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WDFM fifth anniversary, Diane’s “book” could become a never-ending story



Today marks the fifth anniversary of the public opening of
The Walt Disney Family Museum at The Presidio of San Francisco. And, while the
museum gears up for a full year of special events, including today's extended
hours from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m., I thought it was appropriate to review
the museum's past, look ahead a bit and honor the museum's co-founder, Walt's
daughter Diane Disney Miller, who died Nov. 19, less than a month away from her
80th birthday.

Tributes to Diane Miller from Disney historians, museum
staff members, volunteers, frequent visitors and others will be posted daily
for the next few weeks at this Facebook address.   As one
of her three daughters said, it's important to gather these memories now before
they are lost to time. If you had a meaningful exchange with Diane Miller and
would like to participate, please email your anecdote or recollection to Those exchanges do not need to be related to the museum.

Diane Miller liked to call the museum her "book" – a place
where she could present an accurate picture of her father, an American original
who had pixie dust in his pocket and a sincere desire to make the world a
better place.

"The truth is so important to me. Not an exaggeration or a
beautification of his life," she told Paula Sigman Lowery in 2005 for "The
Origins of the Walt Disney
Family Museum

The Walt Disney
Family Museum
has earned high praise for including both Walt's triumphs and tragedies – even
when dealing with the acrimonious 1941 studio strike. Most Yelp reviews are
overwhelmingly positive.

"I just thought it would be a little family museum and maybe
I'd pour tea or something," Diane told me, laughing during my first interview
with her in April 2005 at Silverado Vineyards, the family's Napa
winery and estate she shared with her husband, Ron Miller. "Then our second
son, Walt, said: 'Mom, we have to do more for Grandpa. People would expect more
from this guy and his family.' "

Ron Miller & Diane Disney Miller pose for a photographer in front of the World War
I era barracks that will soon be home to the Walt Disney Family Museum.

Even then in 2005, The Walt Disney Family Museum was
something the family had been planning for several years. Diane told me the
family considered several possible locations, including near her father's
birthplace in Kansas City as well
as near the Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles,
before settling on San Francisco.

For several years, a makeshift museum of sorts was set up in
the Walt Disney Family Foundation's Office located in The Presidio, a few
blocks away from The Parade Grounds and three buildings that would later become
The Walt Disney Family Museum. The Gorgas Street
office held Walt's numerous awards; his train, The Lilly Belle; his miniature
collection; original Disneyland attraction posters; a
WWI-era Red Cross ambulance, which had been part of a Walt Disney exhibit at
The Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and Museum; two Autopia cars used by his
grandchildren; and other memorabilia.

I first visited the foundation's office with Roger Colton in
2006 as Diane and Ron showed us some of the artifacts that would be used to
tell Walt's story. Diane gave us an interview and then showed us around. Inspired
by some asset, she paused several times to offer details about her dad's life,
telling us how Walt created the pot-bellied stove and a miniature checker set
in the caboose of The Lilly Belle and how Walt had borrowed a piece of material
she had to make doll clothes for use as a bedspread in a miniature bedroom he handcrafted.
So many great stories: The dolls her parents brought her and her sister Sharon
upon their return from South America in 1941; the hat her father had shaped
into a heart and bronzed to give to his wife, Lillian, for her birthday after
she had yanked it off his head and tossed it into a bull-fighting ring.

Walt's numerous awards filled several walls in the Walt Disney Family
offices. The awards were transferred a few blocks and put
into secure display
cases in the lobby of the Walt Disney Family Museum.

Every time I visited the Gorgas
Street office, I left fearing a fire would destroy
priceless artifacts in what Roger and I both called a five-minute building,
even with its sprinkler system.

The family soon realized using the office for a public
museum was impractical. "The project grew from a very small idea into something
larger," Diane said. "Our sights just soared and so did the budget … but it
was necessary to tell the full story" of Walt Disney's life.

