How to go from homebrewer to probrewer

Hoppy Flyday Brewers & Chewers, Drinkers & Thinkers, this week we share an audio-blog (excuse the audio - hence the transcript in case you prefer to read rather than listen) with home-to-probrewer Russell Carpenter, formerly of Townsville, QLD where he worked at our valued retail partners The Homebrewers Warehouse and was President of the Righteous Homebrewers Homebrew Club in Townsville and won brewer of the year and a Queensland State Brewers competition as well.  Russell is now a probrewer in the United States and we thought it was time to hear what he shared in order to help us all brew better and just find out what drives a guy like Russell to brew for a living! Cheers, grab a beer, listen, read, learn and enjoy yourself - always responsibly :-) [playlist ids="1499"]   BEERCO-  You’re a bit of a celebrity in the home brewing circuit already having featured in Beer & Brewer as President of Townsville Righteous Brewers and winner of the Queensland homebrewer of the year in 2013. We are interested in understanding a bit of your background about how you first got into home brewing; when you started; and what dragged you to the hobby? RUSSELL -  Yeah, originally my dad and I we’re talking about brewing beer because I have a degree in biochemistry. He pretty much said “Oh, we’ve been talking about this for so long” and he bought me a Mr. Beer Kit for Christmas about seven years ago. And little did he know, he created a monster, and it spiraled out of control from there! BEERCO-  Now, I guess for our Australian brewers, listeners & readers there must be a few people asking who is Mr. Beer? RUSSELL -  Yeah, it’s a small kit and it’s kind of limited in what you can do. It’s about 9 litres and you’re limited to the recipes that they have. And since it’s, you know, half size of a normal homebrew batch, you can’t really just like split, you know a standard Coopers Pale Ale or something into the beer and into the fermenter so… But they do have hundreds of recipes that they formulated, so stills pretty good at start. BEERCO-  Quite a start, yeah. And I think, actually, it’s interesting you mentioned Coopers because if I am not Mistaken Mr. Beer are actually owned by Coopers so they probably have a beer in the range that is similar to a Coopers Pale Ale.  Maybe the Yeast strain that a lot of the homebrewers might use with the Cooper’s kit, which they bought at a supermarket or something similar. RUSSELL -  Okay, I didn’t know that because we do not really get Cooper’s kits or any kind of kits like that in the US, except for Mr. Beer mini-kits. BEERCO-  How long before you decided that it was time to go all in and start all grain brewing and get more involved in the full brewing process from mashing to bottling? RUSSELL -  with the Mr. Beer kits it was about seven months or so and I think I brewed about fifteen beers, and then…after that I went to extract with some grains like a mini-mash you know, then a full boil extract. And then, maybe six months after that it was all grain. BEERCO-  Right, and a whereabouts in the US were you at the time you started brewing? RUSSELL -  I started in Auburn, Alabama. And that was actually, illegal in the state of Alabama to brew beer. Actually up until about three years ago, I think. BEERCO-  That’s interesting. And how did you get a hold in home brewing supplies or something like that? A black market, on the internet or something like that? RUSSELL -  Yeah, you can have everything and get stuff from anywhere in the US. It’s the same thing with stills and stuff like that, distilling. You can buy all ingredients and all the parts, it’s just technically illegal to brew or distil with it. Yes so, it’s not illegal in the US anymore in any state to homebrew. You can also order anything you need online to brew. BEERCO-  I know you brew a lot of different styles and that was, quite a few years ago starting with extract.  What is one of your favorite stouts of beer to brew? RUSSELL -  It’s probably IPA because I did live in Oregon for two and a half years. Like with the explosion of newer hop varieties like Citra® that came out on the market when I was there.  They came on the market when I was there and it was just about big bold hoppy beers and now it’s just everybody trying to outdo the next IPA. And make it bigger and hoppier.   