Sunday, July 26, 2020

 
6 Gems that Colorado Breweries Have Produced in this Covid Summer

This is neither a normal time to be producing beers nor a normal time to be reviewing them. Breweries are scrambling to hang on in the face of coronavirus restrictions. Most people are worried more about surviving than thriving.

Yet breweries continue to produce unique, fascinating and sometimes crushable beers in the face of such odds. And while the search for complete lists of excellent summer beers becomes a lot harder when your tasting ability is truncated — oh, how I miss beer festivals — one should still shout out when gems are found. And it to that end that this column is dedicated.

Odell Brewing Orange You Glad
The authors of the Reinheitsgebot would hate this kettle-soured blood orange and lychee beer from the brewery's RiNo taproom, but yet its almost soda-like qualities are what makes it so appealing. Fruit sweetness tinged with just enough citrus bitterness to give it a backbone in lieu of an underlying malt presence turns this into a summer sour sipper, offering both the tartness you might seek for a tastebud challenge and a degree of refreshment largely foreign to this style.

Station 26 Desert Haze
As every brewer now comes out with their own interpretation of a hazy IPA, it takes some real skill to create one that is simple enough to defy easy description but impressive enough to make you stop, swirl it an extra time and really try to pick up all its flavors. Furnishing both a tropical-forward flavor and the kind of bitter tinge on the backtaste that reminds you of IPAs from another era, this blends the best of new and traditional brewing in a way that makes you want to lap up more while standing on your back patio cooking a brat.

Elevation Beer Montanya
To be sure, there is nothing that reeks of summer in this rum-barrel-aged horchata imperial porter. It is dark and heavy and pounds you with roasted malts mingling with cinnamon and just a lick of booze. But there is so much going on in here —swirling complexity with simple stout goodness with a surrounding barrel sweetness that only comes from the lingering presence of a sugarcane alcohol — that you won't care as you hoist this before or after a hike into the San Isabel National Forest, lauding all the flavors that leap out from here.

Bruz Beers Dawg Daze
Real conversation with a friend after discovering he too had tried this new Belgian IPA from the Adams County/Denver brewer: "Oh, you had it too? Wasn't it great to style, with heavy esters and an underlying bitterness?" "Yeah, but what really surprised me was how fast I drank it. I looked in my glass and I literally thought some had gone missing somewhere." "Yeah, same thing happened to me. Man, was it smooth."

New Belgium 1985 IPA
An unusual offering in the hazy catalog, bestowing one of the most pineapple-juice aromas of any beer yet produced but somehow managing to make that flavor both bold enough to jump out and balanced enough to not taste like some kind of overly fermented fruit juice. This is also the hazy IPA that gives off bolder flavors as it warms, so don't let the lighter body fool you into drinking this quickly.

Highside Brewing Green Machine
You may think you dislike milkshake IPA, but this creation from the brewery in downtown Frisco will make you reconsider that opinion. More akin to a melon-forward IPA, this pushes the boundaries of tropical flavors without losing any of the high underlying hop qualities that allow you to remember clearly where the flavor is coming from in its sharp body. Given that the brewery is literally across the road from a marina, this may be the perfect beer for kicking back and watching the world sail by your bare feet.

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Tuesday, July 14, 2020

 
Collaboration still is worth celebrating

It occurred to me as everyone was celebrating our nation's independence today 10 days ago that it would have three months exactly since we should have been celebrating something else noble — collaboration. Alas, Collaboration Fest was the first of Colorado's great beer events felled by coronavirus — a list that, sadly, stretches all the way now to include the Great American Beer Festival as we've known it.

But one of the oddly positive things to come out of this time of isolation has been the slow rollout of collaboration beers. followed by an extended shelf life that's left a few of them available still. And it is to that effort that today's retrospective/perspective column is dedicated — a look at a select number of the great collaborations this year that you should either buy or tell your favorite breweries to make again soon.

Strange Times — Strange Craft Beer/Argonaut Wine & Liquor
This barrel-aged baltic porter was of the best and simultaneously most dangerous kind — a beer that churns with complex flavors yet doesn't appear to be anywhere as boozy as it actually is. Dark, roasty and chocolatey with just the right amount of bitterness, it's so easy to enjoy that you can put down four cans of it without ever stopping to take a photo ...


