A Bitter Chypre Martini

Martini glassMals over at The Muse in Wooden Shoes recently noticed that she was experiencing a completely uncharacteristic craving for chypres.    The ones she had a yen for were not just any old chypres, but ones with a bite, a stinging edge of tartness- well, you can see what she meant here.

I commented and noticed while doing so that I no longer had any real chypres left in my scent wardrobe.  This was a surprise because all my adult life, I’ve worn chypres. There was a furlough when I was first married, and another while we expecting our daughter, but aside from those two periods yours truly has always been the Chypre Queen and an oakmoss junkie.

All of a sudden, probably because of the demise of oakmoss, there is  only one full sized bottle that is sort of chypre-ish left forlorn in the perfume cupboard: Lubin’s Black Jade.  Jade though, like Plus Que Jamais, is really an oriental floral, or at most a woody floral.  Unlike Mals’ current chypre cravings, there is no oakmoss umame in that recipe.

The chypre cocktail requires some bitters.  Dryness may not be the ne plus ultra for a chypre the way that it was for a mid-century Martini, but a certain amount of dryness helps. In a good authentic chypre, you need that acrid, bitter note.

I can’t think where I’ve encountered that satisfying sourness recently.  The last place was the Parisienne version of Guerlain’s Derby, (which by the way, smells a great deal like old Cabochard to me) there the chypre cocktail is served nearly straight up with just a twist of lemon in it.

Oldfashioned-cocktailParure was a similar formula only there was a plum note floating in there that made Parure richer, slightly less spare, plumper, and yes, a tad surreal.  That chypre acerbity was present, even though Parure had a floral bouquet of lilac and narcissus in the mix that turned the whole concoction a soft purple. The scent had been composed for Jean Paul Guerlain’s mother, and the plumminess made it a bit rich, but still, Parure was a true chypre, maybe more an Old Fashioned than a Martini.

Then there is Philtre d’Amour which is surely the most acidic chypre ever shaken and not stirred.  This is supposed to be a verbena lemon and petitgrain sprig ornamenting a frosted glass of lemon vodka, with the golden Guerlain ylang ylang mixed in.

Far from the mellow yellow brew this would suggest, I get a concentrated blast of lemon notes, so tart that it has the same effect as the Pan Galactic Gargle Blaster in The Hitchiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, the effect of which was like having “your brains smashed out by a slice of lemon wrapped ‘round a large gold brick”. You may think that I exaggerate, but am writing with Philtre sprayed on paper just to be sure, and the Hub confirms this intergalactic citrus explosion.

Philtre is probably so far into citrus sours as to create a Lemontini, the paradoxes of the sweet/sour dark /light  that tinkle in a crystal glass of chypre remain unbalanced and stratified as it were. Philtre is not the whole cocktail as, say, Diorella was.

The problem is that chypres- like martinis- are acquired tastes.  If you start with Appletinis do you progress to the dry Martini, or the chypre? It would be nice to think so, but without the dry chilly effects of bitter oakmoss, how would a new generation of chypre wearers ever come to love dryness and bitterness?

To quote Ogden Nash:

There is something about a Martini
 A tingle remarkably pleasant;
A yellow, a mellow Martini:
I wish that I had one at present.

You can say the exact same thing about chypres.  There is something about them, probably not the flowers, probably the oakmoss, which is the equivalent of the gin in this cocktail, or at any rate, maybe the olive.

And yes, I do wish I had one at present.



Be Sociable, Share!

7 thoughts on “A Bitter Chypre Martini

  1. I like gin. I like lemon. I found Philtre to have no effect on me whatsoever, other than to say, “ehhh. Citrus. Could be worse.”

    (I tend to prefer brown liquor to clear (“white,” I’m told it’s properly called) in general, save for that gin. I don’t like Scotch, but Irish or bourbon whiskey I like, and I like rum. I also tend to think of brown liquors as the equivalent of oriental fragrances… which I generally do not like, unless they are very floral. Wait… can you say ‘tangent’, boys and girls? Nebmind.)

    All these chypres I’m wanting recently, they do have to have a noticeable floral component or I’m still wrinkling up my nose. BLeargh.

  2. Can Guerlains go off- like old potato salad? Because sometimes I think my PdA is off, The frag is like fermented sweet tarts now and that has got to be wrong.

    All the best chypres have flowers in them-don’t you think? The old ones used to have great gardenia notes and some other lovely florals as well. Thinking of that great heliotrope passage right before the end of Chant d’Aromes. Those soft flowery bits are like the softer parts of Bach chorales or something. They feel choral to me anyway-though not PdA which obviously feels like something vinegary has gone off in the fridge 🙂
    Can we say TOO bitter? Yup guess so.

    1. To uphold the honor of my Philtre d’Amour it turns out not to be off. Iwas commenting over on The Black Narcissus (very chic bog) and he has a bottle just like mine that behaves in exactly the same way-so no off potato salad.

      The Parisienne version was much tamer-really a lot.

  3. I think chypres are perfumes that I do not mind wearing from time to time and even have some favorites in that genre but they aren’t perfumes that I ever crave… I mean, I might want to wear specifically Miss Dior or Cuir de Russie but I never feel like “let me put on some chypre…” I don’t know if anybody thinks along that line but with some other types I do (e.g. “I really want something floral” or “A woodsy scent would be nice in this weather” – and then I start thinking about what I have of that kind.)

  4. Obviously I do, but then I admit to having a bit of an oakmoss addiction. I mean I could stop using oakmoss anytime. Seriously. It’s just that I never seem to want to. Maybe someone should stage an intervention 🙂

    Miss Dior-and you probably mean real Miss Dior not the strawberries and ‘chouli stuff-is a great chypre and I used to love that. You have to be sort of pulled together to wear it though!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *