The Sunday Magazine: Caledonia Spirits Barr Hill Gin

It seems like everywhere you turn there are artisanal small batch versions to be found. When it comes to fragrance it is my pleasure to support the independent perfumers who work to their own rhythm. I am also finding the same is true when it comes to the potent potables I drink. One of the best examples of this is the story behind Vermont’s Caledonia Spirits and their Barr Hill Gin.

todd hardie

Todd Hardie

Todd Hardie has been fascinated with bees since he was 12-years old. This has led to a life of beekeeping and farming in the far northern Vermont region hard against the Quebec, Canada border. This is a land of dairy farms and one of my favorite quotes on the website is Mr. Hardie mentions that his bees require no documentation to cross the border and pollinate. As a working honey farmer he also grew grains and on Barr Hill there was wild juniper growing. One night as he was wondering how to maximize the use of all of his land the idea of distilling the grain for alcohol, using that to extract the juniper to make gin and then finish that gin by adding raw honey came to be. Over about 24 months a still was built, from recycled parts which produced the ethanol and allowed for vapor extraction of the juniper berries. The bees added their special ingredient and Barr Hill Gin was created. At first Mr. Hardie sold it in Vermont and one store in NYC. Since then Barr Hill Gin has become a true word-of-mouth success.

Gin is my favorite liquor. I used to distill my own when I was in graduate school and got to be competent at it. Once I had a job I was content to let the more experienced make my gin for me. I’ve probably been through all of the gin crazes from Tanqueray to Bombay Sapphire, to Hendrick’s and I like all of them. The addition of honey to Barr Hill Gin sets it apart. It makes it a gin for many people who aren’t fond of gin.

While sipping Barr Hill by itself, as an extremely dry martini, is a pleasure and the honey takes the coriander “edge” off that many people don’t like. It really comes to life in the right cocktails. As a class Barr Hill would be considered an Old Tom Gin as opposed to a London Dry Gin like Tanqueray or Bombay. The difference is an Old Tom Gin is a sweeter gin and the craft cocktail movement has made this style more sought after as more and more bartenders want to use it in their new cocktails.

barr hill gin

There is no gin-based cocktail I haven’t found to be improved by the addition of this gin but there is one which far and away almost seems it was particularly made for.  Back in the 1920’s the phrase used to describe something as cool was the “bee’s knees”. It is no surprise that a bartender created a cocktail by that name. Unfortunately because this bartender created the Bee’s Knees during Prohibition nobody knows who to appropriately attribute it to. Considering the gin used in speakeasies during that period was probably more like my amateur efforts in grad school bartenders were really looking for a way to take the “edge” off. The Bee’s Knees does it quite simply with honey and lemon juice.

beesknees

Bee’s Knees Cocktail

2oz. Barr Hill gin

¾ oz. lemon juice

¾ oz. honey simple syrup (dissolve 1oz of honey into 1oz of water)

Pour all of the ingredients in a shaker filled with ice. Shake and strain into a highball glass with a couple of cubes of ice.

As a Colognoisseur variant to add some fragrant aspects to it I take a teaspoon of Crème de Violette and float it on top and add a sprig of rosemary. This combination always reminds me of two of my favorite fragrances both of which contain a honey and violet accord; Ulrich Lang Anvers and Serge Lutens Bois de Violette.

I do have to say the use of Barr Hill Gin has made gin lovers out of many of my friends who thought they didn’t like gin. You might even say they think it is the bee’s knees of gins.

Mark Behnke

Collection Fatigue

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There are many things about the current state of artistic perfumery that irritate me but there is one thing that is top of my list. I genuinely look forward to seeing what has come in the mail every day. I live for the potential of trying that next new great fragrance. There is a dark side to that and it happens when I open the envelope and see it half-filled with multiple vials. I emit a sigh because another “collection” has found its way to me.

My biggest objection to the term, and the practice. is I think it is 99% marketing and 1% inspiration. The majority of these collections have only one thing connecting them, the name on the bottle. What is even more frustrating is it is apparent there was zero effort in trying to have a coherent aesthetic or theme. Heck I would even accept if it was made up of connected pairs. Instead it feels like a box checking exercise where the perfume line covers all of the expected bases. This would be great if the creative direction was focused enough to provide an interesting viewpoint. The other collateral damage to this collection obsession is it feels like the line can’t be bothered to make up their mind what is polished and ready to be released. Which is why within a collection there are many entries where my reaction is, “Why didn’t you take the time to get some feedback and really add a final edit?” Many of these feel like the perfume equivalent of reading the first draft of a novel before an editor gets a hold of it to tighten it up.

