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He'Brew Jewbelation Reborn

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Last week, Jay at BeerSamizdat dusted off an unintentionally "laid down" 2011 bottle of He'Brew Jewbelation 15, and he seemed to enjoy it. Seeing this, I was inspired to dig around in my cellar for the vaguely frightening He'Brew Jewbelation Reborn. "Reborn" because Frightening because for the longest time, Shmaltz was a contract brewing operation (not usually considered a good thing in beer dorkdom), but by their 17th year, they had finally built their own brewery. "Frightening" because it's a 17 malt, 17 hop, 17% ABV monstrosity that I received as a gift a few years ago and just never found the time or inclination to open up. Jay hits the nail on the head when he describes the prevailing attitude towards Shmaltz:

You know, SHMALTZ may only get partial and begrudging props from the discerning modern craft beer enthusiast, probably because of their marketing gimmicks, the fact that they've been around so long (and are therefore "old") and because their best-known beers are the Coney Island lagers.
Yeah, that gimmicky stuff is one of the reasons this spent so long in the cellar. The whole 17 of everything just smacks of unnecessary artifice. Despite my fears, this wound up being pretty enjoyable, and heck, it's Hanukkah, so this is perfect (yeah, I cut it a little close as it appears today is the last day, but better late than never - and this is downright early by Kaedrin standards). Thanks again to Jay for inspiring this little adventure. He's a real mensch.

HeBrew Jewbelation Reborn

He'Brew Jewbelation Reborn - Pours a deep, very dark brown color, almost black, with a finger of light brown head. Smells very sweet, caramel, chocolate, vanilla, brown sugar, sugar cookie, almost snickerdoodle, are there spices in this? Also a pretty sizable hop presence, piney, resinous. Really nice nose, actually. Taste starts off with all rich malts, caramel, chocolate, vanilla, molasses, less sugar cookie, more roast here in the taste, and a big faded hop character too, piney and resinous like the nose. Mouthfeel is full bodied, rich, and chewy, ample carbonation, lots of boozy heat, but not unpleasantly so. Overall, this is pretty good, if a bit overkill and probably too much for a bomber. I initially gave this a B but since it's Hanukkah, maybe make that a B+. L'Chaim!

Beer Nerd Details: 17% ABV bottled (22 ounce bomber). Drank out of a snifter on 12/11/15.

It appears that all later vintages of Jewbelation have abandoned the whole XX of everything approach (where XX is their anniversary, up to 19 now), at least for the ABV, which is now a more welcoming 10-13% affair. Good on them.

session_logo.jpgOn the first Friday of every month, there's a beer blog roundup called The Session. Someone picks a topic, and everyone blogs about it. This time around, Jay Brooks wants to talk about Holiday Beers:

So for this Session, write about whatever makes you happy, so long as it involves holiday beers.
You got it, Jay! I'll start with some brief answers to his questionnaire, then move right in to the 5 year Anchor Christmas Vertical tasting I held last night.

Do you like the idea of seasonal beers, or loathe them?

I love seasonal beers, but always try to keep some variety in the mix. Fortunately, the incredible breadth of beers available at all times allows for such exploration.

What's your idea of the perfect holiday beer?

That's a tough one, and I enjoy the variety of holiday beers we get. There's your typical winter warmer style, spiced (but not too strongly) and malt-centric, then you've got the make it stronger school of thought that seems to drive some Belgian examples, and then you get the people who just do whatever the hell they want. There's a place for all of these, I think, but what I associate with holiday beer tends to be the winter warmer style, spiced to perfection, with some hefty body to it.

Do have a holiday tradition with beer?

We're about to cover one in more detail (an Anchor Christmas vertical of some sort), but the other is drinking Samichlaus on Christmas Eve whilst wrapping presents. Given the strength of Samichlaus, it's a wonder the wrapping actually achieves its purpose of concealing the gift.

Are holiday beers released too early, or when should they be released?

As with Pumpkin beers showing up early, this is just something I can't get worked up about. That being said, it seems like much less of an issue for Holiday beers.

Do you like holiday beer festivals?

I've sadly never been to one. I not really a huge fan of festivals in general, but a holiday beer festival sounds like it could be fun, given the right circumstances.

