Weenie time, weenie time! It’s Weenie time at Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab! I think I can skip the preamble this year and get right into it. I mean, I could very well wax poetic about my love of autumn leaves and long, dark nights and bloody harvest moons and spooky Halloween feels, but I’m pretty sure you all love those things, too, just as much as I do! I am preaching to the choir with that sort of talk, you know? I don’t need to convince you.
Below are my “tasting notes,” if you will, on several greedy handfuls of this year’s Weenies: my initial thoughts, impressions, and reflections; the imagery and memories and stories and dreams that each scent immediately evokes. These notes comprise the raw material which eventually gets incorporated into what I hope are thoughtful and cogent reviews. Think of them as “behind the scenes” (“behind the scents”?) peeks and insights, I guess! Some of them are more fully fleshed out than others and some, I’ll confess, don’t entirely make a lot of sense. Sometimes in the potent grip of a particular sniff, I’ll practice what I might chalk up to a bit of automatic writing and channel the spirit of the scent, the results of which I then reason with and wrangle into proper words fit for human eyes. Here today I have left them in their original, reflexive, stream-of-consciousness state.
Before I get into it, I will share one last thing: I am over the moon excited that I had the opportunity to sniff some of the lab’s Dracula: Order Of The Dragon collection (with amazing label art by Abigail Larson!) I have savored Bram Stoker’s classic vampire story on countless occasions in the course of my lifetime and I plan to do so again and again as far into the future as I am able. There is no tale quite so thrilling for me as Dracula, and of all my beloved stories, it is the one that has eternally snared the deepest, rarest love of my heart. This is the Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab collection I have been waiting for, since, well, forever and I feel very fortunate to share some of my thoughts on it with you today.
So…let me know what you think about this format! Actually, now that I look it over, it kinda looks… the same as the other BPAL reviews I write. Huh. How did that happen?? Well, I await and appreciate your feedback, all the same. And please do let us know if you have any favorites from this year’s Weenie collection! If you have questions about a particular scent that I did not mention below, leave a comment, and I’ll see if I can’t come up with an on-the-fly review for you.
And, also, wow…my preamble-less intro was a lie. Read on for the good stuff!
Les Heures de la Nuit (blackcurrant musk, white lime, and sparkling white cognac) Mimosa icing sugar frosting a tea cake? Cold black tea sweetened with a citrus blossom sugar?
Songs of Autumn I (sometime before: rain-damp grass and white sage) a herbaceous, purifying scent; hand made soap and icy, clear water.
Songs of Autumn III (dust and tumbleweeds, dry sage and chaparral, cactus nectar, and cinders) The scent of the absence of a thing; a melancholy, echoing pocket of once-was in a space where a thing was just-there. A faintly sweet, and slightly sad slip of void.
Songs of Autumn V (dry maple leaves, blackcurrant juice, patchouli root, and bourbon) It’s the sort of earthy-foresty-berried brew that a wood-witch keeps in a flask at their side for the revivification of lost souls and a nip for themselves on bone-cold nights. It’s probably about 51% ABV. I wish POM Wonderful made a version of it.
Dusk in Autumn (black tea, currant cake, mandrake root, a whirl of dried leaves, and hearthsmoke) Sara Teasdale made perfectly fragrant (I feel like the sweet comforts of her wonderful poetry were made expressly for this!) Dusky, musty, sweet autumn vegetation; the ancestral memory of smoke twisting up into a starry sky.
The Shadowed Veil (black pumpkin, leather, pomegranate incense, agarwood, and bourbon patchouli) a browned butter cake topped with autumn leaves and smoky icing sugar, served by the misty hands of by a solemn ghost; a widows (cake) walk.
