Borneo 50K

Borneo50KLovers of the legendary Borneo 3000 and Borneo Kinam have reason to rejoice with the release of Borneo 50K — a classy Borneo oil that combines elements of both oils with its own unique twists.

Borneo 50K opens with elegant displays of honey and vanilla top notes that ride above a rich and resinous woodiness. Upon first swiping the oil, I was reminded of the rich, creamy, and balsamic-woody fragrance of some of the best vintage Mysore Sandalwood. It is an aroma that sparkles and glistens on your skin, hovering its aroma above your wrists, tingling with life and indescribable aromatic textures.

The honeyed-vanilla-sweetness begins to fuse with the woodier tones, creating a beautiful earthy aroma that also reveals more of Borneo 50K’s resinous core. At this stage, the oil reminds me a lot of Mitti Attar with its sweet earthy notes.

This oil is definitely unique among Borneos I’ve smelled. It is somewhere in between the aroma of Borneo Kinam and Borneo 3000. The vanilla is much more balanced and integrated than in Borneo 3000, and the sweetness is not as sharp. Its sparkling woodiness is reminiscent of Borneo Kinam, but it is not quite as woody as Kinam. Somewhere in between, with some vintage Mysore and Mitti Attar mixed in, there is an aromatic approximation of Borneo 50K. As for the mintiness Ensar describes in the official description of the oil, I have to say that it is perceptible as a kind of surrounding aroma, radiating at the edges of the fragrance’s core. It is a pristine herbaceousness that makes you feel “clean”, as if you are standing in the depths of a rainforest after a fresh rain.

But that is not saying much for the experience of wearing it. As a fragrance, it is incredibly smooth — perhaps the smoothest Borneo I have worn so far. I swiped it in the morning. It is now evening and Borneo 50K remains nicely perceptible on my wrist. I can’t say whether or not it outlasts previous Borneo releases since I have not conducted a simultaneous comparison yet, but I am certainly pleased with its longevity.

Expectedly, Borneo 50K is not very diffuse. However, unlike other Borneo oils, Borneo 50K is noticeably less “airy”, exuding a surprisingly grounding feel. I find that I really enjoy this aspect of 50K because it is something not found in other Borneo oils in my collection.

Borneo 50K has a lot to offer as a fragrance — and, like all fantastic Oud oils, is as much of  an aesthetic experience as it is an aromatic one.A complex fragrance with real aromatic depth and subtle nuance, 50K offers a scent that will not be totally “familiar” to Borneo lovers. For collectors, I would say there is no reason to hesitate in buying this oil. For someone looking for a great Borneo oil because they love Borneo oils and can’t stand the Indian funk, then Borneo 50K is a worthy addition to your collection. I personally wasn’t sure how different or unique the fragrance would really be in light of previous (now legendary) Borneo releases. But now I can say that 50K does offer virtues entirely of its own that are sure to be appreciated by those who come experience its aroma.

All of this said, I have only begun to explore the oil. I hope what I have written here will be useful for those curious about the oil, but I expect to discover much more in future wearings.

Oudimentary: Super Assam, Thai Super, Thai Old

Since Oudimentary is having a summer sale with everything marked down 25%, I’ve been getting requests to finish my review of their Oud oils. So here we go:



Super Assam

Super Assam

Super Assam. When it comes to Indian Oud, I never know what to expect. There is such a diversity of fragrance when it comes to Oud from this region. Super Assam is a brown-reddish colored oil with decent viscosity. In its opening, the oil wastes no time in expressing that classic Indian funk–but not for too long. The funkiness is not very potent. It is more of a sharp top note that soon merges into the body of the oil. This oil does not have a “fecal” or even a very strong “barnyard” aroma. Instead, imagine woods and hay with notes of dry tobacco, chocolate undertones, and a hint of fruit. But it is the woodiness of Super Assam that stands out to me. I think the oil is likely distilled from the Assam chips that Oudimentary offers, because the oil smells identical to those chips. At its core, it is a woody aroma paired with the smell of sweet hay, accented with cinnamon. With Super Assam, I really enjoy the dry down of the oil the most. It is not as diffuse as other Indian oils I have worn, but it does have excellent tenacity. Super Assam would blend beautifully in a  perfume because it lacks an overpowering aroma while presenting clean notes of wood and hay. For $187.50/3ml, it is the cheapest Indian Oud I have smelled that is still good quality. I would consider using it in my perfumes and also wearing it when I’m in the mood for an Indian oil that is not too loud and fecal.

