The Burrito Tribune

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randomness, truth, and burritos

Craft Beer: Highland Brewing Co. Kashmir India Pale Ale

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So as prolific as IPAs are, even making fun of how often I seem to review them is starting to get old.  I don’t have it in me to come up with something else witty for tasting yet another IPA.  That isn’t to say anything negative about this IPA itself.  My experiences with Highland Brewing have been very favorable.  I’m also pretty sure I’ve had this beer in the last year and can’t remember any negative qualities, so I am holding out hope for a good review.

 

I do have to root for Highland Brewing because it is a North Carolina beer, and being brewed in Asheville, is not terribly far away from where I currently live.  According to local legend, Asheville has become one of the major craft beer capitals of the nation.  It seems like Charlotte is working to catch up with that title, but that is another post.

Kashmir IPA is 6% ABV, so it’s strong enough to have a kick, but not enough to knock you completely on your butt.  It pours out a light golden color and had a head that started small but hung around for a good long while after the pour.  It did not seem to coat the glass like some of the others I have tasted lately, but it is far from unimpressive.

The smell is very unique.  This isn’t an aromatic beer, but the aroma has a very light hint of sweet strawberry.  It makes me think of jam or preserves.  There is a sweetness that cuts into this beer’s scent that makes it very intriuging.

The flavoring of this beer reminds me of a melody from a piece of classical music.  It feels like it dances around from one end of the scale of tastes from sip to swallow.  It has a neutral tartness at the beginning that is hard to define, yet quite refreshing.  It seems to sizzle on the tongue, indecisive of where to go.  It reminds me of throwing a slice of lemon in your drinking water.  You know it’s there, and it’s changing the flavor, but it’s so subtle that its hard to identify if someone didn’t point it out.

As this beer slides along your tongue as you go to drink it down, the intricacies of the flavor blossom out.  There is a hint of cranberry in there.  Also maybe a touch of blueberry.  I would also go so far as to say a touch of butternut or pumpkin squash was hiding about in there also.

The finish definitely reminds you that this is an IPA.  The body of the hops makes its presence known and gives your tongue, if not a pop in the nose, definitely a slap in the face.  It’s a bit of a wake-up call that blends well with the sweetness this beer tapers off to.

This is a finely crafted beer, but I do not think i can list it as a casual drinking beer.  It’s complexities almost make it too exhausting to drink regularly throughout a night, and the flavors are too loud for me to recommend for a casual night out drinking with the guys.  This is a beer to be savored.  I would drink this at home after a hard day’s work, with nobody around to interrupt the experience.  Maybe I would watch the sunset, or read a good book on my balcony.  I wouldn’t want to interrupt this beer, it just seems to have too much to say.

Filed under: India Pale Ale, , , , ,

Craft Beer: Stone Brewing Co. Arrogant Bastard Ale

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I know from experience that Arrogant Bastard Ale was one of the ground breakers of the craft beer market, and from the few times I have had it, I can understand why.  Despite they’re jabs at mass-market beers multi-million dollar marketing campaign, I have to give Stone Brewing credit in creating a great brand identity for people who want something different and unique.  Arrogant Bastard encompasses the attitude of loving strong flavorful craft beer, and getting to embrace being an above-average beer snob.  I find it slightly ironic that their “questions and comments” label on their bottle says to keep your opinion to yourself.  It looks like I will fail miserably on that one.  But how about this, if you work for Stone Brewing… you can go ahead and close the browser now.  I’m not asking you to read this.

So Arrogant Bastard Ale comes in at a pretty hefty 7.2% ABV, and pours out as a beautiful dark brown color.  The head is thick and rich, and even after a good five minutes or more hasn’t entirely dissipated.  It definitely smells spicier than even most other craft beers, especially a standard ale.  It reminds me of that spicy scent when you walk into a store full of fine leather.  It smells rich and complex, almost oily.

The beer’s flavor is a definite kick in the teeth, and I mean that in the best of ways.  Some beers are good because they’re bold and wake you up every time you sip them, others do better with being complex and intricate.  This beer seems to make it’s mark by being both.  While the flavor hits you fast and strong, there is a background of complexity to it that keeps you coming back for more.

