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900th On Our 25th

Seems like June 17th, 1989 was just yesterday. That day, we were crazy young kids getting hitched. Prophetically coincidental (or coincidentally prophetic), I’ll Be Loving You (Forever) by New Kids on the Block topped the charts.

More relevant to our future lives, the “microbrew” revolution was gaining steam with the likes of Boulevard, Odell, Marin and my present employer Drake’s founded the year of our marriage. Though “The List” was still a few years away from conception, I had already visited two breweries. Merideth, not yet 21 years old, theoretically had not visited any.

Our ride for the day…

Fast forward 25 years (it seems to have gone by very fast!) and 886 breweries later, we are now well-versed beer travelers. Over the years, our adventures have taken us beyond North America to Europe, Australia and New Zealand. We have experienced great beers at the source and, most important, made many friends. It was one of these friendships that would make our silver anniversary extra special.

Posting on social media several months back about our upcoming special occasion visit, I got a response from Don with the Maine Brew Bus. On our previous visit, we had met up with him and the other fine folks behind Maine’s brewery tour company for a beer. And this time around, they graciously offered to take us around on our anniversary.

Not only would Don be our chauffeur for the day, he also arranged the visits to the two needed breweries for us to reach 900. At the appointed time, we met him and the bright green and yellow bus in Portland’s Old Port. Our “small but mighty” group were on our way for a day of beer drinking.

We started the tour at Allagash Brewing. Already on the list from our 2009 trip, Allagash was, in fact, my 500th brewery. Five years, 388 breweries and an expansion later we were back for another brewery tour.

All shiny

Admittedly, I was a bit disappointed having to jump through the brewery tour hoop. Not having to drive, I was ready to get my drink on and the tour just delayed my fun. But what a tour it was. Along with 20 or so other beer enthusiasts, we donned our safety glasses and audio equipment and followed our enthusiastic guide into the Allagash brewery.

Still smiling after 25 years…

Standing in what used to be the parking lot staring at the cool White spice injector at work on the shiny new brew kit, I felt a bit silly about my usual ‘I don’t want to go on a brewery tour’ mantra. The new facility was quite impressive. And the tour now finished with a tasting in the beautiful new barrel house.

Amongst the barrels, we tasted White, Saison, Prince Tuesday (a collaboration with Rising Tide and Maine Beer Company), and finally the limited Confluence. What a great way to start the day!

Big thanks to Allagash for the anniversary gift. We’ll save the bottle to share on our 26th anniversary. Or maybe our 50th!

One Industrial Way will go down as one of the most important addresses in Maine beer history. Five years ago, we first visited the unassuming industrial park down the street from Allagash to add the then brand new Maine Beer Company to our brewery list. Checking in on their growth two years later, we wandered to the other side of the building to see Rising Tide making a small batch of beer.  Since then, both have graduated from the location to bigger pastures. Present day, its role as a brewery incubator continues with three fledgling brewing operations joining the Maine beer scene.

Looking introspective with one more to go

Bissell Brothers was the first new brewery of the day, our 899th overall. Located in the old Maine Beer Company space, the less than year old brewery was, of course, the brainchild of two brothers, Noah and Peter.

Bissell Brothers created a huge buzz with their initial offering, a 6.5% ABV IPA called The Substance. Cans were sold and kegs were drained very quickly of this popular new beer. Coming in a 16oz can and being their only beer available brought their debut brew heady comparisons to the Alchemist’s Heady Topper.

Comparisons really end there. While Heady Topper is big, The Substance was an easy drinking IPA. Pleasingly aromatic, Merideth, the self-proclaimed non-hophead, even enjoyed it.

As we sampled the The Substance, Peter explained having only one beer was never the plan, it was something that just happened. Pleasantly surprised by demand and trying to keep up, more beers were on tap for the future.

The only disappointment was there were no cans to buy to bring home.

900!

It was a long walk next door to our milestone 900th, Foundation Brewing. Given that their business manager and owner, Tina Bonney was part of our tour group, it was probably apropos that Foundation was the chosen brewery.

Entering the small tasting room, we were greeted by co-founder/brewer Joel Mahaffey. As we chatted with Joel, he ran us through the Foundation lineup.

Five beers were available to sample, all Saisons brewed with their proprietary yeast strain. The two flagships were Eddy, described as their house Saison and Blaze, a Farmhouse IPA.

All the beers were excellent, very worthy of a milestone brewery.  Merideth pegged the lemon zest infused Saison as her favorite. Mine was Wanderlust, a 4.3% ABV dry hopped Saison. Employing five hop varieties, including one of my current favorites, Mosaic, Wanderlust had the huge tropical fruit thing going on which complimented the light body.

Our small group toasted our achievements, 25 years and 900 breweries. We thanked Joel and Tina for their hospitality and Don for making it all happen.

One of my favorite beers!

With our 900th brewery in the books, we were able to relax and celebrate our latest milestone. And Rising Tide seemed the perfect place to do just that.

Our second visit to the Rising Tide’s East Bayside location, we shared our story of the first time we met owner/brewer Nathan Sanborn at One Industrial Way. Back then, Nathan stood over his brew pot checking on his latest batch. Not able to try any beer, we chatted with him for a few minutes and promised to visit Rising Tide again to add it to the List.

Standing in the sampling area, Merideth and I marveled the brewery’s growth, and not just from the former location. The space that just last year had been empty was full of barrels and fermenters.

Amongst the seven beers to sample, I craved Maine Island Trail Ale, their 4.3% ABV summer seasonal that benefits the Maine Island Trail Association (MITA). Hopped with Simcoe and Citra, MITA was a prime example of a beer that I would describe as “in my wheelhouse.” Light, refreshing body but full of hop aroma and flavor, Maine Island Trail Ale is one of my favorite Maine brews.

Our day with Maine Brew Bus was done. Dropped back off in the Old Port, we continued our celebrations with more beer and of course, lobster. We can’t thank Don and the Maine Brew Bus enough for making our 900th brewery visit on our 25th anniversary so very special.

Anniversary dinner at J’s

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Setting Up For Our Big Day

At some point last year, I figured out that it was possible for us to visit our 900th brewery on our 25th wedding anniversary. For beer travelers like us, nothing could be more romantic. With this idea stuck in my head, the challenge became making it happen.

On the eve of our silver anniversary, we woke up in Nashua, NH. Somewhat out of the norm for our beer travels, I planned a leisurely day that would end in Portland, ME. And with the first brewery visit in Nashua itself, we even had time for a pleasant walk through the town’s park, Mine Falls.

A nice day for a walk…

Despite the relaxing start to the day along the Nashua River, there was a nervousness in the air. Well, at least I, as the planner, was nervous. To reach 900 breweries the following day, Merideth and I needed to visit all breweries on the day’s itinerary. There was no wiggle room, no plan B breweries to visit if one was unexpectedly closed. Something often goes awry on our travels and this day had to go perfectly.

The beginning of our beer day…

With that air of tension of what our day would hold, we finished our walk and drove the few blocks to downtown Nashua and our first beer stop of the day, Martha’s Exchange.

Despite the slight tinge of heat and humidity we passed on the air conditioned brewpub and chose a well-shaded table outside. With lunch plans already sorted, this was just a taster flight stop, which we quickly ordered.

Eight samples were soon in front of us. One of the more diverse set of beers we have tried recently, the octet of brews ranged from Volstead ’33’, a Golden Ale, to Velvet Elvis Vanilla Stout. In between there was an Alt, Saison and requisite IPA to name a few.

It was probably the weather talking but the refreshing, easy drinking Golden Ale stood out for me. The hopping reminded me of a German Helles, a style I really love. For Merideth, the peppery, dry Consortium Saison was her standout.

Eager to press on, we didn’t dawdle once we finished our sample flight. We quickly left Nashua in the rear view mirror heading across New Hampshire.

The first of many

For those who know of our previous New England travels, lobster and especially lobster rolls are as important as beer. Heading towards coastal New Hampshire on our way to Maine, it was time to indulge in our second passion.

Despite its touristy appearance, pre-trip research pointed to the Beach Plum in Portsmouth as the stop for our first lobster roll of the trip. Its location on our route and award-winning lobster rolls made it an easy choice.

Choice confronted us as Merideth and I stood in front of their extensive menu. Six versions of lobster roll were available including a 20oz., foot-long monster. Romance aside, we decided on the non-sharing route, each choosing the 10oz. version. Same amount of lobster meat, no competition or hurt feelings.

Preferring our lobster rolls naked, the light coating of mayonnaise was distressing to see at first. But they were quite yummy and were a worthy first roll of the trip.

It was a short drive up the road to downtown Portsmouth and maybe the surprise brewery of the trip, Earth Eagle Brewings. While I sorted the parking situation out, Merideth went into the tiny tasting room and ordered the six beer sample flight. When I finally sat down to sample, Merideth was already several tastes in.

Merideth enjoying her Gruit

Grabbing my first taste, Sputnik, a Pale Ale, Merideth said something about gruits. Not a gruit guy, I didn’t really pay attention until she added that three of the six samples were of the hop-free variety. Never having tried three gruits at once, curiosity got the best of me. Ignoring the two IPAs (which ended up both being excellent), I delved into Barelyberry, Exhilaration and Birthday Boy.

Though not a fan of the style, I could still appreciate the quality that went into the brews. I also liked that they had a forager who gathered the herby ingredients. The latter two were more what I associated with the style, earthy and herbaceous. The first, Barelyberry,  Merideth’s favorite in the set, as its name suggested, employed blackberries in the brew.

A candidate for beer of the trip was not in the sample flight. Madame Trixie, their current barrel release, was a Blood Orange, Black Pepper Saison with Brett. If that wasn’t enough, Madame Trixie was aged in Allagash Curiuex barrel for 14 months. A sucker for beers with black pepper, despite what all was going on in the brew, it all worked together deliciously well.

Crossing over into Maine, we found the final new brewery of the day in the beachside town of Wells. Hidden Cove Brewing at Fire N Brew didn’t open for another hour. Confidence was high that it was opening, so that stress I had been feeling all day went away. With time to kill, Merideth and I backtracked to Wells Beach Mini Golf.

It was a beautiful Maine afternoon for a round of mini golf. Unlike previous times we have played, Merideth rode a strong short game on the front nine to finish +2, a surprising seven stroke lead over me. Her only mistake was to hit the ball out of bounds, a one stroke penalty. This was to prove costly.

A nice day for some mini golf…

The back nine played more true to form with myself slowly eroding Merideth’s sizable lead. My par and her bogey on the last hole sealed my comeback, both of us finishing with the identical score. Despite our normal competitiveness, we thought it quite romantic on the day before our 25th anniversary.

The mission of the day is accomplished!

Back to Fire N Brew, we bellied up to the bar and chose four beers, Summer, Scully, A’Rye and Crowsfoot, from the five offerings for our sample flight. First things first, Merideth and I each grabbed a sample glass and toasted the important goal of the day being successfully completed.

Eager to get to Portland to watch the USA v. Ghana World Cup match, Merideth and I didn’t really dwell on sample flight. Our loss, since Hidden Cove was doing some interesting things in the brewhouse with local ingredients and wild yeasts. We’ll give it a proper visit on our next trip to Maine.

In Portland, I was finally able to let my hair down. After catching the inspiring USA victory over Ghana in the Old Port, we moved on to our traditional activities. First up was a lobster roll and Allagash White at J’s Oyster followed by a Maine Beer Company nightcap at Novare Res. A great ending to a productive day!

Our Portland tradition…

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Quick Stop in Portland

“So you’re going to Portland?! I LOVE Oregon!”

“Yeah, we do too, but we’re not going to THAT Portland…”

Our Portland tradition…

This trip, we headed to the East Coast. And our first day’s agenda had us doing a quick afternoon in one of our favorite cities. Yes, THAT Portland.

We started things off with a bite of lunch at J’s Oysterhouse in the Old Port area. A bit touristy perhaps, but no trip to Portland would be complete for us without it. We prefer sitting outside, but on this nice sunny day, everyone else did, too. Nothing could deter us from getting our afternoon off right, though, so seats at the bar suited us just fine. Besides, there could be nothing better than a lobster roll and Allagash White to get us ready for our walking beer tour of the city.

From J’s, Bunker Brewing was only a 20-minute walk into the East Bayside area of the city. Housed in a small red brick building, Bunker is a hidden gem. On the day we went, they had 3 beers to sample. However, our host informed us that they have brewed around 30(!) different beers in the 17 months since they opened.

