This is where the oud reviews begin. But before you start reading, oud-heads and oud newbies, do check out the introduction to oud here, which covers everything from how oud is distilled, its uses in oil-based and commercial perfumery, and the different markets that consume it. Then read my Oud Primer, consisting of Part I: The Challenges of Oud, Part II: Why Oud Smells the Way it Does and Part III: The Different Styles of Oud.
A word on how I am structuring the review section.
Pure Oud oils: First, the reviews of pure oud oils. If we use a Michael Pollan analogy, pure oud oils represent the leafy green vegetables and whole foods found at the outer edges of the supermarket. Oud oils are pure essential oils (or ruhs), distilled directly from shards of agarwood loaded into a still. They have not been tempered, diluted, or mixed with any other material. (If I suspect that they have been, I will say so). Unlike most other essential oils, oud oil is so complex that it wears as a complete ‘perfume’ on the skin.
In the pure oud review section, I will note the specific style that the oil personifies, so that we slowly begin to associate the notes and characteristics we are smelling (smoke, sourness, fruitiness, wood rot) with the style that gives rise to these characteristics.
Oudy Mukhallats: Second, reviews of oudy mukhallats. Mukhallats are blends (mukhallat being the Arabic word for ‘blend’) of essential oils and other raw materials that were distilled, tinctured, or compounded elsewhere. Some of them include carrier oils and synthetics, while others do not (price is a factor). Generally, mukhallats are viewed by Arabs and Persians as the perfect vehicle for oud oil. Indeed, given the preference in the Middle East for rich, complex blended perfumes, oudy mukhallats might even be preferable to wearing the oud oil neat.
The mukhallat is a uniquely Middle Eastern form of perfumery, while the attar is a traditionally Indian one. Note that for most of the perfume-wearing world, the words ‘attar’ and ‘mukhallat’ are largely interchangeable (read about the actual differences here and here). The rose-oud mukhallat is the most famous type of oudy mukhallat in the world, providing the basic template for the thousands of Montale, Mancera and Armani rose-ouds that now populate the market.
Oudy Concentrated Perfume Oils: The reviews of oudy CPOs will cover all of the (mostly Western takes on) perfume oils with a headlining oud note. Concentrated perfume oils are not attars or mukhallats, partially because of their construction but also because the objective of the whole exercise is different. Read about what makes a concentrated perfume oil different from a mukhallat here. People wear mukhallats for reasons of religion, culture, and tradition, while people wear perfume oils just to smell great or to tap into a specific image or fantasy. CPOs are not intrinsically inferior to mukhallats – they just come at oud from a completely different angle.
The variety represented by concentrated perfume oils is immense, covering everything from the Henry Jacques oils that can cost up to a thousand dollars to American indie perfume oils, luxurious niche perfume oils, and the cheapest of dupe oils. From the ridiculous to the sublime, and everything in between, therefore. If it has ‘oud’ in its name, it is in the CPO review section, regardless of whether there is any oud in the mix or not. In the CPO category, it is the fantasy of oud that counts, not its actuality.
Pure Oud Oil Reviews: 0-C
Photo: Pure oud samples, photo my own (please do not use, circulate, or repost without my permission)
1985 (Kyara Zen)
Type: pure oud oil
Style or Profile: Possibly Chinese
The story behind this oil is fascinating, and not a little controversial. While browsing among the wares of one Mr. Lee, an old Chinese medicine practitioner whose shop contains a wealth of agarwood pieces, ancient herbs, and jade collected over the course of many decades, the Kyarazen director idly asked if he happened to have any oud oil. Lo and behold, Mr. Less emerged from the back of his shop with a large container of dark brown oil that even his own staff was astonished to see. Ostensibly distilled from an batch of prime agarwood in 1985, this oil had been sitting and aging nicely for the past three decades in Mr. Lee’s shop.
It is a great story, but one that caused enormous controversy in the oud community when it was released. Namely, a great number of people who smelled it – including myself – thought the oil was not pure oud, but rather oud mixed with a quantity of some other oil, most likely aged labdanum. T o my nose, 1985 possessed all the incensey, tarry-ambery hallmarks of labdanum absolute, which I would describe as the scent of dry leather smeared with molasses and saltwater taffy.
