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Bourbon’s Unsung Heroes – The Oscar Getz Museum Curators

When I started doing work as an archivist for United Distillers, one of the first things I did was visit the Oscar Getz Museum of Whiskey History. This is when I first met Flaget Nally and Mary Hite, the two ladies that were curators of the museum. They have since retired and the present curator is Mary Ellen Hamilton. These three ladies are indeed unsung heroes of the Bourbon industry. To understand just how important they are, first you must understand the Getz Museum and its importance.

Oscar Getz purchased the Tom Moore distillery in the 1940s and changed its name to the Barton distillery. For the next four decades he collected whiskey artifacts and documents and showcased them at the distillery. He retired and sold the distillery in the late 70s or early 80s and took this collection with him. Unfortunately he passed away very soon afterwards, but his widow and son helped turn the collection into the present day Oscar Getz Museum of Whiskey History.

The collection at the museum has grown over the years and includes many artifacts of historical rarity. Pot stills from the early 19th century or older, bar decanters, bottles and jugs from many distilleries, both those that exists today and many who were lost with the start of prohibition. Books, magazines and other documents dealing with the distilling industry not only in Kentucky but all across America. Any person wanting to find an old label or letterhead from a distillery where a family member once worked needs to start their search at the Getz Museum.

Now when the museum was started the Getz family stated they would donate the collection and give a yearly donation to support the museum, but the museum would never be allowed to charge admission. The collection is open to the public without a charge. Great for the public but not so much for the museum. The family’s donation, donations left by visitors and the Auction during Bourbon Festival are the only sources of income for the museum. This total budget is less than the pay of one full time curator at a museum in Washington D.C. or New York or even the Speed Museum in Louisville. For less than $100,000 a year these ladies have kept the doors open and the public educated about Bourbon and other American whiskeys.

This was a real challenge when I first met Flaget and Mary. Besides paying themselves and a couple of part time workers for the museum, they had to pay the utilities bills, the security system bill, insurance bill, and any other emergency expenses that came up. In this time they have managed to raise money to put a new roof on the building and put an elevator to allow handicap access to the museums. The building is owned by the proto-cathedral and the Catholic Church but they do not charge rent, and in return the museum staff is responsible for maintaining the building. Some of this is raised by renting office space on the second floor of the building and renting the ground floor out to a restaurant, but two hundred year old buildings are expensive to keep up and funds are always a problem.


Mary Ellen Hamilton faces the same expenses as her predecessors but with dwindling resources. The budget today is about the same as it was when I first started coming to the museum in the early 1990s, but expenses have increased. She does an heroic job just keeping the doors open. Income has not increased and in fact, the auction increased revenue is more than balanced by decreasing revenue from individual donations over the year. There are fewer people coming to the museum since the distilleries have opened visitor centers with exhibits of their own.

The curators of the Oscar Getz Museum of Whiskey History, Flaget Nally, Mary Hite and Mary Ellen Hamilton are real heroes of the Bourbon Industry. They have worked for very little money but spent many long hour making the heritage of Bourbon and distilling available to the public. They preserve this heritage as best they can with what they have to work with. Keep this in mind the next time you are in Bardstown and visiting the museum. Enjoy the displays while you can and remember that donation you leave when you finish the tour really does help.

Photos Courtesy of The Oscar Getz Whiskey History Museum

Bourbon’s Unsung Heroes: Mark H. Waymack and James F. Harris

I was recently asked by Fred Minnick who I thought would be on a list of people who helped bring Bourbon back in the 1990s. We went through many of the usual suspect – Cowdery, the Regans, Murray, and Hansel, but he had to think for a second when I said Waymack and Harris.

I first met Mark Waymack and Jim Harris in 1994. They contacted me at the archive at Stitzel-Weller and wanted to interview me to see if I could help them with the history portion of their new American Whiskey book. Both men are philosophy professors and had done a book called Single-Malt Whiskies of Scotland and were working on a book on Bourbon, Rye and Tennessee whiskeys. I ended up spending a couple of days helping them and in 1995 their book The Book of Classic American Whiskeys came out.

Their book was the first book to focus on Bourbon and other American whiskeys. Waymack and Harris had to decide on their own how to design and write the book. They spent the first 50 pages on the history of Bourbon, more words than anyone had written since 1970 with Crowgey’s book Kentucky Bourbon: The Early Years of Whiskeymaking. The book had short histories of the distilleries and their brands with tasting notes at the end of distillery each section. They were the first people in a quarter of a century to write about America’s distilling heritage in a book. They helped pave the way for the success of the books that followed. Is it the best book out there? No, but the others that came after are better because Waymack and Harris broke the ground for them.

The book is well written and illustrated with photographs both historical and those taken by the authors while touring distilleries. Some of the images are a bit “muddy” but still recognizable for what they are. It is a pleasure for me to open the book and see images of Al Young and Jimmy Russell from the time period in which I first met them. The history is pretty good. They were the first writers to dig past the marketing stories on brands. They still occasionally put some marketing speak in the stories but it must be remembered that in that time frame there were not other people really trying to get past those stories other than Chuck Cowdery and John Lipman and their work was just being put out there for people to find. The book actually has a bibliography so the readers could look at what they looked at and make their own decisions on the subjects. The book really was a ground breaking book for Bourbon and other American whiskeys.

I have not seen either Mark or Jim in over ten years. They both went back to their day jobs of teaching philosophy. Waymack is a leading authority in Medical Ethics and Harris wrote amongst other things a book on the philosophy of Classic Rock Lyrics titled Philosophy at 33 1/3 rpm. I am not sure what they are doing today but hope to see them again at some whiskey show in the future. They truly deserve to be credited as an influence that helped bring Bourbon back in the 1990s.

rack house header

Photos Courtesy of Maggie Kimberl

Bourbon’s Unsung Heroes – Lewis B. Shuckman and Shuckman’s Fish Co.

Back in 1994 when nobody considered using Bourbon in food other than the occasional baked beans or chocolate dessert Lewis B. Shuckman  of Shuckman’s Fish Co. started using Bourbon in smoking trout for a customer in Elizabethtown. It started him on a path that would lead to success in sales and opened the door for using Bourbon in many other food products. Matt Jamie and his Bourbon Barrel Foods and others like him are a success partly because Shuckman opened the door to the idea of Bourbon in food products.


The Shuckmans have been doing business in Louisville for almost a century. His grandfather Isa Shuckman lived in Chicago but married a lady from Louisville. As it happens so often in history when someone in another state marries a Kentuckian, they move back to Kentucky. In 1919 they moved to Louisville and opened Shuckman’s Meat Market and Grocery at 1601 West Kentucky Street. Isa purchased the building from Oertel’s Brewery. It had been one of their saloons but in 1919 that business was soon to come to an end with prohibition. In 1950 the family opened a fish market on the opposite corner from their Meat Market and Grocery. The separate Fish Market only lasted a few years, but fish became an important part of their business at this time. Isa’s son Alvin took over the business in 1954. His big innovation was the self-service meat market, the first in the country. Pre-cut steaks and such placed on disposable trays and wrapped in plastic wrap, with a price attached so the customer only had to come in and pick up what they wanted without waiting for a butcher to make the cut for them.


In 1974 Lewis became part of the family business. By the 1990s fish sales had been increasing while the other meats had declined so he made the decision to sell only fish. One of the things that was driving the sales of fish was in 1994 when he started selling Bourbon smoked trout to a customer in Elizabethtown, Ky. In 1996 he met Julian Van Winkle at a Bourbon event at the Seelbach Hotel and then later that year at the Bourbon Festival in Bardstown. Lewis had always liked Bourbon as a drink and he had told Julian about his Bourbon Smoked trout and invited Julian to come by and try some. Julian did that and loved the fish. The two together came up with the idea of smoked Salmon and trout using wood from barrels of Julian’s whiskey. The products have been a huge success. In 2001 Alvin passed away and Lewis became the owner of the family business. It has thrived under his leadership. Shuckman’s smoked salmon and trout are found in many markets in Louisville and elsewhere in Kentucky, and he has customers in every state of the United States. Lewis credits the fact that UPS has its hub here in Louisville for his success in other states. He can ship the product out the customer can have it the next day. Many of Shuckman’s products are also certified Kosher through Kentucky Kosher.


