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Big John - Goose Island Beer Co.

Not Rated.
Big JohnBig John

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1,499 Ratings
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Ratings: 1,499
Reviews: 442
rAvg: 4.08
pDev: 11.03%
Wants: 166
Gots: 595 | FT: 52
Brewed by:
Goose Island Beer Co. visit their website
Illinois, United States

Style | ABV
American Double / Imperial Stout |  11.50% ABV

Availability: Rotating

Notes & Commercial Description:
Beer added by: aasher on 03-13-2011

Brewmasters Notes:
Inspired by the epic skyline of Chicago, Goose Island's brewers set out to craft Big John; a tall, bold slugger of a stout that stands out vividly against the little soft beers out there. Epic amounts of roasted malt and an addition of cacoa nibs give Big John a massive chocolate flavor and aroma. With a body as substantial and black as the building to which it pays homage, Big John is sure to inspire a sense of awe with each sip.
Beer: Ratings & Reviews
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Ratings: 1,499 | Reviews: 442
Photo of EgadBananas
3.81/5  rDev -6.6%
look: 4 | smell: 3 | taste: 4 | feel: 4.5 | overall: 4

Bottle courtesy of JM03! Thanks bro!

A - Thick, black pour. Looks vicious. Head was a modest, slight dark mocha color, maybe half a finger courtesy an agro-pour. Dissipates fast to a film around the edges.

S - Some graham cracker aromas, roasted notes, slight chocolate and dark fruits. Some oak and vanilla as well. Good, but nothing stellar.

T - Nice big chocolate bits, bakers and dark. Vanilla comes through, some wood and dark fruits. Very rich.

M - Thick and vicious. Full bodied, and coating. Sits heavy on the palate and thats the way it should be.

D/O - Drinkability is good for how big this brew is. Finishing the bottle wont be hard. Overall, I really enjoyed this bad boy!

Photo of Reagan1984
3.97/5  rDev -2.7%
look: 3.5 | smell: 4 | taste: 4 | feel: 4 | overall: 4

As I often do, I need to thank Masterski for providing this beer. It was our drink of choice during the 3rd period of Bruins Game 7 last night. Great game and really nice beer. Thanks Alex!

Even with an aggressive pour you hardly get a bubble atop this beer let alone a head. Shiny black colored. Looks very slick and also fairly thick.

Sweet chocolate syrup aroma with plenty of dark roasted malt to compliment this sweetness.

Flavor reminded me of malted milk at times and other moments like Nestle’s Quik. A hint of molasses perhaps. Pretty sweet. The cacao nibs seemed to add depth to the dark roasted malt flavors.

Slick as advertised and pretty bold body. Carbonation did not come to mind, but it also wasn’t flat. Just a prickle to liven up the flavor.

Nice little beer, but certainly no BCS....

Photo of glid02
4.17/5  rDev +2.2%
look: 4 | smell: 4.5 | taste: 4 | feel: 4.5 | overall: 4

Bottle shared by Dan – much obliged!

Pours black with a half-finger brown head. The head recedes into a thin layer on top leaving decent lacing and decent legs.

Smells of heavy molasses backed by roasted malts with hints of dark chocolate and vanilla lurking in the background.

Tastes similar to how it smells though a bit more one-dimensional. Roasted malt flavors kick things off and are joined quickly by solid amounts of dark chocolate. Midway through the sip the flavor profile sweetens significantly with the addition of loads of molasses. The molasses carries through to a mildly sweet ending, tempered only by slight earthy hops.

Mouthfeel is very good. It’s got a smooth thickness with grainy carbonation.

Drinkability is good. I didn’t have a problem finishing my glass and could have another.

Overall this wasn’t quite as sweet as I had feared but if the molasses influence were cut down a bit this would be a much better beer. Still, worth a shot as it is, and I’ll be interested to see other treatments of this beer.

