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Booker’s Rye Review: The $300 Limited Edition Whiskey You Probably Won’t Be Able to Find

Booker’s Rye Review: The $300 Limited Edition Whiskey You Probably Won’t Be Able to Find

Bookers Rye

Ready for this? The numbers on the new Booker’s Rye limited edition, AKA “Big Time Batch,” are pretty staggering:

  • Booker’s Rye, the first ever from the brand, is 13 years old, plus one month and 12 days. Awesome.
  • Booker’s Rye is bottled uncut at 136 proof (plus 0.2). Love it.
  • Booker’s Rye costs a suggested $299.99 (plus whatever markup there might be to account for scarcity). Say what?

The obvious first question is – “so is it worth it?” The obvious second question is – “if so, could I even find it???” Sorry to disappoint you, but I can’t answer either of those questions for you. What I will answer are the more pedestrian questions of – “so how does it taste?” and “is it any good?” With that in hand, you are then free to hunt it down and determine if it’s worth breaking out your Amex Centurion card for.

Before that, a bit of crucial background info. This rye is a tribute to Booker Noe, the legend who served as longtime master distiller for the Beam brands and founded their Small Batch Bourbon Collection (including Booker’s Bourbon and Knob Creek). Put in the barrel back in 2003, the new Booker’s rye was among the “last barrels laid down” by Booker Noe in the final years of his life. Amazingly, Booker’s has never released a rye in all those subsequent years. According to Booker’s son Fred, current master distiller:

Dad saw the difficult, temperamental rye grain as a challenge – small, but tricky to work with – and he never backed down from a challenge. So, in 2003, he went big and laid down barrels of a rye whiskey in his favorite rack house – creating the first ever Booker’s Rye Whiskey… Barreled as a small batch late in Dad’s life, Booker’s Big Time Rye is a rare, limited-edition rye whiskey that won’t come around again any time soon…  and I’m proud to release it in his honor this May.”

Without further ado:

40235_BookersRyeBottleBoxShotcopy Booker’s Rye, 2016 Limited Edition, “Big Time Batch”
136.2 Proof, uncut (and unfiltered), approx. $300 retail
Tasting Dates: May 26, 2016 – May 27, 2016
Thirsty South Rating: WOW*

Tasting Notes & Review:

Right away, the burnt orange/amber color of this whiskey conveys considerable age. A sniff of this heady stuff confirms it – loads of vanilla and toasty oak, an undertone of thin wintergreen wrapped in dark chocolate. The 136 proof is pretty well in check, and thankfully there’s nothing to suggest that this rye is over the hill – 13 years seems like it was just right.

Sipping neat, that high proof hits your tongue with a searing burn, but the burn quickly turns to pleasure, and that pleasure goes on and on in a loooong warm finish. There’s plenty of cinnamon apple, more vanilla, brown sugar – this is one hot-out-of-the-oven-dessert of a rye whiskey. For the high proof fans out there, this will really hit the spot – with great depth of flavors, good harmony, and a quick but measured alcohol punch to the gut.

Over a cube of ice, the aromas from the Booker’s Rye become more elegant, more refined, with plum fruit emerging from the vanilla and oak. And, wow, the intense burn is gone, replaced with a much more lush and full-bodied embrace.  The plum notes carry onto the palate, now like a plum and apple spiced cobbler. The finish is still long, though more subtle than when served neat, with the fruit jumping to the front alongside the cinnamon. It feels a touch more bourbon than rye, actually, but if you look for the rye spice, it’s certainly there in the background.

If you ask me, a single cube of ice is the way to go with this. You start sipping right away before the ice dilutes and you get the full power of the 136 proof. Within a minute, the ice brings down that brute force and smooths things out. Just don’t put too much ice in there, because this is a whiskey you’ll want to linger over – and bringing that high proof down too much would be a shame.

Fantastic stuff from Booker’s. Yep, I’m giving it a rare WOW rating. Would I plonk down $300 to buy a bottle? Personally, probably not; but if you’re the kind of person who has the ability and desire to spend that kind of cash on good whiskey, you’re not likely to regret it.

Unfortunately, Booker’s Rye is quite rare, so good luck tracking down a bottle. And all indications are that this will not be a recurring release. If you happen to track down a taste, look to the heavens and thank Booker Noe for his foresight some thirteen years ago.

