Since the initial correspondence between Ensar and myself regarding ASAQ’s popular “Thaqeel”, Ensar has made further comments regarding ASAQ’s claim that Thaqeel is wild-harvested Cambodian Oud oil from a 100-year old tree.
ENSAR: I speculate Thaqeel is from trees that are no older than 20 years and 100% cultivated at that, the infection being present for 3-5 years. Although this is only my personal conviction, we can argue this both objectively (rationally consider the facts) and subjectively (analyze the scent profile).
Rationally speaking, it is unlikely for Thaqeel to be from wild trees as these are practically extinct, and the second and third batches were just launched a year or two ago. Even the first batch was launched after the accepted extinction of wild Cambodian agarwood. For them to then supply who-knows-how-many ASAQ shops with wild Thaqeel oil is suspect.
Subjectively speaking, the scent profile of Thaqeel is identical to Cambodian crassna trees cultivated in Thailand. The scent is so uniform it could only be plantation oil, which can be produced at large while maintaining the scent profile. Wild oils display wildly differing scent characteristics from batch to batch, just as the trees differ in the jungle in species, subspecies, age, infection, degree of resin formation, and so forth.
The only time I smelled wild Cambodian oud was when my distiller went into his shrine and pulled out a few vials he kept there as tokens of religious piety. I offered him whatever he wanted for them, yet he declined to sell them to me saying, ‘Not everything is money’.
These oils varied drastically in fragrance profile to the cultivated oils we see coming out of both Cambodia and Thailand. I am not saying they are superior, they were just so different to anything I’d ever smelled before it’s impossible to describe. The pitch, the body, the notes; all was extremely different to cultivated Cambodian oud.
Do I believe we can distill the likes of these oils from plantation raw materials? Absolutely. If it weren’t for the sheer age of these 15-20 year-old oils I would say both batches of Thai Encens are superior, simply due to the ultra strict selection process, then the meticulous distillation; just the way they were handled makes a huge difference.
Lastly, I know exactly how the thickness of Thaqeel came about. It is a ‘house secret’ of one of the great Thai distillers who will not appreciate me sharing his technique, which is why I am not at liberty to discuss it here.
Of course, these are only speculations, which is why I have prefaced my observations with “I speculate” and “it is my own personal conviction”.
However, it is obvious to me as a producer what type of wood it was obtained from and how it was treated for it to attain the thickness and scent profile it displays. Speculation, yes; but experience points to certain dots which if you connect them, you get an oud that smells, weighs and sticks like Thaqeel. Beautiful oil, no doubt, and one that I wear regularly (my own version), just one I would never see as coming from wild 80 year old trees, given my firsthand experience producing extremely similar, if not identical oils.
I also stand corrected about the ‘extra oxidation’ speculation on Thaqeel. I witnessed this in another franchise’s oil that was very similar to Thaqeel, and it threw me off. While it remains possible that Thaqeel was subjected to the same amount of oxidation (as oxidation is the rule in the Gulf) we cannot prove that it has, since the technique I have now witnessed with my Thai distiller can induce the same stickiness as leaving the oil uncovered for a decade and change.