Too-many-choices

This leads to the second issue they are asking the consumers, us, to be their evaluators for them; at full price. Over the last three years as this ploy of releasing multiple perfumes in a collection has become more prevalent I’ve noticed a couple years on there are only a couple of them still on the shelf. I believe those are the ones which sold well and the majority were discontinued because they didn’t sell. This means they make us pay for the right to beta test their perfume and that should be their job not ours.

From a store perspective this also puts them under tremendous pressure to decide whether they have enough shelf space for a dozen new perfumes. The lifeblood of the indie and artistic perfume community are the small stores which cultivate customers who return to find out what the store owner has identified as worth trying. These new lines approach the stores and ask them to carry all of them or none of them. There is a bit of fallacious thinking that these lines are just on the cusp of being added to Bergdorfs, Neiman’s, or Saks by the line owners. They fail to see that success in those venues has almost invariably happened from a more conservative approach where you build the line over a number of years. These small stores which the purveyors of these collections hold hostage are the very people who will create the repeat customer and buzz for the brand that will open those magic retail doors they dream of.

I am sure there is a collection heading my way which I will be thrilled to explore fully but I expect to be sighing a lot more before that happens.

Mark Behnke

New Perfume Review L’Artisan Parfumeur Onde Sensuelle- Icy Hot

When you are prolific a perfumer as Bertrand Duchaufour it is hard to keep turning out great fragrances. The double edged sword of that profligacy is that some clunkers will get released but also some that are truly fabulous will also see the light of day. While sometimes it seems like M. Duchaufour needs an evaluator who can give him appropriate feedback. There are times when left to follow his own muse, without filter, something really special arises. This is perfectly illustrated by the three fragrances recently released by M. Duchaufour for the L’Artisan Parfumeur Explosions D’Emotions collection. Haute Voltige feels like a by the numbers fruity floral as the core duet of peony and pomegranate never catch fire. It commits the cardinal perfume sin of being boring. Rappelle-Toi is an interesting experiment of taking gardenia and crossing it with Szechuan pepper. I expected this to work better than it did. Instead of using the contrast to illuminate they collide against each other with neither note the better for the contact. It made it an annoying experience. I appreciate the creativity on display and I know from past experience that this theme will return another day in more memorable form. The third fragrance, Onde Sensuelle, is why M. Duchaufour is such a great perfumer.

Bertrand Duchaufour

Bertrand Duchaufour

Onde Sensuelle translates to “sensual wave” and it captures the heat of passion combined with the delicious chilly thrill of release. Throughout the development of Onde Sensuelle there are moments where I felt my breath should steam and others where a bead of sweat should be wiped away. This is not a trivial effect to accomplish and it is executed with delicate precision here.

The chill predominates in the early going as grapefruit, juniper, and cardamom provide the frost. The balance here is perfect a little too much of any of these three notes would tilt this in a far different direction. What is here is like an icy rim. The heart provides the heat through a trio of spices; ginger, cumin, and saffron. As with the top notes the balance achieved here is critical. If M. Duchaufour had missed on the grapefruit and the cumin, as an example, this would have been a sulfurous sweaty mess. What is here is a gentle back and forth between the ice and heat. The dynamic tension as they sway back and forth culminate in a base of oud, a macrocyclic musk cocktail, and castoreum. This is the smell of passionate bodies entwined and it is exactly where Onde Sensuelle should come to a close.

Onde Sensuelle has 8-10 hour longevity and moderate sillage.

For the three new Explosions D’Emotions M. Duchaufour bats one for three. Onde Sensuelle, though, is a massive home run. This is why he is such a fascinating perfumer to follow because I know when he puts it all together there is magic to be found.

Disclosure: This review was based on samples purchased from Surrender to Chance.

Mark Behnke

The Gold Standard: Sport Fragrances- Guerlain Habit Rouge Sport

The advent of Sport Fragrances began in 1972 with Estee Lauder Aliage Sport Fragrance and based on today’s market you might be surprised to know it was made for “active women”. It wasn’t until 1987 with the release of Boss Sport that the Sport Fragrance business started to shift to the guys. The fragrance which would start the men’s sports fragrance snowball rolling was 1993’s Polo Sport. Perfumer Harry Fremont really ran with the idea of a fragrance for an active man as he set the formula for many masculine sport fragrances to follow. Citrus on top followed by light florals made more manly with spices; finishing with woods and musk. The use of Sport in the name was supposed to make it easier for a man to want to buy fragrance, and it worked. Polo Sport immediately became a best-seller and is still one to the present day.

