Whisky Advocate

How are you storing your whisky?

September 22nd, 2008

With the prices of whisky (and whiskey) going up so much, many of you are sitting on whisky you bought years ago at a lower price, or you are buying now in bulk to save a few bucks. Either way, you’re sitting on some bottles of whisky.

Rich, over at my thread on whisky values, thought it might be a good idea to discuss how we’re all storing our whisky, and I agree.

So, how are you storing your whisky? I’ll start by telling you what I’m doing.

I know that I’m not as meticulous or scientific as some of you might be. I have a bar and a whisky “library” in my basement. My whiskies are all sitting on shelves, upright, and out of sunlight or fluorescent lighting at room temperature. 

My “library” is a room leading to my bar which stores all my unopened bottles. (Yes, I plan to drink every one of them, with some help, before I die. They are for eventual drinking.) They are arranged by category and region so I can access them as needed. I don’t put any tape or sealant around the bottle stoppers, but I do keep an eye on their levels. If I see one starting to lose volume, it gives me an excuse to open it up and drink it with my friends or perhaps at one of the whisky tastings I host.

My bar is where I keep my opened bottles, again arranged by category. For bottles that I think I will have for more than 3-6 months, I use an inert gas. There are a few commercial products on the market, but what I use is Private Preserve. I shoot a few quick squirts into the bottle before I put the stopper back on after pouring. The gas displaces the oxygen. I have not had any problems, and it is fairly easy to use and very inexpensive.

What about the rest of you? What works? What doesn’t? Any horror stories you want to share with us?

37 Responses to “How are you storing your whisky?”

  1. Rich says:

    John, thanks for this thread! i’m looking forward to hearing how people are handling this. i could use some additional insight on one comment you made: “For bottles that I think I will have for more than 3-6 months, I use an inert gas.” i’ve long maintained that after a certain amount of time, an open bottle starts to change profile (especially when contents are low!), sometimes subtly, sometimes not. for that reason, i limit the number of bottles i have open at any given time. it sounds like you’re confirming that after a point, the quality of an open bottle will begin to degrade. am i interpreting your comment correctly?

  2. B.J. Reed says:

    Well, John, if you need any help in carrying out that task before you die just let me know… 🙂

    I do basically the same thing – Have built in cabinet where I keep my whisky, upright at room temperature and out of direct sunlight – I do have a light built in but never keep it on except to search out a whisky. I have stored my whisky this way for a long time and it seems to do fine – Key is keeping the oxygen out of the opened bottles!

  3. John Hansell says:

    Rich, limiting the number of bottles you have open will certainly lower the risk of your bottles going bad–as long as you have enough whisky open to have enough variety to keep you happy. Many of us like to have dozens open at a time, just for fun and to match whatever mood we’re in.

    For me, I don’t have a choice. I have to review whiskies for a living so I am always opening bottles of whisky. The less whisky in the bottle, the greater the risk of your whisky going bad. And what I mean by “going bad” is that the whisky gets dull and flat. It loses it’s vibrancy. If you’re drinking cask-strength Laphroaig, this may not be a big issue. But if it’s a delicate Lowlander bottled at 40%, it’s more vulnerable.

    Let’s see what others have to say.

  4. Brian says:

    Ah, you’re interested in both the long term storage and the stuff we’re drinking? For me, the two strategies couldn’t be more different. The archive (what I call “The Reserve Bank”) is in my basement. They’re just sitting inside liquor boxes in the dark. I have yet to figure out when I’ll get around to drinking any of it… maybe if I ever have to take a massive pay cut.

    But the stuff I’m drinking right now is prominently on display in my dining room:
    The top tier is “expensive” and “too tall” bottles, the second tier is the more pedestrian liquor, and the third tier is my mini-bottle collection. Right now there’s about 15 bottles on the top two levels and over 50 mini bottles.

    Small side note on storage: I try to avoid long term storage of anything with a cork. Just too risky to sit on something for a long time only to have it ruined because the cork dried out or fell in.

  5. Chuck says:

    I’ve never had any problems myself and American whiskey, at least, is pretty hardy. I can’t speak for scotch. The biggest mistake people make is in thinking that whiskey should be stored on its side, like wine. That isn’t even always a good idea for wine storage and it is a potentially disasterous idea for whiskey. Upright, in a climate where you’d be comfortable, with the bottles well-sealed, and you should be okay. We’ve both tasted whiskey that was in the bottle for 100 years that was in perfect condition, so it’s not that difficult.

