John Barleycorn Barleywine Ale | Mad River Brewing Company

364 Reviews
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John Barleycorn Barleywine AleJohn Barleycorn Barleywine Ale

Brewed by:
Mad River Brewing Company
California, United States

Style: American Barleywine

Alcohol by volume (ABV): 11.40%

Availability: Winter

Notes / Commercial Description:
Same recipe each year. ABV varies slightly 9.5-11.0%

Added by DOCALYN on 09-23-2001

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Reviews: 364 | Ratings: 517
Photo of RexF
4.72/5  rDev +26.2%
look: 4 | smell: 4.5 | taste: 5 | feel: 5 | overall: 4.5

Barleywine is normally not my thing, but I found myself drinking a Barleycorn and I have to say it was totally delightful.

A friend ordered two after dinner and it was a perfect end to a big meal of steak and grease.

I've never ordered after dinner beers for the purpose of being a stomach settler, but John Barleycorn was exactly that and now I want to have one again.

Are all barley wines this good? I don't think so,

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Photo of sitarist
4.72/5  rDev +26.2%
look: 4 | smell: 4.5 | taste: 5 | feel: 5 | overall: 4.5

2008 Harvest.

A-. Poured a deep, dark, brown. Almost looks like a cup of coffee. Poured hard and got about half an inch of a tan head; nice ring and lacing though.

S- Brown sugar, rum and cola, ripe fruits, dates, and figs. Its very inviting.

T- Wow, I cant even explain it. A caramel, nutmeg, pecan, walnut, maple sticky bun. Dates. Blueberry waffles with syrup.

M- This is just right, everything is so well balanced. The hops and carbonation work together to make all the malty sweetness dance on your tongue.

D- Its heavy, and full flavored but I could down 2 or 3 in a night, but not every-night. It warms you but the alcohol doesn't overwhelm.

F.T.- I cant believe this beer doesn't rate higher. Im not sure how this beer tasted fresh, but it sure ages well IMO.

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Photo of TastyTaste
4.67/5  rDev +24.9%
look: 4.5 | smell: 5 | taste: 5 | feel: 4 | overall: 4

Appearance: Clear maroon body, although very dark, doesn't let a whole lot of light through. Big off-white slow fading head.

Smell: Maple syrup and oak, sugary sweet with nice fruity hops, nice and 'bright' smelling barleywine.

Taste: Rich and malty, strong hops, very west-coast, hops and malt are balanced, and both are very strong. Cereal-grainy flavor smooths things out, alcohol lingers and tinkgles on the way. Finely crafted, has a nice unique flavor.

Drinkability: Enjoyable, another treat from Zorro.

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Photo of BbyDigital
4.67/5  rDev +24.9%
look: 4 | smell: 4.5 | taste: 5 | feel: 4.5 | overall: 4.5

I couldn't believe it when I saw how low this beer scored from the Bros and the community in general. the only thing I can reason out is that its not a traditional style of barleywine. I understand that angle but I have to disagree on rating this beer and just 'good'. Tons of flavor start to finish from ripe fruit to citrusy piney hops. This beer at 10% abv is absolutely delicious and trusted sources tell me it gets even better with age which, if true, would make this a good candidate for a medal in a "Best West Coast style Barleywine"

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Photo of mithrascruor
4.62/5  rDev +23.5%
look: 4 | smell: 4.5 | taste: 5 | feel: 4 | overall: 4.5

12 oz. bottle poured into a drinking horn (after a bit in a glass to check the color).

Appearance: Pours a clear reddish-copper color with a minimal off-white head.

Smell: Has a spicy caramel aroma, slightly salty. Some grainy malt aroma is there too. Nice, and not as intimidating as some barleywines.

Taste: Great spicy malt grain flavor. A bit of salt, some spicy hops, and some other spices as well. Very little alcohol in the taste, just a bit of warmness.

Mouthfeel: Medium-bodied with some light, soft carbonation. Mostly smooth, but with a slight bit of grainyness.

Drinkability: Strong in the alcohol department, but quite drinkable - the flavor isn't over the top and works well.

Pretty sure this is the best barleywine that I've had. There's something rustic to it, and it doesn't try to be too extreme. I think it is really tasty, and definitely would like to get it again.

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Photo of Ahoney67
4.59/5  rDev +22.7%
look: 4 | smell: 5 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 4.5 | overall: 4.5

Poured in to a pint glass with a nice deep copper color with a carmel head. Very smooth drink even with a 9.5% ABV. Nice lite fruity smell with a little hint of prune flavor with each drink. Though the malt flavor is very present. It was my first barley wine and I have to say I was very pleased.

