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Wed, 3 Aug 2011

Rum tasting notes

Almost two years ago I went to a rum and chocolate tasting at Vinopolis. Yesterday was another rum tasting, this time to mark the approximate anniversary of Black Tot Day and also to give people a chance to try The Whisky Exchange's Black Tot brand rum. Black Tot normally sells for £600+ a bottle, so obviously it isn't one that you can just try in the shop before deciding if you want to buy.

We had six drams (is that the right word to use for a wee glass of rum? if you think you know better, let me know!), four of which showcased the rum of particular Carribean regions, the fifth being a modern re-creation of "Navy Rum", and the last being Black Tot.

So, on to the boozes ...

  1. Mount Gay Extra Old, 40%, Barbados: on the nose, there was a hint of vanilla, lots of salt, and some burnt toast. The flavour was strongly salty with a little caramel. Not very good at all.
  2. XM Royal 10yo, 40%, Guyana, sherry finish: this is one of the rums we tried last time, and my tasting notes are somewhat different this time! This is to be expected I think though, especially considering that I wasn't also having chocolate this time. The nose had lots of golden syrup, and a dash of something flowery - roses perhaps. The taste was creamy cocoa, and very sweet, with a strong finish. If left to stand for a bit, it gets sweeter and even smoother, with some butter.
  3. TWE's own cask, no details known, 60%, Trinidad: the nose was somewhat apricotty, but overwhelmingly fiery, because of the strength. The taste was hard to nail down without water, and all I got was umami. With water, the nose didn't really change and the flavour got some extra burnt bits. Not particularly nice.
  4. Smith & Cross, 57%, Jamaica: this is a blend made in London from two unknown but probably quite young rums. The nose was like very young whisky or maybe tequila - grassy. The taste had some flowers, raisins and bananas. With water it was less grassy on the nose, and became sweeter with the raisins and bananas coming out even more. I liked this a lot. I'd have given it 4 stars, but at only £30 a bottle it's a bargain so gets 5.

And now on to the two Navy Rums:

  1. Pusser's Navy Rum, 54.5%: this was grassy too on the nose (lots of Jamaican spirit in there?) but a bit "thin" and stony. The taste is quite sweet with some unrecognisable fruit and firey spice. While it is strong, it doesn't really need water, but in the interests of SCIENCE I added some just to see what would happen. The nose gained some toast and ginger, and the fruity flavours resolved to a mixture of summer fruits - raspberry, currants etc. This is a very nice rum and I recommend it. I didn't buy any though, because it's a mass-market brand that you can get anywhere.
  2. Black Tot, 54.5% nominal: having been stored for 40 years, this is actually a couple of tenths of a percentage point weaker than its declared strength, and was the star of the show. The nose is treacle, raisins, cocoa, with a touch of leather and coffee. The flavour treacle and raisins, creamy, with some gentle spiciness, and lovely long finish. I didn't add water, it was quite lovely without. Why only 4 stars? £600 a bottle. It's a really good rum, the best of the lot, but it's not £600 good.
Posted at 22:06 by David Cantrell
keywords: alcohol | rum
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Sun, 8 Aug 2010

Gin tasting notes

Another tasting at The Whisky Exchange, another spirit I didn't know much about. My gin drinking to date has been almost entirely in the form of gin and tonic, with occasional cocktails. This evening was a tasting of eight different gins, plus some cocktails.

Interestingly, while you usually get much the same crowd of people at TWE's tastings - they're mostly whisky drinkers, but plenty of them also came along to the armagnac and rum tastings and some to the tequila tasting - I didn't recognise anyone at this gin tasting. They missed out on a good evening. What's more, it was a green evening: gin has fewer food miles than whisky, as much of what we tried was made in or very near London - Jensen are based in Bermondsey, Sipsmith in Hammersmith, Beefeater in Kennington, and Plymouth in, errm, Plymouth.

The evening started with some twat with an "amusing" topper perched on his head mumbling to himself while pretending to mix a drink. He had all the usual stupid cocktail bar rituals, including pouring his ingredients from as high up as possible and looked like a right 'tard. He looked even more like a 'tard because he wasn't pouring anything at all: there was no liquid in his bottles. Thankfully, he fucked off pretty quickly and we were all given a GnT jelly cube, made with (I think) Hendricks gin, Battersea Quinine Cordial (which appears to not be available for the general public, boo, hiss) and elderflower syrup. This was lovely and had even captured the fizz of a good GnT.

