The top ten cheap "bourbons", ranked. Of these, only my father's brand, Early Times, has ever passed my lips.
"Have you ever had a Boulevardier? It's like a Negroni but with bourbon in the gin's place. It's a great drink, but you have to make it at home lest you find yourself pronouncing "Boulevardier" in public."
It is Cyber Monday at Amazon and a zillion other websites. I was perusing to see what is out there for my wife, kids, and myself (As usual, I have been informed that I am hard to shop for), when I noticed a sale at Amazon on an item that most bar nerds like me think they have… but don’t.
You’re wrong. I don’t think I have a citrus juicer. I know I have a citrus juicer. Three of ‘em, in fact!
Yeah, but if none of them are these Chef’n FreshForce Juicers, then you need one. At first glance, these juicers look just like the much more common Amco or OXO types you see almost everywhere. The FreshForce even comes in green, yellow, and orange, corresponding in size to your citrus of desire. You even use it exactly the same way you use those other squeeze juicers.
The difference is in the engineering of the hinge. Look at the photo above. You can see a larger view on the Amazon page. Unlike the older models, it isn’t a hinge at all. It’s a gear-driven, multi-lever apparatus that gives you a helluva lot more leverage, and more leverage means more juice extracted from each piece of fruit. More leverage also means that for those of us who are Old™ (I’m not really that old, but when I play a lot of tennis, my hands feel like I am), it is much easier to operate.
Regardless of your digital strength and flexibility, during that time of the year when all the limes are hard and have that thick skin (you know when I’m talking about), using one of these improved juicers makes it much less like a bare-handed struggle to the death with an Amazon boa constrictor to get enough lime juice for your Pegu.
As I write this, though perhaps not when you read it, the yellow “lemon-sized” FreshForce is a Cyber Monday deal at Amazon for nineteen bucks. The orange-sized is a whopping thirty-eight. The lime is twenty, which is more than the lemon. You do not need the lime juicer, as the lemon does a great job on limes anyway.
One other Amazon deal I happened upon while checking out these juicers is a set of two of the Tovolo spherical ice molds. At less than eight bucks right now, they are pretty worth while. They don’t make clear ice, but no work, no brainer big ice makes Old-Fashioneds easier to do right.
Of course, none of these products do me any good as far as my Christmas list goes, since I already have them. What kind of bar geek toy do I need that I don’t have? Anybody? Bueller? Bueller?
UPDATE:This bar product is also on sale for Cyber Monday. Do not buy it. Don’t even look at it.
I do not know how I missed this, since Mythbusters is among my family’s favorite shows, but in one of the James Bond episodes, they took on the issue of the Gospel of Gin: Shaken or Stirred.
It warms my heart to see that once again, they get it right. (And Bond gets it wrong)
They leave out only two things here. One they should have. One they should not have. They rightly left out all mention of “bruising” things. I seriously doubt that gin bruises anyway. Some folks claim it is the vermouth that gets bruised, but I also doubt this. I’d suggest instead that people who shake Martinis are a careless and neglectful sort who probably let their vermouth go bad with age, and that’s where the ill flavor comes from.
What they should have addressed a bit deeper, because it is a serious problem for a lot of still learning cocktail-philes, is the issue of dilution. They do note that the problem with the shaken Martini is that it is too diluted. But they’d have done well to add a few seconds to the effect that some dilution is essential to every cocktail. Always remember, the ice is more than coolant. It is an ingredient. Too little is just as bad as too much.
Fred Yarm of Cocktail Virgin Slut, and author of Drink & Tell: A Boston Cocktail Book, is the man I call The Hardest Working Blogger in Booze Business™. Nowhere is this more clear than in his shouldering the burden of keeping Mixology Monday alive, and in wrangling other hard working bloggers into running the monthly programs. Since I am not a hard-working blogger, I have managed to miss almost all of the second wave of MxMos.
No Fernet for you!
But I made it in for this month, since I had a Tiki idea.
The excellent Stewart of Putney Farm stepped up to the plate to host MxMo this month, with a cool, if maddeningly open-ended, theme of Inversion. You can read his excellent round up of the results at that link, but I noted that there was a surprising number of Tiki or Tiki Compliant entries beyond mine and wanted to give them all a second link here.
