Para cresols smell like the creosote painted on pier supports. While this sounds weird, cresols are essential for some flower scents, especially narcissus and lily. I sometimes use para cresols along with another funky compound, indole, which in many flower fragrances provides the needed dark notes.
Don’t be too perplexed by the use of both “cresol” and “cresyl.” There is a difference—it seems that cresyls are derived from cresols—but I’m not certain how important it is; I just smell them on their own merits.
While there are many cresol derivatives, I only use four. Para cresol, the starting point for the others, smells like a medicinal cross of creosote, phenol, camphor, and coal tar. When diluted 100 or more times, it smells floral.
Para cresyl acetate—while clearly related to para cresol—has an almost fruity aspect and a bit of licorice, along with the dissonant tar quality. If you hold the top of the bottle far enough away from your nose, you can imagine it as part of a flower. The traditionally recognized aroma is of horse urine, which I don’t get, probably because I don’t hang around stables. It’s more powerful than para cresol.
Para cresol methyl ether has an almost peppermint aspect, but is pungent and powerful. Again, it gives nuances to florals such as jasmine and lilac.
My favorite is para cresyl phenyl acetate. When I stick my nose into the jar of pure powder, I get a relatively mild, funky, almost natural musk quality, and a general animal smell. I like combining a trace of para cresyl phenyl acetate with artificial musk. This brings out a natural funk that reminds me of real deer musk.