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Lancaster Vodka Masterclass,

December 2007





The earliest known written reference to the term "cocktail" as a drink based on spirits with other spirits and/or other additives goes back to an early American magazine called "The Balance", published in May 1806.


"Cocktail is a stimulating liquor, composed of spirits of any kind, sugar, water, and bitters - it is vulgarly called bittered sling and is supposed to be an excellent electioneering potion"


But what about the term "cocktail" itself? What are its origins?

As it appears to turn out, the origins of the word "cocktail" will probably never be known.


A few theories:


Betsy Flanagan

What appears to be a very popular story has to do with a innkeeper named Betsy Flanagan. Her husband was killed in the revolution, and she herself was considered to be one of the heroes of the revolution. In 1779 she opened an inn near Yorktown, which was frequented by American and French soldiers.

Nearby to the inn was an Englishman who raised chickens. Probably due to the current political climate, Betsy was none too fond of this neighbour, and she loved to promise her American and French patrons that one day she would serve them a meal of roast chicken. To which her guests would often mock her, claiming that this was all bravado and that she would never carry through with it.

On an evening that saw an unusual number of officers gathering at her inn, Betsy invited them into the living room, where they were served a grand meal of chicken, freshly "acquired" from the English neighbour. When the meal was over, Betsy moved her guests to the bar, where she proudly served up rounds of "Bracer" (which was a popular drink recipe at the inn). Betsy had decorated each drink with a tail-feather from the recently consumed chickens. To this, the officers gave three cheers to celebrate the defeat of this one particular Englishman. "Let's have some more cocktail" one officer proclaimed. To which a French officer added "Vive le cocktail!", and the drinking continued long into the night.


Tapping The Cocks Tail

As another story has it, the term came into use at a bar in an American harbour; the owner had a large ceramic container in the form of a rooster (cock). Every evening, the leftovers from drinks served were poured into this cock. Less economically fortunate guests could for a cheap price get a drink from this cock, served from a tap at the tail. From this came the term cocktail. It was said, that the quality was especially high the day after English sailors had been visiting, as there was a good mixture of rum, gin and brandy in the cocktail.


Cock Fighting

An evocative origin of the word "cocktail" comes from the term "cock-ale", a heady mixture of spirits fed to fighting cocks in the 18th century to inflame them. The punters and cockerel owners would undoubtedly have drunk the same mixture.


Frenchmen know how to drink

Another possible origin is from the French word Coquetel - being a mixed drink from Bordeaux served to French Officers during the American Revolution serving in what is now southern U.S.A.


Medicinal Purposes

Another version gives the invention to the medical profession. A New York newspaper unearthed the following explanation "from ancient print". The old doctors had a habit of treating certain diseases of the throat with a pleasant liquid applied to the tip of a feather from a cock's tail. In time this liquid came to be used as a gargle, the name of 'cocktail' still being used to describe it. In the course of further evolution, the gargle became a mixture of bitters, vermouth, and other such liquids, and finally developed into the beverage we now hold so highly.


When in Rome

A doctor by name Claudius in ancient Rome mixed a drink consisting of wine and lemon juice and dried herbs. This drink he called "cockwine". Emperor [Lucius Ælius Aurelius, emperor 180-192] considered this drink to be an exquisite aperitif, and he had reputation of being and expert on the area.


Mighty Fine Lemonade

A "cock" in 19th century America was a tap; the last, muddy dregs of the tap were its "tail." Colonel Carter, of Culpeper Court House, Virginia, was served such a drink at his local tavern, and seeing it as an insult dashed it upon the floor and exclaimed, "Hereafter I will drink cocktails of my own brewing." His concoction, a mix of gin, lemon peel, bitters and sugar, was the great-granddaddy of the modern cocktail.


What was that recipe again?

Another version is that it is derived from cock-ale, a drink popular in England in the 17th and 18th centuries. To a cask of new ale was added a sack containing an old rooster, mashed to a pulp, raisins, mace, and cloves, and the mixture was allowed to infuse for a week or so.


A Bobbed Tail

A "cocktailed horse" is one whose tail has been bobbed, giving it a jaunty and flamboyant look. It seems reasonable that the "cocktail" took its name from the drink's alcoholic wallop, sufficient to "cock the tail" (or "knock the socks off") of an unwary patron.


