Ensar Oud - First Impressions

The World of Oud and Sandalwood Oils

Part of the art of selling single ingredients commodities such as tea lies in the ability of labeling and dating them appropriately with a memorable name. Dealing with oud is no different, with each specimen having a limited supply and very high demand.

Ensar Oud has done an outstanding job in not only sourcing a wide variety of pure oud oils (for wearing neat on the skin, I thought you might ask) and wood (for burning) - but also giving them imaginary names.

Ensar Oud does that with enticing names that make it a lot more memorable than just dates and numbers (although these do have their place and value in recognizing and comparing various aromatic specimens).

Jing Shen Lu
Khao Ra Kam, 2014 
Straight from the vial: Notes of spikenard, a tad minty-cool, alongside pungent notes of paint, tar and carbolineum. Reminiscent of antique patchouli as well.
On the skin: Elegant, clean, cool yet also spicy. Vetiver, berry and grass notes - reminiscent of nagramotha and davana mixed together. Tobacco-like with hints of helicrysum also.
Dryout: Woody, sweet yet clean.

China Sayang
China, 2005
Straight from the vial: Musty, old furniture, yet also mellow. Another time it smelled intense animal odours to me - like being surrounded by goats and camels, or sitting in a tent made of goat's hair and sheep's wool, dusty old cow cakes, and visiting caves where the above animals slept in.
On the skin: Grows warmer and sweeter on the skin.
Dryout: Dusty, with the animalic barnyard remnants persist. I happen to be very fond of goats, but find that wearing this on its own is a bit too realistic. I would be curious to blend it in a perfume where it would add a surprising element but only hint to the animals, without smelling so literal.

Oud Haroon
Siam, 2015
Straight from the vial: Funky, animals, valerian, hint of mint, mushroomy (like sour Cepes absolute), Marmite undertones. All in all quite yeasty.
On the skin: Strong yet somehow dull and flat.
Dryout: Becomes cooler woodier as it dries on the skin. Elegant finish to a rather funky beginnings.

Oud Yusuf
Trat, 2012
Straight from the vial: Although it begins with a blow of gasoline fumes notes that brings to mind the rather harsh opening of nagramotha (AKA Cypriol, a type of papyrus with a scent that closely resembles vetiver) - this is the mellowest of the four. Berry-like and smooth-wood body, with dusty clay and dried figs undertones.
On the skin: Clean woody. Hints of roasted nuts and coffee. A tad floral, perhaps even rosy. With herbaceous-grassy undertones, reminiscent of chamomile and blonde tobacco.
Dryout: Warm-woody, a little like vetiver.

After sampling oud oils and woods in various circumstances, I came to the realization that this is one of the most curious, sneaky and fascinating raw materials. It makes a huge difference when, how and where you experience the scents (as burned or warmed wood chips; oils on your skin or on paper or in the vial, etc.). Also, the order in which they are smelled makes a huge impact on their perception. If I were to smell these four ouds in a completely different order, they would smell quite different. I would recommend actually not smelling them side by side but immersing yourself completely in one at a time (which I would do later for each one of the oud oils I have in my collection).

If you decide to warm the oud chips as incense, using the Japanese koh-doh method, try different sequences of the ouds you have. Take lots of notes, not for others to read, but for yourself. It helps a great deal to refine the sense of smell and one's perception, and to pay more attention to the many nuances in these rich and complex treasures. Also this will help you to memorize the very confusing array of ouds available - which may seem useless for a layperson, but if you want to share these treasures with friends and host a little incense party - it will be very helpful to know what you're burning and in which order to place them. It will greatly affect the experience. For example: if a scent is very strong its best to place it last after the more subtle specimens. Also, memorization of what you have will help you enjoy more and be able to better appreciate other ouds that you stumble upon in other places.

Making Incense Cones

Sandalwood Incense Cones and Sweetgrass

This winter I've returned to my humble beginnings as an incense maker. Here are some photos from the meticulous production process of making Indian-style incense cones. I made them in two luxurious yet simple "flavours": Sandalwood and Agarwood.

I'm still experimenting with other ideas of more complex formulations, but for now I'm just wowed by what a simple incense (read: one note) smells like. With these two woods, that's really all you need...

Incense Dust
The most frustrating part of incense making is grinding. Bonus effect: if using an  effective heavy-duty electric grinder, the fine powder will go up your nostrils every time you check on the progress. Major sneezing fits may ensue. Or just an unregulated high from botanical substances. This one had tobacco leaves in it (grown for medicinal/ceremonial purposes). My nose did not agree with it and I had to put up with watery eyes and itchy nose that afternoon.

Incense Trail
Indented incense trail, with the trial mix sprinkled inside it.

Incense Trail
The true test - incense trail. If this burns through to the other end, we're off to a good start. If it also smells wonderful - we're good to go!
Incense Making
Now that the blend has been perfected, and confirmed to both burn through and smell good, it's time to add water. It will form a clay-like putty. It can't be too try, nor too moist. Gotta be just right...

Incense "clay"
To make the incense cones uniform in size, I've rolled them into a snake and cut into little gnocchi-shaped sections. Each is rolled by hand to form a cone, and left to dry.

Incense Selfie
Incense maker's selfie of sorts... The incense is now ready to pack away - and burn!

Oud Truffles

Yes, you heard it right:
Oud truffles.
As in chocolate, with oud in it, to eat and enjoy.

This is very unconventional flavour. It creates more of an aroma that enhances the chocolate.

The occasion is my book signing event: I was thinking - what would be reminiscent of old libraries, leather-bound books, something mysterious, alluring and totally out there? First I was thinking ambergris (which I've already created before for my Orcas perfume launch - with amazing result). I had a sniffing session of oud the other day with my student (who's originally from Kuwait - she's in fact, the daughter of an Arabian perfumer and oud merchant). As a result, oud was on my mind... I had a hunch that oud would create a similar effect to that of ambergris - bring the best out of the chocolate. I was right.

