Oud-heads and oud newbies, 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. Also, 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. Also, don’t miss Pure Oud Reviews: 0-C, Pure Oud Reviews: D-K and Pure Oud Reviews: L-O.
This section contains reviews of pure oud oils only. Review sections for oudy mukhallats and oudy concentrated perfume oils are forthcoming.
Photo of pure oud samples, photo my own (please do not use, circulate, or repost without my permission)
Port Moresby (Ensar Oud)
Type: pure oud oil
Style or Profile: Papuan (Gyrinops)
Port Moresby is one of the most lauded oud oils ever to be produced by Ensar Oud. Distilled from stock of older, more densely-resinated trees of the Gyrinops species from Papua, the oil displays an interesting dichotomy. On the one hand, it features all the usual green, vaporous, and almost sparkling facets of steamy Papuan oil, and on the other, it smells aged, buttery, and round in the way that some aged oils do.
Therefore, what one smells on the skin immediately is green and tart, like the skin of unripe green mangoes, mint, and basil cordial, but also deep and smooth, like a well-aged plum brandy. And it is this juxtaposition that makes Port Moresby such an intoxicating wear. This oil is reputed to replicate the smell of green kyara chips being heated on a burner. I wouldn’t know if this is accurate or not, but based on smell alone, Port Moresby certainly is a mesmerizing experience.
There are no off-putting sour or barnyard notes in Port Moresby. You are delivered directly to its core of vaporous green woods, with that subtle current of hot buttered leather, oiled antique furniture, and red wine pulsing beneath. It puffs away on the skin calmly and quietly, its own little forest world unfurling on your hand and gifting you with a piece of portable Zen in a fretful, unkind world. It is oils like Port Moresby that remind you why essential oils are so commonly used for healing, meditative, and spiritual purposes.
Photo by Kym MacKinnon on Unsplash
Purple Kinam (Ensar Oud)
Type: pure oud oil
Style or Profile: Malaysian
Purple Kinam was distilled from very high quality pieces of Malaysian Malaccensis by a skilled distiller who works almost exclusively with kinam wood. Ensar commissioned him to distill this particular oil as a sort of experiment to see if it was possible to wrest the flavors of a kinam oil from non-kinam wood. The result is, as even the distiller himself agreed, so high quality – kinam -that it justifies the name of this oil. (The word kinam, when used as a grading descriptor for an oud oil, usually means that the oil comes from densely-resinated, aged oud wood that is of the highest quality, superior to even the best oud wood found in that particular geographic area).
Kinam is generally understood to mean oil from wild Aquilaria Sinensis trees that have reached full maturity (over 80 years old) in Vietnam, but as with Purple Kinam and Qi Nam 2005, Ensar seems to be on a mission to prove his theory that kinam-quality oils can be produced from any type of wood (including Malaccensis) and in any region, as long as you have a distiller who knows what he is doing. In other words, he believes that kinam oils can be produced through the magic of alchemy – a skilled distiller turning metal into gold.
And the result, Purple Kinam, is indeed very beautiful. Though keep in mind that I have never smelled kinam and therefore have no true baseline against which to judge. It is a clean oud oil with absolutely no funk or dirtiness. There is even a floral (rosy) and citrus hue to its golden shallows.
An undertone of mustiness and stale lunchbox lurks in the upper registers, but even this aspect is pleasant. Lightly vaporous, the oil first emits high-toned fumes of wood, glue, solvent, and grain alcohol boiling in open vats, before settling down to a smooth, light finish. In many ways, it reminds me of the fine-grained woodiness of Borneo 2000 or even Oud Yusuf, indicating that this oil may possess some aspects of the Borneo aroma profile.
Purple Kinam is placid and easy to wear. I recommend it to anyone looking for an entry point to oud. Its light, clear golden texture and vaporous quality also qualifies it as a rare oud you could wear to work. If I could afford it, I would buy this oil to wear every day, as there is an easy-going, sunny grace to it that suits the daylight hours.
Pyrex Nepal (Blend) (Feel Oud)
Type: pure oud oil
Style or Profile: Mixed
Pyrex Nepal, a blend of various oud oils, initially doesn’t smell like oud oil at all. Instead, it charts a course between the flavor profiles of green curry oil, jasmine, and melted plastic, switching out one flavor for the next each time the nose returns to the skin, confused and searching for meaning.
It is a disorienting but not unpleasant experience. Pyrex Nepal is the kind of thing that makes me shake my head in admiration, not only at the intrinsic variability of oud oil but at the skill of artisan distillers like Russian Adam who are unafraid to push for a result that might annoy the hell out of oud purists. I am by no means a traditionalist, so I quietly cheer for this lack of deference and for these odd, boundary-expanding experiments. But if you are a traditionalist, tread carefully with this one.