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* Thirsty South Rating Scale:
Wow – among the very best: knock-your-socks-off, profound, complex liquid gold!
Excellent – exceptional in quality and character, worth seeking out, highly recommended
Good Stuff – solid expression of its type/varietal, enjoyable and recommended
Fair – fairly standard or exhibiting obvious though minor flaws
Avoid – move away folks, nothing to see here, a trainwreck

Full Disclosure: Tasting sample provided by Booker’s. Photos courtesy Booker’s.

Drink Local: Atlanta Distilleries

Drink Local: Atlanta Distilleries

This week, I wrote a roundup for Creative Loafing of the four Atlanta distilleries now operating. Between Old Fourth Distillery, ASW Distillery, Independent Distilling Company in Decatur, and Lazy Guy Distilling up in Kennesaw, you can now stock a bar with Atlanta-made bourbon, vodka, gin, rum, corn whiskey, and more. Pretty amazing considering we had exactly NONE of that just a couple years ago. DRINK LOCAL, y’all!

I’d encourage fans of spirits and cocktails to visit all four of these distilleries, as all are up to interesting things, and their stills are all absolutely gorgeous (and all different). Below are some of my favorite outtakes, to give you a feel for the beauty in the stills. Also, be sure to check out Thirsty South’s full list of Georgia distilleries (not just Atlanta) and what they are producing.

Do check out the Creative Loafing roundup for more info, or comment below with any questions.

Old Fourth Distillery:
Old Fourth Distillery
Old Fourth Distillery


ASW Distillery:
ASW DistilleryASW Distillery


Independent Distilling Company:
Independent Distilling Decatur
Independent Distilling Decatur Independent Distilling Decatur
Independent Distilling Decatur


Lazy Guy Distilling:
Lazy Guy Distilling
Lazy Guy Distilling
Lazy Guy Distilling

Hochstadter’s Vatted Rye: Review and Tasting Notes

Hochstadter’s Vatted Rye: Review and Tasting Notes

Hochstädters Vatted Rye Whiskey

Let’s hit this. Five facts about Hohchstadter’s Vatted Straight Rye Whiskey, followed by a review and tasting notes.

  1. This rye hails from Cooper Spirits Co. – the company that unleashed St. Germain upon the world. It should also be noted that these are the folks behind the eclectic portfolio that includes:
    1. Lock Stock & Barrel, the well-regarded (sourced Canadian) 13 year old straight rye whiskey
    2. Slow and Low, the bottled “Rock and Rye” cocktail that clocks in at 84 proof and is made with sourced rye, orange peel, and raw Pennsylvania honey
    3. Creme Yvette, the super-geeky liqueur from France with a long history of being used in super-geeky cocktails (which of these three is not like the others?)
  2. It’s the first rye officially designated as “vatted” (eh, marketing speak, but I dig the fact that they are relatively open that this is a blend of several sourced ryes)
  3. It is composed of five ryes ranging from 4 to 15 year old, from Kentucky, Pennsylvania, Indiana, and Alberta, Canada, all “hand selected” by distiller Robert Cooper. At least we know that much.
  4. It’s 100 proof. Great for cocktails.
  5. It’s only $35. Which amounts to a darn good price point for rye these days.

So, interesting right? Blended rye, 100 proof, good price. Let’s give it a shot.

Hochstadter's Rye Whiskey VattedHochstadter’s Vatted Straight Rye Whiskey
100 Proof, Approx. $35 retail
Tasting Dates: Feb 12 – 15, 2016
Thirsty South Rating: Good Stuff*

Digging in to the nose here, a dark cherry sweetness jumps out, almost like you’ve thrown a Luxardo cherry into an Old Fashioned. I’d say it leans a bit more bourbon than rye – a mellow sweetness, warm spices, a bit of toasty wood – but there is a subtle rye spice buzzing in the background. It’s mellower and sweeter than a Rittenhouse Rye, for example (another well-priced 100 proofer).

Sipping neat, the heat comes out quickly. There’s a red hot cinnamon-y burst that comes on strong and stays through a very long finish. The dry spice of the rye comes through as well, but frankly this begs for water, ice, or some vermouth.