The Kings Daughter

In the beginning of the 1800's, there was apparently a lot of fighting between the southern states, and a young king Axolot VIII of Mexico. Fortunately, as in most wars, peace eventually prevails. At the peace ceremonies, a drink was served to seal the reconciliation. It was brought forth in a magnificent emerald-ornamented gold cup. It was brought forth by a pretty young woman who apparently also concocted the drink. As the young woman was approaching the King and the General she suddenly realized that with only one cup, she would have to serve one of them before the other, and thus somebody would end up getting embarrassed. She quickly saw what she had to do, and nodding to each of the dignitaries, she promptly brought the goblet to her lips and drained the cup dry. "Who was that woman" asked the General. "My daughter, Coctel" replied the king. The general then stood, and bowing to the king, pronounced: "Coctel shall be famous in my country and all over the world, her name shall never be forgotten.






The prohibition of alcohol in the 1920’s and 30’s in the United States is one of most famous, or infamous, times in recent American history. The intention was to reduce the consumption of alcohol by eliminating businesses that manufactured, distributed and sold it. Considered by many as a failed social and political experiment, the era changed the way many Americans view alcoholic beverages, enhancing the realization that federal government control cannot always take the place of personal responsibility.

We associate the era with gangsters, bootleggers, speakeasies, rum-runners and an overall chaotic situation in respect to the social network of Americans. The period began in 1920 with general acceptance by the public and ended in 1933 as the result of the public’s annoyance of the law and the ever-increasing enforcement nightmare.


Leading up to Prohibition

Temperance movements had long been active in the American political scene but the movement first became organized in the 1840’s by religious denominations, primarily Methodists.

This initial campaign started out strong and made a small amount of progress throughout the 1850’s but shortly thereafter lost strength.

The dry movement saw a revival in the 1880’s due to the increased campaigning of the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union (est. 1874) and the Prohibition Party (est. 1869). In 1893 the Anti-Saloon League was established and these three influential groups were the primary advocates for the eventual passage of the 18th Amendment to the United States Constitution.

After the turn of the century states and counties throughout the United States began passing local alcohol prohibition laws. Most of these early laws were passed in the rural South and stemmed from the concern of the behaviour of those who drank as well as the culture of certain growing populations within the country, particularly the European immigrants.

The first World War added fuel to the dry movement's fire as the belief spread that the brewing and distilling industries were diverting precious grain, molasses and labour from wartime production. Beer took the biggest hit due to anti-German sentiment and names like Pabst, Schlitz and Blatz reminded people of the enemy American soldiers were fighting overseas.

On the other side of the coin, the industry itself was bringing about its own demise and fuelling the fire of the prohibitionists. Shortly before the turn of the century the brewing industry saw a boom due to new technology that increased distribution and provided cold beer through mechanized refrigeration. Pabst, Annheuser Busch and other brewers sought to increase their market by inundating the American cityscape with saloons. To sell beer and whiskey by the glass as opposed to by the bottle increased profits and the companies took hold of this logic by starting their own saloons, paying saloonkeepers to stock only their beer and punishing uncooperative keepers by offering their best bartenders an establishment of their own next door that would sell the brewer’s brand exclusively.

This line of thinking was so out of control that at one time there was one saloon for every 150-200 people (including non-drinkers). These “unrespectable” establishments were often dirty and the competition for customers was growing. Saloonkeepers would try to lure patrons, particularly young men, by offering free lunches, gambling, cockfighting, prostitution and other “immoral” activities and services in their establishments


The 18th Amendment and the Volstead Act

The 18th Amendment to the United States Constitution was ratified by 36 states on January 16, 1919, and took affect one year later, beginning the era of prohibition.

The first section of the amendment reads:
“After one year from the ratification of this article the manufacture, sale, or transportation of intoxicating liquors within, the importation thereof into, or the exportation thereof from the United States and all territory subject to the jurisdiction thereof for beverage purposes is hereby prohibited.”

Essentially, the 18th Amendment took the business licenses away from every brewer, distiller, vintner, wholesaler and retailer of alcoholic beverages in the United States in an attempt to reform an “unrespectable” segment of the population. Three months before it was to take effect, the Volstead Act, otherwise known as the National Prohibition Act of 1919, was passed and gave power to the “Commissioner of Internal Revenue, his assistants, agents, and inspectors” to enforce the 18th Amendment.

