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Friday, April 25, 2014

A Two-fer

BOTB Guy Note: Last month I was on the road and somehow Ron's email with his invaluable notes on our March meeting vanished into the cyber Twilight Zone. Since Ron had rotator cuff surgery in March, I assumed (incorrectly) that he just hadn't gotten them to me. Anyway, at the April meeting we got things straightened out and he re-sent the notes, so we'll run March and April together. Ergo, a two-fer.


Stopped in at World of Beers in Destiny the other day and happened to hit on "Ithaca Takeover" where Ithaca Brewery had 10 of WOB's taps. On tap were: Flower Power, Ground Break, Apricot, Cascazilla, Fleur de Belgique, Obscurite, Hopbloem, Sixteen, White Gold, and Laissez-Faire. I sampled Ground Break, Hopbloem and Fleur de Belgique. Ended up getting Fleur de Belgique, a Belgian IPA. Yes, a Belgian! But what a terrific Belgian. The typical Belgian yeast flavor is understated and blends nicely with this West Coast style IPA. 
We also had a Reuben and fries. Good food, good beer. And a wait staff knowledgeable of craft beers. Awesome.

Having traveled around the country a fair amount, I'd have to say that the Syracuse, NY area stacks up pretty well when it comes to the availability of craft beers. More and more restaurants are adding good craft beers to there taps. Of course, places like The Blue Tusk and J.Ryan's were ahead of the curve, but Copper Top has become a popular stop for craft beer lovers, and now its sister restaurant, Tully's  has begun adding craft beers as well. What surprises me now is that more places don't follow suit. I noticed the new place in East Syracuse, Mixers, now includes three Central New York craft beers on tap: Syracuse Pale Ale, Empire IPA, and  Saranac Pale Ale. But the chain restaurants (Red Lobster, Olive Garden, Smokey Bones etc.) still aren't on board. I believe I speak for a lot of potential customers out there when I say that if I have a choice of eating at a place that serves only mega-brews vs. one with an IPA or two (or Stout, or Belgian other than Shock Top or Blue Moon), there's no contest.


Perhaps this is an indication of the success of the Craft Beer Industry in that whenever something becomes popular suddenly everybody has their hands out looking for a piece of the action. In a move that sounds like it came from the mind of Catch 22's Milo Minderbinder ("What's good for M and M Enterprises is good for the country") Florida is considering a bill that would require craft brewers who sell their beer in in-house facilities to first sell it to a distributor, then buy it back from that distributor at a significant increase in price before they could sell it to the consumer at their own brewery. This, of course would make the beer more expensive for the consumer. Check out THIS ARTICLE for the details. 
Just wonder who's behind this bill. Who benefits? Well, two groups that I can see right off: 1. The beer distributors, of course; 2. The multi-national Beer companies such as InBev and Miller/Coors. It just seems like another obstacle to inhibit the growth of craft beers. The bill is so potentially detrimental to craft brewers that Cigar City Brewing in Tampa said they would look into opening a brewery outside the state of Florida. Hey, I've had their beers - come to New York!
You might want to head to  You'll find a petition there asking to vote no on the proposal.


Brewers and farmers have had a rather nice, symbiotic relationship for some time now. The spent grain from the breweries makes excellent feed for livestock, therefore brewers have been giving the spent grain to farmers, benefiting both. The brewer does not have to pay to have the grain removed and farmers get free feed. What a great idea. Who could possibly have a problem with this? Check out THIS ARTICLE to see. Again, one has to wonder: who benefits from this proposed rule? Just saying. Certainly not the farmers, and certainly not the brewers, and, by extension, certainly not the consumers.



We at BOTB are located in the great Northeast so many of our reviewed beers are Northeastern brews. Either that or brews from the larger West Coast breweries with wide-ranging distributorship (think Sierra Nevada, Stones, Pyramid). This is in part because we certainly like to promote locally as much as we can and in part due simply to the availability of these beers. However, lately craft beer has exploded across the nation and more and more breweries are finding ways to get their beers over borders and around the country. We decided this month to focus our taste buds on some brews from "The Middle." Our definition of middle was broad - from the Rockies to the Appalachians. No coasts unless it's one of the Great Lakes. Style wasn't stipulated, but, surprisingly, all were IPA's except one. And that one was a Double IPA (have I mentioned that we tend to obsess on IPA's?). We were still a man down with Herb doing a little recon work in warmer climes so only six beers were up for review.