With a touch of water, the nose lightens up, some orange peel notes come out – sandalwood? Is that too obvious? In any case, it’s less dark cherry and more blood orange with the water under its belt. And it’s much improved for sipping, too, as the heat and cinnamon comes in check, and the rye bread character emerges a bit more. Not bad at all, but I wouldn’t put this in the same league as a Rendezvous Rye (from High West, around $50) where the older rye in the blend (which is 16 years old and 6 years old) has a more obvious and distinctive presence. The vatting approach here definitely produces a harmonious result, but not one with the depth of character that I was hoping for.

As for the standard test of any rye for cocktail-making – it does great in a Manhattan. Not too sweet, not too spicy, not too strong (but sweet, spicy, and strong enough alongside the sweet vermouth). I’m kinda digging this more than Rittenhouse Bottled in Bond (though I must admit that I’m not as thrilled with current-day Rittenhouse as much as I was with the Brown-Forman-produced version that was around until early 2015).

Hochstadter’s Vatted is a good rye, an interesting approach to blending, a well-priced rye, and a good rye for cocktails. But don’t expect it to knock your socks off sipping neat.

By the way, Hochstadter’s rye has distribution in 17 states, though is still jumping through the regulatory hoops of actually getting it onto shelves in some of those – including Georgia. In the meantime, try your maybe-not-favorite online reseller.

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* Thirsty South Rating Scale:

Wow – among the very best: knock-your-socks-off, profound, complex liquid gold!
Excellent – exceptional in quality and character, worth seeking out, highly recommended
Good Stuff – solid expression of its type/varietal, enjoyable and recommended
Fair – fairly standard or exhibiting obvious though minor flaws
Avoid – move away folks, nothing to see here, a trainwreck

Full Disclosure: Tasting sample provided by Cooper Spirits Co.

 

Old Fourth Distillery and the history of Atlanta booze

Old Fourth Distillery and the history of Atlanta booze

Old Fourth Distillery Atlanta

“Atlanta’s distillery.” Right now, it’s true. Old Fourth Distillery IS Atlanta’s distillery – the first legal one we’ve had in more than a hundred years. Back in the day, before Prohibition, Atlanta was by all accounts a booming whiskey town. So booming, in fact, that the hand of Temperance came down hard and strong here, well before Prohibition blanketed the country in a fuzzy whiskey-wanting funk. We went dry. At least by the letter of the law. And no one in Atlanta could conquer the law books and regulatory red tape that pushed us down until Old Fourth Distillery came along. I’m not saying they’re our savior, but now, thanks to O4D, Atlanta may rise once again as a hub of whiskey and spirits production. Rise. Up.

Old Fourth Distillery AtlantaRecently, I headed down to Edgewood Avenue to chat with the O4D gents – Craig Moore, Jeff Moore, and Gabe Pilato. Their micro-distillery sits all shiny behind a welcome room packed with Atlanta distilling memorabilia – the old and the new playing nicely off each other. I knew about the vodka they were distilling down on Edgewood Avenue, the vodka that has been embraced locally by leading bars like Kimball House in Decatur that have been eager for a truly local spirit to serve. And I also knew about the gin they’ve been working up for some time – testing and tasting until they get it just right (that gin should be out before the end of the year, just waiting on the government to catch up and approve the stuff). What I didn’t really get until I visited O4D was the extent to which they have both embraced and literally built upon Atlanta history.

IMG_0240The bead board on the walls, the marble on the counter, the wood in the tables – it’s all repurposed material steeped in Atlanta history, whether from the very same building O4D now sits in (the bead board), or from the gutted John B. Gordon Elementary School down the street that was built in 1909 (the marble). Jeff Moore told me, “We want to protect those kinds of things from being forgotten. It’s part of our story to be related to this area, this city.” Moore went on, and you could tell from his excited intonations that he digs into the minutia when it comes to rooting out the history of his building and the neighborhood:

IMG_0250The marble (on the table), that was once dividers in the boys’ stalls in the school, you can see wher the toilet paper holders were. This is actually the same exact marble that was used in the Lincoln Memorial – from Tate, Georgia! We clad the walls with bead board that’s a hundred years old from this building, but also made displays with extra board that went out to liquor stores… and to now have that sitting in stores around Atlanta is very cool. We also used it inside out on the tables – you can see the stamp of Brooks Scanlon Lumber Company… if you’re a railroad guy, you know Brooks Scanlon… and you’d never find that until you pulled it off of our ceilings and looked at the back, and there it is. There are so many interesting stories like that. The seats are old church pews from nearby. It was unbelievably fortuitious how all these things came together – we didn’t have a design firm, we just let the materials we came upon help shape the space.

