May 272020
 

Anyone from my generation who grew up in the West Indies knows of the scalpel-sharp satirical play “Smile Orange,” written by that great Jamaican playwright, Trevor Rhone, and made into an equally funny film of the same name in 1976.  It is quite literally one of the most hilarious theatre experiences of my life, though perhaps an islander might take more away from it than an expat. Why do I mention this irrelevancy?  Because I was watching the YouTube video of the film that day in Berlin when I was sampling the Worthy Park series R 11.3, and though the film has not aged as well as the play, the conjoined experience brought to mind all the belly-jiggling reasons I so loved it, and Worthy Park’s rums.

You see, Hampden catches a lot of kudos and eyeballs and attention these days – their publicity blitz for the last few years is second to none, and they are rightfully renowned for the quality of their pot still rums issued with and by Velier, the ones that fans collect with a sort of obsessive good cheer which perhaps Ringo Smith might admire (and plan a long con around). But this leaves the other New Jamaican distillery of Worthy Park and its own pot stills seeming to pick up footprints, when in fact its rums are equally good, just different. Their confidence is, in my opinion, not at all misplaced, since the SMWS R11.3 — fragrantly named “Crème Brûlée Flambé” — is the best of those first three WP rums (I own but haven’t tried the second trio so far).

Consider how it opened, with a nose of pencil shavings, sawdust and wood chips in a sawmill, glue and bright sweet-sour acetones that made me look rather amusedly at the bottle to confirm it wasn’t an R2.x series Enmore or something. It developed real well from there: honey, cardamom, cloves and ginger to start, followed by a wave of tart fleshy pears and apricots.  There was a nice hint of avocados and salt and citrus juice, and when I let it stand for ten minutes (was watching the waiter training scene), I got last and light aromas of salt caramel ice cream, chocolate chip cookie, and butterscotch bon bons.

I remarked on the R 11.1 and R 11.2 that they were young and somewhat raw at times, not entirely cohesive, and Simon Johnson in his review of the R 11.2 also noted they lacked a certain elegance which the aged blends released by WP themselves displayed.  This was not an issue here at all – the palate was more approachable and rounded than its two predecessors – lots of both tart and ripe fruits, plus citrus, mint, salt caramel, rye bread, cream cheese and flowers in a good combination.  The taste is not quite as complex as the nose had been but it was close – at any rate it was both meatier and slightly thicker and sweeter than those, and for once, I think the SMWS had the title of the thing exactly right.  Finish was long, flavourful and zesty, mostly flowers, honey, fresh baked cheesecake, caramel, and some dry dusty notes of jute rice bags.

The distillation run from 2010 must have been a good year for Worthy Park, because the SMWS bought no fewer than seven separate casks from then to flesh out its R11 series of rums (R11.1 through R11.6 were distilled May 1st of that year, with R11.7 in September, and all were released in 2017).  After that, I guess the Society felt its job was done for a while and pulled in its horns, releasing nothing in 2018 from WP, and only one more — R11.8 — the following year; they called it “Big and Bountiful” though it’s unclear whether this refers to Jamaican feminine pulchritude or Jamaican rums.

Anyway, this is a rum that matches its siblings and goes a step beyond them. “Grace under pressure under a hot sun” wrote Richard Eder of the New York Times about the film “Smile Orange” in 1976, describing Ringo’s equanimity towards his travails.  The way the R11.3 cheerfully unfolds, without hurry, without bombast, taking its weaknesses and strengths in stride, suggests that the phrase could equally apply to the rum. After all, the best rums aren’t only the ones that are well made and taste good, but those which enrich and enhance life experiences, call back great memories of times gone by, allow you to skate past the problems and vicissitudes of reality. My experience and enjoyment the day I drank this rum, completely proved that point.

(#730)(88/100)

May 172020
 

It sounds strange to say it, but the Scotch Malt Whisky Society, aside from ushering in changes in the whisky world, had its impacts on rums as well. What made the Society stand out back in the day and initially made its name, was the focus on single cask fullproof bottlings, which at the time was only sporadically addressed by other whisky makers (and hardly at all with rums, except perhaps by the Italians like Samaroli and Velier, who were practically unknown outside Italy). At the time I wrote about the Longpond R5.1 and the WIRD R 3.4 and R 3.5, 46% was about the most I ever saw outside of the 151s, so juice that went for broke at cask strength was eye opening.