I’ve been sitting here through half a glass trying to figure out how best to describe this beer, and I just realized that all of my descriptors seem to follow a trend.  My first inclination was to say it reminded me of a strong rich BBQ sauce.  After that, I started leaning to a semi-sweet molasses cookie or a ginger snap.  There is a bite or tartness that I can’t avoid, like someone squirting in a taste of lime juice.  I would think this comes from the hops in the blend.

This beer is almost too strong for my taste, but that’s a definite almost.  I might not drink more than one or two, especially at 7.2% ABV, but its complexity and flavor are unparalleled in the craft beer market.  For true beer aficionados, I think you will be hard pressed to find a brew that better embraces all of the qualities that make craft beer great.  If you are new to craft beers, I might be a bit of an arrogant bastard myself and recommend you take a sip of your friend’s or have a 4oz glass in a flight of samples before going all out on a pint.

 

Filed under: Ale, , , ,

Craft Beer: Boulevard Brewing Co. Single-Wide IPA

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You know, i normally give IPAs a lot of grief.  Not because its a bad beer, I have found some real winners in the IPA scene.  I have more issues with IPA being a trendy beer.  It seems like the beer novice brewers can cover up their mistakes with by adding god-awful amounts of hops to the batch.  I still stand by the fact that there is something wrong with the craft beer selection when over half of my reviews end up being IPAs because it makes up nearly fifty percent of the craft beer market.  There is such variety in craft beers, its disappointing that the majority of the beers are just overdosed with hops and labeled an IPA.

Now, with all that being said, I have been rather excited to try this IPA from Boulevard Brewing Co.  It is brewed in Kansas City, MO, and surprisingly, it is fermented a second time in the bottle, adding a bit more carbonation and head to the mix.  I am actually quite surprised they do this, as a bottle fermentation can be a bit unstable and cause the bottles to explode if exposed to extreme temperatures (re-starting fermentation and adding increased pressure to the bottle).  Perhaps Boulevard Brewing has a way to avoid this, as a novice brewer I can’t say that it’s not possible.

Pouring the glass was an exciting experience. The head remained thick and frothy through the entire poor.  I practically got impatient as it took forever to settle enough for me to empty out the rest of the bottle. The hops smell amazing.  The smell, while definitely hops, does not have the tart astringency that I’m used to finding in an IPA.  It’s almost sweet in its scent, reminding me of caramel and granny smith apples.  There is a citrus presence in the background as well that keeps the smell fresh and lively.

First tastes are equally surprising.  The flavor is also substantially milder than your typical IPA.  The presence of hops won’t let you forget this is an IPA, but it’s like a seasoning that compliments all the base flavors of the beer, as opposed to being the primary flavor itself.  The intensity of the flavoring is moderate at best, but the complexity keeps me interested.  The first flavors are crisp and cool, reminding me of watermelon rind.  As I continue to drink a body of sweetness rises up to contrast the tartness of the hops.  It makes me think of sweet grapefruit juice, or unsweetened raspberries.  The finish washes back in with a more savory flavor, making me think of italian seasonings and just a hint of lemon bite.

I think it’s a testament to the quality of this beer that I nearly finished it in the first ten minutes of writing this post.  It’s an excellent mix of flavors without being too overpowering.  I would almost consider it an all-weather beer, with perhaps the exception of the coldest months of winter.  It is one of my favorite IPAs to date, though the true disappointment comes in that it’s almost impossible to find in this area outside of my specialty beer store.  ah well.

Filed under: India Pale Ale, , , , ,

Craft Beer: Big Boss Brewing Blanco Diablo Ale

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With the High Roller IPA being one of the better beers I have had, I was especially delighted to see another offering from Big Boss Brewing the last time I went to the store.  I picked up a bottle of “Blanco Diablo” an ale that is “brewed with spices”.  At 4.3% ABV, I am not expecting it to knock me on my butt, but it should still have a healthy strength over most mass produced beers.

First impressions are different than most beers.  Even by ale standards, Blanco Diablo is very pale.  It leaves a nice head on the glass as it pours, but it settles quickly and does not leave much residue on the glass.  The smell is also very subtle, I practically had to dip my nose into the beer to get a hint of anything. The best guess I can lay down on what this beer smells like is cucumber.  That’s it, I don’t have anything else to share on just the smell.