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Photo of coldmeat23
4.54/5  rDev +21.4%
look: 4 | smell: 5 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 4 | overall: 4.5

GLASS: Snifter
TEMP: Cellared @ approx 50 degrees
Celebrating the Harvest 2007 (It says on label)

Pours a deep copper color with a beautiful, deep ruby tint. Looks very nice, when held in front of a light source. About one-finger of loose foam forms on top, then leaves, just almost as quickly. Lacing is thin and light, but still present.

This smells like a glass of delicious malty goodness, with a touch of a boozy hint. The maltiness smells like a brewery. You know, when you're on a tour, and you come to the room where they add the malted grains, and they just added them an hour to two ago. You know that huge, powerful, delicious smell? This beer smells like that.
There is also some layers of caramel and toffee, in there. Nice hints of dark fruits.
This could be my favorite smelling barleywine, ever.

Oh, god, that's pretty damn tasty stuff. Such a plain looking bottle, hiding something this wonderful inside. Yumm!
Just a nice, big-sized, malt-bomb. Not over-the-top, either. Thoroughly smooth.
Light notes of dark fruits mingle with notes of caramel and toffee. Slight hints of vanilla. Very mild kiss of hops, right at the end. You almost miss it. All over it, lies a nice, smooth, butterey sweetness, with a hint of spice.

Solid medium body. I wish it was a tad bit more full, and this one would be damn near perfect, for me. Nice, smooth and creamy.

This is so highly drinkable, to me. I could drink this in place of water, for an extended time, I think. Granted, I might not get much done in that time period, but I'd be happy. And I'd enjoy every drop of it.

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Photo of BitterBrian
4.54/5  rDev +21.4%
look: 4 | smell: 5 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 4 | overall: 4.5

This is one of those beers that I think is very under-rated. I just don't get it. This might be top five material.

Poured a nice mahogany brown into my delerium snifter. Not much head there - I even let it warm up a bit after taking it from the fridge. What head was there left some light lacing.

But, the smell? . . . Mmmmm mmm. Raisins, red grape, cake, blueberry muffins. . . It sounds like I'm pulling this stuff out of my ass, but really, it smells like a tastycake truck met head on with Sara Lee. - Which is pretty damn close to the taste too. Throw in a little fig and some alcohol and there you have it. Really a nice complex, yet mild barley wine - despite it's 9.5% content. The finish is very fruit like and not too alcoholic. It's more like I just ate a grape a few miniutes ago instead.

This gives the same impression as a nice quad, but not as filling. If I'd find this again, I'd definitely pick some up.

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Photo of mobyviacheslov
4.52/5  rDev +20.9%
look: 4 | smell: 4.5 | taste: 5 | feel: 4 | overall: 4

07 Vintage, drank at cellar temp.

A - Thick, dark caramel color, but not opaque. Lots of visible yeast and bits floating around. Creamy head.
S - Aromas of salty caramel, candy sugars, Belgian ale yeast, vanilla, and orange. Quite a myriad of aromas with something new on each smell.
T - Creamsicle and chocolate icecream strike first, but are immediately challenged by a strong bitterness and an earthy, vegetable presence. Every sip yields new "oooh, I think I taste....", but overall, it is a fight between candy and earthiness, and it works incredibly well. Very complex, and expertly balanced.
M - Velvety, and creamy, much more so than it looked like it would be. Just enough of a bubbly aspect to lighten the beer and accentuate flavors.
D - 1 or 2 will do it on these. While there are no strong alcohol flavors, this beer is 10.8% and should be respected. At the end of the day, I could probably put down 4 or 5 of these, but the fun of this beer lies in identifying all the new aromas and flavors each time you bring it up to your mouth...after 2 of these, I think you would lose that ability...time to switch to a macro and keep that party going.

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Photo of scottoale
4.5/5  rDev +20.3%
look: 4.5 | smell: 4.5 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 4.5 | overall: 4.5

2007 Vintage - 10.8% ABV

Pours from the 12oz. brown twist-cap bottle a viscous deep copper with a dense ivory foam cap of less than 1/2". The head resides to a nice lace, the carbonation is perfect for this brew.

Smells semi-sweet with a nice earthy malt aroma...big malty nose in fact.

Doughy, chewy malt with just enough hops to keep things in check. Great malty flavor that disguises the rather high ABV very well.

Fat body that is quite chewy and very easy to drink for the average Barleywiner.