Strawberry Shortcake Pastry Sour — Crooked Stave/Molly's Spirits
In lesser hands, this beer could have been a juicy fruit bomb with an abnormally glowing red/pink body. Instead, it meshes all of its attributes beautifully, letting its fruit bring the sweetness, its yeast give it just a prick of sour that doesn't detract from its core taste and some wonderful brewing leave it with a backtaste of dough, as if you've just drank a tart-ish piece of cake.


The Odyssey of Flyte — Odyssey Beerwerks/FlyteCo Brewing
Every year among the bold and crazy creations that headline Collaboration Fest, one finds the almost subtle beer that you want to drink over and over again — and this beer allowed you to do just that as coronavirus shifted its production into cans. Classic in its Belgian feel, it put forth a slightly sharp, sweet taste but also a big body that heightened its drinkability, ending with tang of bitterness that made you feel you'd flown around the taste world in 12 ounces.

Jungle Rush — Westfax Brewing/Finkel & Garf
Sure, "fruited sour hazy IPA" sounded like a gimmick that was a milkshake short of a full trend house. But after a burst of orange-pineapple nose, the hops really did take over with a wonderful bitterness that stood up and complimented the citrus fruit well. Both bold and eerily subtle, it evolved as you drank it, giving you a run through a lot of techniques that all were impressive.

Strat Boy — Cannonball Creek/Pizza Port Carlsbad
While not the world's most interesting beer, these auteurs managed to make a hoppy American pilsner that also was not boring - and in doing so, created what could have been the summer sipper of the batch. Its defining characteristic was its crispness, and the surrounding bitterness helped to lay that quality down and make sure that there was something more going on in a simple creation.





Barrel Conspiracy: Mr. Sandman — River North Brewery/Molly's Spirits
As far as ambitious beers go, this bourbon-barrel-aged imperial stout with orange and chocolate had few peers, at least among the beers found in the Denver area in the months following what would have been the festival. Maybe the 12.8% ABV was a little too much for its own good. But the nose itself was the single most impressive aroma of a beer that has debuted this year, launching you into a world of candy and creativity that did not overstep the boundaries of sweetness, presumably because of its notable booze.

The Cure — Brewery Rickoli/Over Yonder Brewing
Not just the most appropriately named beer for a coronavirus-cancelled festival, this West Coast double IPA showed off a subtle touch from two overlooked breweries in Denver's western suburbs. Clean, classically hoppy and full of pine and dandelions, it recalled an earlier time in brewing, both before coronavirus and before the idea of collaborations.

Strangely Epic — Strange Craft Beer/Epic Brewing
This is not the first time the two Denver breweries have combined their signature beers to make a seemingly head-scratching whiskey-barrel-aged coffee cherry stout, but it has never seemed to blend so appropriately. Darker than night and scented heavily with coffee, it allowed the cherry to come through just strongly enough that it added a unique dimension to the featured taste in a warming, enveloping stout. Ask for seconds this winter; this is what a cold-weather nightcap should be.

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Saturday, May 09, 2020

 
7 Beers That Got Me Through Lockdown

As Colorado is starting to take baby steps out of its nearly-two-month coronavirus lockdown, there's a lot about the period since mid-March we won't want to remember. Job losses. Illnesses or even deaths of family and friends. The feeling of uncertainty surrounding everything we do.

But what I don't want to forget, frankly, are some of the brews that were comforting during this time, from a few that came out before the virus outbreak and stared lovingly from the beer-fridge shelf to ones that local breweries boldly debuted even when no one could sit in their taprooms to enjoy them. And while we wait to get the go-ahead to return to those taprooms — Gov. Polis said he is hoping for Memorial Day weekend, though not promising anything — let's raise a pint from our barrooms or front porches to some notable efforts that made this period just a little more palatable.

1) Westfax Sippin' on a Cloud
Truth be told, no beer has been more omnipresent in the Sealover household or become quite as much of a daily go-to as Urban Lumberjack, the deliciously soupy and bright hazy IPA from this wildly underrated Lakewood brewery. But Sippin' on a Cloud, its double hazy IPA effort, has been an eye-opener, packed with hops that burst forth in pineapple flavor but are cushioned perfectly by an oat-y body that absorbs the alcohol burn and gives you a smooth, full and very big alternative when you just want to forget about the world around you and lose yourself in a beer.