Enjoying the Pils at Bunker

Our three choices were Holdfast Black Ale (nicely brewed with a heavy roast flavor), Black Pearl (a surprisingly mellow yet robust smoked oyster stout) and Machine, a tasty Czech Pils with a pronounced grainy/bready character.

The weather was sunny and pleasant, which made the darker beers tough to choose. We both enjoyed our Pils served in the ever-popular mason jar out on their deck. With such a deep recipe book, chances are you may not taste the same beers twice during a visit to Bunker and you’re bound to find one you like.

We highly anticipated our next stop, Rising Tide Brewing. They had expanded since our last visit to Portland in 2011 and it is now conveniently located right around the corner from Bunker. It’s always nice to see good breweries grow.

The new Rising Tide…

Our last visit included watching owner/brewer Nathan Sanborn standing over a large homebrew kit stirring his brew. We couldn’t sample the beer that time, which meant the brewery was not added to The List. We simply chatted with Nathan, bought a few bottles and left. During this visit all that would change!

We walked into the new brewery to see Nathan off in the corner of the good-sized warehouse peering into his kettle. What a difference 2 years can make! Rising tide had 6 beers going, including Daymark and Ishmael, the two beers we were already familiar with. Joining the line-up were Spinnaker (German-style Hefeweizen, 4.5%), Maine Island Trail Ale (American Pale Ale, 4.3%), Thing Two (a new pilot Roggenbier), and Zephyr (IPA, 7.2%).

Plenty to chose from at Rising Tide…

Tasting room manager, Stasia, was very friendly and helpful as we sampled the beers. I especially enjoyed Spinnaker and Chris, of course, leaned toward Zephyr. The Maine Island Trail Ale was also tasty and we bought a few bottles to bring home. The beer was described as a “hoppy American ale.” I found it to be a refreshing balance of malt backbone with accents of pine and citrus. The other great thing about the beer is that it celebrates the 25th anniversary of the Maine Island Trail Association, a group dedicated to combining access with stewardship of Maine’s wild islands. A portion of proceeds benefit the Maine Island Trail Association, so you can drink great beer while contributing to a great organization. There were so many exciting things about this visit to Rising Tide, but the most special of all is that it was finally added to The List, #808.

In’finiti Fermentation & Distillation

With a music duo and a food truck out front, it was hard to leave Rising Tide, but we scheduled a meet up with the guys from the Maine Brew Bus at In’finiti Fermentation & Distillation back in the Old Port area.

In’finiti is the sister brewery/distillery to Novare Res, the famed awesome beer café in Portland. There we hooked up with Zach and Don from the Maine Brew Bus, the original beer tour company in Portland. We discussed beer growth and politics over pints of In’finiti’s Mar-Gose-Rita (a traditional Gose) and their Belgian table beer. Both were very tasty. They also had the Blk Abt (Belgian Royal Stout), War Dark, and Rauchbier on, but without a taster set available we didn’t get a chance to taste these.

Mar-Gose-Rita

In’finiti feels a bit upscale and pretentious, but is still very comfortable. The décor is beautiful—from the shiny brew kit and distillery to the repurposed furniture. The food was also good. We were told we HAD to try the chicarrones, which, as basically fried pork belly bits, did not disappoint. I also got a taste of a green hummus-type dip with flatbread, which was also very good.

We especially enjoyed talking with the Maine Brew Bus guys and their significant others. Super nice guys, they are very knowledgeable about beer, Maine beer in particular, and Portland beer history, which I thought made for especially good beer tour guides. Be sure to check them out when you visit Portland.

After our time with Zach and Don, we were on the move again to the last stops on our quick trip to Portland.

Finishing the night at Novare Res

We swung by J’s again for our second lobster meal of the trip before ending our evening at Novare Res, an absolute must stop during any visit to Portland, Maine. We had yet to drink some Maine Beer Company beer, so a stop at Novare Res guaranteed that we’d be able to do so. We enjoyed a bottle of Another One and Weez, as well as several other tasty beers whose names I cannot recall right now. You know what beer travel is like and this was one of those blurred evenings…

We tried to make an early night of it, as we had come into town on a red eye flight and were operating on only a few hours sleep. With such an amazing beer list, that’s no easy feat at Novare Res, but we did manage to tear ourselves away from the bar at a reasonable hour. Besides, we needed our beauty sleep before our first ever live TV interview the next morning at 6:30am.

