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The Walt Disney Gold Commemorative Medal

JHM columnist Wade Sampson returns with a look back at a unique moment in Disney Company history: The day that then-President Richard M. Nixon presented Lillian Disney with a medal that honored Walt’s memory.

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It is disturbing how little historical attention seems to be paid to Disney events that happened shortly after the death of Walt Disney. It is just one of those “black holes” that exist in the books and articles that are more fascinated by the great Imagineer than in those who struggled to keep the dream alive after Walt’s death. Here is one of those stories.

In a ceremony on March 25, 1969, almost three years after the death of Walt Disney, then President Richard Nixon presented to Mrs. Lillian Disney a commemorative medal gold medal, authorized by Public Law 90-316 (90th Congress, H.J. Res. 1234) and struck by the U.S. Mint in Philadelphia, bears a likeness of Walt Disney on one side and Walt Disney’s famous cartoon character, Mickey Mouse, on the other.

The medal was designed by C. Robert Moore of Walt Disney Productions who also designed the Walt Disney commemorative six-cent stamp which was issued by the United States Post Office Department in September 1968.

The gold medal was sponsored in the House of Representatives by Congressmen Del Clawson, Robert Wilson and Richard Hanna. In the Senate, the resolution was introduced by Senator George L. Murphy (a former actor and staunch Republican) and co-sponsored by fifty-two other senators.

The Joint Resolution stated in part:

“That, in recognition of the distinguished public service and outstanding contributions to the United States and to the world, the President of the Untied States is authorized to present in the name of the people…and …of the Congress to the widow of the late Walt Disney, a gold medal, with suitable emblems, devices and inscriptions to be determined by Walt Disney Productions with the approval of the Secretary of the Treasury.”

The Joint Resolution also authorized the production of 100,000 duplicates of the commemorative medal in bronze by the Treasury to be used by the California Institute of the Arts in their fund raising program. (The cost of creating the gold medal and the replicas was borne by the school!)

Walt Disney was instrumental in the formation in 1961 of California Institute of the Arts and the concept of a “community of the arts”. In addition to a substantial endowment from Walt Disney’s estate, the Institute also received a five million dollar gift from the Walt Disney Foundation. The sale of this special commemorative medal was to help the school reach its financial objectives.

Accompanying Mrs. Walt Disney to the White House for the ceremony were seventeen other members of the Disney family. These included Roy O. Disney and his wife Edna, Walt’s two daughters: Diane Disney Miller and Sharon Disney Brown, Diane’s husband Ron (then Vice President and Executive Producer at Walt Disney Productions) and their six children, and Roy E. Disney with his wife Patty and their four children.

REMARKS AT THE PRESENTATION OF THE WALT DISNEY COMMEMORATIVE MEDAL. MARCH 25, 1969 at 11:05 am in the State Dining Room at the White House.

President Richard Nixon: “Mrs. Disney, members of the Disney family, ladies and gentlemen, and all of our younger guests here today. (Some 200 third and fourth grade Washington area schoolchildren were invited to the White House for the ceremony followed by a party in the East Room).

“Many ceremonies are held in this White House, but none that I think will have more meaning to all of us, young and old, than this one today, because it is my great privilege to present to Mrs. Walt Disney, on behalf of the Congress of the Untied States, by reason of a joint resolution, and on behalf of all the people of the United States and, I think, of the world, a gold medal. A gold medal honoring Walt Disney for his service through so many years not only to the people of the United States, but to the people of the world.

“The medal and the resolution will speak for themselves, but in making this presentation, and before I do so, I would like to just add a word that I know all of you would want to say to Mrs. Disney and to her children and to Walt Disney’s brother, Roy Disney, and their family who are here today.

“It is very hard to describe our feelings about Walt Disney. I say our feelings, because my wife and I had the opportunity of knowing him personally. He was just as exciting and interesting personally as he was in all of those wonderful movies that we remember through the years, starting with the cartoons and then the real life ones and then MARY POPPINS and all of the rest.

“To know this man was to know that we had been fortunate to have a spirit with us that perhaps comes once in a generation to a fortunate people.