However, a GC/MS analysis of the oil, conducted and paid for by a customer, revealed the oil to be mostly oud oil, with traces of contaminant later hypothesized to have come from the rubber cap used to seal the jar of oil. Confusion followed – how was it possible for an oud oil to smell so definitively of labdanum and yet prove conclusively to be oud oil? A clue to this mystery lies in Kyara Zen director’s own take on this in a Basenotes thread on the subject[i]:
‘There’s absolutely no need for anyone to apologize to KZ for anything relating to KZ1985. Experts are not wrong on their assessment/diagnosis as they can be assessing based on scent notes rather than chemical constituents. It is like how we can smell fruits and flowers in modern ouds, but it doesn’t mean they put fruits/flowers inside.’
He is exactly right, of course. Pinpointing what we are smelling in any perfume, let alone in something as naturally complex as an oud oil, will never be an exact science when human perception is involved. When we smell a high degree of resin (labdanum) in KZ 1985, it is probably because the oil itself is extracted from a wood with a high proportion of resin and our noses simply conflate one resinous smell with another. The same goes for when we think we can smell white flowers or mint in an oud oil – those materials are not actually there, of course, but our noses identify nuances that might conceivably belong to them. The lesson of 1985 is that smelling is a deeply personal, subjective sensory experience, rather than one that can be entirely explained by science.
Al Malek Al Ceeni (Al Shareef Oudh)
Type: pure oud oil
Style or Profile: Chinese
Al Malek Al Ceeni was distilled from vintage stock of A. Sinensis, a species of Aquilaria native to China. While oils distilled from Chinese agarwood tend to be ferociously animalic, with characteristics that recall both ambergris and deer musk, Al Malek Al Ceeni smells more like Winnie the Pooh after rolling around in meadowsweet, herbs, and moss to get honey off his fur. Warm, herbaceous, and slightly waxy, this is an oil that leans firmly towards the sunlit side of the oud garden. Hints of peppery anise and grass caught in the beeswax texture of the oil create a gentle stained glass window effect. Nothing beastly or dark threatens the rural happiness of this scene.
As it develops, the oud becomes less moistly green (herbal, anisic, mossy, etc.) and more honey-like in tone. Now, when people mention honey in reviews, it is important to specify which characteristics of honey they are smelling, because these can range from bitter and pungent to floral, airy, grassy, and so on. Many people who struggle with one characteristic may love another. In Al Malek Al Ceeni, the honey note is dark gold, resinous, and woody. Crucially, it is not at all syrupy, pungent, or dirty. Picture a mix of chestnut honey with its charred-wood aspects, mixed with greenish Acacia, and lastly, a dollop of beeswax for opacity. This is what the honey nuance in Al Malek Al Ceeni smells like.
Supporting these green, honeycomb-wax notes is a layer of fruity, berried fermentation associated more with the Cambodi style of oil. Backing all of this is a core of damp, green-woody ‘oudiness’. I found an interesting piece of information about the type of wood from which Al Malek Al Ceeni was distilled, namely Chinese A. Sinensis, given by Al Shareef Al Oudh:
“Chinese Sinensis is a wood that has 31 known and identified compounds and many that are not fully identified yet. There are 6 main structure skeleton groups that are prominent in the Chinese Sinensis and they have the associated aromas;
Agarofuran skeleton: woody, nutty
Agrospirane skeleton: spicy, peppery, woody
Elemophilane skeleton: woody, burnt
Guaiane skeleton: sweet, woody, balsam, peppery
Eudesmane skeleton: waxy, sweet
Nor-sesquiterpene: woody, burnt[ii]”
Al Malek Al Ceeni clearly demonstrates several of these characteristic aromas, especially those of the Eudesmane skeleton (waxy, sweet) and the Guaiane skeleton (sweet, woody, balsam, peppery). For those struggling to find their perfect match in the Chinese oil genre, this may be the answer. Wearing it feels like having an all-natural honey and herb balm lightly stroked onto a furrowed brow by a loved one. Calming and herbaceous, it is the polar opposite of the stormy oils that populate most of the Chinese genre.