Well, fast forward some years and what I saw as groundbreaking in 2012 is now standard practice, and while the Society has expanded its rum selection to 50+ (all at fullproof), its lustre has been eclipsed somewhat in the competing glare of the many other rum makers (indies or producers) who are doing the same thing, and who, let’s face it, specialize in rum – they don’t see it as an adjunct to their main business. That and the SMWS’s pricing model, of course, which many can’t or won’t pony up for (full disclosure: I’m a member of the Society and buy my bottles).

But anyway, preamble aside, let’s keep on disassembling the R-11.x series of rums released by the Society, with the second release from Worthy Park distillate, which is called, without irony and perhaps tongue-in-cheek, “Absolutely Fabulous!”  Like the R11.1, it is 57.5% ABV, distilled in 2010 and bottled in 2017, 309-bottle outturn from ex-bourbon barrels.  And like that one, it’s nice and original.

The nose – sweet, fruity, subtly different from the R11.1. Orange zest, papaya, pineapple, ripe yellow mangoes, plus toblerone, white pepper, honey, cereals, and again that sly hint of glue coiling around the background.  It remains dusty, but also laden with spices like cinnamon, massala, crushed black peppers and there’s a subtle oily iodine-like smell wafting around that really makes the thing original. There’s a slight suggestion of rubber, not so much like a vulcanizing shop in hot weather as an old basketball’s air leaking out.  Like I said – original. I guess it takes all kinds.

The palate presents as hot and quite dry, a little wine-y, and also salty – brine and olives, and even salt fish with a few good ‘obstacles’ of cassava and eddoes.  It’s funky and a bit off the reservation, I grant, but there’s more: well-oiled leather, aromatic tobacco, sweet chilis and cucumbers and apple cider – I really didn’t know what to make of it, except that it sort of makes you smile and try some more, see if there’s any other element of crazy hanging around waiting to ambush your tongue. Here I did add some water and it quietened down and other flavours crept out, including the fruit that the nose had promised: pineapple, mangoes, unripe peaches, caramel, nutmeg, toffee and the acrid smoke of water-doused fire, if you can believe it. Finish was nice and long, somewhat bitter, mostly tobacco, leather, smoke, not too much in the way of sweetness or fruits except for a whiff of Fanta that permeated the entire experience.

This rum is clearly from the same tree as the R11.1 but seems like a different branch…and good in the same way, and its own way. That musky salt fish and iodine was odd to say the least (if not entirely unpleasant)…and what it shows is that rums made at the same time and aged for the same period – probably in the same place – can have discernibly different profiles.  Worthy Park sold the SMWS a number of barrels (none of the SMWS bottlings come from Scheer) so there’s both tropical and continental ageing in these things. And what it demonstrates is that like for all other indie bottlers, getting several barrels means one has the opportunity (takes the risk?) of having one barrel be different than its neighbor but both showing something of the character of the source estate. For my money, the R11.1 worked, and made my ears perk up, and my nose twitch. The SMWS took a chance with the R11.2 and it paid off, because this one, happily, does the same thing…not fabulously, perhaps, but with originality, and very nicely indeed.

(#727)(86/100)


Other Notes

  • Serge Valentin scored this 88 points and felt that were it not for two off notes it would have hit 90
  • RumShopBoy, the only other person in the rumisphere who has written about the SMWS bottlings, rated it 74/100 on a 0-100 scale, so his evaluation is about the same as mine.  His comments are worth noting: “This is not as good as Worthy Park’s Single Estate Rums that are commercially available. Although those editions do not carry age statements, they are more refined blends that are easier to drink. That leads me to my biggest problem with this rum… it is a real challenge to enjoy it properly. There is no doubting the quality of the rum and its production but it is hard to really enjoy it. Unusually for me, I found it needed some water to make it more enjoyable.”
May 142020
 

The Scotch Malt Whisky Society is no longer, as outlined in the brief biography of the organization, quite any of those things, not really.  It has offices way beyond Scotland, it’s not restricting itself to bottling malts, has moved past releasing only whiskies, and can just barely be considered a society (more of an independent bottler). This is especially so since they have begun to not just buy aged casks from whisky producers but also new-make spirit so they can age their own.

