I don't usually mix alcohol and work (well, that's a lie! I alway mix alcohol in my work, I just don't drink it!). And last night was no exception, even though I had a the pleasure and the honour to entertain a very special guest at the studio: my dear colleague Yuval (Joov) Har-Gil, the master distiller of Julius Craft Distillery. We met several times at his distillery in Hanita, and every time I go there I end up high on just a few drops of his pure and delightful distillates from local fruit, honey and grape pomace. These he also infuses with wild botanicals that are indigenous to the region, and some other which are cultivated in the region, such as his many unusual fruit Eaux de Vie - alongside the more traditional spirits from apple, peach and apricot you'll find others that will blow your mind away, such as yuzu, carrots, cactus pear and even wild berries that few even know they are edible.

Although he is not formally a "Nose", every time we meet it is like meeting a colleague from the exact same field. And a master at that. Which is, needless to say - pure and sheer delight. Perhaps it is even more enriching because his knowledge complements mine. All the things I do not know - he does: Distillation process, history of alcohol and a lot of additional knowledge about the local plants and distilling the very fleeting esters of fruits into his Eaux de Vie. I have taken my students there for a class on distillation of citrus alcohol and even those who've visited countless distilleries as part of their profession, were blown away by his talent and craftsmanship.

That night I think was the first time we met and actually had tea. Yerbamate, because I already know of his love for strong flavours such as tobacco. And as far as tea goes that's the next best thing.

We go through all the extracts I've ever made, which includes anything from wild plants from the Canadian rainforest, to Asian teas and spices (milky oolong and pandan leaf, anyone?), ambrette seed (a shared passion of ours), to the local treasures - oh so familiar and beloved: white mint, wormwood, varthemia, vitex... We both swoon.

We are meeting because we're scheming an event together for the Western Galilee Winter Festival: A regional celebration of our very own local culture, art cuisine, agriculture - it all comes together in a long weekend (Thursday through Saturday, sometime between Christmas and Chanukah - this year it will take place December 19-21, 2019). Our event will take place Thursday, December 19th, at Jullius Craft Distillery in Hanita.

We will return to the defining moment in history when the world of alchemy, magic and herbalism split into two different worlds and industries – the distillation of alcohol for the production of potable alcohol-based beverages; and the distillation of essential oils for concocting   perfumes and toiletries.
Lab Session for Aqua Mirabillis Workshop with Jullius Craft Distillery
The evening will be dedicated to discussing and showcasing our unique craftsmanship and demonstrate the connections and similarities between the craft of Eau de Cologne (lightcitrus-and-herb based perfumes) and the craft of Eau de Vie (alcoholic beverage). We will also discover unusual aromatic plants, and delve into the process of perfumes and alcoholic beverages. One-of-a-kind and unique bitters and "Aqua Mirabillis" will be made for the event – and those you will of course take home with you.

And for that of course I had to get into the lab and concoct something special... So this morning, I've been working on creating an Eau de Cologne type of fragrance that is largely inspired by Jullius' fine and subtle Akko Gin. It deserves a post on its own because truly, how it is designed and crafted is no different than making perfume!

I will only say here that it is akin to shaking a branch of Cedar of Lebanon tree after it rained on Mount Meron, and savouring the aroma of mountain air, fresh rain, leaves and forest. It's dewy and spectacular. To turn this into a perfume and use only local and natural botanicals will be a great accomplishment and I can't say I have managed to do this today... I have used a very similar structure of my Aqua Pistachia, with added juniper berries to give it the characteristic gin fragrance, as well as angelica root and tinctures of a few local wild herbs. And I have also created another concoction, which is unique to what we'll taste that night: we have decided to use mostly local herbs, and focus on six: Mastic, vitex, micromeria fruticosa (white mint), tobacco and the last ingredient the idea was that I will be using varthemia and Joov will be using arbutus berries (called Medronho in Spanish), that he picked from Hanita forest, fermented and distilled into a spirit. They have a unique aroma which Joov noticed is similar to varthemia's unusual perfume!
Lab Session for Aqua Mirabillis Workshop with Jullius Craft Distillery
I agonized over the Aqua Akko for a while, and then feel brave enough to tackle our brief: Make a perfume version of Joov's bitters, which I adore. They are delicately minty from Micromeria fruticosa, earthy from the local "Three-lobed" sage AKA Greek Sage (Salvia fruticosa) and slightly resinous-skunky from Elecampagne (Inula viscosa). I feel worried that it won't be a crowd pleaser (not even knowing what the "crowd" for our event will even be. Which is why I started with concocting the gin-like cologne to begin with. Some things just require time and patience. And right now I seem to have neither!

Anatomy of a Flower

Narcissus is an elusive flower that has been possessing this perfumer's imagination for as long as could be. Vivid memories of the fresh wild flower begin with a folk song about picking narcissi in the fields, and encountering a white horse. The rhyme does not end too well.  