  6. John Hansell says:

    Brian, that’s a very interesting cabinet. Regarding your comment on cork, I always keep a few extra cork stoppers (from finished bottles) handy, in case I open a bottle and the cork breaks. More than once, I replaced the cork stopper with a newer one and everything was fine.

    Chuck, yes, I have actually gone to retailers where their rare whisky bottles were on display on wine racks (corks wet). I couldn’t believe my eyes.

  7. sam k says:

    A few years ago, I purchased a case each of empty 500ml and 275ml glass flasks from a fellow who bought them at auction from the Michter’s distillery way back when. I figured this would allow me to downsize my rarer whiskeys as the level dropped in the old quarts and 750s. So, as the larger bottles were depleted to a certain point, I’d decant into the 500s, then to the 275s.

    It seemed to work well for the first couple of years, but as you and I discovered and discussed this summer, whiskey that had been decanted twice, now in the less-than-full 275s (specifically that precious Michter’s-distilled Sam Thompson Pennsylvania straight rye), was noticeably losing character. Perhaps the agitation of the decanting process is hastening the demise of the spirit.

    I’m pretty well convinced that your method of applying inert gas is the way to go, especially when you pointed out that it allows you to keep the whiskey in the original bottle, a much better presentation than my plain, hand-lettered, sticker-labeled flasks.

  8. Adam H. says:

    It’s funny, John, I do exactly the same thing you do. I’m have a bar in my basement, which hosts open bottles, and my sealed/collectible bottles stay out of sunlight, upright, on display (er, cluttered display) in a different room.

    I use Private Preserve liberally. And I have to say, I think it really works… I’ve had some open bottles “preserved” for 2-3 years, and they compare identically (or incredibly close) to freshly-opened bottles of the same stock.

    The most effective and obsessive thing I’ve seen done (the PLOWED guys seem pretty religious about it) is constantly transferring your more-prized whisky into smaller and smaller bottles as you drink it. That way, there’s as little air as possible in the bottle. Personally, I’m too lazy to do this; moreover, I like having the full bottles — they look a lot nicer.

  9. Clay Risen says:

    I have a small collection of unopened bottles that I am sitting on as an investment — not too many to make my pocketbook weep, and nothing I love so much that my mouth waters in pain thinking about them (fortunately, my palette often veers to the pedestrian). But other than storing them at room temp, out of the light, and standing up, I’ve never heard of a trick to storage. Since whiskey doesn’t age in the bottle, and so much of it is alcohol anyway, there’s no need to keep a precise temperature or humidity, so I’ve been told.

    All that being said, after my grandfather passed, my brother, who moved into his house, discovered a cache of unopened bourbons and TN whiskeys from the 1950s and 1960s — and in most cases a third of the liquid had evaporated. I guess that’s the downside to laying up hard alcohol.

  10. John Hansell says:

    Sam, reading Adam’s post, it looks like you’re not alone in your “downsizing” to smaller bottles. Call me a romantic, but I like to see the whisky in its original package.

    I have also heard of people putting marbles in their bottles to displace the oxygen in the headspace. Lucky marbles…

    Adam, I like to keep my opened bottles separate from my unopened bottles because once I open a bottle, I want to kept track of it–and drink it. If it gets mixed in with my unopened bottles and stuck behind one or two of them, I might lose track of it. (Perish the thought!)

    Clay, it depends on where those old “grandfather” bottles were stored and what types of stoppers (or screw tops) they had. Some didn’t work very well. I have purchased upopened bottles of scotch that actually leaked through their metal screw tops when I was transporting them home in my carry on luggage on a plane. Yes, a bummer.

    I have also heard from some collectors that they overused their dehumidifyers and the low humidity affected their whisky (possibly through leaks in the stoppers).

  11. sam k says:

    Marbles, huh? Ingenious! They’d better be clean, though!

    I’ve bought old bottles that had been stored in a basement for decades, and usually aren’t the worse for wear. I got a half-gallon of Baltimore Pure Rye (B-P-R), bottled in 1940, and when I received it in 2005 (65 years in storage) it was practically full, and the cork came right out of the neck like it was brand new. The whiskey was pristine. My guess is that it was stored in an un-dehumidified basement, which I think is perfect.