So it’s kind of getting out of control it, but I do enjoy making IPAs. You know, black IPAs were a big thing when I was in Oregon four years ago. And now with the new BJCP styles are coming out. You get your Red IPAs, white, Black, Wheat and all these new variations… BEERCO-  And what you mentioned about the proliferation of IPA styles like the Black IPA and White IPA some of us might wonder whether there is a style guideline for what should a white or black IPA look like and how to differentiate it to a normal IPA in terms of ingredients, malt bill and the like? RUSSELL -  The white IPA, there’s two different thoughts on the white IPA. I call the white IPA a Belgian IPA, but some people have characterized as two different beers. Like a white IPA being a Belgian Wit, with spices and orange peel, I think white IPA is just a Belgian. Just an IPA with Belgian yeast. I think of a White IPA as a Belgian IPA and yeah, even black IPA, I’ve had black IPAs before and If you close your eyes, you would think you are drinking a normal IPA because it doesn’t taste any different or there is no roast flavour at all, it’s just a different color. But I like black IPAs, like in between a stout and an IPA. BEERCO-  So why do you homebrew Russell? RUSSELL -  Mostly just to brew kind of what I want. It’s gotten into now trying to actually tweak the styles to get the exact style for competitions and stuff, but I only brew things that I like to brew. BEERCO-  And do you share a lot of your beers with friends and family members and anyone else who would try? RUSSELL -  Pretty much. I try to share with anybody, people ask me, because I brew so often, like almost once a week people ask me if I drink a lot, and really I don’t drink that much. I just keep sharing with people. BEERCO-  That’s a common trait for a lot of homebrewers. They get a lot of joy out of sharing their beers with other people. And you, live in the far North of Queensland, which some people would say they are less appreciative of craft beer up there as opposed to say Victoria or Western Australia.  How do you find the reaction of the general public to your beers, particularly your all-American style IPAs? RUSSELL -  The people in our brew club love them, kind of made some hopheads out of a few of them, in the past three years I’ve been here. But most people kind of think of homebrew tasting terrible, because their dad made some or their mates make some that were just god awful. And I’ve played soccer for one of the teams here. I brought some homebrew one day and they just kind of looked at me weird, and then they actually tried it and they loved it. So, it’s hard to get people to try new things up here, people are a bit conservative and kind of stuck in their ways and they drink what they drink. Nothing strays outside the norm, but can you get them to try a bit and it just spirals out of control for them sometimes, because I got a couple of friends, they’re like “I can’t drink anything like XXXX or Hahn Super Dry or that anymore. Now it’s got to be, at least, James Squire or Little Creatures. So it’s good, it’s nice, and that’s one of the good things about home brewing and just being a craft beer lover in general is introducing people to new beers, and different beers all the time BEERCO-  What would be your closest local craft brewery up there in Townsville. Do you guys have a local microbrewer or is there one nearby? RUSSELL -  There is one here at the Townsville Brewery. They started in 2001.  Brendan Flanagan was the first brewer there and he was actually, I think backpacking through Australia like working holiday or something, because he was a brewer at Guinness. So he was hired by somebody here, the Ram family I think. This who it is I don’t know, they have their hands in a lot of business up here. They revitalized the old Post office downtown. It’s a pretty nice venue. The beers that they make are kind of blend, but it’s that type of beer that you have to get to people up here just to drink. It can’t be full of flavor and have some crazy funky yeast going on in there, or ridiculous bunch of hops or that. BEERCO-  Would you describe yourself as bit of a brewing to style homebrewer or are you trying to brew quite a few different styles at the moment? RUSSELL -  I try to brew to a certain style but with the ingredients I have available, I kind just use the style as a guideline, and then just add whatever I want to kind of tweak the flavor a bit. Like making a lager with a 50% Rye or something. It’s just the base style of being a Lager, but just trying something different in there. BEERCO-  It seems like an interesting beer that would have a nice mouthfeel I would guess. What styles at the moment that would you like to brew if you ever had the chance, because it seems like you’re brewing quite a lot once a week and I’m guessing you have brewed the BJCP Style guidelines cover to cover so to speak? RUSSELL -  I probably brewed almost one example of each single of the twenty-three styles. At least one of them, like even the sour beers, like even the Ice beer.   Or we froze it.  It wasn’t an Ice Bock as I used an ale yeast, but I haven’t done a Roggenbier before, but I don’t actually know if I want to do one of those, it’s not something that you can drink every day. BEERCO-  And what about a smoke beer? Have you done a smoke beer? RUSSELL -  I’ve done a Smoked Porter. I did a Smoked Lager before. It was just smoke malt and Munich malt. And now actually last night I did a smoke saison, and I liked that and actually there’s a guy here that brews a fantastic Smoke Porter and it’s better than any Porter that I ever had. And he can do it in the sleep pretty much.   [BC: Josh – we know who you are and are keen to share your wonderful recipe for homebrewers to clone at home J] BEERCO-  And how does the smoke beer like the smoke porter or smoke saison go down at the brew club or at a bbq with friends in Townsville? RUSSELL -  The people in the brew club are very active and receptive to lots of different beers, I’ve got even bring a Sour beer around. Some people give it a try, they might not like it at all, but they give the try and generally people love my friend Josh’s Smoke Porter. He has a nitro set up as well at home. He does it on Nitro and it’s just…it’s amazing. BEERCO-  Yeah, that sounds good, we might have to get Josh on and get him to share his recipe for Smoke Porter. It certainly is a wonderful style and combination.  So how did you hear about Gladfield Malt and how did you hear about us and get a chance to brew with their Malt? RUSSELL -  Oh, I’ve met you at the anhc this year a couple months ago and Caleb I believe was giving a presentation on the malts and everything. I believe he is an American guy, am I right? BEERCO-  Yes, he is, indeed he is from the northeast, so he a fully trained and qualified chef and also a food scientist and I believe he is now studying at the IBD for his brewing & distilling course. And a keen homebrewer as well. RUSSELL -  That’s nice, nice traits to have in that field for the Malting BEERCO-  Exactly, and I think Caleb mentioned, the good thing about having that chef’s backgrounds is very similar to cooking, brewing is all about getting that magic balance of different flavors. And it’s interesting when you talk about US IPA style, there is certainly some beautifully well balanced beers and some as well in Australia and some as well I’m not sure of all the brewing ingredients there are in balance, I’m sure you have tasted both those experience. And what would be one of your most memorable home brewing experiences that you’ve had that you can remember? RUSSELL -  I guess it’s a couple: Mostly recently I did a Russian Imperial Stout where I aged in a barrel that had some homemade bourbon in it. I’ve aged that for two months in a barrel, and before it went to barrel it had a hundred grams of whole coffee bean in the fermenter. Had some maple syrup and some smoked malt in there, it was supposed to be a breakfast stout. I think it ended up about 11% and it’s a fantastic beer. But definitely one I did a couple years ago, it’s probably most memorable would be, I did a triple decoction traditional bock, it took me nine hours to do. But it was a fantastic malty beer. I don’t know if I can even replicate it. BEERCO-  Yes, certainly is a challenging way to brew doing the decoction mashing process from what I have been told, let alone a triple decoction mash! Which is probably something that homebrewers can do it at home because they have to gift of time which most commercial brewers cannot because they are working on the clock and have to do things really quickly. RUSSELL -  Doing a decoction mash in commercial setup is pretty difficult, I think. It’s like a special mash tun that you have that has this angled shoot that comes out into a smaller kettle. But I don’t the pumps and everything that you have to use to pump it back into the mash tun are probably really specific for that application and will be hard to do. But doing it at home is actually is relatively easy and actually doesn’t add that much time if you do a single decoction, like for a mash out, so you just do an infusion mash at stay 65 degrees or whatever and decoct a bit of it, boil it for fifteen, twenty minutes and then add it back to the mash, to get your mash out temperature. So that’s probably the easiest way to do it, and you get some of the, depend on how long you boil the grains, you get some of the melanoidin flavor [Melanoidins are brown, high molecular weight heterogeneous polymers that are formed when sugars and amino acids combine (through the Maillard reaction) at high temperatures and low water activity]. But I do think that it takes a while to develop it, and the beer, you need it kind of lager it for a month or two. For actually, kind of melts in with the rest of it. BEERCO-  And I guess that’s challenging for a lot of homebrewers two, particularly if they have got a lot of friends coming around on a Saturday night to join them in the garage, aging those beers and giving them the time that they need to condition. RUSSELL -  Yeah, a lot of our kit + kilo brewers [homebrew kit + kilo of sugar] who come into the shop of brewing and they will brew something every week. And one guy comes in and says he drinks a whole keg a week. And he just wants one as fast as possible. So yeah, it is kind of difficult to age some beers, like even for me and recently we had a Porter & Stout competition in our brew club, I think we had about thirty-five entries. So have a whole keg of Oatmeal Stout to drink in the hot weather, which