Photo of Buebie
2.54/5  rDev -37.7%
look: 3 | smell: 4 | taste: 2 | feel: 2 | overall: 2

Poured rigorously into an oversized snifter producing a couple inch dark brown head. Settling to leave a solid collar and minimal lace.
Dark as night.
Aroma is roasty and filled with burnt tootsy rolls, loads of grain and malt, dark unsweetened chocolate. Mild toasted wood with some very oaty aroma as well.
Poured out like a thick inky liquid, eager to see what the mouthfeel delivers.
Oh my, mouthfeel is thick creamy and creamy smooth.
Heating up the esophagus as it slides down my throat. But heat on the pallet is not much present. Surprising.
Taste is pretty damn rich and waa waa wee waah malt, a bit too sweet though giving off some undesired cola taste.
Overly mild carbonation presence also creating a bit of an unbalanced feel.
For me its too sweet and syrupy, overpowering in this regard, preventing me from wanting more then a few sips. I wish I had some people over because I really cant drink any more of this. I will choke it down due to the price, plus I'm out of beer. Aside from that it would probably be a drain pour.

Great effort, but I'll pass. Overbearing.

Photo of mikesgroove
4.5/5  rDev +10.3%
look: 4.5 | smell: 4.5 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 4.5 | overall: 4.5

shared with calton after work in hobo tasting number 9, i really enjoyed this on tremendously, poured into a pint glass.

Pitch black as night with a light tan head of maybe an inch and a half across the top. This faded down to about a quarter inch but never got any lower then that. Lots of side glass lacing all over the sides as it went down. The aroma was a touch boozy, with tons of chocolate and roasted malts coming through. Almost a licorice like smell as it warms, incredible. As I take my first sip I am floored, rich vanilla and cocoa taste with a large dose of roasted malts. Tons of flavor here, with bourbon notes really coming through on this one. I am literally drooling as I write this that I dont have any left. The finish was soo smooth, and chocolate filled, it was a dessert beer to the extreme. For 11.5% you would think there would be a ton of alcohol swimming in this one,but it was as smooth as could be.

overall really nicely done, dont know why its getting hate i think they have done a very good job with this.

Photo of biglite351
3.98/5  rDev -2.5%
look: 3.5 | smell: 3 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 4.5 | overall: 4

A - black as tar, but next to no head, which was a dark tan.

S - heavy malts, prune, mold chocolate and a hint of coffee... but mild overall.

T - cola, coffee and prune. Raisin and malts. Very rich.

M - thick with a mild tingle all over tongue and top of throat.

O - I could get very used to drinking these. A little less flat would really set this off.

Photo of Snow81
3.58/5  rDev -12.3%
look: 4.5 | smell: 4 | taste: 3 | feel: 3.5 | overall: 4

Appearance: Black as night, but light sneaks in a bit

Head: Dark rich frosty brown head that dissipates quite quickly

Smell: Roosted burnt malts that has a bit of heat on the nose. Hints of coco but still very subtle

Taste: Toasted malts, bitter back notes, almost seems the water they used seemed off

Weight: Medium to light body with a low carbonation

Finish: Bit of heat with the roosted malts and a bit of hops on the back end

Photo of MaxSpang
4.23/5  rDev +3.7%
look: 4.5 | smell: 4 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 4 | overall: 4

Poured from a bomber into a snifter. Brewed in March 2011.


Blacker than black, just a hair of light came through as it was being poured. The head was mocha/chocolate milk colored, small, and dissipated fairly quickly. There was a good amount of lacing as I drank it.


Strong raisin character in the nose. The alcohol was definitely present. There was a good amount of chocolate, as well as some bready/biscuit aromas. Some nice roasted malt aroma came through along with some very pleasant dark fruit aromas.


Yum! Much like the nose, there was a big raisin character. Some alcohol was present, but it was not boozy in the least bit. Some of the bitter pure bitter cacao came through at first, but got more subtle as I drank more which created a very, very tasty chocolate flavor. It was almost milky as far as the flavor and mouthfeel. It was very sweet but had a nice bitter finish after you swallow. Very lovely beer, very enjoyable.


Very thick. Not quite syrupy, but very sticky. Very little carbonation. It was extremely warming and extremely smooth, it was like drinking velvet - it went down very easily. As smooth as it was, the sheer body of it made the bottle last quite a long time. This is definitely a sipping beer and would be a wonderful winter time night cap.


This is a wonderful beer. A very sweet-chocolatey beer, almost dessert like. While it's not the end-all-be-all Imperial Stout, this is a wonderful beer that I would definitely drink again.

