Tag Archives: Cascade Barrel Brewing House

My Year in Beer

It’s that time again where people gather to reflect back on the year that is passing and to look forward to what the future will bring.

For craft beer aficionados it feels like the bubble will never burst. Just when you think the seemingly insatiable growth of the craft beer industry may be leveling off a new brewery sets up tanks, a new tap room polishes its’ taps, a new beer festival celebrates an emergent style, a new hop farm plants a rhizome, a long-forgotten beer style is revised and revamped and a new beer blogger offers up their thoughts to the universe.


SRB Beer Tasters


2013 was an enjoyable year in beer for me. I went to a few of my favourite beer festivals, I visited some new local breweries here in British Columbia and in Washington, I took a road trip to California, which included brewery visits of course, and I tried some very memorable beers.

Also, this year I really tried to focus on quality over quantity when it came to my craft beer choices. For awhile the market was small enough that you could (reasonably) try each and every new thing but this is no longer realistic. I have been sampling my way around long enough to really know my own palate or I know what I like dammit so why not invest in what I enjoy.


Bottle Caps


Here are some of my highlights from the year the was:

Visiting Russian River Brewing Company – I had put Russian River on a pedestal for so long I knew my visit could never meet my expectations; nonetheless it was so worth it to sit down in front of the massive sample try and enjoy some of the world’s best beers on tap in the place where they were born.

Discovering The Bruery – This year saw me introduce myself to what just may be one of my all-time favourite breweries. Focusing on barrel aged creations, The Bruery really caught my attention with Tart of Darkness a sour stout. Any brewer that can successfully merge these two stellar beer styles deserves our devotion.



Drinking a Manhattan – The beer that really blew me away this year came from a very reliable source, Cascade Brewing in Portland, OR. An amazing fusion of sweet, rich cocktail meets sour beer made this a beyond memorable brew.

Pulling into Elizabeth Station – This little tap room that can in Bellingham, WA has become a must visit every time I am cross-border shopping. An incredible bottle selection accompanied by a well thought out tap list.

Out of Province Beers – I had the chance to sample craft beers from Prince Edward Island, Ontario and Quebec that never make there way out to BC and it is always fun finding something new that none of the local beer geeks have got their hands on.




Tasting the Best Beer in the World – Unintentionally stumbling across a case of Westvleteren 12 at a local liqour store meant I could finally see for myself what all the hype was about. The best? Maybe not definitively but pretty damn amazing that’s for sure.

Blogging about Beer – Always a highlight coming up with topics of interest and subjecting fellow beer geeks to my personal views on whatever comes to mind. Some of my personal favourite posts were Four Word Beer Reviews, Putting the “I” in Beer Review, Decoding Duchesse and Re-Inventing Rodenbach, The Art of the Beer Label BC Edition, Out of the Cellar and finally, Beer with (insert current foodie fad).


FW Tasteroom Tasters

Looking forward to another big year in beer. Happy New Year!


Under the Dome


Last week, unbeknownst to the lay drinker, a weird and scary social experiment was set-up in downtown Portland. For five straight days Pioneer Square courtyard was hermetically sealed under a large plastic dome. Stringent entry and exit protocols were put in place so only a select few were allowed inside. This bio-dome was self-sustaining with all the basic necessities.

The rest of the population was left to observe from the outside bandying about their best guesses as to what lay within. Why, they asked, was this dome erected, who built it, and who or what resides in its’ temperature controlled walls?

As one of the chosen few selected to enter into this artificial world let me reveal what exactly went down under the dome…

HAF Volunteer

It was beer fest silly.

Starting last Wednesday Portland Oregon was once again home to Holiday Ale Festival the annual celebration of the real reason for the season, winter beer. For five ale-filled days and nights you could wander in and out of the beer-o-sphere sampling breweries seasonal offerings, rare casks, vertical tastings (hello six years of The Abyss anyone?) and even live beer blendings.

Beer Coaster in a Tree

Celebrate Beer

The Festival

This is my second year attending Holiday Ale Fest and, like last year, there are many well thought-out parts to this event. In and out privileges, long hours, the festival runs over several days, rotating casks, VIP lines, maps on the taster mugs, a mobile site to guide patrons (unless you are a Canadian with a stupid Canadian cell phone provider), a beer brunch on Sunday, a root beer garden, and, most importantly, lots of interesting winter beers.