My buddy Dagreb inverts the Suffering Bastard to give us the Flourishing Heir. For reasons unknown, this makes me think of Downton Abbey, and every time I read his post I am seized with the image of a Tiki party at Downton, with Carson arguing with the Earl of Grantham that it is scandalous for him to appear in that fighter plane-patterned dinner jacket, and the Earl should behave himself and wear his more conservative aloha floral patterned tails.
Oh, Dagreb offers a second inverted cocktail as well, but it is a vile perversion of all that is good and holy and I shall not write of it here.
Joey of Rated R Cocktails has bought into Tiki Month in a big way, may Pele bless him. He will need those blessings, because his offering, the Iat Iam (Mai Tai inverted, get it?) commits almost every sacrilege imaginable to Tiki’s holiest concotion… and still manages to produce a good result! Seriously Joe, gin? Orange juice? Bitters? Red superball cocktail cherries? Freaking Blue Curaçao? What, all out of commercial “grenadine”, were you?
Chef-blogger Nathan Hazard, whose blog sports the gloriously inexplicable moniker of The Chocolate of Meats, pulls off no mean feat in The Tigress—a completely juiceless Tiki drink! I don’t have the time to produce his pineapple cordial which ties it all together, which is too bad because I think this might be an ideal culmination of this year’s unofficial Tiki Month theme of cocktail-style Tiki drinks.
Another Tiki cocktail, a dessert one this time, is the Hawaii-O, from Danish blogger Andrea at Gin Hound. She takes a long-forgotten candy and inverts it into a cocktail. Chocolate and pineapple go really well together under all circumstances, but with a healthy dose of rum? Yum. The only thing I don’t like about this post is that it reminds me that I did no dessert drinks myself this time through Tiki Month….
One of my favorite bloggers, and one of my wife’s favorite bartenders, Jacob Grier of Liquidity Preference takes the classic Nui Nui and beers it up with Inversion IPA! I’d wax on here about the very interesting head Jacob gets on the drink from shaking it with a carbonated ingredient already mixed in, which I’d have never considered doing, but I’m too busy wondering where to find that extraordinary cocktail umbrella.
(Bonus: Check out Jacob’s Great Moments in Heterosexuality, which I’d previously not noticed.)
“Boozenerds” Christa and Shaun offer two Tiki, or at the least Tiki Compliant, cocktails. The Invertita (pictured) is a spicy aromatic drink where the frozen stuff stays under the liquid. The second, the Rogue Wave, is an Old-Fashioned that morphs into a Tiki drink as the frozen fruit nectar ice cubes melt. Tiki is a particularly ice-nerdy genre of drinks, and these are two fun-looking techniques that I intend to try with stuff that isn’t Tiki-related too.
And I did my aforementioned post as well, in which I “inverted” making a critical Tiki ingredient by, um, not making said critical Tiki ingredient.
There are plenty more worthwhile (though not Tiki) posts outlined in Stewart’s roundup post. Do go check them out as well!
And hey! This post is part of Tiki Month 2013 here at the Pegu Blog! Be sure to look around for LOTS more Tiki stuff all February!
The Polar Ice Tray is quite possibly the most essential bar accessory a home cocktail bar enthusiast should own. Really. It’s that cool.
The more you grow to love cocktails, and especially making your own cocktails, Ice Obsession Syndrome seems less and less like a mental disorder and more like a reasonable state of mind. The size, temperature, and water quality of your ice all affect the cocktails you make and serve. Further, once you start paying attention to the application of your ice, you naturally start to pay attention to the aesthetics of your ice.
The connoisseur has two desires for his or her ice, especially the ice served in a rocks drink like an Old Fashioned, Big and Clear. Big isn’t so hard, especially these days. But ice tray ice and even some ice maker ice is full of tiny bubbles that cloud the stuff and make it look dirty. And the bigger the chunk of ice floating in a drink, the more obvious that cloudiness is. The Holy Grail of cocktail ice is big chunks that look like melty glass.
Over at Alcademics, Camper English has spent the last year in the quest for clear ice. After a host of mostlyfailed experiments, he came up with a cool working method of producing clear ice at home. It involves putting a whole igloo cooler in your freezer, however, so it doesn’t really fit under the heading of “Convenient”.