We reviewed the beers in order of their alcohol content - lowest to highest. When we finished, we rated them according to drink-ability, taste, and a willingness on our part to go out and buy more. 

The Line Up:

-LUCKY U IPA - Breckenridge Brewery in Denver, Colorado
-HOP STRIKE - Tommyknocker Brewery in Idaho Springs,Colorado
-TWO HEARTED ALE - Bell's Brewery, Comstock, Michigan
-TITAN IPA - The Great Divide Brewery Company, Denver, Colorado
-HOP NOSH IPA - (Formerly Hop Notch. More on that later) Uintas Brewery in Salt Lake City, Utah
-CONNIPTION FIT DOUBLE IPA - Atwater Brewery, Detroit, Michigan


The Beer Facts: STYLE: India Pale Ale; ABV: 6.2%; IBUs: 68; MALTS: Two Row Pale, Munich, Carmel, Torrified Wheat, Carapils; HOPS: Amarillo, Magnum, Perle, Cascade, Apollo, Fuggle, Goldings; YEAST: Top fermented ale yeast

What the Brewer Says: "Nice forefront, hop bitterness with underlying malt character. ...a well-balanced, soulful IPA with just the right amount of hoppiness. An even keeled ale that goes down clean and refreshing, but still lets you know it's been doted on by the Brewmaster. It's true to it's IPA heritage, but also highly drinkable."

Color: Unfiltered apricot/golden honey (the brewery describes it as "spun gold")

Pour: Sparse tan head

Aroma: hoppy/grassy

Body: Toward the thin/light

Taste: Balanced, with notes of toffee and coffee

Overall Impression: I Could Drink This

Comments: "This has more hops aroma than taste; Nice taste; It tastes like a session beer; It would be a good drink on a nice hot summer day; It's pleasant; It's not a West Coast IPA; It plays more toward the malt than you would expect from an IPA; It tastes to me like a liquid Heath Bar; I don't know if I would run right out and get a 6-pack of this, but I wouldn't feel bad if a friend offered me one from his refrigerator."


The Beer Facts: STYLE: Black IPA (or perhaps an IBA); ABV: 6.5%; IBUs: 78; MALT: Dark Rye; HOPS: Chinook, Summit, Willamette

What the Brewer Says: "Hop Strike is a dry hopped black IPA. The beer is characterized by an intermingling of spicy citrus hops and chocolate malt. Hop Strike's substantial 78 IBUs are balanced by roasted rye resulting in a nice depth of malt character and deep color.

Color: Near black

Pour: A bit below "decent head" that is near milk chocolate in color.

Aroma: Burnt, dark roasted malt

Body: Between medium and full

Taste: Notes of coffee and chocolate

Overall Impression: I Could Drink This

Comments: "This tastes like a porter; The hops clean up the finish; It's not heavy or syrupy; I'd say it's tasty; It has a nice chocolate and coffee taste that finishes nicely; If you have a malty beer you can throw a lot of hops in it before you get a hoppy taste; You would think an IPA would be more toward the bitter; I'm not believing this beer I'm drinking is 78 IBUs."


The Beer Facts: STYLE: American India Pale Ale; ABV: 7.0%; IBU: 55; HOPS: Centennial

What the Brewer Says: "Bell's Two Hearted Ale is defined by  its intense hop aroma and malt balance. Hopped exclusively with the Centennial hop varietal from the Pacific Northwest, massive additions in the kettle and again in the fermenter lend their characteristic grapefruit and pine resin aromas. A significant malt body balances this hop presence; together with the signature fruity aromas of Bell's house yeast, this leads to a remarkably drinkable American-style India Pale Ale."

Color: Unfiltered orange

Pour: Decent, near white head 

Aroma: Grassy/hoppy with a bit of pine

Body: Medium

Taste: Tending toward the hoppy bitter end of the spectrum with floral and citrus notes

Overall Impression: Can't Get Enough!

Comments: "This beer has a nice nose; That's a GOOD beer; And mighty tasty; It has a nice, citrusy taste; I could just sit and drink this - just pour me another; Terrific; It's right in my wheelhouse for the way an IPA should taste; To me, it has the taste of Flower Power; Yeah, a nice floral taste; This tastes like another."


