Dapper Mandrake Goes A Courtin’ (elegant tendrils of mandrake, vetiver, and galangal root splashed with a debonaire cologne) This earthy, spicy, jaunty rhizome is a snazzy gent and has splashed a verdantly aromatic-cedary-citrusy essence on his whiskery roots to make a good first impression, put his best foot forward, so to speak. It is unfortunate that in doing so, he neglected to put either foot through a pants leg. But he smells so dashing and handsome that you can almost forget the fact that he showed up for your date without a stitch of clothing on.
Ginormous Yule-ified Yard Skeleton (Sandalwood bones festooned with a pumpkin garland and twinkling multicolored lights groaning under the weight of crushed peppermint snow) You know how sometimes those glossy, glowing multicolored strands of Christmas lights on a dark, cold wintry night look like sour, sugar-crystal candied neon orbs strung on chewy licorice filaments? No? Well, they do to me! Imagine you could just crunch your way through all of them. That’s what this scent smells like, just pure, irradiated broken-toothed-but-worth-it joy.
Snow White 2022 (a chilly, bright perfume: flurries of virgin snow, crisp winter wind, and the faintest breath of night-blooming flowers.) Though I’ve tried several versions of the Lab’s Snow White over the years –even one all the way back in 2005!– I have never once written a review for it. It always smells like a revelation, and you know how wily and ineffable those things can be. It’s almost impossible to paint a picture of; it’s all fleeting impressions, like a dream that you wake up from and you’re like, “…I was dreaming of Edmund Dulac’s Snow Queen, and sugared almonds, and fluffy, and chilly-almost-minty-but-it can’t-be-mint-because-I-hate-mint, right? And vanilla, coconutty filigree fluffy snowflakes, and whispery arctic-floral musks? …And you were there, too!” You know, that kind of dream. It sweetly cocooned you all night, and even though you can’t recall the specifics, you can still smell it on your wrists in the morning.
Kentucky Bourbon Fruitcake (a big hunk of homemade fruitcake soaking in 90 proof) buttery yellow cake batter laden with the hypernatural lurid fruity sweetness of jade green and synthwave sunset red candied cherries, a sour bit of citron, and the tartness of dried pineapple; there’s a measuring cup nearby spilling with the potent tannic, caramel-scented fumes of oak barrel-aged whiskey and yeah, you’re eventually going to drench the cake in it after it’s done baking and leave the whole thing on the counter to mellow overnight, but for now you’re gonna stick a straw in it and slurp a bit of the top as a treat for the cook. Maybe munch on a few of those pecans you decided at the last moment not to stir in. It’s your kitchen, your rules!
Pink and Blue Candy Canes (the pillowy warmth of strawberry cotton candy, cooled with a gentle breath of blueberry vanilla mint) I don’t know how to explain this in a way that makes sense to people who function normally. But do you ever resist something or not allow yourself to experience something because you feel in your heart that x/y/or z thing isn’t meant “for people like you”? I’m not even certain what that means, exactly, but it’s a feeling that’s been tethered to my soul, strangling it, for as long as I can remember. And whatever those off-limit things are, I know them when I see them. They’re usually fun, playful, or exciting things, and there’s just something deep-seated within me that’s forever admonishing me, making me feel foolish even for thinking that I could ever partake in anything merry and mirthful, that my presence would ever be welcome at the table of joy. I think the pink and blue candy cane, that nostalgic, old-fashioned hard candy hook in a fusion of blue and pink twisted stripes, epitomizes all of those feelings in one eye-twitchingly sweet, crunchy confection. BPAL’s interpretation of these sweets is a fluffy, spun sugar strawberry jam-scented hug, with a cool, ozonic blueberry pancake whisper of “treat yo’self.” It is warm, and it is gentle, and in my reviews, I desperately try not to use the same words and descriptors as the Lab has used in their note listing (because what’s even the point of me writing this here and now if I am doing that?) But their description of this scent is exactly what it is, and my ramblings here about it are basically just me barfing my angst on you in the meantime.
Birb Mob (starry musk and smoldering pink peppercorn ashes cascading into a snowdrift) Frosty, flickering starlit vistas; a graceful matrix of fragmented crystalline horizon; a dazzling and dreamlike view observed by a curious, many-eyed creature, its hollow bones aloft in a strange sky illuminated by waves of flowing aurora, while three pale moons simultaneously rise in the evening. A soft woody-rosy floral piquancy scents the air as silvery stars fall like snowflakes, sizzling and shimmering in the breathless cold.