I’m not entirely sure I can say something better regarding the flavor of the beer.  My first impression is that it is extremely light flavored.  I am having difficulty placing what the flavor of the beer is beyond it being somewhat beery in essence with a watered-down tart finish.  It honestly reminds me of a craft beer company trying to make some weird hybrid between watered down orange juice and a blonde ale.  This seems to be a beer designed to make the drinkers of bland mass-produced beer comfortable in the craft beer environment.  If you wandered into Big Boss brewing and asked for a <famous mass-produced pilsner>, I feel like this is the beer that the bartender would talk you towards.

Maybe there is a place for this type of beer in the craft beer market, but I don’t really understand it myself.  Craft beer has a great identity for its strong flavors and being unique.  Wanting to design an extremely light flavored beer that emulates the mass-market stuff seems like it does craft beer an injustice.  Maybe it works when the group of friends get together to hit a microbrewery and there’s the one friend who only drinks <insert mass-produced beer royalty here>.  I guess it’s fair to cater to him, you can’t leave him sitting there with an empty glass (or no glass for that matter).  Still, I have trouble picturing your typical craft beer aficionado seeking out this beer on purpose.

Filed under: Ale, , , , ,

Craft Beer: New Belgium Brewery: 1554 Black Lager

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This is the last New Belgium beer that I have on hand for review at the moment.  So far, I have been rather impressed with their work.  I know that they have a number of other beers on hand to try, but until I can make another beer run I will have to wait on the rest of their line-up.  I’d also like to start getting back to a more diverse sampling for a little bit.

1554 is a bit of a curiousity to me as I pour it.  It is a 5.6% ABV Black Lager brewed by New Belgium in Fort Collins, CO.  The bottle claims it is inspired by a Belgian book from 1554.  Need to be honest, I’m not exactly sure how to take that.  It sounds like a marketing ploy to me, but their beers have been good enough so far to let this slide.

Pouring the beer produced a healthy, if somewhat muted head compared to the last two New Belgium brews I have sampled.  It still coated the glass well, but the head did sink faster than the others.  The beer does not give off a very strong aroma.  I had to struggle to even get anything off of the glass.  What I did notice was a blend of brown sugar and rich chocolate, almost like the smell of a great hot chocolate, but a bit more muted than you would expect.

Ok, this journey is going to be an interesting one.  The subtle aromas from pouring had me expecting something lighter and very subtle.  I was surprised to find out that this is not the case.  The first taste of this beer is incredibly intense.  It sounds like a weird mix, but it works for this beer, the first taste reminds me of a blend of celery and subdued chocolate.  The carbonation adds to this and makes for a rich flavored beer that is still very refreshing.  It took me a little bit of restraint to not just gulp it down in a “I’m parched and this is delicious!” kind of way.  The finish is definitely more on the chocolate end, with a slightly sweet and rich body.

The last two new Belgium beers seemed to be calibrated for warmer weather.  While this doesn’t have the “stick to your ribs” quality of a winter beer, I would definitely put this more in a Fall or Spring category.  While not too filling, this beer feels like it could stand up to a little chill in the air.  I also get this vision in my mind of enjoying this with a huge porterhouse steak dinner with green beans, potatoes, and all the other good stuff.

I have liked all of the New Belgium beers I have tasted so far.  While I know there will be more, this has been my favorite one to date.  Maybe it’s the season, ask me about the IPA Ranger when the middle of July hits next year.  Until then, if you can find this in your area, I highly recommend you give it a try.

Filed under: Lager, , , , ,

Craft Beer: New Belgium Ranger IPA

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Despite being a bit overdosed on IPAs with this blog, I have been very eager to try this New Belgium Ranger IPA.  New Belgium is a brewery that has produced some good beers that I can always turn to when I am out with my friends.  They’re big enough to be found in most bars that cater to craft beer, yet still independent enough to be fun to look for when you’re out.

The Ranger IPA is made in Fort Collins, CO and is 6.7% ABV.  This is a bit higher than normal, but I would not worry about it catching me off guard while drinking out with the guys.

Like the Fat Tire, when pouring this beer I noticed that it produces a very strong prominent head (see the picture, I got impatient waiting for it to settle).  It also does a very good job of coating the glass as it comes down.  The carbonation does a great job of giving loft to the aromatics of the hops and malt with this beer.  It smells absolutely delicious, with strong hints of sweet orange.  It makes me think of biting into an orange that’s been floating in fruit punch all day.

When Ranger first hit my tongue, I was shocked at the sweetness that comes from it.  It is not a standard feature in the many IPAs that are on the market today.  For the briefest of instants, it gives you this sweet kick, like the icing on an orange cinnamon roll, before the hops roll in and remind you it’s a full-strength IPA.  The kick of the hops is a unique contrast to the sweetness and on some level reminds me of sweet/tart theater candy (take your pick of which).  It’s a contrast that adds great complexity to the beer and keeps it a refreshing option in an industry practically overrun with IPAs.

The flavors feel like they zig-zag back and forth before finally finishing on a sweet note.  The final sweetness is another welcome change from  your typical IPA and keeps me quickly coming back for another sip.

As far as IPAs go (and this blog shows I’ve been sampling my fair share)  this is one of my favorite to date.  I would generally keep my IPAs for warmer weather, this one is especially great because the flavor isn’t too astringent and unlikely to leave you feeling parched because of its strength.

Filed under: India Pale Ale, , , , ,

Craft Beer: New Belgium Fat Tire

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I should come clean and say that even though I decided to review this beer, this is by far not the first time I have had this amber ale. It has often been a favorite of mine during happy hour or when I am out on the town with my friends. I cannot say it is my all-time favorite beer, but it is a very reliable beer that you can easily find on draft in my area. It is a beer that I can drink several of through the night and not easily tire of the flavor.
Fat Tire is brewed by New Belgium Brewing in Fort Collins Colorado. It is 5.2% ABV, a pretty standard strength for a craft beer. It also tends to be a standard craft beer on draft here in Charlotte, NC.
Pouring the drink looks quite impressive. It produces a substantial head, and it actually took a good bit of time for the head to settle so I could finish pouring the bottle. It clung to the glass nicely, while the beer itself is a very nice dark amber color, almost brown.
The beer has the smell of a fresh cut apple or pear. It’s cooling, but more mellow than crisp. Even the scent has a sweetness to it that is very pleasant. The first taste has a noticeable presence of hops, but it isn’t the kick in the teeth that most IPAs and pale ales have. It is extremely smooth and pleasing, yet not strongly flavored. The presence of an apple flavor or tart melon is still apparent. It makes the beer very light in body but quite refreshing. The beer finishes with a subtle sweetness that reminds me of fresh berries.
This beer is reasonably priced at $5 for a pint at my local pub. Its light body and fruity essence make it a great hot weather beer, though for a true beer snob who loves his porters and stouts, it might be a little lacking in complexity.

Filed under: Amber, , , , ,

Craft Beer: Cigar City Brewing Co., Maduro Brown

On a recent trip to Florida I was able to pick up an excellent Brown ale local to the Tampa Bay area.  Their Maduro Brown (named after the fermented darker color cigar) has quickly become one of my favorite darker beers to drink on a hot August evening.

Freshly Poured Maduro Brown and standard can

Freshly Poured Maduro Brown and standard can

This beer is a dark black/brown with a tall frothy brown head that projects the sweetness of the beer.  at 5.5% ABV it comes in right at nominal for craft beer strength.  The six-pack I procured was canned instead of bottled, but don’t let this disuade you.  The beer’s flavor is not affected in any way I have been able to tell from the canning vs bottling process.  I would certainly advise you to not drink this beer straight from the can.  Doing so would waste a good portion of the aromatic qualities of the beer because they would be trapped in the can.  Lastly, if this beer is in your area, it is moderately priced.  You should be able to find it at your local bar for ~$5 per pint.  I purchased my 6-pack for $9.99 in the Tampa area.

Now as to the beer itself.  It comes out of the can as an extremely dark brown, almost closer to a stout than a brown ale.  The dark head on the glass suggests a strong thick flavor and may worry some drinkers that it will be too potent for their palate.  Do not despair in thinking that this is a beer you are going to have to chew before you swallow.  Let us all remember that a Florida beer that was too thick and heavy could not survive in a state that routinely hits 97 degrees at 2am in the morning.

