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Brew Day: Chaltoberfest (Marzen) & Escape From The Rabbit Hole (Tripel)

My and my cousin/occasional co-brewer Andy’s affinity for DL Geary Brewing is well-documented. When Jennie and I recently visited the brewery, I made sure to pick up a case of Geary’s Summer Ale for Andy. When I dropped the beer off at Andy’s house, he was anxious to plan a brew day.

We were both pleased with how the Belgian-style tripel we brewed last year, The Commonwealth v Chalifour came out. Andy is in a place where he likes being able to brew a bigger beer and bottle it; a beer that can sit in his cellar and be enjoyed over a period of months and years.

At the same time, I had a really nice response to my Pretty Things Jack D’or clone. One follower on Twitter sent me a clone for Pretty Things’ Field Mouse’s Farewell. When Andy wanted to brew another tripel, I immediately thought of Pretty Things Fluffy White Rabbits. I also liked the idea of Commonwealth as a one-off in honor of Andy’s brother AJ’s birthday.

The recipe I designed was not a clone of pretty things. While I used similar malts as Fluffy White Rabbits, the recipe took almost as much inspiration from a Michael Tonsmeire recipe  My tripel wasn’t nearly as hoppy as either beer, and more closely fit the BJCP guidelines for the style.

For our second beer I suggested a marzen. Andy has always wanted to brew one. He brewed an extract kit with his wife last fall and wasn’t totally happy with how the beer came out. For this recipe I revisited another one-off Andy & Juli’s Weddingfest.

Knowing what I know now that beer was undone by not pitching enough healthy yeast and not oxygenating the wort properly. Andy and Juli enjoyed it, but I think they appreciated the gesture as much as anything. I reviewed the recipe, referenced Brewing Classic Styles, and made some adjustments.

Having not brewed in many months, Andy’s basement fridge where he keeps his kegs was wide open. We were able to hook up a temerature controller and use the fridge as our fermentation chamber.

With both beers the goal is the same: to make a complex and flavorful example of the style that isn’t heavy or cloying. Andy and I both particularly enjoy the German examples like Paulaner and Spaten. My grist was mostly Pils malt, but I did increase the amount of Vienna and Munich, and added a touch of Melanoidin Malt. The hops were all Tettenang as a tip of the cap to Samuel Adams Octoberfest.

The tripel went a little more smoothly than the marzen. We had a heck of a time stabalizing our mast temperature in the Chaltoberfest. We chilled both batches down to 90F. In the middle of the summer the ground water is too warm to get the wort to be much cooler. Both batches were pitched with some dry yeast.

My brew days with Andy tend to be more social and laid back. When we brew together I stopped worrying about getting the water chemistry and mash pH exactly right. If we can have fun and brew something that ranges in quality from decent to good I am happy.

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Tasting Notes: Summer of Jennie & Transistor Radio

Split batches are a great tool in the homebrewer’s arsenal. Commercial brewers brew several days a week, if not every day. Even the most avid of homebrewer probably only brews once or twice a month. A split batch is a great way to make more than one beer without having to make two separate brews.

Transistor Radio is an American Wheat beer that was based on Shipyard Summer Ale. What was most striking when I poured the beer was its brilliant clarity. Ringwood Ale was so popular among brewpubs and craft brewers like Geary’s because it ferments quickly, and at a time when beer clarity was desired, Ringwood Ale yeast produced a clear beer with minimal filtering. Every time I use WY1187 I am reminded why I love using it.

By modern standards Transistor Radio is slightly malty, but the Cascade gives the beer a light citrus flavor. I don’t detect any diacetyl in the flavor, but there is a slickness in the mouthfeel. The carbonation is medium high, and the body is medium. The beer is subtle, clean, and very easy to drink. The carbonation and hop bitterness are sufficient to give the beer a smooth finish. Transistor Radio earns high marks for drinkability. It is perfect for a summer cookout or a beach day.

Summer of Jennie was inspired by, and not a clone of Sea Dog Sunfish. Jointly owned by and brewed at Shipyard, I used Transistor Radio as my base beer before adding peach puree, grapefruit zest, and a touch of grapefruit juice. Sunfish uses “natural peach and grapefruit flavor”, which are more than likely fruit extracts. That is likely why Sunfish maintained the brilliant clarity that Transistor Radio had, while Summer of Jennie is quite hazy.