Another Volunteer

At the same time there are a few drawbacks to this festival, Friday and Saturday nights get a little hectic, the line-ups and the crowds hanging-out tend to blend together into one big jumble of people, without the mobile site your map tells you very little because you do not know which beers are pouring where and there is only one rinse station in the farthest corner by the exit.

Overall though this festival is well-organized and well-executed.

Taster Mugs

Beer Guide


The Beer

With admission you are given ten tokens; the majority of beers are just one token with the rare casks and blendings/tastings being two or more tokens. This means hubby and I started out with a respectable twenty tokens plus two bonus added for purchasing a ticket online (nice touch!).

A Beer, not sure which one

Turning to our trusty beer guide we set out to take-on the rare beers first in case they sold-out and then to work our way through anything that peaked our interest (this can be dangerous strategy when almost all the winter beers sound wondrous on paper).

The flip side of this equation is that too many winter beers can be a bad thing. Generally, winter beers are heavy, dark, rich and strong so a few can go a long way. Some of the beers I really enjoyed tended to be those that bucked the traditional winter style and brought something a little lighter to the table.

Me like Beer

Some of our favourites this year included in no particular order:

Cascade Brewing Creamsicle, a Belgian meets blonde meets barrel aging with vanilla, orange and spices. This one was offered on its’ own or as a 6 token blend with the Crooked Stave Cranberry Saison.

2 Towns Ciderhouse Bourbon Barrel Nice & Naughty Barrel Aged spiced cider. A crisp and tart alternative to the onslaught of the winter beers at the festival but at the same time a strong warming drink.

Stone Brewing Co. Spiced Unicorn Milk Chai Milk Stout a smooth and sweet stout that has a nice complement of Indian spices.

New Belgium Brewing Co. Paradebloem Another lighter (in colour and body) beer that brings some tartness to the table making it stand out from the rest of the festival line-up.

Deschutes Brewery Virgin Sacrifice Imperial Stout with Cherries. We all know Deschutes knows how to do imperial stout so this one was a kind of a gimme. Nonetheless cherries add a nice touch of tart/sweet to a full bodied coffee and roasted grain forward stout.


Thanks to all the organizers and volunteers for another great holiday ale festival and see you again next year!

The Aftermath

My Beer of the Year (so far)

The best beer.

Well as we all know best is a pretty subjective word and when it comes to beer, really what does it even mean? The best example of the style, the best for drink-ability, the best beer you can keep in regular rotation or the best extra-special extra-rare beer you try once in a lifetime? Does the best beer shift over time or is it the beer that can weather the latest craft beer fad?

In my time on this planet (while I was over drinking age of course) I have had the pleasure of trying many truly remarkable beers including Westvleteren 12, Pliny the Elder from Russian River, Red Poppy from The Lost Abbey, Bourbon Barrel-aged Fred from Hair of the Dog, The Abyss from Deschutes, Rochefort 10, Tactical Nuclear Penguin from BrewDog and many others that at the time I felt were viable contenders for the mantle o f ‘best beer’ for various reasons.

Needless to say after that many great beers a geek can become just a little picky and by extension a little hard to impress. Often I tend to fall back on the breweries I trust to not break my heart if I try something new.

So when I heard my friends would be passing through Portland OR on holidays I asked if they would pick me up a couple of bottles from just one of those steadfast breweries Cascade Brewing Barrel House.

Taking a quick peek at their availability I requested The Vine (a perennial favourite) and Manhattan (a beer I knew literally nothing about but figured what the hey).

When my non beer geek friends went into Cascade they were told Manhattan just happens to be the best beer in the house (finely honed my beer intuition is) and this assessment got me a little excited. I mean if the people at the brewery think this is the best then its’ got to be impressive.

Manhattan Love

Manhattan Love

So how was it?

Wow, just wow.

Okay I guess I can provide a bit more information but I worry my words will not do this beer justice so here is the official description. Manhattan NW 2011 project is “A blend of spiced Blond Quads, aged in Heaven Hill Bourbon barrels on 150 pounds of sour pie cherries for five months before additionally aging on apricot noyaux for three months”.

…and here are my words. Manhattan pours a bright cherry brown colour with very good clarity and lots of light airy head that clings to the glass in rows of lacing. A liqoury and sweet nose with just a hint of cherry. Very smooth mouthfeel, no harshness from the strong alcohol, and a very still beer with no effervescence. Lots of flavours going on here dried fruit, rich caramel, bourbon, herbal notes and a bit of an underlying funkiness, It drinks like a cocktail, a Manhattan in fact. The sourness in this one is subtle just cutting through the beer’s richness and sweetness with a slightly tart finish. A warming beer that deserves to be sipped especially since the 11.5% ABV packs a very big wallop.

Overall I was beyond impressed, Manhattan is quite simply the best beer I have had this year.

Pulling into Elizabeth Station

As a frequent cross-border beer shopper I thought I knew all the hidden gems for finding the best craft beer selection in Bellingham, WA but apparently I did not know squat because I had not been to Elizabeth Station.

Elizabeth Station Entrance

Elizabeth Station is an impressive shop brimming with craft beer fridges organized geographically, a decent wine and spirit section and quite possibly that largest selection of junk food I have ever seen.

Beer Fridges at Elizabeth Station

From jars of candy to a cereal bar to towering shelves of chips to sandwiches Elizabeth Station basically has all manner of food stuffs any self-respecting person with the munchies may or may not have to good sense to ignore.

Thankfully they also have a three beer limit so I won’t inadvertently become compelled to purchase a Ring Pop for each finger after a few too many.

Candy at Elizabeth Station


Cereal on Tap

In addition, and perhaps most importantly, Elizabeth Station boasts a small selection of taps, growler fills and bottle service – see something you like in the fridge and they will open it for you and you can consume in store.

On Tap

While there I had the pleasure of trying Petrus Aged Pale from Bavik-De Bradandere on tap, a lovely crisp, bright sour that serves as the mother (the starter beer) for the rest of the beers in the brewery’s line-up.

My hubby asked for a porter recommendation from the resident beer guy and was very impressed with the suggested Anchor Porter.

We took home a bottle of Vlad the Impaler form Cascade and a four of 90min IPA from Dogfish Head to commemorate our visit.

So next time you find yourself in downtown Bellingham stop in and be impressed!

Petrus Aged Pale


Baby, why are you so Sour?

Somewhat contrary to my fellow beer geeks, when I first started exploring craft beer one of the more challenging styles quickly emerged as my favourite and that style is soured beer. I  know this category of beer is not everyone’s ‘cup of tea’ and in fact many people are initially turned off by the often over-powering tartness of  a gueze or an oud bruin but if you think you are not a fan of wild ales you really do not know what you are missing.


Sour Beer from Cascade Barrel House

Sour Beer from Cascade Barrel House


Sour beer is technically not a style in and of itself, rather it is a process of using bacterial infection to impart tartness while fermenting and/or beer, as such under this broad category there is a range of flavours and, well, sourness from sweet and fruity lambics, to the deep and rich sour brown ales, to the accessible Flanders red ales, to the straight lambics, which offer no apologies for their tart kick.

Historically, lambic beers (a style of beer brewed with aged hops and a high proportion of unmalted wheat) were spontaneously fermented. That is to say you basically do the opposite of everything you learned in homebrew school and intentionally infect your wort with some of the many microscopic critter floating around in the air. The different resultant bacterial infections all work to ferment the beer while it ages in wooden barrels (the wooden barrel being a natural haven for microbes). Ensuring consistency is near impossible for the sour beer brewer so the resultant batches are blended to achieve the desired tartness levels.

According to Mosher in Tasting Beer, when Lindemans expanded their brewery they took a portion of their old wall and bolted it in their new building in order to preserve their signature mix of beneficial bugs.




In modern times, the souring of beer is less by chance i.e. opening a window and hoping for the best but really not by much.

Bacterial agents like lactobacillus, brettanomyces and pediococcus are systematically introduced to the fermentation process; however, the outcome remains somewhat unpredictable and the time commitment to brew a sour beer is significant compared pretty much any other beer style think years versus months. Blending remains the most viable means to ensure the sourness of your beer is at a level that is drinkable.


Beet Sour Beer from Epic Ales

Beet Sour Beer from Epic Ales


Once the sole domain of dedicated Belgian brewers devoted to the art of brewing sour beers, wild ales are carving out an impressive niche in Europe and North America. Russian River, Cascade Brewing, Jolly Pumpkin and Epic Ales are all making a name for themselves in pursuit of excellent sourness.

