Podcast #5 - BrewIQ from Precision Fermentation

Podcast #5 - BrewIQ from Precision Fermentation

Groennfell Meadery
32 minute read

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On this week’s show, I talk to Dave (also known as Boston) from Precision Fermentation, the company behind the wonderous and wonderful machine known as BrewIQ (formerly Brew Monitor).

Disclaimer: While I personally have two BrewIQ devices, this show is not sponsored by Precision Fermentation. I just genuinely love their machine and wanted more people to know about it.  

From the Episode

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To learn more about Precision Fermentation and the BrewIQ, head on over to https://www.precisionfermentation.com/

BrewIQ by Precision Fermentation

About the Podcast

Welcome to the Professional Brewers Podcast where we interview brewers, brewery owners, and other folks in the industry to take a deep dive into what it takes to have a successful brewing operation.

This show is for brewers of all kinds: folks considering going pro, professional brewers, people who want to look behind the scenes of their favorite breweries, or merely the brewcurious.

Whether you’re hanging over a fifty-barrel mash tun while you listen to this or you’re just starting your professional brewing journey, we hope this show helps you become a better, more profitable, happier brewer.

New episodes every Wednesday!


Hello, friends! Welcome to the Professional Brewers Podcast, sponsored by Groennfell Meadery and hosted by me, Ricky the Meadmaker. This show is for brewers of all kinds. Anyone looking to get into brewing professionally, folks who want to peek behind the scenes of their favorite brewery or merely the brew curious. Whether you're an old hand in the industry or you're just starting your professional brewing journey, we hope this show helps you become a better, more profitable, happier brewer.

On this week's show, I talk to Dave from Precision Fermentation, a member of the team behind the mind-boggling BrewIQ Machine. I will admit, I get a little fanboyish in this episode, but I wanted to say that while I own and love my two BrewIQ units, they are not sponsors of this episode or the show in general. If, however, you'd like to support the show, you can head on over to Patreon.com/professionalbrewerspodcast. It's your support that makes this show possible. And now, without further ado, Dave from Precision Fermentation.

Dave, welcome so much to the podcast. I am so excited about the product your company makes. And I'm going to start this with a full disclosure, which I said just a minute ago, but I'm going to say it again. You are not sponsoring this podcast. It's just been absolutely life-changing for our brew house. And I recommend it to everyone. So it's really exciting to have you as a representative of Precision Fermentation, which we still call Brew Monitor in our house on the show.

Give us some background of the company, how long it's been around, how you started in this field, and anything you think we should know.

Yeah, absolutely. Well, first of all, thank you for having me. I'm a longtime podcast listener, but I never thought I'd be on. So this is kind of an exciting one for me. First of all, I got to do my marketing people justice. BrewIQ is the service that we are offering. I know they'll get right on about that. But Precision Fermentation as a whole started. We were founded in 2017 by Jared Resnick, who's our CEO. He's been along for the whole ride. So he's seen the whole thing. And the company itself actually started as it was spun off from a technology business that was working with our science advisor, a gentleman named Dr. Steve Haas. So he's a molecular geneticist over at Duke. And he does, I mean, a whole ton of research. But specifically, this technology was spun off from a tech startup here in Durham in the Research Triangle Park area. And then they brought on a bunch of leadership with experience in cell psychobiology and multi-parametric analyses and web app development. And it's a fairly complex machine. So we have a lot of folks with a lot of very interesting experience join us very early on to get it started up.

And before we get into this miraculous machine, how did you end up with the BrewIQ, Precision Fermentation, the Brew Monitor?

So I went to school for biology, specifically microbiology. It's something I've been passionate about for a long time. I love lab work, which a lot of people don't. So I like sitting down on a lab bench and, you know, crunching numbers for a while. So I was in school for that. And surprisingly, couldn't find a job straight out of college. So I was working as a bartender. I met a dude who was a distributor. I'm sorry, he was actually a sales manager at a fairly large brewery up in the northeast. We got to talking, he said, I might have a position for you, but it may include bartending. I said, that's fine. I can bartend, but I want to do some back-of-house stuff as well. So we worked out a deal. I did some part-time lab work. I did some part-time bartending. And that got me into the industry as a whole. And then when I moved out to North Carolina, I did very much the same thing. I was trying to work in UCQA, you know, back-of-house stuff for breweries. And I ended up meeting some folks who worked at a brewery that was the test facility for precision fermentation. And so, you know, it happened to be that I met a guy who knew a guy who was very interested in the science of beer and knew that I was too. So now at this point, my official title is Senior Product Development Specialist, because marketing folks can't stop. They got to put a title on everything. But that's where we are now.

