Category: Whisky Tasting Notes


Douglas Laing: Independent Spirit: Old Particular: Port Dundas 13 Year (Scottish Single Grain Whisky: 13 Year: 48.4% ABV)

Visual: Very pale. Brackish water to pale yellow. Fast streaks come from the spirit.

Nose: Viscous alcohol. Apples. Menthol. Water makes creamy and adds light peppermint.

Body: Baileys. Green apple. Strong alcohol. Water makes more creamy. Light peppermint. Toffee. Pears. More baileys. Viscous jelly alcohol feel.

Finish: Alcohol air. Menthol. Baileys. Pear. Water adds white chocolate. Tinned tropical fruit. Creamier and with peppermint notes.

Conclusion: This is a mix of the expected and the unexpected. I had tried this in the shop before buying and I have general memories of being impressed by it. Hence why I bought it, it wouldn’t make sense otherwise, right?

On first open of this bottle this seemed familiar, but I couldn’t work out why it had jumped out at me before. It had green fruit that spoke of a younger spirit matched with a thicker, viscous body – warming with a jelly like alcohol feel, but not burning like a young spirit would be. Good, but hardly stand out.

Which is why, these days, I do notes about a week after breaking open a bottle. It really seems to make all the difference.

Now, a week on, it has a lightly creamy liqueur like set of notes which becomes distinctly Baileys like with water. It is a completely unexpected blast that mixes with the green fruit to crate a thicker and heavier single grain experience. It is still that thick, viscous alcohol character in the body that you often get of grain, but with the creamier flavours heading out into a fresh peppermint and menthol endgame.

Usually I expect single grain to show more of the cask influence, but here the whisky is very much its own thing. There is white chocolate, toffee and tinned tropical fruit notes, that say bourbon ageing to me – but they take time to come out and take the stage.

This is very good – it does have some rough alcohol edges and slight overly heavy jelly alcohol character at times which are not the best, but generally it is very enjoyable. A touch of water helps but never quite removes the alcohol character – a flaw but not one that ruins this interesting experience.

Background: Another independent bottling from Independent Spirit – this time in collaboration with Douglas Laing. This is one of 126 bottles and was aged from 2004 to 2017. Port Dundas was a single grain distillery that stopped production in 2011. I’ve tried a 20 year bottling of it before, but is my sole experience of this distillery and not quite to my tastes. This was drunk while listening to the new Arch Enemy CD for the 2nd time– seems more varied than prior albums, taking a bit of time to get used to it.

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Springbank: Bourbon Wood: 14 Year (Scottish Campbeltown Single Malt Whisky: 14 Year: 55.8% ABV)

Visual: Pale greened gold. Thick slow streaks.

Nose: Pencil shavings. Moss. Dry nuttiness. White chocolate and vanilla. Water adds vanilla toffee to fudge.

Body: Thick and spirity. White chocolate. Grassy. Oily character. Vanilla. Orange notes. Shreddies. Water adds lime and fudge. Still strong feel. More grassy and moss. Apples. More water adds toffee liqueur.

Finish: Menthol air. White chocolate. Nutty oils. Creamy orange. Light smoke, Water adds lime, grassy character. Peat character comes out. Apples. Marshmallows.

Conclusion: I tried this whisky first at one of Independent Spirit’s Uber whisky tastings – I was taking it easy that night so did not take any notes at the time. What I did take though was a bottle of this home with me. Ok, technically I took it home a short while later – I try not to make such purchases after alcohol has influenced my decisions.

On first sip of this, my own bottle of it, I feared that my drunken memory had fooled me – it was still a solid Springbank – grassy, mossy, smoke and hint of peat, but it didn’t live up to my memory of an excellent stand out whisky. The alcohol character gives this thick, warming, oily character that is really overwhelming and lets little of the subtlety out to play.

Still, at an abv like this has, why was I surprised? So, let us hope that water, as is usual, is the difference maker. So I added a little. Daaaamn. That was indeed, the difference maker. This is now sweeter than the average Springbank – it seems that spending its full time in bourbon wood has given a solid vanilla toffee, fudge and white chocolate set of notes that make a huge contrast to the native grass and peaty character that makes this stand out. Odder still you have this lovely apple character behind it that seems to be an element of the spirit that has not really shown itself before.

