Common name: Birch Tar rectified essential oil
Botanical name: Betula pendula roth
Supplier: White Lotus Aromatics
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!