The Cocktail College Podcast: Highbrow Hacks for Lowbrow Drinks
On a special “techniques” episode of “Cocktail College,” host Tim McKirdy is joined once again by NYC-based bartender and Solid Wiggles co-founder Jack Schramm. Schramm offers expert bartender hacks for simple cocktails like the Dark ‘n’ Stormy, Gin & Tonic, and more. When should a drink be carbonated or acid-adjusted? Should liquor be stored in the freezer before serving? Tune in to learn this and more.
Check Out the Conversation Here
Tim McKirdy: Hey, this is Tim McKirdy, and welcome to VinePair’s “Cocktail College.” Joining us for this special techniques episode, or should I say returning, is our official techniques guru, Jack Schramm. This is the second time in the studio and third episode here for you today. Jack Schramm, welcome.
Jack Schramm: Thanks for having me, Tim. I appreciate it.
T: Thank you so much for coming back. I would like to say you’re our unofficial — or official — techniques specialist here at “Cocktail College.”
J: Let’s make it official.
T: Let’s make it official. You were the first. And you’re back. And I want to say as well, I don’t want to take credit for this. You’ve come up with a great idea for us today over a little topic that I think really ties into something that I enjoy as an aficionado, but as someone that’s never worked in the industry. The one thing that I love when speaking with bartenders is, what’s a little hack I can get to upgrade a drink? How can I do a subtle riff on my Martini and make sure it’s still a Martini? Today’s episode is in that vein, but it’s also inspired by a recent article that you wrote for VinePair, which had the great headline of “You Can Do Better Than a Dirty Shirley This Summer.”
J: Yes, the rough draft headline was “Shirley You Can’t Be Serious.” I was talked down. I think the first edit came back and it was just a different title and I was like, “All right, that’s fine.”
T: I like that. Maybe that’s the subhead right there. We don’t do that on the site that vine but I like that. I would never give up a good opportunity for a pun.
J: You have to reference “Airplane” whenever possible. It’s one of the greatest comedies of all time.
T: I love that article. Whether or not the Dirty Shirley actually is a thing or was the drink of summer, or whether it’s just The New York Times doing The New York Times thing as they often do, saying the Aperol Spritz is a bad drink or something — remember that?
J: That was shocking.
T: Those were simpler times when that got the whole world really annoyed.
J: I just don’t know where these opinions are coming from.
T: I know.
J: It’s confusing.
T: But the essence of your piece there and the conversation we’re having today is, there are simple drinks out there that we probably take for granted or we don’t even think are worth making at home or putting a little bit of extra effort into bartender-izing. I believe that is a good verb that you have for this.
T: We’re going to go through them. We’re going to go through them one by one. But why don’t you start by telling us about your approach to the Dirty Shirley, a cocktail that should never exist anyway. But how can you make a good version, and tell us actually what is a Dirty Shirley for those who don’t know?
J: So for those who are blessed to have never heard of this drink, the Dirty Shirley is a Shirley Temple with vodka. So it’s Sprite or ginger ale, the jury’s out on that one. Most people do Sprite. There’s a small subset, I think mostly people in the Northeast that I’ve spoken to, who are ginger ale Shirley Temple folks. But the West Coast is definitely a Sprite territory for the Shirley Temple. So it’s Sprite and grenadine; that’s it. That’s a Shirley Temple. And if you’re going to make it dirty, you add vodka to it. It’s delicious for a little kid. It’s a great drink. I used to order them. And Roy Rogers is, which is the same thing, but with Coke instead of Sprite. Both are absolutely delicious when you’re between 8 and 13 years old. They are awesome drinks, great drinks to order at a restaurant with your parents. So the Dirty Shirley is the same thing but with vodka. It became a thing because of this New York Times piece.
T: No one had heard of it, right?
J: No one in bars was ordering Dirty Shirleys or making them. It was news to all of the bartenders that I’ve spoken to about it. They are like, “Oh, no, this is a thing that we have to be on the lookout for, why has this happened to us? How could a caring God curse us with this drink this summer, of all summers, where things are starting to come back?” Obviously, Covid is still very much a part of our lives, but we have some semblance of normalcy, again, at least in the way of service. The feel of bars and restaurants is back, at least to a certain extent. And now we’ve been cursed with the Dirty Shirley. I love an interesting challenge, and it’s making this drink something that’s worth drinking. Because it’s so unbalanced as is: It’s a vodka and something sweet and something else sweet. OK, well, let’s turn this into a real thing. Everybody loves spritzes. So I came up with the Shirley Spritz, which is essentially just a combination of vodka, Lillet Rosé, and you split the Champagne and ginger ale. I chose ginger ale because it’s got a little more oomph than just Sprite, which is pretty flat. I would say 7Up would be a better option. And then just a touch of grenadine. So it’s an ounce of vodka. I personally like a wheat vodka like Absolut. There’s an ounce of Lillet Rosé. So you’ve got that bitter quinine thing going on. That’s really lovely. But it’s also contributing some pink. So you only need to add a quarter-ounce of grenadine. Now, it’s really just for color and that touch of pomegranate flavor. And I really recommend either making your own grenadine, just by taking pomegranate juice and then take it up to 50 brix with sugar. If you’ve got a refractometer, you can do the math. Otherwise, I’m not going to tell anybody if you just do equal parts or even just 80 percent of the weight of the juice in sugar because it’s already pretty sweet. It’s going to get close enough to 50 brix. I don’t know the brix of straight pomegranate juice off the top of my head. That’s a personal failing, I apologize for that.
T: You surprised me. If there’s anyone that I’m going to imagine “Who Wants to be a Millionaire,” this is the million dollar question.
J: I’m the lifeline for brix.
T: I have a phone a friend. You’ve just lost me $1,000,000.
J: I’m assuming, based on my memory of the flavor of pomegranate juice compared to other juices that I know that it’s somewhere between 12 and 14. So I would say fresh pomegranate juice is probably 12 brix. And maybe a POM Wonderful is 13 or 14. I’m assuming they’re correcting with sugar. I don’t know off the top of my head, I apologize. So the drink is an ounce of vodka, an ounce of Lillet Rosé, a quarter-ounce of grenadine, and then equal parts — 2 ounces each — ginger ale and sprite to top.
T: And you’re building in a highball here?
J: I’m building in a wine glass.
T: In a wine glass?
J: Full spritz status.