It is delightful – the slightly heavier, but not Longrow level peat character comes out now. The savoury grass notes work brilliant against the bourbon backed white chocolate sweetness. Despite me mentioning them several times the sweetness is used in a subtle way – not sickly and nowhere near overpowering the basic Springbank character. They just come together naturally to make a whisky that is very different, while still giving what makes Springbank enjoyable.

While this is not my favourite Springbank, it is probably one of the more unusual, and considering some of the odd oak casks Springbank has been aged in, that says something. It is not that it is radically showy, just that the elements come together for a very different experience – an almost marshmallow like backed Springbank thing of joy. Enjoy it if you can.

Background: As mentioned in the notes I tried this at an Uber whisky tasting at Independent Spirit and was very impressed – so was at least confident that I was going to enjoy this one when I got home. Springbank is from one of only three distilleries in Campbeltown and is probably my favourite (Though I am unsure if the Springbank set, or the more peated Longrow expressions are the best the distillery turns out). This one is, as the name would suggest, purely aged in Bourbon casks which should give quite a different character. Continuing recent efforts to break out classic tunes when drinking – put on some Jack Off Jill – Sexless Demons and Scars. Such a great, angry and powerful album.

Independent Spirit: The Hideout: Aberlour (Scottish Speyside Single Malt Whisky: 17 Year: 46% ABV)

Visual: Light gold with thick streaks from the spirit.

Nose: Pencil shavings. Honey. Warming alcohol. Nutmeg on apple. Vanilla. Pears to pear drops. Almond slices. Water adds light sulphur, more pears and slight raisins.

Body: Warming and slightly waxy. Sugared apples. Cake sponge. Water makes very smooth. Salted caramel to fudge. Sherried raisins. Iced Christmas cake. More water adds subtle orange to blood orange notes.

Finish: Waxy. Cake sponge. Lightly oily. Almonds. Malt chocolate and toffee drinks. Water adds salted caramel, apple pie and light choc orange. Rum and raisin. Slight red wine. More water adds marzipan over fruitcake. Sugar icing and tangerines.

Conclusion: It always seems odd to encounter an Aberlour that hasn’t been sherried to within an inch of its life. This, which does have some sherry influence I think – a refill cask maybe? – does a lot more in showing the native Aberlour elements that are often hidden behind that (admittedly tasty) sherry shell.

For one thing this is more fruity, with soft pear and apple notes – lightly spiced, but coming out in a way that calls to the bright fruit of a young whisky. However this is smooth, warming when had neat but not burning and that is soon soothed with a drop of water. This more natural, more open Aberlour character allow a more waxy and oily character to show themselves, giving a nice thickness for a matching salted caramel and fudge sweetness to back the fruit.

The sherry influence comes later in, especially when you add water. It brings raisins and vinous notes into fruitcake like imagery – starting sultana like and building over time. Here is feels like more traditional Aberlour, but it never gets so heavy as to hide those more intriguing characteristics below.

Finally, the capstone on this is a moment that allows a cake sponge to almond slice like flavour and feel to come out – a delicious savoury to sweet mix that becomes marzipan like by the end – A solid, hefty point to give the whisky some grip.

As you can probably guess by now, this uses the often hidden side of Aberlour to create a smooth and complex whisky – I am impressed.

Background: So, another independent bottling from Independent Spirit – this one done in conjunction with the excellent whisky bar – The Hideout. This one is an Aberlour – one I’ve been a fan of since I encountered them doing their excellent distillery tour with their incredibly friendly guides. On the eye this looks sherried, but less sherried than most Aberlour releases which should make it an interesting one to try. Drunk while listening to Testament -Low. It was only a few quid and gave me a chance to listen to more of Testament’s stuff before seeing them live. A very solid album as well.

Kilchoman: Sanaig (Scottish Islay Single Malt Whisky: 46% ABV)

Visual: Rich deep gold with thick streaks from the spirit.

Nose: Smokey and peaty. Wet rocks. Salt touch. Big aroma. Brown bread. Kippers. Water adds vanilla and light apples.

Body: Smooth mouthfeel with caramel, fudge and vanilla. Warming. Beefy. Peaty. Stew character. Salt. Water adds apples with cinnamon. Sherried raisins. Nutmeg. Dried apricot. Oily.

Finish: Medicinal. Salt. Brown bread. Paprika spice. Dried raisins. Dry cake sponge. Malt chocolate. Light peat. Dry in general. Water adds cherries, sherry and now juicy raisins. Creamy coffee. Menthol. Caramel.

Conclusion: There is a nice mix to this – I’m going to break it down into its layers and examine each individually as there is a lot going on here.

On first pour you get a big booming aroma that you can’t mistake for anything but Islay, and it is recognisable from metaphorical miles away from the glass. Classic Islay peat, smoke, salt and rocks all delivered thick and oily.

Drinking a sip keeps the thick character, but now with that peat expressed in a beefy style – layered over thick caramel and fudge notes. It is a dry sweetness, very chewy, very big and a great backing and contrast for the big Islay flavours.

The finish finally shows the story of the sherry influence – coming in as dry spice and raisins over the, still showing but now medicinal, Islay character. All of the levels has alcohol warmth, but the texture is luxury level smooth.

So, what can water do with this then? Quite a bit actually – soft green fruit and sweeter spice notes while the sherry influence ramps up nicely giving cherry and sherry notes into dry nutty finish. Well the finish was always quite dry – I forgot to mention that before. Forgive me please there is a lot to get through here. Anyway, compared to the chewy main body the finish is a nicely done dry underlying, drawing a line under the experience.

So, yeah, the fact I’m forgetting stuff while trying to get the notes done is showing how much this has going on – huge peat, big Islay, big sherry, yet with enough room to show the lighter notes. Big, but not so big that it becomes simple from overpowering notes.

It lacks only that “je ne sais quoi” to make it an all time great, but it is as good as you can get without that. Bloody nice.

Background: Another chance to dip into Islay’s youngest distillery – not got much info on this one. It’s a no age statement made with a mix of bourbon and sherry casks. Grabbed in ickle mini form from Independent Spirit so I could give it a try. So lacking in detail on the whisky – I listened to a collection of No Doubt’s single while drinking this. While I didn’t like all of the musical directions they took they were always good – just some of the tracks were not for me. When they were at their best IMHO was when they took on topics akin to the punkier scenes I enjoy so much, but delivered in such a way that it reached a much wider crowd without descending to the saccharine Spice Girls style “Girl Power” delivery. So there you have it.

Douglas Laing: Scallywag: 13 Year (Scottish Speyside Blended malt Whisky: 13 Year: 46% ABV)

Visual: Deep bronzed gold.

Viscosity: Fast thick streaks.

Nose: Plums. Some alcohol air. Vanilla fudge. Honey. Treacle. Water adds grapes to the mix.

Body: Smooth but warming. Honey. Raisins. Grapes. Some tannins and oak. Golden syrup. Water makes silky smooth. Adds grapes, quince rakija and pears. More water adds plums and dried apricot.

Finish: Light oak. Slightly peppery. Fig rolls. Tannins and tea bags. Honey. Water adds tart white grapes and pears.

Conclusion: Ok, with and without water is like night and day for this whisky. By which I am not saying that one is good and one is bad – just that they are radically different in emphasis while still having slight reflections of the other in some circumstances.

Neat it is very sherried, from a plum aroma to a tannins and grapes filled body layered over honey sweetness. There are hints of green grapes as well as the more expected red grapes in the there, but generally it is heavy sherried spice added to the native speyside sweetness. Water releases that green fruit so it can come to the fore, still matched with speyside sweetness, now with the plums and raisins at the back as mere sherried hints.

Time lets the two sides come to a compromise – the sherry raisins, pepper and tannins merging with the clear vanilla toffee and green fruit to give a very satisfying and silky smooth whisky. The slight raw alcohol it has neat, while never heavy in the first place, now has completely vanished.

This is a very good example of both the wide range that different Speyside distilleries can bring, the range you can get from blending the malts, and the smooth package that such blending can result in. No real rough edges, but manages to keep a lot of the individual malts character, and give room for water experimentation. I’m impressed.

Background: The first age statement release of the Speyside blended malt from Douglas Laing – this one matured in sherry butts in its entirety. So far their blended malts have impressed me highly – generally keeping the smoothness of the blended malt, without completely losing the character that their malt components bring. This was another of the rarer releases that Independent Spirit had a minis, so I, of course, grabbed one while I could. Felt like some straight forwards metal for music while drinking after being more experimental recently – so went for Shadows Fall – Fear Will Drag You Down.


