Fearful Symmetries

Witness a machine turn coffee into pointless ramblings...

29 August, 2016

A Berliner in Verona: Berliner Weisse by Wisconsin Brewing Company

This past Wednesday the Wisconsin Brewing Company loosed a small batch of Berliner Weisse into the wild as part of their Forward! series. My understanding is that these brews are released and then feedback is solicited with the possibility that one of these test brews may make it to the big time and hit store shelves and tavern taps.

I am not sure who brews these beers and wouldn't be at all surprised if they are made by brewmaster Kirby Nelson's minions. Just look at WBC's partnershipwith the UW-Madison's College of Agricultural and Life Sciences and the fact that Blister in the Sun was concocted by the minion known as Clint Lohman. The brewery has a reputation for working with people new to the trade and allowing them to show off their chops.

The Forward! series has come up with a few beers these past two or three months that have interested me and this trend looks to continue into over the coming weeks. And so once more unto the breach…

Berliner Weisse poured a light yellow hue and was quite cloudy. There was about an inch of loose, white foam atop the glass that lasted just shy of a minute. There was a fair number of bubbles in the bier but not exactly what one would expect from the "Champagne of the North".

The aroma was puzzling because there wasn't much of one beyond a very faint citrus smell from the lactic sour. I encountered this same phenomenon last month with WBC's Czech pils that was devoid of scent just like Jean-Baptiste Grenouille. Perhaps there is some kind of olfactory quirk at play here. Breweries smell like, well, breweries – they smell like malt in hot water. Maybe one's nose becomes desensitized to certain beer smells if you are standing in a room with the aromas of the brewing process swirling and eddying around you. Still, I would think that hops and lactic acid smells would still be discernible even if more delicate malty ones were not. Do the Germans have a lengthy word for this kind of thing?

Upon tasting I noticed that there wasn't a whole lot of carbonation. Not too surprising given the relative paucity of bubbles. The tartness was middle of the road, although I don't mean that in a pejorative sense as when discussing rock music. There was some lemony citrus taste to the sour and I was surprised at how full the wheat flavor was.

At the finish the taste of the wheat lingered along with a mild lactic tartness. There was no Schaumhaftvermoegen.

While it may not rank with the greatest Berliner Weisses ever made, this bier was pretty tasty. It wasn't mega-knock-your-socks-off tart but neither was the sour so faint as to approach homeopathic strength. My preference is for a tad more tartness but I cannot complain as it had a nice, mildly acidic taste. However I will complain that the bier was short on citrus. I wish it had a little more of that lacto-lemon flavor. Oh, and more carbonation too. On the other hand, I enjoyed the wheat flavor quite a bit.

Whatever the flaws, it still made for a tasty and refreshing on a hot summer day. It comes in at 3.8% A.B.V., by the way, and the brewery has raspberry and woodruff syrups available for those wanting a shot of sweetness.

Junk food pairing: I thoroughly enjoyed the jalapeño white cheddar popcorn we had while quaffing our Berliner Weisses. The salt enhanced the sour which was complemented by the mild chili flavor.

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28 August, 2016

A Pils Fit For Perseus: Radio Free Pils by Wild Onion Brewery

Wild Onion's Radio Free Pils is so new that the brewery's website doesn't even have a page dedicated to it. Wild Onion Brewery, on the other hand, is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year. Although its name refers to the city of Chicago, "Chicago" being a corruption of the Potawatomi phrase for wild onions, the brewery is located firmly out in the far northwest suburb/exurb of Lake Barrington.

I don't know that I've ever had a Wild Onion brew before but I have a feeling that I have. Somewhere, somehow. But I feel confident in saying that I've never bought any of their bottles or cans before. This is likely due to me seeing their eyepahs and stouts on the shelf. No offense to Wild Onion but why go to Chicagoland to get those beers when I can get 5 Rabbit's Latin American-inspired cervezas, Off Color's off kilter brews, Metropolitan's wonderful lagers, and the only rye Märzen I've ever encountered.

