More about ambergris

This whole perfumery thing has led to financial corruption. When I read about a new source of ambergris—a guy in Ireland sells it—I jumped on it and spent a rather shocking amount of cash. But to me, ambergris is money and is worth money. Anyway, it arrived yesterday—I had ordered 53 grams—in six rather large balls. The largest is the size of a golf ball and the smallest about twice the size of a hazelnut. They all smell similar—much like the seaweed the Japanese use (konbu) for making dashi, the base for their soups and stews.

Strangely, I’ve found that the funkiest ambergris yields the most interesting tincture. About a year ago, I sent away to Medicine Flower to buy a 10-gram piece, but because of some misunderstanding, I received a bottle of liquid “ambergris.” Suspicious, I called the company and spoke to a woman who wasn’t terribly pleased when I questioned her about the liquid. She spoke about it being C02 distilled, etc. etc. leaving me more suspicious than ever. (The stuff wasn’t too expensive. If it really were distilled ambergris, it would be extremely dear.) So, I decided to tincture it to 6%. It has matured very nicely and its original funky nature (much funkier than any ambergris I’ve ever smelled) has transmuted into a marine complexity that I find very appealing.

Since the new ambergris is in large balls, I almost hate to tincture it, yet as far as I can tell, ambergris has no value in itself—it must be tinctured to be useful. My own experience of tincturing is somewhat idiosyncratic. I tincture a given weight of ambergris in a given weight of alcohol—this is simple enough; I just dissolve the ambergris in ethanol at room temperature. When the ambergris has dissolved, insoluble components will have precipitated to the bottom of the test tube. Once these are weighed (I tare the test tube) I then subtract them from the original weight of the ambergris chunk. This gives me an exact read by weight. My earlier tinctures were closer to estimates but since they were tinctured by volume, they are actually a bit stronger when calculated by weight.

My new ambergris tinctures now sit in the sun in the window. There are five, getting darker in ascending order from pale yellow to a deep caramel-like red. They are in glass-stoppered bottles (I prefer these for their look if nothing else) and as I'm planning on waiting the requisite three months before I give them a sniff. Of course I'm dying to cheat.