Given an hour or two, Pyrex Nepal settles into a more recognizable shape of oud, with a plasticky, green, and airy quality that is quirky as hell but still recognizably oudy. Underneath, there stirs a powerful undertow of cumin, for that touch of heated female flesh.
Overall, Pyrex Nepal reminds me somewhat of the acidic, cumin-flecked woods of Al Rehab’s Khaliji and several of the woodier Le Labo fragrances. It is certainly oud oil, but all its usual references have been thrown askew, asking the wearer to fill in the gaps with their own imagination. An unsettling experience, but highly recommended.
Qi Nam 2005 (Ensar Oud)
Type: pure oud oil
Style or Profile: Chinese
Qi Nam 2005 is a rare Chinese oil that was the predecessor to the famous Ensar Oud Royal Kinam. In pure oud circles, the words ‘kinam’ and ‘kyara’ are generally understood to denote the highest grade of agarwood, a particularly resin-rich, packed, dense piece of oud wood from the Aquilaria Sinensis species that originated in China. But kyara or kinam agarwood can also be found in other species and in other geographical areas, such as Vietnam (home to the most revered kyara).
There are heated arguments over what makes a piece of wood kyara or kinam. Some argue that it must come exclusively from wild Aquilaria Sinensis trees that have reached full maturity (over 80 years old) in Vietnam, but others maintain that it can come from an Aquilaria Sinensis tree grown anywhere, like China or Borneo, or even India, as it is the quality of the wood pieces – their density of hard, packed resin – that matters more than where the tree grows. In the quality-over-geographical location argument, the prime factor that makes a piece of wood kinam or kyara, therefore, is that the wood from which the oil comes is of unusually high quality compared to the rest of the wood found in that particular area.
Royal Kinam was released by Ensar Oud under that name to denote its superiority over all other oud oils, even within the Ensar stable itself. Subscribing to the view that kinam simply means top-notch, aged, heavily resinated wood from the Aquilaria Sinensis species – no matter where the tree was grown – Ensar sourced a batch of Chinese-grown A. Sinensis wood to undertake this particular distillation (and make his point).
And actually, it makes sense to look for Aquilaria Sinensis – which translates to ‘of Chinese Origin’ – in China. However, given that Aquilaria Sinensis is itself extremely rare and almost extinct in China, only a tiny amount of Chinese oil from a piece of China-sourced Aquilaria Sinensis could ever be produced. In fact, the small quantity of Royal Kinam produced was quickly sold out on the Ensar Oud site and is now only available if a private collector decides to sell.
I have never smelled Royal Kinam, but its predecessor, Qi Nam 2005, is an experience I would wish for everyone new to the oud genre. In some ways, it is redundant to provide a description knowing that this oil is not available for purchase. On the other hand, my description might prove useful to buyers in terms of what they might expect if they come across an oil described as ‘kinam’ in their journey.
Qi Nam 2005 initially smells like a piece of Reblochon cheese flash-grilled till runny and drizzled with acacia honey – a restrained but ripe aroma full to the brim with sweet, savory, sour, and umami flavors all rolled into one. This unbearable ripeness of being is quickly over, the oil settling into cruise control within minutes. The main body of Qi Nam 2005 is redolent of a dark and supple piece of leather, a fantastically gloomy and pleasing aroma that reaches back to tickle the far corners of the brain. There is nothing raw, animalic, or rotting about this aroma at all. It slides out of the bottle perfectly aged, all its edges smoothed down, fully-formed, and reading Voltaire in impeccable French. Compared to a young Grana Padano for grating, this is a 36-month-aged parmesan cheese so rich in nuance that the only respectful way to savor it is by allowing tiny silvers of it to melt on your tongue.
There is a lovely sense of completeness to this oud. There are no sticky, honeyed red fruits or green tree sap or sour, rotting wood – no one accord that jumps out to identify it as belonging to one region or another. Aside from a slightly antiseptic topnote, it is not medicinal in character. It does not correspond to any one style, but man, it has style.
Qi Nam 2005 is a mellow essay on the pleasures of deep brown woods and old leather. Picture a battered leather chair in a professor’s office that has sat there for generations, quietly absorbing nuance upon nuance over a period of four decades. Worn to a silken thinness over time, the leather exudes the quiet aroma of privilege. There is something spiritually comforting about Qi Nam 2005, but not in a distracting way. Wearing it would simply be conducive to having a happy, productive day.
