Glenlivet and the distilled spirit of the Scottish Highlands are the inspiration behind Spirit of the Glen, an evocative fragrance from the American indie brand, D.S. & Durga. It’s part of a trio that comprise the HYLNDS Collection, and I thought that the concepts behind both the fragrance and the Collection itself to be fascinating. Really, I loved them, so I hope you’ll forgive a brief digression into the details.
According to the copy quoted on First in Fragrance, the HYLNDS Collection “seeks to recall the myth infused lands of Northern Europe. Tracing legends from antiquity, the Iron and Viking Age, HYLNDS fragrances are made with an in depth research into historical documents, aromatic analysis of real places, and the artistic creation of the Celtic, Norse, Manx, and Anglo peoples.” The story behind Spirit of the Glen may be even cooler, at least for a scotch drinker. Luckyscent says it arose out of an actual collaboration between perfumer David Moltz and Glenlivet “to craft a fragrance worthy of their flagship 18-year aged whisky.” As he explains on DS & Durga, to bottle the scent of their famous Speyside single malt, The Glenlivet 18, he went so far as to use accords “from all aspects of whisky production” right down to “charred bourbon barrel” and touches of “sherry cask.”
Spirit of the Glen is an eau de parfum that was released in 2013. The official DS & Durga description of the scent and its notes states, in large part:
O’er Highland peaks, remote Caledonia swathed in primeval forest, green mantle where men-of-the-raven repelled the ignoble few by the bootlegger bridge. Fog, cave still’s steam plumes, the cold water flows the pristine spirit of The Glenlivet. Barley, pineapple weed, wild chamomile, Scots pine, ages in rare woods. Limousin oak, charred bourbon barrel, touches of sherry cask. Unmistaken purity from the land of the smooth flowing one.
Accords taken from all aspects of whisky production – opens fresh and fruity, releases oak in the heart, and finishes with rich, vanillic wood reminiscent of The Glenlivet 18.
[Notes:] Pear, Grass, Pineapple Weed, Limousin Oak, Wild Chamomile, Hay, Barley Malt, Charred Bourbon Barrel, Sherry Cask
It’s a wonderful description, and Spirit of the Glen lives up to it in its opening moments. The perfume debuts with the precise “charred bourbon barrel” that was promised. In olfactory terms, it’s really the aroma of cade and birch woods but they are redolent of bourbon whisky and scotch because they are infused with smoked peat, earthiness, grass, and a hint of hay before being drenched in a liqueured fruity booziness. The fruit doesn’t seem like pear on my skin; when I used a low fragrance application, it didn’t seem like any particular or specific fruit whatsoever but, with a generous amount equal to about 2.5 sprays, there was a distinct, definite pineapple nuance. To be precise, the scent of some sort of pineapple brandy or cognac. In the background, barley hops and a sticky malt weave in and out from time to time.
For the most part, though, Spirit of the Glen’s opening is centered primarily on singed, lightly smoked types of booze-laden woods, peat, and earthiness. There is a distinct patchouli quality underlying the various wood accords, a common spicy, smoked, sweet, earthy and dry aspect that both materials share. The difference is that these woods are thoroughly imbued with alcohol and various types of smoked greenness. While I think Spirit of the Glen contains at least a little bit of patchouli in one of its woody blends (along with cade and birch), I am absolutely convinced that vetiver is behind much of the smoky, peaty, and earthy tonalities. I would bet a lot of money on it not only because vetiver gradually becomes a major player on my skin, but also because another Highlands-and-whisky fragrance, Profumum‘s Fumidus, explicitly included vetiver (and birch) and smells similar.
In the beginning, the cumulative effect of all these elements is a clearly delineated, strong, and solid sense of “whisky.” But it isn’t really the sort of single malt scotch that I had envisioned. None of the ones that I’ve tried have ever been as sweet as Spirit of the Glen. They’ve been much drier, peatier, oakier, practically tannic, leathery, and medicinally tarry in a way. In contrast, this “tastes” more like sweet, wheat-style, caramel-laced Kentucky bourbon that’s been blended with a slug of Scottish single malt. It’s not the taste of a pure Islay scotch like Lagavulin, Laphroaig, or Ardbeg (which is what I had hoped for, to be honest). That will seem like semantics to most of you but I’m writing this review with a specific reader in mind, an expert on Scotch whiskys, and I know a few others who are quite particular about their single malts as well, so I thought I would mention it.
