Frecon Farms Hogshead Dry Cider

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Every now and again, you'll run across a certain type of beer nerd who will suddenly proclaim that beer is, like, totally played out and they're just going to focus on cider from now on. Some of these people are just playing weird status games, others are genuinely fed up with certain less-than-desirable aspects of beer nerdery. Fair enough, but I don't think you'll see me blazing that particular path anytime soon.

However, since I'm currently embroiled in my annual quasi-hiatus from beer, there's no reason not to dip my toes into the cider world. A friend of mind got me this bottle for Christmas and I must thank him for attempting to broaden my horizons. Plus, I've never had anything but mass-produced ciders from the big guys, so trying something at a lower level would probably do me good.

I don't know squat about cider, but this is a New England style sparkling cider, a blend of traditional crab apples, Stayman Winsap, and other unnamed apples (imagine the potential for varietal nerdery with apples *shudder* Maybe Stayman Winsap is the Cascade of apples?), fortified with brown sugar and matured on French and American oak. I don't know what a lot of that means, but it sounds pretty good. I mean, brown sugar? Oak? My kinda cider! Let's take a closer look:

Hogshead Dry Cider

Frecon Farms Hogshead Dry Cider - Pours a very pale, clear light yellow color with some white fizz around the edge of the glass and lots of rising bubbles (may be the glassware at work here). Smells quite nice, actually, apples certainly show up, but it's got a nice almost musty funk to it that isn't strong, but works. Taste starts off sweet, certainly apples showing up here, and as the taste proceeds, it dries out a bit, light oak and tannins appearing to take over. Mouthfeel is well carbonated, light bodied, and dry. Most ciders I've had are cloyingly sweet, and this is the complete opposite. On the other hand, it's a pretty subtle drink, not a lot of pop to it. Fine for what it is and better than any cider I've ever had, for sure, but I'm still not entirely sold on ciders just yet. That being said, this does make the prospect of trying more palatable. B

Cider Nerd Details: 8.5% ABV bottled (22 ounce bomber). Drank out of a libbey cider glass on 2/12/16.

Beer Nerd Musings: I'm guessing cider is more a study in subtlety than beer, with differences between styles being harder to pick up on than with beer, and so on. This seemed well made, but lacked the intensity of an 8.5% beer. Not that it has to have that sort of intensity to be worthwhile or anything, and I certainly don't care for the more intense (i.e. cloying) varieties of cider that I've had. I haven't had many ciders, but I have had a couple of cider/beer hybrids. Tired Hands did a couple a while back, one a hoppy blend, the other a Berliner blend, both were pretty darned good, but perhaps that was novelty speaking (and to be sure, they're sorta hard to categorize). Perennial has something called Jack Rose that's made with apple juice, but I haven't tried that yet.

So there's my first cider review. I liked it well enough, but I wouldn't hold my breath waiting for more!

Civil Disobedience #14

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I have been very fortunate to have sampled deeply from the Hill Farmstead catalog, but the grand majority of my experience has been with their highly sought after IPAs and their saisons. When it comes to barrel aging, I've not had much at all. A small bit of Flora at a tasting once, maybe one of their collaborations, but otherwise not so much. Thus, when I lucked into Civil Disobedience #14 during my last visit, I was quite excited. Per early reviews, the carbonation was still developing, and knowing the way I generally react to such a thing, I decided to sit on the bottle for a few months (and yes, the carbonation was indeed fine when I drank this).

Civil Disobedience is a "Blended Barrel Series" and this is the 14th batch (most batches are pale like this one, but every 4th batch tends to be a darker blend). This batch is a blend consisting primarily of barrel aged Anna and Florence from Summer 2012 through Summer 2013. It was bottled in January 2015 and released on July 8, 2015, so it appears the beer spent quite some time in the barrels (16 to 30 months). I have never managed to wrangle Anna, but I bought two cases of Florence a couple years ago and it has developed into one of my go-to saisons, very light, but tart, perky, and delicious. So let's brush up on our Thoreau and stage a nonviolent beer drinking session:

Civil Disobedience #14

Hill Farmstead Civil Disobedience #14 - Pours a hazy yellow color with a finger of big bubbled head that is not long for this world. Smells very nice, light funk, musty and earthy, lots of vinous fruit, some more tart, lemony character, maybe a little oak. Taste is sweet, lots of vinous fruit, tannins, a nice moderate sourness, well balanced oak. Mouthfeel is well carbonated, medium bodied, moderate acidity, a little dryness up front, but more sticky in the finish. Overall, this is some fabulous stuff. A

Beer Nerd Details: ? ABV (somewhere around 5.5-6%) bottled (375 ml). Drank out of a charente glass on 2/5/16. Bottled: 01 2015. Batch 14.