“But I think we are all very lucky that we still have Walt Disney with us. We have him in his movies; we see him on television sometimes when we see those wonderful creations rerun, and of course, those of us who have the chance can go to Disneyland in California or Disneyland in Florida when it is completed; and there it all is, this man so creative, so imaginative, so fine.

“You know in these days of entertainment when we do have on television and sometimes in the movies some kinds of entertainment that many think are not perhaps too constructive and too healthy—I was talking to Senator Pastore about his problem in my office yesterday—we are very fortunate to have had a Walt Disney, a Walt Disney who recognized that what was important was to make people happy.

“You have heard some music today, and the theme of that music was ‘Dreams Coming True’. If you think back about all of the music, the soundtracks from the Walt Disney films, looking ahead, dreams were coming true.

“That is why he leaves for us a very special place in our hearts. And in our hearts that means a very special place in our hearts for you, Mrs. Disney, and for your family.

“I once asked Walt Disney how I should describe him when we went out and dedicated the monorail at Disneyland. He said that he was an ‘Imagineer’, which means he was an engineer with imagination.

“But he was more than that. He was a great artist. He was a perfectionist. He was a wonderful human being.

“All of that he shared with us, not just with his family who loved him because they knew him, but he shared it with the world, and the world is a better and happier and more joyful place in which to live because he was there.

“Could I say a word to the children that are here? Most people, when they think of Walt Disney, think that he created his various movies and cartoons and the rest, and Disneyland just for children. But he didn’t think that at all.

“I once asked him about that, and he said, ‘Oh, that isn’t true’. He said, ‘I don’t create just for children. I never talk down to them’.

“The reason he was successful, you see, was that he respected children-young people of all ages—and because he respected them he was able to communicate not only with the young people, but with the older people as well.

“Perhaps that is what we all need today. When we talk about the problem of the generation gap, and how we are able to communicate with our children, we can learn from Walt Disney, a man who could communicate because he had that one quality which is so important. He had respect for an individual no matter how young he was, or how old.
“So with those words, Mrs. Disney, I am honored, on behalf of the Congress, to present this gold medal to you, and also to make presentations of bronze medals to the members of your family and also the Members of the House and the Senate who are here, who sponsored the joint resolution.

“In addition, I want to tell you that the sales of these commemorative medals will go to a very good purpose, and that is for the California Institute of the Arts, which will further the very programs that Walt Disney had such a vital interest in.

“Thank you very much.”

MRS. WALT DISNEY: “I am very grateful to be here, and to see all of you wonderful children who knew him and loved him, too. I think this is a wonderful time in our life. Thank you.”

PRESIDENT NIXON: “Thank you. I think that since Senator Murphy is the ranking Member of the House and Senate that sponsored this resolution, we would like to hear a word from Senator Murphy. He knew and loved Walt Disney. George, would you say a word?”

SENATOR MURPHY: “I would be very honored to. I think that the story of Walt Disney and Walt Disney’s feeling for people and understanding has been very well expressed by the President this morning. I, too, had the privilege of knowing him, knowing him quite well. He was one of the most wonderful individuals I think probably that ever lived.

“As you said so well, Mr. President, we are fortunate in this generation to have known him. We are particularly fortunate to have so many of his accomplishments and his works recorded on film and existing in the Disneyland parks, so that not only this generation, but generations to come can have the same enjoyment and the same privilege. Thank you very much, Mr. President.”

PRESIDENT NIXON: “This is Walt’s partner and brother, Roy Disney. Thank you very much for coming. We are particularly happy to welcome all of our guests from California, and all of the schoolchildren from the Washington area. We hope that you will all get a chance to go to Disneyland sometime.

“How many of the schoolchildren here have been to Disneyland? You see, quite a few, but not enough. We hope you all go either to the one in California or the one in Florida, because it is a wonderful treat. How many adults have been to Disneyland? You are missing something. Thank you very much.”

(The text of a White House release describing the medal and the ceremony is printed in the Weekly Compilation of Presidential Documents, Vol. 5, pg. 469.)

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Jens Dahlmann of LongHorn Steakhouse has lots of great tips when it comes to grilling

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Sure, for some folks, the Fourth of July is all about fireworks. But for the 75% of all Americans who own a grill or a smoker, the Fourth is our Nation’s No. 1 holiday when it comes to grilling. Which is why 3 out of 4 of those folks will spend some time outside today working over a fire.

But here’s the thing: Though 14 million Americans can cook a steak with confidence because they actually grill something every week, the rest of us – because we use our grill or smoker so infrequently … Well, let’s just say that we have no chops when it comes to dealing with chops (pork, veal or otherwise).

So what’s a backyard chef supposed to in a situation like this when there’s so much at steak … er … stake? Turn to someone who really knows their way around a grill for advice. People like Jens Dahlmann, the Vice President and Corporate Executive Chef for Darden Restaurant’s LongHorn Steakhouse brand.

Given that Jens’ father & grandfather were chefs, this is a guy who literally grew up in a kitchen. In his teens & twenties, Dahlmann worked in hotels & restaurants all over Switzerland & Germany. Once he was classically trained in the culinary arts, Jens then  jumped ship. Well, started working on cruise ships, I mean.

Anyway … While working on Cunard’s Sea Goddess, Dahlmann met Sirio Maccioni, the founder of Le Cirque 2000. Sirio was so impressed with Jens’ skills in the kitchen that he offered him the opportunity to become sous-chef at this New York landmark. After four years of working in Manhattan, Dahlmann then headed south to become executive chef at Palm Beach’s prestigious Café L’Europe.

Jens Dahlmann back during his Disney World days

And once Jens began wowing foodies in Florida, it wasn’t all that long ’til the Mouse came a-calling. Mickey wanted Dahlmann to shake things up in the kitchen over at WDW’s Flying Fish Café. And he did such a good job with that Disney’s Boardwalk eatery the next thing Jens knew, he was then being asked to work his magic with the menu at the Contemporary Resort’s California Grill.

From there, Dahlmann had a relatively meteoric rise at the Mouse House. Once he became Epcot’s Food & Beverage general manager, it was only a matter of time before he wound up as the executive chef in charge of this theme park’s annual International Food & Wine Festival. Which – under Jens’ guidance – experienced some truly explosive growth.

“When I took on Food & Wine, that festival was only 35 days long and had gross revenues of just $5.5 million. When I left Disney in 2016, Food & Wine was now over 50 days long and that festival had gross revenues of $22 million,” Dahlmann admitted during a recent sit-down. “I honestly loved those 13 years I spent at Disney. When I was working there, I learned so much because I was really cooking for America.”

And it was exactly that sort of experience & expertise that Darden wanted to tap into when they lured Jens away from Mickey last year to become LongHorn Steakhouse’s new Vice President and Corporate Executive Chef. But today … Well, Dahlmann is offering tips to those of us who are thinking about cooking steak tips for the Fourth.

Photo by Jim Hill

“When you’re planning on grilling this holiday, if you’re looking for a successful result, the obvious place to start is with the quality of the meat you plan on cooking for your friends & family. If you want the best results here, don’t be cheap when you go shopping. Spend the money necessary for a fresh filet or a New York strip. Better yet a Ribeye, a nice thick one with good marbling. Because when you look at the marbling on a steak, that’s where all the flavor happens,” Jens explained. “That said, you always have to remember that — the higher you go with the quality of your meat — the less time you’re going to want that piece of meat to spend on the grill.”

And speaking of cooking … Before you even get started here, Jens suggests that you first take the time to check over all of your grilling equipment. Making sure that the grill itself is first scraped clean & then properly oiled before you then turn up the heat.

“If you’re working with a dirty grill, when you go to turn your meat, it may wind up sticking to the grill. Or maybe those spices that you’ve just so carefully coated your steak with will wind up sticking to the grill, rather than your meat,” Dahlmann continued. “Which is why it’s always worth it to spend a few minutes prior to firing up your grill properly cleaning & oiling it.”

Photo by Jim Hill

And speaking of heat … Again, before you officially get started grilling here, Jens says that it’s crucial to check your temperature gauges. Make sure that your char grill is set at 550 (so that it can then properly handle the thicker cuts of meat) and your flattop is set at 425 (so it can properly sear thinner pieces of meat).

