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J.W. Lees Vintage Harvest Ale | J.W. Lees & Co (Brewers) Ltd

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850 Reviews
J.W. Lees Vintage Harvest AleJ.W. Lees Vintage Harvest Ale

Brewed by:
J.W. Lees & Co (Brewers) Ltd
United Kingdom (England)

Style: English Barleywine

Alcohol by volume (ABV): 11.50%

Availability: Year-round

Notes / Commercial Description:
No notes at this time.

Added by Todd on 12-18-2000

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Reviews: 850 | Ratings: 1,488
Photo of jabocu
4.45/5  rDev +4.7%
look: 4 | smell: 4 | taste: 5 | feel: 4.5 | overall: 4

2000 Edition

This has been laid back since 2000 and WOW. Pours a amber/copper color with a nice 2 finger cap. Lots of floral and fruity esters in the aroma with sweet molasses, caramel, and figs. Flavor was full and sweet. Lots of fruit of raisins, figs, and a viscous quality. Very smooth and not very bitter, but just enough to tone done the sweetness. Rich and smooth is the best way to describe this beer. Too bad that was my last.

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Photo of kpantz
3.88/5  rDev -8.7%
look: 4 | smell: 3.5 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 4 | overall: 3

Review is for the 2000 edition.

Executive Summary: Took a chance on this one, and while it's not all I had hoped for, it's still worth it. This has aged very well. Makes me want to hold on to the 2004 bottle I just grabbed.

Appearance: Pours a deep, murky mahogany into my snifter with a thin off-white head that reduces to little more than a film. Lacing is moderate.

Smell: Would be fantastic if it weren't for this hint of staleness I'm sensing. Wish I could tie it to something. Perhaps musty is the best way I can describe it. Otherwise, raisins and dates are evident.

Taste: Wow. Just wow. I thought I had tasted barleywines before. This is incredible. Sticky-sweet, but not cloying up front and finishes clean, with only a slight alcoholic twinge to it. A very well balanced experience.

Mouthfeel: Candy. My teeth are squeaking. Nice for the style.

Drinkability: Price, intensity of flavor and ABV make this a one-time sipper. Doesn't mean I won't go back and grab a couple more, though ;)

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Photo of unclederby
4.5/5  rDev +5.9%
look: 4.5 | smell: 4.5 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 4.5 | overall: 4.5

2000 vintage... Poured vigorously into a tulip.
Medium amber in color, this ale poured with very little head.
Smell is sweet with notes of bourbon, caramel, raisins, vanilla, molasses and butter. The taste brings all of the bouquet to the fore and it's rich without being cloying really. I'm getting a heavy dose of cherry too. Mouthfeel is full and syrupy and quite satisfying. This is so tasty that i need to slow down... i'm drinking it too fast.
Drinkibility is surprisingly good for the ABV and alcohol is only minimally perceptible; i could drink two bottles easy (before lights out) but like a fine port i'll savor one as something special.

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Photo of HopEnthusiast
3.3/5  rDev -22.4%
look: 3.5 | smell: 3.5 | taste: 3.5 | feel: 3.5 | overall: 2.5

Marked 2004. Decanted from the bottle into a snifter. Pours a quite dark amber color with zero head as expected. Smells of huge malts, cherries, toffee, and alcohol. I've had very few barleywines, so this aroma is quite unique and interesting. The taste is sweet, with raisins, cherries, toffee, and booze all making an appearance. This is so sweet I should have definitely waited to try it later in the day, like after dinner, as opposed to 2 pm. Mouthfeel is quite thick. Drinkability is extremely low as it would take me forever to even finish one of these. I'm conflicted with this beer. It's obviously an excellent beer, but it's so far out of any style I enjoy, that it's hard for me to get too into it.

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Photo of JoeySchlitz
3.52/5  rDev -17.2%
look: 3.5 | smell: 4 | taste: 3.5 | feel: 3.5 | overall: 3

2005 bottle picked up at Healthy Spirits in SF.

Definitely some floaters in this one - let sit still for a while before pouring. Almost no carbonation in this whatsoever - tried pouring from about 3 feet above glass and nothing. A murky brown, cloudy beverage. The smell is really good, picking up rum soaked plums, dates and figs. Pretty boozy and heavy. The taste is super sweet with a slight bitter mustiness at the tail end - reminds me of my grandparent's basement. This has been the same for all JW HA's that I've had - kind of disappointing. The mouth feel is on the more viscous side and would improve greatly if there were any carbonation in it. Given the high ABV, the super sweet flavor and mustiness I could not drink any more than one bottle max. Overall an interesting beer but not something that I would drink on a regular basis.