Douglas Laing: Timorous Beastie: 18 Year (Scottish Highland Blended Whisky: 18 Year: 46.8% ABV)

Visual: Clear pale yellow.

Viscosity: Fast thick streaks.

Nose: Madeira cake and plum pudding. Old sweet shops. Pear drops. Slight alcohol. Hard sugar coating. Water makes similar but with varnish like notes.

Body: Light front, with warming alcohol that builds in intensity quickly. Vanilla toffee and vanilla custard. Oak. Madeira. Lime jelly. Raisins. Water makes more caramel like, and adds red wine. Pears and pear drops.

Finish: Oak notes. Alcohol air. Madeira cake. Raspberry yogurt bits. Water adds sweet red wine. Raisins. Pear drops and slight varnish notes.

Conclusion: As someone who has really enjoyed the various Timorous Beastie takes I have tried recently, I am kind of split on this one. Some of this may be because of the first impressions you get on sipping. The age seems to give it a tad overly light front, but then a stronger than normal alcohol burn quickly rises to overwhelm it. So, when taken neat you only really get hints of the flavours that it may carry, too much burn, and no pay off for that burn. You get the idea there is a tale going on below that, but nowhere near the full story. You need to use some water to get some decent play from this.

So, onto trying with water then. Water does help, and there is more play from the flavours here with more sherried notes coming out in an understated but rewarding way. It matches red wine and raisin notes that feel sherry influenced to pear drop flavours that remind me of younger, cleaner spirit. However even with water it feels a tad rough, with a slight varnish like touch. Normally I can dig rough edges, as long as they give extra layers of complexity. This has a decent range of complexity, with fresh lime jelly sweetness and Madeira mixing, but doesn’t create something special that feels like a reward for the need to use the slight varnish like notes.

Now it has promise, but it seems either too light, or too varnish touched, depending on when you have it – it feels like the promise of this is delivered in their far superior, and excellent dram that is the 21 year sherry cask version, for which this feels like an inadequate replacement for that one’s vanishing.

So, this has lots of good notes – a nice mix of spirit influences, and nice use of sherry cask ageing, but has a few too many off notes to be great – odd, especially for a blended malt where usually they usually mix things to within an inch of the most smooth it can be.

Ok, but far from top bombing.

Background: This was grabbed in a mini from Independent Spirit – as before they have a bunch of rarer limited edition minis of the blended whisky range. I’ve been enjoying them a lot so far, so grabbed this one to give a try. I drank this post watching the piece of shit that is the Netflix adaptation of Death Notes, and I have to admit I think I was a bit distracted so these aren’t my best notes. Tried to tidy them up on write up before posting, hope they are ok.

Douglas Laing: Rock Oyster 18 Year (Scottish Island Blended Malt Whisky: 18 Year: 46.8% ABV)

Visual: Pale gold.

Viscosity: Slow thin streaks.

Nose: Wet rocks. Sherried raisins. Alcohol tingle. Sea breeze. Brown sugar. Salt. Water adds more grit.

Body: Very smooth but warming. Brown bread. Honey. Sour dough. Slightly light at the front. Quince. Dried mango. Water makes lightly medicinal. Vanilla. Apricot. Beef slices. Peach.

Finish: Salt. Sherried raisins. Crushed rock dust. Light peat smoke. Sour dough. Dried beef slices. Tart grapes. Very light liquorice. Water makes a lightly medicinal air. Vanilla. Orange crème.

Conclusion: This took a lot of examining before I felt happy writing this conclusion. By which I mean I spent time drinking whisky. Such hardship. Such pain. Still, it is a difficult one to sum up.

Initially it seemed simple enough; The rocky, slightly salty touched air that comes with Island whisky was there, but here matched by sweet sherry and raisin notes that enhances what is normally a quite clean character. As is to be expected it is nowhere near as harsh as the Islays, despite sharing a few notes, instead walking the line of sweet notes and salty island character well. Here it is slightly empty up front in its smoothness, despite slightly rocky character – it is impressive in what it matches together but not overly exciting.