I wanted to get an unbiased opinion from Jennie which beer she liked better. Knowing the appearance of the beers would be a strong indication of which beer was which, I had Jennie taste both beers with her eyes closed. After one sip she identified the Sunfish and preferred the Sunfish. When I asked why she liked Sunfish better, Jennie said it was because Sunfish was one of her favorite beers. Okay then.

When I tasted the beers side-by-side Sunfish had a much more prominent citrus aroma and flavor. Summer of Jennie had more peach flavor with the grapefruit balancing the fruit. If I wanted to make Summer of Jennie more like Sunfish I would add more citrus or add a grapefruit extract.

On it’s own merit, I love Summer of Jennie. I shared the beer with my old manager at Modern Homebrew Emporium Eamon, and the Mass. Brew Bros. who both thoroughly enjoyed it. I could also have dry-hopped Transistor Radio after splitting the batch if I wanted a hoppier wheat beer. Even half an ounce of Cascade could have livened up the beer to a degree.

I entered both Transistor Radio and Summer of Jennie into the Merrimack Valley Homebrew Competition. I think both will do well.

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Do you know the Munton’s man??

At the end of last year I thought I was ready to start some kind of professional brewing company. What I realized was that this wasn’t something I was equipped to take on myself.  For Bleacher Sports Brewing to really work it would have needed it’s own space from day one. To work it would need to have beer good enough to attract the craft beer crowd, but also be a a really great sports bar. To do it right and make it workable would have been very difficult and taken a lot of dough.

Really I was just very frustrated with my job. My career with my employer had hit a plateau. That I couldn’t for whatever reason break through the glass ceiling really bothered me. Eventually I got past the anger and disappointment and renewed my focus. Half way through the year, 2017 was on track to be my best year yet!

While a successful 2017 made it easier to catch up on bills, I knew my next step would be elsewhere. Last week I saw a tweet that changed everything:

I sent a direct messagew expressing interest, shortly thereafter I spoke briefly with Munton’s about the role, then had an hour-long interview, and was offered the job!

In my new role I will be working with craft brewers and homebrewers selling Munton’s malt and malt extracts. I couldn’t be more excited to work in two markets I am passionate about and make a good living doing so.

I have always been a huge fan of Munton’s products. I used their Maris Otter in a SMaSH barleywine, and their extracts in many beers including my recent Thomas Brady’s Ale and Summer Somewhere 2017.

It is still too early to say what my new career means for the blog. Whenever I use a Munton’s product or otherwise feel the need to do so, I will be sure to disclose that I am a Munton’s employee. I have on occasion used this space to share opinions on the beer market. I may step away from that type of content.

I have lost count of how many people told me this was the perfect job for me. It was almost embarrassing that people think my live revolves around beer to that extent. I also realize that most people aren’t as consumed with their hobbies and interests as I am. As of July 31 beer and brewing will no longer be a hobby!

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Brew Day: Pretzel Wheat Beer

One of my Brew Year’s Resolutions was to collaborate more. The idea was to brew more with others and brew less in my hot and tiny kitchen. This brew was presented to me and is a great opportunity to do just that.

The Mass Brew Bros are two local craft beer enthusiasts who have visited every visatable brewery in Massachusetts. Their website features articles, detailed maps of every brewery in Mass broken down by region, and a list of breweries in planning that is updated almost weekly.

I originally connected with the guys on Twitter and met them in person at Sierra Nevada Beer Camp 2016 in Boston. Now that my hours have been cut at Modern Homebrew Emporium for the summer, I hope to be able to make it to one of their upcoming tastings.

Like every beer-lover should, Rob and Bob have dabbled in homebrewing in the past. They had brewed some Mr. Beer kits a long time ago. When the guys wanted to brew a pretzel wheat beer, they reached out to me for help. The inspiration for the beer was of all things Shock Top Pretzel Wheat. Say what you will about AB’s crafty brand, but that beer does taste like a pretzel.

