I realize, as I am sitting down to write this review, that there is no accurate way for me to describe what a hundred-year old oud smells like. The best I can do is to say that it is unami, that Japanese word for the fifth taste, one that is packed ten deep with savory, sweet, salty, and sour notes, all piled in on top of each other so that the taste buds receive a complex sensation that is part taste, part smell, part feeling. Foods that are rich in unami, for example, are aged Parmesan cheese, aged balsamic vinegar, soy sauce, breast milk, and fine wines. In fact, if you have ever tasted any of these things and tried to describe them to someone has hasn’t, then you will know what I mean when I say it is a struggle to come up with accurate vocabulary.
Kannam 100-year old aged oud is, by a very wide margin, the most complex and unami-rich thing I have ever smelled. I feel very privileged to have been able to experience it at all, given that the price per tola on this one is, as the Americans say, “beyond my pay grade”. If I were rich, though, and I wasn’t depleting my kids’ trust funds too badly, I would happily cough up the $2,700 or so it costs (for 11.66666 grams). Hell yeah I would! But unless I find myself a sugar daddy, and soon, before the small portion of good looks I have run out, then I will have to content myself with the memory of my sample.
The oud oil in the sample vial was so thick, black, and viscous that I had to warm it for two hours between my boobs in order to even prise the applicator wand out of the vial (I do apologize to whomever receives this sample after I’m done with it). You have to dab it on, but the texture is like tar, so spreading it around gently is not an option – it sits there on your skin like you just painted it with wood varnish.
The smell – oh my God. It is utterly unfair that I should smell something this good and not be wealthy enough to procure it. Immediately, I have to say that the smell is not animalic or barnyard in the slightest – I was surprised by this. It is smooth and deep, but intense. My husband said it immediately brought him back to his childhood, to a massive state-owned Yugoslav leather goods store in town he used to frequent with his father for shoes, jackets, etc. There was a tannery nearby, and the air in the store thus smelled of newly-tanned leather and of the chemicals used to tan the leather. He said the oud had such an intense smell that it caused his teeth and jaw to ache, just like the leather goods store did. I have read that this is a common reaction with unami-rich smells too.
To me, at first, it smells of the following things: ancient furniture varnish, balsamic vinegar reduction, leather, rubber, resins, pine sap, wintergreen, chopped trees in a wet forest. The smell is, I have to say, intoxicating, smooth, almost sweet, balsamic, but 20,000 miles deep in unami flavors. The fumes are almost radioactive, so I can feel a buzz in my ears, almost like I am getting high on glue or something. Not that the smell is similar, not at all – just that the material gives off this powerful cloud of aromachemicals almost physically intoxicating to the senses.
Strangely, as time goes on, it becomes less sweet and more earthy, by which I mean that it takes on the damp, pleasantly moldy/sour inflections of a good patchouli. It smells of earth freshly upturned, of a wooden box buried in the damp earth for decades and then dug up and opened, releasing a stream of shut-up, stale air that smells ancient and good. I see what other writers on oud mean when they write that they smell like something prehistoric, dug up from a deep, dark cave in the woods somewhere. But like with all primitive smells (oud, patchouli, stone, forest), this has the ability to be “not strange” to your nose, as if somewhere in your prehistoric brain, you do remember this ancient smell from thousands of years ago.
Highly recommended as a once in a lifetime thrill, if only to set your own personal barometer for complexity. Samples of 0.15mls cost almost $50, so you have to be sure you want to travel this road, but it really is something I wish everyone could experience, at least once.