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Bosteels: Kwak (Belgium: Belgian Strong Ale: 8.4% ABV)

Visual: Caramel brown. Large browned froth for a head.

Nose: Brown sugar in a carmalised and crème brulee fashion. Aniseed. Crushed palma violets. Toffee. Perfume. Blackpool rock. Sugared orange sweets.

Body: Brown sugar and crème brulee. Cane sugar. Sugared orange sweets. Golden syrup cake. Reasonably light mouthfeel. Sweet lime syrup. Slight cloying, sour, doughy touch at the very middle.

Finish: Candyfloss. Brown sugar. Orange sugars. Lemon sherbet. Very light earthy note. Slight liquorice. Slight woody. Light sour undertone as it warms.

Conclusion: You know what? This has no right being a decent beer. Very sweet with lots of residual sugar evident, kind of perfumed aroma. Very silly, impractical gimmick glass. Should be ballacks right? The simple, lowest dominator Belgian sweet thing?

Yet it isn’t. Very malt led, quite clean and slightly light textured body. It has a lot of raw brown sugar, Blackpool rock and other sweet flavours, but the lighter texture keeps it from becoming sickly sweet. It is one of the few dark, high abv beers that I find the lighter texture actually helps rather than hinders it. That is the thing that keeps it from ending up as just a cheap, sweet beer… well one of the things. The other is the wonderful interaction with the Belgian yeast. You get lots of fruity esters coming out, binding with the sweetness to give the impression of lots of candied fruit blended into the mix.

In fact there is another point that works for it, and that is the subtle grounding notes not found in the simpler sweet beers. There is a slight doughy, cloying touch, just at the middle, a grip in amongst the lighter texture. There is also a light wood and earthy note in the finish, brought in with a very, very slightly sour touch as it warms – at a point when otherwise the sweetness would be rising too much.

It is the beer that should have been the epitome of a sweet, simple, disposable beer – yet it is so much more than that. It takes careful work to make such a seemingly sugar dominated beer work this well. AB INBev, it is in your hands now. Don’t fuck it up.

Background: A bottle from before the AB INBev takeover. Grabbed from Independent Spirit on the day I head about the deal. I have been a big fan of this for a while but never got around to doing notes on it despite having had it reasonably often. Often beers go downhill after being bought up so I thought I would so some notes now so I can compare to them in years to come. According to the bottle Bosteels have been independent since 1791, and I guess not independent since 2016 now. I broke out the absurd Kwak glass for this one, wooden handle that lets the glass shuffle around in it. Silly bulge at the end that causes the beer to glug out suddenly if you are not careful. Technically it is a terrible glass but I love it, wooden handle and all. Drunk while listening to a random mix of erock metal tunes.

Brewdog: Ace Of Citra (Scotland: Session IPA: 4.5% ABV)

Visual: Pale yellow. Small white head. Small bubbled carbonation.

Nose: Pineapple and apples. Peach. Mild hop character. Generally quite fresh character. Slightly bready. Shortbread. Low bitterness. Vanilla toffee and vanilla custard.

Body: Crisp apples. Light tart gooseberry. Peach syrup. Mild vanilla toffee backbone.

Finish: Tart white grapes. Spritzers. Apples. Fresh. Some hop character and bitterness. Digestives. Slight smoke. Slight cloying hop feel.

Conclusion: After a weak first beer on the Ace of range this …cough.. session IPA range is actually starting to grow on me. The second beer was pretty good, and this one is pretty damn enjoyable.

The body is still slightly thin, however here the hop choice really seems to work with that rather than against it. It is fresh, apply and slightly spritzer styled. The flavour doesn’t seem hurt by the thinner body – instead, due to the fresh character, it becomes a lightly refreshing, mildly bitter drink, using the freshness to fill what the texture lacks. Because of this it manages to avoid being a thin empty drink or a harsh over dry one, so good job so far.

As is expected by this point, the malt doesn’t bring much to the game. A slight vanilla toffee backing is there to work from but very lightly done. Similarly hop bitterness and character is a light dusting over the beer, not a main component. In fact the harshest note is a slight sulphur smoke in the finish. Not the best look, doesn’t match with the other flavours, but it is light enough that it does not ruin what came before.

So, a few nips and tucks needed, but considering my off stated general dislike of session IPA as a style then, yeah, this is a fair solid one.