There were two presenters. One was a foreign chappy whose name I forget, who talked a bit about the history of gin and seemed to get excited about the history of cocktails. The second, and more interesting, was Desmond Payne, the master distiller at Beefeater. This wasn't just a Beefeater evening though, and Desmond very knowledgeably took us through ...

  1. Beefeater: nose, citrus, grass and licquorice, becoming overpoweringly citrus with water. The taste was as the nose but with a dash of salt and bitterness from the juniper, becoming sweeter with water.
  2. Tanqueray: floral nose with some juniper coming through, floral alone after adding water. The taste fiery, bitter and licquorice, less bitter with water.
  3. Jensen: not much nose other than alcohol, becoming slightly floral with water. Tasting sweet and floral with just a hint of bitterness. This should on no account be drunk neat as it's rubbish without water.
  4. 209: an American gin, the nose is floral, blackcurranty, citrus and a spice market - predominantly cardamom, with water becoming all cardomom and ginger with a dash of turmeric. The taste is very very cardamom, with ginger and sweetness. Add water and the juniper comes through. I was shocked that I liked this, as I normally can't stand cardamom. My drinking buddy James was the opposite: he normally loves cardamom but couldn't stand this gin. Weirdo. I bought a bottle.
  5. Jensen "Old Tom": "Old Tom" is an older style of gin that Jensen have re-recreated. The nose is of turmeric and tamarind, becoming a little sweet with water. The taste is woody with burning paper and bitter chocolate, with water becoming pepper and paper. Very interesting, but I didn't like it.
  6. Plymouth: the nose is citrus and floral, the taste sweet and lemony. Not significantly different with water, becoming perhaps a dash oily.
  7. Sipsmith: a citrus, licquorice and almond nose which doesn't change much with water. The taste strongly juniper with sweet spices - Christmas in a glass! This is dangerously drinkable with a splash of water, and I bought a bottle.
  8. Beefeater 24: this unusually uses tea as one of the botanicals. The nose is warm and sweet, the taste of spices and grapefruit, and it doesn't change much with water.

And then on to the cocktails. We had an excellent Tanqueray GnT and one not quite so good (but still very good) made with Beefeater 24. The feeling in the room was overwhelmingly that lime is better than lemon for a GnT, but Desmond Payne disagrees.

Unfortunately the rest of the cocktails were a bit rubbish. We started with two sweet martinis, supposedly made in the style of the original martinis before they became dry. The cocktail historian chap said that they became dry because tastes changed - so, given that that's what modern tastes are, why make sweet martinis? Both were interesting (one made with 209, one with Jensen) but too sweet to enjoy.

Then we had a "margarite" made with Plymouth gin, which appears to be a sweet martini with a cherry in it. The drink was revolting, but once removed the cherry was very nice. Then a sweet martini made with Old Tom. I didn't like the sweet martinis made with decent gin, and this was, predictably, even worse. It was revolting, tasting like gin that had had an aniseed twist dissolved in it and mixed with cherry syrup. Old Tom is rubbish, but it's still better on its own.

Finally, two negronis, made with Beefeater 24 and Sipsmiths. Both tasted overwhelmingly of bergamot oil. They differed slightly, the one made with Beefeater being "fucking horrible", the Sipsmiths cocktail being "nasty", according to my notes.

So, Executive Summary time: gin can be really nice. If you're going to mix it with anything, make a GnT. Anything else is a SIN.

Posted at 17:48 by David Cantrell
keywords: alcohol | gin
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Tequila tasting notes

Like most of you, I'm sure, I've tried tequila in the past, and not liked it. But then I'd only had it while drunk, so when the opportunity came up to try a few different tequilas at another of The Whisky Exchange's tastings at Vinopolis a coupla months ago, I thought I'd give the drink another go ...

