Monday, July 8, 2019

Perfumes of Place: Wunderkammer Tincture №.9

Vanilla Orchids

The first thing I noticed when I arrived at the Ann Arbor Distilling Company was the woody aroma of vanilla. It perfumed the July air with the efflorescent lilt of linden blossoms on breeze-borne sillage. The nose was quicker than the eye when it came to locating the source. It was the aroma of spirits maturing inside oak barrels at the distillery and it smelled like perfume.

The curiosity spark. Ann Arbor Distilling Co. Fall Gin in barrel nine.

Curiouser and curiouser. Look closely at the dark amber trail on the lower right hand corner of the oak cask. What you see smells amazing and that’s because of what it is; oak sugars and aromatics that have dried down after the spirit weeps, leaving a sticky brown sap behind. It’s proof of the barrel’s exhalations, an oak barrel used to age bourbon in a previous life.

The aromatic trail isn’t unusual or a sign of an irreparable leak in the cask, especially during hot summer months. Wood is a natural material that breathes. The angels get their share when alcohol evaporates through the wood and then, at times, a caramelized oaky resin is left behind when a bit of spirit escapes. It’s like finding a feather from an angel’s wing. The invisible is manifest, but it's sensed before the redolence is seen.

Charred oak stave from a bourbon barrel

John Britton, chief distiller at the Ann Arbor Distilling Company, has a funny name for the fragrant sweet resin, which in distiller’s parlance is called a barrel booger. I have another name for it; Wunderkammer Tincture № 9. It's named after the gin-filled oak cask that prompted a collection of various resins from the distillery's barrels at my request.

After 24 hours of maceration Wunderkammer Tincture №. 9 is begging to make friends with linden blossom, patchouli and oakmoss. And so it goes. Wunderkammer Tincture №. 9 sits next to Zoltan’s Equine Horse Chestnut Tincture, another essence that’s part of my Smell Memories of Ann Arbor collection. Not quite a wunderkammer—yet. A perfume accord is incubating. So is the idea of olfactory representations of place with respect to Ann Arbor, Michigan, the place I've called home since I left New York eight years ago.

Cured bourbon vanilla beans by Ann@74 via Flickr

I consider the fact that Andy Warhol wished for "some kind of smell museum" when he was alive and that his wish never came true. He just collected things. I look at Wunderkammer Tincture №. 9 and promise myself that I’ll replace wishing with doing. Encoffining a growing collection of smell memories is not an option. It's time to bring them into the light.

You can smell Wunderkammer Tincture №. 9 at a gin-themed Taste & Tell Program I’m giving on September 18th at the Ann Arbor Distilling Company. The free event is sponsored by the Ann Arbor District Library for adults 21+.  An optional gin tasting flight can be purchased for a nominal fee for those wishing to imbibe as they learn about local artisanal gin.

Classic chypre fragrance fans who love gin take note; one of the autumnal flavors in Ann Arbor Distilling Company Fall Gin is oakmoss. It's the ingredient you're used to smelling on your wrist after a spritz of vintage Mitsouko by Guerlain. Eau yes. No elegy for oakmoss or hack chypre perfumes by faux niche brands that would make a nun hurl expletives.

Kevin Curtis at Angel's Envy calls bourbon barrel exudate "barrel candy". It smells better than it tastes, but that doesn't stop Curtis from punking innocents who visit the whiskey house. The exudate tastes like "licking an ashtray" according to Curtis. That's because a smoky dose of 4-methyl guaiacol is doing way too much talking on the palate.