I had the opportunity recently to sniff several (real) animalic perfumery ingredients, and as it seems to be a timely topic of interest, here goes. For olfactory education purposes only.
They’re all, to some degree, reminiscent of being in a zoo, and yet also somewhat comforting in their aroma.
Ambergris: Depending on how long they’ve been washed by ocean water and dried in the sun, these unremarkable-looking rock impersonators can be varying shades of gray—the lighter ones dubbed “white gold” and the darker ones “black gold.” I was able to smell both, and the intensity of the odor increases somewhat linearly with the color. They weigh much less than their equivalent size of stone or concrete (which they can resemble visually), and have a smooth, waxy surface. Mild zoo smell.
Castoreum: Knowing the castor glands are located right by the anus of the beaver, the smell doesn’t bring any surprises, although castoreum isn’t poopy, either. It’s a bit more pungent as far as zoo odors go.
Quite coincidentally, a couple of weeks after smelling this, I also got to taste a castoreum-flavored bourbon called Eau de Musc. (I didn’t wonder too much at the time about how they might have sourced it.) Apparently castoreum is used for vanilla flavorings and thus plays well with bourbon (which usually reminds me of banana). The expensive elixir was proportionally rich-tasting and did not disappoint any expectations of animalic notes.
Civet: This one definitely had an identity of animal excretion, but also smelled surprisingly floral to me. (To the person guiding me through this scent tour, it smelled surprisingly fecal instead.) Not offensive at all in the miniscule quantity in which it was presented.
Hyraceum: This is basically “fossilized urine” + fecal matter from hyraxes, so no animals are harmed in its harvesting. It’s scraped off a rock. Hyraceum smells more acidic than the other ingredients, but nothing like a public toilet in a touristy area on a hot day.
Musk (from female deer in heat): As expected, musk has the warm animal and “sexual gland” elements to it, and it’s also kind of fuzzy and cozy. Maybe it taps more into our survival instinct (by way of reassurance of reproduction) than into any immediate, irrational urges of the crazed variety.
Moral of the story: Cuddle a furry animal. It’s good for you.