    I’ve passed on bottles that were probably attic stored and had one third to one half of the contents evaporated. A bad sign, in my opinion. High heat and low humidity are not your whiskey’s friend. I know of a stash of hundreds of bottles of Prohibition-bottled whiskey sitting in an ambient temperature warehouse in the midwest, and I can’t convince the owner to sell them off. Every month in storage is a bad thing for the contents of those bottles. Sam Thompson, Gibson’s, 38 year old Paterson’s Irish, Mellwood, Ashbrook, Old Darling, Old Jim Gore, Old Overholt, and more, all sitting there deteriorating by the day.

    I’ve also had your experience of a leaky screw top, most recently on the Heaven Hill BIB that Lew picked up for me. Now I always tighten new screw tops prior to transport. Live and learn, I guess, which is what these recent feedback-driven postings of yours are providing. Thanks!

  12. […] Advocate publisher & editor John Hansell has an interesting post up today at What Does John Know, regarding the storage of whisk(e)y. To wit: how do you keep your opened bottles at their […]

  13. I store my whisky upright, in a fairly dark room, never gets above 72 degrees F, frequently lower than that. While I don’t have the largest collection, most of my bottles are open, and I make sure they aren’t exposed to Oxygen for very long. 😉

    I agree with John, whisky is for drinking. I read yesterday on Whisky Magazine’s forums that my Ardbeg Corryvreckan bottle from the first bottling might be worth something. Too late! I’ve already opened it. I am just not a collector, I guess. I *am* enjoying it, though! And at 100 degrees proof cask strength, I think it was a good value for £50 ($100).

  14. […] Hansell on How To Store Your Whisky John Hansell at the Malt Advocate has a great thread going on techniques for storing whisky. It’s not rocket science, but there’s some good advice. Among other things it is […]

  15. Ryan says:

    Maybe I don’t put enough effort into this, but I keep my bottles stored upright and out of sunlight, but I don’t worry about the opened bottles degrading until they are less than half full. Actually, I had a few cask strength bottles improve with a little oxygen softening them. I have also seen a bottle degrade when left mostly empty for a long time.

    If something is exceptionally good and expensive/too limited to replace, I have started to decant a few 50 ml bottles so I can drink most the bottle and still save a bit for a special occasion.

  16. Magnus says:

    Hi John,
    Marbles must be the worst ide ever. imagine a bottle with 10cl whisky and 60cl with marbles, it will be a heavy bottle. absolutely nothing to recommend for a bottle of Ardbeg Mor 😉

    Well i have the “same” problem as you have. I also have to open bottle to review them. i guess not in the same scale as you but still. i use to say that i want like 10 bottles open, now i have around 50-60 bottles open. I also buy whisky to drink, just dont know when all the time. i have about the same qty in unopened bottles.
    Like alot ot swedish people i have my whisky in “Billy” from Ikea. have all the bottles at same place, not in direct sunlight but not dark, but i try to keep the unopen bottles in the package they come in. THe open bottles i have is often not in the package, but i hope they will be empty soon. I just to give visitors a glas and say “everything that is opened you can drink”. So people often find something they like to drink, and i like it becourse the bottles will become empty quicker then i should be if only i was the one drinking it. And a dram is best when you share it with a friend, isnt it?

    I think i’ll buy a Private Preserve and try that one on my bottles.

    thank you for a great blog!

  17. John Hansell says:

    Magnus, yes, that another reason why I keep my opened bottles separate from my unopened bottles. When I have a guest over (who appreciates whisky) I can just say: “Everything in this room is open. You can have anything you want. Let me know what looks interesting to you and I’ll pour you a dram.” I don’t have to worry about my wife’s ex-boss (who only drinks cheap blends on the rocks) opening up my bottle of Black Bowmore when I go to take a leak.

  18. Tony Menechella says:

    Many thanks for this great thread John!! My bar/storage location is in a finished garage. The temperature fluctuates between 70 and 80 degrees in the summer, and I don’t let it get below 60 in the winter. I also run a de-humidifier during the summer months. Having very little knowledge with regards to the storage of whisky, I would be curious to know what you and some of the more experienced readers here could tell me about the roles that fluctuating temperatures and low humidity can play with opened whiskies?? I follow the same rule of thumb that many others do, when a bottle gets down to about 1/3 remaining, it’s time for friends to come over.