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Photo of BradenMK
4.53/5  rDev +6.6%
look: 4.25 | smell: 3.75 | taste: 5 | feel: 4.75 | overall: 4.5

The hazy apricot color was pretty brilliant, to be sure, but the smell was perplexing. At first I thought I'd accidentally picked up a wild ale. And, hell, maybe there is some spontaneous fermentation going on in this beast, I wouldn't know, but the thing smelled like bread at first. Not sweet bread, but, like, buttered white toast or something. It has a somewhat sour note to it like sourdough. It put me off at first, but then I poured it from the bottle into a glass.

And everything changed.

The taste is incredible. Massive caramel bomb, to the point that I almost feel like I'm tasting some salt in this. Certainly very sweet up front, reminiscent of sherry but not nearly so raisin-y, though a little bit of white grape juice. Let's call it vinous but without getting raisin-y, if that makes sense, but then it flips a little and the huge caramel/sherry notes fall to earthy hops and a surprising smoky, burnt honey/sugar character. So you have a strong beginning and end, two very distinct vibes, and yet in the middle is more complexity than I recall ever enjoying in a barleywine. Great, great stuff.

Somewhat overcarbonated, not that I expected it to be flat, but there was juuuuuust a bit too many prickles in the mouth to render this beer as smoothly as I feel it ought to be. Medium but thick, though the hops and the smoke (wherever that comes from) cuts the sweetness so much that it never becomes cloying. Heaviness is less than some of my favorite imperial stouts and yet I sipped on this a lot slower than any beers in recent tastings.

The smell certainly improved as it warmed, going from a savory, yeasty bread to that caramelly/chocolatey cake that most people were talking about.

Overall, the most interesting, complex barleywine I've had, possibly, ever. I'd have to give Sucaba another taste test (as when I had it I was barely a young pup when it came to craft beer, though I loved it), but I'm confident this is just as good and I imagine probably better. Amazing stuff, if you see it under $8, even for just 9.3 oz, buy it. It's the only beer in that price range I've ever bought that I'd say was worth it.

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Photo of kaimcm
4.54/5  rDev +6.8%
look: 3.5 | smell: 4.5 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 4.5 | overall: 5

Lees Vintage 2001, reviewed 8/06. poured into a wide St. Berny chalice. served slightly chilled.

A: dark maple, looks like very thin syrup. no head, but no surprise as well. just kinda sits in the glass, body projects a nice color but not much to look at. though with aged beer I tend to cut some slack.

S: huge maple, brown sugar nose. rich malt, some smokiness and even some barbeque qualities. toffee, caramel, loads of sugar. very nutty, almonds and hazlenut essence mostly. creaminess followed and closed by total decadence. some booze, though surprisinly not much. huge.

T: not that different than nose. the caramel, toffee, nutty sugaryness is the first and largest wave. extremely oily and slick, coats the mouth. a light dryness, almost astringency follows and persists through the finish, which is admittedly not that long for such a complex brew. some wood, bourbon, and even light apple qualities pull through near the end before the whole thing finishes. the mouth is left dry on the tongue, but with sugar stuck to the teeth. a slight alcohol warmth rises just as the swallow disappears. five minutes later you feel it all over your head.

M: as mentioned, oily, slick, coating, full bodied, viscous and dense.

D: doesnt count. a pure joy. expensive, high abv, hard to get. who cares. like I said, this doesnt apply to this beer in my opinion. takes all night though, thats for sure.

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Photo of scottakelly
4.57/5  rDev +7.5%
look: 4 | smell: 4.5 | taste: 5 | feel: 4.5 | overall: 4

2000 vintage. Pours a cloudy light brown with a thick tan head. Aroma is a standout of caramel, toffee, and sweet grains. The flavor does not dissapoint: caramel, toffee, molasses,sherry, some dark fruit and sweet grains all meld into one terrifically balanced barleywine. Bitterness is not noticeably present, but the beer is not cloying and perfectly balanced. There is some slight oxidation which probably improves this beer. Mouthfeel is spot on for a barleywine, and drinkability is impressive for a beer this big. This is my favorite barleywine to date, and a real treat that I drank to celebrate the birth of my first daughter.

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Photo of Pecorasc
4.87/5  rDev +14.6%
look: 4.5 | smell: 5 | taste: 5 | feel: 5 | overall: 4.5

Vintage 1999. Split two ways and poured into a Leffe glass.