T: Playing devil’s advocate here: Are you getting too far away from the soul of the Dirty Shirley there?
J: I think we’re in safe territory still.
T: You’ve got color. The color is the main thing about this drink, right?
J: And the garnish is an orange slice, so an orange half-wheel just for a little pop of color. And then if you absolutely must, you can add the traditional Shirley Temple garnish, one of those neon, garbage cherries, just for the comedy of it.
T: Given that you’ve provided a highbrow version of this cocktail, it’s probably very balanced. I still need to make one at home myself. But I imagine it’s very balanced, has complexity, and has that color. Then you might as well just bring it a bit lowbrow with those cherries, if you have them. Don’t go out and buy them.
J: You’ve got to go all the way. It’s probably a little bit balanced towards the sweet end of the spectrum, still just based on the ingredients and the way it’s broken down. If you’re thinking about it through the lens of a Shirley Temple, it’s the most balanced Shirley Temple you’ll ever taste. So I didn’t want to go all the way and add Champagne acid.
T: Well, here’s the thing as well. Drinks have a flavor profile, right? A Whiskey Sour should be sour, and this drink should be sweet. It can still be balanced and have that flavor profile.
J: Yes. But on that end of the balanced spectrum. Yeah, absolutely agreed.
T: So I think that’s a great way of setting up what we’re doing here today. Now, I’m not going to ask you to come up with recipes on the spot. What we’re looking for here is more techniques because this is a techniques episode, but tricks or maybe things that we’re not thinking about. Maybe it’s an extra little ingredient or an aspect of mixology that we should really be focusing on. And I’ve broken these drinks down into a couple of little different categories that we can maybe speak about as a chunk and get into each drink individually within those.
T: It’s also worth noting that maybe there are drinks in here that we might never be able to cover on “College College,” because there’s just not enough to say about them or whatever. So this is a really lovely home for those. But some of them may be deserving of their own episode in the future — who knows?
J: We could even talk ourselves into it realizing that it needs an entire episode.
T: Fantastic. So first of all, I’m looking at simple two-ingredient highballs. We’ve already done the Gin & Tonic on this show, but I would group that in there along with Cuba Libre and Vodka Soda. First category of drinks, hit us up. Tell us what you’re thinking here.
J: The one-and-one.
T: The one-and-one.
J: Is a beautiful category. First things first, all of these examples that we’re talking about right now should be carbonated. And that’s the most important thing. The enemies of carbonation are temperature and nucleation sites. As the temperature of a liquid goes up, it’s more volatile and it’s easier for CO2 to escape from it. So you want every component of these drinks to be as cold as possible. Maybe you’re planning to have a party and you’re going to make Cuba Libres, or you’re a Vodka Soda drinker at home — which I hope not, but you never know. I understand. I’ve had my fair share of Vodka Sodas, but I try to mostly do it in nightclubs in Stockholm. That’s the place to drink a Vodka Soda. But things happen. Life happens to all of us. And sometimes you need a Vodka Soda. I’m very understanding and empathetic to that situation. That said, keep your vodka in the freezer. Keep your Cuba Libre rum of choice in the freezer. Have gin for Gin & Tonics in the freezer. The general idea here is each component should be as cold as possible. And then for your sodas and your mixers, I hope they’re not coming out of a cabinet. I hope they’re coming out of the back of the fridge, the coldest part of the fridge. And if you’re going to add lime juice to any of these, if you’ve got a centrifuge, it could be clarified. If you have the ability to either buy or keep or have clarified juice around, again, we’re trying to avoid nucleation sites whenever possible. So that’s any little bit in the lime juice is a spot where a bubble can form and then escape the solution. So that’s the type of things we’re trying to avoid. Same goes for ice. If you have access to or can even make spears at home, they are awesome for highballs. Not just because they look pretty. There’s less surface area, less total surface area on which a tiny little pocket pockmark on the cube is a nucleation site for, you know, CO2 to escape. So crushed ice is the greatest enemy of carbonation, and spears are your best friend. If everything is as cold as humanly possible, then, you know, maybe you don’t need ice. Back in the Booker and Dax days, Dave Arnold was at his most militant about carbonation, which is why we served all our carbonated drinks with no ice in a flute. And we don’t even like flutes from the perspective of actually enjoying the beverage. A wine glass is always better in my mind for Champagne because you can get the whole palate of the wine. You can get your nose in there and see what’s going on. The flute doesn’t allow that. But he was so militant about carbonation and the flute is the best shape for bubble retention. If you want the most turbo version of any of these drinks, what you’re going to want to do is combine all the ingredients, clarify everything and force carbonate it. And if you need a primer on force carbonation, I wrote a piece for a competing publication in the past before I started this wonderful relationship with VinePair. But look back, there’s a guide if you Google “Jack Schramm carbonation,” you’ll find a very comprehensive guide to putting bubbles into things. And that’s the absolute best way to do a one-and-one.
T: The pinnacle right here. I think we’re talking about a few things there. Sorry to jump in. But I think we’re talking about a spectrum here in terms of how far you go with those drinks. So on the one hand, you have the practices that every one of us can do at home with temperature. Then there’s a little bit more effort going into it when you want to really focus on your ice program at home. And then you’re talking about clarification, which to my mind, is a way that, maybe you want to be that bar that has the lowbrow drinks done in a highbrow way. That’s exactly what we’re talking about here. No matter how simple these drinks are, they can be elevated in any number of ways.
J: There’s always room for improvement. Something that we did at Existing Conditions that was the most ridiculous thing is, we had a large-format Vodka Soda on the menu that we carbonated and bottled. We would have to open the actual door of the vending machine to get it out. That was colder than freezing. It was at like negative 6 degrees Celsius. So it was an incredible vodka soda. And we added a secret ingredient that we didn’t tell anybody about. But everyone was like, “Wow, this Vodka Soda is incredible.” It’s because you’re adding just a few grams per liter of glycerin.
J: Yeah. Just to give it that body. So we’re using a super-high-quality vodka that obviously didn’t have that. So we just added the glycerin ourselves.
T: That’s wild.
J: That’s the secret for the best non-alc cocktails as well. Glycerin is your friend if you want something to have body and mouthfeel and not add alcohol. It’s basically flavorless in tiny concentrations and gives you body and mouthfeel.
