Virgin Island Bay Rum (Pinaud) & Why Old Spice Is Not A Bay Rum

A good bay rum is an olfactory sketch of two main notes, with a third note "bridging" them; bay is meant to be immediately noticeable, followed closely by a warm, sweet "rum" effect, with subtle spice connecting the two. Typically the spice is an amalgamation of several spices, be it a cinnamon and clove hybrid, or clove and nutmeg, black pepper and pink pepper, etc. Just as frequently, the spice note stands alone. The most common in popular bay rums is clove.

Eugenol is a miracle drug. Perfumers can take the dullest vanilla composition and give it teeth using but a hint of it. Too much conjures associations with a dentist's chair; too little impresses as merely a weird, camphorous aftertaste. But when it's dosed just right, clove is the height of manliness. Its woody-fresh bite can marry feuding accords like nothing else. Consider the bracing beauty of Z14's lemon aldehydes attempting a peace agreement with its cinnamon, vetiver, and oakmoss foundation, without the unambiguously stark eugenol underlying the citrus. And just as it can act as a savior, clove can also ruin the fun. Remember Copper Skies? What an awful composition.

Pinaud's Virgin Island Bay Rum is a popular cologne with several decades of accolades from several generations of "manly" guys under its belt. It is incredibly cheap ($7 for a 12 oz bottle), and readily available at almost every online retailer, although good luck finding it in your average brick and mortar pharmacy. Its spare plastic bottle and wan, tricolor label are easy to miss, but the liquid within is a bit harder to overlook. VIBR smells charmingly piquant and almost drinkable, with lively "rummy" notes layered under vague citrus, and what is without exaggeration the closest one can get to clove overdose without crossing the dentist's threshold.

That said, I must assert a measure of caution to those considering this fragrance. It's technically an aftershave, but in this case that means they merely added a skin toner to a cologne. You can expect four to five hours of longevity, with subtle but noticeable sillage. For the first hour, you'll enjoy a brisk and linear breeze of boozy clove, very old-fashioned, but undeniably charming. As you near the ninety-minute point, you'll begin to realize that aside from the alcoholic eugenol, there isn't much to play with. There's a very flat, almost stale wafer effect, which eventually settles into a gingerbread cookie. And two hours in, you will understand: Pinaud's VIBR doesn't have any actual bay in it at all. It's just a Christmassy barrage of clove over a cheap gourmand amber.

Now, every so often I visit wetshaver boards and encounter comments about Old Spice that go like this:

"Such a great bay rum. I love this better than my other bay rums!"

Or I'll read:

"A real shame P&G reformulated this. Now it's just a lame bay rum scent."

Comments like this really bug me, because Old Spice is not a bay rum. It has no bay, and It has zero rum. Furthermore, Old Spice's reformulation is actually less like bay rum than its previous formulas, for the simple fact that the massive clove note in the American version exists primarily to darken the fluffy orientalism of its relatively loud orange citrus and vanilla accords. Old Spice is doing other things with clove, things that have a lot in common with contemporaries like Habit Rouge and Royal Copenhagen, and nothing in common with homemade stews of bay leaves soaking in Captain Morgan's. Shulton's formula had an airy transience that I guess one could associate with bay rum aftershaves, but here the association is strictly subjective.

I would argue that Pinaud's bay rum isn't really a bay rum, either. After all, it lacks a bay note. But at least it nods to classical bay rum with its potent rum note. And that massive clove note is just the direction they decided to take the scent. Why they didn't bother with the bay is beyond me, but I would guess it was just too difficult to manage on Pinaud's paltry formula budget. I personally don't consider it a bay rum, but more of a spiced rum cologne with what is perhaps an unintentionally edible facet that makes it a little too "nice guy" for my taste. Don't go by me though, because I'm not really into this sort of thing. If I'm wearing spice, I want it to say "Old" on the bottle.


  1. Pinaud's Bay Rum and Murray & Lanman Florida Water are still popular in India & Nepal with elderly gentlemen. Must be relics of the British Raj?

    1. Yeah I would think so, if only among the elderly. These fragrances go down as being the sort of "toilet water" that comes under justifiable social fire nowadays. They don't smell bad, per say, but they don't really smell very good, either.

  2. Hmmm, I was asking myself how 'good' Clubman really smells the other day, as I was liberally splashing from a small flask of it I had with me to ward off the evidence of the sweat of hard work (OK, well, the anxious work of hanging pictures) I'd been up to just prior to a gallery opening. Clean, certainly, but clean as in astringent, or antiseptic (a friend on traveling in Turkey: squeeze the obligatory lemon wedge on everything before eating)... Sometimes I wonder if the reason I still haunt drugstore shaving aisles the way the dog haunts a corner of the table where a scrap was offered long ago, is that some part of my brain still connects drugstore cologne with analgesics, panaceas and penny candy. I think part of the reason men like(/will always like) scents that start with a powerful opening (citrus transitioning into lavender, and, sure, clove, or patchouli, which used to be used to mask the scent of the dead) is the hint of purgation. Where's the line between medicine and 'smelling good'? Turns out its a murky business. It is interesting to note that the Greek nymph “Pharmacia” is responsible for our notion of modern cosmetics (kosmètikè) but also of pharmacy (pharmakon). For Plato, the notion of pharmakon encompassed both remedy and poison: love-drug, charm, medicine and camouflage. Arguably, the word can’t be translated definitively, nor was it even originally used in Plato’s arguments as a word with a decided deference; we may argue about it, but not from it. Seems fitting, doesn’t it?