I have to say, these Hill Farmstead saisons seem to age pretty well. 2014 Florence is drinking fabulously right now, and I'm betting bottles of 2015 Arthur are starting to peak too. Dorothy's hop character is fading (and I don't think I have any left), but it's still pretty good anyway. Counting the days until my next trip, which is vexingly vague right now (though definitely a trip in July, we may figure out an earlier jaunt).

So Happens It's Tuesday

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Let's talk S.H.I.T. Acronyms are fun, you see? Kudos are certainly due to The Bruery for this beer, but there are obviously hundreds of other humorous examples of this sort of thing. The Bruery clearly did this on purpose, as did my first encounter with this sort of acronym:

Springfield Heights Institute of Technology

Ah, Springfield Heights Institute of Technology. It turns out there is a long and time-honored history of urban legends wherein some institution, business, or school inadvertently wanders into an embarrassing acronym. I remember joking with a college buddy about that Simpsons episode, and he mentioned that his college, Stevens Institute of Technology, was once a S.H.I.T. school (Stevens Hopkins, I believe, though I can't seem to find confirmation of this). The typical example is actually Sam Houston Institute of Technology, but like most of these, it appears to just be an urban legend (along with many other organization acronyms that break down into curse words).

Anyway, this beer is billed as the "more affable" version of Black Tuesday, The Bruery's massive 19% ABV Bourbon Barrel Aged Imperial Stout. Clocking in at 14% ABV, this... isn't that much more affable, but given the large bottle formats, I'll take it. I drank this on a Friday, but heck, I'll review it on a Tuesday.

Actually, so happens it's Fat Tuesday! This means I'm about to embark on my annual semi-hiatus from beer. Never fear, the blog will remain active during the next month or so. I will have some beer reviews to catch up with, and of course I'll be writing about other beverages of note (always attempting to put a beery spin on things). But I digress, let's get back to this beer:

The Bruery So Happens Its Tuesday

The Bruery So Happens It's Tuesday - Pours a very dark brown, almost black color with a finger of light brown head. Smells great, lots of caramel, vanilla, and chocolate, with the oak and bourbon pitching in quite assertively as well. Taste is all rich caramel, vanilla, and oak, sugary sweet, and as it warms you get more sorta milk chocolate, but not really much in the way of roast. It also gets a little more boozy as I drink on, but that's to be expected I think. Mouthfeel is full bodied, rich, and chewy, moderate carbonation (perfect for the style), and definitely a boozy bite, especially in the finish. It's a warming beer, that's for sure. A very nice sipper though, excellent to share, but something you could make a night out of if you were so inclined (though it's still a bit of a feat). Overall, it's not Black Tuesday, but it's quite good. A-

Beer Nerd Details: 14% ABV bottled (750 ml). Drank out of a tulip glass on 2/5/16. Bottled: 12/03/15 (2016 Edition).

Believe it or not, I actually had a few ounces of Black Tuesday just a few days before this one (at a share) as well as Wineification III (which is Black Tuesday aged on French Oak with wine grapes), and while they are both quite intense, they also seemed more integrated. Balanced is not a really a term you use with a beer like Black Tuesday, but for it's richness, intensity, and alcohol level, it kinda is balanced. I am, of course, ever on the lookout for other variants (of which, there are many!), though I don't have plans to tackle any of those anytime soon.