Are You Digging on my Grave (snuggly musk, milky puppy breath, upturned earth, and a gently-gnawed bone) I was previously unaware of this poem, and the imagery plus the wonderfully pupper-centric scent notes make my heart sigh weepily. Dabbed on the wrist the fragrance conjures November-chilled cemetery gates, a frigid wind biting through woolen mittens, and an afternoon treat–a softly crumbling scone perhaps, wrapped in a clean cotton handkerchief, and stuffed deep into coat pockets for nibbling over forgotten gravestones.
The Empty House (black oud, woodsmoke, mahogany, pine pitch, and blackened pumpkin) the most delicious pine-log campfire coffeecake, enjoyed post-Wendigo escape.
Fall Leaves, Fall (starry musk melting into blackcurrant, black oudh, black roses, and blood-red maple leaves) this smells the way the phrase “a murmuration of starlings” feels on the tongue; spectral silhouettes fluttering behind closed eyelids in a cinematic sort of way.
Mictecacihuatl (copal, precious woods, South American spices, agave nectar, cigar tobacco, and roses) An intricately carved wooden tray with offerings of dried roses and fresh apricots, dusted with cocoa and cracked pink peppercorn.
The Listeners (mist-pale lilac, orris root, bruised violets, mugwort, white amber, yuzu, white champa, and white musk) Intensely aromatic dry, bitter citrus mingles with paraffin wax and fresh-cut, almost savory green capsicum for an oddly enjoyable scent that somehow smells exactly like the aggressively weird label art would have you believe it smells.
Pistachio Pumpkin Truffle an immediate deep saltiness, bordering on savory toastiness, followed by a wild, animalic chocolate. Like if cacao pods had scent glands.
Cozy Pumpkin Sweater (a dribble of pumpkin spice spilled onto a fluffy orange angora sweater) Ok so imagine that demented cashmere sweater scene from Lord Love A Duck but transplant it into the eternal autumn of the Sabrina universe. Pumpkin spices and that enchanted inch or so of knitted or woven fabric along your cardigan collar that even when removed at the end of the day, retains the warmth of your skin and the phantom perfume of your favorite shampoo.
Cardamom Cream Pumpkin Cake Cardamom is one of my favorite kitchen spices and, I think, one of the most unique scents and flavors that I’ve ever encountered. Woody, incense-y, soapy (is this just me?) and wonderfully aromatic–I add it to every “spiced” baked good I make, whether or not the recipe calls for it. In this instance, it makes for a warm, delicious fragrance, with milky-sweet aspects and a “fresh out of the oven” vibe.
Pumpkin Mead And Honey Cakes quintessential carmelized carbohydrates; the platonic ideal of a dense sticky, brown bread
Apple Butter Rum A fresh stick of butter, and a basket of fresh-picked apples. Later, these notes will come together in a cast-iron skillet and carmelize with sweet spices and a liberal spike of Kraken rum, but fresh out of the bottle, those two elements, the creamy dairy and the crisp fruit flesh, are so incredibly vivid and present and magically distinct from one another.
Sugar Skulls In The Pumpkin Patch Deliciously mouth-scratching Sour patch kids (strawberry?) + Downeast Maine pumpkin bread, the recipe I’ve been using from allrecipes.com since 2002
Miskatonic University Pumpkin Patch LILY–>GILDED Everything you love about the Irish coffee, dusty tomes, and polished oakwood of the original Misk U scent, added as an extra shot to a grande PSL. Somehow this really does call to mind a campus coffee shop for me (I went to a community college which I am pretty sure had no coffee shop, but I’ve got a good imagination.)
Devil’s Night In The Pumpkin Patch (a flaming pile of pumpkin guts, booze, and sweaty dark musk) A leathery dark musk, and the vegetal funk of clingy-stringy seasonal gourd innards. A crazy skeleton on a lurid horror paperback cover smells like this. Maybe this guy.
Popcorn Ball Snake Oil Popcorn is my favorite food. I could eat it for every meal. And while there are many “foodie” scents I don’t think I’d like to smell of, popcorn gets a pass. Hell yeah, I’ll smell like popcorn! This is the hot-toasty-salty-buttery-corniness of movie theatre popcorn, bound stickily with that sugary-resinous Snake Oil, which gives it a complexity and depth that you wouldn’t get with your run-of-the-mill, plain old popcorn perfume (because … there’s so many of them out there?)
