Bottoms Up

Beer and wine in the Bay Area and beyond

Archive for November, 2007

Update: No Pliny Clone for Sam Adams Longshot Series This Year: Hop Shortage

Hop shortage means no Pliny the Elder clone for Sam Adams Longshot homebrewer program

Longshot LogoIt’s official. Boston Beer Co., maker of Sam Adams beers, has canceled plans to produce Clayton,CA. ace homebrewer Mike McDole’s double India Pale Ale this winter as part of its annual Longshot Series of beers. The reason: Boston Beer found it impossible to obtain large quantities of the seven hop varieties needed to make the beer.

The good news: It’s going to be part of the 2009 Longshot series, which will give Sam Adams time to secure a supply of the hops needed.

Mike said Jim Koch, Boston Beer’s founder called him last Thursday and told him there was no way they could locate enough hops to produce the beer following his recipe. “He said they had an alternative recipe using different hops,” Mike said. “They sent me the recipe and I looked at it and it just wasn’t right,” he said.

Mike, a member of the Diablo Order of Zymiracle Enthusiasts, based in Walnut Creek, CA., was one of two winners of a national contest that drew thousands of homebrewers. His beer’s a double IPA, 9.6 perent ABV,. 100 IBUs and (gulp) seven kinds of aromatic malts and a hefty malt bill for balance. It’s Mike’s version of a recipe for Russian River’s fabled Pliny the Elder furnished homebrewers by Russian River’s Vinnie Cilurzo. For perspective, I’ve posted my column about the beer just before this post.

Jim Koch called me late today (Monday, Nov. 19, 2007). He said the beer will definitely be part of Longshot next year. “It has seven different hops and a very unique hop character – that’s why we liked it so much,” Koch said. “Unfortunately, for our situation, they were hops we don’t normally use. They’re all American — Simcoe, Centennial, Warrior, Columbus…”

Sam Adams uses European hops, German Hallertau, English Kent Goldings and Fuggles.

“We spent a month pleading with hop dealers,” Koch said. “The basic answer we got was they were not available at any price. Some of them, like Simcoe and Centennials are not grown in huge quantities to begin with,” he said. “They’re typically grown on contracts.”

Koch adds that there’s never been a hop shortage like this before in his memory. “There was a shortage in the early 80s, but it wasn’t like this. It hasn’t been like this in people’s lifetime. We were willing to pay whatever it took and we were willing to trade, give ’em some of our hops. But they jhust weren’t available.”

In the end, Koch said, it was Mike McDole’s decision. “He’s the brewer. We’ll make it next year.”

Hops 2


So what’s going on in the world of hops? I’ve talked to a number of craft brewers who are in a bind. One, Melissa Meyers, who brewed for several years with Rodger Davis at Drake’s in San Leandro,CA., has backing for a brewpub, so while scouting for a site, she’s also been talking to hop dealers trying to line up contracts a year or two ahead.

She’s stuck out so far. She said she’s shocked; hop dealers she’s known and dealt with for years haven’t been able to help her.

Jim Koch understands. There are a bunch of things happening, he said. “There’s been a big oversupply of hops for 15 years and prices were down and as a result farmers cut back their acreage. Brewers have been able to go out and buy fairly cheap on the hop spot market and take advantage of that,” he said.

Adding to that, farmers have been planting a lot of high alpha hops, meant for bittering. They have higher yields, you can get more hops per acre. A farmer can take out Hallertau and put in Hercules and get six times the hops.”

Weather in Europe, meanwhile, has been terrible for two growing seasons, Koch said and there has been one bad crop on top of another.

“All this time, the craft beer industry has been growing double digits,” he said. The spot market’s gone; hop supplies, especially the kind that craft brewers covet, have vanished.

My summary, not Jim Koch’s: It’s a bad situation and it’s going to take a while to correct and prices are going only one direction: up.

I also talked to an ag economist at the University of California, Davis, who said the barley shortage – another craft beer bugaboo this fall – is going to continue and the barley future’s market predicts much higher prices next year.

He is Daniel Sumner, director of UC’s Agricultural Issues Center and a professor of agricultural and resource economics. “It’s a long-term trend,” Sumner says.