The 18th Amendment is the only constitutional amendment that was repealed by another amendment (the 21st Amendment).

While it was illegal to manufacture or distribute “beer, wine, or other intoxicating malt or vinous liquors” it was not illegal to possess it for personal use. The provision allowed Americans to possess alcohol in their homes and partake with family and guests as long as it stayed inside and was not distributed, traded or even given away to anyone outside the home.

Another interesting provision to prohibition was that alcohol was available via a physician’s prescription. For centuries liquor had been used for medicinal purposes, in fact many of the liqueurs we know today were first developed as miracle cures for various ailments. Despite the fact that in 1916 whiskey and brandy were removed from The Pharmacopeia of the United States of America and in 1917 the American Medical Association stated that alcohol “…use in therapeutics as a tonic or stimulant or for food has no scientific value…” and voted in support of prohibition, there was still a belief in liquors medicinal benefits among many.

Because of this established belief that liquor could cure and prevent a variety of ailments, doctors were still able to prescribe liquor to patients on a specially designed government prescription form that could be filled at any pharmacy. When medicinal whiskey stocks were low the government would increase its production. A significant amount of the prescription alcohol supplies were diverted from their intended destinations by bootleggers and corrupt individuals during prohibition.

Churches and clergy had a provision as well, which allowed them to receive wine for sacrament. This also led to corruption, as there are many accounts of people certifying themselves as ministers and rabbis in order to obtain and distribute large quantities of sacramental wine.


The Effects of Prohibition

Immediately after the 18th Amendment went into effect there was a dramatic decrease in alcohol consumption that made many advocates hopeful that it would be a success. In the early 20’s the consumption rate was 30% lower than it was before prohibition but later in the decade, as illegal supplies increased and a new generation began to ignore the law and reject the attitude of self-sacrifice, more Americans once again decided to indulge. In a sense, prohibition was a success if only for the fact that it took years after repeal before consumption rates reached those of pre-prohibition.

Advocates for prohibition thought that once liquor licenses were revoked reform organizations and churches could persuade the American public not to drink, “liquor traffickers” would not oppose the new law and saloons would disappear.

There were two schools of thought amongst prohibitionists.

One group hoped to create educational campaigns and within 30 years American would be a drink free nation, however they never received the support they were looking for. The other group wanted to see vigorous enforcement that would essentially wipe out all alcohol supplies. This group was also disappointed as law enforcement could not get the support of the government they needed for an all out enforcement campaign. During the depression the funding was not there and with only 1,500 agents nationwide they could not compete with the tens of thousands of individuals who either wanted to drink or wanted to profit from others drinking.

The innovation of Americans to get what they want is evident in the resourcefulness used to obtain alcohol during prohibition. This era saw the rise of the speakeasy, home distiller, bootlegger, rum-runner and many of the gangster myths associated with it.

Many rural Americans began to make their own hooch, ‘near’ beer and corn whiskey. Stills sprung up across the country and many people made a living during the depression, supplying neighbours with their moonshine. The mountains of the Appalachian states are famous for moon shiners and although it was decent enough to drink, the spirits that came out of these stills were often stronger than anything that could have been purchased before prohibition. The moonshine would often be used to fuel the cars and trucks that carried the illegal liquor to their distribution points and the police chases of these transports have become equally famous. With all of the amateur distillers and brewers trying their hand at the craft there are many accounts of things going wrong: stills blowing up, newly bottled beer exploding and alcohol poisoning.

Rum-running also saw a revival as a trade in the United States. Liquor was smuggled in station wagons, trucks and boats from Mexico, Europe, Canada and the Caribbean. The term “The Real McCoy” came out of this era. It’s attributed to Captain William S. McCoy who facilitated most of the rum running via ships during prohibition and would never water down his imports, making his the “real” thing. McCoy, a non-drinker himself, began running rum from the Caribbean into Florida shortly after the beginning of prohibition. One encounter with the Coast Guard shortly thereafter stopped McCoy from completing runs on his own. The innovative McCoy set up a network of smaller ships that would meet his boat just outside U.S. waters and carry his supplies into the country.

Speakeasies were underground bars that discreetly served patrons liquor, often including food service, live bands and shows. The term speakeasy is said to come from bartenders telling patrons to “speak easy” when ordering so as not to be overheard some 30 years before prohibition. Speakeasies were often unmarked establishments or were behind or underneath legal businesses. Corruption was rampant during the time and although raids were common, owners would bribe police officers to ignore their business or give them notice of when a raid was planned. While the speakeasy was often funded by organized crime and could be very elaborate and upscale, the blind pig was a dive for the less desirable drinker.

Probably one of the most popular ideas of the time was that the mob held control of the majority of the illegal liquor trafficking. For the most part this is untrue, although in concentrated areas gangsters did run the liquor racket. Chicago was one of those cities where they did control distribution. At the beginning of prohibition the “Outfit” organized all of the local Chicago gangs and split the city and suburbs into areas, each of which would be controlled by a different gang who would handle the liquor sales within their district.

Underground breweries and distilleries were hidden throughout the city. Beer could easily be produced and distributed to meet the demand of the city but because many liquors require aging the stills in Chicago Heights and on Taylor and Division streets could not produce fast enough and the majority of spirits were smuggled in from Canada. This distribution operation out of Chicago soon reached Milwaukee, Kentucky and Iowa.

The Outfit would sell liquor to the lower gangs at wholesale prices and even though the agreements were meant to be set in stone, corruption was rampant and without the ability to resolve conflicts in the courts they often resorted to violence in retaliation. After Al Capone assumed control of the Outfit in 1925 one of the bloodiest gang wars in history ensued.

While prohibition was originally intended to reduce beer consumption in particular, it ended up increasing the consumption of hard liquor. Brewing requires more space both in production and distribution than liquor, making it harder to conceal. This rise in the spirit consumption of the time played a big part in the martini and mixed drink culture that we’re familiar with and “fashion” we associate with the era.


Why was prohibition repealed?

The reality, despite the prohibitionist’s propaganda, is that prohibition was never really popular with the American public. Americans like to drink and there was even a rise in the number of women who drank during the era, which helped change the general perception of what it meant to be “respectable” (a term prohibitionists often used to refer to non-drinkers). It was also a logistical nightmare in terms of enforcement. There were never enough law enforcement officers to control all of the illegal operations associated with prohibition and many of the officials were themselves corrupt.

It was one of the first acts taken by the Roosevelt administration to encourage changes to (and subsequently repeal) the 18th Amendment. It was a two-step process; the first was the Beer Revenue Act.

This legalized beer and wine with alcohol content up to 3.2% abv. The second step was to pass the 21st Amendment to the Constitution. With the words “The eighteenth article of amendment to the Constitution of the United States is hereby repealed.” Americans could once again drink legally and on December 5, 1933 the nationwide prohibition was over.

The new laws left the matter of prohibition up to state governments. Mississippi was the last state to repeal prohibition in 1966 and all of the states have delegated the decision to prohibit or not to prohibit alcohol sales to local municipalities. Today many counties and towns in the country are still dry. Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Kansas, Kentucky, Mississippi, Texas and Virginia have a high concentration of dry counties and in some places it is even illegal to transport alcohol through the jurisdiction.

As a part of the repeal of prohibition the federal government enacted many of the regulatory statutes on the alcohol industry that are still in effect.




7000 BC

Antecedents of the cocktail shaker can be traced to 7000 BC in South America where the jar gourd was valued for its use as a closed container. Ancient Egyptians in 3500 BC knew that adding spices to their grain fermentations before serving made them more palatable. A forerunner of the cocktail? Well, archaeologists have yet to find a hieroglyphic list of cocktail recipes inside the Great Pyramid of Cheops. But we do know in 1520 Cortez wrote to King Charles V of Spain from the New World of a certain drink made from cacao, served to Montezuma with much reverence, frothy and foaming from a golden cylinder.



By the late 1800s, the bartender's shaker as we know it today had become a standard tool of the trade, invented by an innkeeper when pouring a drink back and forth to mix. Finding that the smaller mouth of one container fit into another, he held the two together and shook "for a bit of a show."

At the turn of the century, New York City hotels were serving the English custom of 5 o'clock tea and it was a short leap to the 5 o'clock cocktail hour with shakers manufactured for home use looking very much like teapots.