    1. Men just like routine, and routine is enabled by affordability. Cheap aftershaves & colognes are just that: cheap. Thus, we are able to purchase, use every day, and repurchase them again, giving us that sense of routine. That's why there are men who have used Skin Bracer since the sixties, and who will continue using it every day until they die. You can buy almost eight ounces of the stuff at fifty cents an ounce. Hard to argue with.

  3. Hey Bryan,
    I really enjoy the smell of Pinauds Bay Rum but I don't reach for it very often because it: Burns. Like. Hell. You don't mention this, so now I'm wondering if it's just me...

    1. I get the burn from all Pinaud products. Truth is, they're not even very good at toning skin. They're more akin to scented isopropyl alcohol.

    2. I find that the original Clubman aftershave (http://www.clubman.com/Products/product_230.html) is pretty good as a skin toner after a shave. I'm a little biased because I bought their whole aftershave line (not including their Jeris and Lustray lines) once I switched to DE wet shaving a few years ago. I've even emailed them asking why the VIBR has never been issued in cologne strength. Unlike you, I never get more than 1 hour from VIBR as a skin scent. Either my skin has become like a sponge in middle age or my olfactory sense is going, although the the general consensus on the shaving forums is about one hour of longevity. I usually don't get more than 30 minutes from the P%G's current production of "Classic" Old Spice aftershave and perhaps 2-3 hours from the "Classic" Old Spice cologne. I've yet to try the Original Old Spice eau de toilette that P&G licenses for manufacture in Europe.

      I actually love the post shave burn of VIBR. After a particularly close BBS shave, where a man has gone for the gusto on the post 3rd pass neck touch ups, that burn can bring a guy to his knees, but he's up at the count of 10 to enjoy the lingering scent.

      I quite enjoy their Citrus Musk, Lime Sec, and plain Musk, too (although I love the Old Spice Musk from India, and Aqua Velva's Musk powerhouse is the baseline for aftershave projection and longevity as well as being a bargain for about US $4 a bottle.)

      The scent with the longest longevity in the Pinaud Clubman line is Special Reserve and that's labeled as an aftershave/cologne. I actually get 4 to 5 hours of longevity from that one.

      The most controversial scent in the Clubman line is their Lilac Vegetal ("The Veg"). It's probably their most discussed scent and has a number of nicknames but is quite beloved in the shaving community by wet shaving veterans. I should also add that for a refreshing, over the top, extra cooling menthol kick, their Jeris Osage Rub is a fantastic post shave option.

      Just this year, they released a well received shaving soap that's based on their Clubman Vanilla aftershave.

    3. I wonder if part of my longevity secret with VIBR and Clubman products in general is that I often have occasion to sweat at work, which rereleases whatever I put on.

  4. I should probably mention that I'm using it as an aftershave. Perhaps I should just decant it into a spray bottle and use it a a cologne, no?

    1. All aftershaves that are sold in plastic bottles in the USA should be decanted into glass bottles with plastic pour spouts (orifice regulators) after opening. Plastic bottles eventually contribute their own scent to the juice and alter the smell of the formulation. You can buy a dozen at a time for very reasonable prices on Amazon or Ebay. An alternative is go to the dollar stores and buy a bunch of hot sauce bottles, spill out the hot sauce and rinse them with hot water and dishwashing soap. The same should be done with empty (dasher) bottles that are purchased online before transferring aftershaves into them.

      Personally, I don't find Virgin Island Bay Rum to be near cologne strength. As I mentioned in a previous comment, I don't get more than an hour from it - maybe 90 minutes on a good day.
      It is possible that the scent lingers and I just can't smell it anymore because I've gotten used to it or Bryan is splashing on a bit more than I am.

      Have either of you ever tried the Ogallala line of bay rums? Their aftershave and shaving soaps are excellent. I particularly like the Bay Rum Limes and Peppercorns. They even have a double strength cologne version of their bay rum.


      I get a few hours from their aftershave, but if VIBR is any comparison, some of you might get a few more.

    2. I've heard the rumors about plastic diminishing fragrance purity before, but have found little empirical evidence - or hard scientific evidence - to back it up. With that said, the plastic bottles used to house P&G's reformulation of Old Spice aftershave & cologne were, according to in-depth accounts online, specially designed to not impart a plastic odor into the products, which suggests to me that this is a real phenomenon that at least one manufacturer was concerned about. However, with only anecdotal stories, I'm not certain as to what extent this is a factor. While the Old Spice bottles were made using a special blend of plastics to protect "freshness," another aspect of their motivation, as stated by the bottle designer, was protecting the fragrance from light. I guess some of the glass bottles were light porous, and over long periods of time Old Spice products were losing freshness due to light.

      Whether the concern over plastics in this case was primarily over scent pollution or light exposure wasn't clear to me, and it's been years since I've seen anything on this, so I admit even my testimony on this issue is anecdotal, although I encourage my readers to search the Internet for details about why and how P&G rebottling Old Spice.

      Haven't tried Ogallala's line. Was briefly interested in them about ten years ago, and then drifted away from aftershaves and forgot about them. Thanks for reminding me of the brand, I'll have to find time to give one of their aftershaves a try.

  5. As a European I was intrigued by Bay Rum when I came across it on the www a few years ago. I got so much into the subject that,after having found an old formula on one of the olfactory sites, I decided to do it myself. A friend of mine brought back the leaves from a Carribean cruise, the rest was peanuts.I even designed my own label and advertising brochure to go with it !Needless to say that this was a lot of fun, ending up with about 30 bottles, which I freely distributed among family and friends. Today about a dozen bottles remain stacked away somewhere...


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