of Hill Farmstead, is quite appropriate for most beer nerds. Fortunately for me, I'm within that narrow window of distribution, so periodically scanning the taplists and following twitter feeds of local bars sometimes pays off:

Hill Farmstead Arthur

Hill Farmstead Arthur - Pours a hazy yellow gold color with a finger of white head that leaves tons of lacing. Smells of typical peppery saison yeast with some fruity notes, maybe lemon... Taste starts sweet and spicy, nice herbal character, eventually giving way to that lemony character. Just the faintest hint of funky tartness in the finish. Mouthfeel is well carbonated, smooth, the spice is there, and a very slight acidity that hits in the relatively dry finish. Overall, fantastic saison. A-

Beer Nerd Details: 6% ABV on tap. Drank out of a goblet on 1/20/13.

One of these days, I'm gonna have to get me to Vermont and visit Hill Farmstead, Lawson's, and Alchemist. That or start engaging in more FedEx quests.

So I've been slacking on my brewing hobby of late, though not without good reason. I spent most of December revamping my kitchen from the ground up, so there was much time when I simply wasn't capable of brewing anything (not to mention the sanitary conditions, which were obviously poor whilst work was proceeding). After putting some finishing touches on the kitchen in January, I'm finally ready to resume brewing. One of the nice things about my new kitchen is that I upgraded my stovetop, which now comes complete with a "PowerBoil" element that, you guessed it, boils water faster than my old stovetop (I'm forced to use electric, which is less than ideal for brewing purposes). And boy did that come in handy. I estimate that this shaved a solid 30-60 minutes off the brewing process, which came in at around 2.5-3 hours, including post-brew cleaning.

This batch is being brewed for a specific reason, the titular "Fat Weekend", a gathering of portly friends from all over the northeast (and some points west) which will be sometime in mid-march. Last year, I brought a variety of homebrews and was shocked to see that the Simcoe IPAs were the first beers to go (and got the best complements), so I'm making this specifically for that weekend. Let's hope it turns out well.

In terms of recipe, this is a variation on my Simcoe Single Hop IPA from last year (interestingly enough, brewed exactly one year ago to the day). For the most part, the malt bill is identical. A slight increase in Crystal 20, simply because my homebrew shop was only selling in half-pound increments, and I'm using pilsen for the entire base malt (which, again, is just based on what was available). The big change, though, is in hops. Instead of using just Simcoe, I'm adding in the trendy hotness of Citra and Falconer's Flight (both used in equal proportions for flavor and aroma additions). Simcoe will remain on bittering duty, as well as contributing the dry hop addition. Otherwise, we've got an identical recipe.

Beer #10: Fat Weekend IPA
Half-Batch (2.5 gallons)
February 4, 2013

.5 lb. Crystal 20 (specialty grain)
.5 lb. CaraPils (specialty grain)
.5 lb. Vienna Malt (specialty grain)
3.3 lb. Briess Pilsen Light LME
1 lb. Briess Pilsen DME
0.5 lb. Turbinado Sugar
1 oz. Simcoe (bittering @13.2 AA)
0.5 oz. Citra (flavor)
0.5 oz. Falconer's Flight (flavor)
0.5 oz. Citra (aroma)
0.5 oz. Falconer's Flight (aroma)
1 oz. Simcoe (dry hop)
1 tsp. Irish Moss
Wyeast 1056 - American Ale Yeast

Overall, pretty straightforward stuff here. The only major change is the hops. Citra seems very much in the vein of Simcoe, but it's got a more fruity and less piney, woodsy feel to it. I also usually get a more herbal fruit out of it... nothing like a Euro-hop, but distinct from the grapefruit and pine character of Simcoe. Falconer's Flight is actually a proprietary blend of numerous hops, including Amarillo, Citra, Simcoe, Sorachi Ace, and other Northwestern US hops, apparently even experimental hops not yet available by themselves. The idea of this blend is to approximate the flavor of the trendy hops in a blend featuring those same hops, but also less trendy (and thus more readily available) hops. Tired Hands has made a few beers featuring Falconer's Flight recently, and they're exceptional, so I'm thinking they'll be a good fit here. Really excited to see how this will turn out.

Brought 2 gallons of water up to steeping temperature 150° F - 160° F in record time (less than 10 minutes), steeped the specialty grains for around 25 minutes or so, drained, sparged with another half gallon of water, added the malt extracts, put the lid on to bring to a boil. Again, this happened in record time, at which point I added 1 ounce of Simcoe and started the timer. Realize I forgot to add the Turbinado sugar, so do some quick calculations, add about half a pound in, throw the lid back on to get the boil going a little better. 45 minutes into the boil, add half an ounce each of Citra and Falconer's Flight. I don't have a scale or anything, so I'm doing this by sight, but it seems to be working out fine. Also throw in the irish moss at this time. Finally, with 5 minutes left to go, I add the aroma hops, which is again split between Citra and Falconer's Flight.