Black Julbocken Alchemy Lab (shaggy black wool and a slushy tangle of juniper, mistletoe, winter sage, spikenard, white moss, and terebinth) A blood-memory of pagan festivals, and mystical ecstasy, evanescent shadows coalescing into giant woodland spirits cavorting in the dark, the scent of the animalic and fungal, leathery root and balsamic wood, a reed-wrapped parcel tossed in the flames at midnight, gingery, peppery spiced sparks drifting lazily skyward.
Welcome Unto Thee (champagne and marshmallows) A fairy-tale fruit danish, some lush combination of passionfruit and apricot (but somehow not fruity at all? Like a ghostly indentation where the fruit once briefly was nestled, and then a gremlin crept in and ate it, so it never made it into the finished pastry?) swirled with cream cheese and wrapped in twinkly, effervescent vanilla cream soda cellophane.
Snow Snake (a chilly interpretation of Snake Oil; sweet, spiced musk with a crunch of snow and frost-hardened patchouli) I’ve countless times alluded to the sugared vanilla incense patchoulified potency of Snake Oil, how I adore it, how it’s a massively swoony scent –but the key word there is “massive.” There is no such thing as applying a “little bit” of Snake Oil; even a scant droplet is probably too much. I’ve not yet encountered a combination that can tame its monstrous throw…until they paired it with the wintry shivers of their snow, frost, and ice notes. Imagine Snake Oil’s narcotic slithers relentlessly winding their way up your nose, but then envision those heady slitherations crystalizing into the magic of spiraling frozen undulations, blanketed in the cold and hibernating, snake-charmed, chilled out.
Shortbread Diamonds (crumbly dough made with brown sugar and butter) You think this is going to be a simple, straightforward scent. You would be wrong. It begins as rich, buttery, generously salted–nearly briny– shortbread crust, but just as you’re imagining it quivering with, say, an eggy black olive and manchego cheese mixture just before entering a 350° oven to quiche-ify, it surprises you. It becomes a lightly caramelized oaky vanilla-orchid floral, the type of thing that wants to catch more flies with honey than it does with vinegar, the thing that softens and sweetens with age and experience and has learned to pick its battles, and sometimes that still just actually means all of the battles because your life and what you’ve made of it–and of yourself, in all of your sweet and salty and quichey and caramel incarnations, in all the tragedy and beauty of being a human–is delicious and gorgeous and worth fighting for. I don’t know why this fucking perfume is making me cry, but here we are. The above image is my attempt at making the recipe that inspired this fragrance (I’m afraid I let them get a little brown, le whoopsie.)
Cranberry Honeyed Sandalwood Patchouli Root A gnome and a hare picnic in the forest and share a small pot of sour, tart, aromatic cranberry tea lively with woodland nuances, along with a napkin-knotted plate of rich, brown, sugared-sprinkled honey cake. A bear on a scavenger hunt interrupts. A tense moment. A frog belches on a nearby log. The hare’s whiskers quiver with of mixture of fear and giggles and a sweet dusting of crumbs, and soon, the trio is laughing companionably together as new friends.
Carved Wooden Bookstore (polished oak bark, tiny books with tea-stained pages and faux-leather binding, a scattering of dust, and the gleaming painted fur of a porcelain calico book shop cat) The rich, oaken warmth of a firelit library in a grand country estate that you’ve been entreated to make yourself at home in; your host had to take a phone call, so please, browse the leather-bound titles, flip through those well-worn pages to your heart’s content. Beeswax candles flicker in the reflections of the gilt-edged mirrors hung from every spare inch of unshelved wall space, and as you marvel at the glowing refractions on the shimmering glass, a curious draft tickles your skin and shivers up your spine. Where could this peculiar chill be coming from? The room is nearly as warm as being swaddled in a down comforter in your bed at home! You trace its path to the bookshelf, where you notice a fine layer of dust along the surfaces of the floor-to-ceiling shelving and their contents, with the exception of one pristine title that appears absolutely untouched by time or human hand. You reach out to examine the book, and as your fingers graze the pebbled binding, you hear a series of clicks and the grating of hinges as that solid wooden shelf swings heavily inward…revealing a hidden staircase. Do you a.) hastily fumble the scene back into order, take a seat, and wait for your host? or b.) grab a candle stick and descend into the dark? In either scenario, you’ll smell of a mysteriously cozy Choose Your Own Adventure room full of books and firelight and waxy, dripping candles sitting atop delicate powdery doilies.
