Birch Tar Rectified 1% essential oil (White Lotus Aromatics)

Common name: Birch Tar rectified essential oil

Botanical name: Betula pendula roth

Supplier: White Lotus Aromatics

Note: Base

Family: Wood

Diffusion: High

Dilution: 1%

Blends well with: iso amyl phenyl acetate, cananga oil, costus valerolactone, guaiyl buterate, indole (TGSC)

Ambrette seed eo, co2 and abs; ambergris melange; amber sweet melange; angelica root eo, co2 and abs; aruacaria eo; buddha wood eo and co2; cabreuva eo; cassia eo and co2; cinnamon eo, co2 and abs; cedarwood eo’s and abs’s; cedar leaf eo; cistus eo and abs; coffee eo, co2 and abs; costus eo and co2; cypriol/nagarmotha eo and co2; frankincense eo, co2 and abs; galbanum eo, co2 and abs; guiacwood eo; juniper berry eo, co2 and abs; mastic eo and abs; muhuhu eo; mushroom abs; myrrh eo, co2 and abs; oakmoss abs; opoponax eo and abs; palo santo eo; patchouli eo, co2 and abs; peru balsam eo and abs; pine needle abs; seaweed abs; stryax eo and abs; vetiver eo, co2 and abs (White Lotus Aromatics)

Interesting bits: Produced by destructive distillation of the twigs and leaves of Betula sp. and then rectified by steam distillation to remove most of the phenolic elements and meet the IFRA standard: crude Birch Tar should not be used in fragrances….Russian leather smells of birch tar because the leather is tanned with the tar products which also preserve this special type of leather…. (Steffen Arctander via Pell Wall)

In natural perfumery is used in leather accords, amber notes, musk accords, incense perfumes, woody compositions, fougere, chypre, spice accords, after shave lotions. (White Lotus Aromatics)

It adds a leathery note to men’s perfumes. Birch tar oil is widely used in suede and leather tannery in Russia…The name ‘betulae’ has its root in the Latin verb ‘batuere’, meaning ‘to strike’. (Ozmoz)

A definition here, for russian leather, is “a smooth leather tanned with willow, birch, or oak, and scented on the flesh side with birch oil.” The ancient legacy of the drawn resin extends to the stone age, “Birch-tar was used widely as an adhesive as early as the late Paleolithic or early Mesolithic era. It has also been used as a disinfectant, in leather dressing, and in medicine.” And the method of its production is as “a substance (liquid when heated) derived from the dry distillation of the wood of the birch. It is therefore pyroligneous — compounded of guaiacol, phenols, cresol, xylenol, and creosol. These, to the fragrance aficionado offer further intimations — is there a familiarity, to guaiac, or creosol?

Guaiacol is present in wood smoke, resulting from the pyrolysis of lignin. The compound contributes to the flavor of many compounds, e.g. roasted coffee. Creosol is an ingredient of creosote. Compared with phenol, creosol is a less toxic disinfectant. But powerful indeed, an distant in history, their applications. Cresols have an odor characteristic to that of other simple phenols, reminiscent to some of a “coal tar” smell. (Girvin)

It wouldn’t be right to dive deeper into Birch Tar without expanding our knowledge to include how it was used in leathers. The Perfume Shrine has a wonderfully concise introduction into this series as well as The Vintage Perfume Vault.

Their nose: smoky, woody, burnt wood, leathery, phenolic (at 1%) (TGSC)

displaying a potent, penetrating, phenolic, smoky (charred wood, tar-like) with bouquet with a sweet ambery-balsamic-resinous undertone of very good tenacity. (White Lotus Aromatics)

One might find, as well — in even the opening research on birch tar — that there’s a potential for this being a hidden, dark and revealing note, (Girvin)

“… distinctly phenolic, very penetrating and diffusive, obviously reminiscent of tar, charred wood and smoke (all of which have their odor from components of the birch tar oil!) However, the most characteristic feature in the odor pattern of birch tar oil is the sweet-oily undertone which appears distinctly on the smelling blotter when the first empyreumatic notes have faded away. These notes caught the immediate interest of perfumers long ago… ” (Arctander via Pell Wall)

My nose: Birch Tar rectified essential oil opens smelling of leather, intensely phenolic, vibrant and lustrous. To me it gives the impression of luxury. Warm, golden. Pungent, definitely, but it’s so much more, it’s hard-edged, tarry and raw. After 15min the foremost impression is smoky then tarry. This note is unapologetic, like a dark grey colour and I feel like thick, winter sweaters. It’s a provocative and pressing note. 30min on and it’s smoky, fire, protection, it’s a very grown up mature scent. Sleek, and devoid of frivolity – this scent does not joke around. 45min sees it express a hard, indifferent side, direct in its conversation with me, it seems to be more commanding, more tarry and ever more a part of the shadows. It continues to echo a burnished quality after 1hr, even though less phenolic now, and a more earthy note is introduced. I can smell a clear commonality with three other smoky notes I love, Choya Ral, Choya Nakh and Choya Loban! Gorgeous. For me this smell is like embers, it glows and lurks about. 2hrs on and Birch Tar rectified is still very brash, even now and at only 1% it remains a very dominating note, sober, sensible and satisfying, with smoky trails that billow forth and invade the room. It is warm and drier after 3hrs, more tarry, less smoky, earthy and now there is a vague heaviness about it with a hint of camphor, deep in the belly of this note. Odd the impressions we pick up. At the 7hrs mark it’s still edgy, rugged and evocative. I smell my Lapsong Souchong tea in this note only now, burnt, gloomy and haunting. 12hrs into the dry down and this note continues to emit a very strong presence, and it remains phenolic in its dry down, smouldering, fuming and earth-bound. It’s like a warm nuzzle to me, this scent, like most phenolic scents I find them narcotic. After 24hrs the scent is still very present on the scent strip; bold, throbbing and still smelling of smoke, burning as well as leather, too.

Birch Tar rectified essential oil is simply a beautiful note, I adore the smell of burning wood and this totally plays into this love I have. While evaluating this note it became clear to me that it is more an accessory note, to be used in very, very small amounts, I can’t see myself ever over-dosing this note…well, not until I have a very good grasp of what I’m doing, and that’s not for some time yet :).

Have a great weekend!



2 thoughts on “Birch Tar Rectified 1% essential oil (White Lotus Aromatics)

  1. Maxine,
    I love your blog because you are openly honest and comfortable with yourself, and this comes across clearly in your writing. Kudos on your “theirs vs mine” format in evaluating raw materials and your real world impressions of ingredients over well-defined time periods, not to mention some pretty exhaustive research of the published literature. Clearly, raw material reviews in a vacuum are tough due to the nature of synergies involved in combining different materials, but you’re presenting clear and concise representations of them. I’ve only read back to your posts from 13 months ago, and aside from your raw material impressions (which I almost always concur with) there are two other posts which caught my attention.

    The first began with your sketch of Chanel No.5, as it reminded me of those of the artists who contribute to the Society6 website. I think you’d enjoy this page (actually, the entire site), as a number of the artists chose this iconic bottle as one of their subjects: The following link is my current iPhone 7 case, which I purchased from society6, as I thought it was an interesting commentary on the link between perfumery and money:

    Your second post of great interest to me was about not stressing while you take your time to compose your perfumes while watching others rush to market with theirs. I can totally relate to this. After nearly four years of R&D as an independent perfumer both using all naturals, and now naturals augmented with synthetics, I am planning to release my first line of EdPs by this summer…if all goes well. I am shocked at how expensive it is to launch, even though I am doing all the graphic and website design, production, cold filtering, bottle and sample filling and labeling, and every other detail-laden task. Hiring contractors to help launch a new line might make it better, but it would require hundreds of thousands of dollars (possibly more) and worse, a probable loss of some artistic control to folks who are formulaic and inflexible in their approach because they typically work with large shops who can easily afford their “professional” services.

    Still, every week brings new unanticipated costs. This week’s maddening “surprises” were that obtaining 10-100 unique barcodes costs $750 (plus $150/yr renewal) and even a used tamp labeling machine (required for flat-faced bottles) costs US$1,500, with both being “throw-away” money which has nothing to do with my skill as a perfumer or a consumer’s opinion of my fragrances. Luckily, due to some custom made crystal bottles I’ve had fabricated in the past for my natural perfume oils, my bottle manufacturer was willing to make less than 10,000 etched bottles and printed boxes and “only” 30,000 hot-stamped spray sample vials for my first run. And I’m still nowhere close to launching.

    The deck is stacked so heavily against newcomers, primarily because of extremely high minimum order quantities for high quality bottles, boxes and labels, not to mention the high unit cost of ordering materials in less than 1 kg quantities to use for R&D. To somewhat mitigate this last inequality, I purchased an 80 lb tank of argon (w low pressure regulator) from my local welding shop for $400 ($35 refills). I inject the chemically inert argon gas into all bulk bottles whose contents wouldn’t age well (NOT sandalwood, vetiver, etc.) after decanting from 1 oz to 4 oz for use in my perfume organ. Worse, if using a significant percentage of naturals to construct perfumes (tough given IFRA reqs), there is a risk that when one scales up a formula into multi-liter concentrate quantities, they will likely need to reorder naturals that could smell quite different from those used in R&D. This might require a change in formula, and since naturals need much more time to meld vs synthetics, every change in a natural ingredient would likely cost months of delay. This is another reason beyond IFRA to use significant quantities of synthetics if one hopes to ever press the launch button and expect to maintain reasonable batch consistency. As a former all-naturals perfumer, I really hate that.

    Your post on beeswax was interesting in that, like honey which is locally grown vs mass-produced/blended for supermarkets, the smell of beeswax absolute changes depending on the diet of the bees (ie the region) from which it was sourced. I cannot find a dependably consistent source of this ingredient, so while I love its smell and its rounding effect and all the other wonderful attributes you described, I no longer use it except in small batch bespoke compositions.

    I’d love to hear from you via private email, as I’m sure we would have a lot to discuss.

    Thanks again for sharing your wonderful experiences in perfumery.

    Best regards,
    Mark St Marie


    1. Hello Mark,
      I’m really glad you are resonating not just with the words but with the format as well, this is quite encouraging for me the writer. Of course mentally we know that nothing ever gets created in a vacuum but sometimes writing a blog can seem that way and it is the interaction with you and whoever this connects with that brings even greater satisfaction.

      There is little need in being proprietary with this information I share here because at the end of the day you the perfumer are going to have to do the work yourself, make your own evaluations and your own accords and the space between what I create and what you will eventually create lies an ocean, so I have no fear of sharing. We are each as individual as our fingerprint.

      Thank you for sharing and I wish you all the very best on your journey as a perfumer!



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