Alright, so we get to the main event, a vertical tasting of Anchor's annual holiday beer, Our Special Ale. Every year, I buy a six pack of the stuff, drink some, and reserve the rest for just this sort of occasion. In the past few years, I've been tasting two or three vintages side by side, and it's been fun seeing how they evolve from year to year. This is the first year I've managed to collect 5 different vintages, so I invited some folks over to do a little informal tasting and rating.

Anchor Christmas Vertical 2015

This was not a blind tasting, and we proceeded serially from 2011 up to 2015, each taking 3-4 ounce samples. Due to the social nature of the gathering, I did not take copious notes, but we did all rank the beers and I managed to jot down a few quick thoughts on each vintage. I also took a look back through my previous ratings to see if any patterns emerged.

  • 2011 - Still has a nice spice profile, has held up well, but it's a little thin and definitely showing signs of age. In three previous tastings, this one has consistently been a favorite. This time it fell in the middle of the pack...
  • 2012 - Fuller bodied and less spicy than the 2011, this one seems to have rebounded with age. For the past couple years, it's felt like this vintage was fading, but it held up well.
  • 2013 - This one comes in somewhere between 2011 and 2012, and not in a good way. Spices muddled, clashing with malts. I liked this one when it was fresh, but it has faded considerably each year.
  • 2014 - As I suspected last year, this one has held up very well, nice spice profile with a well balanced and strong malt backbone. This very well may be my favorite vintage of Anchor Christmas ever (though I've only really been doing this since 2010).
  • 2015 - This most recent vintage is quite a departure, feels more stout-like than any previous vintage, with a roasty, smokey kick to the normal fruity, spicy character (this seems very faintly spiced, if at all). I predict this year's vintage will age fabulously.

We only had 3 people rating the beer (I had planned on 5, but two flaked out at the last minute), yet some patterns emerged. 2013 was unanimously the worst of the vertical (average score 1 out of 5, standard deviation of 0!), while 2014 was the clear winner of the night (average score of 4.67 out of 5). Two of us voted it as the best, and one voted it the second best. After a rough couple of years, 2012 rebounded into second place (average score 3.67 out of 5, though it did have the highest standard deviation), and 2011 and 2015 occupied the middle of the pack. For all you statistics nerds, you can check out the details on Google Sheets (I also included my ratings from the blog over time on the sheet).

After this, one of us poured the remainder of each bottle into some unlabeled cups, so the other two could do a blind tasting. One of us completely failed, and I actually got them all right. Go me. I will say, as the beer had warmed and carbonation had mellowed, vintages from 2011 to 2014 became much, much more similar. 2015's unique character still stood out though, and I was pretty clear on 2013, but the rest felt like a toss up...

Finally, we poured all the remaining beer left into one glass. Cooooveeee! It smelled great, but by this point, there was no carbonation left. Also, there was only, like, an ounce or two of the blend. Still, this may be something worth trying more formally next year. Blending contest? I think that could be a lot of fun. Of course, my supplies of previous vintages are now dwindling. This was my last 2011, for instance. And I only have one 2012 left! Then again, 4-5 years does seem to be the ceiling on aging these beers. Spices fade over time, and while these are hearty beers, they don't seem to take age as well as, say, a higher ABV, darker beer. It's still a lot of fun, though, and while it's generally what's in the bottle that counts, I enjoy the romantic notions of associating these beers with Christmas, and the unique label artwork just puts me in the mood of the season. Have a great holiday season everyone, and may it be filled with tasty beer!

Update: It appears we've attracted the attention of Anchor's VP of Production, one Scott Ungermann, who had a few comments:

First - you are correct - the beers don't really age well past 3-4 years, so we recommend not laying them down much past that. Second - correct again - this year was a departure in that we felt less was more on the spice front, so we toned the spices down a bit as we upped the roasted malt to go darker & heavier... We agree that it will age nicely with this combo. Look for more of the same next year - maybe even a higher ABV & some more hops!

We are actually selling vertical 6-packs of '12, '13 & '14 in our taproom store this year for the first time this year so that people can try them alongside our 2015 Special Ale for anyone who wants to try this at home.