Enter the Polar Ice Tray from Lumiaire. This sleek, small loaf of bread-sized ice tray will make you a slab of nearly crystal clear ice about 6 by 5 by 1.5 inches in around twelve hours, using the same principals that Camper worked out. As you can see from my picture up top, and this one here, it is a lovely little device, too.
I cannot recommend enough how well this little guy works. Once you get the hang of it, it produces a nice supply of serving ice to have fun with and enjoy, without taking up an inordinate amount of your freezer’s limited space.
The one criticism I have of the Polar Ice Tray is the documentation, which less than adequately explains the use of the device. So I’ll give you The Missing Manual here, if you will. This part of the review is fairly in depth, so if you want to skip it for now, just jump down to the results.
Here’s an exploded diagram of each part of the Polar Ice Tray.
Only the three bottom pieces will matter most of the time. The bottom is an insulated holder. Always make sure it is dry inside and out when you get ready to make ice. The two white trays are where the ice will form. Fill the bottom tray with water almost to the top and then nestle the top tray (which has a number of small holes on the bottom) down into it. Press down and it will fit snugly. Then add more water until the level in the top tray comes about a half to a quarter inch from the top. Lift the white trays and nestle them tightly in the bottom cooler.
Place the combined pieces into your freezer. Make sure it is resting flat. The manual spends a lot of time on the temperature you should set your freezer to for optimum results. (0° C is best.) Unless you are in the terminal phases of Ice Geekery, you are unlikely to go changing the temp you like your freezer to be for this gadget, so be assured it will produce nice results at any functional level. The worst that can happen is tiny needles of air along the bottom.
What is important is where in the freezer you place the tray. Do not put it near the freezer element! If you do, you will get a giant, knobbly, frosty, permanent wave climbing out of one side of the tray. It looks weird and makes getting the ice out harder.
The closer to the chilling element you place the Polar Ice Tray, the larger this unsightly wave will get.
One more thing that is never mentioned in the manual: do not use the lid when making ice! If you do, you will not make ice at all.
A word here on how the science of the Polar Ice Tray works. When water freezes, it pushes out any dissolved air into the remaining unfrozen water. In most ice trays, the ice freezes all around the outside first. As the crystallization moves inward, the air is forced inward as well. Soon the air over-saturates the remaining water and begins to form bubbles, which freeze in place. The result is cloudy ice. In the Polar Ice Tray, the insulated container prevents the ice from forming on the sides and bottom. Instead the ice slab forms smoothly from the top down, like pond ice. The air is forced downward instead of inward.
This is where the double-boiler like construction comes in. Bubbles will not really start to form until the ice has frozen down to the bottom of the top tray. The air is forced down through the holes and forms lots of bubbles in the thin lower chamber, but few if any will be present in the big slab formed in the top tray!
When your twelve hours is up, remove the Polar Ice Tray from your freezer and lift out the white inserts. Set them aside on a counter where they can safely drip a bit and walk away for about five minutes. It’s not hard to find something to do in your bar while you wait. Clean up the bitters stains or something. The wait lets the trays come apart easily and will let the ice warm up a bit. Almost none will actually melt however. Carefully remove the lower tray. The upper tray will be filled with clear ice, and there will be a slab of gnarly white ice stuck to the bottom.
Getting this waste ice off the bottom is easy, but does require a little patience.
Run a thin stream of cold water from the tap and let it flow over the seam between the junk ice and the bottom of the upper tray. Rotate it around until a seam opens. When the seam is deep enough to reach the first holes, turn the tray upside down and gently press on the junk ice. In a few moments, the inner good ice should slip free. Discard the crap ice and you are left with a lovely slab of clear ice.
Did I say lovely? Actually, the bottom will likely have a layer of bubbles and imperfections about a millimeter deep, and the top will be fairly frosty. Don’t worry, as soon as you use the ice, this will all disappear.
All this cloudiness will vanish as soon as the ice gets immersed.
I told you to let the ice warm up a bit because if you don’t, the thermal shock of even cold tap water will shatter the slab. It doesn’t fall apart, it just has big fissures everywhere. You can still use the ice, but it won’t look as cool. And in that case, what the heck was the point?
Before you reload the Polar Ice Tray, fill the insulated bottom with warm water and let it rest of a bit. If you don’t, the cold container will let the water in the bottom chamber freeze early, and the air will end up making its last stand in the upper tray, forming bubbles there and ruining the slab.