Still, it’s a lovely bouquet. Ten minutes in, Spirit of the Glen is redolent of Kentucky bourbon, charred (cade and birch) barrels, peat, earth, smoky vetiver, and barley malt, all flecked with thin filaments of chamomile, hay, vaguely pineapple-ish liqueured fruits, and a pinch of spicy patchouli as well. In the base, there are quiet glimmers of vanilla slowly unveiling, a very dark, woody vanilla mixed with Bourbon and more caramel-like varieties. Yet, I have to emphasize again, that the vast majority of the bouquet on my skin is various types of smoky liqueured woods inlaid with the different facets of vetiver.
The sum of its parts may amount to “whisky,” but those parts quickly assert themselves, take over, and lead the scent in a very different direction. The clarity and solidity of the bourbon whiskey lasts only 10 to 15 minutes on my skin before it’s infused by those other accords, then swallowed up and buried by them entirely. The birch wood, peaty smoked vetiver, and what I’m convinced is some patchouli each become stronger and stronger in their own right. As they intensify, the liqueured sweetness fades. A mere 20 minutes in, “whisky” is only an impressionistic, abstract sense rather than a clearly delineated, chunky, solid, real presence on my skin. About 30-40 minutes in, that impression grows fainter still. By the end of the first hour, it’s completely vanished amidst a sea of smoked vetiver peat, charred barrels of birch and oak, and earthy, spicy patchouli, all splattered with tiny drops of chamomile and a very dry, woody vanilla.
In a sense, all of this replicates the stages in a sip of whisky. That was DS & Durga’s goal and one that they stated explicitly: Spirit of the Glen replicates “all aspects of whisky production — opens fresh and fruity, releases oak in the heart, and finishes with rich, vanillic wood reminiscent of The Glenlivet 18.” If you insert “smoky, peaty vetiver” in lieu of “oak,” then that description accurately sums up almost the entirety of Spirit of the Glen’s development. When you drink whisky, the “top” or very first part of the aged liqueur bears the aroma or taste of fruits macerated in ambered sweetness. Once they fade away, what’s left is the long middle; in this case, the smoky vetiver peat, charred woods, the earth, and the vanilla-tinged notes. In a sip of whisky, the “finish” often does amount to “vanillic woods” and the fragrance delivers on that, too, even going so far on a few occasions to create the rough impression of the “sherry casks” mentioned in the note list. I can’t fault DS & Durga for achieving their goal so accurately and thoroughly. And, yet, I’m still frustrated that the concrete, clear or hardcore olfactory sensation of “whisky” — the “taste” of the first sip, so to speak — was limited primarily to the first 10 to 15 minutes on my skin. In short, the blasted fragrance cycled through the best part far too rapidly, transitioning into something far less distinctive, compelling, and original.
The middle phase that begins at the end of the first hour is quite a long one. For six hours, not much happens except fluctuations to the prominence or nuance of certain notes. Spirit of the Glen grows smokier after 2.5 hours, and its vetiver takes on a leathery nuance from the birch. It’s not the hardcore, oily, medicinal, birch tar-smoky vetiver monster of Profumum‘s Fumidus, but Spirit of the Glen does occasionally feel like a tame, baby version of it. The leatheriness in the base is also accompanied by a streak of something like raw tobacco, but neither lasts. At the start of the 4th hour, both are replaced with a light coating of hay.
At the same time, the vanilla rises up from the base to become the third player on center stage. It’s a dry, woody vanilla in the vein of Aftelier‘s Vanilla Smoke, only the darkness here does not come from Lapsang Souchong smoke but from the vetiver and charred birch wood. Spirit of the Glen is now primarily smoky, peaty vetiver and two types of woods, one stained with dry vanilla, one that is singed birch. A few inconsequential strands of hay are sprinkled on top, while the base sometimes wafts a ghostly glimmer of something caramel-like. It’s difficult to tell because everything the vetiver and smokiness are the only things that are a really solid presence on my skin. Everything else feels rather scattered, and fused into a general “woodiness.” Plus, Spirit of the Glen is so soft and quiet on my skin that it’s hard to pull it apart. The fragrance isn’t quite a skin scent at the top of the 4th hour, but it’s close.
Spirit of the Glen’s drydown or “finish” begins midway through the 7th hour. The vanilla is now as strong as the vetiver and woods but all three are fused together in such a way that the result is a simple woody-vanilla-vetiver fragrance. Gradually, the vanilla takes over, leaving the vetiver as a mere trace in the background. From the 10th hour until its very end, Spirit of the Glen is merely a wisp of dry, vanillic woods. At times, it does indeed conjure up thoughts of the “sherry casks” in the note list, but it’s never a boozy aroma so much as the scent of wood that just so happens to be delicately sweetened.
Spirit of the Glen had good longevity but soft projection and sillage. Using several wide, generous smears equal to somewhere between 2 and 2.5 small sprays from a bottle, the fragrance opened with about 3-4 inches of projection and roughly the same amount of sillage. The projection dropped to about 1.5 inches after 90 minutes, but the scent trail remained the same. Roughly 3.5 hours into its development, Spirit of the Glen felt extremely soft, airy, and thin, sticking close to the body. It turned into a skin scent at the 4.5 hour mark, but wasn’t too difficult to detect until the 9th hour. It took a bit of effort at that point. Still, to my surprise, Spirit of the Glen clung on tenaciously as a thin coating right on the skin until the 13th hour. One reason I went beyond my usual baseline of a “2 spray” equivalent was because, when I used a smaller amount, it was more difficult to ascertain the nuances of the scent after the 2nd hour beyond “smoky vetiver-woods,” and the fragrance became quiet, sheer, and blurry quite quickly. Using a few smears equal to 1 good spray from a bottle, Spirit of the Glen demonstrates less layers, felt more linear, became a skin scent after 3.5 hours, and lasted about 8.5 hours in total.
Reviews for Spirit of the Glen seem to be all over the place, and I wouldn’t even know where to begin in summarizing them. On Fragrantica, one person calls it “chaos” that smelt like: “Malt sweet earthy notes woods allot of coal & some floral. Boozy with sour grains & seeds[.]” He hated it. A second wasn’t keen on Spirit of the Glen, either, saying that it opened with “petroleum, medicinal sweetness” and that the fragrance was in the Slumberhouse style.
Slumberhouse comes up in other comments as well. “Subspace” thought Spirit of the Glen was “a kind of leggy, wild, hysterical version” of Jeke:
It is definitely boozy, and the vanilla woods forefront and almost unpleasant. Like a bottle of somewhat cheap vanilla extract, with the harsh alcohol and slight bitterness intact. [¶] It dries to more of the hay and grain spectrum, but for me never really looses its “crazy eyes” at the beginning. Which is not a bad thing.
For “42gr,” Spirit of the Glen was a brother to Sova. However, for him as for me, the boozy aspect seemed to last only 10 minutes before the fragrance changed, and he wrote that “The ride from top notes to mid and finally base is far too quick.” On his skin, the second phase was “bi-modal,” split between two very different strands:
the cohesion of the initial hit begins to separate into at least two distinct scents. It becomes bi-modal. The two scents drift so far apart in character, they no longer meld as one. [¶] One strand presents with sweetness reminiscent of fairy-floss sugar. The Malt maybe ? The other presents as quite skanky (hay ?) Hay is one of my favorites, but this is more than hay. [¶] In the third phase skank, dominates.
I prefer the lack of Tobacco in Spirit of the Glen compared to Sova. Both are sweet, Glen settles down with a sweetness that dominates too much in the mid notes with Skank then taking over in the latter base notes, softening after 1/2 hour or so.
Another commentator, however, didn’t think Spirit of the Glen was either skanky or too sweet, loved the fragrance after the green opening, and said that the finish reminded her of the oak-vanilla base in Imaginary Authors‘ Memoirs of a Trespasser. Her issue was with sillage or longevity instead:
Absolutely in love with this one. [¶] The opening is fresh and sharp for me, but the greenness and grass quickly settles down into warm hay (hello, tonka bean) which then mellows into this addicting woody, carmelly-without-being-sweet vanilla[.] […] I wouldn’t have guessed the boozy inspiration, but after reading about it, it makes a lot of sense, though it never smells boozy in the way that some scents do. […]
This changes gradually over time on my skin before fading away to a faint woody vanilla near the skin[.] […] I’m just a sucker for that sort of oak-vanilla base – a similar base shows up in Imaginary Authors Memoirs of a Trespasser which is also among my favorites.
Silage is enormous at first but quickly settles down to skin, sadly fades after about 3-4 hours.
On Basenotes, Spirit of the Glen has only one review and it is quite negative, although “Giantbirdo” technically opted for a “neutral” rating. He writes in full:
Starts wonderful like a freshly poured jigger of fine whisky then dries down to a disgusting sickly sweet, vanilla, grass thing that I can’t wash off fast enough. I accidentally sprayed the sleeve of my jacket and its 5 days later as strong as ever. This basenote is a beast that has fought my attempts to kill it with dish soap, windex and hand sanitizer. Short of acetone I think I’m beat. Wtf!
Whether something seems like perfect sweetness or “sickly” excess is going to come down to one’s personal taste and skin chemistry. For several people on Fragrantica, Spirit of the Glen was never too sweet, and the lone commentator on Luckyscent felt the same way as well, giving Spirit of the Glen a five-star rating and writing: “This is such an interesting fragrance. Its warm and sweet without being syrupy. This is a multi-layered and sophisticated scent. The slightly sour whiskey combines beautifully with the sweetness of vanilla. This very unique and delicious scent is a masterpiece in my opinion. At the very least, get a sample and give it a shot!”
I didn’t think it was too sweet either, but for different reasons than everyone else. To repeat an old refrain, my skin chemistry does strange things to vetiver. It turns it into mint in 9 out of 10 fragrances (which is why I’m not keen on the note), but my skin also amplifies even small amounts to the point where the vetiver occasionally overshadows elements that are meant to be more important. Here, my wonky chemistry created just as much “mint” as smoky peat, expanded them to drown out much of the vanilla, and also kept the fragrance on the darker, drier side. Obviously, it’s a personal issue that won’t apply to other people. They should get a lot of the vanilla woods that the majority of commentators either allude to or describe explicitly, but whether or not you think it’s “too sweet” will depend on your personal baseline for such things and also on your skin chemistry.
In all cases, though, I think you are bound to experience a noticeable amount of vetiver and smoky birch at some point on your skin, so you should love both of them if you’re going to try Spirit of the Glen. The “greenness” mentioned by some (including in D.S. & Durga’s own description) and the “coal” or “medicinal” notes described by others, those are all aspects of vetiver combined with birch (and cade). Profumum used that exact combination to create its own whisky and Highlands scent in Fumidus, and there is no way they aren’t included in this scent, too.
Just as in the case of Fumidus, though, the “whisky” in Spirit of the Glen is very short-lived, so if that’s the only reason you’re trying it, you’ll be disappointed. Maybe on your skin, it won’t die quite as quickly as it did on mine, but I highly doubt it will be a long-lasting part of the scent. That’s not what other people have reported or how the perfumer has structured the fragrance. As you saw up above, one Fragrantica poster didn’t even realise Spirit of the Glen was meant to be a boozy fragrance! It truly is a very impressionistic aroma after the first 10 minutes — and even that doesn’t last. I also agree with her that woody vanilla in Spirit of the Glen’s drydown is very reminiscent of the one in Memoirs of a Trespasser; I thought of that, too, except it’s a far more subtle note on my skin than it was on her due to my weird vetiver problem.
What I think the other Fragrantica posters nailed is the resemblance to Slumberhouse. It’s more of a general thing in terms of aesthetics or style rather than a similarity to any one particular fragrance. Sova didn’t come to mind because Spirit of the Glen (SOTG) is a darker, smokier scent that is dominated by vetiver on my skin; the hops are a quiet touch limited to the beginning, and there isn’t an intense, caramel sweetness. I found Sova sickly sweet and it made me feel queasy after an hour, but my vetiver problem ensured that SOTG never skewed that way. Jeke didn’t apply because SOTG wasn’t dominated by tobacco or spices. Finally, SOTG is a rather airy, quiet scent, and lacks Slumberhouse’s signature heft, chewiness, density, and volume. To some extent, that makes it an easier or more wearable fragrance for daily use. Still, the point is, when you consider the overall vibe, SOTG feels like a baby cousin to a Slumberhouse creation and also to Profumum’s Fumidus.
Spirit of the Glen may not have worked for me, but I don’t think it is a bad fragrance at all and it is one which I would recommend to people who fall into one (or more) of the following categories:
- you love dark vetiver, smoked woods, peaty earthiness, and woody vanilla, and you don’t mind some degree of hay, grass, or patchouli in your fragrances;
- you love oriental vetivers and you don’t mind the possibility of a gourmand slant in the drydown;
- you love Slumberhouse’s style of fragrances or the drydown of Memoirs of a Trespasser; and/or
- you’ve been looking for a sweeter, lighter, tame, and baby version of Fumidus.
If you fall into one of these categories, I strongly recommend getting a sample of Spirit of the Glen and trying it for yourself.