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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.


Decoding Obscure Notes Part IX-C: Oud in Arabia & Perfumery


Agarwood has made its way from Southern Asia to Arabia by way of the spice caravans, and is known as “oud” in the region, which is also the name for wood, and for an Arabic musical instrument resembling the lute. The nomadic cultures of the Arabs and Bedouins have grown fond of oud’s fine and intense aroma and use it for both religious purposes and for pleasure. Oud has become an inseparable part from Arabic culture.

Oud chips and incense are burnt in an incense burner called mabakhir during the holy month of Ramadan, after breaking the daily fasting with a meal and showering, and before the evening prayers at the mosque. It is also incorporated into the Hadj ceremonies and is burnt during Eid.

Burning oud is considered a great honour, and is part of the customs of guest welcoming (when the host can afford it!). Hospitality is a custom that is held in much regard, and is considered a virtue in Arabia and in the Middle East. The hosts share their best commodities with their guests, no matter how rich or poor they are. What began out of necessity for survival in the desert by offering clean water and a feast to break the wonderer’s hunger has evolved into entertaining with more precious commodities such as coffee, sweets and burning the finest and most precious incense the host possesses.

Oud is also used to scent clothing by saturating the garments in agarwood smoke, a custom that interestingly enough is common to both Arabia and Japan.

Grading: Agarwood manufacturers classify agarwood into four distinct grades:
Grade 1 Black/True Agar: mainly exported to Arabia as incense Grade 2 Bantang: mainly exported to Arabia as incense Grade 3 Bhuta or Phuta: sometimes extracted for a superior oil Grade 4 Dhum: used for oil (Source: Cropwatch)

Perfumery:
The Arabs are particularly fond of oud oil, dehn al-oud, which they use as a personal fragrance. Because alcohol is forbidden in Islam, Arabian perfumes are traditionally either essential oils that are worn neat on the skin, or based in an oil carrier.
Agarwood is the most expensive natural essence known in perfumery, and therefore mostly been used by the royalty or nobelty, or wealthy merchants. Agarwood is more often than never used as a single note from a specific country and grade. And less often it is blended with other notes such as rose, sandalwood, musk, ambergris, etc. And as mentioned in the 1st part of the series, it is not uncommon for the oil to be adulterated with lodh oil and several synthetics.

Oud is also used in a lesser extent in Indian perfumery. I have with me a sample of “musk oud attar”, which is a very dark, musky, animalic oud distilled with other secret plant materials into sandalwood oil. It has great tenacity and longevity.

Agarwood is an unusual woody note that is rarely used in perfumery, because of it prohibitive cost. There is an increased interest in agarwood in the past decade, perhaps triggered by the release of M7 by YSL in 2002, which was the first Western commercial perfume to use agarwood as a distinct note. Until than, agarwood oil was mostly used by Arabian perfume companies (i.e.: Ajmal, Arabian Oud, Madini, Rasasi) and the odd niche perfume house (i.e.: Montale’s oud line).

Agarwood is used in luxurious Oriental and woody compositions. It creates a sensual, resinous-animalic or clean-woody warmth and blends well with resins, balsams, spices and precious florals to make outstanding perfumes. A little touch of agarwood can turn an otherwise simple and ordinary scent into a magical phenomenon.

Examples for contemporary perfumes with agarwood:
M7

Oud Abu Dabi

Oud Wood

Arabian Aud (Ayala Moriel) - one of a kind

Click here for more perfumes I've created containing agarwood.

P.s. We will come back later with more insights on oud in perfumery.
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