This last development has not yet occurred in the fields of their rums, though it wouldn’t really influence my purchasing decisions – I’ve been a fan for years, ever since I was fortunate enough to snap up three of their rums in Canada in 2013. That’s around the time when they started to take rums even marginally more seriously than before, and now in 2020, they have 13 different distilleries’ rums, of which the R 11.1 represents one of the New Jamaicans many fans are currently salivating over.

The Society is no stranger to Jamaica – the very first release R1.1 was a Monymusk, and thereafter they added R5 (Longpond, from 2012), R7 (Hampden, from 2016) and in 2017, they scored with Worthy Park as R11. And since I’ve unconscionably ignored the ‘Park for quite some time, I think I’ll begin the slow accretion of SMWS rum reviews with them – also because they’re pretty damned good. This one is a relatively young 7 years old, bottled in 2017 at a firm 57.5% (308-bottle outturn) and has the evocative title of “Spicy Sweet Goodness”, which is very much in line with the Society’s equally amusing and puzzling label descriptions that many have drunk themselves in to stupors trying to understand or follow.

Nose first. Yep, it’s definitely a Worthy Park and a pot still rum, such as I remember with such fondness from the Compagnie des Indes’s two 2007 WP editions, the 7YO and the 8YO, both of which were really good. It’s sweet and crisp and snaps across the nose with a light and sharp esteriness: my first written notes are “fruits, flowers and honey on white bread, wow!” But there’s also a light glue background, some cereals, ginger, cumin, lemon peel and pineapple all coming together in a very precise amalgam where each note is completely distinct. It has the freshness of a newly sun-dried white sheet with the sunshine still aromatic upon it.

This is one of those rums where the taste is even better than the nose. What it does is settle down a bit, and if it loses something of the initial clean clarity that nose displayed, well, it gains a bit in depth and overall complexity. The white bread has now been toasted, the cereal is almost like Fruit Loops, but the honey (thankfully) remains, golden and tawny and thick. These core notes are joined by brown sugar, toblerone, almonds, fleshy fruits like papaya, peaches, apricots and ears, as well as a peculiar background of beef bouillon, maggi cubes and crackers and (if you can believe it) powdered laundry detergent, y’know, like Tide or something. The light citrus (it really does remind me of Fanta at times) is there to balance everything off, acting as something of an exclamation point to the palate. The medium-lasting finish is surprisingly simple in comparison to the smorgasbord we just waded through, but it is elegant and has the main food groups well represented – fruity, sweet, salty and tart, all at the same time. 

Well, this was quite something. I liked it a lot. I have no idea how so much was stuffed into the ex-bourbon barrel the rum was aged in, especially given such a young age and what was (I believe) a continental ageing regimen. There are discordant bits here and there (minor ones) in the way the flavours don’t always harmonize completely; and sure, you can taste the youth in its brash liveliness and the initial sharply crisp attack – yet I’m not convinced that a few more years would have done much more than enhance it marginally. 

Most of the rums I’ve tried from WP are relatively young, and relatively good — it seems to be a real peculiarity of the estate to produce rums that other companies ageing their rums for twice as long would have been proud to bottle. In fine, the SMWS R11.1 is a jaunty young rumlet, made with verve and style by an outfit which seems somehow to regularly put out single-digit aged rums – for themselves and for others – which are consistently and uniformly better than conventional wisdom says they should be. To do that is to Worthy Park’s credit. To recognize it and bring it to us, is that of the SMWS.

(#726)(85/100)


Other Notes

  • Inadvertent loss of my original photo required me to make some adjustments which I’ll replace when I retake that picture.
Jun 222016
 

SMWS R3.5 1

A big ‘n’ badass Bajan rum, brutal enough to be banished to Netflix, where Jessica Jones and Daredevil occasionally stop by Luke Cage’s bar to have some.

(#281 / 86/100)

***

“They may be more throwaway efforts than serious exemplars of the blenders’ arcane arts,” I remarked once of one of the 151s with which I amused myself.  The SMWS on the other hand, does this stuff with the dead seriousness of a committed jailbird in his break for freedom.  They have no time to muck around, and produce mean, torqued-up rum beefcakes, every time. So be warned, the “Marmite” isn’t a rum with which you good-naturedly wrestle (like with the 151s, say) – you’re fighting it, you’re at war with it, you’re red in tooth and claw by the time you’re done, and afterwards you’re somehow sure that the rum won.  You may feel exhilerated just surviving the experience

Behind the user-friendly façade of the muted camo-green bottle and near-retro label of unintended cool, lies a rum proudly (or masochistically) showcasing 74.8 proof points of industrial strength, the point of which is somewhat lost on me – because, for the price, who’s going to mix it, and for the strength, who’s going to drink it?  It’s eleven years old, aged in Scotland, and hails, as far as I’ve been able to determine, from the Rockley pot still owned the West Indies Rum Distillery, making it a cousin of the Samaroli Barbados 1986 and the SMWS R3.4 10 year, old and thereby setting the stage.

SMWS R3.5 2The hay blonde rum oozed intensity right from the moment it was cracked. It was enormous, glitteringly sharp, hot, strong and awesomely pungent – the very first scents were acetone, wax, perfume and turpentine, so much so I just moved the glass to one side for a full ten minutes.  That allowed it to settle down into the low rumble of an idling Lambo, and gradually lighter notes of flowers, lavender, nail polish, sugar water and olives in brine came through, though very little “rummy” flavours of caramel and toffee and brown sugar could be discerned. It was clear nothing had been added to or filtered away from this thing.

Having experienced some rums qualifying as brutta ma buoni (which is an Italian phrase meaning “ugly but good” and describes such overproofs perfectly) I was very careful about my initial sip.  And with good reason – it was hellishly powerful. Incredibly thick and coating on the tongue. Massive, razor-sharp flavours of brine, cherries, more olives, some dried fruits, watermelon, and that weird combination of a cucumber sandwich on rye bread liberally daubed with cream cheese.  Christ this was hot – it was so over the top that were you to drink it in company, you wouldn’t be able to hear the guy next to you screaming…he’d have to pass you a note saying “OMFG!!!”.  Yet that’s not necessarily a disqualification, because like the 3.4, there was quite a bit of artistry and complexity going on at the same time. I have never been able to follow the SMWS’s tasting notes (see the label), but concede I was looking for the marmite…it was just difficult to find anything through that heat.  Once I added water (which is a must, here), there it was, plus some nuttiness and sweetness that had been absent before.  

All of this melded into a finish that was, as expected, suitably epic….it went on and on and on, holding up the flag of the overproofs in fine style, giving up flavours of hot black tea, pears, more florals, and a final hint of the caramel that had been so conspicuously absent throughout the tasting. I had it in tandem with the 3.4 (and the R5.1, though not strictly comparable), and liked the earlier Bajan a bit more.  But that’s not to invalidate how good this one is – about the only concession I have to make is that really, 74.8% is just a tad excessive for any kind of neat sipping. Overall?  Not bad at all – in fact it grew one me.  There was a lot more going on over time — so quietly it kinda sneaks up on you — than the initial profile would suggest, and patience is required for it.

SMWS R3.5 3

In trying to explain something of my background to my family (a more complicated story than you might think), I usually remark that no West Indian wedding ever really wraps up before the first fistfight erupts or the last bottle of rum gets drained.  The question any homo rummicus reading this would therefore reasonably ask, then, is which rum is that? Well…this one, I guess. It’s a hard rum, a tough rum, a forged steel battleaxe of a rum. It maybe should be issued with a warning sticker, and I honestly believe that if it were alive, it would it could have Robocop for lunch, yark him up half-chewed, and then have him again, before picking a fight in Tiger Bay.  It’s up to you though, to decide whether that’s a recommendation or not.

Jul 142013
 

D3S_7047

 

This feels and tastes mean, largely because it is. But just because it treats you like life on Keith Richards’s face isn’t an automatic disqualification…I just call it inspired insanity, and have (much to my own surprise) given it the highest rating I’ve ever awarded to a 75% overproof.

(#174. 88/100)

***

“Makes you strong like a lion”, the label remarks, in one of those tongue-in cheek references with which the SMWS likes to charm its buyers. After being battered into near insensibility (on more than one occasion) by the raging yak that was the SMWS R5.1 Longpond 9 year old 81.3%, you’ll forgive me for approaching the almost-as-torqued up 75.3% R3.4 rum with something akin to serious apprehension. I mean, I love strong and flavourful rums of real intensity, but it’s my personal belief that the folks at SMWS are snickering into their sporrans when they issue these massive overproofs, hoping that the lesser bred such as I will get a hurt real bad, be put under the table for the count, and swear off rums altogether. You kind of have to admire their persistence in the matter.