isn’t the best kind of beer to have at this time of the year in Townsville at this moment! BEERCO-  Yes, so it’s almost one that you want to bottle of and store away especially if it’s at a higher abv and store away for the winter RUSSELL -  Right, and it is around 6% almost. It’s definitely, and its just massive amount of Oats in it as well, so it’s really thick. I don’t mind it. I just can’t drink a lot of it. BEERCO-  That I know, you have brewed a couple of beers with Gladfield Malt and we have quite a few customers asking for a recipe for a Hoppy Red Ale and I would love it if you don’t mind sharing your Sunset Red IPA recipe with the listeners? RUSSELL -  Yeah, the thing that I do with pretty much all of my recipes is sharing with anybody, just because the way I do it and the way somebody else do it will be totally different, so it’s going to make totally different beer, regardless. So that was four kilos of Gladfield Ale Malt, one kilo of Munich, half kilo of light crystal, 400g of Red Back, 300g of Shepherd’s Delight and I added about 400g of dextrose cause like I wanted to bump it up to like an Imperial Red IPA. See, that was 19 litre batch, 1.075 Original Gravity 20g of Chinook at about 13% alpha acids for first wort hop at 60 minutes of boil. And then 60g of each of Cascade, Centennial & Chinook at flame out and then did a whirlpool for about ten minutes. And then dry hopped with Cascade, Centennial & Chinook  20g of each of those for about a week. BEERCO-  And what Yeast did you use for that beer Russell? RUSSELL -  It was American Ale II Wyeast 1272 [You could use GigaYeast NorCal Ale #1 GY001 or GigaYeast Vermont IPA GY054 or Danstar BRY-97 American West Coast Ale Yeast or Fermentis Safale US-05 Yeast ] BEERCO-  And did you find that you are a Wyeast man or a White Labs man or you don’t really mind? RUSSELL -  It depends on what style brewing. I was a White Labs man in Oregon of all places because Wyeast is actually from Oregon. And because just, the homebrew shop had every single one of them and that was a great thing about being in the US. They had all of them at seven dollars each. You just go in there and pick, you know, whichever one you want. And if they didn’t have the Californian Ale or the Californian Ale B, just get a different one you know, because they had something else. But recently I’ve compared a few of the Wyeast and White Labs, the Kolsch especially. I liked the Wyeast better. I just feel it’s a different flavor, the Kolsch 2565 I can’t remember the number, because the Kolsch 2 [2575], I haven’t tried yet that. But the white labs WLP029, I think it is.  It’s just not as good. It might have been an old vial that I got. We have everything shipped up here from either from Sydney or Brisbane and it takes two days to get here and its warm which is not good. RUSSELL -  Yeah, with the shipping we do get some problems from time to time and its shocking as we put our orders through with express shipping and it takes two days to get here and it’s warm. I think we’ve had some costumers that bought some packs in the past month or so that didn’t work at all. And we had to give a free pack and stuff like that. It cost us ten dollars each plus shipping and taxes. [editor's note: all BEERCO liquid yeast are shipped with Ice Paks that last 2-3 days and sent express door-to-door to minimise these types of issues] BEERCO – Yes, that’s heart breaking isn’t it particularly for the brewer and you.  Particularly when they have gone through all the rigor of the mashing and that and they run out to the shed to check that its fermenting and it hasn’t started.  What about dry yeast vs. liquid yeast because you have brewed a lot. Do you have a preference for dry yeast or liquid yeast or do you have a strong preference for liquid or dry, or you don’t really mind depending on what style you are brewing? RUSSELL -  I don’t mind using dry yeast at all actually, the Danstar BRY-97 from Lallemand is awesome, I love that one. When we first got it here I’ve used for almost every single beer, any kind of Ale and American Ale style. I’ve never used dry yeast in the US because all of the White labs stuff that I could get at my local homebrew shop. So I didn’t actually used dry yeast until I’ve come to live in Australia. But there are some good dry Lager Yeasts, the Fermentis Saflager W-34/70 Yeast is great, and the BRY-97 is fantastic, and they have a new one called Abbaye. We were not able to get it yet up here. There is probably in other places, but the place where we order it, our supplier doesn’t have it yet. I’d like to try it. I do like using dry yeast for the ease of use, because you just rehydrate or just sprinkle on top. However, your kind of stuck with a certain number of yeast types, and with the pros and cons over dry vs. liquid. The liquid you just that have more variety. BEERCO-  Certainly, there seems to be a lot of liquid yeast specific to styles whereas the dry yeast tends to be half a dozen or a dozen to cover all the bases. RUSSELL -  Right, and then Nottingham do pretty much everything, this yeast will ferment from twelve degrees to twenty-five, and actually the Townsville Brewery here used to use Nottingham when they first started for every beer that they had. I would never do that. BEERCO-  That’s not uncommon in the commercial brewing set up for people to really stick to one yeast.  