Last month I just happened to be at a Chicagoland liquor store (ahem) and stumbled upon Wild Onion's Radio Free Pils. I wasn't sure what the medusa with scuba mask artwork meant, but it looked pretty cool and certainly caught my eye. And it was a pils instead of an eyepah. I will admit, though, that I was a bit hesitant and only bought a single can. The reasons were twofold. First that the Wild Onion is primarily an ale brewery, from what I can tell, and brewing a pils seemed like a bit of bandwagon jumping to me, truth be told. And secondly there is a trend, however small, of American brewers releasing a pils when its actually an American Pils Nouveau. I am expecting Noble hop flavor and instead get an orchard's worth of trendy tropical fruit.

Radio Free poured a dark straw color and was, oddly enough, slightly hazy. (Was this a newfangled New England style pils?) I got a big, white, creamy head that, sadly, disappeared at a good clip. There were bubbles aplenty inside which made me wish I had a pilsner glass at the ready. Except for the haze, Radio Free seemed to be quite pilsnery – in appearance, anyway.

Upon smelling the beer a wave of relief washed over me. I could not detect any fruit. Well, no fruity hops, that is. Instead I was treated to a rush of fresh grass. It was wonderful. There was also a touch of black pepper as well as some biscuit. Oh, and some sweetish orange which didn't come across as hoppy to me but rather like an olfactory illusion manufactured by some malt sweetness and the Noble hops. If that makes any sense.

The taste had a solid biscuity backbone that came with a bit of dough. That great grassy hop aroma came through here too and was just fresh and summery and oh so good. A mild citrus hoppiness was present too but this was the dry Noble kind, not the juicy American variety. Surprisingly, the beer wasn't as fizzy as I thought it would be, treating my tongue to a fairly moderate amount of carbonation.

Malt fades quickly on the finish leaving the hops to their own devices. In this case they brought a fairly substantial spicy-black pepper flavor along with a not insignificant amount of bitterness making for a dry denouement. A few large patches of foam lined my glass along with a cornucopia of spots.

Despite being on the singles shelf where beer, in the words of Off Color's John Laffler, go to die, my can of Radio Free Pils tasted fresh. It seems that the brew was introduced in June/July so it didn't have enough time to go south. And that's a good thing because the big – almost zesty – smell and taste of fresh grass from the hops here was superb. We're talking Platonic ideal of pils goodness. Even better, this taste of flora went to the cotillion with spicier tasting hops and some dry, citrus flavor and did a little dance and made a little love in a lupulin ménage à trois.

I also appreciated that the malt, although not big, made its presence known with a fine biscuit flavor tinged with sweetness. The beer's body was light but fuller than other pilsners that have a smaller malt component. Radio Free Pils is 5.2% A.B.V. and can be a fine thirst quencher on a hot day but, really, this is a sippin' pils. Don't chug it to beat the heat; savor every sip instead.

Junk food pairing: Radio Free is not a delicate little flower but nor is it a big, burly brew. Try some thick potato chips with generous dollops of dip. Onion is fine but don't shy away from bacon & horseradish.
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24 August, 2016

This Bier Belongs to the Realm of Light and Righteousness: Pear Abraxxxas by Freigeist Bierkultur

American microbrewers have yet to embrace the Lichtenhainer the way it has its cousins, the Gose and Berliner Weisse and I don't see this changing in the near future. Sour is acceptable – indeed, it is trendy. Smoke, however, is not.

As I noted when I reviewed the non-fruited version of this bier, its name comes from the central German town of Lichtenhain and was popular back in the day. The Lichtenhainer is a light, sour bier just like the Gose and Berliner Weisse but also smoky like the Grodziskie/Grätzer. The best of both worlds!

Freigeist Bierkultur seems the obvious choice to resurrect this near-extinct German bier style. Proprietor Sebastian Sauer obviously has a keen interest in his country's brewing history as he does his best to nurse historical styles that are on life support back to health. And he often does so thumbing his nose at any brewing regulations that seek to restrict the ingredients he can put in his biers.

I'm not sure exactly what regulations he flaunts because the more I read about German brewing laws, the more confused I get. It seems that the infamous Reinheitsgebot underwent some changes when Germany was reunited in 1990 and also that brewing laws vary by state. Unsurprisingly, I get the distinct impression that Bavaria's laws are the most restrictive. Witness Camba Bavaria beset by the Bavarian government who didn't take kindly to the use of lactose in their milk stout.