A little more north Oud Bruin from Yaletown Brewing Company and Driftwood’s Bird of Prey Flanders Red are showing Canadian brewers are also getting on the sour bandwagon.




Is sour beer the next big thing in the craft beer world? Well, not to self-promote (too much) I have to say I saw this one coming for quite sometime now. I even wrote a post called ‘Love is a Sour Delight’ back in February of 2011 espousing the wonder that is sour beer. If you require further confirmation, you just need walk into any decent beer store and observe the number of barrel-aged, wild and wine-blended beers now on the market.

As we move into warmer weather I urge my fellow beer geeks to crack open a bottle of sour beer on a warm summer night and tell me this isn’t one of the best affirmations they have ever had that craft beer will one day rule the world.


Does Beer Geek ≠ Foodie?

I always assumed that craft beer was a natural extension of foodie culture. Love of quality ingredients, focus on the art of preparation, the desire to know where you food comes from and who makes it, all seem like tenets that marry well with beer geek culture BUT lately a number of brewpubs seem to have set out to disprove my theory. I know that beer and pub grub (think nachos, deep fried whatever, shepherd’s pie) have a long and well-established relationship and you go to a pub for the beer not the gourmet cuisine blah, blah, blah but craft beer is an entirely different animal right?


The pride and quality that goes into producing small batches of unique beer should not be hindered by pairing said beer with mediocre food offerings more suited to a case of the late-night munchies at the 7-11. I am not saying I need complicated or elaborate courses served at the breweries but I do want the quality of food to be a reflection of the quality of the beer. I want food that compliments and enhances the character of the beers, and I have to believe I cannot be the only one.


Luckily here in Vancouver we have many awesome tasting rooms like Alibi Room and Bitter Tasting Room that provide finely honed menus to suit their craft beer offerings. In Beervana aka Portland I have also had the pleasure of visiting brewpubs with stellar food selection like Cascade Brewing Barrel House and Hopworks Urban Brewery. These places manage to put a foodie twist on pub staples, toss in some unexpected items, have menu diversity and just generally keep the quality of ingredients very high.


Sadly this has not always been the case with other brewpubs.


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On Thursday I visited Chuckanut Brewery and Kitchen in Bellingham Washington. The brewery and tasting areas are housed in a typical warehouse-like buildings situated beside a small river in the heart of downtown. Displayed along the entrance way are the numerous awards bestowed upon Chuckanut craft brews; I was particularly excited to try their much lauded Kolsch. There is a small seating area by the bar, a large seating area in front of an open kitchen, and a patio with a few tables along the water. I also noticed a back patio, which I assume plays host to events or tastings at the brewery. It is a pretty nice layout all-in-all with lots of flowers lining the fence along the patio.


When we got the menus I was happy to see that all the food is prepared fresh as you order. Not a lot in the way of veg friendly options and a pretty standard line-up of brewpub fare like Bangers and Mash, BLT’s and Burgers. Faced with two choices, hummus or yam fries, we opted to split an order of fries to accompany our sampler of the six beers. Our food came quickly, so quickly in fact that I saw the fries sitting on the counter about two minutes after my partner order (warning bells alert me that fresh made in two minutes violates the laws of physics). Needless to say the food was pretty bad, well really bad actually, kind of like eating day old fries that attempt to make up for their questionable freshness with tons of salt. The food went back and we opted to focus on the beer sans nourishment – our waitress was not too happy and pretty much ignored us for the remainder of our visit so we probably could not have tried something else from the menu anyway.


But this is a beer blog so I will get on with the beer assessment. I inadvertently learned the Kolsch was a no-show when I found a British IPA in its place –bummer. The other five beers we sampled were the Pilsner, Yellow Card Ale, Rauch Lager, Golden Ale and the Smoke Porter. The Pils was very pale gold and effervescent. It was very dry, light in body with a bitter hoppy finish; would have benefited from a slightly colder serving temperature. The Yellow Card and the Golden were somewhat similar in appearance with the Yellow Card Ale being stronger and hoppier with some fruity element on the nose. The Golden Ale was milder with a nutty flavour. The British IPA was orange-gold in colour with lots of stiff bright white head. It was very smooth but quite dry again with a subtle hop character. The Rauchbier and the Smoke Porter both had a lot of hickory (sweet but smoky) flavour almost like applewood smoking. In the Rauch this smoked flavour dominates the palate while in the porter it adds another dimension to a fuller bodied beer. I wish the porter had more of a rosted quality to it. I think both of these beers would be fun for food pairings since they have a lot of character. If I visit again I would get the British IPA and try the Kolsch.