Photo of RedHaze
2.48/5  rDev -39.2%
look: 3.5 | smell: 3 | taste: 2 | feel: 3.5 | overall: 2

Scored this a few days ago at Beertopia in Omaha.

Pours inky black, just like all of Goose Islands big stouts, with a thin head despite a fairly hard pour. The foam disappear almost completely in short order, leaving only small traces of lace.

Smell; lots of alcohol in the nose especially as it warms, and a ton of sweetness. Dark fruits are present adding the sweet.

Taste; first sip is overly sweet followed by alcohol burn. Some roastiness does make an appearance, but it gets quickly overwhelmed by alcohol soaked plums and raisins and sugary chocolatey sweetness. This beer is really damn sweet and alcoholic, to the point that it took me a while to pick out much else.

Mouthfeel is medium to full bodied, and would have been better had there been more carbonation.

Overall I really struggled to drink the half bottle I had, and if I had not been sharing, I think the other half would have been a drain pour. Easily my least favorite GI beer I've had in a long while, and I'm glad I only picked up the one bottle.

Photo of jlindros
4.15/5  rDev +1.7%
look: 4.5 | smell: 4.5 | taste: 4 | feel: 4 | overall: 4

Had at SMBDC growler/bottle tasting thanks to BlessedBeBeer.

A: Bit of a dark creamy darker head, dark brownish black colored beer.

N: Roast, choc malts, caramel malts, light vanilla, chewy malts, light oats, little syrupy, dark malts, bit earthy, slight herbal hops, touch of cocoa.

T: Chewy, slight creamy malts, thick and a bit rich, dark malts, caramel and a bit rich, dark malts, caramel, malts, roast, bit choc malts, cocoa nibs, syrupy, bit of warming booze, baker's chocolate, tingly booze, needs cellaring. FInishes a bit hot, some earthy hops, chocolate, light roasted malts, and syrupy.

M: Med to heavier bodied, decent carb, bit of warming booze.

O: Pretty good, decent chocolate, little hot, nice malts, some earthy hops, tasty but needs some aging.

Photo of silentjay
3.46/5  rDev -15.2%
look: 4 | smell: 3 | taste: 3.5 | feel: 4 | overall: 3.5

pours a dark brown/black with a smallish tan head that settles to a small film, yet laces well.

the aroma is kind of weak with some dark fruits, molasses, a bit of bitter cacao, maybe some soy sauce, a bit of black licorice. meh.

molasses is first with some dark fruits, alcohol, licorice, followed up by bitter cacao and some nuttiness. raisin, licorice, and molasses flavor is reminiscent of Night Stalker, which I wasn't terribly fond of, and the addition of cocoa nibs isn't quite heavy-handed enough to make this one much better.

full-bodied with just a touch too much carbonation and a syrupy feel left in the mouth and a bitter (licorice and cacao) aftertaste.

It's good, not great. I wouldn't have seeked it out like many others did, but I happened to see it on the shelf and couldn't turn it down. I'll put the other bottle in the cellar.

Photo of bluejacket74
4.17/5  rDev +2.2%
look: 3.5 | smell: 4 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 4 | overall: 4

22 ounce bottle, bottled on 3/25/11. Served in a DFH Signature Glass, the beer pours dark brown/black with a half inch brown head that didn't stay around for very long. There's a decent amount of lacing left on the glass. Aroma is mostly sweet, the brew smells like roasted malt, chocolate, dark fruit, and a bit of coffee. Taste is similar to the aroma, but there's the addition of some licorice and molasses. Also, the sweet and bitter flavors in this beer are balanced pretty well at first, then the sweet flavors take over more as the beer gets warmer. Mouthfeel/body is medium/full, it's creamy and a bit coating with moderate carbonation. It's also smooth and easy to drink. It's a good overall beer, it'll be interesting to see how this one ages.