My bottle says that the bier therein was brewed at Eittinger Fischerbrau in Eitting, Germany. I looked up Eitting and discovered that it is located in Bavaria. I guess Sauer was trying to hide in plain sight. He must have had to barricade himself inside the brewery against the Brauereigendarmerie when he unleashed his Mango Gose Eisbock.

What we have here is Abraxxxas with pear. Coming in at 6% A.B.V. Abraxxxas is the big brother to Abraxas which is a shade lighter at 3.8%. Swiss-German author Hermann Heese adorns the label as he apparently referenced the gnostic deity Abraxas in at least one of his novels. (I don't recall any mention of god in Demian.)

The bier pours a light straw color and has a slight haze. Historically some brewers used wheat in their Lichtenhainers while others did not. Freigeist apparently has. The big, white, frothy head did not last long but there was plenty of effervescence as the plentiful bubbles in the bier attested.

That luscious temptress that is smoke made her presence known in the aroma. Not a deluge, but more than a simple tchotchke. The sour seemed to be lactic as there was a bit of citrus sour here too. The pear was on the faint side and was joined by vinous/tea-like smell.

All of those bubbles added up to a healthy carbonation. Lady Smoke was big and bold on my first sip but she mellowed as I continued to taste her. She has that rich, savory smoke taste which leads me to believe that we have beech wood smoked malt in Abraxxxas. The sour which was fairly prominent to my nose was on the mild side to my tongue, although it had a nice citrus taste. At first the pear was faint but there if you looked for it and it gave a nice bit of sweetness. However, as the bier warmed, the fruitiness gave up wallflower status came out to dance. Mind you, we're not talking Ballast Point levels of fruit but I didn't have to look for it.

At the finish the smoke faded but the tartness remained to greet a goodly dose of spicy hops which added some bitterness and made things rather dry. I also detected some salinity which I didn't expect as there was none in the non-fruited Abraxxxas. Schaumhaftvermoegen was notable by its absence.

The pear and the smoke reminded me of that tasty dish Bohnen, Birnen und Speck, auf Hamburger Art (Beans, Pears and Bacon, Hamburg Style) while the pear and spicy hops hinted at a saison. It is best to let pear Abraxxxas warm before quaffing as it brings out the pear flavor and sweetness and gives you this wonderful gestalt of smoke, sour, and sweet. The moderately sharp and acidic feel really helped give this bier a slightly dry, wine-like taste which was thoroughly unexpected and quite tasty.

Junk food pairing: Go with a bag of Steakhouse Funyuns with your pear Abraxxxas. The steakhouse part will add some complementary smoke flavor while the mild onion-esque taste enters into a synergistic relationship with the pear that results in gustatory delight.

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23 August, 2016

The Evil Rye: Böse Roggen by Excel Brewing Company

It is a testament to my tenure in IT that whenever I see this bier bottle, I don't think of doing well at some endeavor but rather of spreadsheets and green Xs. Excel the brewery is an adjunct (pun intended) of the Excel Bottling Company in Breese, Illinois. Breese is downstate, east of St. Louis, in the land that gave us Uncle Tupelo.

The brewing operation began in 2012 and Excel completely revamped its line-up in 2014. The bier at hand, Böse Roggen (German for "evil rye"), was a result of the changes. The special insight that rye and dark lagers are match made im Himmel is apparently unique to Illinois as the only other instance I know of this spectacular combination is Arc Welder by Chicago's Metropolitan Brewing.

Excel began distributing to the Chicago area about a year ago, it seems, and I picked up my six pack three weeks ago out in the burbs.

Böse Roggen appears to be totally black until you hold it at an angle to the light where you can see that it's really a very deep reddish brown. My best guess is that it was clear but I can neither confirm nor deny that one. While I have a thing for bright, pale beers with big, fluffy white heads in the summertime, this one had a big, loose tan head that lasted a fair while and radiated its own dark aestival beauty.

The Excel webpage notes that Böse Roggen is made up of 50% rye which is a combination of rye malt and chocolate rye malt. The more I think about chocolate rye malt, the more I think it should be designated a UNESCO World Heritage Food or perhaps be mentioned on those gold discs we affix to interstellar probes to demonstrate to the aliens out there that we come in peace and that at least some of us are epicureans.