The notion of going further afield and maybe even playing with higher ABV and moar hops is tantalizing indeed! Very much looking forward to doing another vertical in 2016!

Dark Wednesday Redux

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About 4 years ago, I waited in line at my first beer release. I have since cycled through degenerate FOMO line-waiting and beer-hunting into a much more relaxed cadence. But it all started with Victory's Dark Intrigue in an event dubbed Dark Wednesday. Releasing something special on the day before Thanksgiving has become something of a tradition for Victory, though for reasons unknown, they never revisited Dark Intrigue (and claim they won't make it again). I loved that beer when fresh, and since I bought a case of the stuff, I've enjoyed checking it out over time. Other releases included Red Thunder and Earth & Flame.

The hype surrounding these releases has died down, but they're definitely worth checking out. Victory has grown considerably since then as well, opening new brewpubs throughout the area and even a new production facility in Parksburg. This year's Thanksgiving Wednesday release was called Java Cask, a bourbon barrel aged imperial stout made with coffee from local restaurant and indie rock venue, Johnny Brenda's. Unlike Dark Intrigue (or indeed, most of Victory's barrel aged efforts), the base beer does not appear to be something in the regular lineup, and the result clocks in at a whopping 14.3% ABV (to my knowledge, the highest they've ever brewed). It was much anticipated locally, but since the release was spread out across several locations, it was all very low key. I rolled up a little after opening, waited about 5 minutes and got myself some bottles. That being said, there wasn't that much left and I'm told it sold out not long after I snagged mine...

I love the local brewing scene, but I have also noticed a distinct lack of great bourbon barrel stouts. With Java Cask, we've now seen two new BBA Imperial Coffee Stouts in the past year alone (the other being Weyerbacher's Sunday Morning Stout). This is nice, but given my legendary aversion towards coffee, I wouldn't mind seeing some non-coffeed versions floating around every now and again. A man can dream. That being said, I feel like I'm gaining a better appreciation of great imperial coffee stouts, so let's get to the main event. Since I'm a glutton for punishment, I rooted around my cellar and found a bottle of Dark Intrigue to commemorate the occasion and compare both Dark Wednesday beers. Totally unfair comparison, but fun nonetheless.

Dark Intrigue

Victory Dark Intrigue 2011 - This is long past its prime, but it's still a worthy pour. Faded piney, resinous hops and oxidation are prominent, but the malt backbone and barrel aging keep things interesting. It felt much better integrated when fresh or within 1-2 years. It's fine now, just very, very different, and the bourbon barrel character has faded. If you have one of these tucked away, it's probably long past time to drink it, but it's still worth checking out. Chalk this one up in the "drink one fresh, save one to age" category... Difficult to rate this one, but if this was my first taste, it'd be somewhere in the low B range.

Beer Nerd Details: 10% ABV bottled (750 ml caged and corked). Drank out of a snifter on 11/25/15. Bottled: Nov 08 2011.

Victory Java Cask

Victory Java Cask - Pours a deep, dark, oily brown, almost black color, thick looking, with half a finger of very short lived light brown head. Smells of coffee, coffee, and more coffee, roast coffee, chocolate coffee, and did I mention coffee? It's got a lot of coffee. Taste is less coffee focused, though it's still playing a lead role. Starts off sweet, with rich caramel, milk chocolate, dark chocolate, roast, and finally that coffee really takes over in the finish. As it warms, it gets more complex and the flavor elements come out more. Mouthfeel is full bodied, rich, and chewy, well carbonated, and plenty of boozy heat. This is a delicious, intense coffee stout, and if I wasn't such a coffee ambivalent fella, this would be full on A material, but I'm not, so you get A-

Beer Nerd Details: 14.3% ABV bottled (750 ml caged and corked). Drank out of a snifter on 11/25/15. Enjoy by: 10 Nov 2016.

It's been a while since I've reviewed a Victory beer, which is weird, since they are one of my most reviewed breweries. This was great, but man, I really want a non-coffee version of this. Fingers crossed that we'll see something like that in the future.

Cascade Sang Rouge

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I was going to put a bunch of effort into working a Le Cercle Rouge reference in here, but I figured the tenuous connection (zomg, they both use the French word for Red) and obscurity means I shouldn't bother. Any Jean-Pierre Melville fans in the house? No? Alright then, moving on.