So you can take what you will from this rant; either it is about the beer and food is just a side-note or craft beer and foodie culture really make great bedfellows. I think as the craft beer market continues to define its place in the world, the food breweries choose to serve alongside their beers must not be an afterthought but rather a compliment to and a reflection on the care and passion put into each and every beer being served.

Back to Beervana

Just got back from another road trip to Portland or Beervana as it has been dubbed by the mayor (you know your town is pretty cool when the establishment okays a city nickname with beer in it) where I got to sample a variety of new draught and bottled beers. Rather than attempt to recount the details of all my imbibing I have decided to highlight some of my favourites.

First stop was Hopworks Urban Brewery (HUB) where my partner and I sampled a bicycle hub filled with their ten most current brews –this included six of their regular line-up and four special ales; two new reds the Galactic Imperial and the Rise up Red, a robust Belgian the Muscles from Brussels and the Pick-a-thon IPA. Our favourite was the Galactic Imperial Red, a hoppy 100+ IBU ale with a nice almost sour malt quality to it.

Next day was the Green Dragon Pub, which boasts and impressive Front 20 and Back 30 beers on tap. We tried six samples, which included Rogue Creamery Ale, Green Dragon Quadrupled, Ninkasi Radiant Summer Ale, Full Sail Saison a Pleine Voile, Russian River Consecration and Caldera Dry Hop Orange. The hands-down winner of these six was the Rogue Creamery Ale a strong brown ale with a subtle burnt cafe au lait aftertaste. Across the road at Cascade Brewing Barrel House we sampled Nightfall, Pre-Buorbonic, Apple Pie and Honey Rye Ginger. Tough call on this one so I will award a tie to the Pre-Bourbonic and the Honey Rye Ginger, which were both amazing sour ales but for very different reasons; Pre-Bourbonic was strong and sweet with a porter like quality to it while the Honey Rye Ginger was an awesome balance of sweet and spice on the palate. Both of these sours tempered their tartness with robust but complementary elements.

On to Deschutes Brewery & Public House where we got a little carried away with another dozen samples. Cascade Ale, Gluten Free NW Pale Ale #29, Twilight Ale, Bourbon Murder, Black Butte Porter (Casked), Imperial Hop in the Dark (Casked), Armory XPA, Deschutes Brewery Hefeweizen, Conflux 2, La Cycliste, Hop-in-the-Dark and Obsidian Stout. Bit of a two-way tie here as well. The Conflux 2, a collaboration with Boulevard Brewing Company, is white IPA, which marries the spice of a nice hefeweizen (coriander, orange, lemongrass) with the robust hop of a northwest IPA. The Bourbon Murder (okay so I think is actually the better of the two) is a bourbon casked stout with the most amazing vanilla nose followed by a send-you-to-heaven chocolate and coffee mouthfeel. It actually lacks the heft of some stouts but keeps the prominent liquor taste making it creamy and easy to drink …yum!

Last but not least we complimented any lulls in our pub crawl by stocking up at the amazing Belmont Station Beer Store, which boasts a mere 1201 BEERS. You know the expression kid in a candy store well I think grown-up in a beer store is equally apt. We found way too many beers several of which actually made it back to BC with us but some of which only made it as far as our hotel room. Armed with a box of voodoo donuts we sampled (bottle sized samples) Russian River Redemption Blond Ale, Baird/Ishii/Stone Brewing Japanese Green Tea IPA, Russian River Salvation Dark Ale and Maredsous Triple. This might not be shocking to those who have read any of my previous posts but the winner here was the Russian River Blonde. A sweet, nutty ale with a lot of carbonation. It had a pungent yeasty nose and but tasted surprisingly light. The mouthfeel was almost creamy. Amazing gold colour, hazy with a ton of head, I can never say enough about the quality of beers this brewery is producing.

Trending in Portland Radlers, beers mixed with lemonade or lemon/lime soda, and bourbon casked ales …Stay tuned for reviews on the rest of the beers I liberated from Beervana.

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Love is a Sour Delight*

In honour of Valentine’s Day I thought I would do a review of my recent visit to Cascade Brewing Barrel House the destination for all things tart and tantalizing.  The Barrel House had a number of casked ales and draught options; the casks were embedded in the wall behind the bar, each sporting a spigot to sample straight from the barrel.  There were nineteen beers on the menu ranging from safe options like Cascade Pale and Colonial IPA to more adventurous choices like the ‘strong sour’ Vlad the Impaler and the ‘staff only’ Chocolate Raspberry.  To a sour beer aficionado such as me the options were a little overwhelming but luckily the two dollar taster glasses afforded me the chance to sate my curiosity.  The atmosphere was cozy with a row of seats at the bar for direct contact with your server, cozy private booths lining one wall and the rest of the room taken up with long tables and benches affording you the opportunity to converse with other beer-ophiles.  There was also an impressive outdoor seating area that unfortunately was purely vestigial in North West Coast winters (aka the rain season).

Now on to the beer… I sampled the menu quite extensively so I will try to give each it’s due.  First up the Chocolate Raspberry Ale, a blend of their Fresh Hop Porter and Busta Nut Brown mixed with raspberry infused bourbonic.  A nice deep reddish brown that poured with a large head, heavy lacing lingered on the sides of the glass.  I found both the raspberry and chocolate elements to be quite subtle but to be fair the first sour beer tends to set your palate for the tartness to come.  The Beck Berry was a ‘once-in-a-lifetime’ blend of tripels and strong blondes fermented and aged with blackberries in oak.  A second inoculation was done and sour cherry added to give it some ‘pucker’.  This ale poured a bright gold (despite the berry name) with minimal head; it was crisp, sharp ale, highly drinkable with the strength of a Belgian complimented with tart berry notes.  Next up the ‘one off’ Blauw Van Der Jon Berry which was a soured wheat coupled with blueberries.  This beer was the colour of blueberries with just a little head.  Blueberry is an inspired choice in a sour ale since the blueberry has a touch of sweetness that nicely balances the sour elements as opposed to increasing the tartness.  Trekking out of sour territory I sampled McShagger Scottish Strong Ale a mix of sweet malt, chocolate, coffee and just a hint of whiskey to warm the tummy,  Nice, nice, nice a deep brown ale with a lingering, creamy head and lots of lacing.  Strong malts come through with that distinctive liquor taste, which makes it a Scot drink.

From here it gets a little more complicated… flash forward to my second visit (the following day) and a rowdy patron breaks their taster glass on the floor.  Perhaps worried other patrons may frown upon such rowdiness on a Sunday afternoon the most excellent bartender offers up free samples to placate the crowd.  In a move near and dear to my heart the server does an impromptu blending of the various casks such that many of my samplings were unique mixes.  Some of the ales I tried include Glueh Kriek a spiced mulled sour cherry ale served piping in the glass.  This was truly a magnificent Christmas brew strong and liqoury, spicy and tinged with just the right amount of sour pie cherry. Vlad the Impaler was a blend of quads and tripels aged in oak and bourbon barrels then blended further with spiced blondes; this one was strong bringing the heavy hitting Belgians to the forefront and tempering it with sour and spice.  Sang Rouge was a blend of many reds aged up to thirty months.  A deep red like a fine merlot, this beer became a fantastic base for the addition of some of the berry heavy sours.  Sang Noir was a dark double red aged in pinot and whiskey barrels; cherry elements come through this complex sour ale which was like a young version of the Sang Rouge.  The Vine was Cascade’s answer to the white wine, a soured blend of tripel, blonde and golden ales fermented with white wine grapes.  Like a white wine this ale was crisp and drinkable, best served quite cold.  All in all a fantastic venue to showcase the incredible range and variety of sour beers; a place where the sour-phobic become converts and the sour-lovers fall even deeper.  The true highlights were the blends and I highly recommend trying a range of tasters, picking your favourites and asking the server to mix it up!

As a watering hole I give Cascade Brewing Barrel House a 5 out 5.

*The name of this post comes from Thomas Watson’s The Hekatompathia, or Passionate Centurie of Love, Sonnet XVIII (1582).

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