Background: Third in the Ace of range,a set of single hop session IPAs. I kind of preferred back when they did IPA is Dead as a full IPA single hop range, but this has seemed to improve over time. As always I am not an unbiased actor on Brewdog beers. This was bought straight from the Brewdog website. I had just got back from watching “The Boy With Tape On His Face” comedy gig, so was in a good mood.

Paddy: Old Irish Whiskey (Irish Blended Whiskey: 40% ABV)

Visual: Grain to yellow.

Viscosity: Fast thick streaks.

Nose: Viscous. Strong alcohol jelly like fumes. Toffee. Grain. Hay fields. Fudge. Water smooths and makes nuttier. Light lemon comes out.

Body: Light. Sweet caramel. Lemon meringue. Very light alcohol character. Slightly nutty. Water adds nutty chocolate. Walnuts. Soft lemon. Banoffee pie.

Finish: Caramel. Orange crème. Light wood notes. Flour. Neat spirit air. Nutty. Water makes nuttier and mixed with chocolate. Coffee cake. Soft lemon. Banoffee.

Conclusion: Ok, from the aroma I was expecting something much worse. The aroma is very viscous and alcohol filled, while being pretty simple. Not a good start.

The main body then wasn’t actually to bad. A gentle sweetness, lemon and a small but gently rising nuttiness. In fact later on that nuttiness seemed to take more of a centre stage. There are notes that state the alcohol strength, but more in flavour than any harshness or fire. It isn’t the most complex whiskey I have encountered, nor the most smooth, but it definitely does the job.

Water enhances the nuttiness and brings out nice banoffee pie notes. It is very gentle like this – you can still feel the rougher edges at the centre (edges? At the centre? Ah, ya know what I mean. Hopefully). There are also some rough edges in the finish- not harsh – just a very raw spirit kind of air. This doesn’t stop it being a pretty gentle drinking and satisfying whiskey. A gentle lemon comes out and that keeps the nutty and banoffee notes from dominating and becoming too sweet, thus keeping the sipping character of a good Irish whiskey.

If I hadn’t known how inexpensive this is then, barring the aroma, I would never had guessed. It is not a special, take your time to examine, whiskey, but for the price it is great value. Frankly it is very easy to justify just keeping a bottle around for enjoying with mates. It is genuinely better that a bunch of more expensive whiskeys I have gad. A solid sweet whiskey with a nice range – there is a touch too many alcohol flavours there and a not so great aroma, but mid body it is rock solid. Definitely worth the asking price.

Background: Grabbed this one on a whim, I was already grabbing some whisky from The Whisky Exchange and this mini was under three quid, so seemed a fair thing to take a risk on. A full 70cl bottle is fairly cheap as well – a quick google shows prices between 20 and 25 pounds. The bottle is plastic rather than glass, but that is not too unexpected at this price point. Drunk while listening to Ihsahn: After – I hadn’t listened to that strange mix of guitar noise for awhile, so broke it out.


Tempest: Drop Kick Me Jesus (Scotland: Sour Ale: 5.2% ABV)

Visual: Clear dried banana yellow. Small white head and moderate carbonation.

Nose: Sweat peaches and musty aubergines. White grapes and grape skins. Passion fruit. Lightly sour. Nutty undertones. Pineapple.

Body: Lightly sour. Lemon juice. Sour white grapes. Sour dough. Sour cream. Lime cordial. Pineapple juice. Stodgy white bread. Bitty orange juice. Coconut.

Finish: Crusty white bread and flour. Lemon curd. Lime cordial. Pineapple juice. Orange slices.

Conclusion: Normally slightly cloying beers are quite closed in the flavours, there are exceptions but they usually take some time to open up. This one has all that cloying sour character but is very open and very fruity. Somehow the cloying character draws your mouth together before releasing you for the flavour to seep in. It feels slightly stodgy, like flour covered white bread, and that flour character matches with the tradition dryness of a pale ale to leave your mouth very dry on the way out.

Now, normally that level of dry pale ale characteristics is an issue for me – it makes beer feels somewhat desiccating and that just is not my thing. The sour note of this beer manages to counterbalance that – lots of tart fruit juice notes throughout. However it does seem to lean on the tart notes for contract, the sweeter peach notes in the aroma never really show in the body. It keeps itself attenuated, dry, but with tropical tartness.