  19. lawschooldrunk says:

    I keep all my bottles standing up, in their tubes or cartons, in cardboard shipping boxes! Right now I have open: bowmore CS, bruichladdich 10, laphroaig QC, CS, & 15, clynelish 14, old pulteney 12, aberlour a’bunadh #18, isle of jura 10, lagavulin DE, balvenie 10, 12, and glenfarclas 12.

    The jura is my oldest bottle and has been open for over three years and still tastes the way it did when I first opened it (maybe that’s why I am not a fan!). I have noticed, however, that some of my previous bottles have started to change taste. I had an ardbeg 10 (not a fan) that was open for more than a year and the last tenth had to be spilled because it tasted like a mixture of vinegar and what I imagine urine to taste like. And my bowmore CS, open for around ten months tastes saltier and harsher than when first opened.

    barring that, I don’t use gas, marbles, or smaller bottles. I, too, want to keep the liquid in the original bottle. And I can’t wait to move my bottles from the box in my parents pantry…

    hmm, I notice I have 13 bottles open. that’s unlucky…

  20. John Hansell says:

    Tony, your temp difference is 20 degree. That’s a lot. How much does it affect your whiskies? I don’t know. Have you noticed a difference in flavor?

    Regarding your dehumidifier. Do you have a humidity monitor? I know that some collectors told me that they don’t want to overdue the humidifier because it might dry out the corks and increase the likelihood of evaporation.

    I use a 1/4 bottle rule, like your 1/3 bottle rule. Then I invite friends over and kick it as soon as possible.

  21. sam k says:

    I’ve been thinking about this thread, and could it be that (very) older bottlings are more fragile than modern whiskey? I mean, when there’s more air in the bottle or more exposure to air in the decanting process, do older bottlings react to a greater degree? I’ve always been impressed that whiskey, the most perfect essence of grain, holds up incredibly well over time, but I’m thinking that the really old bottles may be more susceptible to air and handling once they’ve been opened. Anyone have a take on this?

  22. Peter says:

    I did an experiment with a cheap bottle of Drumguish (speyside distillery, no age statement) about a year and a half ago
    (pictures on Malt maniacs facebook site )
    Storing samples of the same bottle different places,;
    A 1 sample in the freezer
    B 1 sample in a window with direct sunlight
    C 1 sample on top of the radiator
    D 1 in my whisky cubboard

    A and D were almost identical (A a little smoother)
    B was undrinkable and had lost colour (undrinkable like a lager stored in direct sunlight)
    C was much more rich in flavour than before, maybe a little darker. I don’t remember it as bad, just different. And some evaporation had taken place.
    The experiement went on for about 3 months


  23. Harvey Fry says:

    TH’AIR IS TH’ENEMY= if you open a bottle & pour even a finger-
    face it, th’magic is on it’s way to whisk(e)yheaven^. we’ve done experiments where we’ve opened one of two otherwise identical
    bottles- simply pulled & immediately replaced th’cork on th’1st;
    let both sit overnight- then opened & compared. IN ALL CASES
    THERE WAS A FAIR DIFFERENCE. from distillery/expression to
    d/e there’s a lot of variation. older items are generally more
    vulnerable + we found Rosebanks to be almost like wine. in
    th’course of collecting over 1800 single malt + about 200 other
    whisk(e)y expressions- over 95% opened/tasted- i think the
    Private Preserve gas is helpful, BUT……….^, EVEN BETTER:
    1. FEATURE IT: arrange tastings around items approaching
    a level of 75-70%. if you haven’t th’resources for a structured
    (single distillery/ regional/ independent bottler/ age based, etc.)
    approach, random assortments can be fun, especially tasted
    blind. for all that, just leaving th’bottle(s) you wish departed in
    a prominent (say, with glasses) spot on a table might attract
    th’appropriate attention.
    2. VAT IT: take any 2 or more endangered species & MIX=
    OUT your secret alchemist^ i’ve been doing this for more than
    4 years now &, believe it or not, I’VE LEARNED MORE ABOUT
    WHAT’S IN TH’BOTTLES than i did in all th’previous decades of
    serious drinking. + bring your friends & tasting buddies into
    th’excitement= they’ll love you for sharing a thing they can’t
    get any other way. presently, i have over 150 litres in play-
    more than 50 works in progress &, once you get over th’great
    sacred boogies of reverent rumpillstillskins, there’s this huge
    fun of actually making something that somehow brings you into
    th’grand loop of th’STUFF ITS sELF!
    MEYERS, JOHN NAVARRA or any other serious collector/drinker
    5. fergitaboutmarbles & avoid screw tops like th’plague

  24. Gray Gillman says:

    Interesting thread. Here is what I have found to work. I store all bottles upright and the corks should be tight. Sometimes I’ll replace a cork with a spare one (from any kind of spirits bottle except no Islay corks for non-Scotch!) to ensure a tighter seal. Occasionally over time I will shake the bottle a bit to moisten the bottom of the cork. I think this helps the storage but I can’t prove it.

    I keep them in ambient room (apartment) temperature but out of (usually) direct sunlight.

    I throw away presentation tubes, cartons and wooden boxes upon getting the bottles home. I believe off-odours from the materials in them can enter the whiskey if stored in same too long.

    I agree with many posters than bottles with a heel of spirit sometimes go off, acquiring a metallic taste that is sure sign of oxidation. Still, I think a bottle down to about a third can generally be safely stored.

    Full bottles can oxidize too if the bottle cap or cork is not too tight, but this will take decades. A moist all-round atmosphere will certainly retard this as Sam K noted, and perhaps that is why my trick of keeping the corks moist works (sometimes I just put them under the tap, e.g., if the spirit level is down in the bottle and I don’t want to “disturb” it any further).

    As Chuck said, whisky is a hardy thing, and apart from a few precautions I think it can be knocked around a bit and still be good – perhaps even get better, as that comment about placing Drumguish on a radiator suggests!

    Regards, John, and it was great seeing Lew at KBF recently.


  25. John Hansell says:

    Gary, I occasionally do the “moisten the cork” thing too to help keep it from drying out, but I have not been very consistent with it. More likely I am “reactive” versus “proactive” on this topic and replace a broken cork with a new one if necessary.

    I hope to get down to next year’s Kentucky Bourbon Festival and hang out with all of you guys for a while. Cheers!

  26. B.J. Reed says:

    I agree about decline in quality certainly once the bottle is less than half full – I have tasted Harvey’s vatted malts and they are terrific but he has a tad bit larger collection to play with then I do. 🙂

    Still, you really have to decide whether to hold on to that favorite malt when you know it simply will not be the same once its been open awhile – Better to share with friends and wish it a fond farewell.

  27. John Hansell says:

    I think we can all agree on one thing: When you get down to, say 1/3 or 1/4 of a bottle, it’s time to invite over some good friends and finish the bottle. It’s not worth taking the risk of letting it sit around. Anyone who’s ever been in my bar can confirm that there are no whiskies 1/4 full or less to be found.

    Often, I’ll take a bottle like that to a party of like-minded individuals and we’ll all have a dram or to. That’s a nice way to finish off the bottle too.

  28. Harvey Fry says:

    well, B.J., if you (& John H.) could somehow transport yourself to D.C. this winter, we could have a 1st ever DEAD SOLDIERS SEND OFF to get things
    going in a part 2 of our annual single malt collectors from all over th’place tasting shenanigans= usually a 3 day weekend affair with a couple or 3 of
    you interlopers + a few local stalwarts. for Saturday, i’m thinking maybe a PE blowout featuring an ’82 bottled (’03) for th’Scotch Single Malt Circle
    (easily th’best sherrywood Islay in my collection) + 7 Signatory bottlings of 23 year olds (cask 5268 + sequential casks 5338 thru 5343) from ’78.
    though i have NONE of th’OB’s, there’re at least 15 other PE beauties just
    languishing^ here. Sunday can go anywhere we want it to.

    perhaps th’biggest problem with my obsessive flat out, full tilt collecting is
    th’collection itself: think about it= beyond th’never ending learning aspect
    of anything, th’accumulation of experience itself leads to an evolution of taste. because your time is finite, at some point each additional choice comes to rule out th’return to previous ones. when you have to choose
    YOU DO. sure, it’s nice to be able to tune up your memory & th’stuff is always there for others, but, from th’commanding heights of every time
    on th’time looking down on all those soldiers waiting for orders, it’s clear
    as any empty bottle most of ’em’ll never see another dram of action