  1. Tapatio blanco: "blanco" tequilas are unaged - or at most allowed to sit for a few days. I was surprised that this was pretty drinkable for what is basically a raw spirit that's been watered down to 40%, with lots of flavour. It was very vegetal, and I presume that that was the agave coming through.
  2. Tapatio reposado: "reposado" tequilas have sat for a few months in wooden barrels. This specimen had spent 6 months in oak, and was bottled at 38%. The nose was dusty, the taste of sweet cinnamon and peppercorns. Very good indeed, and I bought a bottle
  3. Tapatio anejo: "anejos" have been aged for longer, this one spending between 15 and 18 months in wood. While that doesn't sound like much, the Mexican climate means that the wood works much harder than it would in the main spirit-producing parts of Europe - in this respect it's perhaps similar to the accelerated aging that Amrut's Indian whiskies get. Compared to the reposado, the dustiness has gone, leaving a much sweeter nose. The taste has mellowed, with the peppercorns turning into bell pepper.
  4. Chinaco blanco: this was less sweet than the Tapatio blanco, and is the other tequila that I purchased on the night.
  5. Chinaco reposado: aged for 11 months in oak, the nose is of turpentine and cherries. it's been aged in barrels that previously contained Scotch, and it tastes of it - quite sweet and vanilla-ish, somewhat syrupy, a bit like some grain whiskies. It was nice, but the whisky overwhelmed the agave.
  6. Chinaco anejo: aged for 30 months, this has a nose of grass and turpentine, and tastes dry and dusty, with less agave and pepper beginning to come through. Unfortunately, while it's not sweet it has a syrupy mouthfeel while also being drying. The mouthfeel makes this one a no-no.
  7. Tapatio extra anejo: back to Tapatio, this has spent between 3 and 5 years in new French oak, which makes it very old for a tequila. The nose is of old roses, vanilla, and white papper, the taste is smooth with violets, orange and heather-honey, leaving the mouth feeling quite dry.

We were also greeted with a Margarita (but not with that fucking horrible salt on the rim of the glass) made with Tapatio blanco. Very nice.

Posted at 16:45 by David Cantrell
keywords: alcohol | tequila
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Glenfiddich tasting notes

I'm a terrible slacker, I went to this tasting back in February and have only just now got round to writing up my notes. BAD ME.

It's largely due to Glenfiddich's marketing back in the 1970s and onwards that single malt whisky is now so popular. Unfortunately, while their standard bottling may have been interesting back then compared to the crappy blended whiskies that dominated the shelves at the time, it's rubbish by modern standards, but it kept selling mostly because it was cheap. I believe that they've discontinued it. It certainly wasn't part of this tasting, at which we sampled seven different bottlings as well as a new-make spirit bottled straight from the still.

  1. New make spirit: the nose was cherries, pears and paint, the taste pure unadulterated evil. With water the nose was sweeter, the taste still evil.
  2. 7yo: nose of paint and fruit, taste (with water) was sweeeet with apricot and pepper. Surprisingly good.
  3. 12yo, 1997: the nose was similar to that of the new make - cherries and paint, with the pears replaced by orange peel. The taste - mint. With water it dies completely. This should definitely be drunk unwatered.
  4. 15yo, 1994 "Solera": this is an odd beast. After being aged in the normal way (which permits the age statement - in whisky, the age statement is that of the youngest spirit in the bottle, which may contain much older spirit as well, as the distillery blends several casks together to make each batch of the final product), casks are then blended together Solera-style in a large vat. When spirit is drawn off from the vat and bottled (the vat never being fully emptied) it is topped up with more casks. This is, I believe, unique amongst whiskies. The resulting product is pretty good, with a nose of fruit cake and honey, tasting os raisins and brandy.
  5. 18yo, 1991: nose of apples and brandy, the taste sweet cinnamon. With water it didn't change much, but just became a bit less interesting. This was pretty good, but not great.
  6. 21yo, 1988, rum cask finish: this was an excellent whisky. The nose was mellow with leather, beeswax and vanilla. The taste of spice and - predictably - rum. With water some citrus came out too, but it's better without.
  7. 30yo, 1979: nose of chocolate and port
  8. 30yo, 1976, cask strength, sherry cask finish: this was spectacular but isn't generally available - you might be able to buy it at the distillery if you're lucky. The nose was of dry sherry and honey, the taste replaces the sherry with good tawny port. Doesn't need water despite the strength.
Posted at 16:17 by David Cantrell
keywords: alcohol | whisky
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Sun, 25 Oct 2009

Rum and chocolate tasting notes

This month's booze tasting was a variety of rums, although it was structured as a rum and chocolate tasting, not just rum. The session was led by Duane Dove of Tobago Cocoa, who also runs a restaurant and bar (warning: music) in Stockholm, with a very large selection of rums.