He blames ethanol. “The price of oil went up and increased the demand for biofuel, ethanol made out of corn. So farmers have cut back on barley and soybeans and wheat and planted more corn. It also turns out that in Australia there was a lousy wheat and barley crop, so wheat and barley prices went way up,” Sumner says.

There’s more bad news. “Barley used to be a big cash crop here in California; farmers even grew a bit of malting barley,” he said. A great deal of that acreage went to wheat even more to wine grapes, he said.

And more:
A lot of barley is imported from Canada, Sumner says. We all know what’s happened to the American dollar. It’s plummeted and for the first time since the 1950s, the Canadian dollar has reached parity. On Monday (Nov. 19, 2007), the U.S., dollar was worth 98 cents Canadian.

End of econ 101 lecture. Forecast: Beer prices gotta go up. Budweiser too, maybe. Professor Sumner says rice prices are way up as well as wheat and barley.

Posted on Monday, November 19th, 2007
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Background on the Sam Adams Longhshot Beers

Here’s the column I wrong on Mike McDole’s Longshot winner

Clayton homebrewer clones Pliny,
wins Sam Adams LongShot

Article Launched: 10/24/2007 03:08:01 AM PDT

Are you, like me, a fan of Pliny the Elder****, the huge hop and malt bomb created by Vinnie Cilurzo at Russian River Brewing in Santa Rosa? It won another gold medal earlier this month at the Great American Beer Festival. It’s in short supply and has not been bottled, but early this winter, you and I will have a chance to taste what is practically the same beer under the Samuel Adams LongShot label — thanks to ace homebrewer Mike McDole of Clayton, a member of DOZE — the Diablo Order of Zymiracle Enthusiasts. His beer was one of two winners of a national homebrewers contest conducted for Boston Beer Co.

Mike  McDole, Longshot WinnerOut of more than 1,700 entries, a panel of judges in a blind tasting chose McDole’s beer and a strong German-style wheat bock made by Rodney Kibzey, of Chicago, Ill. Both will be released along with a beer from the winner of an in-house homebrew contest under the Sam Adams LongShot label. It will, apparently, be the first national release of a popular West Coast style known as a double or imperial India pale ale. Mike’s beer is 9.6 percent ABV, 100 IBUs — seven kinds of aromatic hops.

India pale ale’s a style that originated in England in colonial days. It was a beer strong enough to stand the four-month sea voyage to Brit troops in India. The double version, like Mike’s, is so strong, it could survive a trip to India by burro.

McDole, a computer consultant who has been homebrewing for more than a decade, says quite bluntly that his beer’s a clone of Pliny the Elder. It isn’t Pliny, he said. But it almost is. The difference is McDole adds one more hop, Northern Brewer, early in the process and he uses a malt extract, often used by homebrewers.

But otherwise, it’s Pliny — with its exquisite, multilayered mouth-feel. He explains that Cilurzo provided the recipe at a national American Homebrewers Association conference a couple of years ago. Mike says he won a big state contest last year, sponsored by the Maltose Falcons homebrew club in Southern California, with the same beer.

He adds that he told Vinnie about his Sam Adams victory, who delivered the news to Boston Brewing founder Jim Koch that he had chosen a Pliny clone as a LongShot winner.

One thing’s certain: This is a beer that will sell out. Watch for it this winter.

McDole, who is a widower with two grown sons, says he took up homebrewing after he discovered good beer. Homebrewers are great people, he notes. He became a fan of Pliny, so, when Cilurzo released the recipe, he went for it.

“I started making it and I started winning contests,” he said. He’s a popular guy around the area; when he goes to an event, a wedding, a party, he always brings a beer. Hey, Mike, you can come to my party. And, er, bring the Pliny clone, if you don’t mind.

By the way, his recipe is posted here. More info on the DOZE homebrew club can be found here. at Ratings
***** World classic.
**** A real star; don’t miss it.
*** Very good; worth a try.
** Good beer; no defects.
* Don’t toss it; demand a refund.