What we had here was a 75.3% rum issued this year (2013), with the usual obscure moniker “R3.4” which my research suggests makes the rum from the Rockley Still from the West Indian Refinery in Black Rock, Barbados. About which, I hasten to add, I know little, not having tasted their products (Bristol Spirits has a couple from there, which I hope to get my grubby little paws on one of these happy days).

D3S_7036

Dressed up in that delightfully tall, menacing camo-green bottle that is their standard, the R3.4 decanted a pungent, blonde-amber rum into the glass, quite innocently. Here, come try me, it seemed to invite, and you just knew it was suckering me in…fortunately, I had previously sampled its sibling, so I was prepared, having learnt my lesson by now: I let it stand, and then nosed it very, very carefully.

Bam! it went, right away, even after a few minutes. My God, but this was strong. Shudderringly odd, this was a rum in psychopath mode, a snorting, rearing mustang of pent up aggression. Creamy, buttery, slightly salty, almonds and peanuts stomped my schnozz right out of the gate. As sharp as a sushi master’s knife, yes, but Lordie, there was a lot going on here. As it opened up it presented even more: bananas, some mustiness and smoke, the faintest odour of Benedictine. I was impressed in spite of myself, and marked it high for sheer originality, because all other 75% rums (the 151s, if you will), were so straightforwardly simple and relatively uncomplex, that finding this plethora of nasal riches was a welcome surprise.

As for the palate, coat your tongue with fire suppressant material before drinking, in case your rum-drinking life flickers before your eyes. Once the fire subsided, the same creamy chewiness from the nose carried over well upon arrival – butter melting in an iron skillet, fried bananas, all wrapped up in a herbal background I couldn’t quite separate out. Intense, very intense. Wood, grassiness, rosemary, sorrel, with a snarky element of smoky peat in there someplace making mischief. It honestly felt like it was powered with fire and brimstone, this one, yet nowhere near as barefacedly badass as any of the other 151 rums I’ve tried in the past…there’s some real couth here, honestly. But of course it is damned strong, and so warning of sobriety transmuted to drunkneness in 2.5 shots is not me being overly metaphorical..

The fade, as befitted an overproof rum, was quite long and very solid, heat and warmth without real spice, somewhat fruity, nutty, salty, and giving up last hints of oats and bran. I s**t you not, this rum was quite something, and Stuart, who was drinking it with me (he had been clouted about the ears with the Longpond as well, and was therefore understandably cautious with this one), liked it so much he immediately started calling around asking where he could get hisself some too.

 D3S_7038

All right, so let’s sum up. Short version, if you want a good time, no stress or aggro, buy something softer…like the Centenario Legado, for example. If you want to be astonished out of your socks by a rum explosion of startling, glute-flexing originality, this is the one to get (if you can). You don’t need to be a rum snob, collector or even a rum lover to appreciate a bit of overproof blending skill on your table (or your office desktop after hours).

It’s been a long running gag on Liquorature that I resolutely refuse to admit that whiskies have pride of place in the spirits world, and the crown should rightfully go to the rums. Here’s one I wish we could get more of, ‘cause it kinda proves my point (it’s made by whisky lovers, much to my annoyance). Drinking this, trying to describe it in words, I am faced with bafflement. I don’t know. It’s crazy. This rum is liquid, industrial-strength factory effluent that tastes three times as good as it should.

 

Mar 272013
 

The most searingly powerful rum you are ever likely to try. Do not simultaneously bloviate and drink this, or spontaneous combustion may occur.

(#119. 81/100)

Don’t be frightened. A rum like the Scotch Malt Whisky Society’s R5.1 Longpond 9 year old, bottled at a grinningly ferocious cask-strength 81.3%, isn’t really out there to kill you: it just feels that way.  I used to laugh at the way Bacardi 151 and Appleton 151 made wussie forty percenters run a hot chocolate delivery into their pants…well, here’s one that takes it a step further and indulges itself in a level of industrial overkill and outright belligerence one can only admire. It’s a Longpond, it’s cask strength, its over 160 proof of tail-whuppin’ badass.  Tread warily, because it smells your fear.

