In place June 30, 1994. Last updated January 23, 2002. Copyright © 1996 - 2002 Randy D. Ralph
Companies Bearing the Name Ambergris -
Cambridgeshire PE19 3ET, England
770 Beatrice St.
Brentwood, CA 94513
Periodical Bearing the Name Ambergris -
Kissling, M. ed, Ambergris, Cincinnati, OH: Ambergris Foundation, Box 29919, Cincinnati, OH 45229-0919
A biennial journal of essays, art and fiction.
Sound Recordings -
- Ambergris, Ambergris, Hollywood, CA: Paramount, 1979.
- A recording of rock music by the band "Ambergris" entitled Ambergris.
- Died Pretty, Next to Nothing, Rockville Center, NY: Dutch East
- India Trading Company, 1985
- A recording of rock music by the band "Died Pretty" entitled Next to Nothing
featuring the cut Ambergris.
- Kunitz, Stanley, Ambergris, New Haven, CT: Yale Series of Recorded Poets, 1958.
- Recordings of Stanley Kunitz poems recited by the author. One entitled "Ambergris."
Videos and Audio-Visual Materials -
- The animated adventures of Gene Roddenberry's Star Trek, Hollywood,
- CA: Paramount Home Video, 1973.
- The VHS video contains the episode The Ambergris Element, written by Margaret
Arman and directed by Hal Sutherland.
- Education Development Center, People and Technology, 1st exper. ed.,
- Cambridge MA: Education Development Center, Social Studies
- Program, 1976.
- The collection contains a film strip entitled Clumsy Cleats and Ambergris about
the whaling industry.
Applications of Ambergris as an Aromatic Beverage Flavoring -
by Ted (Doc) Haigh [ email@example.com ]
[ Text and image copyright © 1998 Ted Haigh. Reproduced with permission. ]
The most obscure use to which ambergris was put ceased long before the substance itself was
retired, and has been so long forgotten as to be reasonably termed lost. Only in contemporary
texts of the trade, quite rare themselves, does evidence of this use remain.
Prior to the turn of the century, ambergris was used by bartenders, liquor rectifiers, and
makers of cordials & syrups as an ingredient in some of their products. This is quite notable
because in contrast to its other uses, these are the only instances recorded in which the
ambergris was actually orally consumed in beverage use.
- The books, Wild West Bartenders' Bible by Byron A. Johnson & Sharon Peregrine Johnson (1986 - Texas Monthly Press)
and The Authentic Guide to Drinks of the Civil War Era; 1853-1873 by Sharon Peregrine
Johnson & Byron A. Johnson (1992 - Thomas Publications, Gettysburg, PA.) both defined one of
these uses of ambergris in their glossaries, the former in the following manner:
Ambergris: A cloudy dark secretion of the sperm whale used by the perfume industry.
Because it becomes fragrant when heated, some bartenders used it in hot punches and mixed drinks.
It is expensive and potent; recipes calling for this ingredient have been omitted.
The definition in the latter work is virtually identical, adding the term "morbid" to read
"A cloudy dark morbid secretion......" Neither of these books give any specifics, nor do they
mention its use in the manufacture of fortified wines, liquors, and cordials, both alcoholic
Of the eight 19th century manuals referenced chronologically below, six give contemporary
recipes with ambergris as an ingredient, one cites a purported 14th century historical recipe
including it, and three discourse shortly on its use. It should be noted, the tone of all of
these works (1853-1895) suggest a commonness of use that precluded any in depth exposition
within their respective trades. Nonetheless, the three references to ambergris in the 1898
edition of The Scientific American Cyclopedia of Receipts, Notes and Queries
(p. 20, ambergris defined; p. 202, ambergris essence formula; and p. 347,
ambergris oil formula) indicate no awareness of its beverage uses. No 20th century
references to such beverage uses (excepting the two referenced above) have been located.
- The Manufacture of Liquors, Wines, and Cordials, without the Aid of Distillation
by Pierre Lacour - Dick & Fitzgerald, Publishers, New York - 1853 (pp. 19-20).
- Ambergris (defined)
This substance is found floating on the sea, or thrown by the waves upon the
shores or various countries, particularly in the southern hemisphere; is now generally believed
to be produced in the intestines of the spermaceti whale. It is found in roundish or amorphous
shaped pieces, usually small, but sometimes of considerable magnitude; and masses have been
found weighing from 50 to 200 pounds. These pieces are often composed of concentric layers;
they are of various colors, usually grey, with brownish yellow and white streaks, often dark
brown or blackish on the external surface. They are opaque, lighter than water, and of a
consistence like that of wax, and have a peculiar aromatic agreeable order, and are almost
tasteless, and soften with the warmth of the hand. Ambergris is insoluble in water, but will
dissolve in hot alcohol.
Ambergris is used as a perfume for liquors. It is never used alone, always being combined with
other aromatics. The usual form of adding it to spirit, is to rub it well with sugar, which acts
by minutely separating the particles of ambergris. Ambergris should be used in very small
quantities, when used as a flavoring ingredient, as the odor would be easy of detection.
In light-bodied liquors, one grain will often suffice. Its different applications will be
found in the different formulas throughout the work.
- On concealing the smell of grain (fusel) oil by the use of aromatics - from the same work:
The perfumes best suited to this purpose, are acetic and nitric ether, oil of
wintergreen, oil of lemon, essence of ambergris, oil of mace and creosote.
- An example of such an application from the same work - the synthetic production of imitation
Monongahela rye whiskey:
"Rectified whiskey, thirty gallons: grains of paradise tincture one and a half
gallons; catechu, five ounces; water, nine gallons; suphuric acid, one ounce; oil of lemon,
one drachm, dissolved in four ounces of acetic ether; rub up half a grain of ambergris in an
ounce of sugar, and mix the whole. This whiskey should have a slight tinge of red in it from
sanders wood. Supposing the spirit to be perfectly transparent, half a pint each of tincture
of red sanders and burnt sugar would answer for coloring.
- A Manual for the Manufacture of Cordials, Liquors, Fancy Syrups &c., &c.
by Christian Schultz (appended to The Bar-Tenders' Guide & Bon Vivant's Companion
by Jerry Thomas) Dick & Fitzgerald, Publishers, New York - 1862 - pp. 148, 191.
- A recipe for an aromatic compound, added to spiritous beverages
(as orange flower water might be):
- Eau de Cologne a l'Ambergris. (Ambergris Cologne Water)
21 ounces of oil of orange.
21 ounces of oil of bergamot.
2-5/8 ounces of oil of neroly.
6-9/16 ounces of oil of lavender.
3-15/16 ounces of oil of rosemary.
63 drops of oil of roses.
126 drops of oil of cloves.
200 drops of essence of amber.
Dissolve in 10 gallons of alcohol, 95 per cent.
- A recipe for Rosolio, a liqueur with a pronounced rose flavor:
- 2 drachms of essence of vanilla.
13 drops of oil of roses.
57 drops of essence of amber.
Dissolved in 3 gallons of alcohol, 95 per cent.,
and add 20 lbs. of sugar dissolved
in 5-3/4 gallons of water; color rose.
- Cups & Their Customs Anon. - John Van Voorst, Publisher, London - 1863 - p. 18.
- A historic recipe for one "cup" dated to the reign of Edward III (1327-1377):
Among the most prominent (of cups) ranks the medicated composition called Hypocras
also stiled (sic) "Ypocras for Lords," for the making of which various recipes are to be
found, one of which we will quote:--
Take of Aqua vitae (brandy)... 5 oz.
Pepper... 2 oz.
Ginger... 2 oz.
Cloves... 2 oz.
Grains of Paradise... 2 oz.
Ambergris... 5 grs.
Musk... 2 grs.
Infuse these for twenty-four hours, then put a pound of sugar to a quart of red wine or
cider, and drop three or four drops of the infusion into it, and it will make it taste
richly.' This compound was usually given at marriage festivals, when it was introduced at
the commencement of the banquet, served hot; for it is said to be of so comforting and
generous a nature that the stomach would be at once put into good temper to enjoy the meats
- The French Wine & Liquor Manufacturer
by John Rack - Dick & Fitzgerald, Publishers, New York - 1863 - p. 67, 69.
- A trade definition:
This substance, which is found floating on the sea, or thrown upon the shores of
various countries, is now generally believed to be produced in the intestines of the spermaceti
whale, and perhaps in those of some other fish. From the high price of the genuine ambergris,
it is very frequently adulterated. When quite pure and of the best quality it is nearly wholly
soluble in hot alcohol and ether, and yields about 85 (percent) of the odorous principle
(ambreine). It is also easily punctured with a heated needle, and on withdrawing it not only
should the odor be immediately evolved, but the needle should come out clean, without anything
adhering to it. Ambergris is insoluble in water, but readily dissolves in hot alcohol. It is
used in very small quantities; one ounce will suffice for 1,000 gallons of brandy. It combines
its odor with any other perfume, and forms by each addition a new aroma, greatly exhalting the
odor of other substances. As a flavor, ambergris should never be used alone. The following
makes a good aroma:--Digest for 15 days at a moderate heat 1 oz. of ambergris in 10 oz. spirit
of rose, stir several times a day and filter in a covered funnel, pass over the residue 8 oz.
spirit 50 (%). Before digesting the above ingredients, be careful and dilute your ambergris in
a heated mortar, with alcohol. Ambergris is highly prized for its odor, which is peculiar,
exceedingly diffusive, and perceptible in small quantities. A grain or two, when rubbed down
with sugar and added to a hogshead of claret, is very perceptible in the wine, and gives it a
bouquet, by some considered a great improvement.