Posted on Monday, November 19th, 2007
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Update: Sam Adams Utopias at Mortons Steakhouses: $27 a pour

Talked to Craigh Wathen, proprietor of City Beer. He said response to Utopias shocked him. He got 15 bottles, sold 10 within hours at $167.50 per 24 oz. bottle. He’s keeping five back, still is thinking about pouring them at some point after Thanksgiving. Doesn’t know when.

About Morton’s, I finally got through to someone at the Morton’s in San Francisco. This will take your breath away: $27 for a two ounce pour. Gasp!. “Don’t blame me,” the person I spoke to at Morton’s said. “It was a corporate decision” All the Morton’s steakhouses in the U.S. are pouring Utopias. Whew.

Morton’s, in case you’ve just cashed in your Google stock options and feel flush is at…
400 Post St
San Francisco, CA 94102
(415) 986-5830

Posted on Monday, November 19th, 2007
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Two Mile Wines releases are superb

I tasted some lovely wines this weekend. Two Mile Wines, the newest member of the East Bay Vintners, had their commercial release party at T. Rex in Berkeley on Saturday, Nov. 17.

The winery is two Adams, two Justins, Tom, Bill, Matt and Joseph — eight buddies who are passionate about the craft of artisan winemaking. I love their vision: “We’re not a legacy, but a point in time.”

They don’t make more than 200 cases of any one wine and you can taste that. My roommate Gav and I sampled four of their five releases, and we each discovered some favorites.

Since I’m huge on Viognier right now, I darted to their 2006 ($23). They get the fruit from Bloomfield Vineyards, and I liked their expression better than Bloomfield’s wines: Two Miles’ had a tropical nose, lots of stone fruits and decent acidity. I don’t normally do Viognier with food, but I’d have this one with scallops for sure.

Gav and I both loved the Sangiovese ($42), and I wonder why more Pinot Noir snobs don’t go Sangio. Theirs, from a steep hillside on the Polesky-Lentz Vineyard above the Dry Creek Valley floor, had all that earth, spice and dark cherry flavor. The location promised and delivered the depth.

I also have to give a shout out to Two Mile Wines’ Syrah, which comes from Unti Vineyards, also in Dry Creek. They call it “Bio-dyno-mite!” Indeed, it is. A third of the fruit comes from Unti’s biodynamically farmed Upper Ranch. The combination of meat flavors and structure is going to make Rhone lovers very happy in a few years. At $44, it’s their priciest bottle, but I think it’s made to lay down.

Family and friends buy up most of the wine, so if you’re interested, give the boys a call soon at 510-868-8713. Tell them I said hi.

Posted on Monday, November 19th, 2007
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Widmer-Redhook merger would create America’s fourth largest craft brewer…But Brewers Association disagrees

Statistics graphic

For the statistical-minded among us (that includes me), I just got the exact production/barrels shipped numbers for Widmer, Portland, OR. and Redhook Ale Brewery, Seattle.

According to the Brewers Association, the craft brewer trade group based in Boulder, CO., Widmer shipped 269,000 barrels of beer in 2006; Redhook shiped 148,000. If Redhook voters approve the merger announced this week, that would make the new company to be known as xx, the nation’s fourth-largest craft brewery, trailing number one Boston Beer (Sam Adams) with shipments last year of 1,613,000 barrels; number two, Sierra Nevada, Chico, CA. , 638,705 barrels, and number three New Belgium, Fort Collins, CO. 437,000 barrels.
The new number five would be Pyramid, Seattle-Berkeley, 198,047 barrels and Deschutes, Bend, OR. would be pushed to number six, last year’s shipments 159,268 barrels.

There’s one caveat, Julia Herz of the Brewers Association says. The group doesn’t count either Widmer or Redhook as craft brewers, because they’re each one-third owned by giant Anheuser-Busch. That’s their opinion. Both breweries, in my opinion, have their roots deep in craft beer history.

Posted on Friday, November 16th, 2007
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My favorite wine source

Lately, I’ve gotten a lot of questions about where I buy wine. Well, everywhere. I’m a big proponent of local merchants and depending on what I need, I go see one of my peeps.

Iberian wines? Kevin at The Spanish Table in Berkeley. Fun bottles under $20? Rod at Wine Thieves in Lafayette or Peter at Vintage Berkeley in North Berkeley. Italian? John at Prima in Walnut Creek.