Moved the pot to the ice bath to cool it off, brought it down to about 80° F, strained the wort (removing the hops) into the fermenter, and topped off with about a gallon of cold water, bringing the final temperature down below 70° (almost too low, actually, but still above 62°). This will produce slightly more than 2.5 gallons, but it'll all work out for the best in the end.

Original Gravity: 1.070. A little higher than my last batch, but not by much (this makes sense, given the hot scotchie adventure I engaged in last time). I'm guessing this will still clock in around the 7% - 7.5% ABV range, perhaps on the higher end, which is fine by me.

Like I did last time, I'll wait a week or so to let the primary fermentation stage end, then add the dry hops (1 ounce of Simcoe) for another week or so, at which point, I rack to the bottling bucket and bottle the suckers. I'm quite confident this batch will come out well.

After this one, I'm not sure what will be next. I've been toying with the idea of a hopped up imperial red ale, which could be a lot of fun (and would probably resemble the above recipe quite a bit, with some amber malt and maybe some other darker malts to balance things out). After that, I want to make a sessionable summer saison, similar to my last saison batch, if not quite as potent.

(Cross Posted on Kaedrin Weblog)

Yeastie Boys Rex Attitude

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In the rough and tumble world of beer blogging, it's easy to become jaded. That's why it's sometimes good to throw caution to the wind and take a flier on something obscure, like this fanciful New Zealand brewing duo who have a punnily named brewery and take some ridiculous chances with their beer. Case in point: Rex Attitude, a beer with an absurdly simple recipe. No fancy specialty grains here, just a single golden malt (ok, I'm being a bit facetious here, but we'll get to that in a moment). No trendy hop blends, just 31 IBUs driven by the mild character of Willamette hops. No estery, phenol driven Belgian yeast monsters, just a clean fermenting US yeast.

The thing that makes this beer so interesting is that that single golden malt also happens to be smoked. And not just any smoke: peat smoke. Scotch fans just raised an eyebrow. Most smoked beers burn traditional wood to get that smokey flavor - stuff like beechwood, hickory, ash, maple, and, uh, vampire stakes. But historically, you used what you had, and Scottish folks had lots of peat moss. So that's what they use to smoke their malt. These days, that malt is mostly used in service of Scotch Whisky (I'm unclear as to whether or not Scottish breweries used to use peat moss to dry their malt back in the day, but Scotch ales don't usually feature peat smoked malt).

So these wacky Kiwis took that heavily-peated Scottish distillers malt and made their beer with it. And thanks to the simplicity of the rest of the recipe (mild hops, clean yeast), that peat smoked malt is the true star here. This is an absolutely ludicrous idea and I expected disastrous results. But that's just this jaded blogger being a goober, because this thing is a real eye opener. I cannot believe they got this to work as well as it does, and it's nice to know that after years of obsessing about beer, I can still be blind-sided by something this surprising:

Yeastie Boys Rex Attitude

Yeastie Boys Rex Attitude - Pours a cloudy golden color with a couple fingers of billowy, fluffy head and tons of lacing. Smells of smokey, peated malts and not much else... but it works shockingly well. I could sniff this all night. It's like the nose from peated Scotch (think Islay), but it won't singe your nose hairs. The taste has a nice sweetness to it, well balanced against the smoke, which is ever-present, but not at all overbearing. Indeed, it's extremely well balanced and quite tasty. And we haven't even gotten to the best part, which is the mouthfeel. Highly carbonated and relatively dry, reminiscent of the feel you get from a well attenuated Belgian yeast, but without the fruity or spicy notes. Medium bodied, but this thing drinks like a champ. It's like drinking an Islay Scotch, but without any of that burning booze. Probably not for anyone, but I'm a bit of a peat freak, so this beer pushed the right buttons for me. Overall, this beer has no business drinking this well, one of the most unique and interesting experiments I've had in a while. A-

Beer Nerd Details: 7% ABV bottled (11.2 oz). Drank out of a tulip glass on 1/19/13.

There's a doubled up version of this very beer called XeRRex that is supposedly just as audacious and successful, despite being a 10% monster. I must find that beer. In the meantime, I'll have to hit up my local bottle shop for their Pot Kettle Black (which they call a hoppy porter, otherwise known as Black IPA). Yeastie Boys came to my attention by way of Stephen Beaumont, and I'm glad I caught that post. Yeasty Boys is a contract brewing operation, but Stephen notes: "in New Zealand, where a small population base is stretched across a long and isolated land mass, or rather, masses, that is a status without the perception issues that tend to dog it still in North America and parts of Europe. Indeed, contract craft brewing seems at times almost the Kiwi norm rather than the exception." So this is the only one of their beers I've had, but if it's any indication, these guys are worth seeking out. And thus ends Smoked Beer week. I hope you had fun, I know I did. Now if you'll excuse me, I've got a fresh box of West Coast beer to scarf down this weekend. Stay tuned.