Okay. Once you’ve bought the right cuts of quality meat, properly cleaned & oiled your grill, and then made sure that everything’s set at the right temperature (“If you can only stand to hold your hand directly over the grill for two or three seconds, that’s the right amount of heat,” Dahlmann said), it’s now time to season your steaks.

“Don’t be afraid to be bold here. You can’t be shy when it comes to seasoning your meat. You want to give it a nice coating. Largely because — if you’re using a char grill — a lot of that seasoning is just going to fall off anyway,” Jens stated. “It’s up to you to decide what sort of seasoning you want to use here. Even just some salt & pepper will enhance a steak’s flavor.”

Then – according to Dahlmann – comes the really tough part. Which is placing your meat on the grill and then fighting the urge to flip it too early or too often.

“The biggest mistake that a lot of amateur cooks make is that they flip the steak too many times. The real key to a well-cooked piece of meat is just let it be, “Jens insisted. “Of course, if you’re serving different cuts of meat at your Fourth of July feast, you always want to put your biggest thickest steak on the grill first. If you’re also cooking a New York Strip, you want to put that one on a few minutes later. But after that, just let the grill do its job and flip your meat a total of three or four times, once every three minutes or so.”

Of course, the last thing you want to do is overcook a quality piece of meat. Which is why Dahlmann suggests that – when it comes to grilling steaks – if you’re going to err, err on the side of undercooking.

“You can always put a piece of meat back on the grill if it’s slightly undercooked. When you over-cook something, all you can do then is start over with a brand-new piece of meat,” Jens said. “Just be sure that you’re using the correct cut of meat for the cooking result you’re aiming for. If someone wants a rare or medium rare steak, you should go with a thicker cut of steak. If one of your guests wants their steak cooked medium or well, it’s best to start with a thinner cut of meat.”

Photo by Jim Hill

As you can see, the folks at Longhorn take grilling steaks seriously. How seriously? Just last week at Darden Corporate Headquarters in Orlando, seven of these brand’s top grill masters (who – after weeks of regional competitions – had been culled from the 491 restaurants that make up this chain) competed for a $10,000 prize in the Company’s second annual Steak Master Series. And Dahlmann was one of the people who stood in Darden’s test kitchens, watching like a hawk as each of the contestants struggled to prepare six different dishes in just 20 minutes according to Longhorn Steakhouse‘s exacting standards.

“I love that Darden does this. Recognizing the best of the best who work this restaurant,” Jens concluded. “We have a lot of people here who are incredibly knowledgeable & passionate when it comes to grilling.”

Speaking of which … If today’s story doesn’t include the exact piece of info that you need to properly grill that T-bone, just whip out your iPhone & text GRILL to 55702. Or – better yet – visit  ExpertGriller.com prior to firing up your grill or smoker later today. 

This article was originally published by the Huffington Post on Tuesday, July 4, 2017

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Brattleboro’s Strolling of the Heifers is a sincere if somewhat surreal way to spend a summer’s day in Vermont

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Some people travel halfway ‘around the planet so that they can then experience the excitement of the Running of the Bulls in Pamplona. If you’re more of a Slow Living enthusiast (as I am), then perhaps you should amble to Brattleboro, VT. Where – over the first weekend in June – you can then join a herd of cow enthusiasts at the annual Strolling of the Heifers.

Now in its 16th year, this three-day long event typically gets underway on Friday night in June with a combination block party / gallery walk. But then – come Saturday morning – Main Street in Brattleboro is lined with thousands of bovine fans.

Photo by Jim Hill

They’ve staked out primo viewing spots and set up camp chairs hours ahead of time. Just so these folks can then have a front row seat as this year’s crop of calves (which all come from local farms & 4-H clubs) are paraded through the streets.

Photo by Jim Hill

Viewed from curbside, Strolling of the Heifers is kind of this weird melding of a sincere small town celebration and Pasadena’s Doo Dah Parade. Meaning that – for every entry that actually acknowledged this year’s theme (i.e. “Dance to the Moosic”) — …

Photo by Jim Hill

… there was something completely random, like this parade’s synchronized shopping cart unit.

Photo by Jim Hill

And for every piece of authentic Americana (EX: That collection of antique John Deere tractors that came chugging through the city) …

Photo by Jim Hill

… there was something silly. Like – say – a woman dressed as a Holstein pushing a baby stroller through the streets. And riding in that stroller was a pig dressed in a tutu.