Lewis Shuckman is a great ambassador for Bourbon. His fish has caught the attention of people such as Emeril Lagasse who had his smoked trout at the Seelbach. Lewis happened to be eating there with a friend that evening and Lagasse asked to be introduced. Besides his use of Bourbon in his fish, Lewis is also very supportive of the industry as a whole, always saying great things about Bourbon and the Bourbon community. He is very humble about his role in all of this and very quick to give credit to other’s such as Julian Van Winkle and UPS for their role in his success, but he deserves a lot of credit for the idea of using Bourbon in other food products. He opened a door that has been used by many others to great success.

Photos Courtesy of Shuckman’s Fish Co.

Bourbon’s Unsung Heroes – Kelly Ramsey and Art Eatables

When you first walk into the Art Eatables store on Fourth Street the first thing you will notice is that it has as many Bourbon displays as chocolate displays. They don’t sell Bourbon in the store but there is a plethora of Bourbon bottles, Bourbon Books and literature and other Bourbon food products on display. There is plenty of chocolate and other candies on display but even those displays will have a Bourbon bottle as part of the presentation. It is quite impressive and very much conveys the feeling that the owner – Kelly Ramsey – loves Bourbon.

I first met Kelly at a meeting of The Bourbon Society in October 2012. She and her husband Forest were at the meeting and introduced themselves. I sat down and talked with them at the meeting and we have been friends ever since. I quickly learned to admire and respect Kelly and her talent as a chocolatier and a business woman who loves Bourbon. She started making Bourbon Truffles (Truffles, not Bourbon Balls. Remember that fact if you meet her) over 5 years ago. She started the business in her home and registered her company, Art Eatables, in January 2011. By September 2012 she had found a store front on Fourth Street near Theater Square and the Brown Hotel and moved her production there. The Grand Opening of the store was November 5th, 2012 and the business has grown every year since.

Kelly and Art Eatables have garnered many honors and awards since she opened. In 2013 she supplied chocolate truffles for the gift bags at the Oscars. In 2014 Art Eatables was a food finalist for a Martha Stewart award and the next year they were a runner up for a Southern Living food award. In October of 2015 the Food Network named Art Eatables the best candy shop in Kentucky. Kelly has much to be proud of in the short time she has been in business.

Kelly is one of my Unsung Heroes because she does a lot to promote Bourbon as well as sell chocolate. She is brand neutral in that pretty much every major Kentucky Distillery and many of the new craft distilleries have allowed her to use their product and their brand names in making truffles. Kelly prefers truffles to bourbon balls because she feels the Bourbon is not lost in the sweetness of the center and also allows the chocolate to better compliment the Bourbon and vice-versa. Kelly works hard to pick the perfect Bourbon and chocolate combination for her truffles. She knows her Bourbon as well she knows her chocolate. She is certified by the Stave and Thief program in Bourbon. She is also an official sponsor of the Kentucky Bourbon trail. Kelly takes her Bourbon as seriously as her chocolates.

When a customer walks into the store they are very likely to find her there. Kelly has several employees but she does like to come out and talk with customers when she can do so. Kelly is happy to go into details as to why she picked a certain chocolate for the truffle made with a particular Bourbon. The one thing she makes sure of is that you can taste the Bourbon in the truffle so be prepared. They can have a bit of a kick if you are not expecting it. Art Eatables does have non-alcoholic chocolates but they are at what the staff refers to as the “no fun” table. They are also a nut free product for those who have nut allergies.

Kelly is a promoter of all things Bourbon. She does so without fanfare or prejudice to brands or distillery. She has done much to promote Kentucky’s favorite spirit and deserve to be recognized for her efforts. That is why I think she is one of Bourbon’s unsung Heroes.

Photos Courtesy of Maggie Kimberl

Bourbon’s Unsung Heroes: Sean and Lisa Higgins

I first met Sean Higgins in 2008. He and his wife Lisa had just started a new company called Mint Julep Tours and he wanted to meet me for a drink at Jockey Silks at the Galt House. Their new sales office was located there and I agreed to meet him there for a drink after work. Sean had never tried Ancient Ancient Age 10 years old before so each had one neat. I remember this because of the Bourbon salesman from a company I will not name came over and told us that now that we drank the bottom shelf Bourbon we should try his product. I politely told him I rather like AAA and actually preferred it to what he recommended. Sean liked the way I handled this jerk and we enjoyed the drink of AAA. Sean told me about his new business venture and asked me for some historical background on some of the distilleries. I was happy to oblige and I have helped them out on several occasions since then. Mint Julep Tours wants to have trained tour guides that know the facts about Bourbon and its heritage.