Boozy Lemon Shortbread (a sharp, limoncello-spiked curd baked into a shortbread crust, dusted with powdered sugar) The scent of the best, the ultimate, the most winningest cookie to bring to cookie swap night! Just the perfect amount of sugar, fresh lemon zest, and real butter, the good stuff, Kerrygold or your local dairy equivalent–and your secret ingredient: each cookie is served with a full-sized lemon drop martini. I’m not saying you’ll win because you got the judges drunk (and I’m not saying you won’t be disqualified* for bribing the judges!), but I think either way, it’ll be a good time.
*you guys, when I was writing this, for the life of me, I could not think of the word “disqualified.” I kept wanting to write “excommunicated.”
Carved Wooden Cultist Lair (sweet, dark incense swirling around flame-scorched ebony wood) I am currently reading a book called The Honeys by Ryan Lasala. I am actually listening to the audio version at 1.40 speed because I am attempting to read 200 books this year, and in scheming about all the ways that I can make this happen, I’m trying all the little hacks. So this story–which is marketed as a YA queer novel, described as “Heathers” meets “Midsommer,” but it doesn’t really feel YA to me, but then again, my idea of YA is from 20 years ago– takes place at a prestigious summer camp where there is a secretive, elusive clique of teenage girls. The Honeys. I think they are aspiring beekeepers or somesuch. I’m not very far into the book, and they are not the main character (the MC is a gorgeously witty gender-fluid individual, Mars, who is at the camp investigating his twin sister’s death), but when I smelled the incense component of Carved Wooden Cultist Lair, I immediately thought of The Honeys, and of honey in general. If you heat honey on the stovetop, and the lusty, dusky scent of wildflowers, orange blossoms, and jasmine, warming and cooling and hardening in some sort of arcane incense-making process, results in a series of small vaguely bee-shaped cones, smelling of burnt sugars, resins, musks, and florals. They dry and age on sharp, peppery, balsamic-smelling wooden shelves and are sold on roadside stands and farmer’s markets, and whoever lights a little bee in their home is visited by strange, sweet, stinging dreams. (This doesn’t happen in the book, FYI. Just me letting my imagination run away with me.)
Knave of Snowflakes (blackcurrant tarts and chilled rose jam) This is so pretty, it’s almost unreal. Sweet, juicy-jammy, ripe blackcurrants cooked to deep purple stickiness, filling an almond pastry, topped with pillowy mounds of coconut vanilla custard, and served with a tiny scoop of wild rose petal ice cream. And somehow, none of this is in the least bit foody– there’s this ghostly bitter-green veil that delivers the whole thing as a luminous, ferny fougère.
Teapot Full of Angst (black tea with vetiver, almond, black patchouli, tobacco absolute, bitter lemon peel, and oud) What an incredibly weird and wonderful fragrance! This is a thick, rich, gooey tea-flavored fudge spiked with citrus and which reveals some evocative earthy elements that emerge as it dries. It’s as if a pot of strong tea was boiled down with a teacup full of brown sugar, a goodly glug of molasses, and slivers of bright yellow lemon peel, and then the mixture was stirred together with an entire box of sweet, nutty, whole wheat graham crackers crumbs and left on a counter to cool and set overnight. Fast forward about twenty years, and rather than the treat itself, this fragrance smells of its dusty, stained magazine clipping recipe card and which was secretly buried in the back garden by your eccentric relative because they didn’t want anyone to have their recipe after they died. This is why we dig it up and make the hell out of it and shout the recipe from the rooftops– because we don’t believe in gatekeeping the good stuff.
The Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab 2022 Yule collection is currently live and available for purchase. As this is a limited edition series, sample sizes imps are not available.
Need more Yule scents? Have a peep at my Yule reviews from 2021 and a single review for 2019 though I could swear I have several years’ worth of BPAL Yule reviews floating around that out there. And I know this because…
…PSSSST! Did you know I have collected all of my BPAL reviews into one spot? I’m about a year behind with adding new stuff to the document, but as it stands, there are over 60 PAGES of my thoughts and rambles on various limited-edition scents from Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab over the years: BPAL REVIEWS BY S. ELIZABETH (PDF download)
If you would like to support this blog, consider buying the author a coffee?
Thanks for sharing your PDF!
I had to go back into the bpal.org archives after reading this post, to see if Snow Snake bore any resemblance to 2017's Frostbitten Snake Oil. It seems that it does not, even though both have the notes of Snake Oil and both seem to be toned down (as far as Snake Oil can ever be) by the cold notes.
S. Elizabeth says
You're welcome! It definitely needs to be updated...I think I put that together in 2020 or 2021, and I'm sure I have written at least one hundred or more reviews since then!
Gooorgeous reviews - thank you! Now I want them all!
S. Elizabeth says
Thank you! If I *had* to pick a favorite or two, I think it would be Julbocken and Carved Wooden Cultist Lair!