Pumpkin Spice Snake Oil Here’s my Downeast Maine pumpkin bread again! But imagine if you substitute Snake Oil for the cooking oil (which I already swapped for olive oil) and the result is a sugared-vanilla incense-xxxspicy loaf (because I use at least three times as much cinnamon, too.)
Lollipop Snake Oil Effervescent, grapefruity-limey Fresca + a watermelon Dum Dum!
Carotene (sunset orange, a marigold-bright throb of light: sweet amber, ginger root, apricot, patchouli, red mandarin, chrysanthemum, and yam) if carrots smelled more like tangerines–fresh, citrusy, a little waxy; if tangerines grew up from the rooty earth rather than hung down from high, sunny branches.
Chlorophyll (dew-dotted grass, tea leaf, and sun-warmed herbs) Oddly enough, this smelled like a matcha custard bun when I sniffed it straight out of the bottle! On the wrist though, it is a riot of vibrant greens, from fresh tomato leaf to sharp ivy to sweet marjoram.
Anthocyanin (red musk, mandrake root, patchouli, pimento, saffron, red oudh, clove, and basil) Fall air rich with decaying leaves and cider-y scents and gorgeous spice and incense-saturated veils billowing in a sun-warmed October afternoon’s breeze. Like… if your very favorite head-shop had a stall at your favorite autumnal renaissance fair. This is basically the best of all worlds.
Dead Leaves, Cacao, and Sandalwood The most wearable chocolate I have ever encountered, sort of a dry, mossy cocoa chypre?
Dead Leaves, Nutmeg, Sweet Vetiver and Virginia Cedar I don’t normally love nutmeg, but this is such a sweet, simple, wholesome combination that now I want to start putting nutmeg and cedar shavings in my morning porridge. I also want to be the kind of person who eats porridge.
Dead Leaves And Chai Really lovely, reminds me of the enchantment of autumns in NJ. A sweet-tempered spiciness mingled with those manky, musty, softly rotting vegetal dead leaves–this is such a great combination. It conjures the memory of an evening stroll I took over a decade ago, on Halloween night. Without the slightest hint of a breeze, a whirlwind of crushed and broken leaves rose up from the sidewalk to swirl around my head. One smacked me in the face so hard it felt like someone punched me. It was weird and exhilarating.
Dead Leaves Green Cognac And Tea Rose Very-extra-super rose-centric! Damp rose petals, tenderly bruised.
Dead Leaves, Moss, And Mushrooms if there was ever a better argument for “more is more,” I don’t know what that could possibly be. My favorite “Dead Leaves” scents have thus far been those signature dead leaves plus some unexpectedly bright or springy floral pairing…but as it turns out, the very best one is comprised of a “like + like” formula. This one smells as if you had swept your favorite mug across an autumn flotsam of forest floor and brewed up in boiling rainwater all the sylvan sweepings you had gathered. Best served warm and cozy in tiny acorn cups, to ring of sleepy woodland creatures. If you love fall but you don’t love pumpkin, maple, or apple scents, I think you are really going to fall for this one. Pun intended–I always intend my puns.
The Country Gets Wilder As We Go (a snow-capped, untamed maze of fir, poplar, and oak. Ghostly beech reaching skeletal arms into the ink-black sky.) Sweet, peaceful mountain flowers.
The Meaner Things (thundercrack of ozone and moist, salty fog. A flap of leathery wings, a cluster of bark-brown feathers, and skittering, chattering black musk) A wolf in mermaid’s clothing; a subtly sweet aquatic for people who think they don’t like aquatics. Beautiful.