Photo of hotmanflab666
3.41/5  rDev -16.4%
look: 4.5 | smell: 3.5 | taste: 3 | feel: 4 | overall: 3.5

a long wait for this and all i can say is not impressed, drank from a snifter this beer has virtually no head and a strange almost cola like smell. not a very good cocoa flavor but nothing bad. big john wasn't awful but didn't really do it for me, i'll just stick with the regular bourbon county

Photo of sweemzander
3.96/5  rDev -2.9%
look: 4 | smell: 3 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 4 | overall: 4

22oz. bottle poured into a snifter. 03/25/11 bottled date. Thanks to cjacobsen for sharing!

(A)- Pours a fairly thick pitch black color. Produced a decent cap of tan froth. Surprising retention for the ABV.

(S)- A good roasted profile. Bits of cocoa, raisin, and a light spice.

(T)- Similar to the smell. A really nice combo of a green hoppy roasted profile with a dry yet sweet neutral cocoa flavor.

(M)- A good mellow carbonation level. A nice balance too of roasted, sweet, and hoppy. Just a bit too green yet for my taste.

(D)- A solid to great stout. I can see this getting even better and a great idea to try it around the end of the year holidays to see how it has developed.

Photo of Mdog
4.67/5  rDev +14.5%
look: 4.5 | smell: 5 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 5 | overall: 4.5

Appearance: Opaque black, big head.

Smell: Sweet chocolate, dark fruit, coffee, very nice!

Taste: Starts out sweet and fruity with chocolate mostly in the finish. As it warms up the chocolate starts earlier and earlier.

Mouthfeel: Very thick stuff, coating.

Drinkability: Not too expensive, but pretty hard to find. My bottle went down pretty easy for a strong beer.

This was some good smelling, good tasting stuff. The alcohol was hidden despite the strength. On the sweeter side, but that's how I prefer my big stouts. If you can find it, it's a good one!

Photo of Reaper16
3.93/5  rDev -3.7%
look: 4 | smell: 3.5 | taste: 4 | feel: 4.5 | overall: 4

22oz bomber poured into snifter @ Beer Kitchen, Kansas City, MO

Pours an inky-ass black shade. I can make out a perfect reflection of myself in the glass. Hell, it's so black that I can see the reflection of the reflection of the basketball game on in this restaurant (the reflection of the game on the TV in front of my head onto the windows behind me is further reflected in my glass). Not much head here: way less than a finger and not enough to get an accurate color read, though it did seem lighter in color than most imperial stout foam.

The nose of Big John is intense, but boring. It's like "Here are a bunch of intense aromas, how do you like them?" And I'm all "Could you have made them gel together better?" Lots of dark fruits and black licorice and chocolate cake and chocolate milk and bitter cocoa beans and bitter coffee beans. It is a little too strong and disjointed and perhaps too intense.

Big John tastes better than it smells, but it still doesn't blow me away. Lots of chocolate flavor, lots of maltymaltymalty malts. Some coffee grounds. A splash of dark fruits brighten up the licorice. I don't miss the bourbon barrel treatment that Big John's daddy -- Bourbon County Brand Stout -- has, but at the same time the diminished spirits flavor in Big John leaves the other flavors to go willy-nilly. There's nothing keeping this beer in check, and as a result it is not balances. Too much one-dimensional candy sweetness. Still, this bottle isn't as imbalanced as other reviewers' experiences speak to. It's good, there's just too much flavor to balance and refine.

The mouthfeel is as good as other Goose Island imperial stouts: thick, creamy, sticky, coating. Not a thing to complain about with Big John's performance in my mouth. Overall, this was a good bottle of beer. It is not in the same class as the BCBS family of stouts from Goose Island, nor is it in the same realm as fresh Goose Island Nightstalker. Still, it's worth purchasing, especially for fans of Southern Tier stouts or Dark Lord. Put a bottle or two away for a few years. It has too much sweetness and needs to mature. Right now, though, it still drinks quite well.

Photo of alleykatking
3.62/5  rDev -11.3%
look: 3.5 | smell: 4 | taste: 3.5 | feel: 3.5 | overall: 3.5

Poured from 22oz bottle.

A- Pours a oil black color. One and a half finger tan head shows light retention. Lacing from this beer is light streaks here and there.

S- Roasted malts come in first in the aroma. Chocolate comes in next but not in the full force that I thought. Molasses also come through in hints. Darker fruits do come in the backing with another dash of chocolate. Alcohol heat shows up throughout the entire aroma.