2) Oskar Blues Can-O-Bliss Double IPA
One of the standout debuts of the 2019 Great American Beer Festival — No, seriously, how long ago does that feel? — this beer wisely made it into cans at the beginning of the year and holds up very well even for a while in your fridge. Full of Citra hops and extremely balanced, there is no residual alcohol in the flavor here. It's less fruity than its single little brother, which was arguably the best Colorado beer of 2019, but it's very smooth for what it is.

3)  Strange Times Too
Fans of Strange Craft Beer's fruity-with-a-tinge-of-funk Cherry Kriek may never look at it the same way again after sampling this Brett-infused version of the beer, which brings it a sparkling, sharp edge and ranks as one of the best experiments this brewery has made in its 10-year history. It provides a full mouth — sweet, tart and a decent-sized body to balance all the flavors — and makes for a perfect Zoom call beer (as demonstrated in the photo at the top).

4) Cannonball Creek Return of the Mackaroon
The next time you think of the Golden brewery as a pale-ale and flavorful-lager specialist, find this beer and re-set your thinking. Dark as night with a roasty body and yet quite sweet with the blend of coconut and macaroon, this oatmeal porter is a kaleidoscope of flavors that combine into a shockingly smooth experiment that lets you experience different sensations as you roll it over your tongue. Perfect with take-it-home pizza.

5) Denver Beer Tart Delight
This lighter-bodied sour offering is not the beer that makes you pucker up, but it is the offering you want if you desire a little prick of tartness in an easy-drinking form that you can wolf down with dinner, after a hike or sitting alone on your porch pondering where the world goes next. The lime/orange palate is permeating without penetrating your taste buds too deeply. Expect to enjoy this with cookouts when they return.

6) Sanitas Mama's Peaches IPA
An early 2020 offering, this special release is the rare fruited IPA that actually works, because the peach flavor here is solid but not overbearing, laying a groundwork where it meshes with the Centennial and Summit hops. You feel the pinecone resin that should peek out in a traditional West Coast IPA, but it's mixed with a sweetness that makes you stop to consider the melange of flavors. Simply, it's a beer for many tastes.

7) Sierra Nevada Hoppy Anniversary Ale
A shout-out needs to be given to this out-of-state pioneer for a beer that it released a number of months back but that holds up well in the bar fridge despite its hoppy nature. Sierra Nevada always has had the gift of balancing hops and malt, and this special release has an early-craft feel in its use of hops for bittering on top of a slightly woody body. It won't challenge you, but it will remind you of the first "microbrewery" offering that made you fall in love with the sector.

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Monday, April 27, 2020

 
A Short Piece about the new Michigan Brewery in Town

Those who have swung by the Short's Brewing Co. booth at Great American Beer Festival likely walked away thinking that the northern Michigan brewery was all about fun and experimental games. Offering flavors from carrot cake to strawberry to peaches and cream, it grew a reputation starting about a half-decade ago for turning your head as you walked by and daring you not to stop and try.

About three months ago, the 16-year-old brewery began distribution in Colorado. Yes, the event seemed overshadowed when the whole world blew up about a month after it arrived here (which, by the way, was pure coincidence). But what seemed almost as strange was the brewery entering the state with a portfolio of offerings that could be considered - gasp - somewhat normal.

Its flagship beers that it began selling at liquor stores throughout the area included an IPA, a heavily fruited ale and a light beer, of all things. It also brought along three ciders from the Starcut Ciders facility it operates, as well as a hard seltzer, Beaches, that seems a mandate for all growing craft breweries (but that, like all seltzers, merits no further words).

Since coronavirus shifted so much of our liquor-store buying to curbside pickup and delivery, old favorites are in and newcomers like Short's feel like a luxury that many drinkers may not have time or resources to discover. But there are a couple of Short's offerings that the Colorado craft-enjoying world shouldn't overlook, even as it's putting so much energy rightly into buying locally.