Thai Super opens with a sweet woodiness that immediately draws me in. Characteristic mineraly Thai notes. Slightly fruity, but mostly sweet. The woodiness is very nice and captures something of the smell of burning Oud chips. This is one of Oudimentary’s higher quality distillations, to my nose. Moderately diffuse with an average tenacity, but it makes for a nice wear.


Thai Old

Thai Old

Thai Old stands in contrast to Thai Super, immediately exhibiting peppery notes amidst tobacco leaf. It is much more lively than Thai Super. Thai Old’s cigar-like aroma carries itself quite well, making for a more diffuse aroma with a moderate tenacity. Notes of fruit mingle in the body lending some complexity to the aroma. This oil is also an organic distillation. It is hard to choose between Thai Old and Thai Super. Thai Super certainly has a more mature aroma and its woody notes are beautiful. But Thai Old has a little more kick. It depends what you are in the mood for. They are both good Thai oils, although I no longer see Thai Super available on the Oudimentary website. At $74.25 for 3ml, Thai Old gets the award for the most affordable Oud oil of good quality.

Oudimentary Cambodis: Tuk-Kmum, Special, Pa-em

Cambodi Pa-em

Cambodi Pa-em

I have finally had the chance to try Oudimentary’s line of Oud oils–and I must say that I am quite pleased with the quality of their oils. In this review, I want to focus on their three Cambodian offerings: Cambodi Tuk-Kmum, Cambodi Special, and Cambodi Pa-em.

Cambodi Tuk-Kmum is a very sticky orange colored oil. It possesses a light and syrupy-sweet aroma that is strong in the mid-range. Characteristic notes of fruit mingle in the background without becoming too prominent or sharp. While it is not very diffuse, it does have a nice tenacity, maintaining its aroma quite well throughout the day. The oil has a wonderful sweetness, a clear sparkling aroma of honey mixed with maple syrup, all rounded together in a smooth and almost balsamic aroma. Cambodi Tuk-Kmum smells great, wears nicely, and feels good on a nice summer day. It reminds me a lot of Agar Aura’s Sylvan Nectar, for those who have tried that oil. On their website, Oudimentary notes that “Tuk-Kmum” is Khmer for “honey”. A most appropriate name for this oil! $200/3ml.

Cambodi Special has much more of a characteristic Thai profile. Zesty mineral notes beneath a light airiness with a subtle fruity aroma meandering in the background. Those who are familiar with the recent organic Thai releases will find much to enjoy in Cambodi Special. Bolder and woodier than Tuk-Kmum, lovers of Thai Oud will definitely enjoy this oil for only $99/3ml.

Cambodi Pa-em is my favorite of Oudimentary’s Cambodian offerings. It is, in my opinion, their highest quality Cambodian oil. Pa-em is another sticky and amber colored oil. It greets me with the smell of fresh fruits. After a few minutes, the fruity notes become riper and darker, resembling the grapey and almost wine-like aroma that I find in Cambodi Caramel. The dry-down is a beautiful woodiness that is punctuated with the classic Cambodian top note that almost smells Marokean. Pa-em is sweet but also spicy, with notes of dry tobacco, nutmeg, and chocolate. There is even a vetiver-esque grassiness lurking in this oil. Most of all, Pa-em is aromatically complex, deep, and lively. It has a complexity I rarely encounter in oils of this price range, which makes it really stand out to me. For $200/3ml, I highly recommend this oil.

I have really enjoyed wearing these oils and getting to know their wonderful aromas. Much gratitude to the Oudimentary team for the samples. I have to congratulate them on producing pure and quality Oud oils at a seriously affordable price. These days everyone is searching for “affordable Oud”, a phrase and endeavor that is essentially an anomaly. While I usually discourage this search, I have to say that I believe that Oudimentary is producing “affordable Oud”. These oils are cheaper than the usual oils on the market, but unlike other affordable Oud oils, there is not a significant drop in quality accompanying the drop in price.

