What is the Perfume Project?

This blog is a constantly evolving forum for thoughts on perfume, perfume-making, plants (especially orchids and flora of the Pacific Northwest) and life in general. It started out chronicling the adventures of Olympic Orchids Perfumes, established in July 2010, and has expanded in other directions. A big part of the blog is thinking about the ongoing process of learning and experimentation that leads to new perfumes, the exploration of perfumery materials, the theory and practice of perfume making, the challenges of marketing perfumes and other fragrance products, and random observations on philosophy and society. Spam comments will be marked as such and deleted; any comments that go beyond the boundaries of civil discourse will also be deleted. I am grateful to all of you, the readers, who contribute to the blog by commenting and making this a truly interactive perfume project.

Monday, July 14, 2014

CLEANING THE STILL (AND A MYSTERY GIVE-AWAY)!



Guest post by AZAR
Last summer Ellen, Michael, Brad and I took a field trip to Mesha Munyan's lavender farm near Sequim, WA USA.  We spent the day with Mesha and David Falsberg cutting lavender flowers and helping (observing really) Mesha as she distilled lavender oil and hydrosol in her 60-plus liter still. We had a great time and learned just enough to catch the "distill it yourself" bug. (See this post).  

The idea of creating our own custom distillations in our very own still was so appealing that in early January, 2014 we ordered a 35 liter hand made solid copper Al Ambiq alembic still from Destilarias Eau de Vie in Portugal. In a week or so the still arrived on my door step, in excellent condition, and was immediately placed on semi-permanent display on the kitchen island, gathering dust until we had the time and the good weather to get busy and get it cleaned. [The left half of the first photo shows it in its original, shiny condition and the right half shows it after its first run]

Constant heavy winter rains made it impossible to set up the propane burner out of doors.  Finally, on Sunday, June 29th, Ellen, Brad and I were all free and the skies were clear.  My son Andy set up the burner in the morning. When Ellen arrived just after noon we began sealing the joints and seams with rye paste - a kind of pasty glue made with rye flour and water [photo on right].  Rye is one of the most glutinous of all grains and, when made into a paste, makes an excellent sealant that prevents leaks of liquid and steam. When diluted with water to the consistency of a slurry [photo on left, breaking up lumps], rye flour serves to clean the still by adhering to the impurities, industrial oils and solvents left from the manufacturing process.

After adding the slurry (about 1 kilo of rye flour and 13 or so liters of water) to the still we attempted to light the burner.  There was one tense moment when the gas leaked at a line connection, but that was quickly taken care of and soon the slurry was boiling and bubbling merrily, making its way up the curved pipe of the swan neck, through the condenser coil and out into the cleaning bucket, carrying the industrial residues with it. [Brad lights the gas, upper photo; the first liquid comes out, left half of the photo below, and starts collecting in the bucket, right half of the photo]

After the initial cleaning we discovered considerable scorch in the bottom of the pot.  Ellen and I took turns scrubbing out the inside of the still, we then did a clear water distillation, rinsed and dried the still thoroughly and placed it once again on display, this time with a lovely new patina, ready, at last, for our first distillations of essential oils.  The whole process was quite time consuming, taking at least five hours to complete! [Gail scrubs the inside of the still in the last photo]


At this point you might be wondering what we plan to give away.  Sorry, we are not giving away the still, especially after all that work!  The two winners will each receive samples of two different varieties of the completely legal dried herb that we plan to use for our first serious distillations.  In addition to the mysterious herbs each winner will receive one 2ml spray decant of a favorite vintage fragrance that uses the scent of the herb(s) as a prominent top note.  To be eligible just leave a comment about stills, distilling or about your favorite essential oils.  We are sorry that we have to limit this drawing to US addresses only. The dried plant material might have trouble traveling internationally!    
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[The before and after photos of the still are Gail's, the rest are mine]         

15 comments:

  1. Hey Azar,
    This is a totally cool post. I love it. After a few months you should bring your still post to APJ. It's EXCELLENT! I love reading about you all putting it together. DNEM but I wantedc you to know that I'm reading.
    Hey there Ellen, I hope you're well.
    Portia xx

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    1. Hey there Portia, I'm off to San Francisco today for a perfume event at one of the local shops and will spend a little time in SF until Sunday the 20th. I'm excited to start distilling!

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  2. Thank you so much for dropping by,Portia!
    It will be interesting to see if anyone wants to try the wild WA state herbs that were gathered in the Methow Valley and the Columbia River Gorge. Both are the same genus but different species. They smell stunningly beautiful fresh or dried and are perfect candidates for our initial distilling experiments. No matter what happens the process of gathering the herbs from the wild and the distillation process itself should make interesting material for a post or two. BTW I am in-communicado until the 22nd.
    Azar xx

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  3. Hi Mom –
    Interesting about the rye being so glutinous. I had no idea! I haven’t really tried many essential oils but I would love to try yours. Will you be doing your distilling soon?
    -Lauren

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    1. Hi Lauren,
      Thanks for stopping by! We are off to SF today. Hope to cross paths with Ellen but the timing might not be right. We will try to do some distilling here as soon as all of us are home at the same time!
      Mommy Azar xx and x

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  4. The alembic is absolutely gorgeous :) Those curves! The process of getting it ready for distilling sounds extremely arduous, and I look forward to hearing more about what you decide to distill.

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    1. Hi Yuki,

      Sorry this took awhile! We just got back from the Russian River and Napa. We spent the week tasting (and smelling) lots of wonderful wine and cooking with friends.

      You are in the draw, Yuki, if you have a US address! I neglected to mention (bad housekeeping) that the draw ends on the July 24 and we will announce the winners in a subsequent post.

      Azar xx

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  5. That still is so beautiful!

    I've never done any distilling; I've tried to make alcohol tinctures but have never been successful in getting one strong enough to use.

    One of my favorite essential oils is an odd one- galbanum. I love green notes in fragrances and this is one heck of a strong one. I dilute it waaay down before using it in anything. Another favorite- one I've been know to use straight, as a single note, is patchouli. I guess it's because I grew up in the '60s.

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    1. Hello Laurie,

      You are IN the draw (if you have a US address). I neglected to mention (bad housekeeping) that the draw closes on July 24 and the winners will be announced in a subsequent post.

      Since you like galbanum and green notes I really think you will love our mystery herbs and the vintage scent as well.

      Azar xx

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  6. Hello Laurie Brown and Yuki!
    You are the winners. Please send your mailing info to my e-mail address below by July 31 and I will send out your prizes. Lauren, I will send you the herbs anyway just because you are my darling daughter!
    Azar xx
    azarsmith7@gmail.com

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    1. Gail, Thank you for posting the winners. Since I got back from my travels I've been too busy catching up on stuff, but was planning to post winners today. You beat me to it! I hope Laurie and Yuki see this and claim their prizes.

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    2. I haven't heard from Yuki and Laurie yet. I hope they see this too. I wasn't sure how to handle it.

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    3. My fault. There should have been a separate post. One is going up today.

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  7. I recently did my first non-alcoholic distilling and want to share my experience with you. Mint distillate is a common digestion helper here in Iran & my mom drinks it sometimes. Last weekend we decide to make it ourselves for the first time. I had borrowed a distiller from my friend to make an alcoholic beverage from fermented plums. Our plum tree fruits are very aromatic & 40% beverage are so tasty. Anyway, I filled half of this traditional Persian distiller (one of those copper cauldrons with distiller lid used in Kashan to make rosewater) with fresh peppermint & two kinds of mint harvested from our garden. After adding water & boiling, it took about 5 hours to make about 3 liters drinking mint extract.
    An interesting thing was the first 200 ml of it didn't have expected taste & aroma, so I threw it away. The next 1 liter was awesome!

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    1. Farbod, thanks for sharing your experience with distillation. We're also planning to use the still for some plum brandy! Mint distillations are tricky, so congratulations on getting a liter of good stuff. Some commercial mint distillations that I've gotten are not "as expected", either. I think you have to do a fractional distillation (as it seems you did) to get the pure mint flavor.

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