Huma Lupa Licious IPA is an old-school, West-Coast-reminiscent beer that is very balanced, with a medium pine nose but also a little breadiness around the edges when it comes to its aroma. Though 7.7% ABV, it sits like a beer you could drink several of without it weighing you down.

Soft Parade - brewed with puree of strawberries, blueberries, raspberries and blackberries - looks like fruit juice and smells like berries but does not lack for real beer flavor. Plus, its 7.5% ABV base gives it just enough of a boozy, serious body to make you think about all the flavors you're imbibing.

Maybe the best offering of its entry class, however, was Pulsar, its dry cider made with Michigan apples and Pinot Noir yeast that has a tart enough tinge that it resembles an introductory sour ale. It's truly one of the more complex and advanced ciders you will try, and when considered alongside its Octorock hard cider, it demonstrates that Starcut, like the experimental Short's that beer geeks know, can draw a lot of flavor into its offerings.

That said, the Local's Light is an abundantly strange choice to bring into a mature beer market; there is little other than its smoothness that separates it from the megabreweries' light offerings, and it holds no appeal for those seeking new flavors. And Mosa, a blend of hard cider and orange juice, feels too much like the bad mixed drink you put together in college using orange juice stolen from the cafeteria, pounding you with sweetness and funk (though not the good Brett kind of funk) and just screaming "experiment gone wrong."

It frankly feels like an odd time to recommend any beer that was brewed more than 10 miles from your home. But when the world calms, Short's is a seasoned beer maker worth a try. And, just maybe, this guru of eclectic flavors can bring out to Colorado some more experiments the state will embrace.

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Wednesday, March 04, 2020

 
Barquentine brings its own style to Edgewater


Say what you will about Barquentine Brewing Co., which opened Saturday in Edgewater Public Market, but don't say that head brewer Kyle Knudson doesn't already have his recipes dialed in coming out of the gate. And that's a refreshing thing.

Knudson spent eight years filming movies and commercials in New York and hanging with a very serious homebrew club that has produced eight commercial breweries. When he and his wife decided it was time to move home and go pro with his fermentation skills, he spent several years brewing at Edgewater's first brewery - Joyride Brewing - before seizing the opportunity to open up just about nine blocks away in the food hall that debuted in late 2019.

Barquentine is not an everything-for-everyone type of brewery. Instead, it's Knudson's exploration of yeast and how various yeasts can flavor a beer. And the initial six beers he tapped (pictured with him below) give an entry-level course on how that one crucial element can spawn so many different tastes.

Sometimes the influence is subtle, like in Sloans Lake Yacht Club, a 5.2% ABV table beer that uses Roquefort yeast to add the slightest citrus touch on the back of a dry and drinkable body and make it what Knudson calls a "gateway to Belgian beers."

Sometimes it's heavier, like in the Leapling, a Kveik pale ale with New Zealand hops and wild Norwegian yeast that serves as the requisite "hoppy" beer at Barquentine but where the bitterness is tempered by an herbal overtone that extols all of the ingredients. Hopheads may not see it as their dream beer, but it's an absolutely unique addition to the Denver beer portfolio.

Nowhere does Knudson show off his delicacy with yeast quite as much as in Sea Bear, a classic saison with a deep nose of orange and Belgian candi sugar that is wetter and fuller than the style has come to be defined by American brewers. It too announces its originality and dares you to try to not drink another.

Barquentine, which will allow people to bring in food from the market as well as take their beer with them in plastic cups while they wander among the dozen-and-a-half restaurant stalls, has 15 taps it can offer, though co-founder Ed Knudson - Kyle's father - believes 10 beers is a good goal. The brewery will move quickly to produce a line of dubbels, tripels and quads. It also will start barrel-aging soon and selling beers to go in both 16-ounce four-packs and corked-and-caged 750 ml bottles.

The debut lineup had only one miss - Mined, Bottled and Sold, an 8.6% Belgian golden ale whose high alcohol and prevalent citrus flavor couldn't fully cover up a burnt-plastic taste that was evident on the back of the tongue. But as patrons filled up the space quickly, it wasn't the flaws that were leading the conversation.

Instead, Barquentine should be celebrated both for having a singular vision in a crowded brew scene and for pulling it off.