In the 1920s martinis were served from sterling silver shakers by high society while the less affluent made do with glass or nickel-plated devices. The Great War was over and sacrifice was replaced by a euphoria marked by party-going and a frenzied quest for pleasure. The mixed drink and cocktail shaker was powered by Prohibition. People who had never tasted a cocktail before were knocking on speakeasy doors. The outlaw culture had a powerful pull. Flappers with one foot on the brass rail ordered their choice of drinks with names like Between the Sheets, Fox Trot, and Zanzibar, liberated more by this act and smoking in public than by their new voting rights.





The International Silver Company produced shakers in the form of the Boston Lighthouse and golf bags, as well as, traditional shapes. There were rooster- and penguin-shaped shakers, and from Germany zeppelin and aeroplane shakers. Many of these shapes were not entirely capricious. The rooster, or "cock of the walk," for example, had long served as a symbol for tavern signs. The penguin with its natural "tuxedo" symbolized the good life. The Graf Zeppelin had become the first commercial aircraft to cross the Atlantic - a 111-hour non-stop flight that captured the attention of the world.

Such ingenious designs were all the rage, cocktail shaker skills and drink rituals were as important in the Jazz Age lifestyle as the latest dance steps. Colourful cocktails with sweet mixes stretched out the supply of illicit alcohol and helped disguise the taste of homemade hooch. While gin, easier to duplicate than rye or scotch, became the drink of choice and the martini society's favourite.

But the real popularity explosion of cocktail shakers occurred after the repeal of Prohibition in 1933. Now they were featured frequently on the silver screen, shakers and accoutrements part of every movie set. Stars were constantly sipping cocktails when they weren't lighting each other’s cigarettes, both de rigueur symbols of sophistication. Nick and Nora Charles, the delightfully sodden couple that poured their way through endless martinis in The Thin Man series, knew how to shake a drink with style, as did the tens of thousands of Americans who shook, swirled, and swilled cocktails by the shaker-full in the years following the repeal of Prohibition. Movie fans watched Fred and Ginger dance across the screen, cocktail glass in hand, and wanted their own symbol of the good life to shake themselves out of the Depression that gripped the country.



By the end of the decade, shakers had become standard household objects, affordable to all. Every family had at least one shaker on the shelf. There were now cocktail shakers in the shape of bowling pins, dumbbells, town criers bells, and even in the shape of a lady's leg. The cocktail party had influenced fashion, furniture, and interior design. Coffee tables were now cocktail tables, and the little black dress, designed by Coco Chanel, went from fad to fashion, and is now an institution.

At the beginning of the 1940s, the Depression ended, but not in the way most had hoped. It ended on December 7, 1941. The golden era of the cocktail shaker was over, and America's involvement in World War II began. All metal went to the war effort. Companies that once made cocktail shakers, now made artillery shells. After the war, few thought of the shakers. We were in the atomic age, thinking of jet-propelled airplanes, a thing called television, and new cars with lots of chrome.



In the early 1950s, a brief renewal of interest in cocktail shakers occurred when new homes featuring finished basements, called "roc rooms," were equipped with bars. But the push-button age had taken the fun out of mixing drinks. Shakers came with battery-powered stirring devices. Worse yet, electric blenders became popular: drop in some ice, add the alcohol of your choice, a package of "ready-mix," flick a switch and.... Gone were the rites and rituals, the showmanship, the reward for effort. Small wonder, then, that these elegant stars of the 1930s were forced into retirement.

And there they sat - in attics and closets nationwide - waiting to be recalled to life. Over 50 years have passed now, and one can faintly hear the clink of ice cubes, as shakers are, once again, a symbol of elegance.




James Bond, that debonair and worldly English secret agent that always seems to know far to much about far too many things always orders his Martini's "…shaken, not stirred".

Sorry Mr. Bond. But you're not providing a good example for budding cocktail enthusiasts. A Martini, and in fact any clear cocktail, is properly prepared by stirring and not shaking.

Of course, personal preference should always be followed in matters of food and beverage. If you like drinking Chardonnay with your Filet Mignon, so be it. If you prefer your Caesar salad without Anchovies, who am I to tell you that this is incorrect. And if you really prefer your Martini's to be shaken instead of stirred, fine. But I'd at least like the opportunity to share with you some information and insights regarding this debate so that you can make up your mind for yourself, instead of simply falling under the "peer pressure" being applied by the formidable Mr. Bond.