Our friends in brew club and industry have talked about the California Common Yeast, not sure if it’s the White Labs or Wyeast version being very tolerant to both hot and cold fermentation temperatures, but still giving a good clean flavor and as a result being very popular in a lot of craft breweries. RUSSELL -  Yeah, you get the Wyeast 2112 or the White Labs WLP810. Yeah, you get that clean Lager characteristic, but also an Ale flavor as well. Which is nice, so that’s pretty good yeast to have. Haven’t used too many times, I think I only used it once and I used the White Labs version.   I’m not a huge fan of Anchor Steam beer in the first place, just because it kind of taste a bit diacetyl to me. And I think that’s just part of the Yeast. But, you know, that’s just me BEERCO-  Now you’ve mentioned you lived in Oregon for a couple of years and you would have had your pick of craft brewing paradise over there.  What was been one or two of your favorite breweries that you used to enjoy drinking beers from around that part of the world? RUSSELL -  In Oregon, I think my favorite brewery would probably be Deschutes. They are in Bend, Oregon. Almost in the middle of the state. Two and a half hours away from where I lived, but of course you could get their beers anywhere. So anything from, especially when it came to hop harvest time, the pale ale that they did all the time, they would do a fresh hop version, a wet hop one.   I loved being in Oregon during hop harvest because I went a couple of times to the hop farm, and helped pick them. By hand, so they just pick them by hand, and they gave me a couple of kilos to take home, just for free, and I brewed the next day. That was great, but Deschutes is one of them, Ninkasi is another one. Have you ever had any of their beers? BEERCO - I have had their Total Domination IPA which a friend of mine bought all the way back from Seattle in his suitcase [thanks #themule] and I must say, it was one of the nicest IPAs I’ve had in a long time RUSSELL -  Yes, getting it over there and bringing it back it would be the way to do it. I’ve got a Total Domination IPA shipped up from one the places down south [in Australia] and it was already out of date and it tasted terrible. A - That’s the challenge, these beers are brewed to be drunk fresh and they need to be stored cold throughout the whole supply chain otherwise the flavor just gets destroyed so fast. RUSSELL – Yes, and like Sierra Nevada is doing their Torpedo in the Cans and you can get that and their Pale Ale here in cans at Dan Murphy’s now and I used to drink that all the time too as well, back home.  Its miles better than anything in the bottle as it travels better and keeps better in transit.  Firestone Walker was always a good one or Red Hook in Seattle, and Russian River. BEERCO-  You’re really spoilt for choices there, and I guess the other one before you have got to get back to the shop for our listeners or people in your neighborhood. What’s the name of your homebrew shop up in Townsville, because you know, if I was a homebrewer with any level of experience I would certainly be going to your homebrew shop up there!  What’s the name of your shop up there? RUSSELL -  It’s called the Homebrewers Warehouse and we have a website . It’s got some videos and everything about extract brewing and all grain brewing. We have a good range of distilling supplies as well and we have also put together a rum kit about, not twenty years ago, maybe twelve, fourteen years ago, it sells a lot. We’re the only place you can buy grain north of Brisbane and New England. We have about forty kinds of grains, forty kinds of malts [including Gladfield Malt], forty kinds of hops. And as you know, that’s just scratching surface of ingredients. BEERCO-  And have you found since working at The Homebrewers Warehouse the choice of ingredients is constantly increasing, because I guess coming from the US you were probably spoilt for choice there in terms of your raw brewing material choices. RUSSELL -  In the US the Briess malts were more popular for the American styles, of course. And, of course, you just have your choice of Best Malz or Weyermann or Castle Malting and anything from Europe and of course Simpsons that was of kind of brew shop that I went to, it was kind of a self-serve type things. You just had all these bins out waiting for you, and you weighed it out and you put in the mill and milled it yourself and you went up to the counter and you told them what you had and pay for it. And it’s about to US$2.50 a kilo, so the prices were a bit better. And home