This is a quick post, no illustration other than the photo of the microplane, because it was written quickly for my students who are on an ambergris buying binge. They’re familiar with the use of scales in making perfume, so I just used the same format to write the instructions for making ambergris tincture. I hope this can help you in making this wonderful, valuable tincture.

First, a fun photo, assembled by the folks at Ambergris NZ. They ran a contest on the Yahoo Natural Perfumery group I host a few years ago, and the lucky winner(s) received some real ambergris as a prize. So many people are fooled by their beach finds – I hope this can help clear up some of the confusion. Keep in mind, there are always exceptions to the rule. Now that we have the caveats and a bit of visual education out of the way, on to the instructions on how to make an ambergris tincture for your perfume.

An ambergris ID photo and list of frequently misidentified objects

An ambergris ID photo and list of frequently misidentified objects Source: Ambergris NZ

The tincture is very easy to make, and very rewarding. You do need to age it a minimum of six months for the scent to fully mature and develop into a wondrous product. In the old days, the perfume houses had machines built that agitated the mixture, but that is nearly impossible for the artisan perfumer. In the past, I’ve simply shaken the jar when I remember, and one time, I did put it on a magnetic stirrer, but didn’t actually notice any difference between that and the one that I shook occasionally.

Some use a mortar and pestle to pulverize the ambergris, but that is not acceptable to me, because too much precious ambergris remains adhered to both objects. I prefer the stainless steel microplane, a tool originally mean for woodworking, but since adopted by cooks – and this perfumer! :-) It quickly and efficiently reduces ambergris to a fine powder, and non remains behind on the object.

You’ll want to make the ambergris solution an industry standard of 3-4 percent. Here’s where your knowledge of using a scale comes in handy. If you have three grams of ambergris, you’ll grate that. and use 97 grams of alcohol, which equals a total of 100 grams of tincture at 3%. You can adjust the numbers up and down, according to the amount of ambergris you have.

Microplane grater suitable for making ambergris tincture

Microplane grater suitable for making ambergris tincture

Here’s what you’ll need:
– Ambergris chunk of known weight (eg. three grams)
– Scale that measures to a tenth of a gram
– Beaker
– 190 proof alcohol or oil, such as almond or jojoba. Substitute oil for alcohol in instructions below, if you wish.
– Microplane grater*
– Piece of large paper, letter size
– Jar with airtight lid
– Label
Assemble all of the above materials on a table and make sure there isn’t a fan or other strong breeze in the room.
1. Open the jar and put it to the side, with the lid next to it.
2. Write the name of the tincture, type of ambergris, ambergris supplier, date, and tincture percentage on the label with a waterproof pen, and place it on the jar.
3. Place the beaker, alcohol, scale, ambergris, and grater to one side.
4. Place the piece of large paper in front of you.
5. Pick up the grater, and hold it at a 45 degree angle to the paper.
6. Pick up the ambergris, and begin to grate it, making sure the powder is falling within the perimeter of the edge of the paper.
7. When finished grating, pick up the edges of the paper, and gently tap it to move the powder to the center of the paper.
8. Lift the paper, and using it as a “slide”, allow the ambergris powder to slide into the jar. Tap the bottom of the paper to make sure all the powder gets dislodged into the jar. (This is the part where I sniff he paper to enjoy the fragrance).
9. Turn on the scale, and place the beaker on it.
10. Tare the beaker.
11. Add the appropriate amount of alcohol to the beaker to reach the percentage you need. (ex. if using three grams of ambergris powder, you’ll need 97 grams of alcohol.
12. Pour the alcohol into the jar with the ambergris powder, and place the lid on the jar.
13. Gently “swirl” the alcohol and ambergris to put them into solution.
14. Put the tincture in a cool, dark place and shake daily, if possible, or use mixer. You can see mixers and Teflon mixer bars on eBay if you are interested in obtaining one. Use of them is covered in the Intermediate Level of the course.
15. Allow your ambergris tincture to mature for a minimum of six months.
16. I do not filter the tincture when it is done. I pipette the amount I need from the clear part of the tincture, leaving the grated bits on the bottom undisturbed. When I make the next batch of tincture, I add the leftover grated bits from the previous tincture (unweighed, a bit of lagniappe) to the new batch, a trick from the wine and liquor industry!

* Microplane graters originated in North America, and I’m not sure about their availability worldwide. You can find them on eBay and also Amazon, and many kitchen supply sites. You may substitute something similar, of course. Here is what one type of microplane looks like, there are wider models. I only use the one with fine teeth like this one:

I’ve been working with ambergris for about fifteen years, and I have some vintage tinctures that are as beautiful as you can imagine. Here’s a review of a book on the subject I was interviewed for the book, but wasn’t included, too bad, there were some points I could have cleared up, as I was one of three people that vetted the Carolina piece mentioned in the book. It was originally sold by Eden Botanicals. I have about ten grades of ambergris in my studio, and I love all of them, from the ethereal white and silver vintage pieces, to the funky black new stuff. When you see what ambergris can do for your perfumes, you’ll love them all, too.

Happy ambergris adventures!