T- Alcohol first off shows up through the entire beer. This beer really needs to be set aside for awhile. Ok now that I said this lets get on with the rest of the review. Roasted malts come in the front with hints of molasses right off the get go. Chocolate does come in next but once again it is not as standout as I thought it was going to be. Middle of the beer shows a little bit of alcohol along with hints of caramel and toffee malts. Darker fruits show up in the ending first that is soaked into a light chocolate covered ripe darker fruit. Alcohol is very in your face in the very ending killing off most other fruits.

M- Medium heavy mouthfeel. Carbonation is good for the style. Light chocolate, darker fruits, and alcohol are left on the palate. Aftertaste is heavy alcohol heat, darker fruit, and light chocolate flavor. Flavors are a little off balanced but only because of the alcohol heat that gives off somewhat of a off flavor. Heavy alcohol drying on the palate after each sip.

O- This beer first off will only get better I think over time. The alcohol really needs to cool off which like I said before will. The chocolate needs to come out a little more for this to be more enjoyable to me. A very good beer that I am glad to have a couple sitting in the cellar.

Photo of biggred1
4.08/5  rDev 0%
look: 4.5 | smell: 4 | taste: 4 | feel: 4.5 | overall: 4

Dark, chocolate brown with some of the darkest russet colored foam I've ever seen. Molten fudge, cocoa powder, anise, dark fruit and rum with black strap molasses in the aroma. Semi-sweet chocolate, anise and raisin flavors with warming alcohol and a dry finish. Full bodied with velvety smooth carbonation. Big John is a monster Stout and I really like it a lot. It's not quite up to the level of most of GI's big Stouts but not many are.

Photo of craytonic
3.95/5  rDev -3.2%
look: 4 | smell: 4 | taste: 4 | feel: 3.5 | overall: 4

Appearance: Black pour with a large tan head, perhaps a bit over-carbonated

Smell: Roasted malt and rich, sweet chocolate. Touches of molasses also.

Taste: Rich, sweet chocolate, molasses, brown sugar, fudge and brownie batter. Almost too sweet; very rich.

Mouthfeel: Slightly over carbonated, otherwise very full and rich

Overall: Rich, chocolaty, and sweet. Enjoyable but a touch over-carbonated.

Photo of TKEbeerman
3.8/5  rDev -6.9%
look: 4 | smell: 4 | taste: 3.5 | feel: 4 | overall: 4

A: Poured into my pint glass, this stout pours a rich black oil with a larger, sturdy tan head.

S: The aroma is full of deep roasted malt and rich chocolate. Medium notes of molasses and alcohol notes.

T: The flavor reveals a roasted molasses soaked brew with chocolate and deep caramel/toffee notes. Alcohol is definitely present and could be better hidden.

MF: Mouthfeel is large and rich.

Overall, not the best stout from Goose Island, but many other breweries can't brew a stout at this level. I would have liked a smaller ABV, a really some more chocolate.

Photo of Lunch
3.11/5  rDev -23.8%
look: 4 | smell: 3 | taste: 3 | feel: 3.5 | overall: 3

Received from a generous trader, aasher at DLD 2011. Thanks, Al!

Poured from 22oz. bottle into a Jester King snifter. Looks fairly thick and almost black, but nowhere near any of their Bourbon County Brand Stouts or Night Stalker.

Smell is so far from where that I thought that this beer would be. Where is the chocolate? This is all dark fruit and alcohol. Taste is all dark fruit as well. No chocolate to speak of. As the kids say "wtfuck". Medium-bodied, but less than what I expected.

This is a very disappointing beer that I am glad now that I was unable to find any locally on shelves. Truly sub-par for Goose Island.

Photo of ShanePB
3.99/5  rDev -2.2%
look: 3 | smell: 4 | taste: 4 | feel: 4.5 | overall: 4

22 ounce bottle split between myself and two friends. We let the bottle warm up a bit from the fridge and poured into three snifter glasses.

A: Pitch, motor oil black on the pour, sludgy and thick. Really no head whatsoever, even with being quite vigorous, a small ring of brown bubbles tried to cling around the glass. I would have appreciated more of a head on this one, but I guess for 11.5% it isn't too bad. Easily improvable but alas...