Al Malek Al Maliyzi (Al Shareef Oudh)
Type: pure oud oil
Style or Profile: Malaysian, mixed with New Papuan or Borneo
Al Malek Al Maliyzi is a stunning oud oil that mixes the smoky, jungly aspects of a typical Malaysian profile – meaning distinct layers of smoke, earth, and spicy green wood – with the fresher, greener characteristics of a steamy island oud, like a New Papuan or Borneo oil.
As complex and non-linear as Al Malek Al Maliyzi may be, however, it remains accessible to even the beginner’s nose. It is immediately attractive, with no off-putting notes like barnyard, goat fur, or feces or urine. The topnotes bring to mind hot tar mixed with aged rye bourbon, slathered onto a pair of old cordovans. It would be very ‘men’s private club’ in aura were it not for the haunting layers of spicy smoke filtering through the leathery whiskey note. Unlike most ambery or whisky-like leather notes in modern perfumery, the note here is unsweet and even slightly rough in texture.
Richness without sweetness is an achievement in and of itself, and Al Malek Al Maliyzi manages it with aplomb. There is a leafy bitter-sweetness at play here similar to chewed betel leaf or camphor, and, although I would never call Al Malek Al Maliyzi fruity, there is a nuance here close to the ferrous twang of sour cherry concentrate. This adds a surprising tartness to the rich leather note, making for an intoxicating experience.
A vein of balsamic warmth courses through the lower reaches of Al Malek Al Maliyzi. This smells like nuggets of vegetal amber melting and popping in the heat as Baltic pine trees burn to the ground. The heat emanating from this accord is bone-warming and deeply satisfying. Al Malek Al Maliyzi is as physically satisfying as a down-lined puffer coat on a cold day.
I am impressed with how Al Malek Al Maliyzi manages to corral all this green, balsamic warmth to the front without pouring on the sugar. It is an oil to be cherished most closely in the depths of winter, its full beauty revealing itself as it burrows deep down into the fibers of woolen hats and scarves.
Al Ruba’ie (Al Shareef Oudh)
Type: pure oud oil
Style or Profile: Mixed – Vietnamese, Laotian, Malaysian, and Indonesian
Al Ruba’ie is a special experiment. It is a co-distillation of agarwood from four different oud-producing regions, each with their own style or terroir. Al Ruba’ie means ‘quadrant’ or ‘quartet’ in Arabic. The quartet of agarwoods used to distill Al Ruba’ie was as follows: Vietnamese agarwood (tart, bitter, peppery, savory), Laos (barnyardy, metallic, curd cheese undertones), Malaysia (a split profile between smoky jungle notes and aromatic green herbs), and finally, Indonesian (a diverse profile, but at its best, green, ethereal wood notes).
When the oil first goes on, its texture as thick as blackstrap molasses, it smells like a pool of labdanum resin set on fire – smoke, tar, and leather, all melted down into a sticky, bubbling blackness. The smoky thickness of this opening is characteristic of the upper layer of the Malaysian oud profile.
But even within this thick, smoky wall of aroma, one begins to perceive the cheesy ripeness of the Laotian agarwood vying for attention with the saline underbite of Vietnamese oud, like a pungent Brie spread on an all-natural buckwheat cracker. The faintly salty undertone rinses the smoke and woods with salty freshness, the type one might associate with a sea breeze. It is not entirely oceanic, or even airy, but it certainly is the opposite of the cloying sweetness one sometimes finds in Cambodi-style oils.
Flitting in and out of the tar and savory, metallic freshness (which strikes me as almost ambergris-like in tone) is a thread of sweet and sour fruit, like cherries or apricots preserved in vinegar, mustard seed, and sugar – a medieval mostarda of sorts. Again, the fruit notes are perfectly in line with the gently savory ‘taste’, adding only a haunting fleshiness to the main body.
Texture-wise, Al Ruba’ie runs from tarry-smoky and almost viscous in the beginning to the mouth-filling dustiness of a freshly-spilled powder compact. To my nose, the jungly green notes of the lower register of the Malay agarwood and the brighter, more herbal notes of Indonesian agarwood are somewhat lost in translation, due simply to the fact that the barny Laotian, the smoky Malay topnotes, and the peppery, bitter ambergris-like tones of the Vietnamese wood are more forceful in character.