This is yet another in Cascade's long line of sour ales; a blend of red ales that were aged in oak wine barrels and oak foudres for for up to three years. Previous iterations have mentioned that it was a blend of as many as nine lots of beer, which is always an interesting exercise. Sometimes blending can add complexity and balance, other times it just sorta levels out all the spiky bits, covers up imperfections, making for a less complex but more consistent beer. While this is certainly another Cascade win, I'm also betting this trends towards the latter speculation. This is still very good, but it doesn't really stand out if you know what I mean. Or not. I'm not even really sure what I mean by that. Give me a break. Let's take a closer look at this "red blooded" sour and plan some elaborate beer heists:

Cascade Sang Rouge

Cascade Sang Rouge - Pours a clear but very dark amber or ruby color with a finger of fizzy but long lived off-white head. Smells great, vinegar, cherries, musty funk, a little oak and vanilla too. Taste hits those sour notes pretty hard, sweet, tart fruit, cherries, blackberries and the like, some of that oak and vanilla pitching in where it can, then more sourness. Mouthfeel is medium bodied, some oaky richness, well carbonated, plenty of acidity. Overall, a nice little sour number. Could be an A-, but I'm not feeling generous at the moment, so B+

Beer Nerd Details: 8.4% ABV bottled (750 ml caged and corked). Drank out of a flute glass on 11/21/15. Vintage: 2013 Project (2015 Release).

Cascade certainly has their house sour style dialed in, and with a single freak exception, I've enjoyed everything I've had from them. I'm sure this won't be the last we see of them on the blog...

Allagash Farm To Face

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Wherein Allagash cuts out the middle man (you know, those greedy tables) and delivers a fresh fruit sour right to your face. All anthropomorphic jokes aside, I prefer to think of this as a subtle but scathing indictment of the three tier system of alcohol distribution put into place after Prohibition. Viva la fermentación! Well played, Allagash.

It's also a beer! Farm to Face starts life as a lowly Belgian pale ale, fermented with Allagash's standard house yeast. After primary fermentation is complete, they add pediococcus and lactobacillus and age the whole concoction on 6000 pounds of peaches. Bucking the current oaky fashion, the aging is done in stainless steel tanks, but don't let that fool you, this is superb stuff:

Allagash Farm to Face

Allagash Farm To Face - Pours an almost clear golden yellow color with a finger of fluffy white head that sticks around for a bit. Smells amazing, lots of earthy funk and bright citrus fruit, peaches and the like. Taste hits the same notes as the nose, a very nice lactic sour punch, stone fruit, some earthy funk, and yes, more sourness. Mouthfeel is crisp, light, and refreshing, well carbonated, quite acidic, but still pleasant and balanced with the rest. Overall, this is delicious. A

Beer Nerd Details: 5.7% ABV bottled (375 ml caged and corked). Drank out of a charente glass on 11/20/15. Bottled: July 16, 2015.

Another winning sour from Allagash. I shall have to seek out their more obscure offerings on that front. Someday. Someday...

Sante Adairius Jose Pimiento

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In Brew Like a Monk, Stan Hieronymus relates an anecdote from Michael Jackson (the beer critic, not the pop star):

In one of the many stories he likes to tell about German, English and Belgian brewers, Michael Jackson first asks a German how beer is made. "Pils malt, Czech hops," the brewer replies. Then Jackson asks the German brewer down the road the same question. "It's the same as Fritz said. That's how you make a Pilsener, that's what we learn in school."

After getting a different answer from a British brewer, Jackson turns to a Belgian brewer. "First of all, you take one ton of bat's droppings. Then you add a black witch," the Belgian answers. "The brewer down the road uses a white witch." Jackson concludes with the lesson: "Belgium is a nation of tremendous individualists."

The notion of beer "styles" is so ingrained in our current beer culture that it's hard to imagine coming to it fresh, the way Jackson was doing 40 or so years ago. It's faintly amazing that we ended up with something even remotely workable, especially considering the tremendous individualism of Belgian beer.