The Oudimentary team is comprised of old-fashioned Oud lovers. If you haven’t checked out their oils yet, do yourself a favor and get some samples.

Coming soon are reviews of Oudimentary’s Thai Super, Thai Old, Tarakan, and Super Assam.

Bois de Borneo: Organic Oud From Borneo

BoisDeBorneoBois de Borneo. Finally an organic Borneo Oud! I have been waiting for this for a while now. I always want to use some Borneo Oud in my perfumes–but when my Borneo collection consists of vintage oils that originally cost around $500, I begin to have second thoughts. At $350, Bois de Borneo offers a more affordable price-tag than its legendary predecessors and may solve my perfumery dilemmas. But more importantly, how does it smell?

Bois de Borneo is a classic Borneo oil. Sweet, smooth, and sensual, Bois de Borneo quickly meets my expectations for a quality Borneo Oud oil. Light but tenacious, this oil wears nicely on my skin with its aroma still perceptible hours later.

Bois de Borneo opens with the most pronounced and sensual vanilla note I have smelled in a Borneo oil so far. For a while, all I can smell and think is vanilla. But rather than being a nice accent or top note, the vanilla odor surrounds and pervades the body of the fragrance, enriching it from inside out, top to bottom. The fragrance of vanilla is so clear and persistent that it is even comparable to smelling a bottle of vanilla oleoresin or absolute.

Paired with this now-balmy vanilla aroma is the amazing sweetness that lends Borneo Oud its popularity. Bois de Borneo passes the sweetness test with flying colors, becoming one of the sweetest Borneo oils I have smelled. I find its aroma to be surprisingly addicting with great allure.

In the dry down, this oil reveals a more woody character, as a note of cedarwood begins to emerge. The woodiness seems to sparkle in this oil. I particularly like the way the woody tones come to life in the dry down phase, without dropping any of the sweetness from earlier. Instead, the fragrance fuses together as it unfolds. The honeyed-sweetness sits on top of a fresh earthiness that is not too pronounced. It is the subtle fragrance of the outdoors just after a rain. Imagine blending a few drops of Mitti Attar in a Borneo oil and you can approximate the aroma. Moist, somewhat grassy, and earthy-sweet. The earthy element of Bois de Borneo is definitely a unique and welcome twist.

A pleasure from start to finish, Bois de Borneo is perfect for a hot summer day and has a noticeable uplifting effect. With their smooth airiness and sweet aroma, I’ve always found Borneo oils to be an almost immediate mood enhancer. And Bois de Borneo is one of the first oils I’ll reach for on a summer morning. I can even see myself swiping this oil more than once on any given day.

While some may wonder how this oil compares to more legendary releases such as Borneo Kinam and Borneo 3000, I must say that Bois de Borneo deserves to be smelled in its own right. What I can say is that Bois de Borneo has a very well-developed aroma that holds its own quite well.

Bois de Borneo is the first organic Borneo Oud I have seen, but I certainly hope there is more to come. I hardly find much merit in making organic/wild distinctions anymore, because these organic Oud oils are every bit as enjoyable as the wild vintage oils in my collection. In fact, there is an aspect of the organic oils that I enjoy even more, because they are cheaper, and a step toward sustainability and right cultivation. When I smell a vintage oil, I know I am smelling the past and the last of its kind. But organic oils impart a feeling of hope for the future of agarwood. With the devastation of wild agarwood trees in Borneo, I am relieved to see an organic distillation of such quality. May there be many more oils like this one!

Kyara Koko

Kyara KokohA new and yet-to-be-released parfum from Ensar Oud, Kyara Koko is beautifully rich, warm, and sensuous. The name is a clear allusion to the famous Baieido Incense, “Kyara Kokoh“–20 sticks of which currently sell for $829.50. Does the perfume live up to the incense by the same name? You will have to see for yourself! I have actually not burned Baiedo’s Kyara Kokoh before, but in light of this perfume, I will have to check it out and see how it compares.