brewing beer in the US is more of a hobby than a way to save money, like it is here because the beer prices in the US are so cheap. It’s nine dollars for a six pack of Sierra Nevada Torpedo. You can go out and buy it already done, or you can spend weeks and a lot more money in equipment making it. BEERCO-  So it still hasn’t stopped the rise of the hobby in the US. Are you seeing it here in Australia, are you seeing more people coming into the shop in Townsville are you seeing people coming and saying I have been drinking these different styles and craft beers, and I have been really enjoying them, and I want to get into Homebrewing and try to replicate them? RUSSELL -  Yes, we have a few people in that says ‘I love the Little Creatures Pale Ale or The James Squire 150 Lashes and I want to make this! I’ve done a couple of kits, but a I just want to buy an All Grain kit and we have had a couple of people that have done that in the past couple of years and they’ve just went from doing one or two kits in the beginning to then starting all grains brewing and have gone onto making really good beer now. And I think what helps with the shop the people we have are very knowledgeable, Greg Young who is the owner has won awards at the State championship before. And he gives out advice on like the pros and cons of everything and lets people make their own decisions.  If there are a variety of different things to use and he’s like “use this, this and that”. Introduce them to temperature control for fridges so you can plug them straight in. They are pretty expensive for the normal kit + kilo homebrewer but, it’s worth it. Once you do that, you go the actual dry yeasts instead of the ones that come in the kit. It’s miles better. BEERCO-  Temperature control is one of the four or five principles of good beer, isn’t it? As John Palmer and Jamil Zainasheff tell us.  What about your own plans Russell?  You have obviously got a science background and been homebrewing for a long a time now, and winning awards at a club and state championship level and brewing lots of styles. What’s your beer plans in the brewing world for the future? RUSSELL -  The plan is to try get a job in a brewery, of course. Hasn’t been going too well lately, just aren’t too many people hiring where the place where we are moving at the moment. So I might actually have to get back in the science for a little while before I can actually get a job in brewery. I’ve applied for a couple of jobs in quality control laboratory and brewery. Which I think it would fit perfectly, because it’s what I know how to do. But I have been told that I’m overqualified for these jobs and its kind of annoying to hear that. BEERCO-  And you’re looking to head back to the northeast of the United States RUSSELL -  Yes, my wife got a job at the University of New Hampshire, in Durham New Hampshire and It’s about fifteen minutes from Portsmouth, New Hampshire and about an hour and a half from Boston. There’s a pretty big Craft beer scene up there, there’s lot of breweries around there.  I just have to get in, it would be nice to get in a small one, be able to have control and have a say in the recipes, and things like that. That would be nice, cause that’s what I enjoy the most, just creating recipes. BEERCO-  And I think that’s one of the great opportunities in the smaller breweries where they don’t already have their standard showcase beers and they have to develop those from scratch. We certainly wish you well in that journey and maybe if you can smuggle a couple of your Hoppy Sunset Red IPAs and Imperial Stouts in your suitcase, once they taste them, Russell, I am sure they might change their mind. RUSSELL -  Yes, I hope so BEERCO-  Well, thanks very much for taking time out to talk to us today at BeerCo and sharing your awesome recipe for a Hoppy Red Ale – The Red Sunset IPA [We are pleased to report that since recording this interview early in 2015, Russell has returned to his native lands and gone onto great things in craft beer realizing his dreams to go pro and after volunteering at 7th Settlement Brewery in Dover, New Hampshire  who gave Russell his first start via volunteering for 2 months before part time paid work for 20 hrs./week Russell has since moved onto becoming the head brewer at True West in Acton, Massachusetts. Russell is already making front page headlines in the local media there as well for his brewing prowess and more importantly making craft beer lovers smile and still actively sharing his wonderful homebrews or are they pilot brews on brewing forums like Milk the Funk.   Russell – we will miss having a beer with you this year at Good Beer Week Showcase and hope to catch up for one sometime in the not too distant future on your shores perhaps?  Thanks again for sharing your knowledge to help us all brew better and alleviate the world of beer poverty one good brew at a time – a true beervolutionary – cheers mate!]

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