Sean and his wife Lisa founded Mint Julep Tours to take advantage of the recently formed Bourbon Trail and what they saw as a growing Bourbon Tourism market. Sean is a 9/11 survivor. He had left his office in the Twin Towers for a meeting at hotel across the street when the disaster struck. He survived but lost many friends and co-workers in this cowardly act of terrorism. Lisa had been in the marketing and advertising business at the time. They spent a few years in California before coming to Kentucky to start Mint Julep Tours in 2008. When they started their business the Bourbon Trail had been around for several years but was still relatively unknown to the nation by today’s standards. It was a gamble that Mint Julep Tours could sell enough bus tours to be profitable. They hedged their business plan by also offering tours of horse farms and city tours to their portfolio of tours.

The business exceeded their expectations and has grown at an average rate of about 40% per year. It is also becoming a family business with their daughter Riley and son Brendan joining the firm in the last year or so. They offer a wide range of tours and can provide additional experiences by arranging dinner at a fine restaurant with a Bourbon personality should that be something the customers want to do. Their busses are small buses holding about 20 people at the most so they will take tours from two to twenty people easily. Larger tours can be arranged and Mint Julep will rent a larger bus if needed for a special tour. Their sales office is still at the Galt House and they do have a website where people can find out more about the tours. Because many tours are customer designed, even though you can sign up for a tour on the internet, there usually is a telephone call from someone at Mint Julep Tours involved before the final arrangements are made.

Sean and Lisa entered the business as the idea of Bourbon Tourism was just taking a firm hold on the State. Their efforts at promoting themselves and the Bourbon tours has helped make people from all over the world aware of Kentucky and Bourbon whiskey. Sean and Lisa are two of the Bourbon industry’s best ambassadors. They are brand neutral as they want to promote tours to all of the distilleries. They offer a top notch experience with clean and well maintained busses and well trained tour guides that know Bourbon and its history in Kentucky. They customize the tours to the needs and wants of their customers. The Bourbon experience is unique for every group and they have many repeat customers. Sean and Lisa Higgins are two of Bourbon’s Unsung Heroes.

sean and lisa

Photos Courtesy of Maggie Kimberl

Bourbon’s Unsung Heroes: John and Linda Lipman

Back in 1998 John and Linda Lipman were driving through Kentucky on their way to visit Mammoth Cave and decided to stop and visit the Maker’s Mark distillery on the way to Cave City. They had never visited a distillery before and thought it would be an interesting side-trip. They both enjoyed Bourbon and the trip really impressed them with the art of distillation. John worked with computers as a career and had created a website to chronical their vacation trip so their family could read about their experiences and travels, so the distillery tour became a section of the page. Then they decided to go to other distilleries and added pages describing those tours. They then visited the Oscar Getz Museum of Whiskey History, where I met them for the first time and they fell in love with the heritage of Bourbon and rye whiskeys. Then they started collecting bottles of Bourbon and rye. At first it was just the current brands but then they started finding old bottles in antique stores and small liquor stores they visited. It soon became a major hobby for the two of them and they shared much of what they learned on their website.

By the beginning of the 21st century John, Linda and I had become friends. I came to their house for visits and we would sit up into the wee hours of the night drinking whiskey and discussing the heritage. It often seemed that John and I were constantly arguing about different points of history but I think we both preferred to call it “scholarly debate”. In fact many of the theories I later published in my book had their origins with these debates and are heavily influenced by John and his side of these debates. I often referred to my theory on the origin of Bourbon as the “Lipman Theory” because of his contributions.

John became a bit of a historian in his own rights and has a great fondness for the history of Pennsylvania rye whiskey. He visited every site he could in Pennsylvania, even if there were no remaining buildings at the distillery site. He would visit local antique stores looking for bottles or other artifacts for his collection and ask questions of people who lived near the distillery site to glean any information he could about the distillery. And he continued to add information to his website. Linda is very supportive of this collection they were building and even though John was the web designer and author of the articles, Linda was an equal contributor to the research process. They make a great team of researchers.