לַשָּׂדֶה יָצֹא יָצָאתִי
נַרְקִיסִים קָטַפְתִּי,
סוּס לָבָן רָאֹה רָאִיתִי
וְעָלָיו רָכַבְתִּי.

וְהַסּוֹס דָּהַר דָּהַר
וַאֲנִי נָפַלְתִּי,
וְאֶת כָּל הַנַּרְקִיסִים
בַּשָּׂדֶה הִשְׁאַרְתִּי.
Living wild narcissus flowers have an unusual scent, heady and intoxicating, both freshly green and white-floral in character. Native to the Mediterranean basin, these bulb flowers for Narcissus tazetta come to bloom in the late fall and wintertime, in different months depending on when the rainy season begins, and also depending on the particular habitat. It is grown commercially for perfumery, primarily in Southern France, where the method of enfleurage was discovered first to extract its precious aroma. Nowadays it is processed by solvent extraction, to produce an absolute. This particular type of narcissus is also referred to as "Narcisse des Montagne" (Narcissus of the Mountain), which grows in the Esterel area (vs. Narcisse des Plaines" which grows in Grasse area, and is sweeter, more honeyed but also quite faint fragrance). Narcissus poeticus, also known as Poet's Daffodil is another sub-species that is grown for the fragrance industry, both in the Netherlands and Southern France. Jonquil (Narcissus jonquilla) is native to the Western Mediterranean countries, and is also grown for extraction purposes, but in even lesser quantities, as it is rarely used - case in point is Vol de Nuit.

Paperwhite (Narcissus papyraceus) are a cultivar of this wild narcissus species as well, forced to flower around Christmas time, for their symbolic purity of Virgin Mary. In the Language of Flowers, narcissus symbolizes unrequited love and selfishness

Wild narcissus (Narcissus tazetta) smells both green and fresh, and also heady and almost sickeningly sweet. The scent invites from afar, with this heady melange that permeates the air around its modest surrounding among thorny bushes and garrigue shrubs. It invites you from afar, but if you get very close to smell it - you'll be hit by its lethally rotten aroma of excrement and dying flesh. This is due to the presence of two molecules - indole (not surprisingly, also present in jasmine and civet); and paracresol, which is reminiscent of leather (and is responsible for sickeningly sweet, intensely fecal notes that permeate Youth Dew).

Narcissus has a very complex, unusual and sophisticated odour. According to Bo Jensen, while many odorants have been identified as common to narcissi (benzyl acetate, methyl benzoate, p-cresol, phenethyl alcohol and indole), none are unique to this flower. Van Dort et al. attempted to identify the characteristic compounds of narcissus, but while they found additional molecules (8-oxolinalool, 3,7-dimethyl-1,3,5-octatriene-7-ol, methyl 2-methyl-6-methylene-2,7-octadienoate, 8-hydroxylinalool, 2-methoxy-2,6-dimethyl-3,5,7-octatriene and lilac aldehyde), neither could be held responsible for the flower's personality.

Poucher delves deeper into the world of narcissus compounding, and offers an extensive list of no less than 73 raw materials to recreate the living flower's impressive aroma, including (in addition to narcissus and jonquille absolutes), natural essences such as bergamot, orris, rose otto, styrax, orange flower water absolute, ylang ylang, ambrette, and many other floral absolutes (orange flower, jasmine, rose, tuberose), sandalwood, labdanum, civet, costus and benzoin. Key synthetic materials revolve around various paracresyls (p-acetate, p-iso-butyrate, p-phenylacetate), floral molecules (methyl anthranilate, phenylethyl acetate and benzyl acetate), coumarin, vanillin, heliotropin, musk ketone, and the peach aldehyde undecalactone, among others.

I've been meddling with a beautiful narcissus absolute that my friend Jessica September Buchanan has sent me from France and to me, it is dense, rich, not nearly as heady as the fresh flower, but rather leaning onto the green side. It is reminiscent of hay fields, honey, waxy tuberose, and is both woody, sweet, green and powdery. In my search for the perfect narcissus companions that will accentuate its eccentric and subtle beauty, I have selected angelica, ylang ylang, clary sage absolute, liatrix, pinewood, pine moss, pine needle absolute, palmarosa, cabreuva, szechuan pepper, balsam poplar buds and fire tree. It's been a great challenge to work with this absolute, and neither of these complementary essences is particularly easy either, but it's been a rewarding journey which I will share with you over the next few days, leading up to launching the new creations that resulted from this process.

I'm on TV! Telus Optik Local myVancouver

What do I have in common with a tattoo parlor, a bloodhound hunter and a volunteer piano teacher? We all appeared in episode 429 of TELUS Optik's myVancouver.
Watch it on Vimeo and YouTube, where you can get a glimpse into how I compose, blend and sniff perfumes at my home studio.

Hiding from the Muse

Catching Fire by AmyJanelle
Catching Fire, a photo by AmyJanelle on Flickr.
יום אחד זה יקרה"
בלי שנרגיש, משהו ישתנה
משהו יגע בנו, משהו ירגע בנו
ולא יהיה ממה לחשוש.
וזה יבוא, אתה תראה
הידיים הקפוצות יתארכו
והלב השומר לא להיפגע יפעם בקצב רגיל
זה יבוא, כמו שהטבע רגיל
 ."להיות שלם עם עצמו
When does self-expression cross the lines and becomes kitsch? When does pathos stops moving us and becomes overbearing?