But where I truly spoil myself is with Garagiste. Based out of Seattle, it’s a wine retail emporium dedicated to limited production, rare and hard-to-find wines. In fact, Garagiste is the only retailer in the United States to be a Wine Enthusiast National Retailer of the Year finalist in 2005, 2006 and 2007.

The daily e-blasts from Niki have become highlights of my week. Her new discoveries read like poems. I’ve scored Australia’s most highly-rated Shiraz and rare wines from Corsica.

Every once in a while, they offer artisan foods as well. I’m currently awaiting fresh, recently jarred pasta sauce from Tuscany, and almonds from Sicily, which are grown in 300,000 year old, volcanic rich soil.

I’m anxiously awaiting what I’ve been promised is a flavor profile that, much like wine, has a beginning, middle and end. Check out Garagiste. But don’t blame me if you get addicted.

Posted on Friday, November 16th, 2007
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Sam Adams Utopias coming to City Beer Store in San Francisco

I made Sam Adams stunning 25.6 percent Utopias my Beer of the Week in my column on Wednesday, which I’ve posted below this post. Utopias also has a stunning “suggested retail price of $120-$140 for a 24 oz. bottle. Hey it’s in a copper colored aluminum box.

I’ve been deluged for requests about places to try it. One is any Morton’s Steakhouse. A pour, which I’m guessing will be 4 oz. is $8.95, or so they said. The beer’s not there yet, at least not in San Francisco or San Jose.

Here’s another: The City Beer Store, 1168 Folsom St. (Yes down the street from the leather bars, but in an entirely different neighborhood.) They’re getting the beer, haven’t figured out a retail price, but they’re going to crack a few bottles and sell it by the glass.

No they haven’t figured out how much, or when, but most likely late next week after Thanksgiving. Stay tuned.

Posted on Friday, November 16th, 2007
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Sam Adams Utopias: The strongest and most expensive beer in the world

Sam Adams Utopias closeup

Um, $120 for a beer, you say?
– Well, it is 24 ounces …

Article Launched: 11/14/2007 03:03:45 AM PST

What do you say about a beer with a “suggested” price of $120-$140, which at the moment is the strongest beer in the world: a breathtaking 25.6 percent alcohol by volume? I say “Wow!”

We’re talking about the 2007 edition of Samuel Adams Utopias, coming to stores this month, and the price means that most of us, me included, won’t be buying our own sleek 24-ouncer in its copper-colored bottle shaped like an old-fashioned brewer’s kettle.

At least I won’t, unless somebody steeply discounts it — and I wouldn’t hold my breath. But if you’re in aSam Adams Utiopias: Glass restaurant that offers it or at some mogul’s house and have a chance to sample it, leap at the chance. That “Wow” applies to the beer, not the price, which is merely astute showmanship.

There’s so much hype about this beer that it would be easy to scoff. Don’t. This is an amazing creation. Sam Adams Utopias 2007 (****) is our Beer of the Week.

My first impression of a glass from the small sample bottle I got was so wild that I called a neighbor for a second opinion. Mike’s the perfect judge; he’s a big-time Port wine collector and a home brewer, so his tastes run toward extreme. Summing up his opinion: “Oh my, this is nice.” In real life, he’s a Ph.D. mathematician, no wows.

I agree: Nose like fine brandy, not as mind-blowing as a rare cognac but rich and intoxicating, unlike any beer I’ve ever sampled — hints of raisins, toffee, plums, almonds, apricots.

It pours flat, a copper color with brilliant ruby highlights. Jim Koch, Boston Beer’s founder, said they learned that when you get alcohol as high as Utopias, carbonation cannot survive, so the beer is flat.

The taste is complex: Initially there’s a bit of toffee, maple sweetness, then the familiar taste of beer: malt, hops, ripe fruit. But the beer note’s gone in an instant in a finish like vintage Port, explosive, expanding, leaving a mild warming alcohol tang on the tongue and finally a warming in the gut.

This is a beer that needs to be sipped with a good cigar after dinner, Mike said. I agreed, but I think a rich, dark chocolate would do the trick as well.