No matter, because the result is still one of the richest, most complex, and most dramatic oud oils I have ever smelled, darting fluidly between one regional profile to the next without missing a step. Elegant, dark, and complex, this is the oud equivalent of Jamaican black cake, albeit one doused in salt and pepper rather than rum.
Aroha Kyaku (Ensar Oud)
Type: pure oud oil
Style or Profile: Plantation Crassna with kyara-incense characteristics
Aroha Kyaku is an organic oud made from thirty-year old plantation A. Crassna trees that were naturally inoculated. In other words, this is oil from plantation agarwood grown and harvested as closely to wild conditions as possible. Aroha Kyaku is special for several reasons. First of all, although it comes from a Crassna, there is very little fruitiness or caramel to be found in the aroma. Second, although the wood chips were soaked for one month before distilling, there are no sour leather or barnyardy notes. In fact, it is fair to say that Aroha Kyaku does not possess any Hindi characteristics at all.
Finally, and most importantly, this is one of those rare oud oils that actually smells more like agarwood smoking on a burner than an oud oil. In other words, it possesses most of the hallmarks of burning incense-grade wood, or even Kyara – smokiness, incense, and greenish woods.
Aroha Kyaku opens on a searing birch tar note so smoky that that it is hard not to visualize charred beef clinging to the underside of a grill. There is also a very strong woody, resinous tobacco leaf in the mix. The smoky woods and toasty tobacco flavor are reminiscent of Jeke by Slumberhouse, down to the peaty Scottish Islay whiskey note. It is an extremely rich, deep sort of aroma, making me think of ancient, book-lined libraries.
Although this is not as fruity as a standard Crassna distillation, there is indeed a sour cherry leather accord that lurks directly behind the curtain of incense, tobacco, and smoke. It is not fresh or sweet, but dry and chewy, like an old desk carved from cherry wood that still retains a faint memory of the fruit it once bore. The outcome is a rich, multi-layered oil that allows you to visualize what the original kyara experience might have been like. If this is the future of organic, farmed oud, then we are in good hands.
Assam 3000 (Ensar Oud)
Type: pure oud oil
Style or Profile: Hindi with Borneo style characteristics
Assam 3000 is a wild Assamese (Hindi) oud oil that combines some of the Borneo type characteristics (medicinal, hints of cinnamon, honey, mint, herbs, and white flowers) with the more typical Assam profile (leathery, fermented, regal). The addition of the Borneo has the effect of mopping up the barnyard nuances of the Hindi. Therefore, while Assam 3000 does open with a clear barnyard note, it is a very clean barnyard – all the animal stalls neat and tidy, the animal droppings picked up and placed on the manure heap. This brief opening stage is there to let us know that, yes, this is indeed a Hindi. But its barnyard elements speak with a upper class English accent and sip tea with their pinkies out.
Once the sourish, barnyard aspects drop off, in sweeps a wave of red fruit, like sour cherry juice spilled over a brown leather chair. The fruit is dark, acidic, and slightly tannic, with that little catch in the back of your throat you get necking a sour cherry juice at a health bar. Or the sucked-out, furry feeling you get in your mouth when eating green almonds fresh out of their shell or pomegranate seeds that are really too tart to be eating. The accord is so antioxidant-rich that I can almost feel it sluicing all the toxins out of my bloodstream.
Later, a nutty, floral creaminess creeps in, the source of which is a mystery to me. Its purpose is mainly to provide a soft, honeyed counterpoint to the acidic fruits and wood. The fact that there are no actual flowers, or tea, or cherries in this oil is incredible to me. These facets exist solely as a feature of the oil and how it was distilled. Assam 3000 is the oil to try if you are convinced that all Hindis smell animalic or that their range of flavor nuances inevitably runs the same course.
Assam Organic (Ensar Oud)
Type: pure oud oil
Style or Profile: Hindi
Assam Organic is distilled from agarwood grown on a remote plantation in Assam. On this plantation, the trees have been planted to reproduce the natural conditions of wild, jungle growth and the wood excised very carefully by the plantation owners from live trees. Only wood from trees that are at least thirty years old is used to distill Assam Organic, and Ensar further ages the oil for another eight years.