It is unusual and pretty drinkable despite the dry notes – and also despite the sour notes it actually feels pretty gentle with low acidity and hop character. Overall it is refreshing, almost like a pina colada touched beer from all those pineapple and coconut moments. Lots of flavour to it, albeit they are all similar styled – it feels like a beer that has come a bit late in the year. It feels like a right proper summer refresher. So , pretty good, not exceptional, but pretty good.

Background: Yes I bought this solely because it is called “Drop Kick Me Jesus” as always my maturity has not risen with my years. I saw this was an Amarillo hopped pale ale and thought it could be a nice, more normal, entry to my beer notes. Turns out it is a sour pale ale. Ah well, I tried for normal, I don’t complain when I get odd. Grabbed from Independent Spirit, This was drunk while listening to Hate In The Box: Under The Ice. Think they are a fairly small band, check them out – I recommand “Electric Dolls” to start with.

Chimay: Grand Reserve 2016: Viellie En Barriques (Belgium: Belgian Strong Ale: 10.5% ABV)

Visual: Very dark brown to black. Moderate creamy brown coloured small bubbled head.

Nose: Crushed almonds and peanuts. Funky yeast. Popcorn. Dry. Wholemeal bread. Fig rolls. Sour red wine.

Body: Smooth. Carmalised brown sugar. Fig rolls. Plums. Hazelnut liqueur. Vanilla toffee. Lactose. Fizzy and sherbety. Liquorice. Malt chocolate. Gummed brown paper. Raisins and sultanas. Red wine and Madeira.

Finish: Hazelnut liqueur. Cream. Plums. Vanilla toffee. Lightly woody. Gummed brown paper. Slight sulphur and smoke. Brown sugar. Slight funky yeast. Cloves. Cognac.

Conclusion: Chimay blue by itself is a big, rewarding beer. In fact one I really should have done notes for by now. This is bigger, and possibly even more rewarding. At this level of quality it is hard to say.

At its base it is a very familiar, big dark fruit, brown sugar, creamy and malt led drink with obvious Belgian yeast influences. So, at its base still the same dark heavy delight the blue is.

So, what makes this different? Well the ageing has given it smoothness. You still feel the weight that says this is an alcohol heavy drink, but a lot of the rough edges are worn down. Thankfully not completely – it still has enough charming prickly edges to not be mistaken for the (in my opinion) overly smooth American take on the style.

Ageing in the barrels seem to have given it some unusual characteristics to play with. There is a light oaken sour note mixed with malt drinks below that which remind me of a good quality Flemish red. There is also a definite mix of sour red wine and sweet Madeira styling – the second of which I’m guessing may be from the cognac ageing. Maybe. Any which way it works very well backing up the strong dark fruit flavours. The final odd note is a much larger nutty character – generally it stands well, though it is slightly overly dominant in the aroma which gives a weak first impression to what is an excellent beer.

As you can probably guess from the examining above, I am very impressed by this. Very smooth, yet booming in flavour. The only difficulty in detecting new flavours is managing not to get washed away in the flood of what you have already encountered as there is so much going on.

The only real flaw is the nuttiness which can be too present occasionally. Everything else is an excellent Trappist beer carefully nurtured in oak. Slightly less nuttiness would let the other notes roam more, but that is a minor thing.

Suitably subtle Flemish sour ale notes meets Trappist dark ale meets multiple barrel ageing. Not perfect, as said above, but definitely very well done. Wish I had one to age further.

Background: OK, this is a big one, Chimay Blue at the base, aged in a mix of French oak, new chestnut, American oak and new cognac barrels. Fermented in tank, barrel and bottle. It was an expensive one picked up at Independent Spirit, but you don’t see many barrel aged Trappist beers, and I am a huge fan of Chimay – I think the blue was the first Trappist beer I ever had if I remember rightly. There are very few Trappist breweries, and the beer has to me made or overseen by the Trappist monks themselves – so they don’t tend to play with the more new wave brewing tricks, like this. Drunk while listening to a mix of History of Guns tracks on random.

Arbor and Buskers: Lost In Translation (England: Belgian Ale: 7% ABV)

Visual: Dark cloudy caramel to brown. Massive caramel touched loose bubble head.