Again, rum is a spirit I don't really know much about - I've drunk some before, obviously, but only stuff that you can get in any supermarket or pub - so the evening was educational as well as refreshing. And as with the armagnac tasting, I rather lack the vocabulary to truly describe what I was drinking, but I shall do my best ...

  1. Angostura 1919, 8yo: vanilla and banana nose, sour cherries and ginger taste, with perhaps a little pineapple.
  2. Diplomatico reserva exclusivo, 12yo: coffee and chocolate nose with something of the smell of a freshly painted room too, the taste was vanilla essence and very very sweet. Too sweet in my opinion.
  3. Trois Rivieres 1997 vintage: bananas, spices and cherries on the nose, a spicey taste but rather bitter. It went quite well with the chocolate it was paired with, but doesn't stand up well on its own.
  4. XM Royal Demerara, 10yo: vanilla, banana and almond nose, sweet honey taste.
  5. Appleton Estate extra 12yo: perhaps the most whisky-like of all the rums that we tried, this had gentle smoke on the nose, with some resin developing over time and something redolent of an autumn woodland. The taste was berries with some dry mustiness. Very nice.

Now, if I lack the specialist vocabulary to describe rums, I lack that to describe chocolate even more. I'm rather sorry to say that, if you ignore the additives that were in some of the chocolates (such as orange peel) they all just tasted of ... really good chocolate.

The chocs were Pralus Trinidad (apparently available at Monmouth Coffee), Valrhona Trinidadian single estate (who have a crappy website that I can't link to), Amadei Chuao, and a couple of pralines from Dove's restaurant in Stockholm. All were very nice, and if I had to pick a favourite it would be the Pralus.

Posted at 16:32 by David Cantrell
keywords: alcohol | rum
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Tue, 15 Sep 2009

Darroze Armagnac tasting notes

As well as whisky tastings, I go to similar events for other drinks too. This one being for an Armagnac house. Armagnac is "the other brandy", that shouldn't be confused with cognac. Darroze mature and bottle armagnacs from lots of small vineyards and distillers in the Bas Armagnac region, but generally release them as seperate bottlings per vineyard and vintage.

I didn't know much about armagnac before tonight. I feel not only somewhat refreshed but also edumacated. Hurrah! Even so, my tasting notes are somewhat incomplete, because not being much of a brandy drinker, I don't really have the vocabulary to describe the drink that I have for whisky. I wasn't the only person present to make that observation.

  1. Réserve Darroze, 10yo, 43%: this blended armagnac is their cheapest offering, but even so it's still around 50 quid. The nose was orange liqueur and honey. My reaction to this - as indeed was that of lots of other people - was that it wasn't anything special. It's a good pub brandy, apart from the price.
  2. Domaine de Rieston, 1992, 52%: roses in the nose, caramel and peppermint taste.
  3. Domaine au Martin, 1987, 48.4%: despite being 22 years old (all the armagnacs tasted were bottled in 2009), this was still described as a young armagnac! The nose was golden syrup, citrus and a touch of soap. The taste peppery and white port, although without the sweetness of white port.
  4. Domaine de Busquet, 1979, 50%: caramel nose, the taste is licquorice with a long soft finish. Very easy to drink, and would go well with a Montecristo. At this point we're starting to get into pretty special territory.
  5. Domaine de Pounon, 1969, 40%: this was really very good, the nose slightly meaty, mushrooms, paper and pencil shavings, the taste dry, developing into sandalwood with a decently long finish.
  6. Château de Gaube, 1959, 44%: my favourite of the lot, but it was a tough call deciding between it and the previous one. The nose had light coffee and wood shavings and again some orange. The taste was umami, fudge and nuts. Unfortunately this chateau no longer exists, so the only spirit that's available is that which is now in Darroze's cellars. Which explains the rather eye-watering price. A price that I thought was worth paying, incidentally, as I bought a bottle.
  7. Une Larme d'Armagnac, 42%: this is another blend, but one aimed at footballers' wives, nouveaux riches Russians, and other tasteless conspicuous consumers. It's very nice, with a toffee and blackcurrant nose, spice, wood and nuts taste, and a looooong finish, but by blending something like 15 different spirits together it lacks individual character. That alone puts it below the Pounon and Gaube in my opinion, but it's over 700 quid, and comes in a horrible chavvy bottle.
Posted at 23:51 by David Cantrell
keywords: alcohol | brandy
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Mon, 17 Aug 2009