S: Rich, pungent and sweet chocolate morsel notes fill the nose. This lingers for quite some time before a bit of roasted coffee beans, vanilla and caramel malt come through. It immediately screams 'dessert beer' with how sweet it is.. no notion of hops, finishing with a slight twinge of grain alcohol in the back.

T: Cloyingly sweet, milky chocolate notes up front. The flavor turns a bit bitter and let's through some vanilla and coffee but not much as chocolate is truly the dominating flavor here. There is some noticeable heat from the rather high ABV but it's nothing detracting from flavor or experience...it's just there.

M: Creamy, thick, full-bodied and lower on the carbonation. Nicely done here.

Big John definitely surprised me with how sweet it was, but it was rather balanced for how big and chocolatey it is. It's nothing like other big stouts made with chocolate in that respect, instead this is a rather graceful blending of flavors, both sweet and bitter.

Photo of Ryan011235
2.7/5  rDev -33.8%
look: 4 | smell: 1.5 | taste: 3 | feel: 3 | overall: 3

Poured into a snifter on 5/16/11

Bottled 3/25/11

Deep brown color that is all but jet-black in the glass. No light gets through this one. Determined to get a decent head, I pulled the classic slow drizzle card (no dropped bottles; you're welcome). I was pleased enough with the resulting cap: one thumb of toasted brown foam. Of course, retention is thin though a skim and some bubbles remain. A few globby strands of lace have held thus far.

Undergoing shifting aromas and upheaval, the nose is suspect. Calling it unpleasant is a half-hearted gift. Weird things are going on here. Once in the glass, the first thing I smell? Tomato Paste. No lie. What the hell is this, Hop Henge IPA? Bare Tree Weiss Wine 2007? Get right out of town. A few minutes later, it starts smelling like a proper imperial stout. Roasted chocolate, dusty cocoa powder, and undertones of tangy dark fruit. Reminds me of Hersey's powder chocolate milk mix. Guess what? Yep, the tomato comes back, this time with leafy hop friends. It goes back and forth in this manner. At least it doesn't smell boozy. Yeesh.

Once set to sipping, the beer tastes far more enjoyable than it smells; not a hard feat to accomplish. That said, it isn't spectacular. The powdered aspects of the cocoa nibs flow along in a stream of semi-sweet, burnt dark chocolate. At times it seems rather sweet; other times not so much. As the temperature nears room, the sugars start to crowd the burnt notions and things start to get messy. While some alcohol heat was had on the first sip, it wasn't too much. However, in conjunction with the burnt sweetness the booze moves toward obnoxiousness. Finishes with char, sticky sweetness and some mildly numbing heat.

Full bodied with a moderate, viscous resistance. Make no mistake, Big John is still a heavy imperial stout in a world filled with heavy imperial stouts (a notion room temperature ascertains). Ah, who am I kidding? It's like cake batter once it warms up. While it was still cold, the cocoa nibs translated to a powdery, granular feel. As the beer warms, that granular feel wanes. Carbonation is appropriate, doing its best to hoist this critter. The latter half is slick and coating.

The John Hancock Center is my favorite skyscraper. Alas, for an imperial stout, Big John doesn't even come close.

Photo of THECPJ
4/5  rDev -2%
look: 4 | smell: 4 | taste: 4 | feel: 4 | overall: 4

Reviewed from notes:

appearance: black with a 1 finger mocha head

smell: roast, molasses, chocolate,

taste: bitter chocolate, dry, thick

mouthfeel: mild carbonation, full body,

overall: wish it was a bit sweeter but overall not a bad stout.

The cpj

Photo of waltonc
4.37/5  rDev +7.1%
look: 4 | smell: 4.5 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 4.5 | overall: 4

Visited NYC this past weekend and chanced upon a bottle of this at a Whole Foods. Pours a Bourbon County Stout dark brown. Smells as advertised - lots of roasted malt and chocolate. Flavor is outstanding - velvety chocolate, somewhat sweet and very malty. Balances great against the fairly thick mouthfeel and medium carbonation. Overall, I was a big fan of this beer and wish I had a few more bottles.

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Big John from Goose Island Beer Co.
91 out of 100 based on 1,499 ratings.