The aging is important here. Very young Hindi or Assam oils can be piercingly animalic, sour, or rotting in their intensity. Believe me, the stench of an improperly-aged Hindi is not the kind of smell that can be worn politely outside of the home (or even inside, if you have a spouse or children with a habit of voicing their objections). So, while Assam Organic is indeed quite animalic, the aging gives it a honeyed depth and smooth modulation that marks the difference between pure stink and a piece of art.
No two ways about it, though, the first two or three hours of Assam Organic will challenge all but the most experienced of noses. It is a dense compression of ripeness, the collective aromas of a cow barn right before milking time – slurry, dirty straw, warm animal, chewed cud, grass, and something also a bit creamy-sour, like raw milk that has curdled in the heat of the barn.
However, it is important to note that this all simply smells rudely healthy and countryside-ish rather than foul. Nobody who ever grew up in the country would find it objectionable. For those who did grow up in a rural setting, you will remember that there is a certain sensory pleasure to be had in a cow barn, breathing in the soupy, friendly stench of placid beasts that stand there, nosily chewing their cud and gazing stupidly at you.
The ‘eau de cow barn’ lingers through most of the fragrance. But after the stinging shock of the opening, it mellows into a ripe, golden aroma that covers the ground between raw honey and the velvety darkness of smoke, wood, and leather.
Borneo 2000 (Ensar Oud)
Type: pure oud oil
Style or Profile: Borneo
It is difficult for me to describe this oud oil, as I have an intense physical reaction whenever I smell it. Specifically, parts of my scalp and jaw begin to tighten and my skin begins to ‘crawl’. Perhaps it is an exaggerated response of my body to the umami flavors deep within this oil.
Borneo 2000 is the second generation of super star Borneo oud oils produced by Ensar Oud previously, such as Borneo 3000 and Borneo 4000. It opens with a hit of boozy peanut shell, cinnamon, and a raw wood aroma similar to the topnotes of wild Mysore sandalwood. It is clean, light, and polished, with no off-putting notes that might challenge a beginner. Note that there is a high-toned fruitiness here, like the heady fumes off a glass of grappa or stepping into a leather tannery. When people describe oud oil as ‘vaporous’, I think they are mostly referring to this quasi-hallucinogenic effect on the senses.
Like alcohol esters from the wood itself, Borneo 2000 is medicinal in its purity, and although the color of the oil is a light straw color, the olfactory color that presents itself to the mind is ice blue. There is a nutty, musky hum in the background, as if a nubbin of cedar incense had worked its way into the oil at some point in the process.
The trace of fruitiness in this oud is not the juiciness of fresh fruit but rather the leathery skin of a fig or plum neglected in a fruit bowl. This nuance also encapsulates the scent of the brown paper bag in which the fruit has withered. With its hints of sawdust, cedar, and peanut shell, Borneo 2000’s dusty, savory side balances out the dry fruit skin to perfection. Borneo 2000 finishes in a wisp of clean woodsmoke.
Overall, I find Borneo 2000 to be more physically intoxicating than spiritually exalting. It gives me the natural high of breathing in air freshly exhaled by trees in a forest, air so intensely ion-charged that it challenges your lungs to double their capacity. Some oud oils take time and reflection to unlock, but Borneo 2000 makes an immediate lunge for your solar plexus. A key advantage is that this oud is highly legible to newcomers. You don’t need experience to enjoy it.
Borneo 50K (Ensar Oud)
Type: pure oud oil
Style or Profile: Borneo
Borneo 50K surprises me with its potent, almost brash throw – loudness is not at all something I associate with a Borneo-style oud. It opens on a thick haze of pungent, oily medicinal greens, which slowly dissipates to reveal hints of juicy leaves, wood, vapors, solvent, aged honey, and an undercurrent of bitter white florals. All these nuances come wrapped in a curl of steam. It smells moist, humid, and more than a bit jungly.
If it is possible to get high from sniffing oud oil, then the Borneo style of oud would be my drug of choice. Sniffing the spot where I have applied Borneo 50K leaves me feeling dizzy and light-headed, as if I am sitting in a Native American sweat lodge rather than in a boring home office. A slight Palo Santo edge adds to this impression. Later, a layer of almost minty-green musk envelops the woods, and my lungs expand as if sucking on an inhalator. Borneo 50K a legal high? Just maybe.