It's fascinating and something that I think almost everyone in this industry has experienced. I mean, I got a useless master's degree, but I was the first class setting for Cicerone and I had a homebrew club that I wanted to join, but I couldn't make it because I had this other. And I walked into a place where I'd been buying my grain and saw a little thing on his countertop that said hiring. I worked at a homebrew shop for three years to pay off my useless master's degree, which I use every day in some way, and then ended up as a professional brewer. This is I think also if you have an English degree, a philosophy degree, a sociology degree, you're just as likely to be a brewer as someone with a bio degree. So I have a brew monitor, which has been life-changing, as I said. Talk about the technology, what it can do, and then we'll talk a little bit about what it's meant for me as a meadmaker, which is a little different from a beer brewer, but not much. So just give us the specs. I mean, it's the greatest. It's the greatest machine. I again, I'm not being paid to say this. It's life-changing. Well, first of all, I actually have some questions for you about making mead because I've never done it and I'm interested, but that can come later. I guess, unfortunately, you don't have a three-hour-long podcast because that's probably how long it would take to just to cover everything that I want to talk about. But the basics are this. It's a three-part system. We have our hardware and we can talk about hardware all day because people in the industry love hardware. But fundamentally it's a box with sensors in it. Sensors are going to measure seven different parameters from gravity, temperature, pH, conductivity, pressure, all these things. That's one component. The most powerful part of it is honestly the software because software will take all of that data that's being gathered and automatically should say. We'll take all of that data that's being gathered and automatically send it to your phone, your computer, whatever you have on hand. And realistically, the data that is being gathered, going to be gathering anyway, maybe once a day, maybe twice a day. If you're a very diligent brewer, this will give you a minimum of 12 data points a day. You can do more than that and it will not just gather and deliver it to you, it also analyze it for you. And that's where it really gets into the interesting parts of brewing science.

So as a brewer, I'll say the difference is we have so we're very high-temperature fermentations for about 20% of our fermentations. And we were in there, I would come in, I'm co-owner, I would be there twice on a Saturday, twice on a Sunday, and I was getting a third of the data that you guys gathered automatically. When I say it was life-changing, I mean, I've got two little ones at home, and I'd often throw one of them in a car seat in the back and go in and they'd watch me take gravity readings. But I wasn't getting minute-by-minute temperature. For me, temperature cycling was so important. That was the single element for mead-making when I knew that the fermentation was slowing down. It wasn't the gravity shift. It was the cycling of the temperature when the coolant would hit it. So with there's no way we can do this just audio only. But when you look at your layout on your phone, on your desktop, there's so much data there. What are the key things that someone listening to this podcast would be most excited about other than gravity, gravity's the be all and all temperature might be the best. How you know if your chiller has faulted. That was a big tool for me. And I can say honestly, this brew monitor saved me $50,000 one time because my chiller had faulted due to a cold snap here in Vermont. And I saw it that morning when I woke up, then I ran in and did a reboot. But other than the two obvious ones with all of your big data, what do you think this is? What brewers should be looking at? And there will be a link to their website in the show notes that has images of all of what they do.