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Happy Anniversary to Us!

As part of promoting Merideth’s book, Teachings from the Tap, we are holding “Meet the Author” events in the seven American cities covered in the book. Portland’s turn came this past Sunday with an event at the Green Dragon. I couldn’t have thought of a better way spend our 23rd Wedding Anniversary.

Doubling down on the  Reggie Deluxe at Pine State Biscuits

With time to spare after our early arrival in the Rose City, Merideth and I started the day at Pine State Biscuits. We don’t normally wait in long lines for anything, but I wanted to treat Merideth on our anniversary. The half hour wait was well worth it. While Merideth went with a simple biscuit with ham, egg and cheese, I doubled down on the Reggie Deluxe. A piece of fried chicken, bacon, two eggs & cheese topped with gravy on a flaky biscuit, the moist and juicy fried chicken alone was worth the price.

The happy couple at Horse Brass

From  Pine State, we took a short walk up Belmont St. to  the world-famous Horse Brass Pub to watch the Germany v. Denmark Euro 2012 match. While we viewed the Germans triumph 2-1 and win Group C, Merideth and I enjoyed a number of Pacific Northwest brews. Merideth’s favorite was the Urban Farmhouse Ale from Commons Brewery while I absolutely fell in love with the sublime cask version of Double Mountain’s Hop Lava.

Gigantic Brewing

We only had time for one new brewery on the trip, Gigantic Brewing. A familiar Portland sight greeted us as we pulled up to the brewery in our taxi: rolled up industrial doors and a plethora of picnic tables out front.

There were four house beers. The star was Gigantic IPA, a 7.3% ABV brew with delightful citrus and pine notes. Merideth tapped The City Never Sleeps, a Saision as her favorite. The only beer we didn’t care for was Rauchweizen and the Bandit, a smoked Hefeweizen. I love both styles, they just didn’t marry well for me.

Sour goodness at Cascade Barrel House

From Gigantic, Merideth and I proceeded to the Green Dragon. We still had a few minutes to kill before Merideth’s book event so we popped across the street to my favorite beer stop in Portland, the Cascade Barrel House.

Quickly spying The Vine and Sang Noir on the menu, I ordered each of those as well as samples of the Raspberry and Apricot. The Vine, a soured, blended Ale with white wine grapes, was nicely tart. Sang Noir, aged in Pinot and Whiskey barrels then blended with Bing cherries was brilliant with a wonderful, dry, cherry flavor.

Seeing old friends at the Green Dragon

The last night of PDX Beer Week, it was a quiet evening at Green Dragon. Nonetheless, Merideth was able to spread the beer travel word and sell a few books. It was great sharing beers with old friends and new. Thanks to the helpful staff at Green Dragon for making us feel so welcome. And a HUGE thanks to Lisa Morrison for all her help and kind words.

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Happy Anniversary to Us!

After five great days in New England, we finally reached the most important day of the trip. Day six was our 22nd Wedding Anniversary. And what better way to spend the day with my wife, best friend and beer travel partner than in one of our favorite American cities, Portland, where even more lobster and beer awaited us.

First stop on our anniversary

We left Lovell mid-morning for the hour long drive to our first stop of the day. After four days of driving in the middle of nowhere, Baxter Brewing in Lewiston, proved difficult to find. All those cars and buildings were so much a distraction that both driver and navigator missed the right turn for the brewery. But we quickly recovered from our mistake and with a series of turns, located the brewery.

Opened last fall, Baxter is housed in a beautifully restored old mill. Their small tasting room fronts an expansive brick-walled brewery space. Having plenty of room was good as they have already expanded production capacity in their short time in business. For the can-heads, Baxter is the first brewery in Maine to can all their beers.

Still smiling after 22 years of marriage

It was early in the day, so Merideth and I were the only two customers. Our hostess, Steff, enthusiastically poured us samples of their flagship brew, Pamola Xtra Pale Ale. At 4.9% ABV and 27 IBUs, it was a very drinkable, first beer at 11am, type of beer. Or perfect for hot and humid weather we experienced in Maine.