The Beer Facts: STYLE: India Pale Ale; ABV: 7.1%; IBUs: 65; MALT AND HOPS: NA

What the Brewer Says: "Titan IPA is a big, aggressively hopped India Pale Ale brewed for hop disciples. It starts out with piney hop aromas and citrus hop flavors, and finishes with a nice rich, malty sweetness that is balanced with crisp hop bitterness."

Color: Dark Amber

Pour: Decent white head

Aroma: Hoppy - grassy/fresh hay aroma, herbal and floral

Body: A little more than medium

Taste: On the bitter side of balanced, with citrus notes

Overall Impression: Very close to "Can't Get Enough"

Comments: "Some (a little) nose; Tastes a little like Lucky U to me but with a bit more flavor; I'm not getting a strong IPA flavor - more of a Pale Ale flavor; it's a nice beer, I like it; Maybe a bit of pine at the finish; It looks like a winter brew, but finishes a little hoppier than it looks; I have nothing bad to say about this beer."

HOP NOSH (formally Hop Notch)

The Backstory:  Originally this beer was called Hop Notch but there arose a copyright issue. Here's how the brewer explains it: "Uinta Brewing has agreed to change the name of Hop Notch, the brewery's flagship beer and one of the fastest-growing IPAs in the country, following a request from Massachusetts-based Notch Brewing, which owns the trademark for the word 'Notch' as it relates to beer and breweries. Notch Brewing clained that Hop Notch was creating marketplace confusion. 'We came to an amicable agreement,' said Chris Lohring, the founder of Notch Brewing. According to a press statement from Uinta Brewing, the Hop Notch brand will be changed to Hop Nosh, but the brewery said the label imagery and recipe will remain unaltered."
The Beer Facts: STYLE: American India Pale Ale; ABV: 7.3%; IBUs: 82; SRM: 15; MALT and HOPS: NA

What the Brewer Says: "Bold and refreshing, this IPA combines an abundance of hops with a smooth malt profile. Embracing our inner foodie, Hop Nosh is so big in hop character that it is literally a hoppy snack."

Color: Golden

Pour: Decent off-white head

Aroma: Pine and grass

Body: Medium

Taste: It strikes a level of balance initially with a terrific finish. There were notes of pine, grapefruit, and even nuts were detected.

Overall Impression: Can't Get Enough!!

Comments: "There's a nice little bite on the back end; A West Coast IPA taste; This is why I drink beer; This is one of my regular rotation beers; It is relatively new to the area; It is always a part of my 'mixed six' pack; I could drink this - every day; Because of the hops taste on the tail end - it's not my favorite; That's exactly what I like about it; It makes your tongue do a dance; It hits all the notes; It's a damn good beer."


The Beer Facts: STYLE: Double American IPA; ABV: 8.0%; IBU: 92; MALT and HOPS: NA

What the Brewer Says: "This tasty American Double Imperial IPA is 8.0% and 92 IBU."

Color: Unfiltered honey yellow

Pour: Decent frothy off-white head

Aroma: Late season, second cut hay or dried grass

Body: Toward the full/thick

Taste: Sweet malty on the front end before there is a bit of hops. There are notes of butterscotch and horehound.

Overall Impression: A little better than "I Could Drink This"

Comments: "It doesn't taste like a double; It doesn't bite like you'd think a double would; Lots of light roasted malt; I would like one, but wouldn't want a bunch of them; Nice bitter middle with a butterscotch sweet beginning; It doesn't hide the alcohol; There is something there all the way through - the bitter is pleasant; Maybe, but I'm not getting it; I'm not tasting the alcohol."


Using our usual rating system, we each rated the beers separately 1-6 then added the scores with the low score winning. As usual, we were not unanimous in our choices for our favorite, but combined here were the results:

#1 - Hop Nosh - Uinitas Brewery - A really wonderful IPA at a very affordable price - making it a regular in my fridge.

#2 - Two Hearted Ale - Bell's Brewery - A close second. This and Hop Nosh were the top two for all. Classic IPA taste. 

#3 - Titan IPA - The Great Divide Brewery - A nice beer, some of us felt it was more Pale Ale than IPA, but a real tasty brew that would be a welcome sight at any restaurant.