Birra Del Borgo Duchessic Ale

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Given my heritage, it's surprising how little Italian beer I've sought out. I suppose most Italians reach for a glass of wine with their meals, but I've been hearing for years that the Italian beer scene has been exploding. Alas, I've not had a ton of great Italian beer. I've always chalked this up to availability. It's not like Italians are getting that sweet Tired Hands juice on the reg, so it stands to reason that I'm not seeing the best of their scene either. A friend who recently went to Italy mentioned that a lot of wineries sorta do brewing on the side, stuff that I assume doesn't get distributed far and wide. This obviously means I need to get off my arse, renew my passport, and tour some Italian winery/brewery hybrids.

In the meantime, I'll have to make due with the stuff that does find its way over here. The Italian beer I have enjoyed usually has a distinctly Belgian bent to it, and this is no exception. Indeed, look closely and you'll see that this is a blend of Birra Del Borgo's standard Duchessa saison (not a particularly heralded beer) and 1 year old lambic. Upon even closer inspection, it turns out this is a collaboration with Cantillon. I mean, if you're going to blend 20% of lambic into your beer, I guess Cantillon would do the trick. Maybe. The releases of this are somewhat irregular and they apparently sometimes suffer from that ropey Brett viscosity (drinkers of Fantome know what I'm talking about) that they fix before it's released (there's a video explaining this... but it's not subtitled, so have fun with that.) Anywho, this marks the second time in the past month that I've drank a beer blended with a small amount of lambic. So far, these don't seem to have the complexity or elegance of their fully lambic counterparts, but the blending does add some nice notes for sure. How does this one fare?

Birra Del Borgo Duchessic

Birra Del Borgo Duchessic Ale - Pours a hazy yellow color with a few fingers of white, fluffy head that has lots of retention and leaves tons of lacing as I drink. Smells of Belgian yeast, a little bready, some spicy phenols, and plenty of fruity notes, but then the lambic makes itself known with hints of musty, earthy funk and tart fruit. That lambic funk comes out even more in the taste, which has a very nice little tartness to it, fruity and a little funky. Mouthfeel is highly carbonated, crisp, and effervescent, lightly acidic and absolutely bone dry. Overall, this is a nice catch for those looking to get a mildly Cantillon-esque feel, and it comes off like a tart saison (which, I guess, is what it ultimately is). Well worth seeking out, though not quite mind-blowing in complexity. B+

Beer Nerd Details: 5.9% ABV bottled (11.1 ounce). Drank out of a flute on 2/6/15.

I don't know how widespread this was distributed, but I know of at least two places that have it sitting on the shelf right now, and they've been there for a while. I guess being sequestered in the Italian beer section gets them passed over or something. I should really seek out more of my Italian brethren's beer sometime. For now, I think I'll just snag some Italian wine for the upcoming beer fast...

Allagash Double Feature

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We've been mightily impressed with Allagash's seemingly expanded sour program, so we've been keeping an eye out for more of this stuff, and fortunately, Allagash has obliged my whims. A pretty steady stream of new bottles has been showing up from time to time, and I'm always willing to take a flier on these, even if they are a bit of a pricey proposition. Interestingly, several of their sour beers are aged on stainless steel rather than more traditional barrels, and I have to say, it doesn't make as big of a difference as I'd think. I loved Farm to Face, and the better of today's double feature was also a straight stainless steel offering (of course, it was still aged 2 years, so maybe that's part of it).

First up is Tiarna, a blend of two beers, one a Brettanomyces fermented ale aged on oak, and the other a Belgian ale aged on stainless steel. It's a nice beer for sure, but not quite up to their best offerings:

Allagash Tiarna

Allagash Tiarna - Pours an almost clear pale yellow color with a finger of fluffy white head that sticks around for a while. Smells quite nice, typical belgian yeast spice notes of clove and maybe anise, some fruity esters, but also that earthy Brett funk. Taste hits more bready and yeasty than expected, hints of those spicy phenols and fruity esters (not really tart at all), a bit of funk, a little oak pitching in too. Was really hoping for a little more funk and oak here. Mouthfeel is well carbonated, crisp, lightly bodied, relatively dry. Overall, this is like an entry level funky saison. It's complex and well crafted, but restrained. I have to wonder if the funk would increase over time in the bottle, but for now: B+

Beer Nerd Details: 7.1% ABV bottled (375 ml caged and corked). Drank out of a wine glass on 1/30/16. Bottled: Sept. 16, 2015.

Next up is James and Julie, presumably named after two people who worked at the brewery or something. Or just two random people off the street, for all I know. It's their take on a Flanders Oud Bruin, a sour brown ale that is aged on stainless steel with Lactobacillus and Pediococcus cultures. Rumor has it that this is the base beer for Neddles (which is the same thing aged on Rum barrels and named after a former employee), but I'll be damned if this isn't pretty spectacular just by itself. It's not super funky, but it's got a very nice sourness and balance to it that just works beautifully:

Allagash James And Julie

Allagash James & Julie - Pours a light brown amber color with a finger of off white head that holds its own for a while. Smells of vinegar, tart fruit, sour cherry, maybe a hint of earth. Taste starts off sweet, lots of flavor, sour cherries, vinegar, perfectly balanced amount of sourness here, really tasty. Mouthfeel is medium bodied, well carbonated, perfectly balanced amount of acidity. Overall, intense but balanced, this is a true winner. A

Beer Nerd Details: 7.7% ABV bottled (375 ml caged and corked). Drank out of a goblet/chalice on 1/30/16. Bottled: Aug. 24, 2015. Released: Black Friday 2015.

Always enjoyable catching up with Allagash, and I will of course be keeping an eye out for more stuff, particularly their sours, which seem to hit me just right.

Logsdon Szech 'n Brett

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We're big fans of Logsdon Farmhouse Ales here at Kaedrin. They really know their Brettanomyces, and produce some of the better funky saisons that are generally available (... where they distribute, at least). They've done great things with oak aging and added fruit as well, so it's time to tackle a session saison. Well, sorta.

Szech 'n Brett is kinda toned down from their flagship Seizoen Bretta and it's got added Szechuan spice (I see what they did there) to make up for the shortfall. Kinda. At 6.5% ABV, this isn't toned down all that much... Now, I'm not a British session zealot, but I'm not an Adam Avery "17% ABV beer is sessionable, your session just ends sooner" type either, so this does feel a bit off. Nothing worth getting in a twist about, but to my mind, if you're going to go "session", go all the way. On the other hand, that's all just kinda marketing fluff, what about the juice? Let's dive in:

Logsdon Szech n Brett

Logsdon Szech 'n Brett - Pours a very pale, cloudy yellow color with a finger or two of fluffy white head and great retention. Smell has that trademark Logsdon house funk, more fruity than earthy, pears and the like, plus a little spice... um... spicing up the nose. Heh. Taste also hits those juicy pear notes, a little more funky Brett earth that melds pretty well with whatever spice is being brought in here, something peppery (turns out it's Szechuan pepper), though I don't know that the spice is necessary. Mouthfeel is lightly bodied, highly carbonated, and effervescent, quite dry but with a little juicy kick in the finish that suits it well. At 6.5%, this is approachable, but not really a session beer. Overall, this is another solid entry from Logsdon. I prefer Seizoen Bretta, but this is certainly a worthy twist on the saison. B+

Beer Nerd Details: 6.5% ABV bottled (750 ml). Drank out of a flute glass on 1/29/15. Bottle No. 6949. Best By: 10/2019.

Always on the lookout for new Logsdon stuff, and they do seem to be slowly expanding their lineup over time, which is nice. I'm sure you'll be hearing more about them sooner rather than later.

Perennial Abraxas

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Remember when Imperial Stouts were special? Just regular stouts that happened to be higher in alcohol than normal? Those things like Storm King, Kate the Great, Darkness, and so on? Then people started going nutso for barrel aged imperial stouts. I should note at this point that I'm not really waxing nostalgic or complaining here, I'm fully on board the barrel aged train to impy stout town, I just wanted to note a progression here. It's not a perfect progression, but in broad strokes it works. We start with big stouts, move on to barrel aging, and then people started losing their minds over imperial coffee stouts (and to a certain extent, they still do). As frequently opined here (I won't shut up about it and I am totally the worst), I'm pretty ambivalent towards coffee. I have gained a certain appreciation for coffee stouts, but I'm almost always wondering what the regular, non-coffeed version would be like.

Nowadays, the trend is towards adjuncts and a kitchen sink of ingredients. Stuff like Hunahpu's, Bomb!, Mexican Cake, and today's beer: Perennial's Abraxas. It's an Imperial Stout brewed with ancho chili peppers, cacao nibs, vanilla beans, and cinnamon sticks. There are other versions with even more ingredients, but this is the regular one lowly mortals like myself can get my hands on. I've not been particularly on the ball with these adjunct stouts, having only had a couple, so let's see if this is a trend worth hunting:

Perennial Abraxas

Perennial Abraxas - Pours black and viscous looking with a cap of short lived light brown head. Smells of roasted malts that give it a coffee or dark chocolate feel, with notes of vanilla and spice, definitely getting cinnamon, a little less in the way of chili (though that comes out a bit more as it warms). Taste has a light roast to it, again with the dark chocolate (less in the way of coffee), hints of vanilla, with the chili pepper coming more to the fore here. It's got a bit of a kick to it and the flavor comes through, but it's not really hot either. Mouthfeel is medium to full bodied (I mean, it's not watery, but I was expecting a more substantial body here, especially when considering that it looked pretty thick as I was pouring), very low carbonation, not still, but close, and a little bit of heat from the chili peppers. There's a fine line between a complex beer and an unbalanced mess, and I kinda went back and forth on this one, eventually settling on complex, but it also strikes me as the sort of thing that will be different every time I have it. Overall this is good, and it gets better as it warms, but it's not the mind-blowing stout of the future I was lead to believe it would be. Perhaps a matter of dashed expectations, but it's still a solid beer that I'd totally seek out and drink again. B+

Beer Nerd Details: 10% ABV bottled (750 ml). Drank out of a snifter on 1/22/16. Bottled: 11/2015.

I could see barrel aging pulling this beer together, but from the looks of the trading boards, I don't feel like the hoop jumping would be worth it. This is a fine beer, but even this was too hard to get ahold of...

Almanac Farmer's Reserve Grand Cru

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While the concept of a "Grand Cru" is formally defined for wine, there's little to distinguish it from a marketing tactic in beer. Nothing particularly wrong with that, it's just good to know that beery Grand Crus are not quite as reliable. But most brewers do try to make their Grand Cru special in one way or another, and when a brewer of the stature of Almanac introduces a series of beers with the designation, it's enough to pay attention.

So far, there have been two released, one of which we have here. Farmer's Reserve Grand Cru is an imperial version of their sour blonde ale (and base for a whole series of fruited sours that we very much enjoy here) with California-grown Muscat Blanc grapes added and then aged in white wine French oak barrels for over a year. Finally, it's packaged in a gorgeous looking bottle. There's been this persistent myth that beer and wine people don't get along, but California brewers seem to be continually turning that notion on its ear, frequently collaborating with their neighbors in many ways. This sort of beer/wine hybrid isn't on every shelf, but it's not particularly uncommon either, and it's always fun to see what happens when boozy buddies take inspiration from one another. "As the old saying goes, in vino veritas, in cervesio felicitas - in wine there is truth, in beer there is happiness." With this, I think they've hit both nails on the head:

Almanac Farmers Reserve Grand Cru.

Almanac Farmer's Reserve Grand Cru - Pours a light, hazy golden yellow color with a finger of white fluffy head that sticks around for a bit. Smells wonderful, lemon zest, vinous fruit, white wine, oak, very nice. Taste is more reserved than the nose might lead you to believe, but it's got tons of that vinous fruit, white wine barrel, some tart acidity lingering in the finish. Mouthfeel is moderately carbonated, medium bodied, light to medium acidity, a bit of boozy heat, and just a bit of stickiness in the finish. Despite the booze, this does not drink like a 10.2% sour, it's pretty light on its feet. Overall, this is really fantastic stuff, certainly worth seeking out. A-

Beer Nerd Details: 10.2% ABV bottled (750 ml). Drank out of a flute glass on 1/23/16. Bottled: Autumn 2015.