Getting back to the bier, my nose beheld all that rye. You could smell its spiciness. But there was also the chocolate part of the equation with roasted grain, bitter chocolate, and coffee in equal parts to the rye making for a complex yet balanced aroma.

And that wonderful, earthy spiciness came through quite well to my tongue. Joining it were the requisite Schwarzbier tastes of coffee and chocolate, the latter being less bitter here than on the nose. The carbonation was pretty mild as was a grassy hop flavor. Overall a nice, clean lager taste with an emphasis on rye and dark malts.

All of those dreamy malt flavors dissolved into a hoppy finish that was a bit on the peppery side. This made things rather dry - not Bohemian pilsener territory but rather dry nonetheless. There was some Schaumhaftvermoegen with a couple decently-sized patches as the odd speck of foam.

Ausgezeichnet! The big dose of rye pays off here, to my taste, with the grain's prominent spiciness being a real treat to both my nose and tongue. As a fan of dark biers, I loved the schwarzbier base with its rich coffee and dark chocolate flavors that the chocolate rye malt added. And being a schwarzbier also means that Böse Roggen has a fairly light body and a clean, crisp lager taste. (It comes in a 4.8% A.B.V.) Rye and dark malts are two of my favorite ingredients and so this bier was like winning the lottery for me. The only problem with Böse Roggen is that I've got to cross state lines to get my hands on it.

Junk food pairing: For a sweet indulgence, pair Böse Roggen with some Dark Chocolate Crunch Pretzel Crisps and let the chocolate melt into the dark roasted flavors of the bier. On the savory side grab a bag of smoked gouda potato chips. The creamy cheesiness complements the bier's smooth taste while the smoke does the same with the rye and roasted grain.

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22 August, 2016

I meet Raquel Welch. I buy a nice mango American Kölsch.: Mangö by Clown Shoes Beer

This being my first encounter with a brew by Clown Shoes I sought out some info about them on the Internet. I discovered that all of their beers are contract brewed – as is Heady Topper. Clown Shoes began back in 2009 when Gregg Berman, then a wine distributor, decided to start a career in the glamorous brewing industry. He contracted with Mercury Brewing in Ipswich, Massachusetts and seems to be with them today.

The article I found noted "In fact, some of the most sought after brands like Heady Topper and Clown Shoes are widely known to be contract brewed." Not only did I not know that Clown Shoes was contract brewed but I was also blissfully unaware that their beer was amongst the most sought after. (I guess in Rumsfeldian language this was an unknown known. Or would that be a known unknown?) I suppose I read an element of rarity into "sought after" although I suppose that is not necessarily so. One could understand that sense of being hard to get if Clown Shoes was only distributed in areas that have place names out of H.P. Lovecraft stories. But I can buy it here in Madison so it cannot be scarce in the same way I understand Heady Topper to be.

Truth be known, I tend to think of Clown Shoes as the brewery that made Tramp Stamp and features brown-skinned women in various states of undress on their labels. (On the other hand, I do not recall a blonde ale with a skinny, blond woman in a bikini on the label.) This is perhaps unfair but they created labels to catch my attention and succeeded. Yet another pale ale, however, failed to catch my interest. It was, I believe, back in the spring that I heard about Mangö, Clown Shoes' mango American Kölsch and this did, however, catch my interest.

Clown Shoes has some distribution here in Madison but I have never seen Mangö in these parts. Instead I found it in suburban Chicago. It is billed as an "American Kölsch" but I am not sure what this means. Perhaps they just didn't want to slap "Kölsch-style" on the label.

Regardless, Mangö pours an inviting light gold color. It was hazy which makes me wonder if American Kölsches have wheat in them. My guess is that the very small white head that my pour begat would have been larger had I been using a stange. Alas, mine remain unpacked. The foam proved fleeting although the beer was quite effervescent with all kinds of bubbles inside.

The aroma featured the dual attack of the titular fruit as well as some cracker. The mango was up front, though not super pungent, while the grain came around the back in a pincer movement.