Nothing in its debut lineup is likely to be the type of beer that make a brewery's reputation go viral and draw in crowds on its own. But the variety and uniqueness of the offerings show that this is a beer maker both with room to grow and with already-realized talent manning a brewery that we'll likely still be talking about (and drinking at) when less thoughtful craft breweries have come and gone from the scene.

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Friday, February 21, 2020

 
Beer and Donuts Is the New Beer and Pizza

Leave it to the couple that decided mixing IPA and mac 'n cheese was a good idea - and shocking everyone all by proving themselves right - to have the first beer bar/restaurant in Denver to open up a donut shop inside as well.

Come Wednesday, Hops & Pie will also be home to Berkeley Donuts, a shop that will open at 7:30 a.m. and be located right beside the bar that serves one of the best tap lists of local and national craft beer in Denver. Folks can come in and get the donuts - sourdough, vegan or made New England-style with potatoes for extra fluff - until around lunchtime and, if they wish, they can enjoy one or more with a beer such as a coffee stout or a barrel-aged stout, which are co-owner Drew Watson's recommended pairings.

Beer and donuts aren't a new thing in Denver. Denver Beer Co. has been offering irregular pairings of the two important food groups for years, an idea that other breweries since have picked up as well. And Oskar Blues Brewery ran one of the best donut shops in town, Hotbox Roasters, beside its CHUBurger beer bar before shutting both concepts down late last year to concentrate on its full-service restaurants and its brewing capacity.

But what Drew and Leah Watson are doing represents, in many ways, the first chance to dive head-first into trying a great donut - trust me when I say to try the almond coconut chocolate donut or the sourdough frosted with lemon poppyseed icing (both pictured above) - beside a great beer. And Drew, who has been perfecting this concept for two years in the kitchen of his Arvada house, has a few thoughts on how a perfect pairing would work.

He's partial to dark cake with dark malts, he said Friday, and has concocted a menu that includes donut flavors like S'mores, salted caramel and toffee with pretzel. But he also appreciates that a sweeter frosting could pair with a sour or maybe a wheat.

And he acknowledged that, just maybe, he's looking for a way to work hops into donuts, possibly through a combination of grapefruit or other citrus frosting flavors and Southern Hemisphere hops.

"I think any style of beer goes with any style of donut," he mused. "But I think clearly the heavy stouts and Belgians and porters go particularly well."

Donuts aren't likely to replace pizza or even pretzels as the ultimate beer-pairing food yet, but they allow for an impressive level of creativity in terms of how their richness can add to a fullness of flavor in a brew. And the idea that at least one high-level beer hangout in Denver is willing to bet big on the combination shows a continuing maturation of a city that's willing to try new things.

"Denver's a lot in my mind like Portland, Oregon, or Portland, Maine, and those cities have that donut presence," Drew said. "And I've always wondered why Denver doesn't."

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Monday, January 20, 2020

 
6 Things I Learned at the 2020 Big Beers Festival

Once again, the variety and complexity of flavors poured at this year's Big Beers, Belgians and Barleywines Festival - which celebrated its 20th anniversary last weekend in Breckenridge - were awe-inspiring. But this year's masterpiece of a festival from Laura and Bill Lodge felt distinctly like it was not just about what has been produced by some of the most experimental brewers in America but what will be coming from the industry's boundary-pushers for years to come.

New styles, new flavors and new brewers abounded - a trend exacerbated by the number of cutting-edge beer makers who asked to come out and pour this year, adding to the geographical and taste diversity in the hall. And if one walked away with a few predictions as to what more brewers will be doing after tasting their noteworthy brethren, here is what I dare say they would be.

1) Bold adjuncts in stouts are once again on the rise
If there was a standout beer of the festival, it was Wiley Roots Brewing's Du Hast Cake, a 12% ABV bourbon-barrel-aged German chocolate cake imperial stout that tasted every bit as lusciously desert-like as it sounds - but without a hint of alcohol residue, making it both scrumptious and dangerous. And while pastry stouts have become one of the scapegoats of the "beer doesn't taste like beer anymore" crowd, the only pushback I received when proclaiming this the best beer was from folks who argued Outer Range's Timber from Vanilla Imperial Stout imbued even more awakening flavors.