Koch says that when they started working on high-alcohol beers, Triple Bock, released in 1993, was 17.5 percent. “It felt like breaking the sound barrier,” Koch said. “Brewers for centuries had thought you could not ferment grain beyond about 14 percent.”

Over the years, they’ve developed a yeast strain that works at high alcohol levels — one of the fermentables is maple syrup — producing the incredible range of flavor in the beer. This is the fourth edition of Utopias; the first came out in 2001. It’s a blend of different beers — some barrel-aged as long as 13 years.

On a visit to the brewery in Boston last year, I got to taste samples of various beers siphoned off directly from the barrels, wine barrels and bourbon barrels. There were some wild flavors, but nothing approached Utopias 2007.

Sam Adams Utopias: Glass, BottleFor the record, the basic beer’s a blend of pale, caramel and Munich barley malt, mildly spicy German Spalter hops, Hallertau Mittelfrueh and spicy Tettnang hops.
Want to try Utopias? Boston Beer says Utopias is being served at Morton’s steakhouse restaurants, including the Morton’s at 400 Post St. in San Francisco, 415-986-5830, and Morton’s San Jose, 117 Park Ave., 408-947-7000. A bartender at Morton’s in San Francisco said they’re charging $8.95 for a pour. However, he also said they don’t have it yet. Stay tuned. I intend to check back. I’ve always loved steak.

HAYWARD HOPS: The next day after sampling Utopias, I headed to the Bistro’s second annual Barrel Aged Beer Fest in downtown Hayward, curious to see if any of the 40 barrel-aged beers from brewers in California, Colorado and Alaska could approach Utopias. The answer’s obvious: Of course not.

But there were some awesome beers. Old Woody Barleywine, an 11-percenter, aged 12 months in a new American-oak barrel from Schooner’s Grille & Brewery in Antioch, won first in the oak-aged category. It was a splendid unfiltered copper that starts out dry but with a mounting sweetness and lots of vanilla from the oak in the finish.

No, it’s not on tap at Schooner’s, but I’m betting they’re gonna bottle what’s left soon, and the newest version is aging now, due to be released in December. Hats off to Schooner’s founder Shawn Burns and head brewer Craig Cauwels, who produced it. Their Barleywine won gold at the Great American Beer Festival in 2003, and Old Woody’s a fine successor. If you’ve never visited Schooner’s, it’s worth the trek: 4250 Lone Tree Way, Antioch, 925-776-1800.

Another beer I really liked and was surprised to find was Decadence 12 Cuvee Speciale (****), Valley Brewing, Stockton. It’s a sour beer that was fermented seven months with seven yeast strains, then aged six months in a brandy barrel. Brewer Steve Altimari has created a beer with a taste like the finest Belgian gueuze. Gueuze is usually a blend of old and young lambic beers, fermented with wild yeast.

They’re often mouth-puckeringly sour, but the best have a substantial malt presence: absolutely no sweetness, but the sour quality is refreshing, not pickle sour. That description fits Decadence perfectly. The beer won third place bronze in the port/brandy/wine barrel-aged category.

First was The Angel’s Share 2006***/****; second was The Angel’s Share 2007***, both from brewing wizard Tomme Arthur at Port Brewing, San Marcos. Both Angel’s Share beers were splendid — sweet with long, drying finishes, lots of vanilla and wood and bourbon from the barrels in which they were aged. The 2006 had a more complex taste.

Port’s Old Viscosity won the bourbon barrel-aged category. All three are available in bottles in the Bay Area. Decadence remains in a barrel, not on tap, sadly, in Stockton.
For the complete results of this merry little festival, check my blog:

FINAL OPENING NOTES: Talked to Chuck Stilphen, who says the Trappist Beer Cafe should receive most of its government inspections this week and they expect to open in about a week. It’s at 460 8th St. in downtown Oakland.

Also, J.J. Phair’s hard at work on his new E.J. Phair restaurant and brewery at 190 East Third St. in Pittsburg — right around the corner from the landmark New Mecca cafe. The building’s being retrofitted and they’re hoping to open in the spring. Finally.