The scent of the beer is sweet and strong.  it reminds me of flavors like caramel or dark chocolate.  Behind all of those primary scents is a hint of roasting coffee beans, or pralined almonds.  Behind this though is a bright coolness that betrays the otherwise thick dark looking beer.

The first sip of this beer is surprisingly refreshing.  For a brown ale, the beer has a very welcome light sweet finish that makes a great contrast to the Florida heat where this beer is brewed.  It also suits the deep southern heat of my current town quite well.  The first sensation of this beer is the tingle of the carbonation that creates a citrus tingle across the tongue, and the dark sweet malt of a potent brown ale.  Despite this, Maduro Brown isn’t heavy and slides down more akin to a pilsner or pale ale fit for a steamy summer day.  The finish is sweet and bright, reminding me of something akin to a root beer float with a hint of chocolate.  This may be too sweet for some craft beer aficionados, but it is a welcome change of pace for local beer advocate.

If you are in a region that has access to Cigar City brews, I would highly recommend you try this beer.  it is an great beer in its own right, and an excellent choice for a beer drinker who enjoys lighter beers but is ready for a step up to the bolder dark-beer leagues.  I would recommend it for hot weather or at the end of a long exhausting day.  To pair with food, i would go with your standard bar-food of burgers, chicken tenders, or Carolina BBQ.

Filed under: Brown, , , , , ,

Whiskey Review (Bourbon Kentucky Vintage)

Sometimes a night in with a good drink is just what you need, but in the grand scheme of things a good whiskey is something to be shared.  I was invited to go camping up in the mountains of North Carolina by an old friend of mine and met some new friends who turned out to also be whiskey connoisseurs.  The Big Bottom Bourbon I reviewed last time was a great hit and they were more than wiling to help me work through the bottle.  On the flip side, I was able to sample some amazing scotch and Irish whiskeys that I may have to write about here at a later date.  (FYI:  S’mores and whiskey both go with campfires, but they don’t go well with each other).

Another perk of sharing the Big Bottom with my friends is that it gave me the opportunity to go back to the liquor store here and sample yet another bottle of small batch bourbon.  This time I picked a bourbon out of Kentucky, “Kentucky Vintage Bourbon”.  I realized while writing this post that I threw away the receipt, but if memory serves, it was very close to the $25 mark, +/- a few bucks.

I really do love using a brandy snifter for the first drink of a new whiskey because it really immerses your senses in the drink.  You don’t want it to get too warm in your hand like brandy, but the glass is perfectly designed to bring the nuances of the smells straight to your pallet.  Kentucky Vintage starts out much more strongly flavored than Big Bottom.  The first smell of this bourbon reminds me of cinnamon and mint.  There’s a coolness to it that I like, but it seems like it has a more bolder aroma than the sweetness of Big Bottom.  There is a strong woodsy overtone that reminds me of sitting in a cabin by the lake.

Straight:  My first sip was surprising in how smooth this whiskey is.  It is definitely a very traditionally flavored whiskey.  I felt like I could physically taste what “sour mash”  and “charred oak barrel” does to a whiskey.  Anybody going to the store looking for something that tastes “bourbon-y” will not be disappointed.  Kentucky vintage has a very smooth start with a slight peppery flavor to it, almost reminding me of celery and vanilla bean, this blooms into a strong cinnamon flavor with overtones that remind you of autumn.  As the whiskey finishes, it brings out the strong oak flavor that I think draws most people to bourbon in the first place.

1 to 1:

At a one-to-one mix, the astringent smell of the oak is very prominent.  It makes my nose feel like it wants to pucker.  This is contrasted by the flavor which has mellowed signifcantly.  The taste has a rather dynamic change.  It has a very prominent flavor of vanilla.  The water takes the heat away from this bourbon, and almost leaves it tasting like a dessert drink.  That’s not to say it’s anything like a mudslide, but it has a very pleasant sweetness to it that makes it quite drinkable.  nest to the vanilla is a hint of cinnamon and spice.  I don’t know how to properly describe this last experience I’m getting from this bourbon, except to say that it has a richness that truly immerses your senses.  It almost is a richness like drinking a heavier beverage (think a white Russian, or Amaretto) but it’s a silky smooth bourbon whiskey instead.

1 to 1/2:

I can’t lie, as I’ve drank bourbons, this has tended to be my favorite mix-ratio.  It takes away the worst of the heat of the whiskey, while not diluting the flavor.  At this proportions, this bourbon smells more of spice than oak.  The smell is actually a little bit more muted than one-to-one, and not masked by the alcohol vapors like the neat drink.  There is a very light smell that is somewhere between vanilla and sandalwood.

Taking my first sip, I am inclined to agree that this is still one of the best ways to drink bourbon whiskey.  The regular heat of the neat whiskey is gone, and the flavors of this whiskey just flood the senses.  The flavors still remind me of vanilla and spices, but I think i would throw honey into the mix as well.  It has the smallest bite at the end, like when you bite into a very strongly flavored ginger snap.  It is a great finish and adds to the complexity of the whiskey as a whole.

Final Comments: I would definitely recommend this whiskey be drank at a one-to-one-half ratio.  It reminds me of an after-work cocktail that would just melt the stress and frustration of the day away.  I usually float a few ice cubes in my whiskey, but feel free to enjoy it however you like.  To be fair, I’m not sure I’d buy this before Big Bottom, but it is still a spectacular whiskey unto itself.

Filed under: Small Batch Whiskey, , , , ,

Craft Beer: Great Divide Brewing Co., Rumble IPA

Rumble ipa

In another return to the wonderful world of IPA’s I am sampling another Colorado beer that has piqued my interest.  This one is an “Oak aged IPA” from Denver, CO.  I like that Great Divide Brewing has listed food pairings on the bottle.  They recommend skirt steak, sweet potatoes, brie, and apple crisp with ice cream.  This all sounds fantastic by the way, and even though I don’t have it to pair with this beer, I will probably be eating all of it in the near future.  Lastly on the “what’s writting on the tin” front, this beer is a little higher than standard, at 7.1% ABV.

The beer is a nice dark amber color with a very small head.  The head never really frothed up like i expected, but it let out such a pleasingly sweet aroma as I poured it I’m willing to overlook it.  The smell reminds me of when I tried a recipe for a carmel-butterscotch sugar cookie.  It’s incredibly rich and complex with hints of caramelized sugar, vanilla, and a hint of cinnamon.

It’s funny, I often start off my reviews with strict commentary on how the beer smells.  However, it seems more often than not when I taste it I am very surprised at how much the actual flavor varies from the initial smells.  This isn’t always a bad thing, but it does tend to surprise and shock the senses a little.  I might qualify this as one of the most magnificent beers I’ve had to date because it completely lives up to all the expectations you get from the initial scents of the beer.  The first sip was this amazing thick nectar of vanilla wheat with a hint of hops.  There are so many different experiences in the taste-profile of this beer I feel like I’m going to miss something and do an injustice to this beer.  I will try anyways…

As I take my first swallow, the citrus-essence of the hops pops out and wakes up the taste buds.  It makes all the flavors shimmer like a kaleidoscope before settling into this amazing butterscotch-sweet aftertaste, with just enough bite from the carbonation to remind you you’re drinking beer and not an amazing dessert.

This beer is a healthy craft-beer and as such is a bit on the heavier side.  I want to be drinking this with a half dozen friends with big beer mugs, clinking them together and making a real ruckus at the bar.  As rich as this beer is, I could drink at least 3-4 before even contemplating switching to something else.  (be careful with that though, it’s strong enough to get you in trouble if you don’t stretch them out over a long enough time!)

I have had some great beers since I have started this blog.  I will say, this is one of the first times I’ve regretted only buying one bottle of this beer as part of my pick-a-pack selection.  I have to give some major kudos to Great Divide Brewing Co. for a truly superb beer.

P.S.  I keep having to read the label to remember it’s an IPA.  The hops are there, but are just a fragment of the entire experience.  regardless, this beer is definitely worth trying.

Filed under: India Pale Ale, , , , , , ,