A solid BW that is a pleasure too consume and worth twelve-bucks a sixer.

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Photo of BeerlyLegal
4.5/5  rDev +20.3%
look: 4.5 | smell: 4.5 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 4.5 | overall: 4.5

I had a 2011 12oz bottle poured into a tulip.

In my opinion this is a damn good barley wine and a bit surprised by BA's ratings. Maybe a little bit too sweet for some, but overall a beautiful brew with an 11.1% ABV that sneaks up on you nicely.

I scented a cheese plate with grapes and apples.

I tasted a caramel syrupy flavor mixed with hints of dark fruit, molasses and malt. With that said, you would think this is a sticky beer however it has a very smooth finish that allows you down it quite easily. I would love to get my hands on this again.

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Photo of BeerManDan
4.5/5  rDev +20.3%
look: 4.5 | smell: 4.5 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 4.5 | overall: 4.5

The color is a medium amber with not a medium head that will cling to the glass sides. The aroma is of malts and spices. The taste was malty, with a hint of spices and caramel. The after taste was creamy smooth with a good balance of sweetness and a hint of bitterness. This is my first time tasting this beer and I like it. Not the best but very passable!

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Photo of francisweizen
4.5/5  rDev +20.3%
look: 4.5 | smell: 4.5 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 4.5 | overall: 4.5

Dark murky brown with a nice head of foam that lasted for quite a while. The aromas are of alcohol, brown sugar, herbal hops, and more. The taste followed suit with some lovely sweet alcohol flavors up front, a nice brown sugar heat in the middle, and a dry herbal hoppy finish. Mouthfeel was medium bodied and just right and the drinkability was good as well. Maybe i'm alone on this, but I thought this was an excellent barleywine that held up well over the past 7 years!

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Photo of RootedFool
4.5/5  rDev +20.3%
look: 4.5 | smell: 4.5 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 4.5 | overall: 4.5

This year's release of Mad River's John Barleycorn Barleywine pours lagubrious mahogany with an aura of crimson radiating along the edges of my Duvel tulip glass, an appropriately regal vessel for this lumbering diva of a brew. The head rises at least an inch tall, dim white (slightly more off than off white) and has the consistency of whipped cream. The nose is softer than I expected, causing me to draw my nose so close to the beer I snorted a little bit of it -- no worries, as I think the high alcohol content (9.5%) cleared my sinuses. The smell opens with some cotton candy sweetness that segues quickly into tangerine rinds, fresh cherries, sour dough bread, a few hard shakes of black pepper; a solid coupling of hops and malts. An upper-cut of hops greets my palate upon the first taste, welling up from beneath my tongue and circling around to the roof if my mouth in a slow arc; strong flavor of grapefruit rinds encrusted with brown sugar. The middle brings out the hop bitterness even further, to a puckering degree, but it quickly recedes into the finish where the malt sweetness -- maraschino cherries, fruit cake, gingerbread -- has more room to move. Alcohol is warmth is evident as a warming factor at the back of my throat, but doesn't intrude into the taste. The mouthfeel is dense and chewy -- sticks to the ribs.

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Photo of Boppar
4.45/5  rDev +19%
look: 4 | smell: 4 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 4.5 | overall: 5

Vintage 2005.

12 oz. bottle pours into a chalice with a very thin head, but nice lacing. A tawny brown orange. Nice color, but I was hoping for better lace and/or head.

Smell is sweet summer squash and dank, resiny pine hops. An alcoholic spiciness turns into a mild burn about half way up my nasal cavity.

A bold malty sweetness is up to bat first. Good, biscuity flavor, with notes of honey and maybe orange rind. Some nice smokiness in the second half and right on through. Some well-balanced mid-palate hop bitterness kicks in, and transitions seamlessly to a ridiculously long dry finish that tastes primarily like oak, but some residual hoppy pine action and faint citrus notes. There is a little alcohol spice, but the 9.5% ABV is remarkably well-hidden.

Mouthfeel is thick, chewy and moderately carboated. it works great for this style.

Barleywines are meant to be sippers with big, robust flavors. They are also supposed to pack a wallop ABV-wise. This brew is definitely a heavy-hitter in the flavor department, and its well-disguised 9.5% ABV is no small-fry either. So when I say that John Barleycorn accomplishes both of the goals, and yet goes down so nice and smooth that I wish I had another 12 oz. for later, I want you to understand how well-crafted this beer is.

This beer has all the balance and complexity I had hoped to find in Bigfoot.