Nose: Wheaty. Passion-fruit. Mango. Mixed dry fruit. Caramel. Peach jelly sweets. Flour. Light hop character and bitterness. Cheese.

Body: Funky, cheesy feel – Edam and cheese puffs crisps. Lime hops. Moderate bitterness. Peppery and crackers. Muesli backing. Light vanilla custard. Bubblegum.

Finish: Cheesy- mature cheddar. Pepper. Funky yeast. Slight hop oils, hop feel and bitterness. Dried apricot. Passion-fruit.

Conclusion: Since this was packed with simcoe and mosaic hops I have to admit I was expecting this to be more bitter, and more fruity hop dominated. I should really have learned by now that reality exists purely to shatter my expectations. That is its only purpose. No I am not narcissistic, that would mean I had a flaw.

Anyway, this has some nice hop characteristics – including moderate bitterness, hop character and use of hop oils, but what really dominates it is the funky yeast character that gives a pepper backing and a mass of cheese laden crackers. Instead of a big Belgian style fruit hop bomb this thing delivers a savoury plate to sup and chew upon.

It is both a very good impression of the Belgian style – and a more unusual, less mainstream Belgian style at that – which is awesome – and also a beer, that within that mileau, does not stand out too much from the actual similar Belgian beers. Which is less good. It is a bit hoppier, a bit more bitter, and a bit more intense in that style. That is where it stays though – which is no terrible thing, that might be exactly what you want from the beer. There isn’t exactly a huge range of similarly funky Belgian style ales floating around. It just doesn’t quite have a twist that makes it stand out as a unique entity in itself.

To concentrate on the positives, this really shows what you can do with Belgian yeast, and while moderated in the impact, it does also show the nice character you can get from high alpha acid hops like simcoe. So a decent beer, with nice stylings. Also, one of the all time great bottle labels. Which as we all know is the most important thing.

So, pretty good, just not great. Except the label. Which is great.

Background: Yeah, I bought this because of the label. Come on, Super Mario Bros and beer, you cannot tell me that is not cool and expect me to believe it. From a quick google looks like Buskers is an Italian brewing operation, not run into them before, should be interesting. Drunk while listening to Against Me!’s new album Shape Shift With Me. Solid so far, sounds a bit different to their usual sound. Let’s see how it grows on me. Anyway, this was grabbed from Independent Spirit.

Old Ballantruan: The Peated Malt (Scottish Speyside Single Malt Whisky: 50% ABV)

Visual:Light yellowed gold.

Viscosity: Slow thin puckering from the spirit.

Nose: Peat smoke, steak, soft cherries. Noticeable alcohol but mostly smooth. Vanilla toffee and caramel. Apricot. Touch of charcoal. Light menthol. Water adds light pencil shavings, more soothing and floral.

Body: Smooth, quite light front that grows into peat smoke. Slight golden syrup. Oak. Alcohol grows quickly. Toffee sweetness. Lime syrup. Apricot and peach. Water soothes alcohol. Adds vanilla custard. Light charring. Big smoke and peat. Light cherry pocked biscuits.

Finish: Charring and charcoal dust. Peat smoke. Beef crisps. Sweet lime syrup. Beef broth, Peach. Water adds custard crème biscuits. Slightly dry. Peppered beef slices. Malt toffee chocolate drinks. Peppermint.

Conclusion: Huh, I shouldn’t get my conclusion all lined up in my head too early on it seems, at least for this whisky. The first couple of sips I had of this made me all ready to say that the “Gentle Dram” just couldn’t provide enough body to go the peated route. I was going to say that it came in so thin that the punch of the peat pushed all the lighter notes away leaving it empty but harsh. Yeah, that changed. Massively.

Slowly, and especially with water, the gentle notes started building up against the peat. A good sweetness, soft fruit, all behind the big beafy peat – but as the lighter notes grew, the less harsh the peat seemed. I guess I should have realised this was to come; The aroma at the front, though alcohol touched, was smooth and complex and that is often a good guideline of the whisky to come.

While time does help, I think water is the real game changer. The 50% abv gives a lot of room for water, going through sweet and fruity, to floral and slightly peppermint finished depending on the amount of water added. The more you add, the more the base Tomintoul style notes are evident as it rises to match the peat. A very nice match of peat intensity to fruity whisky without compromising either. So, yeah, first impressions can be very wrong.

