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All About Bitters (Part 1)


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#511 thirtyoneknots

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Posted 01 June 2009 - 08:11 AM

If one could somehow get a flavorful base at high enough proof that even with some dilution and moderate sweetening it would still be over 100...well I'd like to try it but I'm not sure I'd go about making it myself that way. Angostura is the greatest bitters out there, in my opinion, and these Abbott's that I made have similar concentration if not quite as much depth. Before the finishing stages this was not the case: the intensity was good but had to compete with the heat and the depth was nonexistent. I wouldn't be surprised if the cooking of solids to get more water soluble compounds out isn't partly responsible for that. This afternoon I'll do a slightly more scientific test by making another OF identical to the one yesterday with the finished product.
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#512 Chris Amirault

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Posted 01 June 2009 - 08:17 AM

Angostura is the greatest bitters out there, in my opinion, and these Abbott's that I made have similar concentration if not quite as much depth.

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I agree. The more I fiddle around with these at home, the more I am convinced I'll never touch the level of the Angostura bitters.
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#513 thirtyoneknots

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Posted 01 June 2009 - 08:31 AM

Angostura is the greatest bitters out there, in my opinion, and these Abbott's that I made have similar concentration if not quite as much depth.

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I agree. The more I fiddle around with these at home, the more I am convinced I'll never touch the level of the Angostura bitters.

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Yeah I wonder if it has to do with more than one bittering agent or something...they are so layered and multidimensional.
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#514 RoyalSwagger

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Posted 01 June 2009 - 01:42 PM

Seriously, how do they get that depth and character with Angostura? I just finished a batch of Fennel Blood Orange bitters, my best bitters to date but, still lacking the layering of flavors that is Angostura. Pretty frustrating.

#515 thirtyoneknots

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Posted 01 June 2009 - 02:02 PM

This afternoon I'll do a slightly more scientific test by making another OF identical to the one yesterday with the finished product.

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Ok I still can't explain why but I will now categorically state that the lower proof "finished" bitters perform worlds better in a cocktail, or at least in an Old Fashioned made with Old Grand-dad BIB. I had to hunt yesterday for the character of the bitters, only getting some clove and ginger spice once the ice had melted quite a bit. Today it is right up front providing the beautiful base accents and balances that one expects from an aromatic bitters. If anyone ever come up with an explanation as to why this happens I'm all ears but personally I need no further proof that it is a necessary part of the process.

Really stoked about how these came out.
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#516 slkinsey

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Posted 01 June 2009 - 03:19 PM

So, the difference between the two batches you tried was that the second (better) batch had been reduced in proof by the addition of water in which you had boiled the solids? Am I getting this right?

I just wonder what it might be like if, for example, you had done the initial infusions in (Brita filtered?) grain alcohol and then, once you had boiled the solids in water, if you had reduced that water down until it was, say, only 25% of the volume and then you would end up with 150 proof bitters that should have all the same flavor compounds, but wouldn't louche, etc. Another potential advantage to keeping the bitters at high proof would be that you could incorporate "green" flavors from fresh herbs without worrying about those colors and flavors browning. I have a friend who infused a green herb into solutions with different concentrations of alcohol, and found that the infusion into high proof grain alcohol stayed green over time while the 100 proof and 80 proof samples browned. So, potentially, you could make a high proof bitters flavored with fresh marjoram, fresh lovage and fresh lemon verbena that would be a brilliant green and stay fresh.
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#517 thirtyoneknots

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Posted 01 June 2009 - 04:44 PM

So, the difference between the two batches you tried was that the second (better) batch had been reduced in proof by the addition of water in which you had boiled the solids?  Am I getting this right?

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Yes, some caramelized sugar was added as well. I should add that the 'batches' are actually the same liquid, tested at different periods during the process.

Upthread, Avery Glasser cautions against infusing in proofs over about 150 to prevent overextraction. Similarly, he suggests that proofs under 100 will give insufficient extraction. This was my basis for boosting the proof of the Wild Turkey Rye base with 190 proof grain spirits, basically making a high proof (~120) blended whiskey. What I'm actually quite curious about is how much the rye base is contributing to the finished flavor. It seems like it should be but there is so much going on...next time I am likely to go with neutral spirits and see how it comes out. Would be cheaper that way at any rate.

Your point about fresh herbs into the mix is an interesting one, especially as most of the recipes circulating call for dried herbs and spices. Apart from maybe citrus peel or of course ginger has anyone tried making any bitters with fresh ingredients? Where would one even get something like fresh cloves?
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#518 Mickael

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Posted 05 June 2009 - 05:25 AM

Hello there.
I can see that one day you guys will be close to find the secret recipe of Angostura. can't wait :biggrin:

Please, I'd like to know how you taste your bitters?
It's quite complicated: No nose, clearly strange taste...what process do you use to make your mind.