The guys sent me a recipe from Brewer’s Friend and a description of the Shock Top beer. Having tasted the beer once I had a fair idea of what it should taste like. The beer is essentially a darkeer witbier with a hint of salt.

For the grist I went with Belgian Pils malt for a rich, bready malt flavor; Torrified Wheat to add a doughy flavor and add body; Caramunich as my caramel malt to match AB’s description; and Special Roast to add a light toasty quality. Crafty witbiers like Shock Top Belgian White and Blue Moon have a sweeter orange flavor to me than say Newburyport Plum Island Belgian White so I added sweet orange peel. I used one quarter the amount of sea salt that I used in my Westbrook Gose clone

According to my refractometer we missed our starting gravity badly. Unfortunately I didn’t have a hydrometer with me to confirm the reading. Everything else went fairly well. I was able to pack up my car and make it home by 3:00 p.m. It was amazing how quickly the day went buy brewing just one batch and not attempting any other beer-related tasks.

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Three cheers!

Three years ago Jennie was tasked with finding “community bloggers” for the Beverly Citizen’s website. Having written previously on a variety of topics, and willing to work for cheap (free), I was a logical person to ask. The blog is still hosted by the Citizen’s parent company Wicked Local and has been picked up by sites all over Massachusetts.

It really feels like yesterday I took some birthday cash, purchased my first homebrew kit, and Jennie and I made our first batch. At the same time it feels like forever ago that the back corner of my kitchen wasn’t a cluttered mess.

If you haven’t noticed I am the type of person who can be consumed by my interests. Brewing is the latest and shows no signs of slowing. At other times I have spend endless hours playing internet poker, Football Manager, other simulated sports, turn-based computer games, baseball statistics and history, health and fitness, and cars just to name a few.

Initially I was tasked with publishing two posts per week. Three years later that is still my goal even if I only achieve it some of the time. Three years is longer than I keep up with most things. I haven’t lost interest or given up.

From the beginning this was nothing but an outlet. One man’s, and sometimes one couple’s journey down the rabbit hole. Three years later I haven’t hit the bottom yet.

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Brew Day: Pretty Things Jack D’Or Clone (Saison)

When Pretty Things Beer and Ale Project was still a going concern they were my favorite brewing company. A year and a half later I still have a few bombers in my beer fridge that I am holding on to. Their beer resonated with me be because like myself, Pretty Things brewed a wide array of styles. Pretty Things experimented without being different just for the sake of being different.

Last I heard, Pretty Things owners Dann and Martha Pauquette were brewing in Scotland. A year and a half later the taste of their flagship Jack D’Or becomes more of a distant memory. I opened my last bottle of the beer last November, almost a year after the brand ceased operations. I held onto that bottle for too long and just wasn’t the same at all. Jack D’Or was a hop-forward beer and I should have enjoyed it fresh.

The last bottle…for now!!

Jack D’Or wasn’t a pure saison like Du Pont. Dann and Martha conceived the beer as an American table beer. The malts and hops were all American. A firm bitterness and four yeast strains gave the beer its spicy flavor that made it drink like a Belgian saison. Like many local beer lovers, Jack D’Or was one of the first saisons I can recall drinking. The only way I could relive that taste and the proper level of freshness would be to brew a clone.

A website called Crafted Pours published a clone of Jack D’Or. I am not familiar with the website, and there is no individual listed as the creator of the recipe. The recipe looks reasonable enough. I used that as a bit of a starting point.

Pretty Things website is still up with some information on their core offerings. The information was just some short blurbs, no deails like ingredients, ABV, or IBUs that would be useful for my purposes. Thankfully Beer Advocate still has a more detailed description.

Based on the description I removed the rye from Crafted Pours recipe, while tweaking some of the other malts based on what we carry at the shop. I adjusted the hop regimen so that the Nugget and Palisade were added late in the boil to more closely match the description on Beer Advocate. BA indicated there were four hops total. I don’t recall Jack D’Or having a huge citrus or pine flavor so American Pale Ale or IPA hops wouldn’t seem to fit. I used Columbus for bittering, and Northern Brewer for flavor. Northern Brewer can give any style of beer a rustic flavor.