T: Because otherwise, some of these spirit alternatives that we have out there do start to seem, at points, just like a very expensive flavored water. And I think we’ve come a long way since those were the ones that dominated the market. But body is definitely something I’m looking for in that category. One small question I had that I didn’t want to interrupt. But you mentioned gin for Gin & Tonic out the freezer. The vodka for a Vodka Soda is out of the freezer. Just curious if you’re also using those same bottles for your Martini, do you want them to come from the freezer or not? I’ve heard differing accounts on this.
J: Yeah. I’ve had some Martinis with gin from the freezer that I’ve absolutely loved. But I find that I like to drink a Martini that’s been properly diluted.
J: If you’re going to pull the gin out of the freezer, you’re just going to be stirring for a while. You’ve got to let the gin warm up on the ice so that it’s actually doing anything.
T: Yes. I believe that’s how they do the Old Raj at Maison Premiere. I believe the gin is plucked from the freezer. I might be making that up, but, and I tell you what: That guy stood there holding the tray, doing the tableside service, while the other guy stirs for a long time; a long time stirring.
J: So I don’t think that it’s necessary. I try to have more than one bottle of gin at home at a time. I’m telling you to do all these things at home. And in reality, I don’t drink that much at home.
T: Don’t tell people that. Don’t spoil the illusion.
J: That’s true. That every drink I’ve ever made has perfectly clear ice. It’s optimally carbonated at 45 psi three times. Everything is below freezing.
T: It’s like how chefs don’t ever eat fast food.
J: No, absolutely. Can you imagine?
T: That’s good. So that’s our first category of drinks there. And it’s just a little teaser to get us in, too, because I think as we progress here, these are going to get more complex, and they’re going to increase in terms of ingredients and whatnot. So I have this second category here, which I think is just two drinks actually. It’s almost two ingredients, but maybe with a little bit of juice by adding extra flavor. So I have the Moscow Mule here and Dark ‘n’ Stormy. Let’s actually approach these separately first, or look at one of those ingredients, which is ginger beer. How important is a good ginger beer to you? And do you have any suggestions?
J: Yes. So I’m actually going to challenge this two-ingredient notion of this cocktail and say that, I don’t think of Moscow Mules as a carbonated drink. I don’t think of them as a drink that’s just vodka and ginger beer. That’s not how I make them or how I want them made for me. I’m a big proponent of making an incredibly robust ginger syrup and shaking your spirit, lime juice, and ginger syrup and then topping that with soda. Like Mickey/Sam/Haley Traub Attaboy method for their Frothy Boy, their Dark ‘n’ Stormy. It’s one of the most delicious drinks on the planet, and that’s, ginger syrup, lime and Gosling’s, shaken, topped with soda, and it’s gorgeous.
T: Yep. And that allows you more control of balance. Actually, that reminds me of our friend Nick Bennett there, who came on to talk about the Long Island Iced Tea with his cola syrup. And then he uses the same method that you’re speaking about.
J: Yeah. Oh, speaking of, just because you just brought up the Long Island, I’d be remiss if I didn’t plug my own spec for the Long Island. Making a cola syrup is one thing. But if you want to go even more bartender-y with it, I have a personal spec, which is a half-ounce each of vodka, gin, rum, tequila, triple sec — I use Cointreau. But then, an additional half-ounce each of simple syrup and Amaro CioCiaro. That’s my cola analog, it’s a more cola-flavored amaro. And then three-quarters of an ounce of lemon juice. And then I shake that and then just a splash of soda, just club on top. And I think that is the best Long Island that I have ever had.
T: Does that still remain true to the soul of the cocktail? Because I think that’s important in all of these drinks that we’re discussing today. That again, it retains the profile but just takes it to the next level.
J: It just adds a touch more complexity. If someone ordered a Long Island at Existing Conditions from me, and I hate saying no when it’s something that I know that I can solve. If it’s a problem that I can get as close as humanly possible and say yes to this person and let them know, “Hey, we don’t have Coca-Cola here, but I have the ability to make you the closest approximation that I think you’re really going to like,” usually people are game for that. If you approach it in that way, let them know that they’re not getting exactly the thing that they ordered, but they’re going to get something really close and really delicious and they’re willing to give it a try.
T: It might open their minds, might take them on this journey through to other styles of drinks.
J: Exactly. I straw-tasted it and was like, “Oh, I’m making these for shift drinks tonight.” This is too ridiculous to not drink three or four of them.
T: Going back to ginger beer here, or ginger syrup, how easy is that for us to do at home?
J: Ginger syrup at home can be pretty annoying. I think that my favorite ginger syrups are not steeped like tea. The way to do it at home is to slice ginger super thin, either on a mandolin or carefully with a knife, steep it with hot water, and then add sugar to that and strain the ginger off. I think the best ginger syrups are made with rotary juice ginger. So if you don’t have a juicer, I really like the Champion juicer for this. That’s my favorite commercial restaurant juicer. But if you don’t have one of those — and frankly, why would you at home? — there’s one commercial ginger syrup that I absolutely love that I think is called Fiery Ginger Syrup from Liber & Co. They also make a really terrific orgeat that has that really roasty toasty almond flavor that I prefer, like toasted almonds. Actually, they’re my favorite grenadine as well if I don’t want to make it myself.
T: It’s very good for this episode. Perfect.
J: Yeah. This is actually just a big plug for Liber & Co., because all their stuff is great. Great passion fruit syrup, too. So if you want to make a Porn Star Martini, that’s the move.
T: All the drinks that people don’t give maybe as much respect to as they could, who knows? Talking about the ginger, the lime, and the base spirit, you get that balance first by shaking them, and then you can apply your carbonation philosophies here.
J: I think of the Dark ‘n’ Stormy as a dark rum ginger Daiquiri topped with soda. I think of the Moscow Mule as more like a ginger Gimlet that’s then topped with soda. Like, I think about it as a shaken drink for my favorite versions that I’ve ever had of this. That said, I love ginger beer also; I think it’s a great ingredient. I really like Fever-Tree, it’s a great ginger beer. Q is a great ginger beer. Those are my cocktail ginger beers of choice.
T: And I think it is worth noting, too, this was something I was just doing in the office last week. There are two ways you can go when you try and perfect one of these two cocktails. You need to keep one variable the same. So I went with Fever-Tree because again, that’s the one I love. And I was tasting the best vodkas for Moscow Mule. Most people would be like, “Surely it doesn’t make any difference. Vodka doesn’t have flavor.”
J: It really makes a difference.
T: I mean, it has a huge impact on the cocktail.