Photo by Jim Hill

And given that this event was being staged in the Green Mountain State & all … Well, does it really surprise you to learn that — among the groups that marched in this year’s Strolling of the Heifers – was a group of eco-friendly folks who, with their  chants of “We’re Number One !,” tried to persuade people along the parade route not to flush the toilet after they pee. Because – as it turns out – urine can be turned into fertilizer.

Photo by Jim Hill

And speaking of fertilizer … At the tail end of the parade, there was a group of dedicated volunteers who were dealing with what came out of the tail end of all those cows.

Photo by Jim Hill

This year’s Strolling of the Heifers concluded at the Brattleboro town common. Where event attendees could then get a closer look at some of the featured units in this year’s parade…

Photo by Jim Hill

… or perhaps even pet a few of the participants.

Photo by Jim Hill

But as for the 90+ calves who took part in the 2017 edition of Strolling of the Heifers, once they reached the town common, it was now time for a nosh or a nap.

Photo by Jim Hill

Elsewhere on the common, keeping with this year’s “Dance to the Moosic” theme, various musical groups performed in & around the gazebo throughout the afternoon.

Photo by Jim Hill

While just across the way – keeping with Brattleboro’s tradition of showcasing the various artisans who live & work in the local community – some pretty funky pieces were on display at the Slow Living Exposition.

Photo by Jim Hill

All in all, attending Strolling of the Heifers is a somewhat surreal but still very pleasant way to spend a summer’s day in Vermont. And that’s no bull.

Photo by Jim Hill

Well, that could be a bull. To be honest, what with the wig & all, it’s kind of hard to tell. 

This article was originally published by the Huffington Post on Sunday, June 4, 2017

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Looking to make an authentic Irish meal for Saint Patrick’s Day? If so, then chef Kevin Dundon says not to cook corned beef & cabbage

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Let’s at least start on a positive note: Celebrated chef, author & TV personality Kevin Dundon – the man that Tourism Ireland has repeatedly chosen as the Face of Irish Food – loves a lot of what happens in the United States on March 17th.

“I mean, look at what they do in Chicago on Saint Patrick’s Day. They toss all of this vegetable-based dye into the Chicago River and then paint it green for a day. That’s terrific,” Kevin said.

But then when it comes to what many Americans eat & drink on St. Paddy’s Day (i.e., a big plate of corned beef and cabbage. Which is then washed down with a mug of green beer) … Well, that’s where Dundon has to draw the line.

Irish celebrity chef Kevin Dundon displays a traditional Irish loin of bacon with Colcannon potatoes and a Dunbrody Kiss chocolate dessert. Photo by Tom Burton. Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

“Green beer? No real Irishman would be caught dead drinking that stuff,” Kevin insists. “And as for eating corned beef & cabbage … That’s not actually authentic Irish fare either. Bacon and cabbage? Sure. But corned beef & cabbage was something that the Irish only began eating after they’d come to the States to escape the Famine. And even then these Irish-Americans only began serving corned beef & cabbage to their friends & family because they had to make do with the ingredients that were available to them at that time.”

And thus begins the strange tale of how corned beef & cabbage came to be associated with the North American celebration of Saint Patrick’s Day celebration. Because – according to Dundon – beef just wasn’t all that big a part of the Irish diet back in the 19th century.

To explain: Back in the Old Country, cattle – while they were obviously highly prized for the milk & cheese that they produced – were also beasts of burden. Meaning that they were often used for ploughing the fields or for hauling heavy loads. Which is why – back then — these animals were rarely slaughtered when they were still young & healthy. If anything, land owners liked to put a herd of cattle on display out in one of their pastures because that was then a sign to their neighbors that this farm was prosperous.

“Whereas pork … Well, everybody raised pigs back then. Which is why pork was a staple of the Irish diet rather than beef,” Dundon continued.

So if that’s what people actually ate back in the Old Country, how then did corned beef & cabbage come to be so strongly associated with Saint Patrick’s Day in the States.? That largely had to do with where the Irish wound up living after they arrived in the New World.