#4 - Conniption Fit Double IPA - Atwater Brewery - As is true so often with bigger beers like Double IPAs, one is enjoyable, but definitely not a session. This was one of those "split decision" beers with The Guys - some were fans, others not so much.

#5 - Hop Strike Black IPA - Tommyknocker Brewery - An enjoyable beer. It tended toward the malty with chocolate and coffee vibes that made it reminiscent of a Porter. 

#6 - Lucky U IPA - Breckenridge Brewery - We felt the hops were more aromatic than present in the taste. Much more malty than one would expect from an IPA. We found it enjoyable but not one we would actively seek.



Mixed 12-packs can be a decidedly mixed blessing. On the one hand, variety is the spice of life and it's nice to have a variety of brews to try. With the right mixed-12 you can have four (or three) different beers ready  for whatever brew mood might move you. Or you can match a beer to a particular meal if you are so inclined. However the down side is that if there is a beer that you consider a loser - one that you absolutely have no interest in consuming - you are stuck with two or three of them taking up valuable space in your fridge. I remember bottles of Cherry Wheat that took up residence in my basement "beer fridge" for so long I started claiming them as dependents on my income tax forms. They stayed there until a guest happened to see them and say without a hint of irony, "Wow! Cherry Wheat! I love Cherry Wheat!"
But sometimes you can hit on mixed-12s that have a "weak sister" that isn't that bad. Something you can certainly live with. Of course we at BOTB like those mixed IPA packs (think Sam Adams'  IPA Hopology or Sierra Nevada's 4-Way IPA variety packs) but we decided to check out a couple of Saranac's currently available Mixed 12s: 12 Beers a Springing and their newest addition Can Do.
With each beer we added a question following our comments: "Would you buy a 6-pack of this beer?"

12 Beers a Springing

Matt Brewing Company out of Utica, New York has been producing their Saranac "12 Beers a...(or of)" variety packs for several years now. They like to give you six different beers - two each - in their mixed 12s. Each season has its own mix, usually combining their standards with some seasonal beers and/or new beers they might want to test market. For example, this years 12 Beers of Winter had their flagship Pale Ale combined with a Belgian Pale and 4059 Porter  plus three new beers: Moonshadow, Decoction Concoction, and Spiced Christmas Ale.
12 Beers a Springing has an interesting mix:

Forbidden IPA
Prism White Ale
Dry Hop Lager
Irish Stout
Pale Ale (The Pale Ale is in the Can Do mix as well, so we'll look at that when we do that mix)


The Beer Facts: STYLE: American India Pale Ale; ABV: 5.2%; IBUs; 50

What the Brewer Says: "This citrusy IPA has a distinctive fruity flavor complemented by a playful bitterness. We'd tell you how we brew it, but then we'd have to kill you."

Color: Honey

Pour: Well past Decent head

Aroma: Grassy, herbal

Body: Medium

Taste: Nice hoppy/grapefruity flavor 

Overall Impression: Well toward "Can't Get Enough"

Comments: "Nice little hop finish to it; They have enough IPAs to make a variety pack of IPAs; You know I really like this; Make a good session IPA; It's kind of nice to see some IPAs with lower ABVs so you can kick back and have a few without getting plastered."

Would You Buy a 6-Pack of This Beer?: Yes.


The Beer Facts: STYLE: Red India Pale Ale; ABV: 6%; IBU: 60; MALT: European Dark Caramel Malt; HOPS: Calypso, Palisade, Chinook.

What the Brewer Says: "Our Red IPA is a twist on a traditional West Coast IPA featuring a deep red color form European dark caramel malts. We brew with generous amount of American hops including Calypso, Palisade and Chinook to give this IPA a distinctive hop aroma. You'll notice a strong hoppy flavor with caramel malt undertones and a unique color that gives this IPA a whole new personality"

Color: Mahogony

Pour: Decent Head

Aroma: Hay, grass, herbal

Body: Medium

Taste: Nice bitter bite with a balance of Malty and Grapefruit hop flavors

Overall Impression: Can't Get Enough!

Comments: "I really like this; Kinda' like the color; Nice bitter finish, malty start, hoppy finish; I prefer it to their regular IPA; I'd put it between  their Pale and Legacy; Ought to make a Can-Can 12-pack with this, Legacy and their IPA or maybe their Imperial IPA; I really like this beer, smooth with lots of flavor."