Cambodia Classic (Kyara Zen)
Type: pure oud oil
Style or Profile: Cambodi
It took KZ a long time to source this particular Cambodi-style oil because producers kept showing up with mid-range oils that failed to hit the mark, which in the mind of KZ’s owner-operator was a triangulation of the right notes (sweet, fruity, and deep), decent price, and solid quality.
When they found this particular oil, they asked the producer why they hadn’t been shown this quality of oil right away without having to trudge through two hundred lesser oils. The reply given sheds light on the difficulty in identifying good oud oils out there ‘in the wild’. First of all, they said that they (the producers) needed to learn to trust Kyara Zen as a buyer before showing them the good stuff. And second, they argued, if they gave everyone a shot at their top quality oils first, then who would buy the bulk of their lesser quality oils?
In the world of oud wheeling and dealing, therefore, a deal must make good financial sense to the producer for it to go ahead, but long-term trust with buyers such as KZ also plays a role. Each time we (as private buyers) buy an oud oil, we are entering into a particularly high stakes pact, blindly trusting that a good balance between quality, cost, and trust has already been struck on the ground between our suppliers and their producers. Otherwise, there is a high likelihood that we are getting the duds that the supplier hasn’t been smart or diligent enough to avoid on our behalf.
No worries, of course, on the Kyara Zen score, as this small, one-man brand is well known for its taste and curation. Thus, Cambodia Classic is a wonderful representative of its genre. Thick and honeyed in texture, it goes on with a pop of leather and blackberry wine, with an undercurrent of funk to keep things interesting. It settles into a very rich, syrupy (although not overly sweet) aroma replete with ripe figs, red berries, and creamed hazelnuts cooing together in a harvest-like melody.
No sour, metallic, or animalic notes disturb the affability of the oil, making it beginner-friendly. However, despite being approachable, Cambodia Classic is never as tutti-frutti or as neon-lit as other modern Cambodi oils. It retains an uncommon level of refinement and restraint for its genre. There is a pleasantly stout ‘brownness’ to the aroma which prevents the oil from becoming sophomorically jammy. In other words, this is a darker, more adult version of the affable fruit bombs that pass as Cambodi oils these days.
In the later stages of the oil’s development, a faint wisp of woodsmoke emerges, adding depth and texture to an already robust body. And, although never loud or vulgar, Cambodia Classic projects voluminously. This particular oil is good value for money, not to mention superb quality for something tasked with standing up and representing an entire style (Cambodi).
Cambodi Non-Aged Oudh (Abdul Samad Al Qurashi)
Type: pure oud oil
Style or Profile: Cambodi
Cambodi Non-Aged Oudh is a raw, slightly pungent oil that serves as a good introduction to the basic aroma profile of a Cambodi-style oud, which is to say friendly, sweet, and with strong fruit and caramel undertones. This oil does pack an animalic punch at the start, though, so beginners beware.
Cambodi Non-Aged Oudh opens with the deep, spicy tang of a barnyard on a hot summer’s day. Hot, urine-sodden hay notes vie with fermented redcurrant and raspberry notes bubbling up from underneath. There is also a dusty clove note that clings to the hairs in one’s nostrils.
However, given ten minutes to settle, a smooth brown leather appears, warm and moist, like the grimy underside of a lady’s girdle. Port and plum notes appear at the edges, withering and darkening it until the basic shape of a Cambodi is achieved – honeyed red fruits undercut with the tannic sourness of black tea.
I like Cambodi Non-Aged Oudh because it is not pretending to be anything other than what it is, which is a young, raw-ish oud oil that comes out of its cage snarling like a baby tiger and then retracts its claws and rolls over to let you rub its tummy. It is not a terribly high quality oud oil, nor is it likely to be pure, or even single-source. But if you want to get to know the Cambodi style of oud without investing too much money, then this is a good option.