A Pamola is the moose-like creature in their logo. From a Penobscot legend, the Pamola had the head of a moose, the body of a man, and the wings and talons of an eagle. Pretty freaky if you ask me!

Baxter’s other production beer was Stowaway IPA, a brew familiar to my West Coast palate. At 6.9% ABV and 69 IBUs, Stowaway had an assertive, hop-forward flavor and underlying light-ish body.

We finished our tasting with two test brews. The Red Ale was a good example of the style but the star was their Mild. Of the four beers we sampled, the Mild was my favorite.

We thanked Steff for her time and departed with a bit of Baxter swag and a six-pack of Stowaway IPA. We continued our journey on to Portland.

Enjoying Maine Beer Co. beers at The Great Lost Bear

This was only our second visit to Portland. But I have to say, no visit to Maine’s largest city is complete without visiting The Great Lost Bear. The original Maine beer institution, the Bear is THE place to find local beer.

The dimly lit interior was comfortably cool, an oasis from the hot and humid weather. We took our familiar positions at the bar. Despite being our next stop, Merideth and I both ordered beers from Maine Beer Company. Merideth ordered her beloved Peeper, while I went the latest offering from our favorite Maine brewery, Lunch IPA.

The new kit at Maine Beer Company

Maine Beer Company was a last minute addition to our previous trip to Maine. Visiting the brewery, we met co-owner David Kleban. Their story was one of a pair of brothers starting a brewery with glorified homebrewing equipment. The plan was to build a market for their brews first. If they could do that, the ‘real’ brewery would be built.

In the subsequent twenty months, Merideth and I followed their progress from afar. From the glorified homebrewing beginnings, their now highly sought after brews are distributed in three States, Maine, Vermont and Massachusetts. And kegs are on the way very soon.

We returned to Maine Beer Company to see the changes. Joining their regular Friday 2pm tour, we were amazed by what we saw. The shiny new brewery was quite different from the pot on the burner from our first visit. With his low key, matter of fact manner, David told our group about the beers and the brewery. We also got to meet David’s brother Dan for the first time. Dan has been the brewer for Maine Beer Company from the beginning, but only recently, due to the high demand for their beers, was he able to quit his day job. It was really nice to see success come to good people.

Another must stop in Portland

Our visit to Maine Beer Company concluded the preliminary activities for our Anniversary Day. It was time to head to Portland’s Old Port for the main events.

Once this trip was decided in early Spring, there was only one place that we would have our Anniversary dinner, J’s Oyster on Portland’s waterfront. Despite the rainy weather that came in, Merideth and I grabbed one of the available tables outside. As the rain dripped off the awning above us, we drooled at the thought of the upcoming lobster feast.

I need to tell EVERYONE I know about this loster stew!

We hardly had to look at the menu except to choose a beer. Merideth and I both went with Allagash White to accompany our lobster. We also both ordered lobster rolls. But from here our paths diverged. Merideth started with the lobster stew she fell in love with on our last visit. Again she marveled at the huge chunks lobster in the broth, something we don’t see on the West Coast. I didn’t need any broth with my lobster so I ordered the lobster cocktail as a starter. And a dozen raw oysters (Don’t judge me. it was our anniversary… ).

J’s Oyster was everything we remembered it to be. We left with full tummies, huge smiles and the knowledge we had one more day in Portland. We would be back!

With our friend Morgan at Novare Res

The last Anniversary Day stop was Novare Res Bier Café. We fell in love with Novare Res on our first visit. Beyond the world class beer list, Novare Res just has a great look and feel. If we ever opened our own beer bar, Novare Res would be the blueprint.

More Maine Beer Company brews were ordered. Again, Merideth went with Peeper while I ordered Lunch IPA for myself. Joined by a former Monterey-ite and friend, we chatted the evening away. Shahin, the personable and friendly manager of Novare Res, joined our conversations when time permitted.

Later, we toasted our anniversary with a bottle of 2007 Cantillon Rose de Gambrinus. It was a great way to finish a great day. Drinking amazing beer, hanging out with friends, old and new. We wouldn’t have wanted it any other way.

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