Wax Cylinders (polished mahogany, soft leather, and gold-molded wax) soft swirls of waxen, creamy, chewy, golden confections;
Death’s Head Moth (dusty brown sandalwood, nagarmotha, brown oudh, clove husk, white patchouli, black pepper, vetiver, green cumin, and ash.) Hand-made lace, only a little moth-eaten and musty, that has retained the gentle perfume of its owner –a combination of warm skin, fine-milled soap, and sweet, cooling herbs– a century later. This is an understated and sublimely beautiful scent. *I believe “nagarmotha” is a kind of cypress*
The Empty Coffin (dead roses, oud blanc, and white sandalwood) at the risk of sounding hyperbolic, this is the creepiest thing I have ever smelled. If you have ever sat, alone, in a funeral home and sniffed at the sterile atmosphere and softly rotting blooms, almost certain that your nose could eke out the decaying flesh and embalming fluid and grief and loss and heartbreak and terrifying dread of your own mortality, underneath it all. Well, then. I challenge you to dribble a bit of this on your wrist and try to read Dracula without going a little bit insane. (Edited to add: this dries down to an eerily beautiful rose.)
Flesh of my Flesh (deep crimson musk threaded with mesmerizing Tunisian amber, voluptuous champaca blossom, vanilla absolute, labdanum, bitter almond, and black orchid) This is a wildly hypnotic, narcotic scent; a feral floral with a hint of musk and talc.
Come, Sister (icy musk draped in osmanthus and white gardenia, a whisper of ti leaf and orchid, crystalline amber, and incense smoke) A chilly scent-scape of misty wheeling figures and transparent gloom, of intolerable laughter in sweet, tingling tones; the low voice in a dream that befools, and leads you from one nightmare to the next, promising weak light and wakefulness. A fragrance of lightly falling snow and beguiling madness.
The Sleeping Draught (a haze of lavender and black oudh, laudanum accord, and opium tar) first: sharp, somewhat camphoraceous lavender steam; later, a dark, sticky, honeyed sweetness, like opium manufacturers jumped on the cbd gummies trend. Ye olde-time sugar-dusted opium gumdrops.
The Sun Rises To-day ( blue lilac and violet leaf, white musk and eucalyptus, carrot seed and ti leaf.) Fruity amber, a lavender + violet tonic, lemony green tea.
The Blood Is The Life (blood trickling through thick, dark myrrh and a rivulet of unholy, desecrated sacramental wine) This is the deepest, richest, reddest, most indecent goblet of spiced wine.
Kisses for us All (red roses and honey, a throb of red musk, bitter neroli and clove husk all staining a slash of sheet-white vanilla sandalwood) Out of the bottle, this is very similar to the deep claret of The Blood Is The Life, but it shortly differentiates itself as jammier, stickier, and more floral in the way that sometimes tuberose smells to me like grape jellies.
The Embodiment of Funeral Gloom (a shroud of black agarwood, cypress, myrrh, and upturned earth, scattered with crushed lavender and creeping with moss-smothered stone) This is an uncanny creation and smells exactly like this passage: “Never did cypress, or yew, or juniper so seem the embodiment of funeral gloom.” I mean, that’s always the point, I’m sure, to have your work match up with your vision, but dang they nailed this and if you want whispering shrouds and grave tombs and misty clouds and ominous doom, you have come to the right place.
Lucy’s Eyes (a pulsing infernal amber, shot through with lilac-blue, bloodshot and blazing) Lilac and amber really is a strange and sinister combination! Miky green leaves, dewy and fresh, incased eternally in a glowing amber shrine. The amber lends a perversely sweet note to the potion, a sort of “evil Play-Doh” vibe. If Lucy rose out of her coffin and filmed a relaxing slime ASMR compilation for her YouTube channel, the shimmering ooze would smell like this.
The Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab Halloween 2019 collection of perfumes, hair glosses, and atmosphere sprays are currently live and available for purchase. As this is a limited edition series, sample sizes imps are not available for Weenie 2019.
Order of the Dragon illustrations by Abigail Larson