China Sayang (Ensar Oud)
Type: pure oud oil
Style or Profile: Chinese
Distilled from Sinensis agarwood, China Sayang is quite funky but nowhere near as animalic as other Chinese agarwood oils I have experienced. It almost smells like a Hindi oil at the start, bristling with all the aggressive, leathery funk of a raw Assamese oil, but – and I think this is crucial to note – with greater depth to the aroma. This aroma goes miles deep, capturing not only the smells of the bowels of the earth but also the lovely silty ‘topsoil’ aroma of ambergris. Chinese oils often have facets of ambergris and deer musk.
China Sayang smells warm and salty, like the underside of the saddle on a well-ridden horse. The Hindi elements of straw, hay, leather, and rotting wood flit in and out of a salty-herbaceous accord, giving us a smell that is three-dimensional in its richness. China Sayang is a rich, potent affair that lasts for the whole day and beyond. The latter stages are particularly impressive, settling with a contented sigh into a warm, musky aroma with hints of golden resin sparking fire at the corners.
Absent the fruit and flowers of other ouds, China Sayang comes across as distinctly old-school – masculine, thrusting, and uncompromising. It is not – personally speaking – my kind of thing at all. However, anybody who loves ambergris and musk as much as they love pure oud should make a point of seeking this out. Its buttery smoothness will win many people over, even those whose fealty is sworn to the more easygoing charm of Cambodis.
Crassna 25 Years (Abdul Samad Al Qurashi)
Type: pure oud oil
Style or Profile: Crassna (Cambodi style)
It is interesting to test ASAQ’s Crassna 25 Years against some of the younger ouds in the ASAQ stable such as the Cambodi Non-Aged Oudh reviewed above. As the name suggests, the oud oil in this blend (and I am almost certain that this is indeed a blend rather than a pure or single source oud oil) has been aged for twenty-five years and comes from the A. Crassna species, which is naturally fruity in character. Given the relatively consistent availability of this blend in quarter tola bottles and its low price tag (roughly $200 per quarter tola), this is likely to be a blend of several Crassna oils mixed together rather than an oil from one single-batch distillation.
That aside, Crassna 25 Years certainly smells aged, in that it is immediately smooth, supple, and as buttery as well-oiled leather. Compared to the younger ASAQ oud oils and blends, there are no rough edges anywhere, and no off-puttingly sour or fecal notes. This allows the beginner to just enjoy the opening wave of aroma without wincing or bracing for impact. The aroma here is woody and smoky, with a salty petrochemical echo, as if the oil remembers the heat of the saw used to excise the heartwood.
What is most remarkable here, to my nose, is the faintly synthetic flavor to the smoke and salt notes. This trace element stands out to my nose after having smelled many oud oils, but it is possible that others will not be able to detect it. This fuzzy ‘steel wire’ synthetic element – whatever it is – smells intensely smoky, powerful, and diffusive. I am sensitive to woody ambers, so again, it is possible that others will perceive this component simply as a smoky radiance that propels the scent outwards to the four corners of the room. The synthetic buzz is evident only in the midsection, after which it fades out again, leaving a concerto of beautifully aged oud aromas to play out on the skin.
A masterpiece? Hardly. But for the price, Crassna 25 Years is a steal, and if you are not particularly sensitive to synthetic smoke notes or woody ambers, then there is nothing here likely to mar your experience.
About Me: A two-time Jasmine Award winner for excellence in perfume journalism, I write a blog (this one!) and have authored many guides, articles, and interviews for Basenotes. (My day-to-day work is in the scientific research for development world). Thanks to the generosity of friends and acquaintances in the perfume business, I have been privileged enough to smell the raw materials that go into perfumes and learn about the role they play in both Western and Eastern perfumery. Artisans have sent vials of the most precious materials on earth such as ambergris, deer musk, and oud. But I have also spent thousands of my own money, buying oud oils directly from artisans and tons of dodgy (and possibly illegal) stuff on eBay. In the reviews sections, I will always tell you where my sample came from and whether I paid for it or not.
Source of samples: Most of the pure oud samples I am reviewing in these chapters were kindly provided to me free of charge by oud artisans and distillers, namely: Ensar Oud, FeelOud, Al Shareef Oudh, and Kyara Zen. The Abdul Samad Al Qurashi samples were sent to me free of charge by a distributor.
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Cover Image: Photo of pure oud samples, photo my own (please do not use, circulate, or repost without my permission)