Would You Buy a 6-Pack of This Beer?: Absolutely!


The Beer Facts: STYLE: Belgian White Ale; ABV: 5.2%; IBUs: 40

What the Brewer Says: "This light colored wheat ale might have a hazy appearance but one thing's crystal clear: it practically sparkles with bright, citrusy flavor. Enjoy!"

Color: Unfiltered wheat

Pour: Decent white head

Aroma: Peach, citrusy

Body: Between Light and Medium

Taste: Kind of a sweet lemon, fruity taste with hints of coriander and apricot

Overall Impression: For us it was a "Leave it on the Shelf"

Comments: "Tastes like the bastard child of Ithaca Apricot Wheat and Magic Hat #9; Not my favorite - I'd say my least favorite; I wasn't thrilled at first, but the taste kind of grows on me a little bit; It's that Belgian vibe that a lot of people really like, I'm just not a fan; I definitely like their White IPA better; Like to see White IPA, Red IPA, Forbidden IPA and Legacy in a mix - I'd buy that in a heartbeat."

Would You Buy a 6-Pack of This Beer?: NO.


The Beer Facts: STYLE: Lager; ABV: 6.0%; IBUs: 30; MALT: North American and German malt; HOPS: Mittlefrau, Saphir, Opal, Taurus.

What the Brewer Says: "...we dry hop with Opal, a new variety known for its citrus and herbal characteristics, and Taurus, a unique new variety with wonderful aromatic qualities. Lagers aren't typically dry hopped, but we wanted to showcase a lager blooming with hop flavor and aroma. You'll experience a medium body with subtle malt notes to round out this uniquely hopped brew. Cheers!"

Color: Golden lightly filtered

Pour: Better than Decent head

Aroma: Metallic

Body: Between Light and Medium

Taste: Tending toward sweet, malty

Overall Impression: We'd "Leave it on the Shelf"

Comments: "Not great, I much prefer the Wild Pils; I don't know, tastes like a Lager to me; Stick with ales!; Much better than Bud, Miller etc., maybe a good 'intro to craft beer' type beer; I much prefer many of Saranac's other beers."

Would You Buy a 6-Pack of This Beer?: No.


The Beer Facts: STYLE: Dry Stout; ABV: 5.5%; IBUs: 30

What the Brewer Says: "Deep within the heart of the Irish lies an uncanny passion for what they call 'leann dubh' or black ale. Saranac Irish Stout is a lavish beer blended with dark malts to create a coffee-like taste. Look for a roasted character that is surprisingly smooth and refreshing, pint after pint. Cheers!" 

Color: Black

Pour: Impressive Guinness class head

Aroma: Molasses, sweet, sorghum

Body: Up in the Full range

Taste: Tending toward sweet with hints of malt, bread, nut and coffee

Overall Impression: I Could Drink This!

Comments: "If I were to purchase a Stout - this is it; This is better than some of the Irish Stouts I've had; Id order this for my wife - she really likes Stouts and Porters, and not so much IPAs; It's one fo those nice, pleasant drinkable Stouts; Not heavy, but full-bodied and good flavor."

Would You Buy a 6-Pack of This Beer?: Possibly, on St. Patrick's Day; Sure, if I was feeling like a Stout.


-Wild Hop Pils
-Saranac Pale Ale
-Legacy IPA


The Beer Facts:STYLE: Pilsener; ABV: 5.2%; IBU: 28; HOPS: Belma 

What the Brewer Says: "This unique pilsener features Belma hops, found growing wild on a hop farm in Washington State, for a clean, tropical taste. Pair it with marinated pork tenderloin, chicken wings, prosciutto, bacon and chevre or Havarti cheeses."

Color: Pale yellow

Pour: Decent white head

Aroma: Grassy with typical Pilsener herbal aroma

Body: Medium

Taste: Somewhat balanced with a nice bready, nutty undertone. A bit of hop bitterness and pine. A Pilsener with a subtle hop presence.

Overall Impression: I Would Drink This. 

Comments: "Not a bad golf beer. Why the purple can?; Not a big fan of Pils - but this is better than most; Easy drinking beer; Aroma has a little more than average Pilsener; Session beer; A faint bitter undertone at the end; Not a 'must have' beer, but not bad; A better 'weak sister' than many variety packs have; Not bad."