My guess was that the light berry-like taste of a traditional Kölsch (from the yeast) would be overpowered by the assault of the tropical fruit. While the customary fruity taste was indeed M.I.A., the mango's assault was really more like an extrovert at a meeting of Marcel Marceau Appreciation Society. It was never a cloying onrush but rather stood out because of the company. Still, the beer's clean, crisp taste come through. There was a light grain taste as the base and some grassy tasting hops that added contrast to the mango.

The M ingredients faded at the finish allowing those hops to take over. Everything about Mangö is an exercise in restraint so we're not talking a big hoppy blast but certainly enough for satisfyingly dry finish.

From what I can tell Mangö was introduced last year and I'm sorry I never stumbled upon it sooner because this is one tasty brew. A fellow from ancient Greece once opined "everything in moderation" and Clown Shoes have taken this to heart. This is simply a nice, light brew with a slight emphasis on the mango that doesn't drown out the tasty, light grain and hop flavors.

I know crafty brewers want me quaffing their Oktoberfests but I am still in the mood for beers like this.

Junk food pairing: Mangö's core philosophy is one of moderation/restraint and this should carry into your food pairing. Get some El Rey lemon flavored Tostaditas Chips. They are thin, light, and crispy. On the other hand, you can throw convention out the windows and double down on the fruit with mango snack cakes. Check your local Asian grocery store for these.

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19 August, 2016

I want all my rauchmonbozia (smoky goodness): Foraging Swine by Scorched Earth Brewing

We return to northern Illinois after having gotten a taste of summer there earlier this week courtesy of Scorched Earth, which harbors at least one Twin Peaks fan I have discovered. Today we move onto autumn(?!) with their fall seasonal, Foraging Swine smoked ale.

If you look at the list of beers at Scorched Earth's website, you'll see that they categorize them. Hoppy beers are in "Hop Head Central" while Belgian styles fall under "Belgian Goodness". Most of the German bier styles are put into the "Cavemen" category. So far, so good. But soon the taxonomic wizard who came up with the clever names goes off the rails. Foraging Swine is the lone denizen of "Crazy Town". There's nothing deranged about being cuckoo for barley malted by smoky puffs. Indeed, you'd have to have a screw loose not to enjoy it.

Scorched Earth's website neglects to specify ingredients and they have yet to answer my inquiry** as to the type of wood used to smoke the malt here. But with the swine on the label and all the talk about pork in the description, I'll hazard a guess that it was beech wood. While the image of the boar rooting around for morel mushrooms as a foraging list sits in a nearby bucket is all pastoral and amusing, it does reinforce the stereotype of smoke beer all tasting like bacon which they do not.

Foraging Swine pours a lovely autumnal deep amber. It was a bit hazy which was odd. Perhaps there's some wheat in there. A quarter inch tan head dissipated rather quickly although the beer was laced with a goodly number of bubbles. The beer sure looked pretty and was a picture of fall with that deep amber color. (He writes on a summer day projected to be in the high 80s.)

Ooh la la! Foraging Swine has a big, firm smoky aroma and, after smelling it, my conviction that the beer has beech wood smoked malt was strengthened. Not being a chemist nor particularly well-versed in the smells imparted by burning wood, the best way I can describe it is as being smoky and spicy whereas cherry wood produces a sweeter, fruitier smoke flavor. There was sweetness there, though, from the unsmoked malts with honey and stone fruit aplenty. Tucked into the background was a little tea as well, though it was herbal smelling and not astringent.

My tongue did a little dance upon tasting the beer. The brewmaster did not shortchange it in the smoke department as it had a sizable beech woody taste. We're talking Schlenkerla territory here. Ausgezeichnet! Overall Foraging Swine had a pretty clean taste. There was some malty stone fruit sweetness which really came forward as the beer warmed but I couldn't taste anything from the yeast. Some moderate grassy hops helped take a little of the malty edge off.

The smoke lingered in my mouth just as I hoped it would. Those hops, however, had their own designs on my tongue and so they built up a nice black pepper taste and a fair amount of bitterness on the finish which ended up being pretty dry. There was no lacing to be found.