A- Medium to deep amber in color with swirls of thin film and some streamers of lacing thrown up the sides of the glass. Swirling or tipping the glass to the side move the lacing around and show that this beer has quite a bit of viscosity. The beer is clean, but not polished and shows no noticeable signs of carbonation. A very nice looking English Barleywine that looks more red than other examples of the style.

S- Dominated by a pleasant dust and cardboard-like oxidation. Those aromas are complemented by a cherry and pear sweetness. Some woodiness is present in the background and there is only a slight amount of alcohol. Very unique, somewhat confusing, but certainly a 5.0.

T + M- Right away, this beer distinguishes itself with a thick and creamy mouthfeel that makes it drink like a stout. Wonderful flavors of cherry liqueur, wood, and cardboard. Think grenadine soaked cardboard; sounds gross, but tastes amazing. Transitions to heavier wood and alcohol on top of the malt and cherry flavors and finishes sweet and smooth with very little alcohol burn.

D- Fantastic drinkability on an 11.5% barleywine. No alcohol burn, but the big body makes this a fuller beer that falls between a sipper and a beer with average drinkability. This could make a classic pairing with so many cheeses and cigars. This beer was surely made with an eye to aging.

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Photo of Mess
4.52/5  rDev +6.4%
look: 4.75 | smell: 4.5 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 4.5 | overall: 4.5

1999 Vintage. Cellar temp, poured into a snifter on a clear chilly night.

A - pours ruby and brown whiskey, frothy white head. light sparkles through beautifully.

S - First thought smelled a waft of soy, but was mistaken. Rum soaked raisins, brown sugar, vanilla. Alcohol.

T - sweet Rumcake. vanilla, shortbread, un-lit swisher sweet cigar flashback to freshman year of highschool

M - smooth as velvet, thin layer sweet syrup on the tongue.

O - Really pleasantly surprised, was half expecting soy sauce given first whiff and 13 years and 3 moves over the years. Wonderful gentle slow slipper. Will look to cellar these again in the future.

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Photo of Bobikel
4.15/5  rDev -2.4%
look: 4 | smell: 4 | taste: 5 | feel: 3.5 | overall: 3

Bottle reads: Dec. 1st 1999 Vintage
Purchased at Liquor Max in Loveland Co.

Appearance - Pours a hazy amber/brown with red highlights in the light. Head is minilmal and recedes to a whispy ring fairly quickly. Not uncommon for an 11.5% ABV.

Smell - Prunes, alchohol, and toffee dominate. A touch of malt, and no noticible hops.

Taste - Thick and bready, with a nice slight alchohol warmth that slithers down the throat and into the belly. Toffee, raisins, prunes, and malt sweetness are quite nicely balanced with a mild bittering. Which I'm sure shows far more IBU's than I'd expect.

Mouthfeel - Thick and viscous, this monster must've had quite a high terminal gravity. Even the Prickly carbonation can't hide that.

Drinkability - The one area where this beer falls short. It's a sipper, and even then, after one I feel as though my palate could not handle another beer this big or heavy or flavorfull or...

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Photo of skivtjerry
4.82/5  rDev +13.4%
look: 4 | smell: 4.5 | taste: 5 | feel: 5 | overall: 5

2001 vintage drank in late 2010:

Looks rather viscous while being poured. Forms a sticky 1" head that persists until the glass is empty (actually, who knows how long it would last - I drank the foam too). Smells wonderful, a humungous malt bomb with luscious sherry notes, toast and alcohol too. Taste is mind-blowing good. Waves of malt attack the tongue and surrender feels great. Figs, rich desserts, chocolate, melons, and a nice grainy note. No hint of hops left, the alcohol provides as much bitter dryness as the IBU's. Mouthfeel is thick and creamy, low carbonation and enough alcohol to balance the immense weight. I could drink this stuff until I collapsed, which probably wouldn't be that long. The ultimate beer for a cold evening.

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Photo of RobH
4.92/5  rDev +15.8%
look: 4.5 | smell: 5 | taste: 5 | feel: 4.5 | overall: 5

1998 vintage. This was my first-ever barleywine style beer. I must say, it blew me away. It was served in a snifter glass at the bar at Birreria Paradiso in Georgetown in Washington, D.C.

Excellent after-dinner beer/drink. Like a cordial.

Smooth, inviting to the nose, and quite pleasing to the taste buds, this is a sipper to enjoy over conversation about all the beers that came before it.

If you have never tried a barley wine before and have an opportunity to taste this one, do not pass it up!