Ultimately the family chose San
Francisco "because we're living here," Diane told me
in 2005. "I knew it had to be in a population center and there's a lot of
tourism in San Francisco." She was
also excited about the idea of preserving a historic structure at The Presidio,
putting something wonderful inside, and giving it new life. "It's in my dad's
spirit to renovate an old building and he was a fan of (WWI) Army Gen. 'Black
Jack' Pershing."

Ron & Diane outside of the Walt Disney Family Museum.

While many people bashed the San
Francisco location, those who've visited the museum
and seen the fog-shrouded Golden Gate
Bridge from the museum's ingenious
courtyard infill display space understand why the family chose the spot. This
location also enabled Diane to visit often and participate from her seat in the
back of the theater during several special talks.

Miller said the museum would offer "an audio visual walk-through
about his life" – from before Disney's birth, through his childhood, his
service in the Red Cross during World War I, to his films, TV shows, Disneyland
and how his legacy has influenced today's artists and society. Walt's own voice
would provide much of the narration. The museum would include a learning center
and an archive where students and Disney historians could do research.

"What I've learned working on the museum and listening to
people is that they really want this. … I have no doubt that people will come."
The museum will tell young people of a compelling story about a dreamer and a
doer, she said. "I hope Dad's story inspires them."

Diane points to miniature bedroom set crafted by her dad and says
the bedspread was made from fabric she had for doll clothes.

With an eye toward the eventual museum, the family assembled
a top-notch team of architects, engineers and exhibition planners and
consultants. Two key members of the creative consultant team – Jeff Kurtti and
Paula Sigman Lowery – will be discussing working with Diane, her family, Bruce
Gordon and others on the initial planning during a special members-only talk on
Oct. 10 and a public session at 3 p.m. Oct. 11. For information, please click on this link. 

The Walt Disney
Family Museum
was built at a cost of $110 million, including $58 million in bonds from the
California Infrastructure and Economic Development Bank. The family foundation
has poured millions more into the museum to keep its doors open and remains
committed to honoring not only Walt Disney but also his daughter, a beloved
wife, mother, grandmother and great-grandma. The former gymnasium converted
into the Special Exhibitions Hall was renamed in Diane's honor March 12 at the
preview opening of the Mary Blair career retrospective.

I visited the museum a handful of times prior to its public
opening, including going on a hard-hat tour led by Diane during construction. She
spent several days on site, guiding VIPs on tours and taking delight in the

Ron & Diane share a laugh during their photo shoot.

I attended one of the D-23 preview days, and a couple of
media open houses. I was there bright and early on Thursday, Oct. 1, 2009, when Walter Miller, Founding
Director Richard Benefield and Diane Miller spoke to a small crowd of 200 or so.
In Disney fashion, the scissors failed when Diane went to cut the ribbon. The
museum staff members – dressed in purple and black uniforms – stood squinting
in the sunlight, along with Diane's husband, Ron, their children and

The museum opened while California was still reeling from
the economic downturn, double-digit unemployment and a mortgage meltdown and
struggled a bit, but it's been making slow and steady gains, especially in the
past three years, with increased programming and special exhibits honoring the 75th
anniversary of "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs" and career retrospectives
showcasing the works of Tyrus Wong and one of Walt's favorite artists, Mary Blair.

The museum attracted 100,000-plus visitors in 2012, and
about 150,000 in 2013. The special Mary Blair exhibition earlier this year
attracted about 50,000 visitors between March 13 and Sept. 7. "All Aboard: A
Celebration of Walt's Trains" is set to open Nov. 13 and run through Feb. 9 and
could set records with its widespread appeal and timing over the winter holiday
break. For more information, please follow this link.

Diane discusses how Walt Disney's life would be told in chronological
way using
Walt's own voice along with photos, film and physical

A pending change in IRS status may facilitate additional
revenue through matching employer contributions and allow other fundraising. The museum has also launched its Walt's Circle Memberships which
grant high-level donors ($2,500 to $50,000) early access to special program
tickets and other perks. More information is available here.

As Diane Disney Miller's book, there are several of Walt
Disney fans who hope it becomes a never-ending story with the museum's
continued growth, more programs and special events because Walt's life offers
inspiration to dreamers and doers everywhere.

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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 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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