Good stuff, Maynard! Considering the smoke beer's poor reputation, I was quite pleased that Scorched Earth not only brewed one but brewed one with a fairly intense smoke flavor. It's the main attraction here and not a side show. But don't be fooled by the label and the beer's description. This beer does not taste like bacon. While the malts dominate here and make for a medium body, I thoroughly enjoyed how the hops went from grass to pepper and made for a dry, spicy finish. A wonderful contrast to all of the grainy goodness.

A great beer but I'm going to let the rest of my four pack age a spell. Foraging Swine is Scorched Earth's fall seasonal but it comes in at 7.7% A.B.V. and we're still in a sweltering summer.

Junk food pairing: Pair Foraging Swine with Lay's Brazilian Picanha potato chips. They have a hearty grilled beef flavor to them that just goes well with the beer's smoke.

** - my inquiry was eventually given an answer: yes, it is beech wood smoked malt here.

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18 August, 2016

Diane, if you ever go to Algonquin, that Gose is worth a stop: Sweetie Pie by Scorched Earth Brewing Company

On a recent trip to Chicagoland The Dulcinea and I stopped in at a liquor store on our way out into the exurbs. My intention was to grab a six pack or two of brews unavailable here in Madison, especially Hoss which, sadly, has been demoted from year-round to seasonal. While I saw no Hoss, I did end up bringing home quite a bit more beer than I had planned.

One of those brews was Sweetie Pie, a strawberry rhubarb gose from Scorched Earth Brewing. While I'd heard of and a bit about Scorched Earth, this was the first time I can recall encountering their beers. I think that at least part of the reason is that they don't distribute widely in the city. Chicagoland is very large, after all. They are out in Algonquin, which is a northwest suburb/exurb.

This was my second strawberry rhubarb beer with the first being New Glarus' Strawberry Rhubarb. While the brew from Little Switzerland is a wild ale, Scorched Earth's is a kettle soured gose. The same fruits being taken in similar yet different directions. Sweetie Pie, being a gose, has had salt added. In this case it is pink Himalayan sea salt. Beyond the normal NaCl qualities, I do not know what the blushing mineral has going for it.

Sweetie Pie is bright yellow. It was also quite hazy which surely is the because of the wheat in the bier. Goses are traditionally made of 50%+ wheat although I don't know the percentage here. The ¾" head on my glass was soda-like with bubbles jostling for attention when they weren't popping rather loudly. There was also a fair number of bubbles below the surface. Overall quite pretty, though I'd have like the head to have stuck around a bit longer.

The aroma was pleasantly fruity. First there was the sharp, lemony smell of the lactic acid which was followed by sweet, aromatic strawberry. The citrus was fairly strong while the strawberry was just a RCH less pungent.

On my first sip my tongue felt like German Sixth Army in 1942 as it was routed by a blast of lactic tartness. Contrary to the aroma, it didn't taste particularly lemony. The sour lessened on subsequent sips and my tongue recovered to taste that the rhubarb adds its own tartness which was not as sharp as the lactic variety. The strawberry was fairly sweet but not overwhelming and made for a tasty contrast. The wheat stood out and was joined by some more of a barleyed grain flavor. Just as the label boasts, the grains bear more than a passing resemblance to the crust of a pie. The lactic acid and carbonation combined to give the bier a nice bite and and overall acidulous taste. I couldn't really taste the salt as a distinct flavor but it added a fullness to the flavor and likely helped the wheat stand out.

The tartness lingered on the finish along with some of that wheat flavor. The latter I think was helped out again by the salt which became more apparent. Ixnay on the Schaumhaftvermoegenscray.

This is a very fine bier. After the initial salvo of sour, it mellowed a bit and found the perfect middle ground. (I only wish there was more of a citrus flavor to the sour.) While the strawberry was only able to temper the tartness a small amount, it's a testament to the brewers at Scorched Earth that it still stood out in its own right instead of bowing completely to the sourness. The whole sweet and sour dichotomy, the Jungian thing, if you will, was darn near perfect here. And they put just the right amount of salt in. It enhanced the flavor overall and left just a hint of salinity at the end for a unique finish.

It's like having the month of June in a glass.

Junk food pairing: I like to really savor the fruit and veg in this bier and so avoid big, bold flavors in accompanying food. Try some plain old potato chips. If you must have added flavoring, keep it mellow with something like sour cream and cheddar.

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