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Photo of PDXAmbassador
4.81/5  rDev +13.2%
look: 5 | smell: 4.5 | taste: 5 | feel: 4.75 | overall: 4.75

Had a 2001 vintage in 2016, and it was unreal. Sweet, mellow, toasted malty, Madeira, caramel. Literally everything I had hoped and imagined an English Barleywine could be. We were blown away, and hadn't expected much for something that sits on shelves for years. But to our taste a far superior beer to BCBW and almost any other Barleywine I've tried.

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Photo of wd40
4.27/5  rDev +0.5%
look: 4 | smell: 4.5 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 3.5 | overall: 4

2006 Vintage sampled in 2012.

Opaque orange/brown appearance with absolutely no head. The smell is reminiscent of raisins, hints of coffee and chocolate. The taste is quite fruity with a bit of coffee in the aftertaste. The mouthfeel is the only thing lacking in this beer since it has nearly zero carbonation right out of the bottle. Doesn't bother me too much since it should only have a little to begin with. Overall a great beer. I'll be getting a few more of these to age.

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Photo of slentz
4.09/5  rDev -3.8%
look: 3 | smell: 4 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 3.5 | overall: 4

2006 Vintage. Bottle to snifter at about 55 degrees. Pop the cap not much of a hiss here.

A: Easy pour down the center of the glass produces zero head but a few bubbles appear. After a minute it all subsides and just looks super flat in the glass. Very dark caramel color. Not the best looking beer. 3.0

S: Smells super malty, caramel, little brown sugar, vanilla, raisins, smells like a barleywine, nice and balanced. Really no hint of alcohol here which is impressive due to the abv. Pretty good nose on it. 4.0

T: Super smooth, very sweet, and malty. Tastes of brown sugar, molasses, slight cinnamon notes. Absolutely no alcohol burn or taste at all. A damn fine beer. 4.5

M: Mouthfeel is nice but I would like to see a tad more carbonation here a little too syrupy. 3.5

O: Overall a very nice beer and a sipper for sure. Really enjoying this one on a sunday evening. 4.0

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Photo of jeffdr123
4.32/5  rDev +1.6%
look: 4.5 | smell: 4.25 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 3.75 | overall: 4.25

Fascinating. As complex as it gets. Sweet fruit, malt, and the right amount of bitter after taste. Warm going down, like Scotch. Sip by sip at the Hay Merchant in Houston.

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Photo of hoser
3.88/5  rDev -8.7%
look: 4.5 | smell: 4 | taste: 4 | feel: 3.5 | overall: 3.5

A 1999 Harvest Ale was sacrificed this evening. It is really hard to rate a beer this old and be fair to the brewers intentions.
Huge vino and port notes and this fucker could have used another ten years in the cellar. One of the few times I wish I had more patience with some older bottles.

Always love the JW Lees stuff.

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Photo of GregBarleycorn13
4.72/5  rDev +11.1%
look: 3.75 | smell: 4.75 | taste: 5 | feel: 4.5 | overall: 4.5

2012 vintage. Pours a murky mahogany brown with no head. As soon as you bring it to your nose you Know your in for an excellent beer. Taste reminds me of a port. So delicious. For me there was an aftertaste of a bitterness just like Campari. Never had that taste in a beer and enjoyed that , too.

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Photo of CoreyC
4.18/5  rDev -1.6%
look: 4.25 | smell: 4.25 | taste: 4.25 | feel: 4 | overall: 4

2012 vintage
A - very nice orange color with nice carbonation
S - subtle sweet
T - light sweetness with fruity flavor - maybe apricot?
M - nice, a bit light
O - very good, definitely not a s sweet as the as fresher cask aged versions I've had

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Photo of dpend
4.4/5  rDev +3.5%
look: 4.5 | smell: 4.5 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 4.5 | overall: 4

1999 275ml Bottle Opened 11/16/03

Deep amber brown appearance with a light fluffy head that dissipated quickly.The aroma is sweet malt with fruit,butter and alcohol.Taste is fruity, with thick malt and butter and a dash of hops on the finish.Mouthfeel is thick and buttery with a light oily feel.This beer was still very young and I will let the other age a bit longer to see where it goes.Outstanding!

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Photo of tkarsies
4.5/5  rDev +5.9%
look: 4.5 | smell: 4.5 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 4.5 | overall: 4.5

1999 Vintage

Served cool in my Westy chalice. Allowed to warm over about an hour while drinking.

A: Dark brown, murky. Thin tan head. Can't see carbonation. Like a barleywine should look.