Background: Never heard of an Old Ballantruan distillery? That is because this is from Tomintoul – however since they are very well known for their gentle spirit this is their name for their more peated editions. I grabbed this as part of a set of miniatures when grabbing a bottle of whisky from The Whisky Exchange. Since this is no longer “The Gentle Dram” I went to Brute Force by The Algorithm for listening music. It amused me to do so.

De Molen: Hel and Verdoemenis: Bruichladdich (Peated) BA: Brett Edition (Netherlands: Imperial Stout: 11% ABV)

Visual: Black. Still. Brown rim around the glass but no real head.

Nose: Bitter chocolate dust. Smoke. Cedar wood. Charring. Bitter coffee. Honey and treacle mix. Pecan nuts. Blueberry. Smoked meat.

Body: Smooth. Big bitter chocolate. Smoke. Big bitter coffee. Charred meat. Thick sour cream mouthfeel. Slightly soured. Beefy. Bitty feeling. Orange juice notes. Blueberry touched.

Finish: Bitter chocolate and bourbon biscuits. Smoke and ash. Sour cream. Bitty feel. Bitter coffee. Slight wet rocks and salt. Nougat.

Conclusion: Well, I wasn’t sure what to expect here with the brett involved. What I got was something big, something full of bitter chocolate, slightly cloyed, thick, and bitty feeling, all backed up by a lot of smoke and beefy flavours.

So how does it compare with the real ale, non brett version of this? Very favourably actually. It seems less harsh, thicker, letting more of the subtle notes come out. There is an odd sour cream kind of twist to it – at a guess I would say that is the brett playing about – thought I couldn’t be sure. It also makes it feel kind of bitty, and it seems to be this character that breaks up the harsh notes from the real ale version.

It really booms out the flavours this time around – still not up there with the Octomore aged Hemel and Aarde that I still kick myself for not doing notes on, but what is? Not as good as the 666 either, but there still feels to be so many odd notes hidden inside this that it has appeal. At times there are subtle hints of orange juice, blueberry and nougat that are just teases at the edge of the beer. I am so tempted to grab one of these to age, just to see what happens.

Still, as it currently is it is a solid set of flavours; Big, surprisingly mellow in the barrel ageing compared to the harsh real ale version – there is a lot of smoke but little harshness. Not a stand out favourite in the Imperial Stout crowd, but utterly rock solid and a bit unusual. That different texture really makes it with that cloying yet bitty mouthfeel. Worth a try as it is, and I am intrigued to see what a bit of brett ageing will do.

Background: Damn that is one long name to type out. Some people may wonder why I am revisiting this, as the Hel and Verdoemenis: Bruichladdich I tried at the Great British Beer Festival didn’t impress me too much. Two main reasons. One, I can find that the real ale delivery can sometimes not suit high abv beers like this. Two, this is a Brett edition, as marked by a tiny label on the side, and I was intrigued by what that would do to this. So, yeah – I tend to return to De Molen for their Imperial Stouts a lot – I really should try more of their other styled beers as they are an excellent brewery. This was grabbed from independent spirit and drunk while listening to Carcass- Surgical Steel. Big beer- big music!


Stewart: Hawkshead: Margarita Gose (Scotland: Gose: 6% ABV)

Visual: Yellowed to lemon juice coloured body. Large off white head. Hazy mid body. Lots of sediment at the base.

Nose: Green leaves. Slight sweat. Thin squeezed lime. Crushed sesame seeds. Thin lemon. Bitty orange juice. Malt toffee drinks.

Body: Slightly tart and sour. Sour cream and chives. Greenery. Tart apples. Sharp lime. Sherbety feel and flavour. Blackpool rock. Wheaty. Malt drinks.

Finish: Lemon. Funky character. Sharp lime. Brown bread. Sour pineapple juice air. Lemongrass. Cane sugar. Greenery.