Royal Seufi Oudh (Arabian Oud)
Type: pure oud oil
Style or Profile: Hindi
Like George Clooney, Royal Seufi Oudh is greatly improved with age. Seufi is a word that vaguely implies something reserved for royal use, thus the name of this oil suggests both quality and the use of Hindi oud oil. However, the blend and aging of the oil has made it so buttery that it is difficult to identify any Hindi characteristics at all. It could be Hindi, or a mixture of Hindi with other oils, including Laotian and Cambodi – but really, who knows?
Honestly, this is so nice that I don’t care, and neither should you. Its fifteen years of aging has created an impeccably smooth mélange of creamy, woody notes that retains all of its depth of its pedigree and none of the raw, dissonant stink of younger Hindis. It has a glossy caramel-like texture, and the barely-there sweetness of long-cured meats and leather.
But first, you notice the fruit. A wave of berry flavor bubbles up joyously under the nose like champagne – sweet red cherries, pears, and luscious blackberries. The initial effect is that of breaking down a stick of Juicy Fruit gum in the mouth, really getting deep into the mouth to activate those salivary glands. The fruit melts away into a rubbery leather note that gets ‘burnished’ and more supple with time.
There is a slightly creamy plastic facet here that reminds me of the Laotian oud used in Oud Velvet Mood by Maison Francis Kurkdijan, as well as a hint of goat curd. However, these aspects simply add an interesting textural dimension to the buttery leather of the oud.
Photo by Jonas Hensel on Unsplash
Semkhor – Wild Hindi – First Fraction (Imperial Oud)
Type: pure oud oil
Style or Profile: Hindi (wild)
Imperial Oud was fortunate enough to get their hands on a portion of wild agarwood excised from the few remaining wild Aquilaria trees in Northern India not shipped directly to the Emirates for sale in the Arab market. Semkhor Wild Hindi – First Fraction, an oil distilled in situ by a local distilling partner on behalf of Imperial Oud, is the glorious result.
Distilled from wild trees on the border between Assam and Manipur, this is an unmistakably Hindi oil. But to my nose, it is different (in a good way) to many of the Assamese or Hindi oils I have previously smelled. First, though there is the fiercely pungent, hay-like twang of a traditional Hindi up top, it does not take on the heavily fermented odor of wood that has been left to soak until it rots, falling apart into foul-smelling water.
Instead, the leather-hay notes here are bright and clear-gold, like raw honey, with a tantalizing hint of air-dried fruit and dark cocoa playing second fiddle. There is a smattering of a dry spice – hot black pepper crushed with clove or cinnamon – sifted over the bright hay and leather notes. There is a nugget of fermentation, writ small, in the fabric here too, but this is the pleasing sourness in a bite of kimchi, rather than the foulness of compacted dung.
Everything in Wild Hindi is playing at low volume, so it reads as subtle and almost light on the skin. The sour barnyard funk of a traditional Hindi is missing in action, which, in all honesty, will get the hardcore ouddicts scratching their heads or worrying at their beards a little. But it would be an excellent oil with which to indoctrinate beginners into the Hindi genre. As someone who is not tremendously keen on the famous Hindi funk, this is one of a handful of Indian oils that I myself would wear without hesitation. Beautiful work.
Singgalang – West Sumatran Wild (Imperial Oud)
Type: pure oud oil
Style or Profile: Indonesian (Sumatra)
Singgalang is a Sumatran oud oil, distilled from wild resinated A. Microcarpa trees, a little known species of Aquilaria. There is something quixotic about this oil. It is hilariously impolite and refuses to stay within the lines. In fact, it is more a physical sensation than a smell, especially in the opening few minutes before the oil settles. A tiny smear of the oil unleashes a tidal wave of putrefying fruit and cheese so overripe it threatens to leap over the table and slap your face. A layer of cloying dust clings to the back of these garbagy foodstuffs, a clove-like spiciness that tickles the nose.
However, once the intensity of the opening begins to bank down, it becomes easier to pick out individual notes. These include, to my nose at least, a bright curl of citrus peel, camphor, and a hint of apricotty osmanthus. Once fully ‘broken in’, Singgalang coasts along in a middle register of core oudiness – smoky and chewy, with a good balance between sweet and tart. In the far drydown, it creams up again, albeit minus the rotting fruit and cheese overtones this time. The creaminess here is vanillic and clean.
Singgalang is a striking and unusual oil. It is definitely one to put on the test list if you like assertive flavors like decaying fruit and cheese in your oud. However, although the creamy leather drydown is gorgeous, you do have to appreciate the cheesiness of Laotian-style oud oil to like this in its entirety, and I really do not.