When debating the differences between a Shaken and Stirred Martini, it is common to hear people bring up the notion that "Shaking will bruise the Gin". Hogwash. This term is simply a quaint turn of phrase that has more poetry to it then fact. There is little, if any, taste difference between a Martini that has been shaken, to one that has been stirred. So what then is the issue? Why does it matter?

To understand this, you need to understand the differences of shaking and stirring. Both of these methods have their benefits, as well as their detriments.



Cocktails should be cold, the colder the better. And for this, shaking is the preferred choice. It is easier to chill a drink down by shaking it, then by stirring it. This is relatively easy to demonstrate.

Take two similar glasses, and put a single ice cube into the bottom of each. Now fill both with lukewarm water. Now, using a spoon or a fork, dip into one of the glasses and carefully move the ice cube slowly around in the glass, simply trying to make sure that the ice cube is able to spend some time in virtually all parts of the liquid. Do this for about 30 seconds. Now remove the ice cubes and stick in your finger, or better yet an instant read thermometer into each of the glasses of water. Which is colder?

The water in the glass that you moved the ice around it will be colder. This is because of the thermal conductivity properties of water, while pretty good, you are able to improve upon this speed by simply moving the ice cube around itself. Thus the more parts of the liquid that are "touched" by the ice cube, the quicker you will transfer cold from ice to liquid.

Shaking provides this same benefit over stirring, because when you stir a drink, the vortex produced by stirring, even if you stir haphazardly and vigorously, doesn't provide as much "contact" throughout the liquid as shaking does. Shaking also will often result in breaking off small shards of ice, which because of the greater surface area exposed, will transfer their chill that much quicker.

So, shaking is better then stirring, right? Well, no. Stirring has an important benefit over shaking.



As any fine chef knows, presentation is a very important component in any dish they prepare. The same is true for cocktails. There are some cocktails that consist only of basically clear ingredients, most well known, as well as perhaps the most clear, is the Martini. Such cocktails should be served with their clarity intact, looking almost like a fine gem resting within the bowl of your glass.

Unfortunately, shaking these drinks will trap air bubbles into them and cause them to cloud up. You can easily demonstrate this by putting milk into a cocktail shaker, shaking it for a while (even without ice), and then pour this into a glass. You'll notice that there is a foamy froth on the top of the milk. This is a result of the aeration action that shaking causes. Now pour another glass of milk, and simply stir it for a bit with a spoon. Few, if any bubbles will form on the top, and you easily could have avoided almost any bubbles forming by simply being a little more gentle and deliberate with your stirring.



While many may not realize this, water is an important part of almost any cocktail. During both shaking, and stirring, some of the ice will melt and add water to the drink. While it doesn't affect the taste much, to say that it doesn't affect the taste at all would be inconceivable. Just the right amount of water will soften the bite of the cocktail, and provide a gentle rounding out of the mouth feel. Too much water however, will turn the cocktail insipid.

Shaking, as already mentioned, will result in breaking off shards of ice, which will melt faster, thus add more water to the drink. Too much water? Only your taste buds will know for sure. Stirring on the other hand, won't chill the drink as fast, which means you need to stir a little longer in order to achieve the same cooling level, which will also result in more time for the ice to melt. Personally, I wouldn't be too surprised but that extending the stirring time just a little to chill the drink to the same temperature as shaking, will result in about the same amount of water dilution as shaking would.

From an efficiency standpoint, shaking allows the bartender to serve more drinks quicker. So if that was all there was to consider, shaking is the preferred method for mixing all cocktails. Unfortunately, shaking affects the presentation of the clear cocktails, and so a well-trained bartender will know that for any cocktails that consist only of clear ingredients (spirits, wines, bitters, cordials), they should take the little extra effort to stir these drinks so as to produce the best looking presentation.

I expect some of you will continue to hold on to your belief that a shaken Martini tastes better then a stirred one. Such a choice is totally your prerogative, but perhaps, just perhaps, you owe it to yourself to try a little taste test to see if you actually can taste a discernable difference.


Health Benefits

An article by the British Medical Journal indicates that a shaken Martini is healthier then a stirred Martini.


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