Reach William Brand at or call 510-915-1180 and ask for his 2007 Retail Beer Store List or Good Pub List. Read more by Brand at
***** World classic.
**** A star; don’t miss it.
*** Very good; worth a try.
** Good beer; no defects.
* Don’t toss it; demand a refund.

Posted on Friday, November 16th, 2007
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The Big Merger: Redhook and Widmer

gif-image-296×201-pixels.jpgIt had to happen. They announced it late Tuesday, but I was totally immersed in San Francisco Bay oil spill stories in my day job as a reporter and couldn’t deal with it ’til tonight.

Widmer Bros. and Redhook have been talking merger for some time. But what does it all mean? I dunno. Obviously, it gives Anheuser-Busch, a bit more than an intrusive elbow into what _ when the deal is approved by
Redhook stockholders early next year, – A-B will have an approximate one-third interest in the new company.

The merger will create the third or maybe the fourth largest “craft brewer” in America, after number one, Boston Beer Co. with production last year of about 1.2 million barrels, and number two, Sierra Nevada, which sold 650,000 barrels last year.

According to Beer Marketers Insights, an industry newsletter, Widmer shipped shipped 269,000 barrels last year and Redhook 168,000 for 437,000 barrels. That puts New Belgium still third with 438,000 barrels, but there are a number of odd barrels in the count. Will have to check with the Brewer’s Association in the AM.

We’ll see a lot more Widmer beers at Anheuser-Busch dominated events from now on, just like there’s a lot of Red Hook anytime Bud’s being sold.

Redhook Paul ShipmanPaul Shipman, who co-founded Redhook Aale Brewery in 1981 with Gordon Bowker (10 years after Bowker co-founded Starbucks), plans to retire when the Redhook-Widmer deal goes through.

A little more biz stuff, before I get to the beer. Both will continue brewing where they brew now, but Redhood will brew Widmer beers at its Portsmouth, NH brewery.

Oh yes: Name of the new company will be — are yo ready for this: Drum roll here: Craft Brewers Alliance. They’ll also stay connected in a distribution agreement with Chicago’s Goose Island.
Both the Seattle Times and the Seattle Post-Intelligencer had excellent stories this morning. You can find them here and here.

Here’s what I think. This has to help Red Hook. The company’s been languishing for a while; their best-selling ESB is nothing like the rough-hewn, funky Red Hook ESB of the 1980s. It’s clean and well-made and boring. They make an IPA that’s quite good, but who doesn’t.

The Widmer Brothers, Kurt and Rob, who founded Widmer in 1984, used the cash infusion from the Anheuser-Busch buy in to improve their products. They make excellent beer. Their best-seller is Widmer Hefeweizen, the ubiquitous hefe, usually seen in a frosted glass with a lemon slice like it was a Tecate.

I find it too dry, but most people, geeks aside, love it and it popularized the style in America. So more power to em. I like Drop Top Amber, a very decent beer, and Snowplow Milk Stout, which won a gold at the Great American Beer Festival in 2004. It was produced by Widmer with the help of the Oregon Brew Crew, a homebrew club.

In summary. Hate to see consolidation, but this one makes sense and the guys at Widmer can inject some enthusiasm into Red Hook, we’re all winners.

Posted on Wednesday, November 14th, 2007
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A great Grenache rose for $10

Friends and acquaintances give me bottles once in a while, and last night I opened up a 2006 Grenache Rose Campo De Borja. It’s one of those Cameron Hughes Lot series wines (the rose is Lot 37).

My editor’s husband gave it to me several months ago and I thought it’d be just right for the turkey meatballs and garlic fries I was chowing down on. Boy was it: the spirit of watermelon Jolly Rancher without the sweetness. The wine even had a kick of white pepper and monstrous acidity that stood up to those fries without a hitch.

Cameron Hugh Wines is constantly producing $10-bottles that taste like $20 or $30 bottles. They scour the globe for premium wines that are in oversupply but they never blackblend or alter the juice to make profit. What’s more, they ship directly to their retailer (Costco) with no middle man. This allows them to cut about 66 percent off the retail price.

Read about the process and where to find the wines at the Cameron Hughes Web site.

Posted on Wednesday, November 14th, 2007
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