Koko opens with a velvety texture of animalic notes that turn sweet before you can find the funk. As the parfum begins to expand, its complexity unravels. With such intricacy and nuance, I suspect that many different oils were used in Koko’s composition, yet not a single one stands out individually. Having made a few perfumes myself, I  can appreciate the artistry in crafting a perfume that confidently boasts a single fragrance–the alchemy of a new scent, rather than an amalgamation of various scents. If I had to compare Kyara Koko to another oil, I would say that it reminds me of Amulya Attar. Amulya Attar is the most complex perfume I have smelled, composed of over 60 ingredients, mostly focused on precious Indian florals. But as with Kyara Koko, its core aroma is completely unique, unified, and intoxicating.

I have little to say about the ingredients used in Kyara Koko, because they are largely undetectable to me as individual components. Rather, Koko radiates a whole fragrance,  a sweet-spicy Oudiness with civet-like undertones. The end result is a deliciously incensey fragrance. Incense lovers really have much to look forward to in this perfume. In terms of color, think purple. Deep purple. For an Oud-based perfume, I find that Koko beautifully expresses its Oudiness while also blending in well, making for a deliciously smooth and well-rounded fragrance.

What also stands out to me in Kyara Koko is its tenacity. It may be the most tenacious perfume I have smelled from Ensar Oud so far. Radiating on my wrist, Koko surrounds me in its fragrant aura. And I can smell its remnants on my wrist the next morning. I really love a perfume that can maintain itself like this. I have found myself addicted to this perfume as of late, discovering something else with each new wearing.

Kyara Koko is a full-bodied perfume of mystery and confidence, suitable for man or woman, and great to wear out in the evening. Its sensual and aristocratic vibe is sure to catch the attention of anyone who crosses its path.

Crassna Cha: Oud For Tea Connoisseurs

Tea drinkers rejoice! The Oud oil you have been waiting for has finally arrived. Have you ever considered treating yourself to a swipe of the finest Oud oil while sipping exquisite China Green tea? Maybe you already have a few Oud oils that you feel pairs nicely with your tea. Maybe you have thought about swiping some Oud with your tea, but never found a way to realize your vision. With Crassna Cha, you no longer have to wonder anymore. The Oud for tea connoisseurs is finally here.

The name of this oil is a give-away. Crassna Cha. I was, of course, curious to see if the scent lived up to its name. Could an Oud oil really smell like green tea? What would that really smell like? I couldn’t imagine it. I knew green notes in Oud, but nothing that resembled tea green so far. Undoubtedly, Crassna Cha is the first oil in which I have smelled a true tea green note, and surprisingly in a Cambodi.

When I first applied a swipe, I began to quickly perceive what Ensar was talking about when he described Crassna Cha as possessing the “cleanest, greenest scent” he’s smelled in any Oud. Somehow, it does smell just like a fresh steeping of high quality green tea. It is that bitter green aroma with a kind of buttery finish. As a testament to the power of aroma, as I smelled the aroma of Crassna Cha, my teeth actually began to lightly clench, as they do when I have a strong cup of green tea. My body was temporarily put under the illusion of having taken caffeine!

I was now ready to combine Crassna Cha with my favorite green tea. It was a beautiful harmony–the green tea and swipe of Crassna Cha became perfect complements, as the aroma of Oud began to exalt the experience. Having Oud oil with your tea adds a totally new dimension to the experience, and I can’t recommend it enough. Best in the morning with some fruits–the breakfast of Royalty.

That is the other aspect of Crassna Cha’s scent profile–fruits. It takes some time for the fruitiness to become completely clear, but eventually Crassna Cha begins to resemble the characteristic fruitiness of Cambodian oils. After a while, I smell peaches, apricots, and honeydew all on top of the tea green base. And from the onset, Crassna Cha has that background mineral note that is present in all the Thai oils I have smelled so far.

What I really like about Crassna Cha is that it develops quite nicely. It is always a pleasure to stay with an oil that shows you something different throughout the day, and not all oils have that quality. For that reason, I have to say that while Crassna Cha might be slow-developing, it defies the conventions of being a linear oil. On top of that, it is a very young oil. I am anxious to see where Crassna Cha goes within a few years. Additionally, Crassna Cha reveals an interesting woodiness in the dry down. Almost musty, it is like the aroma of old wood shavings, or an aged book.