Water changes it a little, time changes it more. Water adds an Islay medicinal touch together with vanilla notes – quite lightly done but recognisable – more harsh is the additional grit and rock notes added to it along with a hint of beef slices and peat. Time, well, time is what made me look at this again with new eyes. Soft creamy fruit from peach to orange comes out – carefully used sweet notes against the more medicinal character before. It gives a whole new rewarding layer that takes this from impressive in what it does, but not great, to a genuinely good experience.

As time goes on the more medicinal notes take the fore again, but by that point it has taken you on a worthwhile taste journey. Not an instant classic, but earns its keep.

Background: I enjoyed the Douglas Laing range a while back at a tasting at The Hideout, and since have been trying to grab examples to do notes on. This one is a bit special, being an 18 year old limited edition take on their standard Rock Oyster – the vatted malt made up of spirits from the varied Island distilleries. I found it at Independent Spirit as part of their range of miniatures – which makes it very easy to try, which is awesome. Drunk while listening to some Willy Mason – not listened to him for a while, but awesome gentle, but meaningful folk style music to sink into while enjoying whisky.

Jefferson’s Wood Experiment: 1 (USA Bourbon/Whiskey: 46% ABV)

(Standard whiskey barrel with #3 char)

Visual: Very dark reddened bronze.

Viscosity: Very fast sheet of streaks.

Nose: Thick and full of alcohol. Rye crackers and brown bread. Honey. Aniseed. Treacle. Light prunes.

Body: Honey. Charring. Slightly dry back. Rye crackers. Water makes more honeyed and smooth. Slight dried apricot. Slight sulphur.

Finish: Alcohol. Rye crackers. Honey. Slightly rough. Charring. More honeyed with water. Light mocha. Slight cloying sour cream note. Slight sulphur air.

Conclusion: This is – well – the most pedestrian of the 5 experiments I would say. It matches the more simple description of the process it went through – a more charred standard barrel – by being a very stripped down whiskey/bourbon compared to the complex language and layers of the others. A baseline I guess – the base experience that the other experiments build off.

Neat it is very much rye crackers touched with honey backing – pretty much the base bourbon concept but with none of the frills. At this point it is also a tad alcohol touched which doesn’t help it.

Water does help to a degree – it takes out some of the alcohol and lets the honey notes seeps over the harsher charring; It still has a bit of sulphur and other harsh notes – stuff that work with bigger whiskeys or bourbons, but feel off notes here.

It is … sub optimal shall we say – feels a very basic bourbon, with a few off notes. Not one I would recommend – especially considering the equivalent price you are paying for the set of the experiment bourbons as a whole. There is hints of some good stuff, and some mocha notes in the finish which are nice – but generally it feels very generic, with a few points letting it down.

To give it a more positive spin – this is the base, it lets you see how the other experiments develop in relation to it. As itself, it is not much, especially for the cost, It is only really useful as a benchmark to see how the other experiments differ.

Background: Kind of copy pasted with small alterations from my first experience with the wood experiments – This is a bit interesting – Bourbon legally has to be aged in now oak casks that can only be used once. Yep, somewhere an oak producer has their fingerprints on that piece of legislation I’m sure. Anyway, this takes 4 year old bourbon, and finishes it in different environments- Best I can tell from the description above this one is put in a standard barrel, just more charred – so is probably the most normal of the experiments. Anyway, I only have my hands on a small amount – Independent Spirit did a tasting on the set of 5, and let me have what was left over for doing notes on – Many thanks. This is the largest one, so I could spend a bit more time with it.

Nomad: Outland Whisky (Scottish/Spanish Whisky: 41.3% ABV)

Visual: Burnished deep gold.

Viscosity: Fast thick streaks.

Nose: Thick and spirity. Sherry trifle and brandy cream. Raspberry yogurt chunks. Raisins. Light burning notes, but mostly smooth. Oak.

Body: Very smooth. Brandy cream. Custard. Vanilla toffee. Sultanas. Sweet red wine. Honey. Very slightly light, but warming if held. Sulphur if held. Raspberry yogurt. Condensed cream. Water makes smoother, and fuller with more raisins.

Finish: Rum soaked raisins. Vanilla toffee. Light wood. Light waxy character. Dry sherry. Water makes trifle like.

Conclusion: This is both definitely a young whisky, and also a very smooth one. One of those odd contradictions that I don’t expect but enjoy when I find them. It has a spirity thickness, but even neat it has a restrained burn and water soon turns it into a very easy drinking thing.