J: Definitely. What did you settle on? What was the top vodka?
T: Well, there were different ones. And it ended up being like, “What are you looking for from the drink?” There were certain vodkas out there that I think actually made the profile more fiery..
T: I mean, Sobieski is just one. If you see my byline on VinePair at the moment, there’s a lot of Sobieski up there because it’s just such good value for money.
J: It’s incredible value.
T: It’s what, $13? And it’s a rye vodka.
J: It’s super-high-quality rye distillate.
T: It’s fantastic.
J: Yeah, you can’t beat it, for sure.
T: And then you have some of the weirder whey protein ones that are more neutral and create more of a balanced, creamier version of the cocktail. So it really depends on where you want to go. But the quick answer to that would be, you can check that out on VinePair. I think that’s going up next week. So Stay tuned.
J: I’m looking forward to that one.
T: That’s another point of note. So the Dark ‘n’ Stormy, I believe, is a name that’s patented. I think you might be allowed to use it here in the audio sphere. I hope so. But otherwise, we’re talking about dark rum and ginger beer here. Of course, the brand that has patented, it’s not a blackstrap is it?
J: It’s Gosling’s.
T: They do have a blackstrap, but it’s their dark one.
J: Their Black Seal.
J: I don’t know if there’s actual blackstrap added back to it, I don’t know what style Gosling’s.
J: I used to say no. It’s my proprietary blend of Smith & Cross, a vintage bottle of Cruzan Black Strap, and some El Dorado 15. Again, it just keeps coming back to Attaboy and having the Dark ‘n’ Stormy at Attaboy that’s Gosling’s. It’s just so good. Why do I need to gild the lily? It’s so delicious with Gosling’s, and I think that for the Dark ‘n’ Stormy, that’s the one.
T: Nice. Yeah, I like that. Malcolm Senior and co. will be happy to hear that.
J: It’s not a rum that I want to use for anything else. But it works Dark ‘n’ Stormy.
T: This is the one to go for. Amazing. So the next category that we’re moving on to here, I’m loosely — well it’s not that loose, actually — I’m tying together the orange juice cocktails category. They’re very similar in some respects, and there are others in there that aren’t. This also brings us to the point where they’re drinks that I think some people might argue should disappear from menus forever or cocktail books forever. So I’m going to ask your opinion on whether that’s true. First of all, for the drink. And then if it’s not, you’re going to tell us how to upgrade these. We’re going to start here with the Tequila Sunrise.
J: Ah, the Tequila Sunrise.
T: So remind us of the ingredients just in case anyone is unfamiliar.
J: Yeah. It’s blanco tequila, orange juice, and our old pal, grenadine.
T: They’re back in town. We know where to get our quality grenadine from already. And we’ve got this on hand because we’ve been making Shirley Spritzes.
J: Yeah, of course. So you’ve got grenadine and you want something else to make with it?
T: I think that the Tequila Sunrise suffers from the same problem that the original Dirty Shirley suffers from: It’s sweet and sweet. Obviously, I come from an acid-adjusting background.
T: That was our first episode that we did together on this front, just to make sure that people are aware of that. Sorry.
J: I would say that for this application, it’s generally 4 ounces of orange juice; this is an orange juice cocktail that has tequila in it. So I would say that you couldn’t just go straight acid-adjusted orange juice because it would be insanely sour. That’d be like saying, start with 4 ounces of lime juice. It just doesn’t make any sense. So I would say, the peak season for sour oranges is early spring through mid-summer. You can get them year-round. Regular oranges are, I think, 1.8 to 2 percent acidity, and sour oranges are probably closer to 3. And it becomes this entirely different ingredient. It’s not quite sour enough to be the only sour component in a cocktail, but it’s a little too sour to just drink on its own as juice. So in this application where you’re adding some grenadine to it, I would say this is a sour orange juice play. Find that specific orange juice that works.
T: And are we going to a farmer’s market for that, or is that something that’s come into our supermarkets? Does it need to be the right time of year?
J: It’s something that I’ve seen in supermarkets. It’s something that I’ve ordered specialty before. And again, I think that because I’m asking for such a ridiculous lift, it’s leading me down the path of this drink isn’t worthy of exploration. Because even if you get the really good orange juice, the drink itself is still pretty one-dimensional.
J: I’ve had good ones, but the question is, “Why?” I think that it’s also something that gets referenced a lot. There will be a tequila cocktail that has an orange component that has 14 other ingredients, and then there’s a little bit of grenadine there. So it has that beautiful color and the gradient. But at that point, is it really a Tequila Sunrise anymore? I think that it’s not. But I still enjoy the drinks a great deal. But I think that we can say goodbye to the legit old school to Tequila Sunrise.
T: Say goodbye to it. You mentioned something there that I was going to throw back at you as a curveball. And I like what you’re saying, which is, maybe the only thing worth pursuing here and the drink’s only redeeming character is its appearance. Yeah, I think it looks great.
J: I completely agree. It’s beautiful. I love a gradient. Not this drink, but it’s always about the float of either something on top of the drink or something that starts on top that sinks throughout. So it gives you that beautiful color gradient. But one of the techniques that I picked up from my days at NoMad. I don’t know who came up with the drink. If it’s a NoMad drink, it’s got Leo Robitschek’s name on it. I don’t know who else’s hands were involved in the process, but they had a drink on the menu called the Red Light. That was one of my all- time favorites. It was white rum and aquavit, and I think vanilla syrup and lime. It’s basically a Daiquiri with a split base with aquavit. But it had, not a float, but a sink. So on the bottom of that, it was in a rocks glass with a large rock and Campari. There was a quarter-ounce of Campari at the bottom of the glass. And then you’d slowly strain the drink over it. So it left that red layer at the bottom. And it was gorgeous to look at. It was a big, beautiful cube in a beautiful rocks glass with that red layer just on the bottom. You’d start with this bracing acidity and super bright Daiquiri profile. And then, you’d get down to the bottom and it would sort of morph into this gorgeous second cocktail. It’s a really cool technique worth exploring: the sink.
T: I love it. That’s a gem ,right.
J: Exactly. Higher sugar liqueurs, things like Campari or maybe chartreuses, I think are great candidates for the sink.
T: So good. That’s exactly what we’re looking for from today. And also a very nice segue into the next cocktail I have here because we’re looking at the Garibaldi. How do you feel about this drink?
J: I love the Garibaldi, but I think that I would only ever order it at Dante.
T: Yes, and it’s worth prefacing that.
J: I don’t want to drink Campari and orange juice.
T: Those are the components, just for reference. And they’re equal parts.
J: Yeah. Or at least close to equal parts.
T: Close to equal parts.
J: I have no interest in a Campari-OJ. But with the Garibaldi at Dante you need to be rotary juicing your oranges fresh in order for this drink to be successful. Did you ever go to Suffolk Arms when it was opened? Giuseppe Gonzalez’s place in the Lower East Side.
T: I know the place. I never made it over there.
J: So he had a drink on the menu called the Horse Apple. That was a Granny Smith apple and horseradish, juiced fresh. And you could have it with whatever spirit you wanted. I tried a million combinations and settled on a blend of amontillado sherry and aquavit.
T: I knew aquavit was coming in there.
J: Apple juice and caraway are like best buds. And caraway and grapefruit juice also are good. I’ll talk about aquavit sours with acid-adjusted grapefruit all day. But there’s something about juicing an ingredient like orange juice fresh, and not just squeezing it, but blitzing it in a rotary juicer so it’s super fluffy. It’s rich and dense. It is such a better experience.
T: Ah, so that’s how they’re doing theirs down at Dante? And then what are they doing when they’re taking the orange juice and combining it with Campari?
J: It’s just fast. In the juicer and then into the pitcher and then it goes into the glass. It’s all about doing it quickly.
T: Is there a world in which you do have maybe some freshly squeezed juice, but you don’t have that machinery? Maybe you do have a Vitamix and you want to go down the hyper- decant “Succession” route here.
J: I have not blitzed this drink in a blender because if I’m not sitting at the bar at Dante, I never think to myself, “Oh, I’d like a Garibaldi right now.” It’s never the headspace that I’m in. It’s one of those places where the bar kind of owns the drink for me.
T: And just remind us, when we’re building here, is that going over ice, then, for those ingredients to be chilled or?
J: I don’t believe it goes over ice. I don’t think it really needs to be too cold.
T: Yeah. OK.
J: I’d probably keep your oranges in the fridge. Yeah. And then, you know, so at least the juice is fridge temperature or a little warmer from the juicing process. But, you know, I don’t think the Campari needs to be in the freezer. Not every drink needs to be perfectly carbonated. I hope Dave isn’t listening to this. He’s going to have a heart attack. But not everything needs to be tooth-achingly cold.
T: Final drink in the orange juice section here, the simplest of all. And I think it only makes it into this section because of the fact that it actually has a name: Screwdriver.
J: Oh, man.
T: Vodka orange? Anything else in that?
J: Yeah, I can’t think of any other just orange juice drinks. I mean, it’s not orange juice, but the Cape Codder or the vodka cran. I think those are a lot more worthy of study, in my mind, than the vodka OJ, you know?
T: Let’s go there. So the Screwdriver’s out.
J: The Screwdriver is done. We’re done with orange juice. We’re going to drink it in the morning and then we’re done with orange juice for the rest of the day, basically.
T: The Cape Codder.
J: The Cape Codder. Because cranberry juice is balanced, it generally has enough acid. So it’s a drink that’s pleasant to have in the evening time. I did a party over the weekend. I was talking to you about this before the show. It was a big birthday party in Greenwich, Conn. I think that’s a big vodka cran drinking community. And they asked me to do something in that sort of realm. So I said, “Oh, yeah, absolutely. I’d love to.” So I did the most highbrow version of a Cape Codder imaginable, where I took unsweetened cranberry juice, brought it up to a simmer, dumped a bunch of dried hibiscus flowers into it. I let that steep for five minutes, strained that off, brought it up to 50 brix, and then combined that cranberry hibiscus syrup with a clarified acid-adjusted lime cordial that I had made that was 50 brix but had the same acidity. I added acid back. So it had the same acidity as lime juice and the sweetness of simple syrup. Combine that with the cranberry syrup and add two parts and one part lime cordial ratio. I tasted that and it was a little sweet, so I just hit it with a little extra citric acid, just to taste. And then it was essentially 2 ounces of vodka, three-quarters of an ounce of this crazy cranberry concoction, and then topped with club soda in a highball with a fancy spear in it. It was a slammer. It was something that I could drink 13 or 14 of in an evening. So there’s absolutely ways to make a vodka and cranberry insanely delicious. We had one on the menu at Existing Conditions, but it was cranberries that we blended into vodka, spun in a centrifuge, and then diluted that with water, added a little sugar to it, force-carbonated the whole thing, and topped it with clarified lime for service.
T: You’re getting a little highbrow with it, but again, the option is there.
J: Yeah, absolutely.
T: And I love the progression here that we talk about. OK. If you’re just talking about vodka and another fruit juice, go with cranberry. Forget the orange. Then there’s the other method that I think that you’re talking about in the middle, that’s going to take a little bit of extra effort…
J: It doesn’t need a syrup.
T: Yeah. But it doesn’t require any fancy equipment, maybe a decent set of scales if you’re not doing huge batches. And then the third one there is.
J: It’s maximum technique, completely unnecessary. But I would say that making cranberry syrup with unsweetened cranberry juice is my favorite way to use cranberry as an ingredient. And I think that a lot of people just grab cranberry cocktail because it’s so easy and accessible. But most of the grocery stores that I go to in New York — and I’ve actually had to do it because unsweetened cran is an ingredient in Solid Wiggles, and we’ve produced quite a few plates. For those of you who don’t know, Solid Wiggles is my very highbrow, often centrifuge-using Jell-O shot company. Check us out on Instagram at @solidwiggles. We use a lot of unsweetened cran, so I need to find it in random places if we’re producing. Now we’re very much at home. But in the early days, we had to be on the lookout for it. And you can find it in most places. Most supermarkets carry unsweetened cran. It’s either the Lakewood Organics brand or I’ve found Ocean Spray some places and the smaller, one-quart bottle of unsweetened cran. Just grab that and turn that into a syrup.
T: It’s much like salt in cooking, right? You can’t take it away once you add it. So it’s the same with sugar and sweetness and ingredients. You’d rather work with a base that doesn’t already have it.
J: Then you can work sweetening it to taste. Exactly.