For rummies out there who, like me on occasion, are not so much into whisky lore and tend to flip an insouciant bird at the maltsters (for my whisky loving friends reading this, it’s the other guys, not you), it should be noted that the SMWS has a stated philosophy of taking what is in the barrel out of the barrel, and bottling it as is.  Bam.  Take that. No muckin’ about, no weak-kneed nonsense like “drinking strength” or “dilution with distilled water” – what you had been ageing is what you get (you can just see the boys at the Society politley ignoring the rums of Cadenhead and Renegade).  As for the R5.1, much as you might think this is an amped-up Audi supercar, it just means it derives from the first barrel of rum bought, and the 5th distillery from which they have bought it, in this case, Longpond out of Jamaica.

The corked green bottle was marked with the SMWS logo, details of origin, and tasting notes (clicking on the photo above will enlarge it so you can read, if you wish), but since I don’t read others’ tasting notes until I”ve made my own, I just went straight ahead and decanted a hay-blonde spirit into the glass.  And here I must warn you that while it smelled fantastically original, you simply could not ignore 162.6 proof – that’s not far away from pure alcohol and the aroma is therefore, a shade nuts.  Medicine, grass and freshly turned sod, with strong briny and iodine overtones, yet not so much as to make me suggest peat, more like a weird plasticine some crazy kid wants to play with (note to my friends – I refer to others’ children, not yours).

The arrival was strongly heated, as if Satan’s brimstone-flavoured pitchfork was smoothly stroking my palate.  Yet there was a trace of honey and chocolate mints there also, among the medicine and the grass, and while the turpentine evident in the taste suggested a failed artist had breathed on this baby, I have to acknowledge its overall complexity, even if it wasn’t really to my taste – I’ve continually whinged about rum moving above 40%, but 81.3% is simply too much. Maybe regular cask-strength whisky drinkers would drool over this powerful drink more than I would.  It does make a cocktail that is simply incredible, mind you.

And I must say this — the finish is, quite simply, awesome: it goes on and on and on like a pornstar on a performance bonus…I’ve never had anything remotely like it.  Five minutes after my first swallow, the fumes were still meandering up my throat in what may be the longest finish I’ve ever had, even if it does remind me somewhat of iodine flavoured camphor balls. And then, just when other rums (Lemon Hart 151Stroh 80 or Bacardi 151) run out of steam, the R5.1 burns hotter, pushes harder, gives more. This experience quickly exhausted my curses in six languages and I was reduced to weakly muttered childish wows and holy cows. Trust me, after several glasses of this monster, your eyes wobble and your sphincter seizes up, and still the rum keeps on coming.


So: the taste is biblical, the arrival is extraordinary, and the finish so strong that if it was more it would be practically nuclear and be banned by all free nations: it’s a tonsil tearing, all-out assault on your sanity. This rum should be issued with not only health advisories, but camo-green (oh wait…).  It may not be the best rum you’ve ever had (though it’s probably the strongest you’ll ever try), but you can believe me when I tell you it’s absolutely among the most original.

“If in your travels you see God,” says a modest Hattori Hanzo, the ultimate sword-maker in “Kill Bill,” when the Bride was selecting a katana, “God will be cut.”  I like this kind of becoming humility in a craftsman.  It’s a kind of reverse arrogance, acknowledging a self-evident mastery so overwhelming, so off the scale, so beyond mere hyperboles like “fantastic” or “zoweee” that there’s actually no need  to mention it at all — the product speaks for itself.

The makers of R5.1 Longpond 9 year old fall into this group of such self-deprecating uber-senseis.  It’s not that they have made a rum excellent enough that God will smile, help himself to a second roti and curry goat and pour you both another shot, no (although this is not entirely beyond the realms of possibility) – it’s more like they created a concoction so incredibly powerful, so fearsomely, mind-numbingly strong (and good, let’s not forget) that if, in your travels, you did meet God in a beer garden down by de backdam, then trust me…God would get drunk.


Other notes

Yes, there are rums stronger than this one: the 84.5% Sunset Very Strong out of St. Vincent for one. I tasted that one in late 2015 and it’s not half bad…as long as one exercises all the usual cautions. Oh and there’s the Marienburg 90% from Suriname, which is stronger in proof but weaker in quality than both.

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