Copper Bee Apiary

A garden apiary in Whittlesford, Cambridge, UK - honey bees and their beekeeper Hilary van der Hoff.

The Perfumer's Nose

Perfumer with nose

Perfumer with nose

I sent a jar each of both this year's honeys to my Dad, perfumer Dr John King, and invited his opinions.

Here's what he wrote:

First impressions

The great aristocrat Edmond Roudniska, creator of Dior's famous perfumes, always emphasised the unique importance of first impressions. You only get one first impression of a new fragrance, and it only lasts a second or two at the most, so careful preparation is necessary. I drove to Cheltenham lido and spent half an hour swimming in the water. I find this shrinks my nasal mucous membranes and puts my ageing hooter on top form. Shortly afterwards I unscrewed each jar and took a brief sniff.

Lot 310716 "Orange, biscuits" were the words that thrust themselves into my mind for no logical reason.

Lot 130816 Very fruity. Apricot, peach.

Next day evaluation

Next morning an opportunity for more lengthy assessment. Ideally, I needed a couple of large brandy glasses, and swirl the honey around mixed with some warm water whilst inhaling deeply. Not having any brandy glasses I made do with two slices of buttered hot toast as a test bed, over breakfast out in the garden.

Lot 310716  Now I see why you were keen to get a perfumer's view on these products. A wonderful green-floral flavour of garden vegetation. It put me in mind of a long lost men's fragrance called Verlande, from the 1960s. This accompanied me during my adventures in France in 1968 and is reminiscent of greenery and mountain air. It was also the secret of why I was always the chosen provider of drinks for our staircase parties during my student days in Leeds. I used to lace the beer with it.

Lot 130816 This shares some of the character of 310716 but is more fruity, but I'm not sure what the fruit is. Probably not apricot actually. Often with the sense of smell you get that tantalising perception that you've come across that aroma somewhere before, but you can't think where. The 'tip of the nose' state. Adds to the intrigue of course.

I was expecting to be talking about the aroma of phenolethanol, phenylacetic acid and its esters - traditional honey odourants often used in rose reconstructions and one of my earliest areas of experimentation. It was the reason I sometimes smelt of honey in the sixth form at school (not necessarly a handicap; H.G. Wells was described as always having a honey smell about him). However, your bees have excelled themselves and produced something more sophisticated and original. As mentioned the intense floral element may be something like syringa or mock orange, which is quite a feat as I don't imagine there are any of those trees in the neighbourhood.

Honey notes in perfumery

Honey is an important component of many flower notes, as well as tobacco aromas. So called 'gourmand' notes have become increasingly fashionable in their own right, to the extent of being almost indispensable.

A recent exciting addition to the perfumer's palette is Honey Signature from Firmenich. This created quite a stir when unveiled at the 'One Day Symposium' on new materials that I attended in May.

All in all, these are great honeys, my personal favourite being 310716. This is a prizewinner. Incidentally, those lot numbers are impressive, sounds like you are a big manufacturer producing tens of thousands of jars. But I eventually worked out that it must be a code for the date.

The only fault I can find is that they are not more solid, to enable me to plaster the toast with an indecently thick layer.

I mentioned the honey to Auntie Marie yesterday and she apparently has a jar I gave her decades ago which she has never opened because the price label says over £6. I suppose she is keeping it as an investment. Do you know if honey keeps indefinitely?

Thanks Dad!

I am delighted that lot#310716 has been awarded the prestigious King John's Crown. It's possible it contains lilac and mock orange, as those flowers would have been within reach of the bees.

I believe honey does keep forever. We just need to become immortal to test that out. Or perhaps set up tombs in a pyramid with some honey and other things ready for the afterlife...although I've heard they can be tricky to safeguard against archaeologists breaking in.

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