More important than the materials that have gone into the O4D space, Moore professed a strong connection to the story of distilling in this city:

IMG_0369We’ve gained a connection to the lost history of distilling in Atlanta, being the first one in a hundred plus years to produce spirits here. Atlanta could have been a hub of whiskey manufacturing, but the temperance movement came along and wiped that out, so to recall that history – we feel it’s very important. It’s the first thing we talk about on the tours we give here at the distillery, and it’s presented in our bottle design, too. We have a lost history of distilling, but also a lost history of manufacturing things in Atlanta, and it’s really important to us to share that whole idea of purchasing locally produced goods.

Moore picked up his well worn copy of the book, Prohibition in Atlanta (if topics like “Rowdyism, Snake Nation, and Slab Town” intrigue you, go get this book), and started thumbing through, calling out interesting facts of Atlanta’s distilling history. The man digs his history. And that history makes its presence felt at O4D, which houses a significant distilling memorabilia collection and has more still under wraps:

IMG_0365This entire collection (on display) was provided by Butch and Debbie Alley. They are prolific collectors of Atlanta distilling history, and this is the largest  display of Atlanta distilling history anywhere. The interesting thing that you find is that we really only know about the most prolific – like R.M. Rose Distilling Company – there were others… L. Cohen; A. H. Harris; Julian; Meyer and Co.; Cox, Hill and Thompson… they were all operating circa 1900, but you don’t find hardly any information on them. As we tell the story in our tours, we’re always asking if anyone knows about any of these, through a family history, or whatever – and it’s a very difficult thing.

Indeed, memorabilia from R.M. Rose dominates the collection – both in the numbers of jugs and bottles, as well as in the pile of printed material in protected sleeves that Moore keeps tucked away. Moore explains why Rose has risen to the top when it comes to the historical accounting of distilling in the area:

IMG_0359R. M. Rose was a pioneer in making sure that everything that left his facility had his logo on it – most of the others had generic, unmarked jugs. Paper items from the 1800s are hard to come by, but we purchased a collection and are trying to figure out how to properly display it and keep it safe at the same time. We have order sheets from R.M. Rose, and you can see all the things he was offering – not just corn whiskey, but gin, and brandy, and Kentucky whiskey, more. There’s a V.O.S. dry martini (bottled) cocktail. You have to admire their attention to detail (on these papers) – they clearly weren’t moonshiners as we think of it. That’s not how it was – these were businessmen, and they were big parts of their community at the time. “Ask the revenue officer,” (their slogan) was on everything. Rose was a marketing pro, putting his name and face on everything, at a time when the temperance movement was nailing the coffin on his business.

IMG_0356Their manufacturing was in Vinings, with offices and a retail store on Broad Street, and his big warehouse was on Auburn Ave. Around 1907, R.M. Rose was forced out of Atlanta, and moved first to Jacksonville, Florida, and later to Chattanooga. (At that time) it was not illegal (for consumers) to purchase spirits from Atlanta, so they would send R.M. Rose a money order and Rose would put a jug on a train for them (the consumer) to pick up. And 1907 to 1917 was their most prolific time period to advertise to make sure Atlanta knew he wasn’t completely gone. Right around 1917, the kibosh was put on that completely and R.M. Rose soon filed for bankruptcy.

The R.M. Rose marketing materials and order sheets from that period before 1917 are simply fascinating, both from an historical booze perspective as well as a marketing perspective. Here are some great tidbits from the marketing piece pictured above – “12 GOOD REASONS WHY YOU SHOULD ORDER FROM ROSE”

#4: More of our whiskey is prescribed by Physicians in Georgia than all other brands combined. (It’s good for you!)

#8: We own more Old Georgia ‘Primitive Method’ Whiskey in stock and in bond from one to six years old than any other dealer in the South. (Even back then, the good old days had their charms.)

#9: We have the largest and most complete stock of rare old whiskies, wines and brandies than any other dealer in the South. (And even back then, whiskey geeks chased rare stuff.)

#10: We have never made a misleading statement in any of our advertisements. We say what we mean – and mean what we say – and can prove every statement. (Truth in advertising – and labeling – was worth mentioning, back then as today.)

#12: We receive orders from consumers from nearly every State in the Union, whocheefully pay the express charges. (These guys were not just for locals – they apparently played on a national stage.)

And based on an order sheet from that period between 1907 and 1917, the variety of goods IMG_0348that Randolph Rose offered as a retailer was truly impressive, though they clearly weren’t distilling the majority of it. Indeed, as happens today, it’s a bit hard to figure out what exactly was produced by R.M. Rose (who does call themselves “distillers”) vs. sourced from elsewhere. In the category of things clearly sourced, there’s California port and sherry, a Spanish sherry, a dessert wine of unknown provenance. Then, less clear, there’s a Lone Pine brand corn whiskey (“old-time corn whiskey at a reasonable price, with the flavor of real Georgia Corn”), and Old Woodruff brand bourbon from Kentucky, neither of IMG_0346which seem to be distilled by Rose. There’s Rose’s Purity – “for fifty years… the South’s leading medicinal and family whiskey… a perfect blend of fine old whiskies” – that seems to be a custom blend for Rose. Or Sir Randolph Dry Gin – “distilled by my own formula… superior to the imported.” There are actually eight different rye whiskeys, one of which is Randolph Rose Bottled in Bond, which seems the most likely to have been distilled by Rose themselves. I’d love to be able to go back in time and sort out the distinctions between each of these, the most expensive of which ran for $6 for 4 quarts – roughly the equivalent of a $30 750ml bottle of rye today, adjusted for inflation. The cheapest spirit was, not surprisingly, the “mountain dew corn whiskey,” which ran for roughly the equivalent of $13.25 today.

IMG_0371Most intriguing are the bottled cocktails – Rock and Rye (“very fine in warding off colds”), Wild Cherry Cordial and Rum (“fine in case of colds or grippe”), Manhattan Cocktail (“made after my own recipe, and superior to the best served in high class clubs”), or Martini Cocktail (“an especially good article made with Sir Randolph Dry Gin”). All $1 each (equivalent to $24 today). What I wouldn’t do for a bottle of each of those to see how the folks were drinking in 1907, and what their benchmarks were when it came to cocktails.

In any case, the history of Atlanta-related distilling and booze marketing is fascinating, and the present of Atlanta distilling has the opportunity to recapture some of that long lost intrigue. O4D is paving the way, from their very prominent focus on the city’s rich history, to the fact that we once again have a legal still operating in the city. When I was meeting with Jeff, Craig, and Gabe, a call came in and they let me know they had to rush out – 45 barrels of whiskey were about to be delivered, ready to be racked into O4D’s warehouse to sit for at least four years. Jeff wrapped up our discussion by bridging the divide between the Prohibition era and Atlanta’s future as a homebase for distillers:

We’ve worked to challenge some of these Prohibition-era laws that are still on the books today. There was no one asking before. And I don’t want to be the only distiller here (in Atlanta). American Spirit Whiskey recently broke ground (installing their stills in Atlanta), and we get calls almost every day from other folks interested in starting something. Atlanta deserves to have choices of locally made products. We want this to pick up steam. 

Indeed, we do. Get your butt down to O4D to take a tour, soak in the history, and sample the Atlanta-made vodka and (soon, soon) gin. What are you waiting for? Was the past hundred plus years not long enough?

Old Fourth Distillery Atlanta IMG_0260 IMG_0275 IMG_0234

 

One bottle of Pappy Van Winkle 15

One bottle of Pappy Van Winkle 15

IMG_5457

UPDATE: THE WINNER WAS CHOSEN! Congratulations Craig S. But please don’t let that stop any of you from donating to the Giving KitchenCLICK HERE TO GIVE.

Would you like a bottle of Pappy Van Winkle? If you’re reading this, I’m guessing the answer is YES. Well, it just so happens I have one to share. Here’s the story….

Four years ago, I got lucky. I came across a decent amount of Van Winkle bourbon and rye on the shelves of a Total Wine and More (what!?), and I had the foresight to buy as much of it as I could. Back then, Pappy had already hit the big time with bourbon enthusiasts, but there was little indication that Pappy mania would become so… maniacal. I’ve been enjoying the stuff ever since, sipping with friends, sharing a bottle with my neighbor who helped shovel ice and snow off my driveway during the Atlanta Snowpocalypse, breaking it out on special occasions. I’m thrilled to have Pappy in my house, especially when sharing with friends who appreciate both the elixir and the gesture of a glass. But I also have plenty of other great bourbon that I’m just as happy to enjoy.

Recently, I was organizing my bottles and, seeing that I had a few extra, gave a fleeting thought to selling one off or trading it. A few websites have popped up in the past year to enable the (basically illegal and frankly somewhat disgusting at current rates) sale of rare bourbon and other spirits online from person to person. I checked around, and found that I could probably get in the vicinity of $1000 for one bottle of Pappy from the heralded 2011 release. And then I came to my senses and remembered my anger with the whole rare bourbon aftermarket and the “flippers” who fuel it. In my opinion, anyone who’s out there buying up bourbon to flip and profit from is harming the industry. They’re making it harder for those who simply want to drink the stuff, and they’re profiting off the fine work of the distillers and bottlers out there who have invested so much in bringing bourbon to market that has aged in a barrel for 15, 20, 23 years.

Sure, you can chalk it up to the free market – if someone’s willing to pay $1000 for Pappy, and a flipper can offer a bottle to that person, that’s where supply meets demand. It’s true. It just happens to leave a bad taste in my mouth, and that’s the last thing I want when it comes to bourbon.

So with this one bottle of Pappy, I’m going to do something different. I’m not going to flip it. I’m not even going to sip it – I have enough other bourbon to sip for years. Rather, I’m going to give it, to a charitable organization who happens to be trying to raise money, whose supporters would surely appreciate the gentle nudge of the opportunity to win a bottle of Pappy in recognition of their donation to the charity. If everyone out there who was considering flipping a bottle did the same, maybe we could make a dent in the whole flipper ridiculousness going on right now – and do some good in the process. I know it’s an uphill battle, but at least we can try.

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the giving kitchenFor those of you interested in where this bottle of Pappy is going, I’ve chosen to offer it to the Giving Kitchen – an Atlanta-based non-profit that provides emergency assistance grants to those in need in the Atlanta restaurant community. They’re doing good work. And I know they enjoy bourbon, too. So what could be better? Especially since this week they are working overtime to help address the unexpected shutdown of a major restaurant group in Atlanta that has left a whole lot of people out of a job. Watch the Giving Kitchen’s Twitter account in the coming week for details on their latest fundraising campaign and how this bottle of Pappy will be deployed to assist in supporting their mission.

UPDATE: THE WINNER WAS CHOSEN! Congratulations Craig S. But please don’t let that stop any of you from donating to the Giving Kitchen CLICK HERE TO GIVE.

IMG_5461Now for you bourbon geeks out there, this particular bottle comes from the heralded 2011 release. The bottle code is N2991109:43, which means it was bottled on Buffalo Trace’s N line, on the 299th day of 2011 (October 26), at 9:43 AM. The 2011 release of Pappy 15 was Whisky Advocate’s “#1 Whiskey” from their summer 2012 issue. Of that same release, Whisky Advocate’s John Hansell commented on the full Van Winkle range, saying: “I tasted my way through the 10, 15, 20, and 23 year olds recently at WhiskyFest San Francisco. My favorite was the 15 year old. That’s the sweet spot in the range.” I pretty much felt the same.

It’s a matter of debate on whether the 2011 Pappy 15 was bottled from the famed Stitzel Weller juice, Bernheim juice, or Buffalo Trace juice (or a mixture of two or all three of those), but critical response was overwhelmingly positive. The following year, Julian Van Winkle went on record saying that the 2012 release was a combination of all three sources that Van Winkle had on hand (Stitzel Weller, Bernheim, and Buffalo Trace). Current releases are assumed to rely more heavily on Buffalo Trace produced juice – not a bad thing, but worth noting for the bourbon-obsessed among you.

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