habit rouge sport

Over the last twenty years there have been many, many sport fragrances released and most of them are flankers of flagship fragrances for the particular brand. The unfortunate part of this is most perfume producers took the wrong lesson from the success of Polo Blue. They decided that Sport meant light almost to the point of insipidness. Most Sport fragrances are an embarrassment to the other name on the label as everything that makes something like Encre Noire great is gutted in Encre Noire Sport. With all of this you might think this is an odd subject for The Gold Standard but there is one which shows it can be done right while hewing to the template set down, Guerlain Habit Rouge Sport.  

jean-paul guerlain

Jean-Paul Guerlain

If there is any fragrance I would’ve thought would never be amenable to sportification it would be Jean-Paul Guerlain’s 1965 men’s fragrance Guerlain Habit Rouge. Habit Rouge is a citrus/spicy/leather with the signature Guerlinade. Habit Rouge would be in my conversation of greatest men’s fragrances of all-time. When I visited the Guerlain Boutique at The Breakers in Palm Beach in the summer of 2009 I probably recoiled when I was proffered the bottle of Habit Rouge Sport. What I should’ve done was realize M. Guerlain would not stoop to make a pale simulation of his classic. Instead he uses three key additions and an overall lightening of the core to create the best sport fragrance ever.

The same bigarade focused top notes are present but they are made brighter and the first key addition, bamboo, adds a fresh light woody note which transforms this into something recognizably Habit Rouge but also something new. The heart of neroli, patchouli, and cedar is the same. Then by dialing back the mélange of spices in the original to just one, pink pepper; and adding jasmine the heart is as easy to wear as that white t-shirt. The base is identical with leather over the amber and vanilla Guerlinade but as everything else in Habit Rouge Sport it is made less intense.

Habit Rouge Sport has 12-14 hour longevity and moderate sillage.

I wear Habit Rouge often but never in the warm weather; Habit Rouge Sport is what I wear these summer days. It may be faint praise to call this the best sports fragrance ever. Let me add to it Habit Rouge Sport is as good as the fragrance with which it shares its name.

Disclosure: This review was based on a bottle I purchased.

Mark Behnke

Perfume Mythbusters: Vintage Perfume

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I’m not sure if there are distinct stages of being a perfume lover but there are many common experiences we all share. One of those is trying a “vintage” perfume. What I mean by that is an original bottle of a classic perfume that is over 10 years old and often is as old as 50-60 years. The moment of trying your first vintage perfume is usually followed with a statement along the lines of, “they just don’t make perfume like that anymore”. When it comes to certain ingredients that is definitely true especially now scarce to find authentic ambergris or real musk from the musk deer. There is also another part of the equation too as many who love vintage fragrances love the depth and subtle power inherent in these older bottles. There is then a belief that what they are smelling is somehow truer than a modern version, that is the myth I am here to bust this month.

Coffee-flower-in-jojoba-maceration

Coffee Flower Macerating in Jojoba Oil

When you are smelling an older bottle of perfume you have to take into account what has been going on over the years in that bottle. One thing that has been going on is continued maceration. When making a perfume which is high in natural ingredients there is a phase of the process called maceration. What this means is once the perfume concentrate is diluted in the desired solvent, usually alcohol, it is left to sit for a number of weeks at reduced temperature and away from light. What this allows for is these natural materials to reach a steady state where the perfume reaches consistency of odor profile. As I’ve mentioned in the past natural raw materials are not one molecule they are actually mixtures of often hundreds of different molecules. When these are combined with other natural raw materials and diluted there needs to be a settling out period. This is most often done on as large a scale as possible. The perfumer will check over time until the blend reaches a congruency from three or four different samples over different days. At this point it is transferred to a bottle. Now if the perfume is all synthetic this process is totally unnecessary as those are single molecules and need no settling out. While the early maceration is done on a large scale it does not stop once it is in the bottle. Especially when we are talking time frames of tens of years. Maceration is now a much more gradual process but when measured over many years it is still going on. This is what most often produces the softness many remark upon when trying a vintage perfume. Just like a fine Bordeaux wine a 1961 vintage is much smoother than a 2011 vintage. Time does smooth out all things. The continued maceration also accounts for the blurred less definitive transitions also found in vintage perfumes.