The blue tray and its inner lid are a special mold which makes a little ice man statue. I haven’t tried it, but if you want a chunk of ice shaped like a little dude, it should be awesome. The top lid combines with the insulated bottom to make a lovely ice bucket, should you wish.
As for using the ice, you’ll probably want to knock the slab down to four or six chunks, each of which should do awesomely for a low or high ball, depending on the shape you make. My aforementioned ice guy, Camper, has a nice post on using an ice pick, and notes that the alternative ice saw is a lot of effort.
He looks like he’s using an Anvil Ice Pick, or similar Sharon Stone approved model. Single prong ice picks like this look awesome and scary, and give you tremendous control while carving ice.
Pictured: NOT Camper English.
But at fifty bucks, the Anvil is a trifle cher…. Since the only carving I’m doing right now is simply snapping the slab in straight lines, I prefer one of these. $3.25 on Amazon.
If you store your ice in the freezer before serving, be sure to let it warm up again first, or it will shock when you put it in the drink. And as to that frost of surface bubbles that may have been evident as I mentioned above? Once you put your chunk into the drink and give it a good stir (or better, pre-chill the drink in a mixing tin and pour it over the ice) the surface imperfections will disappear, and you will be left with a glorious, clear, giant chunk of diamond keeping the finished libation chilled.
Oh and the cool little ice dude whose mold I mentioned before? Apparently, he is an action hero…
Here are a few more links about U-Cube Creative, the Taiwanese firm which created the Polar Ice Tray. Founder Chu Yulong is apparently quite the cocktail lounge connoisseur. The company’s Taiwanese website (in english) shows some other products they make, including a number of other shaped Polar Ice Trays. The site is worth looking at for some creative ideas they have for using the product. I’m looking in to whether or not the other ice trays are available on this side of the Pacific. I’ve talked to someone at Lumiere, and he tells me that the Bamboo version of the Polar Ice Tray will be available in the US around the end of March!
Here’s a nifty little product to aid in easier Tiki enjoyment: Lekue’s C’Rush ice tray. A lot of these new modern silicone ice trays, including most of Lekue’s, are cute but hardly functional. However this item looks different to me in that it fills a real need.
Tiki drinks, and other cocktails of the swizzle variety, need lots of crushed ice. For the home mixer, this is an inconvenient thing to produce on demand. I use my BlendTec blender for crushed ice usually. But it’s honestly an over-powerful solution for the task, and I always end up with a lot of snow mixed in with my hailstones. The classic solution if the Lewis Bag and a wooden mallet, which can be fun from what I see. I’ve avoided this because I don’t like banging on the counters and making my glassware and bottles clink and clang. And if you happen to have a colicky baby (I still have flashbacks), getting out this bag is likely to make your wife take away the mallet and use it on you!
The C’Rush is a very shallow ice tray with many, many narrow slots. When you remove it from the freezer, you roll it up and squeeze, and all those slender ribbons of ice shatter. When you dump it, you end up with loads of nicely crumbled chunks of ice. These trays are nicely functional in a few other ways as well. Since they are so shallow, the ice freezes very quickly. (The company claims about one hour). Also, the thin form lets you stack a lot of them in very little shelf space. Here’s a nice, watchably short video that shows how the C’Rush works:
Ordinarily, I’d have grabbed a couple of these to test myself before posting on them, but the C’Rush is still not distributed in the United States. A company called Langton Info Services in England will ship them to the States, but they cost $25.50 for two, and take about two weeks to get here. Tiki Month’ll be over by them, and I won’t need them again until Derby Day in all likelihood. If any of my European readers (I know there are a bunch of you, I check Sitemeter) have tried out this ice tray, I’d love to hear how it works so I can decide to pop for one now or wait for stateside distribution.
Giuseppe Gonzalez is, as mentioned here before, one skilled bartender. More, this man behind New York’s Tiki destination, Painkiller is a deep thinker upon matters mixological. Just last month, he wrote a genuinely exhaustive discussion about one of the major processes they went through setting up Painkiller: Determining the amount and form of ice to use in their drinks.
I’d planned on writing about his post a little later in the month, but the comment thread to my Kallaloo post encouraged me to advance the schedule. This is a bigger deal than it might seem, especially during this month, when Mr. Blendtec tends to be front and center.