Enter Sante Adairius' 16e series of one-off beers. It's a nod to Tim Clifford's time as a homebrewer, as he "gained a lot of notoriety" in competitions, especially with beers in BJCP Category 16e, a nubulous "catch-all" category of Belgian beer used to capture all those weird bat dropping and witch based ales and whatnot. Basically, it's Sante Adairius' line of experimental and weird beers that defy categorization.

This particular entry is called Jose Pimiento. I don't know who that is or why they named this beer after him, but Jose presumably enjoys chile peppers, because this is a sour blonde ale aged in barrels with dried chile peppers. This is... not a combo you're likely to see again, and is vaguely terrifying, but it appears they used a gentle touch with the chiles, as it adds complexity and flavor without overwhelming...

Sante Adairius Jose Pimiento

Sante Adairius Rustic Ales 16e Jose Pimiento - Pours a very pale, straw yellow color with a finger of white head that sticks around a bit. Smells of vinous fruit and oak, funky but very bright. If you do the equivalent of squinting with your nose, you can maybe, kinda, sorta find the pepper, but it's not really a prominent aroma at all. Taste starts off with those vinous fruit flavors up front, lactic sourness emerging quickly and lasting through the taste, and that spicy chile pepper comes out a bit more here, but it's still shy and introverted (like me!), and as a result, it adds complexity without overwhelming anything. It reminds me of the old Belgian brewing adage of spice - if it's identifiable, you've done it wrong. If I didn't know this involved peppers, I might note something, but I doubt I'd pinpoint it as dried chile peppers. Mouthfeel is well carbonated up front, but quickly falling off into a more sticky finish, some bright acidity here, and yes, faint hints of chile heat. Overall, this is a bit odd, but still another winner from Sante Adairius. A-

Beer Nerd Details: 7% ABV bottled (750 ml). Drank out of a flute glass on 11/13/15.

Another winner from SARA! Many thanks to Jay from BeerSamizdat for sending it my way. Keep them coming, Jay, I need to get my hands on moar SARA!

Cismontane Black's Nocturne

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I'm continually fascinated by the subtleties of barrel aging. It's fun to try and reverse engineer what makes one beer great and another not as successful, though I'll be the first to admit that my SWAGs are just that. I am totally the worst, as has been amply demonstrated in this here blog. There are so many things that could impact the final product (i.e. the base beer recipe, the barrel conditions, the brand of bourbon used, the time in the barrel, and so on) that it's hard to pinpoint causality. But it's still fun, because I'm the worst! So let's look at a couple of cases.

Last year, I was blown away by Stone Fyodor's Classic, a revelatory BBA imperial stout. As such, when this year's vintage rolled around, I was fully on board and went out of my way to procure some. I excitedly popped the cork on the new bottle and quickly found myself underwhelmed. It was fine, but it was not the revelation of the previous year's vintage. Surely this is just subjectivity at work, right? Revelations tend to be one time things and I do kinda hate when people quickly proclaim that this year's batch of this or that hyped beer is not as good as last year's (a perennial complaint about Pliny the Younger and Hopslam, for instance), so I kinda wrote off my reaction as unwarranted. Then I had another underwhelming bottle and noticed something on the back. Because I'm a packrat that saves empty bottles of beer I really liked (I am the worst), I checked last year's bottle and lo:

Back label details of two vintages of Fyodors Classic
(click to embiggen)

7 months in the barrel versus 12 months. It appears I was not imagining things (not the worst? Eh, let's reserve judgement on that one.); the extra time in the barrel apparently works wonders! But then, given all the other variables, we can only really apply this conclusion to Stone's IRS. Other beers aged for 7 months or less have still turned out well, so age probably isn't always the operative factor. But it clearly made a difference here, and I have to wonder how many people bought this year's vintage after having heard the praise of the previous year...