My BIAB grains in a bag

A saison is supposed to be a dry, effervescent beer. As such I did add some dextrose to the recipe to dry the beer out and enhance the phenols from the yeast. For yeast I used a sachet of Belle Saison yeast I picked up at Homebrew Con last year.

I was really tempted to brew a five gallon batch. Having not brewed in almost two months I wanted to keep my brew day simple, have time to pull off a double brew day, and bottle Summer Somewhere.

Pre-boil volume on point

Last year most of my batches were of the three gallon, brew-in-a-bag variety. This was my first such batch since February. I was still dialed in with this system. My volumes and starting gravity were both on the money.

A hair above three gallons

Like I did three years ago, I plan to combat the summer heat in the brewhouse by brewing Belgian styles that I can ferment at a warmer temperature. Brewing on the third floor in the summer can be quite hot. Running the stove and an air conditioner in another room makes my circuit breaker go crazy. 

I took Homebrew Con week off in case we decided to or were able to go. The upshot was that I was able to plan my brew day on the coolest day of the week. I have two other Belgian-style beers planned that I will be brewing at home. Hopefully I can brew on a relatively cool day again. 
See the full recipe here.

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Brew Day: Summer Somewhere 2017 (British Golden Ale)

British golden ale is a style I first learned about when the draft version of the new Beer Judge Certification Program style guidelines were published in 2014. The style developed in England as a summer seasonal. Light in color and body, British golden ale is perfect for the summer. Unlike traditional bitters which are primarily malt focused, golden ale has a similar hop character to an American pale ale. 

This is my third batch of Summer Somewhere. Every year the ingredients have changed, but the recipe has been mostly the same: 95% base malt, 5% flaked maize, British yeast. In 2015 I used Irish Stout Malt, Irish Ale yeast, and Galaxy hops, while last year I used Munton’s Propino malt, London Ale III yeast, and Styrian Bobek hops with Cluster for bittering.
While rushing to brew Summer of Jennie, Transistor Radio, ‘Murica and another beer for Homebrew Talk, I decided to brew Summer Somewhere as an extract batch. The thinking was that I could more easily brew an extract batch on a double brew day. I ended up brewing the batch while bottling and racking several other batches.
In keeping with previous recipes I used Munton’s Extra Light extract to give the beer a British malt flavor, but keeping the color as light as possible. I added half of the extract at the beginning of my boil, and the other half at the end to guard against the extract caramelizing in the kettle.
I did steep a little bit of leftover Propino malt from last year to try and impart some fresh malt flavor and aroma from the freshly cracked malt. There are conflicting reports about steeping as opposed to mashing base malts. I made sure to steep the malt in a temperature range where the starches had a chance to convert. In lieu of flaked maize I used simple corn sugar to lighten the body. 

Munton’s is the only extract I’ll use in British styles.

Steeping just a little base malt.

With my malt and yeast I also took the easy route. I harvested some Ringwood Ale yeast from Transistor Radio, and used some of my bulk Centennial hops as the single hop

This batch is ready to bottle as soon as I dedicate some time to bottling. I want to enter it into a competition in July and have some time off coming up next week. I did rack the beer to a secondary to help it clear. This batch should be ready to go for July 4 and my homebrew club’s summer cookout. 
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Searching for a new brewhouse

One of my most frequent laments in this space is dealing with the limitations of brewing in a third floor apartment. Our apartment is fairly nice, and the rent is very cheap. For brewing it is far from ideal. There is no yard or deck to brew outside on. Our electric stove can only boil up to 4.5 gallons, and it takes a bit of time to get up to a boil. We also don’t have space for a kegerator or keezer, so I bottle almost all of my batches.

The blog has been quiet as of late because Jennie and I have been looking for a house. Her car is paid off and her student loans are almost paid off. Now is as good of a time as any.

As we look at houses it is embarrassing to admit how much I think about brewing. Does the yard get enough sunlight to plant hops? Could I run a gas line outside to hook up to my propane burner? Is there a place I can ferment lagers in the winter? Where will I put the keezer I want to build?

Soon enough I will fire this guy up. 

Having lived in apartments most of my life there are also some pretty mundane things I look forward to. Not having to go to a laundromat is mind-blowing to think about. I am super excited to be able to cook on the grill any time I want. A burger off the grill has been a special treat that I can only enjoy when someone else has a cookout.

Our apartment being as small as it is isn’t conducive to entertaining. One time we had about five people over and it felt like people were standing on top of each other. Once we’re moved in and settled, I look forward to having a huge housewarming party. I want to brew a ton of beer and make it a keg party.

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Tasting Notes: Endicott Red (International Amber Lager)

I brewed Endicott Red for two purposes: I wanted to brew an Irish Red for St. Patrick’s Day while feeling nostalgic about drinking mass-marketed lager at a chain restaurant. Drinking the beer as it conditioned in the bottle was in interesting demonstration as to the effects of carbonation on a beer.

The beer was designed to be light to medium-light in body. To work around my yeast’s modest attenuation I added extra priming sugar so the higher carbonation would give the beer the body I was looking for.

The beer I made was okay. It was clean and fairly easy to drink. I entered the beer at the National Homebrew Competition where it scored a respectable 32. That feels about right to me. At nationals to cope with the volume of entries, judges use a modified scoresheet that doesn’t provide as much feedback as one would normally expect.

The beer has a nice grainy malt aroma. I made Jennie taste the beer with me and she got a hint of citrus. The beer pours dark copper with a moderate foamy white head that persists decently enough. Medium bodied with medium-high carbonation, the beer has a nice clean finish.

The flavor is mostly grainy and doughy base malt, with a touch of raisin. There is a slight acidity which I attribute the citrus aroma Jennie was getting to. I may have added a little too much lactic acid to my mash, or it could just be the carbonation.

To me the beer doesn’t know what it wants to be. When it was young and the carbonation was only at a medium level, the beer did drink like an Irish Red. As the beer aged and carbed up to a medium high level, it did lighten the body as I had hoped. It also dried out the beer a little more than I would have liked.

I want to brew this beer again next year, but with an ale yeast as a true Irish red. I may even reduce the color and/or amount of caramel malt. The next time I brew an amber lager I will certainly use a lighter base malt to lighten the malt flavor.

The beer is perfectly enjoyable. My best friend who isn’t a craft beer drinker absolutely loved the beer. He dislikes hop bitterness and hop flavor, and this had little to none of both. When he stopped by to visit, I sent him home with a six pack. That’s enough for me to call this batch a success.

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Fake Beer – the scourge of crappy internet recipes

In the wake of the 2016 election, the moral panic that is fake news sprung to public consciousness. I would argue that even more of a threat to society than fake stories about the pope endorsing Donald Trump or the Russians allegedly making up stuff about Hillary Clinton, is what I call “fake beer”.

Image result for fake news

Just as the internet and social media has made it easier for people to share news, videos, and opinions it has made it easier for brewers to share recipes. That applies to commercial brewers and beer experts as well brewers who may or may not know what they are doing. There are websites like BrewToad and Brewers Friend that have tools to help brewers design and share recipes. These websites are great resources, but unfortunately they are also breeding grounds for “fake beer”.

Anyone can create and share recipes on these sites. Unfortunately there is no extreme vetting going on to make sure these recipes are any good or if they conform to style. Untold numbers of these fake beer recipes are sitting in the ether, waiting to deceive a new or inexperienced brewer to find them and think they are proven recipes that are accurate representations of the style they purport to be. I shudder to think that someone might find one of my early recipes online and attempt to brew it.

One fake beer recipe I saw was supposed to be a Scottish Ale, but it called for eight pounds of dark malt extract and a late hop addition. It may actually have been a decent Brown Ale recipe, but a Scottish Ale it was not. Luckily I was able to look at the recipe and explain to the brewer what was wrong with it and suggest changes. Sadly too many brewers cling to their fake beer recipes like that one Facebook friend that still believes Barack Obama was born in Kenya.