T: Nice. final section of cocktails here. I’m calling this the WTF section. You might hear some of the names and be like, “Actually, what is in this one?” What’s in this drink? And also maybe they’re never going to have another section on this show. So good for us to discuss them today. We might be batting them away, straightaway and being like, “Sorry, this goes the way of the Screwdriver.” Or you might be saying, “You know what? Here we go.” Sometimes you can Google a cocktail and you don’t need to put the cocktail when you Google it and you’re going to get the recipe anyway. I made the mistake of just typing the Godfather and it didn’t come up straightaway, but that’s the name of the cocktail. What’s in this one?
T: What are they doing together in the first place? Is it just this, what, ’60s, ’70s, ’80s?
J: I actually don’t know the history of the drink.
T: The dark age of drinking, the dark age of modern drinking for sure.
J: And I think originally. it was probably close to equal parts. Which is such a horrible nightmare. But at its core, it’s an Old Fashioned. It’s whiskey and something sweet. It’s an Old Fashioned with no bitters. That sounds horrifying, but there are ratios at which it works really well. When you said we might talk about the Godfather, I was like, “All right, I have two bartenders that I need to get recipes from.” And I managed to get recipes from both of them. And they’re both ginger. Big shout-out to Nick Bennett and Tyler Caful. It’s ridiculous, they are my redheaded buds. They both managed to get recipes to me in time. For some reason, I had it in my brain that Nick Bennett added aquavit to his. Again, I think it’s just me thinking about aquavit.
T: Aquavit on the brain.
J: It’s just something I love so much. But Nick Bennett’s recipe is 2 ounces of blended Scotch and a half-ounce of Lazzaroni Amaretto. And that’s it. I think that that is a great, super-basic ratio for both this drink and for the often maligned, but I also think equally worthy of having a spec you love, the Rusty Nail. It’s not a bad drink. Again, it’s just a bitter-less Old Fashioned for a Scotch lover.
T: Scotch has a lot of these bad ones. So for Nick’s there, just briefly, is he actually building that like an Old Fashioned? Or is he stirring and serving up?
J: I think this drink needs to be served like an Old Fashioned. It should be served on ice.
T: OK, nice. Yeah, absolutely.
J: And then Tyler’s recipe goes in a different direction, which I am also excited about. So he does 1-and-a-half ounces of bourbon as is the base of this drink.
J: Then three-quarters of an ounce of amaretto.
J: And then a half-ounce of peated Scotch.
J: It’s lots of smoke and complexity and that rich roundness from bourbon. The specific brand he called for was Medley Brothers 102. So I would say, any bonded bourbon would work in this application. So high-proof bourbon, which I think is really important. It also harkens back to Jeffrey Morganthaler’s Amaretto Sour recipe that has a full ounce of overproof bourbon in it. Because that balances the sweetness. You got to think about these things. One way to get rid of, or at least to balance out an aggressively sweet cocktail, is by using a really high-proof spirit and have the alcohol do the heavy lifting of toning down sweetness.
T: So you don’t need to add in acid or other ingredients that are going to lengthen the drink and change your preparation. Very good.
J: Yeah. Tyler goes on. So it’s 1-and-a-half bourbon, three-quarters amaretto, a half-ounce of Laphroaig, and then three dashes Angostura and three drops of sarsaparilla tincture, which is vodka and sarsaparilla pieces that he just steeps together for an hour and then strains. That’s the super bartender-y version. You can either go halfway bartender with the Nick Bennett recipe where it just makes the ingredients balanced and keeps the bone structure exactly the same. Or you can create this beautiful sculpture of a drink à la Tyler’s version.
T: Another one about Nick’s there, too. I’m sure he wouldn’t mind if you want to go along there and maybe introduce some bitters as well that you feel are appropriate for the base ingredients, too. It depends on the Scotch or whatnot. Yeah, that’s a good one, though. And talk about the Rusty Nail briefly, because you went in that direction. So I think it’s valid for this conversation.
J: It’s a drink I like, but I like Drambuie, which is essentially just sweetened Scotch. So it’s Scotch and Scotch. So if you like Scotch and Old Fashioneds, the Rusty Nail’s a great drink. Did you ever go to the bar, B-Flat? I think it’s closed forever, unfortunately. It was one of my all-time favorite cocktail bars in New York in the north end of Tribeca. It was a Japanese jazz bar that was down a flight of stairs in a basement. The drinks are always amazing there. And I went with the Existing Conditions crew one night after service, and we’d had a few. And I was with Gary Richard and he’s like, “I’m going to get a Rusty Nail.” I forgot which one it was, but I think the Scotch came out of the freezer, which I was shocked by. There’s something about super cold and on ice just made this drink work. There is just something so satisfying about it, especially when you’re eating really rich pork katsu or fried foods and then having this big, sweet booze bomb. Something about it just makes sense.
T: You’re not going to be able to find too much if you want to go down the proof route when it comes to Scotch as well. You’re going for temperature instead there.
J: Yeah, exactly.
T: That’s fun.
J: Just get a high-quality blended Scotch and add a liqueur to it. That whole category, I think, is absolutely worthy of study.
T: Fantastic. One or two more here for us today.
T: Blue Lagoon.
J: Ooh. I don’t even know the Blue Lagoon. What is this drink?
T: I felt like we had to have one in this show that was blue.
T: I believe it’s one of the two most famous blue cocktails. It’s blue Curaçao and vodka, I believe in equal parts. And then maybe four parts lemonade.
J: Oh, God.
T: This sounds like we’re maybe going too far here.
J: There are a whole host of these drinks from the ’80s and ’90s that I have no interest in. They’re funny. I’m not saying they’re not worthy of study, either. I’m not going to be the one to do it. Somebody else is going to have a great time fixing all these nightmare drinks.
T: It’s so interesting. We thought that was going to be the trend coming out of the pandemic. I feel like within the conversations that people were having in drinks media and the drinks space. We’re coming out of the pandemic, we’re either going to go down the really fun and bright route that spoke to TikTok and this new generation of drinkers entering the market. And then, maybe we’re going down the classics and people going back to simple classics, well-known drinks done really well. I feel like most bars I go to these days are focusing more on the latter than the former there. So maybe that trend has borne out. Not that people need to follow trends, but you know what I’m saying?