Giuseppe’s article is well worth reading in its entirety, possibly more than once. It contains a wealth of information about bar management, recipe tasting, and general Tiki-tude. It also has some great reminders that Everything You Think You Know May Not Be True. But the real meat of the article is how ice changes your drink. And how many ways ice changes your drink. And he gives some good theoretical and experimental backing for what he concludes. I want you to read it yourself, and I couldn’t do better than he has anyway, so I’ll merely try to give you some things to focus on when you think about implementing what he talks about, whether you follow the link or not. (Expert Tip: Follow the damn link!)
First, whether you are making a Martini or an Hawaiian Bongo Wahini, ice has a second equally important function beside making your drink cold.
It dilutes it.
Water doesn’t just make your drink weaker, though too much of it can do that. Water changes, and usually enhances, the flavors of a cocktail. Determining the right amount of water content in a drink is often a big challenge on its own, but Gonzalez addresses the added complication that comes from (as is common with smooth blended drinks) much of that water content still being frozen. This month, I’m going to spend a lot more time considering the amount of ice I use in blended drinks to improve my results. And I’ll try to give some more clear directions in recipes I give.
Second, the strength of your ingredients affects your drink’s balance. This is especially important with dealing with classic recipes, or substituting liquors. Something I took away from this that I’ll apply immediately here at home is the need to modify my pours when I make my Mai Tais with Smith & Cross. I love the flavor profile S&C gives, but I knew I was facing some problem somewhere. It’s pretty significantly over-proof, so I think I’ll try simply cutting back a bit on the amount.
Lastly, we all have different ideas of perfect balance. Know your own. Adjust your ratios to reflect your own preferences in any recipe as you get more experienced. But you also need to know your ice. Is it colder or warmer than what you expect the recipe envisioned? How’s it’s surface area? Are you swizzling pre-crushed ice from your Lewis Bag? Flash blending? Smoothieizing? Shaking or stirring? Or even just putting it on the rocks? Whatever the case, know the effect of your ice on the dilution, because here is Gonzalez’s number one conclusion:
1. Balance appears to be (more) a universal quality than we had previously expected.
… when you take dilution into account and style of ice being used, the trend from sweeter to drier becomes pretty self-explanatory. Adding sweetener to a cocktail that is higher dilution, becomes vital to achieving balance.
Finally, I’ll point you, without further comment, to the bit well down in the article in which he discusses how the way they serve Zombies at Painkiller has evolved. It’s both fun and highly instructive.
The Liquor Fairy brings me many things, not just booze. But his little wings were beating mightily this week as he flew up with a box from Air & Water, Inc. The box contained a new model portable ice making machine called the NewAir Portable Ice Maker.
The current model is more sleekly trimmed than pictured here.
Among my most important rules for a successful Basement Bar setup is the importance of a ready supply of fresh ice. Cocktails and Ice are inseparable items, like chickens and eggs. One of the more popular posts I’ve ever written was my discussion of ice making options for your home bar. Therein, I strongly encouraged people, for a variety of reasons, to consider adding an automatic, stand-alone ice machine to their setup. I got two objections from most readers to this advice: the expense of the machines and the expense or sheer impossibility of plumbing them.
The NewAir holds at least the possibility of an answer to their pleas. I’ll talk about the machine, how it works, the ice it makes, who will want this machine, and who won’t.
The unit itself is fairly large, 17 inches by 17 by 15, and weighs about 45 pounds. It is a bit large to set on a countertop, but it really is fairly portable. It has well-placed handles, large, sturdy feet, and seems pretty durable. While it is actively making ice, you can hear it but it is not obnoxiously loud.
The way it makes ice is actually pretty ingenious. I made a YouTube video so you can watch it work.
The refrigerant is pumped through pipes connected to twelve vertical cylinders. The little bucket revolves up to contain those prongs and fills with water from the machine’s internal reservoir that doubles as a drip catcher below the finished ice bucket (not seen in the video). The NewAir holds enough water to fill its ice bucket several times.
The ice forms around the prongs. There are three ice size settings, and these merely determine how thick the ice is allowed to form. When the ice has reached the desired size (about seven minutes for the smallest setting), the bucket rotates away from the prongs and the remaining water flows back into the reservoir. You can see in the video that the refrigerant goes from cold to warm, and the ice slides right off the prongs.
After a moment, the bucket rotates back into position for the next round of ice, and the attached flipper shoves the new ice over the edge to fall into the ice bucket.
The machine is not designed to be on and running full time like a built in version that costs five times as much. The ice turns into a glob of merged pieces after a day or so, rather than cleanly melting away and being replaced. This isn’t a problem if you are using the ice all the time, but if you make a drink or two a day, take advantage of the automatic timer to ensure you have fresh ice ready for you at cocktail hour. On the other hand, it is very easy to maintain, with a swift and effective self-cleaning mode.
So what is all this ice like? Each piece is a rounded, hollow cone, about an inch and a half long. It is also filled with microbubbles so it’s white rather than clear. Finally, it is pretty warm ice, coming out of the machine right at 32 degrees. As an aside, the little flanges you see in the video on the top of the ice are due to leaving the door open while videoing the mechanism. The actual ice produced is much cleaner in appearance. The ice has a large surface area to mass ratio and is warm. This means it will start melting pretty quickly in a glass or mixing tin.
In short, the ice geeks and cocktail showmen are not going to like this ice.
But then, mostly they don’t like any ice from a machine, preferring to fill a freezer with all manner of fancy ice trays and molds, or hack away like Sharon Stone on a huge block of the crystal clear stuff, so the Camper Englishes of the world really aren’t the issue here.
First off, I think the ice is just fine in the tin for shaking and stirring. I know some mixers swear by “super cold” ice, but the science (and my own experimentation) says that most all of the chilling from ice comes at the moment it melts. Using cold ice may make your drink at most a degree or two colder, but actually takes longer to get there. “Warm ice”, especially with lots of surface area, can chill a drink faster than anything else, with only a very little more dilution.
Additionally, unlike with plumbed-in ice makers like mine, you can be as big a water snob as you like with the NewAir. Use Fiji water or even Perrier I suppose. I use water from my Brita filter and the ice tastes great.
For serving in a glass, the NewAir’s ice is less ideal. It really isn’t a pretty as cubes, and its propensity to melt quickly makes for dilution issues if you are a slower drinker.
OK, who would find this machine a great buy, and who won’t?
I see two main categories of buyer who will be happy with the NewAir. The first is a lot of the people for whom I’ve been writing my Basement Bar Design series. If you are putting together a bar for your home, don’t have a massive budget and/or can’t get running water into your chosen space, the machine will get you plentiful ice for everyday use at a great price. Home bar builders who have available plumbing and sufficient budget will be much happier with a built-in system.
An even better buyer for this machine is the mobile mixer. If you like to tailgate, camp out, or own an RV, a continuous supply of fresh ice will save you from the utter barbarity of no Martinis. Of course, if you want to run the NewAir in the woods so you can sip a Pegu while fishing in that remote stream, you’ll need power. The machine takes 400 watts, and most trees don’t have electrical outlets. Ditto for stadium parking lots. If this is your desired application, be sure to purchase a power inverter so you can run it off your car. Be sure to get one that wires into your battery directly, as the NewAir draws too much power for the inverters that just plug into the cigarette lighter.
The NewAir doesn’t make perfect ice. If you enjoy being persnickity about your ice, or view it as a garnish, this machine will likely not meet your needs. If you need a lot of fresh ice for mixing cocktails, or chilling juices, sodas, or basic mixed drinks like Rum and Cokes or Screwdrivers, it will provide plenty of the cool stuff fairly conveniently and for a very reasonable price. I like the machine. It is an ingenious design, the maker has a number of previous models, so they have had the chance to refine and improve what they are doing. I haven’t had it long enough to really vouch for its durability, but as I mentioned before, both the stainless steel case and the mechanism seem pretty sturdy. If you need what a portable ice maker can give you, I can definitely recommend the NewAir. UPDATE: If you decide to get a NewAir directly from the company, you can get an extra 10% off the price by entering the discount code: “PEGU” at checkout!
The Liquor Fairy Was Here! The following product, NewAir Portable Ice Maker, was recently provided to me as promotional consideration to encourage me to discuss it. For a complete disclosure of my policies regarding promotional items and all other financial interests, please click this link, or follow the Liquor Fairy link in the header of this page.
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Here’s a list of the other articles in this series that have been posted so far: