adventures in tincturing – tahitian vanilla cognac tincture

Decanting the Tahitian vanilla beans that had been maturing in Courvoisier XO cognac since August of last year was pure delight!  What you see here is the result of four months of some grade A vanilla beans drunk on some of the best damn cognac!  What better end?!

tahitian-vanilla-beansThis is only the first of two phases of a recipe I found on the Hermitage Oils UK site here. I sourced some amazing Tahitian vanilla beans from very far away and started the process in August.

On New Years day I took them out of the cognac and now I’m letting them dry.  The Givaudan site used to have an article that detailed (but they’ve taken that down apparently) their drying process as “…after sun drying the beans are slow-dried indoors for about 4-6 weeks on wooden drying racks in airy warehouses.”  Well, my wooden frühstück board and studio will have to suffice.  I’ll let it dry out for longer, probably eight weeks, seeing as how sun drying is six months off.  You should smell it in here!  The whole studio smells like vanilla, it’s glorious!

The tincture itself is magnificently soft, full of character and complexity due to the cognac of course.  From here the instructions after drying are, to chop up the beans and add alcohol with a bit of the cognac tincture.  I love it this way so much I’m reluctant to dilute the beans further but I will.  I have about 10 beans left and I’m definitely going to tincture them again in cognac.

The patience involved in building your own single notes is incredibly satisfying because you know you’re creating something unique, something that, even if replicated, will never be quite the same. It’s also grounding because you can’t rush a single step. It fills you up in a way that no instant purchase of any raw material can, no matter how extravagant, because you made it yourself and you know what went into making it. You earned the final result.  Now that’s gratifying.

Scentually yours,



aromatic profile: cognac eo

making perfumes with cognac essential oil

Common name: Cognac essential oil

Genus name: Vitis Vinifera L. (part of the vitaceae family)

Supplier: Alambica (Switzerland)

Note: Top note

Production: steam distillation of wine lees

Chemical compounds: acetaldehyde, cuminaldehyde, ethyl petargonate, ethyl decanoate, ethyl dodecanoate, decanoic acid

Interesting bits: Cognac essential oil is formed during the fermentation of yeasts and solids in wine lees.  Lees are the deposits of dead yeasts and other particles that fall or are transported to the bottom of the vat during “fining” (filtering), after fermentation and ageing.  Lees are also the source of most commercial Tartaric Acid.  It is also an important part of making the Ripasso wine where the left over lees of the Amarone are used to add more flavour and colour to partially aged Valpolicella (source: Wikipedia).  Lees can impart complexity and enhance the structure of the wine (source:

Their nose: I can’t find much on other’s odour impression of this oil and Basenotes is having issues, so I’ll just move on.

My nose: I was so disappointed to be knocked sideways by the initial impression of vomit, sharp, acidic, with notes resembling green, dry, blanched, tart, it even felt cold. 30 minutes into it and it’s still green, dry, but more personality now, fuller, smells alcoholic. After an hour it remains sharp and aggressive, very present, but now more sparkling and bubbly like champagne. 2 hours into the dry down and very alcoholic, but now I smell a thick, lactonic note, it’s going from sharp to creamy.  5 hours later and it’s very sharp, almost rancid, like coconut nut oil that has gone rancid, still creamy, lactonic, persistent.  Could it be my sample of this essential oil?  Are they all like this? After 12 hours I gotta say I’m left with this coconut, lactonic smell that is quite unpleasant.

Musings on composition: I would use it mainly to give a lift to the overall blend or use it to highlight a note.  Can’t see myself building an accord around this one. I would be more inclined to use it much the same way lees is used in wine making: to add complexity, character and structure.