Archive for July, 2007

alcohol, the perfect medium

Posted in alchemy, natural aromatics, natural perfumery, spagyrics on July 11, 2007 by scentedwench

Alcohol-based perfumes have this reputation preceding them, which I’d never quite realized the scope of until I started creating eau de parfum, experimenting ever more with high-proof grain and grape alcohols.

For some reason, alcohol is almost universally viewed as a diluent rather than as a carrier for aromatics, or a blending medium, or, how to put this…, an enabler for scent to be conveyed and for assisting nuances and tones and shading.

I’ve also seen fairly universal comments that alcohol has a bad smell to it, and that one cannot smell the perfume above the alcohol smell. In my experience, this is true of some of the commercial colognes, and is true for some perfumes made with poor alcohol. The denatured alcohols are especially odoriferous, primarily because they are not being distilled for use in aromatic products, but rather for industrial and technical use.

Then there is organic alcohol which is distilled for use in potable and aromatic applications. It’s a difference between night and day.

Industrially-distilled grain alcohols almost always have fusel oils and other off-odors adding an almost skunky bouquet to them. These smells are a byproduct of the distillation process used to produce industrial and technical grade alcohols.

By contrast, the organic alcohols distilled from grain and wines smell clean, faintly sweet, a bit boozy, and are entirely free of acrid tones. They also do not stereotypically stink of ‘alcohol’, nor are they harsh.

Organic alcohols also make superior dilutions of harder-to-work-with essences like oakmoss, jasmine concrete, vanilla absolute, labdanum, et al. They’re the perfect medium for encouraging an essence’s potential and full character to bloom, whether it is the burning driftwood bouquet of choya loban, a sweet musk of ambrette seed, or the green and minty tartness of geranium.

I like the pristine spirit of organic alcohol.

If I add a single drop of german chamomile essential oil, its inky cobalt character will swirl into the clear alcohol like a drip of ink into water, slowly dispersing the blueness around the mixing beaker. Add a drop of emerald green lavender absolute, and a burst a chlorophyll tints the alcohol accordingly, blending with the blue of the chamomile. The alcohol allows the aromatic particles to dance around each other flirtatiously, then finally they color each other and blend in a truly unique fashion. Alcohol’s nature as a solvent enables this magic. The nature of the aromatic compounds in the essences enables this magic, because most of them are soluble in alcohol.

I have to admit to preferring to work with alcohol as a blending medium. And as a carrier for aromatics. The way it evaporates on the skin, leaving essence in the space around me but in a clean fashion, and the way it allows essences to layer atop one another in a blend, and evolve and dryout in roughly that order, is magical.

And I have to admit that the budding alchemist in me is drawn to the symbolism of being able to produce something like a condensate in a perfume bottle. Spagyrics is the branch of alchemy dedicated to plants, their essences, and drawing those essences into an alcohol base (usually wine). It is plant magic, in other words.

Perhaps perfume is merely pedestrian plant magic.

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