It doesn’t seem to get a lot of the flavour from the base spirit – it feels like this is all coming from the barrel ageing, all the way. Lots of brandy cream notes, very creamy in general with sherry, sweet red wine and raisins all showing from the barrel ageing. It is a sweet and dark fruit laden thing with a slightly waxy feel when neat, but becomes just clean smoothness with water.

A tad simple isn’t the right words for it – there is a lot going on here, with honey and vanilla toffee sweetness backing the fruit – however there really isn’t any sign of where it came from outside of the barrel. So if you are into whisky for all the odd quirks that come from different makes of the spirit then you will not get that here. However taken for what it is it is very enjoyable. Very smooth with water, very trifle like, very sweet – it gives a lot to enjoy from the short, unusual, ageing.

So a whisky for general enjoying, fun and, with water, is amazing at not showing any rough edges from its youth. At a higher price point I would want more odd quirks from the base spirit, but as is it gives a lot for your money. In fact it reminds me slightly of the Irish style whiskey in its smooth, sweet and easy drinking style. So a Scotch touched, Irish feeling, Spain finished whisky. A true nomad – very good value easy drinking whisky.

Background: Odd ageing done with this one -it is made up of a mix of 5 to 8 year old whisky that has been aged in Sherry butts in Scotland for three years, then sent to Jerez where it is finished in Pedro Ximenez casks for a year. I first tried a sample of this at Wine Rack in Leeds, just before going to see NXT wrestling. We had been aiming for the excellent North Bar and just nipped into the Wine Rack as it was right next to it – unfortunately I was a tad skint at the time, so couldn’t grab a bottle then – instead grabbing it months later from Independent Spirit. Its a good shop though, so thought I would give them a mention. Drunk while listening to some Siouxsie and the Banshees – never really listened to them before, but has seen an excellent tribute band to them, so was giving them a try.

Jefferson’s Wood Experiment: 11 (USA Bourbon/Whiskey: 46% ABV)

(Original Barrel: Inserts for used wine barrels. High mocha)

Visual: Bronzed gold.

Viscosity: Fast thick streaks.

Nose: Lightly milky coffee. Tiramisu. Some alcohol. Toffee. Salted lemons. Water adds menthol.

Body: Orange cream. Peppery. Peppermint. Some alcohol. Shredded wheat. Slight sour tang. Orange jelly sweets. Water adds honey and menthol.

Finish: Alcohol. Peppermint. Orange cream. Lime tang. Water adds menthol and mint. Slight milky coffee.

Conclusion: Ok, like the no 5 whiskey/bourbon I tried before this, this leans towards a more traditional bourbon but with one unusual element that comes out.

What you have here at the base is a sweeter, slightly orange cream touched bourbon – fairly normal, albeit with more alcohol feel than normal.

What comes out, especially with water, is a slightly peppermint to menthol character – a much fresher set of notes than usual. If you need a comparison I would say it comes in kind of similar to Johnnie Walker Green, to my hazy recollection of last time I tried that – however the menthol notes don’t seem to mesh quite as well to the bourbon style as they did to that blended whisky take.

It is odd that that peppermint style freshness is what stands out, as the aroma was quite coffee touched, which made me think that this was going to be similar to experiment 10 – while, admittedly the coffee does come out in the finish, for the most part the coffee really doesn’t seem to have much influence here. A pity.

It’s not terrible, but the twist and the main bourbon don’t mesh in a way that enhances either side. So, interesting, but one of the weaker experiments.

Background: Kind of copy pasted with small alterations from my first experience with the wood experiments – This is a bit interesting – Bourbon legally has to be aged in now oak casks that can only be used once. Yep, somewhere an oak producer has their fingerprints on that piece of legislation I’m sure. Anyway, this takes 4 year old bourbon, and finishes it in different environments- Best I can tell from the description above this one is put in a standard barrel, with wine barrel wood staves put in for extra oak influence, and charred for mocha styling. Again a practice that is not allowed for standard bourbon. Anyway, I only have my hands on a small amount – Independent Spirit did a tasting on the set of 5, and let me have what was left over for doing notes on – Many thanks. This is one of the larger ones, so I could spend a bit more time with it. Drunk while (still) listening to Scroobius Pip – No Commercial Breaks – yes, I did this one immediately after doing notes on experiment 5.

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