Sure. Thank you. That actually makes things very helpful. Because like you said, it's very visual. But touching on so much stuff that I want to talk about the whole coming in on a Saturday thing. I was that guy. I worked at breweries and I was the Saturday lab guy. I spent four hours a day going to a tank and writing down this data onto a piece of paper and then going to a computer and entering it in two different spreadsheets. And then what? And then nothing happens. We've walked into breweries and talked to them about their data sets and they bring out big three-inch binders and put them down on the table. There it is. There's our brewing data. Okay. Now what? And you touched on pH and temperature, sorry, gravity and temperature. And pH I think is the one that people overlook the most. We know pH is flavor impactful and it's important for the profile of the beer. It's also a great indicator of your yeast health. And I think that is the thing that people will be impressed with the most when you look at all of the data we gather. Because paying attention to a single batch of beer is or in your case, mead or whatever product you ferment, it could be anything, wine, it doesn't matter. Paying attention to a single batch is worth data is interesting. Paying attention to those trends over time, whether you let's say reuse your yeast, right? If you repitch following that one yeast strain over time is going to be impactful and following how its pH profile changes over time. Most of my experience is in beer. So I'm going to be talking a lot to that, but I'm sure it will apply to any fermented beverage. pH is going to start at a certain point and it's going to drop over time as the yeast produce various acids during the bulk of the fermentation process. And then as those primary and secondary sugars get consumed, they need a tertiary carbon source so they assume it more. And so a lot of those acids get consumed and the pH starts to rise again. And that overall shape that down and slightly back up again, if it drops too fast early on, or if it races too slowly late fermentation, those types of things are going to give you an indication of just what your yeast are doing. And you can do cell counts all day and make sure you have the correct number of viable cells, but viable cells, not necessarily vital vigorous cells. And that is to me the biggest impact. So that besides the gravity, which of course everyone loves and temperature, which is like you said, a really useful process indicator, dissolved oxygen and pH are the two ones that we get the most comments on. People want to know about their dissolved oxygen getting consumed early to make sure that their pitch is really kicking off exactly how they want it to. And I think once you look at a single fermentation's worth of data, it just like you said, this is a lot, there's a lot here, but it actually gets more interesting once you look at five fermentations' worth of data, and then five fermentations' worth of data averaged out with standard deviations built in. Then you can use those standard deviations to build alert ranges and use those ranges to tell you when your fermentation is heading off the tracks, as soon as it starts heading off the tracks. It's, yeah, I could go on all day. No, and that's something, the layering of data is something that I didn't have in my notes to talk with you about. So we have six core products. They represent about 80% of our production, which I think is average across the industry. But the ability to take and human memory is so fallible.

But everyone that's worked in a brewing industry, you

And they're like, cool, cool. So that's again, I have lots of Develop this relationship. I also work in regenerative ag. So like, I'm always reaching towards those like, you know, your yeast, like a lot of people in pastoral communities know their flocks, and you know when it's not right. But we don't have 20 or 200 sheep that we're dealing with, we have billions of yeast. And I could feel it. And I really struggled with my assistant brewers after 20 years in this industry. To be like, I feel like this is gonna stall. And so I want you to speak more about those indicators.

And I'm going to really, I need to tell a story later. But the floor is yours for now. The conductivity monitor. Don't talk about that one, because I have a story about it. But why, as I already admitted, like it saved us $50,000, because I saw something coming. What do you think constantly interacting with this data set? Because we all interact with our brewers, we hear the bubbling. That's what it's usually usually is for me, I put my hand on the side of the tank and feel the temperature. But what does an extended period of time and I'm so glad you came out of the diagnostic data set portion of our industry.

What do you want people to be looking for? And do you have people on your team that can help them when they first get a brew monitor? Yes. Alright. But man, so just again, so much. Okay. One thing that I try not to lose track of is very important to us is not trying to step on brewers intuition. Right? You talked about it just then, like, you know, when a beer is going a little bit sideways, and you know, when your equipment is a little bit weird, and you know how to fix it. And that's you don't want to get in the way of that.

That's so critical experience trumps all in this industry. But giving an additional tool to be able to just take the burden off your mind a little bit, I just to not worry about what is going on in there, but it's a giant steel tank, I can't see inside, just to be able to get eyes in there is very reassuring to people. And to that end, you admitted to, you know, savings a tank of beer, I did the same. I had a particularly troublesome brew day with a stuck sparge. And you know, all of the various things that go along with, you know, having a bad day at work.

And I got home and I laid down in bed, and then I got a text from like your system said, Hey, the pressure is six psi higher than normal. Are you sure? And I said, Oh, my, I forgot to open the blow-off arm. And that was that right. I didn't check for the bubble. It's very simple thing to do. I got a text and it prevented me from having to rely on my PRP. Because we have pressure release valves for a reason. But relying on them is not something that I look forward to do. So I throw out to the brewery, I open the blow-off arm and all was well. And I saved myself the headache of coming in and hearing that telltale hiss.