If you are a new and/or inexperienced brewer here are some quality sources of beer recipes that will steer you clear of fake beer:

  • The American Homebrewer’s Association (AHA): Every brewer should join the AHA just for Zymurgy magazine which features around a dozen great recipes in each issue. AHA members also have access to award winning recipes from the National Homebrew Competition. The AHA also publishes recipes and articles from noted craft brewers for free on its website.
  • Craft Beer and Brewing: The Craft Beer and Brewing magazine is perfect for a brewer that is also a huge craft beer fan; as the name suggests the magazine and website focus equally on craft beer and brewing. Any organization that can publish a clone recipe for Double Sunshine can be trusted.
  • Brew Your Own: BYO publishes lots of great clone recipes and articles on different beer styles. Many are available for free on their website including several of Jamil Zanichieff’s recipes from Brewing Classic Styles. 
  • Brulosophy
  • Michael Tonsmeire: The Mad Fermentationist
  • Any book published by Brewers Publications: Brewing Classic Styles is the book I always reference when brewing a style for the first time or starting a new recipe. The insight into each style is at least as useful as the actual recipes. I also highly recommend Gordon Strong’s Modern Homebrew Recipes. Two other titles suggested my members of the Home Brew Network Facebook group: Clone Brews and Radical Brewing
  • Experimental Brewing: Authors Denny Conn and Drew Beechum have also published books for Brewers Publications. 
  • Shut Up About Barclay Perkins: These recipes are from actual brewing logs thanks to Ron Pattinson’s extensive research. A go-to resource for historic British styles. 
  • Actual breweries: Stone, Sierra Nevada, Ballast Point, and Brew Dog are just a few commercial brewers who have released actual recipes to the public. 
  • Recipe kits: The only difference between buying a kit and putting together your own recipe is that the former is pre-packaged in a box, while the latter likely leaves the shop in a bag. I think there is merit for brewers of all experience levels to brew a kit from time to time. There are lots of ingredients that I would never have tried if they weren’t included in a kit. Some shops sell kits based on recipes directly from commercial brewers. 
  • Homebrew Academy: I am not too familiar with this site, but it came recommended on The Homebrew Network Facebook group. Homebrew Academy features recipes, gear reviews, and articles on brewing techniques. 
  • Beer and Wine Journal: Another suggested site I am not overly familiar with, but a quick scan of a couple of articles makes me comfortable adding it to the list. Generally if a recipe is accompanied by an article there is a better chance it is not a fake beer recipe. 
  • HomeBrewTalk*: HBT has a trove of recipes. These recipes aren’t necessarily directly from commercial brewers or homebrewing luminaries, but as a message board many of the recipes have long discussion threads. In the threads other users provide feedback, and users will describe how they have tweaked the recipe over time. HBT has massive threads where users have collaborated to clone beers like Heady Topper and Westvleteren 12.
This is not to say that recipes published online by obscure or anonymous users are all worthless or all bad. With any recipe you find never hesitate to look at it with a critical eye. Do the ingredients in the recipe make sense? Will they provide the flavors that you’re looking for? If it is a commercial clone recipe, do the ingredients match any information provided by the brewery itself? If the recipe includes brewer’s notes that is always a plus.  
If you see something that you are sure isn’t quite right or doesn’t make sense, don’t hesitate to change it. Even the sources I listed aren’t always bulletproof. I brewed a clone of Sierra Nevada Celebration based on a BYO recipe, but I made a couple tweaks after double checking Sierra Nevada’s website and my own intuition.

If you aren’t sure if the recipe you are looking at makes sense or is fake beer never hesitate to ask another brewer for feedback. This is where building relationships with the staff at your local homebrew shop, making friends with people at your local craft brewery, or joining a  homebrew club can be an invaluable resource. This advice is coming from a person who abhors small talk and forced social interaction.

As I describe the threat that fake beer poses with tongue firmly in-cheek, the real threat fake beer poses is that if  new or inexperienced brewers brews one of these poorly constructed recipes and the beer doesn’t come out the way they had hoped. Putting the time and effort in to brew a batch and not having it come out the way you had hoped can be discouraging to any brewer. As a community we need to do what we can to guard against other brewers making a crappy beer because they were using a crappy recipe and then losing interest in the hobby because their beer was crappy.

Beer recipes are like anything else you see on the internet, The more reputable the source, the more confidence you can have that all the ingredients in that recipe are there for the right reasons. Always approach everything you see with a degree of skepticism and evaluate it before accepting it as gospel truth.

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*Disclosure: I am a contributor at HBT

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