I recommend Crassna Cha to all tea drinkers, and to anyone who has not yet encountered a tea green Oud. Additionally, Crassna Cha is an interesting story of organic cultivation, and demonstrates what artisanal distillation can do to the wood of a mature Aquilaria tree.

Oud Yusha: Cambodia’s Fruit Bowl

Oud Yusha. A very fruity Cambodian oil that is deeply resinous and honey-sweet. If you can hear and feel the word “Yusha” then you have an audible allegory for its fragrance. It is very much like strawberry jam. The notes of amber are really nice and bright, making this an upbeat and lively oil.

Yusha smells nearly identical to Agar Aura’s Oud Kampuchea. But Yusha’s fruits are darker, and its amber notes are more pronounced. Altogether, Yusha is a livelier and brighter oil–a younger sister of Oud Kampuchea.

What is really worth noting here is that Oud Yusha was distilled from organically cultivated agarwood, and that Kampuchea was distilled from wild agarwood that was approximated to have an infection of 7-9 years. The mere facts of these oils would have one envisioning two totally different scents. And yet, we have nearly identical oils.

This is not to say that organic oils are identical to wild oils. That is a unique play between these two oils in particular, somehow. But it is deeply suggestive of the potential of organic Oud.

Oud Yusha lets me forget about “organic” and “wild”, and just revel in the beauty of artisanally distilled Oud oil of the highest quality. A fruity gem–I recommend Oud Yusha to all lovers of fruity Cambodian oils, as Yusha epitomizes the fruity-Cambodian profile. Start your day with Oud Yusha, you won’t regret it!

Cultivation: Trat
Crafted: July 2010
Yield: 22 tolas
Price: $250 (currently on sale for $229.95)

The Future of Oud Pt. 4: The Art of Distillation

A fundamental revelation to all Oud connoisseurs: The raw materials are not everything.

What are “raw materials”? Raw materials are basically the raw wood itself, and the entire process associated with preparing it for distillation. But let’s back up a bit. Remember that the Aquilaria tree is not necessarily infected, and therefore not necessarily ready to transmutate into Oud oil. First the Aquilaria tree must become infected, and there are many variations on this process. In the case of wild or cultivated trees, the infection could occur naturally, or it could be naturally induced by the drilling of holes that allow insects to crawl in, and then there is inoculation. In the case of cultivated trees, everything that relates to the cultivation of the tree is significant. Has the tree been cultivated organically? Or has it been cultivated with the use of pesticides?

The next factor to consider after the reality of infection has been determined is how old is the infection? How old is the tree itself? How resinated is the wood? These are significant questions that pose tremendous impact on the quality of Oud oil. After all of this has been met to a vendor’s (or hopefully, artisan’s) satisfaction, then the tree is cut down for its wood, and the wood is then cut into chips, which are then ground into dust for distillation.

Then we begin to move into the distillation phase, and all of the preliminaries and quirks of that process. Is the wood to be soaked prior to distillation? If so, for how long? All of this will, of course, impact the quality of the oil and the minutest alteration of method could yield in a dramatically different scent profile. Here, the artisan treads carefully and with great sensitivity.

Oud oil has been around since ancient times. However, even as recent as 10 years ago, wild Oud oil was being distilled regularly–far before the likes of Ensar Oud and Agar Aura came onto the scene. Yet, Ensar Oud changed the face of wild Oud oil, forever–and I do not say that lightly. Ensar Oud took wild Oud oil to the next level by putting a level of consideration into the procurement of raw materials that has not happened before, and by mastering the art of distillation with a nearly prodigal flavor. Yes, wild Oud oil was being distilled before Ensar Oud and Agar Aura–even pure wild Oud oil, unadulterated. But how was it being distilled?