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Photo of stirgy
4.45/5  rDev +19%
look: 4.5 | smell: 4.5 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 4 | overall: 4.5

This was 2000 Harvest sample. I let this one warm up a bit before sampling. This beer poured a bright and clear amber/ice tea color. Had a long lasting frothy and dense white head. Heavy sweetness in the aroma. Cordial like caramel and toffee. There’s the smokiness of peated malt in the taste. The alcohol peeks through the sweet malt and other complex flavors, including fermented fruits, caramel. Perfectly carbonated and very flavorful. Also getting nice peppery/spicy notes. I enjoyed this beer. An excellent barleywine and very well made in my opinion.

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Photo of Cylinsier
4.42/5  rDev +18.2%
look: 4 | smell: 4.5 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 4 | overall: 4.5

12 oz, 2009 version.

Pours a cloudy reddish brown, minimal white lacing retains indefinitely.

Smells of caramel, pine hops, sweet apple and grape notes, and hints of brown sugar.

Tastes buttery rich and slightly apple fruity with noticeable pine hop bitterness. Has kind of a spice kick in the end.

Feels thick and sticky with tingly sharp carbonation on the back of the tongue.

Delicious but I wish this was English style. The hops hide the great rich flavors underneath. As an American style, it's quite good though, very much like a good quality English but with a healthy punch of hops. Though I prefer my Barleywines sans hops, I would have more of this in a heartbeat.

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Photo of Dan_McNeely
4.41/5  rDev +17.9%
look: 4 | smell: 4.25 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 4.5 | overall: 4.5

A- Decided to try it from a wine glass. Very strong bold look. It's a bit lighter in appearance at the top. It had a deep brown almost dark toffee color. A very muscular look to it.

S- Roasted Barley smells very fine and smooth. If it tastes like it smells, it will go down easy. I don't smell the booze. It's has a confident aroma, an almost I'm better than you feel. Again, very masculine, in a suave sense.

T- The taste sweeps in letting it self be known. As suspected, much like the aroma it's like Fabio from a romance novel. It holds a welcoming bitter aftertaste that I can enjoy. A bit of a deep chocolate after taste.

M- Heavenly. I've not had a barley wine with this much distinction and just makes my mouth feel good. Light, but not too light. I can tell it's a high percentage, but it's telling me, "Don't worry, you'll enjoy this", in a not so creepy way.

A gentleman's beer, dark, handsome, intelligent, confident something I can be proud to drink. This is a fantastic beer, it really improved my attitude after a long day at the office. Even if you've never had or usually don't enjoy this style, I highly suggest to pick it up.

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Photo of DarkerTheBetter
4.4/5  rDev +17.6%
look: 4.5 | smell: 4.5 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 3.5 | overall: 4.5

Bottle says “celebrating the 2005 harvest”

This beer pours a slightly foggy amber, strawberry and honey color with a wide creamy collar of off white.

Smells of sweet red grapes, strawberries and brown sugar with a dry, earthy oak that works well with the sweeter aspects. There’s also a warm, aromatic alcohol glow to this one.

Tastes of light grainy barley with some caramel and a woody brown sugar. It then nicely fades into a dry subtle coffee and a little sappy green oak in the finish.

The mouthfeel is light to medium bodied and rather flat feeling.

This one’s just simple and solid. I really admire the upfront grainy nature of it. I guess another way to say it is that it is very direct. Great beer!

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Photo of jameaterblues
4.4/5  rDev +17.6%
look: 4.5 | smell: 4.5 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 4.5 | overall: 4

So I sit here with the second half of the 2005 John Barleycorn. It poured a reddish amber color, with a very thin off white head that laced the sides of the glass. It has the slight smell of hopps, but predominant sweet malty tones. The taste is wonderful. Very smooth, with the malt taste(maybe a slight hint of caramel) really standing out to me, almost sweet, but not really. It finishes with a slight bitterness. The smell of this beer, to me is much more sweet than the taste, and that is part of the reason I enjoy it so much. I highly recommend it. The carbonation is moderate and I love how it feels on the tongue. I could drink alot of this(it is kinda high abv so be careful), it probably good that my supplies are limited.

Don't forget to check out the label. The bottles have wonderful wood cuts on them, and they are different every season. I don't get to encounter enough organic beers, I'm really happy this one made it to my fridge.

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Photo of DIM
4.39/5  rDev +17.4%
look: 3.5 | smell: 4.5 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 4 | overall: 4.5

bottle from 2006

a: This was a murky dark brown with golden amber edges. It pours with a this off-white head.

s: Rich sweet malty notes of brown sugar, dark fruits, and a some chocolate. Some mild alcohol to be found as well. This was subdued and complex.

t: The most obvious characteristics are sweet fruit flavors of raisins and cherries along with surprisingly strong chocolate notes. The finish is dry, with muted floral hop flavors. The alcohol is very well masked.

m: This was fairly still, but I think it works well with this one. It has a nice silky texture from a viscous body.

d: I've had one of these fairly fresh and I don't remember it better than average. Thanks to mikesgroove for the chance to try one of these after a little time in the cellar. It made a big difference.

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Photo of bashiba
4.38/5  rDev +17.1%
look: 4.5 | smell: 4 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 4.5 | overall: 4.5

Poured a dark cedar color with big ruby highlights. The head was thick and full and long lasting, some nice heavy lacing to go with it.

Has a big sweet caramel malty smell with some nice floral hops mixing in as well.

The flavor is big and sweet with a long grainy and bready flavor. Some light hints of alcohol with a touch of cedar. This one definitly leans towards the malty side, but there is a nice bit of grapefruity hops that start to even this out in the finish.

The Mouthfeel is thick and full with a nice creamy quality to it, the finish is long and lingering with a touch of oilyness and some warmth.

Great Barleywine, very drinkable big beer. My first ever beer from Mad River, can't wait to pick up some more.

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Photo of AKBelgianBeast
4.35/5  rDev +16.3%
look: 4 | smell: 4 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 4.5 | overall: 4.5

I really like this beer. It is a bit light for a barleywine, but it makes up for that in smoothness and drinkability. Pours uniquely clear for a barleywine style, and has a refreshingly sweet taste rather than the common hoppy american style bwine. Very smooth, probably the most refreshing ( relatively speaking ) bwine I have tasted of yet. Good flavor for those who are not used to Barleywine, dont jump right into J.W. lees, have a few of these to acquire the taste and educate your palate. Good brew, a fun barleywine to get tipsy on, not too filling which is nice.

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Photo of cannabanaceae
4.35/5  rDev +16.3%
look: 4.5 | smell: 4.5 | taste: 4 | feel: 4 | overall: 5

Poured into a snifter from draft. 2008 version.

Look was nice murky amber. Beautiful lacing down the snifter. Small, creamy, fading white head.

Smell was fruity and piney, with malt edging in to get there share of smell in my nose.

Taste started like an imperial IPA because I beleave this keg was young. Then it is balanced perfectly with the mild malt back. Then noticing the alcohol warmth shining through at the end reminding me this is a barley wine.

Mouthfell was resinous, but smooth.

I tried this beer last year at the barley wine fest at browers. It was twice as better this year. This is a good beer to drink on a cold night. Bravo.

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Photo of Greywulfken
4.35/5  rDev +16.3%
look: 4 | smell: 4 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 4.5 | overall: 4.5

Just a quick heads-up: the beer I drank has the label shown on this website for the "bourbon-barrel aged" barley wine, but nothing on the label indicates this is the case - but my bottle's abv is 10.0, which matches neither the bourbon barrel aged barleywine nor the "standard" barleywine brewed by Mad River Brewing. My belief is that I had their main barleywine style beer, and since it had no notes of bourbon in smell or taste, I'll have to assume that they changed the label from the one currently shown, and that the abv has changed as well. My bottle is a 2010 bottling date.

A: super dark - looks black, but held up to the light is a deep brown, head is lost to lace

S: sweet malts, some coffee/toffee w/ caramel

T: must confess, this is my 3rd barleywine in a row, and the only one that fully warmed to room temp before drinking - very delicious: notes of malt, toffee, caramel, and some distant hops

M: soft, slightly syrupy, slightly sticky, but (beware) infinitely drinkable

O: maybe I'm a barleywine guy - third tonight - started with the Uinta Anniversary Barleywine, then tried a Harpoon Leviathan Barleywine, and now this. There is no standout in this trio - they are all excellent and I would drink them all again and again - but noticed that the John Barleycorn was the sweetest of the 3, but unfortunately, as stated, it was also allowed to warm to room temp before beginning to drink, so this may have had an impact on sweetness and taste. My "3-strong-beers-in" perspective: if you like or are curious about this style of beer, you have nothing to lose by trying any or all of these beers. Clearly, Mad River has made an excellent beer, and I can easily recommend it.

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John Barleycorn Barleywine Ale from Mad River Brewing Company
3.74 out of 5 based on 517 ratings.
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