Indeed, Fremont Brewing's Coconut Edition B-Bomb Imperial Winter Ale and 4 Noses Brewing's Toasted Coconut BMF Imperial Stout proved also how much unique flavor could be added to otherwise big and boozy beers by throwing in something that snubs the Reinheitsgebot. And New Holland Brewing's Dragon's Milk Reserve Oatmeal Cookie tasted of vanilla, cinnamon and brown sugar - not at all of its 11% ABV holdings.

2) Fruit in a sour? How about vanilla, or an Asian soy add-on?
There were, as always, a profusion of both pucker-worthy and smooth-settling sour ales on display at the festival, but there was nothing as remarkable as Purpose Brewing's Itadakimasu #032, which infused the sour rice wine Ponzu into its body and created an entirely new flavor profile. Partly salty and thicker in body than most sours, this is not a beer that will appeal to everyone but absolutely was the gutsiest and most high-risk/high-reward offering of the festival for those willing to drink a beer and mull over it for a significant time, and Purpose owner/brewer Peter Bouckaert (shown below listening to Black Project owner James Howat at a festival seminar) should be commended for his boldness.

Slightly less edgy but no less satisfying was the Language of Origin Sour Ale from Speciation Artisan Ales of Michigan, aged in gin barrels with strawberry, hibiscus, vanilla and lemon. That radical combination melded, and also allowed its ingredients to stand out in alternating turns as it rolled over your taste buds, and it created something that went far beyond the standard definition of a sour ale.
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3) If going traditional in your sour adjuncts, ignore the typical barrels
Wine, whiskey and other traditional barrels will continue to be used, and for good reason, in aging specialty ales. But Big Beers showed exactly what one could do by reaching further afield for a supply of aging vessels.

Broken Compass Brewing of Breckenridge poured a Port-Barrel-Aged Foreign Export Stout that used tart cherries to impart a pleasantly acidic nose into a sweet and dark body with a pointedness that was lacking from other adjunct ingredients. Meanwhile, Transient Artisan Ales of Michigan put out an Absinthe Anachronism Wild Ale that gave a cherry sweetness to a funky beer without any pucker and made you think twice about its process.

4) The hazy/tropical IPA is about to get doubled
Big Beers is not as much of a showcase for hop bombs as other festivals, but after sucking down 11% ABV imperial stouts for much of the day, you certainly get to know which IPA offerings can break through even the most overused of taste buds.

Oskar Blues Brewery, which produced arguably the most eye-opening beer of 2019 with its Can-O-Bliss Tropical IPA, ramped up the alcohol in its new Double Can-O-Bliss but still managed a creation that focuses on Polynesian fruit without the burn that sometimes accompanies higher ABV. Meanwhile, Outer Range Brewing of Frisco doubled the dry-hopping in its DDH Leave a Trail IPA and made a beer so juicy and bursting with melon hops that it created a new sub-genre: A hazy for people who like big hazies.

5) Clean saisons and gueuzes are the new experimental

For all the giant, genre-expanding beers poured at Big Beers, some of the subtlest standouts remained cleaner beers of Belgian origin that serve as a reminder why the country's influence should be honored so passionately.

Take, for example, the Atom Brewing 3-Year Blend Anniversary Wild Ale, which not only impresses with its smoothness but with the brewery's ability to find just the right examples of beers that meld into creations that are better than their stand-alone origins. Similarly, Referind Brewing's Le Differend Gueze is wonderfully tart but is more a better version of something that's been made for hundreds of years than a new category of the style.

6) Your journey no longer ends at the exit sign at Big Beers
One of the most brilliant strokes the Lodges came up with this year was the idea of raffling off boxes of 12 beers donated by festival participants. That allowed visitors to take home beers that aren't able to be found in their states - and for the non-profit event to raise more money for groups like the Breckenridge Mountain Rotary.

I won one of those boxes (shown below) after buying a lot of raffle tickets to support the cause. I've been working my way through beer from the likes of Mad Fritz Brewing, Side Project and the aforementioned New Holland Brewing, among others. And it's an idea, for tasting and charitable purposes that a lot of beer festivals should consider.

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