Merci
Mick
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#519 Chris Amirault

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Posted 05 June 2009 - 05:36 AM

Not sure what you mean. I get lots of nose on mine -- part of the point, after all! -- and if you take a few drops and rub them in your hands, you'll bring out the aroma.

I dribble a bit into soda water usually myself.
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#520 Mickael

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Posted 05 June 2009 - 06:59 AM

Not sure what you mean. I dribble a bit into soda water usually myself.

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Sorry If I'm confusing.
You already gave me an anser: you use it with soda & rub some in your hands.
For the nose, it's not always blackout, but it depends a lot of which catergory of bitters.
The Aromatic Bitters for example (opposed to the fruit bitters) doesn't have that much nose (room temperature), not much taste (if you want it diluted with water), but they still do miracles in cocktails.
So I was just curious to know how you taste your bitters when you are making them?
cheers
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#521 thirtyoneknots

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Posted 05 June 2009 - 07:15 AM

Not sure what you mean. I dribble a bit into soda water usually myself.

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Sorry If I'm confusing.
You already gave me an anser: you use it with soda & rub some in your hands.
For the nose, it's not always blackout, but it depends a lot of which catergory of bitters.
The Aromatic Bitters for example (opposed to the fruit bitters) doesn't have that much nose (room temperature), not much taste (if you want it diluted with water), but they still do miracles in cocktails.
So I was just curious to know how you taste your bitters when you are making them?
cheers

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I did several different ways, includingthe aforementioned soda mix (sometimes slightly sweetened), rub, and straight...Simple cocktails like a Champagne Cocktail or Old Fashioned with a whiskey you are familiar with can be a good way to investigate as well.

As far as lack of nose or taste...we must have different recipes of Angostura bitters.
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#522 Chris Amirault

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Posted 05 June 2009 - 07:45 AM

As far as lack of nose or taste...we must have different recipes of Angostura bitters.

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My confusion exactly.
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#523 RoyalSwagger

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Posted 05 June 2009 - 11:09 AM

Most aromatic bitters are, well frankly... ALL nose. They are called aromatic for a reason, especially with a fine,strong spiritus backbone. I occasionally do a smell sampling of different bitters as an introduction to bitters for guests at work.

#524 Mickael

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Posted 05 June 2009 - 07:39 PM

As far as lack of nose or taste...we must have different recipes of Angostura bitters.

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My confusion exactly.

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Perso, I can go more into details if you need, but I've been working out on how to make people taste & understand Angostura in quick & simple 4 Steps:

1/ Try it over a sugar cube, like if it would be a medicine (as it was, and still is). Just suck it, ventilate the sugar and don't eat it!
That way, you will get the taste. But you've got only 5 senses in your month, that won't help that much to de-confuse you.

2/ I also prepare a kind of syrup: 1 part Angostura / 1 part water / 1.5 part caster sugar. It helps me to be quicker at my OF(s), but it also gives me an incredible control of the horrible dash. It helps a lot if you want to compare or know what happened in a cocktail.

3/ After I flame it in a Boston Glass or in a tin (it's hot!). so i can get all my nose working.
Cloves will be my No1, after work it out, but there is a lot than opens up, surely much more than at room temperature. It's like a barbecue, I use an atomizer, I pump & then I flame (flame your dash)
The smell is incredible (Vin Chaud - Christmas ...)

4/ Before I'd finish, [b]I fix myself a quick Trinidad Especial
; 30 Angostura / 30 Orgeat / 20 Lemon J / 10 Brandy (grape) . I share a shaker with my mates, and that'll fix my stomach for the night.

Let me know if it helps, or if you've got any tips.
Cheers
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#525 Vieux Carré

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Posted 07 June 2009 - 12:12 PM

I was doing some searching about Suze (my daughter sent me a bottle from France) and ran across this interesting blog entry by Elliot Essman, a self proclaimed "bitterhead" with a "bitter tooth," titled "Bitter is Still Better." It is a nice wide-ranging discussion of bitters that might be of interest to those interested in cocktails. Check it out: http://www.stylegour...wine/art021.htm

#526 JAZ

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Posted 19 July 2009 - 12:29 PM

Over in the topic on Rogue Cocktails and in the book itself, they're dicussing drinks that use Angostura and Peychaud's bitters as the base of drinks. There's some talk about how economically feasible it would be to serve these at a bar, but I'm wondering how safe it is to drink them. Aren't some of the ingredients in bitters dangerous in large amounts? If you figure that a dash or two of these comes to 1/4 teaspoon, then the two ounces of Peychaud's in the Gunshop Fizz would be 48 times that, which makes me really nervous. Should I be?