Fantôme La Dalmatienne

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I wasn't originally planning on drinking a bunch of smoked beers last week, but you never know what you're going to get from Brasserie Fantôme, and when I cracked this one open and realized that it featured smoked malts, I figured I'd just go with it. What can I say, it was a smokey weekend.

Fantôme was never easy to find, but it's even more difficult these days, so when I saw this La Dalmatienne, I pounced. Background information is sparse, but it appears to be one of Fantôme's trademark funky, almost sour saisons, but with a touch of smoked malt, just to further confuse the saison style definition. There's also another version La Dalmatienne that has a black label with white spots, but I'm reliably informed that the one I had was the better version. What dalmatians have to do with any of this is anyone's guess (they ride on fire trucks, smoke comes from fire, ipso facto a smoked beer?), but let's strap on our proton packs and hunt some ghosts anyway:

Fantome La Dalmatienne

Fantôme La Dalmatienne - Pours a bright, mostly clear golden yellow color with a couple fingers of white head. Smells funky with some more traditional saison spice lurking in the background, and a rather prominent (but not overpowering) smoky aroma. The taste is lemony sweet, a very light fruity tartness, some funk, and that smoke from the nose. That smoke is the odd man out, though not in an unpleasant way. Mouthfeel is well carbonated, crisp, and lightly acidic, making it a sorta bright brew. Overall, an interesting brew, that smoke could have been a disaster, but I think they pulled it off. B+

Beer Nerd Details: 8% ABV bottled (750 ml capped and corked). Drank out of a tulip glass on 1/19/13.

I need to find me a regular hookup on Fantôme beers. They were never plentiful around here, but they seem to have gone the way of the loon in recent times. Anywho, after I had this beer, I threw caution to the wind and embraced the smoked beer theme that had been developing, which lead to tomorrow night's beer, a puntastic New Zealand entry that sounded like it would be a disaster, but was actually amazing.

Vampire Slayer

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Smoked beer week continues with Clown Shoes' second anniversary ale, a Smoked Imperial Stout called Vampire Slayer. I have to admit, Clown Shoes doesn't feel like my kinda brand. They seem to rely on marketing gimmickry and controversy moreso than quality, but then, I really haven't had many of their beers either. In particular, they appear to have some well respected imperial stouts, so I picked up a couple to give them a shot.

Perhaps I should have read this label a little more closely though, as I didn't immediately realize it was a smoked beer (I should note that it was readily labeled as such, I just wasn't being very observant), nor did I see that it was one of those beers made with gimmicky ingredients like "Holy Water" and smoked with "hickory, ash, and vampire killing stakes". I mean, it's no Dogfish Head, but Holy Water? Really? On the other hand, this thing is sporting a respectable 4.15/92 rating on BeerAdvocate, and we all know how much the opinion of a bunch of strangers on the internet means. So let's put on some clown shoes, sharpen our stakes, and see if Van Helsing would approve of this beer:

Clown Shoes Vampire Slayer

Clown Shoes Vampire Slayer - Pours a very dark brown color, almost black, with minimal head. Smells of roasted malt with a little coffee character thrown in for good measure. The taste features a bit more in the way of crystal malt character, but the roast is certainly still hanging around as well... and it's brought a friend in the form of a smokey flavor that is actually very subtle. There's also a very well matched bitterness keeping all those malts in check, if not going all Black IPA on their asses. Mouthfeel is full bodied, on the thicker and chewier side, though not quite a monstrous beer. Well carbonated, but smooth, not dry, but no really stickiness to speak of either. Overall, what we have here is a very well balanced imperial stout that won't quite melt your face, but will perhaps make you grin in appreciation. B+

Beer Nerd Details: 10% ABV bottled (22 oz. bomber) Drank out of a snifter on 1/18/13.

So it's not quite a revelation, but perhaps Clown Shoes have earned another chance, as I picked up another of their Imperial Stouts, Blaecorn Unidragon, a decidedly more traditional take on the style. Not sure when I'll get to it, but stay tuned anyway. Up next in smoked beer week, we strap on some proton packs and go Ghost Hunting, only to find ourselves with spectral... Dalmations? Find out what the heck I'm talking about tomorrow!

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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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  • Mark: That's what I figured after the last release (which was read more
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