So the benefits of working with this day to day is establishing your brands exactly how you want them establishing baselines for those brands, and then not having to stress about meeting those baselines. What I mean, when you use the word brands, you mean particular brews, right? Sure. Yeah. I mean, you said you have six core products. And so for and so I mean, I don't necessarily even mean core products. People are doing experimental brews. Yeah, people do experiments with our with our equipment all the time. Because they say, Well, I like this brain bill, but I want to try a different strain. And getting a fresh data set on that strain, even though it's the same grain bill, the same hop bill and all of that, there's this, you can get out of the system what you want, essentially.

And so as of right now, you know, the capability in terms of alerts is a big one. You got a temperature alert, I got a pressure alert, those are very cool. And and and save you time and headache. But once you dig a little bit deeper, you can look into like I said, yeast, maybe not performing as well as as you expect. What if you could know that four days ahead of time, right? If if for instance, you had a tank of beer, and you were planning on cropping that yeast, or maybe pitching cone to cone, and you find out that stalled out, I'm supposed to crop from that tank today. What do you do now? What if four days ago, you knew that that tank wasn't going to do so well, and you could plan ahead and order a fresh crop or plan a different tank to crop from, you know, that type of thing is what you can get out of it just by paying attention to the data setting up, you know, brands, how you want them to be set up, making sure you have everything lined up so that when you plug in that hub, and you walk away, go home for the day, hang out with two kids, and what you're going to get is just like the peace of mind knowing, yep, that's proceeding as normal. And as soon as it's not proceeding, proceeding as normal, get a quick text or an email, you go cool, I know what I need to do tomorrow. Because that was most of my day was walking into work. All right, what are we doing today? What fires do we have to put up today? Little bit of peace of mind and forward planning is going to save just a lot of stress.

Yeah, and I, again, can't speak enough to that savings that on a Saturday morning, I used to be up and out at a certain time. And I throw one or the other of the babies in the back of the car. And so being able to watch those trends. So I want to talk about my favorite trend, that is conductivity. So I'm glad you want to talk about it, because I have a lot of thoughts. Okay, so I am a mead maker. And I was told that and full to so if you haven't heard of Moonlight Meadery, I was on a podcast with him three years ago. And he was super proud that he was the first meadery with a brew monitor. And I googled them and got one the next day. I don't know how many meaderies have one. But it was all thanks to Michael Fairbrother mentioning it. And I even sent him a follow-up email about it.

But he talked about very similar things that he was coming in on Saturdays and Sundays and getting up and both meaderies in the world are smaller than a BNBF. And it's often the founders or the head brewers coming in in that space. But they ordered mine and then saw that one of the options are one of the data sets I was going to get was conductivity. And I didn't want to sound like an idiot. I I've been in this industry a long time I've worked in beer, wine, cider, sake, and then with my wife, as everyone knows, started a meadery. And I could not figure out why conductivity was a data set.

And I will I will tell you now. I thought it was because the chip was the cheapest of all chips and why not have conductivity in there, which is totally fine. But I heard a great story. And I need you to tell me if it's true or not, that a brewery figured out that their aquifer the water that was drawn from had changed because their conductivity went through the roof. And they found out that the saline content of this aquifer was way higher than they were used to. And also that a goes almost broke your machine. I will tell you without revealing too much, I will tell you that that story is nearly 100% true. A brewery did discover that their water profile was changing.

I will estimate it at four times before X change over the course of the season, just because the water that they were drawing on, it's Florida, right? They are pretty well known for having pretty heavy, limey water, right? They got that good calcium carbonate in there. That's why we got pastry stuffs coming out of Florida. Their water levels changed. And I suspect it's due to storm season. That's just my personal suspicion on the matter. But yes, it did absolutely change. And that goes, man, we see some very crazy numbers. And I will admit that goes has not been the highest that we've seen.

And I will say that we haven't talked about this yet. I get an email from you guys every time you see something crazy. So my personal story is we make craft mead. So they're usually in like the 7% alcohol range. And I made a mead that's starting gravity was 1130. And your team on a Saturday emailed me and they were like, what's going on? I was like, oh, I'm making a strong mead. It's target gravity is 19.2% services in this industry. Really unexpected to get an email at 813 on a Saturday morning.

Absolutely wild. But why did you include conductivity? So a couple of things, the eyes on your fermentations. I've been with the company for nearly four and a half years at this point.

And for the majority of that, I personally laid eyes on every single fermentation data set that came through our system. Me and other folks, it is not just a one man job. But for a long time, the first 35 to 40 minutes of my day was going through every single data set and just making sure that things were in line and not just in line with what we expected but in line with what the brewers would expect or what we've seen from them up to this point. And so to your point, I work predominantly in play dough. So I don't work a ton in specific gravity. But I do know that one dot anything other than zero is pretty high. And so that's certainly why you got an email of one dot one is quite big. So I'm not surprised about that at all. And on to conductivity. I'll answer your question as simply as I can. There's a cidery, which I will not mention at the moment, they have been using our system, specifically the conductivity portion of the Brewer IQ system with other things as well to help them dial in their nutrient additions in their ciders. I see your face is pretty excited about that. Yeah, I thought it might be. This type of thing we knew about the changing of conductivity due to various things. Brewing salt additions, making sure your water profile is where you want it to be. That was an obvious one for us early on because many, many breweries strip their water down to zero, strip it down to RO as pure as they can get. And then they build up their water profile from there. Many breweries do not. And many breweries pride themselves on not doing that. And so having eyes on mineral profiles. Now, obviously, we can't determine the exact concentrations of certain minerals, but we can tell you in general terms, like I said, from that brewery down in Florida, we can tell you when it's at a thousand microsiemens per centimeter and when it's at five thousand microsiemens per centimeter. And that's a pretty major difference. So that was an easy one for us. We also did a little test with some folks over here in North Carolina. They were making kettle sours and he was doing a mixed culture kettle sour versus a single cultured lacto kettle sour. And we were looking at pH production specifically. But at a certain point, pH doesn't change. But, you know, as you drop lower and lower, you get increased buffering capacity. pH won't change with increased acid production, but conductivity will. Yes. So little things like that, it won't change a lot, but it'll change enough that you know it's still happening. So we use that in that capacity. That's not a typical use case for our system, but it was fun to do some experimentation with him. And then what I feel like everything with conductivity is never a typical use case, right? Like, yep, you are your typical use case is up here. We switch our aquifers. Based on the season, we stripped down really hard. But one time someone forgot to switch over to the charcoal and oh my God, it was so obvious it showed up in the data set. That's how I've always felt about the the conductivity test is that it's never a typical use case. It's it. Yeah, you're absolutely right. Yep. If you are a new brewer, you have no idea how you're going to use this. I found that it was really good for mapping to fermentation speed because of the dissolved CO2. But also I found one time we did switch over our water source. It's it's such a cool tool. And I asked your team about it. And I got three different answers and all the answers were right. Well, and that's the thing where we put it in there because we knew it would be useful. We didn't quite realize how useful you are. Like you said, in so many ways, with the dissolved CO2 thing as as the just as an explanation for that as the CO2 is as the product, I should say, is being pumped through our system. So too is going to break out. It's just a natural byproduct of having as much CO2 dissolved in solution as you can. And then it bubbles up. So that was a really useful tool. So you'd be able to say, yep, my fermentation kicked off right there. I can see the CO2 production. But as I as I mentioned about that, Sidery, I think it's going to be useful to a lot of your listeners specifically. What they do is monitor the conductivity levels and then as it drops to a certain point, they'll add nutrient for their ciders, barely nutrient for I believe meat is to if I'm not mistaken. Incredibly. Yes. OK. Yes. So nutrients are an important thing for yourself and good product at the end of the day. So they'll they used to kind of dosing big batches and estimate when they needed to put it in and, you know, use popular wisdom or industry experience and intuition. And all those things are, like I said, very useful. We don't want to take away from them. They found that they could turn their tanks, I think, two days faster per tank by dialing in yeast nutrient addition. As soon as the conductivity level drops, they'll add some nutrient salts, which is all dissociate, jump the conductivity level up. And then as the yeast consume that nutrient, they'll drop back down again. And rather than doing these massive spikes with massive nutrient additions, they broke it down into five or six smaller additions. These were happier because there was less osmotic pressure on them as all these salts got dissolved and they had more readily more ready access to nutrients. So they were happier over time. The fermentations move faster and the product ended up better. And that they came to us with that. You understand, we did not recommend this to them because we didn't know about it yet. It was it was a really cool aha moment.

That's absolutely amazing. And something I did not expect from this conversation that I got to be part of. Hey, this is a weird way. Conductivity helped us. So if we had launched right now, there are all these technologies. We have to buy tanks, we have to buy insurance, we have to buy all these things that you don't know when you're launching as a brewer or if you want to go pro and you demanded this of your boss. The way you'd make the pitch would be very different from how we launched. Ten years ago, this kind of technology didn't exist at all. We. Frankly, when I was given the pitch, I couldn't believe it was true. It's like the way back machine on the Internet. That's how I tell my new brewers when they come in, like you may may accept this as totally normal that you can have all this data. But when this pitch was given to me by Michael Fairbrother on a private phone call, like I just didn't believe it was true and it is. But when you're making investments in your startup, you have to get tanks, you have to get your mash time, your brew kettle, all those things. This technology is amazing. But the question is, how do you know when it's the right time? And I will tell you, I would not have gotten it on my first day as a brewer. I was seven or eight years into brewing when it came online and it was such a clear decision. But when is it the right time to bring this in?

I had to jump back to your earlier point. I had been in QC. Essentially, I've done a lab tech at fairly big breweries for some time. I came down to North Carolina and I met the guy who was developing it and he explained it to me. And my first thought was, that doesn't exist. And then he walked me around the corner. We were drinking at this little bar and the bar has a brewery in the back. We walked around the corner and there it was on a tank. It existed. I fully agree with you. It is a little surreal now to be a part of the company that I thought, well, that can't happen. But to answer your fundamental question, I truly believe that the moment you start to answer your question as clearly as I can, the moment you realize that you are gathering data more than you are using data, I think that is the truest answer. Because for many, many folks, they go into the brewery once a day, they take their gravities and temps and then they go home and that's their business model. That works fine for so many people. As soon as you start seeing that you have more data than you know what to do with and you're not doing anything meaningful with it, that's the moment. Truly, because of all of the built-in analytics and everything that can help you along with using your data in a meaningful way. There's your time.

That's the best answer I could think of. And I had no idea what you were going to say because it was so obvious for us because, oh my God, the books you were talking about, the file folders, the spreadsheets, hundreds. And I've seen it. I've seen it all. I'm sure you have. And we never looked at them again and we couldn't use them, but we did it. And especially when I was on parental leave, all the data was taken and we had a batch that had to be thrown away and I couldn't look through the data to make sense of it. And not only that, if you go, what did we do different that one time three years ago and then you go back digging through records, you're never going to be able to think about and find it in a meaningful way. What if everything was indexable? What if you could search it and go, oh yeah, right there. And then in the notes section, we did this on this day and here's our lab measurements that we took as compared to all this other data. It's all stored for you.

And that's the last silly note I wanted to add is the notes that the note section, it's just there. When you have to put in a manual data point, it says, hey, do you have any notes? I cannot tell you how important that has been. It's so easy. But you do it and you say, I did wait for it to get to the standard temp for my hydrometer. And you put that in the notes like I only had two minutes. I was on my way to an event, but Ricky asked me to take a measurement while I was here. It was 86 degrees. I can't remember the set point for our hydrometer. So with that, anything else you want people to know about your company, your mission, your goals, what they can use it for?

Realistically, I'm just interested in fermentations of all kinds. I think if you're doing something in the fermentation space, I think it's interesting. I think we want to know about it. We've had people come to us with questions about MSG production, little things like that, things that I didn't know were fermented products. I want to hear about it. Shoot me an email. My email address will be linked in the show notes. I want to hear what you're doing. And if you're in North Carolina, shoot me an email. Let's have a beer.

Dave, it has been an absolute pleasure to have you here. I learned more than I thought I was going to learn, which has been my experience with your company for many years now. Thank you so much for being here.

Thank you for having me. It's been a pleasure.

My guest today was Dave, also known as Boston by his coworkers, by the way, from Precision Fermentation. If you enjoyed this episode, please head over to professionalbrewer.com for more amazing content to help you on your professional brewing journey. And for exclusive content as well as the opportunity to ask questions of upcoming guests, please consider supporting us at patreon.com/professionalbrewerspodcast. Your support makes this show possible. Thanks for listening. Cheers.

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