In the case of California's Cismontane brewery and their Black's Nocturne, I'm at a disadvantage since I've never had the original vintage. This will not stop me from speculating though, since I am the worst (see? Told you.) The beer actually has a great reputation, and while I enjoyed this new bottle, I don't think it rivals the best of the bourbon barrel aged stouts. It's true that this is a high bar to clear, but after I drank this and looked at the reviews, I was surprised by the discrepancy. So I looked into it, and a few things jumped out at me. This year's vintage is "aged in Markers Mark bourbon barrels for 289 days" and clocks in at 11% ABV. The previous iteration? A 12% ABV beer "aged ... for nearly a year in fresh Heaven Hill Bourbon barrels, which we then blended in an attempt to tame the bourbon beastliness." So there's lots of differences here. First, Heaven Hill versus Maker's Mark should make a difference (and honestly, I'm not a huge fan of Maker's), then you've got the ABV, and finally a blending with fresh beer. All of which is to say, this year's vintage probably does not resemble the previous vintage. I'd be really curious to test out that hypothesis, but I don't think that's in the cards. In the meantime, let's take a closer look at this sucker:

Cismontane Blacks Nocturne

Cismontane Black's Nocturne - Pours a deep black color with a finger of quickly dissolving tan head that nevertheless leaves a little lacing. Smells sweet, lots and lots of vanilla, less in the way of bourbon and oak, hints of caramel and roast but they're not as prominent as expected. Taste has some of that rich caramel, a little bit of roast, hints of liquorish, and a surprisingly clean finish. Mouthfeel is well carbonated, medium bodied, and while it's not dry, it's surprisingly light on its feet. That being said, absolutely no hint of the high-ish ABV here at all, though it's still a sipper. Overall, it's an interesting and tasty beer that I'd certainly try again, but nowhere near top tier BBA stouts. B+

Beer Nerd Details: 11% ABV bottled (500 ml). Drank out of a snifter on 11/13/15. Bottled 150902.

I'd certainly try this again, but I'll be even more curious to try next year's vintage, if I can swing it.

AleSmith Vietnamese Coffee Speedway Stout

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According to BeerAdvocate, there are currently 34 different variations of AleSmith's venerable Speedway Stout, ranging from numerous different coffee varieties to different barrel aged treatments to totally wacky shit like Tiramisu or Maple Blueberry Pancake. In general, though, what you see at the store is the original Ryan Bros. Coffee version, which is fantastic, to be sure, but you hear about all these variants and can't help but wonder... The grand majority of this stuff is probably brewery-only distribution, but one can't help but pine for a taste. So I was more than a little surprise when a little birdy told me that a local beeratorium was going to be tapping a keg of Vietnamese Coffee Speedway Stout, a particularly prized variant. Despite my legendary antipathy towards coffee stouts, I rather enjoyed regular Speedway, and still wanted to get a taste of the good stuff.

So what makes this special? First made in 2012, this beer utilizes a blend of four Vietnamese coffees, known in Vietnam as cà phê sa đá, that are then slow roasted at low temperature (a salient point, and perhaps one of the reasons I like this - that treatment supposedly lends a less bitter, less roasty, less burnt flavor, though I'm obviously taking someone's word for this since I'm not a coffee guy) and brewed using traditional Phin-style filter. Looking into this, it seems a bit odd, because the Phin-style filter is a single-cup, gravity driven brewing tool, so did they brew enough for a full batch of beer using single cups? Whatever the case, it worked, because the result is a wonderful beer (erm, not the greatest picture, sorry about that):

AleSmith Vietnamese Coffee Speedway Stout

AleSmith Vietnamese Coffee Speedway Stout - Yes, it's black with half a finger of tan head that leaves lacing as I drink. Smell has a great vanilla component, but the typical roasty, coffee, dark chocolate notes also make the requisite appearance, seems less intense but more complex. Taste is all rich, dark malts, caramel, vanilla, well balanced hop bitterness, a healthy roastiness, and yes, a very nice mellow coffee, especially in the finish. We all know I'm no coffee fiend, but this is my kind of coffee beer. I had this a second time later in the week and felt that the vanilla component wasn't as prominent, but I'm guessing that was just because I had it after drinking a bunch of other beers. Mouthfeel is full bodied and moderately carbonated, well balanced but a little boozy heat makes itself known, especially as it warms up. Overall, right up at the top of my coffee beer ranking... A-

Beer Nerd Details: 12% ABV on tap (10 ounce pour). Drank out of a tulip glass on 11/7/15.

After getting a small taste of BA Speedway, and now this, I'm thinking I need to get on the ball with AleSmith's special releases!

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

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This page is an archive of recent entries in the United States category.

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