I've used an incredibly animalic, rich, and slightly berry-like oud (the same one that I use in my Razala perfume). The result was everything I hoped and non of the bitterness I feared that would result from adding wood oil to the already-bitter 72% dark cocoa. It blossomed into this spectacular, slightly flowery chocolate. Rich in aroma, intriguing, intense, but also very refined and not in the least overpowering. I'm going to pair it with a nice big red, spicy wine like Zinfandel or Shiraz tonight!
Please join me!

Clean Agarwood Incense

Lichen, originally uploaded by Ayala Moriel.

Opposites do not only attract; they are also very similar. The musty, damp, rotting-wood scent of agarwood oil is precisely what makes it clean smelling. It's a strange olfactory paradox that I'm unable to explain.

I've created Bon Zai in 2001 as a custom scent to my ex-husband, who for no reason that I can explain, reminded me of Japanese garden. Bon Zai was meant to be minimalistic, woody and off-beat, like nothing else but at the same time with a sense of tranquility and purpose, harmony and balance like a bon sai tree in a zen garden with cool moss-covered rocks, flowing trails and trickling water; yet at the same time still evoke a very old tree at the top of a cliff.

Bon Zai was one of my very first perfumes and the skeleton for the formula was something that I found in Poucher's book called "Japanese Bouquet". I followed the formula similarly to how I follow recipes from a cookbook: I read it, imagine what it should be like, and try to make it ten times better.

The perfume you have recently experienced is different from the original 2001 creation because of a little transformation it went through just by adding two essences that characterize Japan's olfactory world: shiso and agarwood.

Shiso is a very strange herb that looks like small patchouli leaves (or large mint leaves), with serrated edges. It is one of the most finicky things to cook with, as it reacts very badly to heat: it looses all of its aroma. In Japanese cuisine, green shiso is eaten fresh, as a whole leaf to wrap sashimi, or thinly sliced to garnish cold soba noodles. There is also purple shiso, but that's another story...

What shiso did to the formula was transport the coniferous pine and juniper from the forest into the top of the mountain, where the air is clear and clean, and the forest is so healthy and pure that lichen grows on the wind-swept pines. It adds water and space to the wood, making it feel even more airy and light than it was ever before.

The agarwood adds a very subtle touch: the base otherwise has woody notes of sandalwood, vetiver and antique patchouli. The accent here is on the sandalwood though. Vetiver and patchouli in that particular context and ratio reads "woody" rather than "earth" or "dirt". The agarwood, although sharing some similarities with both sandalwood's precious woods and incense characters, and with the mustiness of vetiver and patchouli, goes all the way to the direction of pure smokeless incense. It's like a sheer veil of incense or the trail that a sandalwood fan leaves in its wake...

An Oud With A Grin

Shaking Snowdrop, originally uploaded by flickrolf.

I woke up this morning noticing something unusual from my window: full-strength sunshine and trees covered in green plumage. Of course, that did not mean a warm day; on the contrary: it was a wind storm that blew away the clouds and let in the sun. Nevertheless, this was a perfect day for wearing Grin!

Grin was a tribute to the crisp spring in the Northern hemisphere: bulb flowers springing from the cold earth, heady and fragrant in contrast to the brisk air, cool rocks covered in rain-soaked moss and the frost-covered earth that if anything, emits a harsh, dusty and marshy smell.

But there is also another element altogether: light. Luminous light as it shines through the word-shaped bulb-plants’ leaves as they cut through the chilly air; and backlit buds of tree leaves shimmering against blue sky.

The creation of Grin was greatly inspired by Diorissimo, the legendary perfume by Edmund Roudnitska, which I also wore on my wedding day. This perfume is, in my opinion, one of the most perfect perfumes in the world, pure beauty in a bottle. It’s also one of the very few commercial perfumes that is said to contain boronia. It is particularly breathtaking in the parfum extrait, where the boronia is actually noticeable, as well as the jasmine and rose, giving the lily of the valley depth that can’t be quite complete in the lighter eau de Toilette. It was not possible for me to create lily of the valley accord with naturals alone, but I wanted to capture the emotion that I get when I smell this lily of the valley perfume. It always brings a smile to my face. And that’s what I tried to do with Grin.

Although not a soliflore by any means, the star of the show here is Boronia. This rare flower absolute from Tasmania brings a ray of light into the perfume. Crisp galbanum brings out its fresh-cut flower personality, but also an outdoorsy fresh-cut-grass smell, that makes me want to fill my lungs with air. Green pepper accentuate the peppery freesia-like character of boronia. Violet leaf brings out more of the ionone character of boronia. Jasmine and rose make it shine even brighter, bringing out an opulent richness. And than, what we need to talk about next, is the base.

“I've often seen a cat without a grin,' thought Alice; `but a grin without a cat! It's the most curious thing I ever saw in my life!'” (Lewis Carol, “Alice in Wonderland)

On its own, agarwood is rarely perceived as a cheerful note that would make one jump up with joy; but in this perfume from 2006, this is the role it takes. Wet stones, mossy forest floor and earth awakening to the sun was what the base needed to evoke in Grin. And agarwood, surprisingly, makes this happen, juggling the dense oakmoss on one hand, and the nearly effervescent and green Haitian vetiver, which extends galbanum and violet crispness till the end. It stands in the middle with its musty woody personality, smelling clean and balanced and mysterious. It’s an extension of the green leaves and the forest and the woods from where the fragrant bulb flowers emerge with their defiant optimism, provoking the sleepy world and welcoming the sun.

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