Conclusion: The observant of you may have noticed that I have not used the word “Margarita” at any point in the actual tasting notes above. This can be interpreted in one of two ways 1) That I am a dedicated tasting noter and as such would not take such short cuts. Or 2) That it has been fucking years since I have had a margarita and as such I only have a vague memory of what they taste like. (Hypothetically there is a 3) It tastes nothing like a margarita, but from the notes you can probably guess that is not true)

Anyway, number 2 is true, I admit. From my vague-arse memories this does take pretty margarita like. So…

Well, for a gose they have worked very well on the body. I’ve had a few gose now, and a thin body seems to be the curse of a bad gose resulting in that terrible sweat sock water style that is the bad stereotype of the style. This pulls forwards a decent body and instead just bursts with flavour. It is a sour, tart base, pushed with squeezed fruit sharp flavours and greenery. This , more than anything else puts me in mind of the first description I ever heard of a gose – like a sour salted Belgian wit. The base really has that Belgian wit texture that is not evident in many of the style I have tried.

As it warms more malt drink notes come out – it makes it more beer like and robust, though that does seem to work against the main margarita conceit. So, rambling aside – is it any good? Actually – yeah it is. Based on vague memory I would say it seems to meet its concept well. As a gose it emphasises the positive of the style and hides the negative. As just a beer it is just beer like enough to feel worth doing rather than just having a margarita itself, it is fresh and refreshing and has a good wodge of tart flavour. Another beer that could have been just a gimmick, but ends up working out much better than that.

Background: Been meaning to try this for a while, recommended by Independent Spirit it is a gose made to try and emulate Margaritas. To do so they have used motueka hops, salt and kaffir lime leaves. In preparation for the soon to be released new Against Me! Album, I was listening to 23 Live Sex Acts album while drinking this.

The Pogues: Irish Whiskey (Irish Blended Whiskey: 40% ABV)

Visual: Deep ruddy gold.

Viscosity: Generally fast thick streaks.

Nose: Honey and custard. Lightly floral. Some alcohol burn. Smooth. Oak. Heather. Brown sugar. Water adds pears.

Body: Smooth and light. Stewed fruit – apricot slices. Honey. Guava juice. Apples in pastry. Pears, also in pastry with dash of cinnamon. Water adds more pears and green fruit. Toffee and caramel. Kiwi.

Finish: Light, Brown sugar. Apricot syrup and honey. Guava juice. Cinnamon spiced pear. Some oak. Water adds caramel and a light menthol air.

Conclusion: I’ve been on the scotch too long, the first sip of this was so light and smooth I damn near did not notice it – I had to pause and reset my expectations before going on. It especially was unexpected, while smooth, the aroma had a quite full character and even a hint of some alcohol. The body, well, the first sip was more just a feel of whiskey than flavour, giving a clean sheen over the mouth. This was not a good sign.

Though, now prepared I returned and took a larger mouthful. That did the trick. Still no heat; still smooth as heck, but now filled with gentle soothing fruitiness – a mix of green and orange fruit. Now lifted by gentle sweetness in a honey style. Almost too easy drinking, this is a 40% abv drink I had to remind myself, but rewarding for it.

I was hesitant to add water – it seemed like the whiskey was set just right, and considering how light it was to begin with I could only see things going downhill. Still, as a whiskey explorer I need to take suck risks, for you, my dedicated readers. So I added a few drops. It genuinely did it some good – and actually seemed to even thicken the body somehow. I’m guessing it was more the fact that I already had previous layers of whiskey already on my tongue, but any which way it did not hurt. It brought out more green fruit, more sweetness. I didn’t add much water I will admit, but yeah, against all my expectations this really boosted up the flavour while keeping it lovely and smooth.

I am impressed, I was expecting an ok but mediocre whiskey relying on the tie in to the band. I got something that really shows the smoothness of Irish whiskey perfectly, and the flavour as well. It even survived a bit more water which I tested adding it at the end of the dram, and brought more green fruit out. Considering 40% abv is the absolute lowest a whiskey can go and still be whiskey, and the light feel, it is pretty darn robust water wise.

So, yeah, good if light neat, very good with a touch of water, not too expensive – Yeah, impressed indeed. Not a gimmick, just a damn good whiskey.

Background: I have to admit, I have no real attachment to The Pogues, I just grabbed this as it was a chance to try some different Irish whiskey without committing to buying a full bottle. Sorry to all Pogues’ fans. Anyway, grabbed from Independent Spirit, the official whiskey of The Pogues. Drank while listening to Black Sabbath – Paranoid. Just to be a bit of a dick really.

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