The other release is Dogpatch Grand Cru, basically an imperialized version of their Dogpatch Sour made with a variety of red wine grapes (instead of the typical cherries), which I plan to share with a few friends soon. As usual, Almanac is a reliable source of excellent sours that are readily available in Philly these days (which is certainly a boon).

Bourbon Barrel Aged Siberian Night

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Having just endured Blizzard Jonas this past weekend, I figure it's time to dig through the svelt 25" of snow outside and then come back inside and review beer. In truth, being snowed in particularly suits my temperament, so long as I don't lose power or internets (and even then...) Anyway this beer seems particularly appropriate, as Siberia is famed for its short summers and long winters of punishingly cold climate. That's "punishingly" in an almost literal sense, actually. The Russian Empire had a system of penal labor called Katorga in which prisoners were sent to remote areas (where voluntary workers were never available in sufficient numbers) and forced to into mining or lumber production. The Soviets later incorporated and expanded on the concept with the Gulag system. If you've ever read One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, you know that Siberia is not generally a place you want to be.

Of course, this is a brewery called Thirsty Dog we're talking about here, so I don't think they were channeling Alexander Solzhenitsyn with this beer. Instead, they were probably thinking of adorable Siberian Husky memes.

Siberian Husky questions your marathon

Certainly more pleasant than crippling forced labor. Also more pleasant: The beer itself is an Imperial Stout aged in bourbon barrels for 11 months, which makes it good wintering beer, let's take a closer look:

Thirsty Dog BBA Siberian Night

Thirsty Dog Bourbon Barrel Aged Siberian Night - Pours a deep, dark brown, almost black color with a finger of light brown head that sticks around for a bit. Smells nice, some roasted malt, lots of vanilla, some bourbon and oak too. Taste has a rich caramel character up front, a little chocolate, oak, and vanilla pitching in, hints of boozy bourbon, with a little bit of roast coming to the fore in the finish. Mouthfeel is full bodied, rich, well carbonated, lightly boozy. Overall, this is a pretty approachable BBA stout, well balanced, tasty, a step up from the beginner's stuff, but not quite top tier. A-

Beer Nerd Details: 10.9% ABV bottled (12 ounce). Drank out of a snifter on 1/17/16. Vintage: 2015.

The regular non-BA version is pretty solid as well, and it's companion beer, Wulver has become one of my favorites.

Frosty's Nightmare

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What is the snowman's weakness? There's probably a better way to ask that question, one which does not imply that snowmen are monsters we must defeat by exploiting some sort of weakness, but the answer is obvious: heat. One might think that this sort of thing would also populate a snowman's dreams... or nightmares, if you will. But then I remember that Hans Christian Andersen wrote a story called The Snowman in which a snowman falls in love with a stove. So maybe snowmen don't fear the heat. Then again, like most actual fairy tails, this one comes to a tragic end: the snowman melts and is forgotten by those who made him. It's speculated that Andersen was inspired by a short love affair with a "handsome young dancer" that resulted in "pining and discontent". Well this post went in a dark direction, so let's drink an Old Ale from Conshohocken Brewing Company, a newish (couple years old now) local brewery near my old stomping grounds. I've had a few things from them, but never really made the time to visit. This beer was made in 2014 and released near Christmas in 2015, truly an "old" ale.

Conshohocken Frostys Nightmare

Conshohocken Frosty's Nightmare - Pours a dark amber brown color with just a cap of off white head. Smells of dark fruits, figs, crystal malts, maybe some toffee. Taste starts with light caramel and dark fruit, a little booze, malts, finishing up with booze soaked fruit. Mouthfeel is medium to full bodied, chewy, tightly carbonated, a little boozy heat, feels a bit unbalanced. Overall, this is a nice old ale, not going to light the world on fire, but decent. B

Beer Nerd Details: 10.9% ABV bottled (22 ounce bomber). Drank out of a charente glass on 1/16/16. Vintage: 2014.

Supposedly they had a tequila barrel aged version of this on tap at the brewery, which actually might represent a significant improvement on this. I could see the base being a good platform for barrels of many kinds, actually, but then, I would think that because I'm a barrel freak. I'm the worst.

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Hi, my name is Mark, and I like beer.

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