Amrut tasting notes

Despite the date on this journal entry, I'm actually writing it nearly a month later, because I'm a goddamned slacker. However, in the middle of August I went to an Amrut tasting. Amrut, as you will of course know, and so I don't really need to explain this to you, are a whisky distiller from India - Bangalore specifically. They make a damned fine dram, which I was introduced to in a pub in Northshire a few years ago. I was keen to try some of their other bottlings.

We had eight drams in a blind tasting, plus a sample of Amrut's new make spirit. Of the eight, only six were Amruts.

  1. Amrut new make spirit: this isn't something that you'll ever find in the shops, or even particularly want to drink, but it's interesting to compare it to the actual products that come from it. The nose was overwhelmingly acetone.
  2. Amrut single malt, 46%: the nose is lubricating oil, the taste reminded me of good cider brandy / calvados. A very short, almost non-existent finish. Benefits from adding a little water, and is very drinkable indeed but nothing special. 6/10. This is almost the same as that first Amrut I had Way Back, although they've tweaked the strength slightly which can make a difference.
  3. Glenfarclas 10yo: nothing really stood out in the nose, although with water there's some coal smoke. The taste included eucalyptus. The finish was salty, although not too much, and had something of a dentist's surgery about it. Only 4/10.
  4. Amrut cask strengh, 61.9%: the nose is honey, violets, perhaps some brandy. The taste, coal, salt, hot spices. The finish very long. Slightly meaty without water, but with water like a sweet n sour takeaway - from a good takeaway. 7/10.
  5. Amrut Fusion, 50%: this uses a mixture of Indian and a peated Scottish barley. The taste was of the sea and spice, the finish huge, with smoked eel. 8/10.
  6. Amrut peated, 46%: this is made with Scottish barley, in India. Their other expressions use Indian barley. The nose was currants and heather. The taste dry, with pervasive light smoke, and mint. With water the smoke became rather over-powering and slightly bitter - thankfully it's at a reasonable strength so there's no need to water it. 9/10.
  7. Bowmore Legend: carbolic soap and a slightly acrid nose. The taste smoke, bacon, cocoa nibs. 7/10.
  8. Amrut peated, cask strength 62.8%: great on the nose with rum and spice, but so strong it needs water. And unfortunately when you add water it just goes to shit. 5/10.
  9. Amrut Two Continents, 46%: this gimicky whisky is matured first in India, then shipped to "a secret location" in Europe for more maturing. The nose is floral, the taste fresh and summery, perhaps slightly barbecuey. Unfortunately only 4/10, and my notes have a gigantic "MEH" scribbled on them.

Those of you paying attention will have noticed that the one I rated the best was a peated Amrut, which I rated higher than the Bowmore. And I'm pleased to see that my original high regard for Amrut didn't subconsciously include marking it higher just because I wasn't expecting an Indian whisky to be any good.

Posted at 22:38 by David Cantrell
keywords: alcohol | whisky
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Thu, 11 Jun 2009

Pub review: The Woolpack Inn, Eskdale

I'm on my way to Oop North, and decided to take a rather round-about route via the Lake District. This was partly because driving over Wrynose and Hardknott passes is Fun, and partly Just Because.

After coming over those passes, I arrived at the Woolpack Inn, and the western end of Hardknott pass, in the late afternoon, gagging for a pint, and after ascertaining that there was a room available for the night I went to the bar. Now, one of the reasons that I stopped at the Woolpack instead of carrying on into the village of Boot was that the Woolpack has its own brewery - the Hardknott Brewery - advertised in big black letters on the pub and easily visible from the road. Surprisingly, they only had two of their own beers on tap, although there's one more in bottles. Of the two I tried, the Mild was somewhat disappointing, but the "Wooly Fusion" I tried next was really very special indeed. It's a light hoppy bitter with a bit of ginger in it - very nice indeed to drink outside in the sun. Unfortunately it's not available in bottles. If it had been, I'd have got a crate of the stuff to take home with me.

The bar has ten hand pumps, all of which were selling beers I'd not seen elsewhere, from local breweries, and those others that I tried were all very good. In particular the "Stout Ollie" from the Ulverston Brewery is excellent. While there are three lager taps, they're all tolerably decent lagers - none of the usual Fosters/Carling swill here. The soft drinks are also somewhat unusual - Fentimans lemonade, for example, instead of the usual carbonated sugar-water, and there's Dandelion and Burdock.

There's also a fairly extensive whisky menu. None of the bottlings are particularly unusual - although it's good to see a non-Scottish malt on the list (Connemara, from Ireland) and the only recently available Ben Riach - but there are a lot of them. 29 of them.

And finally the food. The menu was short and sweet, concentrating on local produce served in imaginative ways. For example, as a starter I had smoked trout with a herby sorbet. Yes, sorbet. It was very nice, and I shall try to replicate it when I get home. For dessert I had a Thing which had a biscuit base, with a generous helping of a local mild blue cheese on top, all coated in dark chocolate. That's another that I shall try to replicate, and will also see if I can figure out a way of serving it with the cheese hot. I knew I'd find a way of using a soldering iron in the kitchen! You may notice that I don't have much to say about the main course - it was competently done and well-presented, but not as special as the others. That's not to say that it was bad, merely that it was only good compared with the very good starter and dessert.

Can you tell that I liked it? I commend this pub to you!

Posted at 22:48 by David Cantrell
keywords: alcohol | beer | food | pubs
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Mon, 18 May 2009

I like to taste your Nikkas

Pure Malt White Label This evening I went to a Nikka tasting at The Whisky Exchange in Vinopolis. Nikka being a Japanese whisky distillery company. I realise that some people will be horrified at the idea of me drinking whisky from anywhere but Scotland, but, I'll have you know, the Japanese make some crackers. As do the Irish, Welsh and Indians. I've heard good things about a Swedish whisky too, and am very much looking forward to trying something from the St. George's Distillery in a few years time.

[update: I've been asked to mention that the Uppity Colonials also make good whiskey. Unlike the less uppity northern Colonials.]

But on to my rather brief tasting notes.

  1. From the Barrel: this blended whisky (Nikka own two malt whisky distilleries and one grain distillery; this uses all three) is a little beauty. The nose is all honey, but the taste is fire and salt, with sap and resin in the finish. A fairly strong 51.4%, but would make a good whisky to spend several hours drinking and chatting.
  2. Pure malt "red label": a little peat. Nothing special.
  3. Pure malt "black label": a rather uninspiring nose that smelt of, well, whisky. I didn't really get anything else from it, so was prepared to be disappointed. It had a little peat, with the dominant flavours being salt and sweet. With water, it became sweeter and less salty. Quite a delicate dram, and quite different from the robust whiskies I normally go for, but I liked this a lot.
  4. Pure malt "white label": the nose was hard to describe - eventually we decided it was soap, hospitals and bandages. The taste, however, was utterly different. The whole mouth fills with violets and roses, like having a boozy liquid Turkish delight. This is an awesome whisky.
  5. Finally two ten year old single malts, one from Nikka's Miyagikyo distillery, the other from Yoichi. After having three out of four of the "impure" whiskies turn out to be stunners, I was expecting these to be really very good indeed, especially given how highly I know others rate Yoichi. But I was disappointed. Neither was particularly special, the Yoichi edging slightly ahead with a nice loooooong sweet finish.
Posted at 21:58 by David Cantrell
keywords: alcohol | whisky
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