Their website,, is a great resource for people interested in visiting distilleries and learning the heritage of Bourbon and Rye whiskeys. John and Linda are also very generous with sharing their tasting experiences as well. John and Linda recently brought along a bottle of Pogue distilled Bourbon as they visited the Pogue family at the new Old Pogue distillery in Maysville. They opened this pre-prohibition Bourbon and shared it with the Pogue family. Everyone was very pleased with the Bourbon, but also very pleased with the generosity that the Lipman’s showed by opening this rare bottle of whiskey. John and Linda are known for many other such acts of generosity. They are truly two of Bourbon’s Unsung Heroes for their great knowledge of distilling heritage and their willingness to share this knowledge with the world.

john lipman

Photo Courtesy of Michael Veach

Bourbon’s Unsung Heroes – Al Young and Plant Managers

When I first met Al Young I was a new archivist for United Distillers and he was the Plant Manager at Four Roses under Master Distiller Ova Haney. He would come to hear me speak on Bourbon History whenever he could. This was most of the time but on at least one occasion I recall he missed it because he had a problem at the distillery that had to be addressed. Al, like so many other plant managers at distilleries, was on 24 hour call. When a problem arises at the distillery the plant manager is usually the first one to get the call, usually before the Master Distiller.

The plant manager at the distillery has to be very familiar with every step of the distillation process. They need to be able identify a problem within the process when it happens and how to correct it. Most of the times this is a mechanical fix such as replacing a pump or other system part, but not always. When the Master Distiller is in another town addressing a sales force or best customer, the plant manager is often the person the rest of the employees look to when a problem arises in fermentation or distillation.

Al young has upon many occasions demonstrated his skill and knowledge in making Bourbon. He has worked with such distillers as Ed Foote, Ova Haney and Jim Rutledge. He also has shown great interest in the heritage of Four Roses and Bourbon as a whole. For the past decade or so he has been a brand ambassador for Four Roses and author of his book “Four Roses: The Return of a Whiskey Legend”. Both of these tasks are made better because he had a long career in the industry that ended as the plant manager at Four Roses.

Al would be the first to tell you that he is not the only one who should be recognized in this manner. The plant managers have been the unsung heroes of the industry for decades, taking care of the distillery and making sure the deliveries were made on time and the barrels made it into the warehouse. Whether it is Al Young at Four Roses or Norman Hayden at Stitzel-Weller/Old Fitzgerald or Glenn Glaser at Brown Forman or David Scheurich at Woodford or countless other plant managers, they all deserve to be recognized as Bourbon’s Unsung Heroes.

al young four roses

Photos Courtesy of Four Roses

Bourbon’s Unsung Heroes – Stacey Yates

Mayor Greg Fischer coined the phrase “Bourbonism” when talking about Louisville’s boom in Bourbon Tourism. He has been a huge supporter of the Bourbon industry and tourism has grown under his leadership of the city. As much as Mayor Fischer has done, he has simply built upon the hard work done by Stacey Yates and the Louisville Convention and Visitors Bureau (LCVB).

I first met Stacey Yates at a Bourbon Dinner at Bourbon’s Bistro. She was there with two of her co-workers, Nancy Stephen and Angela Weisser Moore. These three ladies were the three musketeers of Bourbon tourism in the city. Nancy and Angela have both changed jobs since then but they too did a lot of work to make Bourbon tourism a reality in Louisville. Stacey was the team leader and was at the dinner as a sponsor as they launched a new idea they called the “Urban Bourbon Trail”. This was in 2006. These ladies had seen the growing success of the Bourbon Trail under the leadership of the KDA and were disappointed that Louisville had no role in the Trail other than a place to stay while people visited distilleries. Louisville’s two distilleries at that time, Brown Forman and Bernheim, did not offer tours to the public. Their solution was the Urban Bourbon Trail concept of visiting Louisville bars with over 50 Bourbons on the menu. There were eight places on the trail and the person could get a passport at any one of them. After visiting all eight of the establishments and getting the passport stamped they could turn it in at the LCVB for a t-shirt. The idea was to give the tourist staying in Louisville a Bourbon related challenge in the evening after visiting the distilleries and the Bourbon Trail.

Stacey started inviting people who were food and drink writers to the city and take them to places like Bourbon’s Bistro to showcase Bourbon not only behind the bar, but in the recipes for the dinner menu. She and her other musketeers would then educate these writer about Bourbon’s heritage and its role in the city. Whiskey Row became a term that was reborn in the city’s lexicon. Stacey and her crew would travel to other cities with Urban Bourbon Trail Passports and other Bourbon related items, encouraging people to make Louisville their Gateway to Bourbon Country. This benefited Louisville, but also the industry as a whole, bringing in tourist to the state for Bourbon tourism. They not only did the big cities with the big shows like Whiskey Live, but also many smaller venues. There were many weekends when Nancy and Angela were working a booth with Stacey at a small local festival, handing out UBT passports and t-shirts.

Stacey and her team believed firmly that the Bourbon was also supported by a great restaurant scene in Louisville and looked for ways to bring the two together. This come together in 2013 with the Bourbon Classic held in Louisville. Stacey worked hard to make this event possible and LCVB is a major sponsor of the event. The Classic brings distillers and chefs together to highlight Bourbon not only as a cocktail ingredient and drink, but also in food. No doubt this event helped inspire Mayor Fischer to put together his committee on Food and Bourbon the next year.

Stacey has been working hard for over a decade to promote the city of Louisville and its Bourbon heritage. She has never tried to take the spotlight and is very humble about her role in “Bourbonism” of today. She will quickly give credit to others such as Nancy and Angela and the current members of her team, Jessica Dillree and Christa Ritchie for the hard work done to build Bourbon tourism in the city, but the fact is she is the team leader and deserves credit for her hard work.

yates collage

Photos Courtesy of the Louisville CVB

One Thousand Blog Posts – A Milestone Worth Writing About

This is my one thousandth blog post. It was six and a half years ago that I started my blog. My purpose in writing the blog has always been to share the historical knowledge I have picked up over the years with as many people as possible. I started doing tasting notes as much for the record of what whiskey tastes like in the 21st century. Back in the early days of my career, Gary Gilmore on Bourbon Enthusiasts asked me the question, “What did people write about the taste of Bourbon and Rye in the 19th century?”  I looked through as many of the records I could find and found very little information on the subject. I decided then that the people of the 22nd century would not have that problem and started writing tasting notes.

As I continued to write the blog, I decided to add some other features. I wrote about people who contributed to the industry in my “Unsung Heroes” blogs. I then decided that I needed to add book reviews to help people decide what they may want to read about whiskey. I then added “Images of the Past” to showcase photographs and other images I have found over the years.

History remains the main focus of the blog, but I also write about the distilling process and distilleries I have visited over the years. I always enjoy finding a description of distilleries from the past. Many of these descriptions were written by the marketing department of the distillery and can be a bit slanted, but they are worth reading when I find them. My goal is to write about the distilleries I visit in a more neutral manner so people who read my blog fifty years from now will find an honest look at what the distillery was like when I visited it. 

I also have an interest in American Brandy – fruit brandies in particular. I have written about them and have a brandy history timeline on my website.

I have been a pipe smoker for almost fifty years now. Cigars are a more recent addition to my smoking habit – only about twenty years. Still, I enjoy tobacco and how it influences the taste of Bourbon and Rye whiskeys. I wrote my first blog on pairing tobacco with Bourbon on February 29th, 2016. Since then I have added a tobacco pairing with my tasting notes. I have also been blessed with a friendship with Maggie Kimberl, who is an expert on cigars. For a while, she was a contributor of cigar blogs to the site. We started pairing Bourbon and cigars in a series of blogs back in 2016. Maggie has become too busy to write cigar blogs for me now, but they are still a valuable contribution to the website.

So what is the future of I am getting older and might start slowing down on my writing. Right now, I write three blogs a week. I may slow down to just two blogs a week. Matt Kohorst, my nephew, will occasionally write a blog post or two as he has done in the past. However, he is a young man who is very busy with his career and family. I do hope to see him write more on his hobby of smoking meats and pairing it with Bourbon and Rye. 

I get a lot of requests from other people who want to write for the blog, but I am not interested in that. I want to keep the blog honest and brand neutral.

I hope that you, the reader of my blog like what I write. I will continue to write about Bourbon, and other American whiskey, and Brandy. It may take more than six and a half years to reach two thousand blogs, but that is my next goal.

Photos Courtesy of Rosemary Miller

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