“When the Irish first arrived in America following the Great Famine, a lot of them wound up living in the inner city right alongside the Germans & the Jews, who were also recent immigrants to the States. And while that farm-fresh pork that the Irish loved wasn’t readily available, there was brisket. Which the Irish could then cure by first covering this piece of meat with corn kernel-sized pieces of rock salt – that’s how it came to be called corned beef. Because of the sizes of the pieces of rock salt that were used in the curing process – and then placing all that in a pot of water with other spices to soak for a few days.”

And as for the cabbage portion of corned beef & cabbage … Well, according to Kevin, in addition to buying their meat from the kosher delis in their neighborhood, the Irish would also frequent the stores that the German community shopped in. Where – thanks to their love of sauerkraut (i.e., pickled cabbage) – there was always a ready supply of cabbage to be had.

“So when you get right down to it, it was the American melting pot that led to corned beef & cabbage being found in the Irish-American cooking pot,” Dundon continued. “Since they couldn’t find or didn’t have easy access to the exact same ingredients that they had back in Ireland, Irish-Americans made do with what they could find in the immediate vicinity. And what they made was admittedly tasty. But it’s not actually authentic Irish fare.”

Mind you, what Kevin serves at Raglan Road Irish Pub and Restaurant at Disney Springs (which – FYI – Orlando Magazine voted as the area’s best restaurant back in 2014) is nothing if not authentic. Dundon and his team at this acclaimed gastropub pride themselves on making traditional Irish fare and then contemporized it.

Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

“Take – for example – what we serve here instead of corned beef & cabbage. Again, because it was pork – rather than beef – that was the true staple of the Irish diet back then, what we offer instead is a loin of bacon that has been glazed with Irish Mist. That then comes with colcannon potatoes. Which is this traditional Irish dish that’s made up of mashed potato that have had some cabbage & bacon mixed through it,” Kevin enthused. “This heavenly ham – that’s what we actually call this traditional Irish dish at Raglan Road, Kevin’s Heavenly Ham – also includes some savory cabbage with a parsley cream sauce as well as a raisin cider jus. It’s simple food. But because of the basic ingredients – and that’s the real secret of Irish cuisine. That our ingredients are so strong – the flavors just pop off the plate.”

Which brings us to the real challenge that Dundon and the Raglan Road team face every day. Making sure that they actually have all of the ingredients necessary to make this traditional-yet-contemporized Irish fare to those folks who frequent this Walt Disney World favorite.

“Take – for example – the fish we serve here. We only used cold water fish. Salmon, mussels and haddock that have been hauled out of the Atlantic, the ocean that America and Ireland share,” Kevin stated. “Not that there’s anything wrong with warm water fish. It’s just that … Well, it doesn’t have the same structure. It’s a softer fish, which doesn’t really fit the parameters of Irish cuisine. And if you’re going to serve authentic food, you have to be this dedicated when it comes to sourcing your ingredients.

Copyright Mitchell Beazley. All rights reserved

And if you’re thinking of perhaps trying to serve an authentic Irish meal this year, rather than once again serving corned beef & cabbage at your Saint Patrick’s Day Feast … Well, back in September of last year, Mitchell Beazley published “The Raglan Road Cookbook: Inside America’s Favorite Irish Pub.” This 296-page hardcover not only includes the recipe for Kevin’s Heavenly Ham but also it tells the tale of how this now-world-renown restaurant wound up being built in Orlando.

On the other hand, if you happen to have to the luck of the Irish and are actually down at The Walt Disney World Resort right now, it’s worth noting that Raglan Road is right in the middle of its Mighty St. Patrick’s Day Festival. This four day-long event – which includes Irish bands and professional dancers – stretches through Sunday night. And in addition to all that authentic Irish fare that Dundon and his team are cooking up, you also sample the fine selection of beers & cocktails that this establishment’s four distinct antique bars (each of which are more than 130 years old and were imported directly from Ireland) will be serving. Just – As ucht Dé (That’s “For God’s Sake” in Gaelic) – don’t make the mistake of asking the bartender there for a mug of green beer.

“Why would anyone willingly drink something like that?,” Dundon laughed. “I mean, just imagine what their washroom will look like the morning after.”

This article was originally published by the Huffington Post on Friday, March 17, 2017

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