#527 slkinsey

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Posted 19 July 2009 - 03:41 PM

I doubt very much that there's anything in any commercially-available bitters formulations that would be dangerous even if you drank a whole bottle. Most of the "bad stuff" in home bitters formulations (e.g., tonka beans) won't make it into a commercial bitters.
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#528 JAZ

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Posted 19 July 2009 - 05:29 PM

I'm not suggesting that commercial bitters contain tonka beans. However, there are herbs, barks, and other plant parts that are fine in small amounts but not in larger quantities. Nutmeg, for instance. Apricot or peach pits. That's more the sort of thing I had in mind.

#529 slkinsey

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Posted 20 July 2009 - 07:08 AM

In the amounts likely to be present in something like bitters, you would very likely become sick from the alcohol before any such substance harmed you.

Consider nutmeg, for example: In order to get any effect from the myristicin in nutmeg, one typically has to eat as much as one to two tablespoons of ground nutmeg. That's enough to flavor what? A gallon of bitters?

Anyone who wants to sell products in the US also has to deal with our rules and regulations which can be quite strict for this sort of thing. The reason real Żubrówka cannot be sold in the US is because the US won't allow even a minute amount of coumarin in the spirit. Similarly, I have my doubts as to whether any amount of amygdalin (the potentially bad stuff in stone fruit kernels) would be allowed. But, just supposing it were allowed, one would also have to drink a lot of bitters to get a harmful dose (i.e., more than a whole bottle of Angostura in one sitting).

Your point is well made that some of these substances may be bad in large doses. But I think it's probably just as likely as it is to develop cinchonism from drinking too many G&Ts. Which is to say that I wouldn't recommend drinking two bottles of Angostura a day, 7 days a week. But even as much as an ounce of Angostura a day isn't likely to be bad for you.

Edited by slkinsey, 20 July 2009 - 07:10 AM.

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#530 brinza

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Posted 21 July 2009 - 01:20 PM

I made the Angostura Sour this past weekend. I halved the recipe, but for no other reason than I did not want to waste a third of a bottle of bitters in one drink. The thing that surprised me most was the color--it looked like oxidized (brownish) tomato juice. BTW, it was delicious. So far I feel OK other than feeling like having another one.

Another drink with a lot of bitters is the Seelbach Cocktail, with a total 14 dashes.

Edited by brinza, 21 July 2009 - 01:22 PM.

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#531 David Santucci

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Posted 21 July 2009 - 02:42 PM

Another drink with a lot of bitters is the Seelbach Cocktail, with a total 14 dashes.

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14 dashes is a whole lot less than an ounce or ounce and a half, especially in a champagne cocktail. You might want to try Don Lee's Little Bitter (or DLB).

#532 brinza

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Posted 23 July 2009 - 08:20 AM

Another drink with a lot of bitters is the Seelbach Cocktail, with a total 14 dashes.

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14 dashes is a whole lot less than an ounce or ounce and a half, especially in a champagne cocktail.

True.

You might want to try Don Lee's Little Bitter (or DLB).

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Wow, that's different. Sounds good, though. I'd probably like that. I'll have to give it a try.
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#533 Vieux Carré

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Posted 28 July 2009 - 04:22 PM

I just bought a bottle of Fee's Grapefruit Bitters and looking for a place to use them tried
chrisamirault's suggestion of a Pegu Club. I have to admit that I was a bit surprised at just how different the grapefruit bitters made the drink and, I think, may have even improved on one of my favorite cocktails. For those of you looking for a place to use grapefruit bitters, I recommend that you try them in a Pegu Club.

Having now discovered that grapefruit bitters may really be worth having, I'm wondering how Fee's compares to Bitterman's. Can anyone give me a comparison taste-test? Is it worth getting the Bittermans if I already have Fee's? Are they completely different products?

#534 kathryn

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Posted 01 August 2009 - 12:58 PM

Got my Bitter Truth Celery Bitters in the mail today. I'll probably start out by trying a Loop Tonic.

2 oz Heradura Silver
1 oz Dolin Dry Vermouth
3/4 oz freshly squeezed lime juice
1/2 oz simple syrup
1/2 oz green Chartreuse
Dash of the Bitter Truth celery bitters

Any one else have other suggestions?
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#535 thirtyoneknots

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Posted 02 August 2009 - 12:05 AM

Got my Bitter Truth Celery Bitters in the mail today. I'll probably start out by trying a Loop Tonic.

2 oz Heradura Silver
1 oz Dolin Dry Vermouth
3/4 oz freshly squeezed lime juice
1/2 oz simple syrup
1/2 oz green Chartreuse
Dash of the Bitter Truth celery bitters

Any one else have other suggestions?

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Thats quite a large cocktail (4.75 oz!)...particularly for just one dash of bitters of any kind. What is it's provenance?
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#536 slkinsey

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Posted 02 August 2009 - 07:11 AM

This drink (from Phil Ward at Mayahuel) goes over ice in a Highball glass, and is meant to be a light refresher. Somehow the Chartreuse and celery bitters potentiate one another. It doesn't need more than one dash of bitters.

This is really the most successful use of the BT celery bitters of which I am aware, most likely due to the bitters-Chartreuse interaction. If I have any criticism of the otherwise excellent Bitter Truth products, it is that they are far less intensely flavored than any other bitters I use, often taking 5 to 7 dashes to equal the same level of impact one might get from one or two dashes of Angostura, Regan's, Peychaud's or a Fee Brothers product.

Edited by slkinsey, 02 August 2009 - 07:12 AM.

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#537 thirtyoneknots

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Posted 02 August 2009 - 08:27 AM

This drink (from Phil Ward at Mayahuel) goes over ice in a Highball glass, and is meant to be a light refresher.  Somehow the Chartreuse and celery bitters potentiate one another.  It doesn't need more than one dash of bitters.

This is really the most successful use of the BT celery bitters of which I am aware, most likely due to the bitters-Chartreuse interaction.  If I have any criticism of the otherwise excellent Bitter Truth products, it is that they are far less intensely flavored than any other bitters I use, often taking 5 to 7 dashes to equal the same level of impact one might get from one or two dashes of Angostura, Regan's, Peychaud's or a Fee Brothers product.

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I would agree that their aromatic bitters lack concentration, though the orange bitters I love (haven't had the opportunity to try the others except to taste the celery at Anvil). I recall hearing rumours when TBT first came out that the aromatic bitters was based off of Robert Hess' "House Bitters" which would explain the lack of concentration--the quite low proof of them would seem to confirm this. I've also heard that since then they have been reformulated somewhat to compensate.

FWIW though I don't think the Fee's Aromatic are particularly concentrated either, and the glycerin mouthfeel is quite destracting. Sad to say, because it's such a significant company in the cocktail revival, but I can't recall the last time I used their aromatic, or the orange bitters solo.
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#538 Mike S.

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Posted 02 August 2009 - 12:08 PM

Vieux, are you using the grapefruit bitters exclusively in the Pegu Club (that is, in place of both the Angostura and Orange bitters), or just replacing the Orange? And how many dashes? The PC is one of my favorites (that I don't make often enough) so I'm keen to give this a try.

Answering your question, I do have both the Fee's and Bittermens (sold through TBT) Grapefruit and can tell you they are, standing alone, very different from one another.

On the nose, the Fee's is quite sweet and spicy with just a hint of citrus (I'd be hard-pressed to ID it as grapefruit, or even any kind of citrus, bitters on the basis of its smell alone). The taste is similar, at least to me, sweet and spicy but with a nice bitter edge and a more identifiable grapefruit flavor. I like these quite a lot, but they are not particularly "bitter".

The Bittermens Grapefruit is, to my palate anyway and contrary to Mr. Kinsey's comment above regarding TBT's Celery bitters, more intense in every way. Virtually no sweetness on the nose or the palate, with lots of spice and a very strong bitter backbone. On the palate especially, there's no doubt that these are grapefruit bitters. I like these too, but I would think they'd generate a substantially different result in a mixed drink.

All that said, I've never run a drink taste-test to compare the two. I'd be happy to do so with the PC if you clue me in to how you're making yours!
Cheers,

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#539 Vieux Carré

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Posted 02 August 2009 - 04:19 PM

Thanks Mike for the comparison between Fees and Bittermans. It sounds like very different products so I should probably get myself some of the Bittermans.

In the Pegu Club, I substituted the grapefruit for the orange and kept the Angostura. I'm just adding one (healthy) dash of each.

Edited by Vieux Carré, 02 August 2009 - 04:50 PM.


#540 brinza

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Posted 05 August 2009 - 06:17 PM

I use Fee's Grapefruit bitters often. Unlike their Lemon bitters, which are rather monotone (but not bad), the Grapefruit bitters seem to have some complexity and really do add an indefinable something to a cocktail. I find that they work very well with St. Germaine's Elderflower, Lillet, dry vermouth, and even tequila.

As for Fee's Aromatic bitters not being too concentrated, while they don't seem quite as intense as, say Angostura, the flavor is rather pronounced and certainly makes itself known if overdashed. I think the issue with them is that they're not very bitter.

The Bitter Truth's aromatic bitters have a very heavy clove or Allspice topnote. Not a criticism, just an observation. In fact, they could nicely fill in for Allspice Dram if need be. I love the Jerry Thomas's Decanter Bitters. They are a good, versatile aromatic bitter; actually more middle-of-the-road than TBT's Aromatic.
Mike

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