Would You Buy a 6-Pack of This Beer?: No, but a mixed 12 to try it or as a change of pace beer.


The Beer Facts: STYLE: English Pale Ale; ABV: 5.5%; IBUs: 32; MALTS: six specialty malts; HOPS: English Kent Goldings, Fruggles

What the Brewer Says: "Saranac Pale Ale is a classic English Pale Ale brewed with six specialty malts and aggressively hopped with hand-selected English Kent Goldings and Fruggles hops. Look for a rich fruity hop bouquet. A copper amber color and a smooth, full-flavored taste with a crisp finish that only comes from a genuine top fermented ale. Enjoy!"

Color: Amber

Pour: Decent off white head

Aroma: Grassy, herbal, floral

Body: Medium

Taste: Balanced with nice malty, nutty, bready base and pleasant blend of English hops

Overall Impression: I Do Drink This!

Comments: "I think it's one of the best straight-up Pale Ales out there; Good standard, great stand-by; Backbone of many of their mixed 12s; Their flagship beer for good reason; Good boat beer, golf course beer; One of the better beers in a can out there; Such a nice, smooth beer."

Would You Buy a 6-Pack of This Beer?: Yes. Already do, on a regular basis.


The Beer Facts: STYLE: American India Pale Ale; ABV: 6.5%; IBUs: 60; MALTS: North American Two-Row and Munich; HOPS: A blend of historic, traditional, and innovative hops.

What the Brewer Says: "Our founder passed down his legacy of great beer. Inspired by his recipe, this heavenly IPA's aroma and depth of flavor is our gift to you."

Color: Golden

Pour: Better than Decent head

Aroma: Bready yeast and grass

Body: Medium

Taste: Balanced with a nice bitter bent

Overall Impression: Well toward "Can't Get Enough!"

Comments: "Nice sustainability; I think this should just replace their regular IPA; I like the way this opens better than the Pale - but I like the way the Pale finishes better; Very tasty; I was buying their White IPA 12 packs last summer (rather than 6-packs) in part because of the bonus pint can of Legacy IPA; I'm glad they're continuing with the beer - I was afraid they would follow the same route as Guinness with their 250 a few years ago where they stopped producing it after a period of time; Good beer."

Would You Buy a 6-Pack of This Beer?: Absolutely, yes.


So we took a look at a couple of variety packs by Saranac and afterward we batted around our opinions on each. After some interesting give and take, we put it to a vote. The question: Would you buy this particular variety pack? The results were as follows:

12 BEERS A SPRINGING - With seven members this one came as close as you can to a split decision. By a vote of 4-3 we said (as a group) we would not buy this. The four nays sited the fact that they couldn't get past the Prism White Ale and Dry Hop Lager enough to purchase the 12 pack. The 3 dissenting votes felt that those two brews were not weak enough to keep them from buying the 12 pack. They didn't mind those two beers and enjoyed the others enough to take the plunge.

Can Do Variety Pack - This one was unanimous. All of us said we would buy this 12-pack. We felt that Legacy and Pale Ale were terrific beers and Wild Hops Pils made for a decent boat/golf beer. In fact, I purchased a Can Do pack to take to a family Easter dinner. Twelve beers traveled with me to the dinner. None returned. To quote Stan Lee: "'Nuff said."


I had a can of Heady Topper which was generously donated to me by my buddy Dave Grant and I shared it with a couple of early arrivals. We had reviewed this back in March of 2012 and loved the beer, but it is a tough brew to hunt down. It's one of those beers that has become almost legendary. We certainly enjoyed it.

I also brought back from Springfield, Illinois a growler of Engrained IPA from Engrained Brewing, a small brew pub in Springfield. We had lunch there and, after I had one of their IPAs, I ran out and grabbed a couple of growlers I had brought and filled them right up. Terrific beer. If you ever happen to be in Springfield, I highly recommend looking this place up. Besides the IPA, they had an American Pale Ale that was very good as well as a Kolsch, a wheat, an Irish Red and an Oatmeal Stout.


Check your calender and clear June 1st. That's the date for this year's annual BOTB blast. Golf, food, music and, of course, good beer. Who's invited? Anyone who reads this blog. Details will be forthcoming. Let us know if you're in by RSVPing to

The BOTB Guys