- A recipe for a Liquorist's trade version of an aromatic flavoring additive:
The following mixture is a fine flavor, but must be used in small quantities:--
Digest for 15 days at a strong heat,
1 oz. musk,
4 drachms vanilla,
2 drachms ambergris, in
12 oz. spirit 95 (%).
Stir several times each day, filter in a covered funnel, and pass over the residue the same
quantity of spirits 50 (%). This is essence of musk. So diffusive is this aroma that the
quantity given in the above recipe would be sufficient to flavor 2,000 gallons brandy.
- The Key to the Trade
by F. D'Armand, Jr. - H. S. Crocker & Co., Publishers, Sacramento - 1865 - p. 26.
- A recipe for a synthetic imitation of Marett Cognac:
Forty gallons proof spirits, three ounces powdered catechu, one gallon extract
of bitter almonds, four gallons extract of raisins, one-half ounce ambergris dissolved in two
ounces warm alcohol, two gallons strained honey dissolved in one gallon water, and two ounces
acetic ether; color a light brown.
- Cooling Cups & Dainty Drinks
by William Terrington - George Routledge & Sons, Publishers, London - 1869 - pp. 68, 195
- A recipe for an herbal liqueur:
Delight of the Mandarins--
To 1 drachm aniseed add seeds of musk, or ambrette, 2 drachms, safflower 1/2 drachm; bruise
these ingredients well together; digest in 1 quart pure spirits of wine; strain in ten days,
and add 1 quart of syrup.
- A recipe for a Negus, a drink form (like a cocktail) usually consisting of Port or
Sherry, sugar & spices, and hot water:
1 bottle of sherry (or port), 2-1/2 pints of water, juice of 1 lemon, a little of the peel
rubbed off on sugar; grated nutmeg, and sugar to taste; add one drop essence of ambergris,
or 10 drops of vanilla; all to be made and drunk warm.
- Aerated Waters & How to Make Them; Together with Receipts for Non-Alcoholic Cordials
& a Short Essay on Flavouring by Joseph Goold - J. Gilbert Smith, Publisher, London - 1880 - p.110
- A trade definition:
Extremely diffusive. It is most conveniently used in the form of plain
essence. One grain will give a fine "bouquet" to a hogshead of claret.
- The Mixicologist
by C. F. Lawlor - Lawlor & Co., Publishers, Cincinnati - 1895 - p. 21
- A punch recipe:
Take 1/2 pint of pineapple juice.
1 pint of lemon juice.
1 pint of lemon syrup.
1 pint of claret or port wine.
1/2 pound of sugar.
1/2 pint of boiling water.
6 grains of vanilla.
1 grain of ambergris.
1 pint of strong brandy.
Rub the vanilla and ambergris with the sugar in the brandy thoroughly; let it stand in a corked
bottle for a few hours, shaking occasionally. Then add the lemon juice, pineapple juice and
wine; filter through flannel, and lastly add the syrup.
It is hoped that the above referenced quotations will shed some light on an utterly obscure use
of ambergris to the end of a better understanding of its various properties and the historic
value [to] place upon it.
With compliments and thanks from the compiler of this pathfinder.
Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin IN: Larousse Gastronomique: The Encyclopedia
of Food, Wine and Cooking by Prosper Montagné with the collaboration of Dr. Gottschalk,
1961 English Ed.
"Chocolate is one of the most efficient
restoratives. All of those who have to work when they might be
sleeping, men of wit who feel temporarily deprived of their
intellectual powers, those who find the weather oppressive, time
dragging, the atmosphere depressing; those who are tormented by some
preoccupation which deprives them of the liberty of thought; let all
such men imbibe a half-litre of chocolat ambré, using 60 to 72
grains of amber per half-kilo, and they will be amazed. The grain,
an old-fashioned measure, equals about the twentieth part of a gram,
and we might add, ambre gris is meant, a greyish substance which
exhales a smell analogous to musk, and not yellow amber, which is an
entirely different thing. Such chocolate no longer exists.
In Méditation VI, Brillat-Savarin refers to chocolat
ambré as 'the chocolate of the afflicted': 'I knew that Marshal
Richelieu, of glorious memory, constantly chewed ambergris lozenges:
as for myself, when I get one of those days when the weight of age
makes itself felt - a painful thought - or when one feels oppressed
by an unknown force, I add a knob of ambergris the size of a bean,
pounded with sugar, to a strong cup of chocolate, and I always find
my condition improving marvellously. The burden of life becomes
lighter, thought flows with ease and I do not suffer from insomnia,
which would have been the invariable result of a cup of coffee taken
for the same purpose'.
Brillat-Savarin also praises the powers of ambergris in his
With thanks to Ray Girvan, Technical Author, The Apothecary's Drawer.