J: The pandemic was really hard for cocktail bars because there was not a ton of staff. The margins weren’t there to have a lot of people on staff, and there just was a lack of creativity, I think. Not because of a lack of creativity in individual bartenders, but because you needed to sell things that people are going to buy. And you had to sell them in a great quantity and often to-go. It’s easy to sell a Piña Colada or a Margarita to-go. Everybody wants that. So that’s what bars were doing to keep the lights on. But now that we’re in this new period, I’m hoping that hardcore, avant-garde creativity comes back. And I think it’s starting to, you’re starting to see it at some programs. I think the program that Joey Smith put together at Chez Zou is awesome. Those drinks are terrific. The Golden Colada is an elevated Piña Colada, but in a really creative way. It’s delicious. I think there’s some awesome drinks happening at Overstory. Harrison’s program is spectacular. The drinks are amazing. So it’s happening. But I hope that that trend becomes the trend that I want to be a trend. It’s not really a real trend yet, but hopefully soon.
T: You know what else isn’t a real trend?
J: What’s that?
T: The Dirty Shirley. Well, it is now. And I was going to come full-circle there. That would have worked so well in full circle. But I do have one last drink just to ask, yay or nay. And do you have any tips? Because it relates to the last episode of our show, which was the White Lady. And this drink is so similar that I don’t know whether there ever becomes a time where we do the Lemon Drop.
J: Oh, man.
T: Maybe yes. Maybe not. So that’s why I’m putting it out there here.
J: It’s already a good drink. It’s just a lemon sour with some Curaçao in it. Traditionally it does. I think that most people want it with a sugar rim. I don’t, but I ask if someone orders it from me. I would say that it’s not something that needs to be left in the past. I just think that it’s overwhelmingly boring.
T: So maybe not in this conversation where we’re going to elevate, but it’s there. It exists.
J: It’s where it has always meant to be.
T: It’s a Daisy. So before you reach him for the vodka for that one, you have the choice of doing Cognac, tequila, or gin. There are better drinks than that.
J: There are ways to make this drink delicious. Oh, I will say… No, we’ll get to it.
Getting To Know Jack Schramm
T: We’ll get there. We had the perfect opportunity to come full circle, and then I just added that last one in there. That probably wasn’t even worth it, but that was good. We’re going to head into the next part of the show here, and you’re going to be the second person who’s had this second set of questions.
T: Looking forward to giving these ones more of a run out. I’m looking forward to hearing some more answers from you.
J: All right. Let’s go.
T: Question No. 1: Which spirits category are you currently most excited about, from a personal or professional experience? I need to get used to these questions.
J: Oh yeah, it’s a new round. Oh, it’s aquavit. No, it’s actually not. The category of spirits that is always the most compelling to me is unaged brandies. One of my all-time favorite cocktail ingredients that I think is wildly underutilized is blanche Armagnac. Unaged Armagnac is such a cool cocktail ingredient. Pisco is awesome, but it tends to lean very floral and fragrant, whereas blanche Armagnac is just grape. It just pounds you with grape flavor in this unaged distillate type of way. It’s just such a cool cocktail ingredient. It’s great in shaken sours. It’s great stirred. There’s a million things you can do with blanche Armagnac. And then eau de vie is incredible when I feel like opening my wallet and dumping it onto the floor. I’ll get a quarter-ounce of Rochelt Eau de Vie somewhere, like the Green Gage Plum. It’s so insanely delicious.
T: They’re amazing.
J: Those are the things that get my heart beating right now.
T: I’ve had a couple of vodkas recently that I like to describe to people as potato eau de vie.
J: Smart. Which vodkas? Carlson’s?
T: Vestal. Are you familiar with this one?
J: I’m not.
T: This is single vintage. 2015, I think, is the most recent bottling. They’re a special type of potato, all estate grown. I forget the name of them. Marianna? No, maybe I’m making that up. It’s sweet potatoes distilled once in a hybrid still, bottled unfiltered.
J: I would love to try that. It sounds great.
T: We will try this very shortly. Honestly, this is blowing my mind. And I’m thinking from the brand’s perspective, they probably will sell more by maintaining the name vodka on the label than saying potato eau de vie. But I think if I want to sell that to folks in the industry, because vodka can be a tough sell, I get it. I personally think it’s very exciting.
J: Have you tried the Reisetbauer Carrot Eau de Vie?
T: It’s so good.
J: It’s insane.
T: It’s amazing.
J: It’s out of control. Tell the bartenders it’s potato eau de vie, and tell the consumers that it’s vodka.
T: And then we all win.
T: Amazing. Question No. 2 here: What was the last — ideally — alcoholic drink you had that wowed you?
J: We were on the topic of Daisies. We got into the White Lady and then into the Lemon Drop, and the Sidecar came up because you talked about a Cognac Daisy. I have a new Daisy spec. It’s an all-purpose Daisy spec that I am actually thrilled with, especially for the Sidecar. This is kind of messed up. So I have a Zoom show, like a cocktail show with Dave Arnold that we do. It’s called “Balancing Act.” There’s a different subject every time. We get into a lot of really deep, nerdy techniques for the 20 people around the country who want to pay us to yell at each other for an hour once a month. But recently we did an episode, the title of which was “Let’s Talk About Specs, Baby,” back to puns. Yeah. But we had Joaquin Simó on because he’s someone who we really respect.
T: He joined us for the Sidecar here as well.
J: And he joined us and we talked about Sidecars as a jumping off point. I’m sure that this was just something that was floating around in his brain, if he’d just spoken to you about it. So he’s like, “Yeah, let’s talk about Sidecars.” OK, sounds good. Because Dave and I are of the same mind in general that the Sidecar actually isn’t a good drink. And it’s because shaken drinks with aged spirits generally aren’t good. This is very much hot take territory. I don’t think that they’re especially compelling because I don’t like the way that oak and acid play together. We talked about it. Joaquin made us his pinnacle Sidecar recipe. We both thought it was too dry and too woody. And in the process of talking about the drink, we had some orange syrup on hand. So that’s just fresh orange juice that we take to 50 brix. Orange juice is like 12 brix. I could do the math, but maybe we can attach an orange syrup recipe to this episode. But you’re going to get close enough if you do 500 grams of orange juice and 400 grams of sugar. That’s going to be a close enough approximation to 50 brix. I don’t know exactly what brix your oranges are, but that’s going to be close enough. It’s going to make a great syrup. And we just did 2 ounces of Pierre Ferrand 1840 Cognac, three-quarters of an ounce of lemon juice, and three-quarters of an ounce of orange syrup. And it solved all of the problems that I had with the drink, which is that it’s usually too boozy. Because people forget that Cointreau, Pierre Ferrand, and dry Curaçao — the higher quality, not triple sec orange liqueurs — are usually 80 proof.
J: So you’re adding a lot of booze when you use that as your flavoring and sometimes sweetening agent. And they’re not all that sweet, either. You’re adding a lot of alcohol and not a lot of sugar. So the drinks tend to be so bone dry and kind of thin because they don’t have that richness from sugar. But if you completely omit an orange liqueur and swap in an orange syrup, it gets so rich, so fat, so much body. And that is now my Sidecar spec.
T: So you’re taking it from a Daisy to a sour?
J: Yeah, but it’s an orange-flavored sour. So where do we draw the line? Does it have to be a liqueur to be considered? Probably yes.
T: It’s semantics.
J: It’s blurry at this point.
T: At this point. Yeah, that’s interesting. I think that’s a great one to try at home.
J: Yeah. It was the first time in a while that I’ve been like, “Oh, I have a new spec for a classic.” I’ve been making drinks long enough that I don’t really edit myself anymore. I’m starting to trend towards toning down things. A Daiquiri spec for me when I was first starting out was two rum, one lime, half 50 brix of simple. It is big, bold, juicy, and has so much acid. I hate my teeth. Let me ruin myself with this drink. And now I’m more of a three-quarter guy.
T: Yeah, bring it back down. That makes sense. That’s what I’m looking forward to trying imminently. Moving on to question three here now: What’s one book you would recommend that every alcohol and cocktail enthusiast should own a copy of?
J: You got to get the bible, “Liquid Intelligence.” That is the one that has been the basis of my entire career. And it’s great. I think that a lot of people look to cocktail books, either for recipes or for stories. And this is kind of neither. It’s like a reference. On the same page, if you want another all-encompassing book, Harold McGee’s “On Food and Cooking” isn’t just incredible for information about food ingredients, it’s so much information about fruits and vegetables and things that can be used in cocktails. So I would say “Liquid Intelligence” and “On Food and Cooking” are the two most important books about food and drink that I can think of.
T: Amazing. Question No. 4, penultimate question today: If you could appear in one movie scene where alcohol plays a major role, which one would it be, and who would you like to play?
J: Oh, I want to be Tom Cruise in the entirety of “Cocktail.” I love flair. I’m all about functional flair. If it makes the drink come out slower, it is removed from consideration for me for being cool.
J: But if you can do something fast and clean and also flip the bottle, Oh, absolutely. All of that. I love the movie “Cocktail.” And I think that people think of it as jokey, and sure, it is. But also, imagine if you could be a bartender and also have that stage-presence style. That’s why I love bartending. I did improv in high school. I love that creative, think-on-your-feet thing. Also doing something with your hands. Having conversations with people you know. Being quick-witted and a lot of brevity. Those are the things that I love. To put on a show and be bartending is the dream.
T: And Tom Cruise was living it there.
J: Yeah. A very strange man. But, God, what a film.
T: Strange man. He’s done some good ones as well. I have not seen the new “Top Gun,” but I hear it’s very, very good.
J: In anticipation of potentially seeing “Maverick,” I watched the old “Top Gun.” I have to say, I don’t think it holds up now.
T: I don’t think it does. Weird fact about Tom Cruise. They were considering him for the part of Henry Hill, I believe, in “Goodfellas.” I learned that the other day, and that does not work as a movie.
J: No, not at all.
T: It would be terrible.
T: Final question: Which modern classic cocktail do you think is deserving of more recognition?
J: When I read this question in advance of the interview, I read classic cocktail, not modern classic. So now I have two answers for you. A classic drink, because it also ties back to the Old Fashioned-style spirit with modifier that is relatively sweet, is the Stinger. It’s one of my all time favorite drinks. So that’s just Cognac — you can use Armagnac, too — and crème de menthe. It is insanely delicious, and you can do it with Branca Menta for a different, more bitter vibe. The other fun thing about Stingers is it’s the only drink that doesn’t have an opaque ingredient in it where I’m like, “Yeah, you can shake this one.” It’s basically un-killable because I’ve had it stirred and it’s this perfect, beautiful, super-rich mouthfeel thing. I’ve had it on crushed ice, I’ve had it shaken, I’ve had it on a cube. And I love all of them equally. I need to do the Stinger side-by-side-by-side and do all of the versions of the Stinger and actually figure out what my ultimate version is. I love that the “worst” version of it where it’s still kind of warm and on bad ice is still good, it’s still a breath mint. The wisdom is, the only drink you can have after a Stinger is another Stinger. And the other good thing about it is you don’t have to brush your teeth that night because your mouth is fine.
T: Amazing. So we have that for the classic.
J: Then modern classic, we talked about Attaboy earlier. Everybody’s like, “Oh, the Penicillin is the greatest drink of all time. Sam Ross is a genius.” Sure, the Penicillin is fine. It’s a good drink. But my favorite drink from that bar is actually a Mickey drink. It’s a Michael McElroy drink. The Rome with a View is so good and low-ABV. It’s an ounce of Campari, an ounce of dry vermouth, an ounce of lime juice and a half-ounce of simple syrup shaken in a highball, topped with soda. And it’s insanely delicious. It’s either early in the night and I need something light and refreshing to pick me up, or it’s very late in the evening and I want another drink because I don’t want to go home yet, but I can’t have a Martini. I am toasty, so I need something light.
T: Something like Rome With a View. Yeah, that’s a good one.
J: It’s absolutely delicious.
T: Love it.
T: Well, Jack, thank you so much for joining us again.
J: My pleasure. Thank you for having me.
T: This has been a roller coaster of information and emotions when it comes to hatred and love for certain drinks. But yeah, definitely just overall information.
J: Yeah, I can talk about this all day. I’d be happy to come back anytime.
T: Thanks so much for joining us again. Let’s go have some potato eau de vie.
J: Yes, let’s do that.
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Now, for the credits. “Cocktail College” is recorded and produced in New York City by myself and Keith Beavers, VinePair’s tastings director and all-around podcast guru. Of course, I want to give a huge shout-out to everyone on the VinePair team. Too many awesome people to mention. They know who they are. I want to give some credit here to Danielle Grinberg, art director at VinePair, for designing the awesome show logo. And listen to that music. That’s a Darbi Cicci original. Finally, thank you, listener, for making it this far and for giving this whole thing a purpose. Until next time.
Ed. note: This episode has been edited for length and clarity.
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