S: Smells rich, sweet, malty. Maybe a hint of alcohol in the nose but this is masked well by the other aromas. I have read reviews talking about leather and tobacco aromas/flavors with skepticism, but I'm pretty sure I can pick up these as I sniff. Very nice. Makes me want to dive in.

T: Wow. Again, the word "rich" comes to mind. Very malt forward, with brown sugar and fruits such as plums and raisins. Slight bitterness from the hops but this is not prominent at all. Don't know how this was new but this is currently complex malty goodness.

M: Thick, creamy, smooth. Minimal carbonation at this age.

D: A good sipper. Don't notice any alcohol although I feel it a bit near the end. This bottle must have been stored well because it is aged to perfection. Great nightcap. Great beer experience. Great example of how beer can have the complexity and aging potential of wine. A real treat and something I will have to try again, both this vintage as well as others.

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Photo of throwitallaway
3.76/5  rDev -11.5%
look: 3 | smell: 4.5 | taste: 4 | feel: 4 | overall: 2.5

Thanks to roymunson for this brew! This is the from the 2001 vintage. Decanted from the bottle into a snifter. Pours a quite dark amber color with zero head as expected. Smells of huge malts, cherries, toffee, and alcohol. I've had very few barleywines, so this aroma is quite unique and interesting. The taste is sweet, with raisins, cherries, toffee, and booze all making an appearance. This is so sweet I should have definitely waited to try it later in the day, like after dinner, as opposed to 2 pm. Mouthfeel is quite thick. Drinkability is extremely low as it would take me forever to even finish one of these. I'm conflicted with this beer. It's obviously an excellent beer, but it's so far out of any style I enjoy, that it's hard for me to get too into it.

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Photo of hopoilcrazy
4.11/5  rDev -3.3%
look: 4 | smell: 3 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 4.5 | overall: 4.5

The bottle says 1987 so I thought I would trust it. I grab my bottle opener, and it opens with no sound, just metal tapping glass.
It pours a dark burgundy color and settles with a suspended sediment, even if you are careful during the pour.
With agitation, the barleywine emits a strong alcohol wave followed by a strong musty aroma that definitley cost it some points.
The taste makes up for any defeciency that might exist. The first 30 minutes (I drink slow, okay), the barleywine is very robust with figs, anchoes, slight banana, medium sweetness, lightly toasted malt, and no bitterness. Very akin to port. In the last thirty minutes of drinking notes of menthol, wood, smoke, and reduced sweetness, all together very dark.
The mouthfeel is very very syrupy and medium bodied.
At 11.5%, in theory this barleywine would be a chore to down, but it is very smooth.

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Photo of rudolphjacksonm
4.82/5  rDev +13.4%
look: 4.5 | smell: 5 | taste: 5 | feel: 4.5 | overall: 4.5

Brewed in 2011, bought from Ellwood Thompson's Local Market on May 11, 2012. Couldn't resist trying it, I'll probably buy another bottle to cellar at some point! Drank it out of an oversized wine glass.

A - Beautiful clear, amber pour with white pillowy head. Reduces down to a cloudy residual layer on the top. Good amount of lacing too. Steady carbonation rising from the bottom but not too much. This is a beautiful beer! 4.5

S - So many scents it's almost impossible to decipher them all. Buttery diacetyl, fresh-cut grass, an abundance of fruits like apricot, apples, and pears; maybe a hint of esters in there as well. Strong floral, hoppy notes in there as well. Caramel, toffee, molasses, and malt are also present. 5.0

T - Wowza. Just like the aroma, this beer is hard to decipher. Sugary, buttery notes up front with malt, toffee, caramel, and fruit. I'd compare it to toffee dipped in butterscotch. Middle of the tongue gets a strong malt flavor and a sort of spiciness imparted by the strong alcohol content. Wraps up nicely with a little bitter, floral hop on the back of the tongue. Aftertaste is clearly sweet on the front of your tongue, bitter on the back. Absolutely delicious but there is SO much flavor you have to sip this beer slowly to fully appreciate it. 5.0

M - Somewhat thick, almost "chewy" as I've seen others describe it. High alcohol content makes it feel almost sappy on the tongue, leaving a slight residue of flavor. 4.5

O - This beer is quite possibly one of the most complex--and dare I say it--and best beers I've ever had. The myriad of flavors is truly unbelievable, and I can't even imagine what this would be like if it were cellared for two or three years even. I will definitely be buying a bottle of this and keeping it for as long as I can. 4.5

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J.W. Lees Vintage Harvest Ale from J.W. Lees & Co (Brewers) Ltd
4.25 out of 5 based on 1,488 ratings.
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