1950's shalimar

This sealed bottle from the 1950's was filled right to the neck when new, notice the gap now because of evaporation

Second is good old evaporation of the top notes. Top notes by their very nature are meant to be volatile and the idea that any of these still remain in a perfume that is ten years old stretches the concept of simple physics. Even if the bottle is sealed once the top notes begin to evaporate they are now in vapor form and if there is even the slightest gap out they will go. To my knowledge there is no vintage perfume which has been so meticulously sealed as to prevent this most basic of processes from happening. The effect this has when smelling a vintage perfume is you get right down to business and go straight for the heart and base notes. This is probably what gives the impression that vintage has more depth because you aren’t distracted for a second by any top notes because they are no longer there.

baccarat shalimar bottle

Vintage Baccarat Shalimar Bottle half-filled with air and clear to let light through

Third is if the bottle has been opened at all or exposed to sunlight for any period of time. Oxygen and sunlight are the natural predators of many perfume molecules converting them into all manner of things. Some of which still smell good and some which definitely don’t. It is either, or both, of these twin plagues which make a perfume go “off”. In the best case it can still leave something behind which smells good but anything like what it smelled like when it was put in the bottle, not likely.

nicolai

Patricia de Nicolai

For me one of the most eye-opening experiences to this phenomenon was when Patricia de Nicolai of the Osmotheque exposed me to the versions of some of my favorite older perfumes from the Osmotheque. Through the help of the perfume companies the Osmotheque has original formulae for many of the classic perfumes and makes fresh new batches of them for their library. As I experienced these fragrances in their complete glory with top notes intact and lively paired with the heart and base notes in the vitality of their youth I realized these were the real vintage perfumes. We had a group experience of this at Esxence as we had an Osmotheque version of Edmond Roudnitska’s classic Rochas Femme. Everyone was surprised at how different it was to any version they had tried previously. If you love vintage perfume you must go to the Osmotheque and really smell the vintage perfumes you love it will give you a whole new appreciation for them.

I am not saying vintage perfumes are not lovely in their own right.  They are also not really anything like the original fragrance put in the bottle you own either. That is the myth of vintage perfume.

Mark Behnke

My Favorite Things-Wear Sunscreen

There are many things that are not perfume which smell great to me. One of those things is sunbaked skin coated in suntan lotion. The Coppertone my mother slathered on me before allowing me to make sandcastles. The Bain de Soleil the European women wore poolside at the Fontainebleau Hotel on South Beach. As much as the salt and the sand it is the smell of the tanning products that evoke the beach. The five fragrances listed below all remind me of lotion coated tan skin glinting in the sunlight.

jean-patou-cosmetics-1930-huile-de-chaldee

Jean Patou Chaldee began its first incarnation as Huile de Chaldee an actual sun tanning product which was mostly castor oil which Patou perfumer Henri Almeras added orange blossom, narcissus, and vanilla to make it smell better. They knew they had a hit when they found women wearing it at night as a fragrance. Perfumer Thomas Fontaine has re-formulated Chaldee and in that reworking has hewed closer to its suntan lotion beginnings, which I really like.

coppertone

CB I Hate Perfume At The Beach 1966 is constructed around a central “Coppertone” accord. Coppertone was the suntan lotion of my youth exactly in 1966. The suntan lotion used an overdose of coconut to attempt to disguise the medicinal sunblocking agent. It turned into a pleasant smelling tropical laboratory accord. Christopher Brosius gets this picture perfect and he places it in a beach milieu full of drift wood, crashing surf, and sand. It is a time machine in a bottle for me.

bain de soleil2

If I wasn’t on the beach I was spending time by the humongous pool at the Fontainebleau Hotel on Miami Beach. This was where I came into contact with Europeans using this tube of orange gel called Bain de Soleil as their lotion. In Bond No. 9 Fire Island perfumer Michel Almairac captures that odor plus the sun warmed skin underneath. I can almost see the row of chaises and smell the breeze blowing this to my nose. It is another perfect rendition of a scent memory for me.

Bikini in action

The more modern takes on the smell of less scented sun products come from two of the great fragrance producers. Estee Lauder Bronze Goddess is a very close wearing fragrance which takes the warm skin accord in the base and over the top of it adds magnolia and tiare. Perfumer Alberto Morillas turns out a summer perfume which is all about living in the sun.  

The final suggestion is the new Guerlain Terracotta Le Parfum 2014. Guerlain in-house perfumer Thierry Wasser takes the same sparkling tiare flower and sandwiches it with coconut milk and bergamot on top and the signature Guerlinade of vanilla on the bottom. This is a limited edition only available for 2014 and it is as good a mass release as Guerlain has done in years. It is perfect for the summer.

I am not recommending wearing perfume instead of sunscreen as you head out this summer. If you want to carry the day into the night any of these five will keep the summer vibe going into the wee hours.

Disclosure: I purchased botlles of all the perfumes mentioned.

Mark Behnke