  29. whisky dude says:

    The rules for good storage are simple, based on the maxim “know thy enemies” – and your enemies are oxygen, sunlight, temperature variation, and theft. For my open stock, I use inert gas, usually Private Reserve and I use it liberally. It works. I have a delicate Glenfiddich purchased in 1994 that I have dram of once a year – it has held up very well. For unopened bottles. I use a wax sealing tape. This works. Dipping in paraffin wax also works but it is messy. Regarding light, I keep my whisky out of the light, and in the basement with an average temp of about 70 degrees that varies by about 3 degrees. And I don’t advertise that I have stored whisky to lessen the chances of theft, and the basement is protected by two locked metal doors and an alarm system. Last, I keep them upright to protect the cork.

  30. John Hansell says:

    Whisky dude: I don’t have the two locked metal doors, but I do have a motion detector alarm system wired into ADT. Anyone who attempts to go after my 1973 Longrows or Green Springbanks better think twice.

  31. Tim says:

    I’m largely with Chuck and Gary Gillman on this (when am I not?!): mostly, it doesn’t matter that much as long as you don’t let an open bottle languish 30 years (and why would you?).
    No bottle is every “part-empty”, but rather partially full of air/oxygen. Still, I’ve never found a truly “off” bottle of American whiskey of any age — except a 375ml that sat at the front of a sun-lit shelf for more than 20 years before I purchased it. The identical bottle behind it was sublime.

  32. Richard Cullis says:

    I did a google search for ways to store whiskey, and found this tread, what I wanted to know was, If I store whiskey that I am drinking, and not putting away, can I keep it in the freezer. I was served, frozen Johnny walker Black and Chocolate truffles at a restaurant, and it tasted mighty good. I have now put a bottle of Johnny Walker Green in the Freezer. I like my whiskey neat, no ice, and now have the best of both worlds, ice cold whiskey, and no ice. but is this bad for the whiskey?

  33. John Hansell says:

    Richard, you should store and drink your whisky at room temperature. Whisky expresses itself best at room temperature.

    Having said this, if you want your whisky ice cold (and there actually might be situations where this is beneficial, but it is rare) then go for it. You bought it, it’s your whisky, so drink it how you like it.

  34. […] particularly those that are kept open for a long time.  John Hansell, a leading whisky expert, advocates the use of wine preservers – those bottles of compressed inert gases that you spray into the […]

  35. Karen says:

    My father loved his whiskey and kept it in a locked room in the basement. he was the only one with a key. However since his passing I have inherited the task of cleaning out years of history. Can anyone tell me anything about “Sam Thompson Straight Rye Whiskey” 86 proof the bottle is still sealed it also says on the bottle “The Sam Thompson Pure Rye Whiskey Distilling Co. Aladdin Pa”. The Pa state liquor control seal has the years 1971-1972. There’s a lot more. I want to put this and several other bottles and decanters I found on ebay but need help determining the value. I know there are a lot of collectors on ebay and my hope is if valued properly these bottles will go to someone who share the same passion and respect for whisky as he did.

  36. nick says:

    Is there a way you can continue aging bottled whiskey by putting it back into a cask? or is that impossible to do once it has been cut and bottled? Any help on the matter would be greatly appreciated.

  37. mongo says:

    another storage question, and this has to do with light and bottles that are not in boxes or tubes. this comes up because a couple of recent shipments (from stores in st. louis and costa mesa) arrived without the original packaging. while they were securely packed in nifty styrofoam containers i would have liked the original packaging too (which binny’s and astor never fail to include in shipments). anyway, i too keep opened bottles in my bar and unopened ones as well as the special stash elsewhere. the special stash is in a dark closet, but there’s not enough extra room in there for every single tube/box less bottle; so they have to be on the shelves that house the regular unopened bottles. these shelves don’t get direct sunlight, and indeed the room as a whole does not get direct sunlight, only a few hours of dappled sunlight during the morning. is this still too much light for these exposed bottles? an alternative might be to put them in the tubes/boxes of now empty bottles but i don’t really want to do that unless i absolutely have to. these are not bottles that will sit around for years and years, by the way–they’ll probably be gone within a year.

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