And what is an artisanal distillation? With wild Oud oil no longer on the horizon, I sought to find the answers, and grasp the future of Oud, if there was any at all. And there most certainly is, and a very bright one at that! Perhaps the most important thing I learned is summarized in the first sentence of this post. What Ensar started talking about with cultivated Oud is not something that currently exists. A visionary if I’ve ever met one, he is putting form to a vision no one else has. It is only after learning the incredible details of this process that I began to appreciate Ensar as an artist of the higher calibre. Yes, distilling Oud oil is not a business, or a way to make money. It is a fine art that few know about, and few come to appreciate with the depth that it commands to be appreciated with. Just as a painter is sensitive to his medium, to the substance of his art (whether it be watercolor, or pastel, or oil, or ink brush), and to the color of his paint–likewise someone distilling Oud oil must be just as sensitive to Oud wood, the species of Oud wood being distilled, its potential scent profile, its degree of resination, what exactly to do with the wood such that it yields its true potential (unique in every case). As a painter must very sensitively paint his vision, likewise an Oud artisan must carefully bring everything together in the simultaneity of color, form, technique, and deep sensitivity which inevitably yields an ecstasy, a profusion of fragrance that leads to the responses and reviews which you see on this website.

And I hold that it is something of this sacred process that gives Oud its intoxicating and sacred character. It is not merely the resin itself. Nothing is sacred in and of itself. Nothing is full, in and of itself, except the Supreme Lord of all the worlds, who bestows Fullness and Completion upon anything that is surrendered to Him.

Distillation is an art. And in the case of Oud oil, a sacred art. Have you ever smelled that dull, one-dimensional, and superficial quality of Oud oils from the Gulf? Have you ever encountered Oud oil that is completely pure and of reasonable quality, but that still doesn’t hit that spot?

Rather than attempt to summarize the artistic nature of the distillation process myself, I would refer people to Ensar’s latest blog post on the nuances of this incredible process. Below are posted some additional comments from him, which I feel are rather summary on why distillation is such an artistic process, and its impact on the oil.

ENSAR: Some distillers dislike steam because of the high temperatures it exposes the oil to. They are unable to impart their desired ‘smell’ to the oil, which many artisans take years to perfect and consider their trademark. You can do a lot less with steam. It’s basically chopping the wood into pellets, placing them on a metal grid and steaming ’em up until the oil separates from the vapor. No artisanal anything happening here apart from the wood selection process preceding the distillation. True, you can maintain the temperature not to exceed a certain level so as not to impart a ‘burnt’ smell to the oil, but that’s as technical as it gets. So in other words, I don’t think there is a certain type of wood that is more suited for steam distillation.

So far as ‘economical considerations’ go, steam is far less labor intensive than hydro distillation, which can take weeks of processing. Some argue that with hydro distillation there is more yield, but this is not something I have seen save in Assam, where the soaking is extended to 25-30 days, which leads to the hallmark ‘barnyard’ smell associated with Assam oils. 

I am very puzzled by something I witnessed in a recent distillation. When we harvested the tree, I picked up a chunk of wood that smelled extremely fecal, or like some nicely aged cheese. I even said in one of the video shoots that I encountered a ‘fecalicious’ scent when entering the distillery where that wood was drying atop the cookers, prior to grinding. Yet when I collected the oil just the other day, I got the very greenest scent I’ve ever smelled in any oud. It’s almost too green. I was really looking forward to some barnyard Thai oil, given the firsthand encounter with the super fecal smell direct from the still moist tree. And post soaking and distillation I got the greenest smell imaginable. How did that happen? The type of groundwater used for soaking the wood, and then the stainless steel stills. Would I have ended up with an aged cheese smell had I used steam extraction? Most probably! Would I go back and use steam if I could? Nope!

Most distillers cannot go into the nitty gritty of different material ducts and tubes. I only know of one guy who built and rebuilt his entire distillation systems three times within one year because the smell of the oil was not what he was looking for. As you can see in various pictures, hydro distillation stills are cemented in place, and it is not possible to change anything once they’re built.

In the case of Borneos and Kyara Koutan, all you have in the bottle is the smell of the wood itself. There is no scent imparted to the oil save by minimal contact with the steam (several hours distillation). So the whispy ethereal notes are the hallmark of Borneo oils, if the grade of wood going into the stills is high enough. Kyara Koutan was even higher grade wood, and given that this was exported to Taiwan for state-of-the-art steam extraction (far removed from the hydrodistillation degs of its native land) all you’ve got inside the bottle is the scent of that wood, unaffected by anything pertaining to distillation. In the case of steam, the mastery of distillation is as it were the opposite of what is sought in hydro distillation; the less the oil is affected by the extraction process, the more successful the job, the more masterful the distiller. A distiller who uses steam and gets a ‘burnt’ smell in the oil is still green. A hydro distillation expert who gets an incense smoke smell in the oil is a great master.

Water is never filtered prior to soaking the wood. Rather, it comes directly out of the ground. Every distiller has a signature, and it is most certainly his groundwater. I know of a great master whom I have a huge reverence for, the only man who refused to distill my incense grade wood in his stills which are regularly used in organic oud extraction; lest my incense notes should disturb his lilies and lilacs which he’s worked 20 years to perfect in his oil.

Yet I’m still convinced it’s worth getting him to ‘forfeit’ one still to use long-term for my incense note oils, just to see if they’ll be accompanied by any lilacs or lilies. Now wouldn’t that be something?

Once our distillation requirements got finicky enough (circa 2005) the distiller threw in the towel on Borneo and Papua equipment and started having the wood exported to Taiwan. Here we found a mad scientist sort of character who’d built himself a state-of-the-art distillation facility way out in the weeds. The temperature was maintained by these automatic gadgets that would shut the steam off once the max temp was reached, which could not have been beyond 200 degrees.

I’ve decided to go hydro simply because the tweaks you can do to the scent are endless. From the still to the water to the soaking to the cooking, everything is modifiable. Sort of like driving a stick shift as opposed to automatic, where you just hit the gas.

The Future of Oud Pt. 3: Can “organic” equal “wild”?

This is the big question that has been on my mind, ever since Ensar Oud went organic. I had no doubts that it was the right decision, given the non-sustainability of continued harvesting of wild trees. But frankly, I felt a bit of a sinking feeling at the same time, feeling that cultivated “organic” Oud would never be able to compare to the fresh raw and pure nature of an Agarwood tree that has been naturally infected, and then harvested after significant age. How could cultivated Oud possibly compare to the sheer wildness of jungle wood? I had my doubts, but there did not feel to be a way out of this one. I began to try to live with the reality that Oud oil had reached its prime in the artisanal distillations of Ensar Oud, and that we would never see the likes of such oils, ever again.

Take Oud Shuyukh for example. That first swipe of Oud Shuyukh is what made me understand Ensar’s devotion to wild wood. I felt like cultivated wood would not be able to energetically reproduce this level of wildness, this jungliness, this earthy primal quality. How could it? The raw and wild character of Oud Shuyukh had me singing the praises of wild Oud, long before I really knew and felt the endangered status of Oud right now.

I decided to ask Ensar about this, and also see what his feelings were about it. Since then, he posted this video, which I highly recommend watching: Can organic Oud be as good as wild Oud?

What follows is a question along the same lines. I feel that Ensar’s reply very nicely gets to the heart of the matter.

QUESTION: Ensar, can you smell the difference between Oud oil from cultivated wood and Oud oil from wild wood? From what I gather in other communications, the most significant factor in producing artisanal Oud oil is not the matter of cultivated wood vs. wild wood, but it is the nitty-gritty of the distillation process itself. Is that accurate? In that case, do you feel that Ensar Oud is beginning to prove that cultivated wood can produce the same quality Oud oil as wild-harvested wood?

ENSAR: If the cultivated wood is allowed to age at least five years after infection is engendered; and it is then distilled with proper care and expertise; and it is left to age naturally without any force aging or oxidation, it would be very difficult to smell the difference between wild and cultivated oud.

Most wild oud is distilled from trees that were infected for the same amount of time as cultivated trees, simply because if the wild wood matures enough it will then turn into proper incense grade hard agarwood which is all but impossible to distill into oil. This quality is sold as oud chips, and only the marginal shavings obtained during the cleaning process can be distilled into oud oil.

Yet if you take oud oil distilled from these shavings and compare it with incense-grade organic oud (e.g. Thai Encens No 1), I bet you not only won’t be able to tell the difference, you’ll opt for the Encens as the superior oil. So yes, the nitty-gritty details of what goes into the stills, how long it is soaked, what temperature it gets cooked at; does the steam pass through stainless tubes or copper ones; does the oil pass through stainless ducts or copper ones; is the still itself copper or stainless steel; and so forth; these are what makes oud oil artisanal.

Are we “beginning to prove that cultivated wood can produce the same quality Oud oil as wild-harvested wood?” I’d rather not answer that question myself. Here is what Taha  of Agar Aura has written me over the last few days:

I’m actually quite shocked at how similar [Oud Yusha] smells to Oud Kampuchea! The latter is the only 100% authentic wild Cambodian oud that I know of, that I’ve smelled. And the fact that Yusha is soooo similar to Kampuchea has me quite impressed. I don’t say this to praise Kampuchea, rather I mean that I am thoroughly impressed that Yusha could smell so close to wild oud. I’d say the two are about 95% identical. I have no doubt that you’ll be able to (continue to) produce organic ouds of the same calibre as, or even better than, wild ouds.

First of all, I think it was a great idea for this oil to have been distilled the way it was. It bequeathes the oil a complexity I have never seen in cultivated oils before. With the multi-layered ensemble displayed by this oil, one could almost swear it was distilled from ancient wild trees. The opening is woody and smoky, yet soft and smooth, and really does remind me of a wooden cottage. A touch of leather adds a nice dark back drop for the brighter notes to stand out and shine more. A subtle fruitiness begins to emerge after about a minute. A hint of sweet roasted nuts makes me think of a pie fresh out of the oven, with a thick filling of succulent fruits, sprinkled with cinnamon and garnished with crushed almonds and macadamia nuts. Surprisingly, to me Encens d’Angkor actually gets sweeter than Oud Yusha as it develops further, but the smokiness and darker notes keep fading in and out, making the oil unpredictable and keeping my nose ever-glued to my wrist. I feel I still haven’t fully grasped all of the oil’s subtleties, but I look forward to spending more time getting to know it better.

I couldn’t resist emailing you again, to share some more impressions on Encens d’Angkor. I’m surprised you didn’t mention honey notes in this oil’s description. Close the dry down stage, I detect a very noticeably ‘hot’ honey note that I have only seen in one other oil. Caramelicious and warm. Also, for the first time today, I realized that the name for this oil is perfect – it actually does smell quite a lot like a burning incense stick. It is as though Crassna oud is the agarwood part of the incense, while the other accompanying notes in the oil are the equivalent of spices and herbs traditionally used in incense-making. I can’t get over how complex this oil is!

The Future of Oud Pt. 2: Organic Oud

QUESTION: What is “Organic Oud”?

ENSAR: There are three things to rule out when labeling an oud ‘organic’. Chemical fertilizers; synthetic pesticides; and artificial inoculation via Biotech vaccine and the like. Not all cultivated wood is inoculated artificially. The bare minimum, which every farmer apart from select Assamese planters implements is to drill holes into the trunks of the trees. This will trigger natural resin formation, as the tree will fight to heal the wounds. Very few farmers stop there.

Then there are farmers who insert honey inside these holes to attract ants. The ants will swarm inside the holes, eat the honey and proceed to other holes carrying with them bacteria that spreads the infection of the tree. The more widespread the infection, the greater the resination.

Others will take the leftover water from hydro-distillation along with some of the cooked agarwood dust and inject that into the holes in the trunk. Presumably the bacteria that is still found in the dregs from the previous distillation can trigger a new infection in the uninfected saplings.

Then of course you have Biotech. This is the most widespread artificial inoculation method. Yet it is worthy of note that more than an inoculation method it is used as a catalytic agent used to speed up the infection rather than trigger it. As the old adage goes, ‘Good things happen to those who wait.’

In labeling an oud ‘organic’ then, we look for trees that were planted without the use of chemical fertilizers; not sprayed with synthetic pesticides; and not injected with Biotech. In all of Thailand we’ve only found three farmers whose trees fall under this category.

There are no harmful chemicals at play when distilling oud from trees injected with Biotech. I have an oil like that here which I procured specifically with the intention to study it and see how Biotech affects the fragrance in the long run.

But if we can produce organic oils, which are the closest thing both from a chemical and from an olfactory standpoint to the wild oil, then why remove the process that much further from the way it occurs in the wild?