An artist is always on the tightrope, finding that balance between the too-much and the too-little. A hint, a glimpse, a beginning of a smile and the words that weren't said are often more important than what shows on the screen.

And sometimes a few minutes of genuine performance, truthful art can inspire you for weeks and give that "natural high"; a strong feeling of inspiration, leading to motivation, leading to the urge to express - create - do.

The relationship between an artist and his "muse" is complicated only if he is too caught up in a narcissistic chase for his own reflection in the lake. True inspiration comes from life, not from being chased (sorry, Jack London, I don't agree with you!).

The muse - or inspiration - is not a lover that needs to be chased or courted. It is the holy spirit that is always there, if we only let it come to us. It's not the muse who is avoiding contact - but the opposite: we are hiding from it; or worse - escaping it.

But that requires patience. Not waiting for the muse; but waiting for oneself to complete the cycle. Wait for the "dry spell" to pass. Because, in truth, there was never a dry season. There was only the time for the rain to collect and condense in the clouds. And when the clouds are filled to the brim, they will pour.

Just like Jonah hiding in the whale's belly, an artist might just need to hide for a while in the mundane, often times plagued by fears of impotence. Rather than fighting it, doing the hard work and fulfilling life's demands in the only cure for losing inspiration. In fact, it is the inspiration.

Woodsy Imbalance

Woodsy Disharmony by Ayala Moriel
Woodsy Disharmony, a photo by Ayala Moriel on Flickr.
If you lasted as a reader till the end of this week - then I hope you have felt a bit of the difficulties and demands of the creative process. Not limited to perfume creation is the pre-existing feeling of restlessness, discontent and even a sense of misery.

Something might be missing. Or disturbing my peace. Shaking my existence to the core. Or otherwise - fills my heart with so much joy that it is not possible to contain and has to spill elsewhere, be shared in a more appropriate way then hugging every stranger on the street or jumping up and down at the tip of a hat.

It's the initial sense of imbalance, disharmony, that initiates or triggers the creative process. It's not coincidental that artists are ever so often walking a fine line between madness and sanity. Over-sensitivity or attention to beauty can be quite distracting, or even destructive. And the inability of one's heart to stay numb or blind to suffering and injustice can be maddening.

I was asked several times to comment on the role of perfumery as an art. And I usually decline committing to such definitions. For several reasons but primarily because of a certain ambivalent gut feeling I have with over-exalting my profession and work.

Perfumery as an art is not nearly as accessible as other art forms, because of expense, distribution, life shelf and other technicalities. It is consumed like a commodity, and while it taps deeply into one's psyche - it's the one art form that, in my humble opinion, only becomes art once it is treated as such by the "audience" - the person wearing it or experiencing it.  Unlike a melody or a painting, a story or a poem, it requires a lot more points of references to be appreciated as art, and not just as part of the surrounding.

A perfume's meaning really does not come into existence until the wearer or the smeller gives it meaning: association with certain events, emotions, people or memories. Not to mention coming to contact with the skin or the medium it's meant to be carried out in or dispersed through.

Additionally, perfume on many levels is like a drug or a medicine that acts deeply on our psyche. Call me self-prescribing, self-proclaimed and appointed doctor of my own soul. And let those who are interested in my little pharmacy explore and and experiment with my wild cocktails.

My greatest challenge in recent years has been staying true to my creative or so-called artistic voice. Not to mention maintaining a viable business while I'm at it. To say that I'm sick and tired of the perfume industry is an understatement. The non-stop pressure to churn up new, meaningless scents is pointless and insulting to consumer's intelligence as The Non Blonde likes to remind us from time to time. This only degrades the "art" of perfumery and reflects negatively at whatever art is left in this field. It's politics are exhausting. It's intricate schemes of control and regulations against natural raw material while the rest of the world is releasing pollution and toxins into the air, earth and water make zero sense. 

Not because I run out of things to "say" - I learned the hard way that when you live your life fully, including embracing the quiet, empty or dull periods, the muse will come to you; but rather because I want to have more time to listen to myself and the trees in the forest. Because I want to create from my heart. Because I want to be heard even if it's very noisy around sometimes to the point of deafening oblivion. Because I want to find my own harmonies in a world that seems to go against the grain and disrespect harmony --
I have made it my mission for this year to not release a new perfume. It won't stop me from being creative with scents or invent new things in my lab. But it has to be at my own pace. It has to go through a certain process that no PR agency or tight deadline can force into a set form.
Now let's see if my business can survive.

In the picture: scent strips on my little bulletin board at my lab, dabbed with fire tree, cistus, red cedarwood and blue cypress oils. Very disharmonious. I stumbled upon this disaster while working on a new project - a beard oil.
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