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Black Walnut

Eau de Parfum
John Biebel - January Scent Project

John: Smile O voluptuous cool-breath’d earth!
Earth of the slumbering and liquid trees!

- Walt Whitman, "Song of Myself"

When Dave and I tossed around ideas about a fragrance that we would work on together, there was no shortage of mental paths we could wander along. What surfaced repeatedly was the black walnut (Juglans nigra) - a species of walnut tree that grows in the eastern United States - and one that produces the most curious, ubiquitous, fragrant, nourishing and confounding fruits imaginable.

As they grow and mature, they fall from the tree looking like tennis balls, making a resounding thud as they hit the grass, emitting a citrus-like fragrance in fleshy capsules. Once you break through the outer skin (which contains a powerful golden brown dye) and scrape away the dense flesh, you eventually find the hard, woody nut. The smell of black walnuts is beguiling: like traditional English walnuts but amplified, stronger, much less refined. They are prized for their pronounced, wild flavor, but because of how hard they are to open, they've never been commercially viable, so they remain rare, odd, fascinating.

For Dave and me, the trees have been a constant as we've moved to different places that we've considered "home". During our work on this fragrance, he shipped me a box of black walnuts that had fallen from trees near him in North Carolina, and I compared them with black walnuts of my area in Rhode Island, and some that I collected in Buffalo, New York. Terroir aside, the walnuts were remarkably similar. During the early creation stages of the fragrance, a black walnut accord emerged that was brought to its full expression as a perfume. It highlights the curious singularity of black walnut's distinctly American profile. - JB

Dave: If my family shares a scent memory it's of the fruit and nut of the Black Walnut tree. Every fall, these disruptive giants drop impossibly dense fruit everywhere, their pulpy husks staining our fingers and clothes and attracting all manner of critters and birds. At night, we wake to the thunk of them landing on the roof, and by the end of the season there will be squirrel strewn piles of discarded peel and shell pouring from every corner of our back deck. The walk to my mailbox is a minefield of the fruit in every state, and I always stop to smell them - this odd little heirloom with its nose-tingling, sharp citrus pulp and earthy, bittersweet nut.

In 2021, after a few conversations about each of our experiences with this unique tree, I sent my friend John a box of the freshly fallen fruit to play with, to pick apart, and most importantly to smell. As a result, on behalf of American Perfumer it’s my pleasure to present  “Black Walnut” by John Biebel.

Black Walnut Notes: Bergamot, Mexican lime, black walnut, cypress, syringa, cinnamon, black pepper, orange blossom, cashmeran, Haitian vetiver, sandalwood, vanilla, oakmoss, oud.

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