Sinharaja – Ceylon 2016 (Imperial Oud)
Type: pure oud oil
Style or Profile: Sri Lankan, with some elements of Borneo and Chinese style
Sinharaja is a Sri Lankan oud oil distilled from incense-grade wood, which means that only the best quality agarwood was used to fill the still. This oil is interesting because, to my nose, it displays the characteristics of two different terroirs (or styles) in one. The first is a bright, clean, almost minty island-style profile (Papuan or Borneo), which then folds into the second profile, namely the spicy fur-leather profile common to Chinese oils.
The opening is bright with delicate, smooth plum and grape notes, backed by a tannic wisp of lapsang souchong tea and the green, vaporous quality of a Borneo or Papuan oil. As the oil develops, it flips the usual trajectory of an oud oil, becoming more rather than less animalic. Past the sparkling topnotes, therefore, Sinharaja darkens in tone, picking up a plethora of stale, earthy, and leathery nuances, as well as a sullen backdrop of dusty spice – cloves, cinnamon, and saffron.
Clove is a note that can be animalic in its own right. It is dusty, metallic, slightly cloying, and ‘oniony’ in aroma profile. However, a current of steamy tropical fruit nuances moisten and smooth out the spice, tucking it seamlessly into the next phase of the oil’s development. Once Sinharaja settles into its final form, you will notice that it has pulled out of its rather challenging phase of pungent leather and spice, and mellowed into a smooth, sweet woodiness that is kind of to die for – lightly smoky, aged, but not dusty or dry. The animalism of the spicy leather fades into the ether, leaving you with the whisper of wood moistened with plum wine and tart, red cherries. Very nice work. I would recommend Sinharaja to people specifically seeking a non-linear oud oil experience. Intermediate level, for sure.
Photo by Ripley Elisabeth Brown on Unsplash
Sutera Ungu (Agar Aura)
Type: pure oud oil
Style or Profile: Malaysian
Distilled from wood from the Terengganu region of Malaysia, Sutera Ungu displays both characteristics from the fruity Crassna and the typical Malaysian structure. Cutting past all the gobbledygook, what this means is that there is a complex series of shifts from top to bottom, often separating into two layers – smoke on top, and fruity leather beneath. Agarwood from the Terengganu region is said to be particularly perfumey and rich, a theory borne out by this particular oil.
Immediately, I can smell smoke and fruited wood, backed by a smoky incense quality. Once the Goethean drama of the opening settles a bit, it is possible to discern subtle little gradients of color and tone. There are waves of freshly-stripped bark, clear furniture polish, green apple skin, and fermenting dried fruit, all dispersed within a boozy vapor akin to dried fruits soaking in brandy for Christmas pudding. You get all this and more, filtered through a haze of incense smoke.
As pure oud oils go, this is perfumey in the way of an older Chanel extrait, and I am thinking of vintage Coco Parfum in particular here (something about the rich fruits in brandy feel). In the heart, the smoke parts to reveal an earthy myrrh note, old wooden chests, and, darting through the darkness, the reddish iodine snap of pure saffron threads soaked in oil. None of these materials exist in Sutera Ungu as notes, you understand, just their nuance.
But the show is not over just yet. In a whiplash move, the oil circles back on itself to the dry, incensey woodsmoke that greeted the nose in the topnotes. Sutera Ungu is a rich, complex, and thoroughly enjoyable Malaysian oil experience from top to bottom. It is both an oud oil and a proper perfume in its own right.
I highly recommend Agar Aura oils to beginners because they are exceptionally smooth, light-to-medium weight in terms of darkness and possessed of a depth of flavor that does not sacrifice legibility.
Tawau Al Awwal (Feel Oud)
Type: pure oud oil
Style or Profile: Malaysian and Borneo and maybe a bit of Hindi thrown in for good measure
Tawau Al Awwal, a blend of oils from wild Malaysian and Borneo trees, provides an interesting jumping off point for discussing the difference between oud ‘terroirs’. Borneo ouds are green, woody, and vaporous, with a creamy vanilla mouthfeel in its lower register. Malaysian oils are often darkly smoky up top, and smoothly leathery underneath. A further clue to the way this oil develops lies in the species of wood from which it was distilled, namely, Microcarpa, a low-yielding species that has intrinsically animalic characteristics.
So, with all of that information in the pot, how does Tawau Al Awwal actually turn out? Interestingly, while it displays facets of both Malaysian and Borneo terroirs at different stages of its development, the opening notes clearly recall the spicy barnyard notes of a classic Hindi profile. Confused yet? I wouldn’t blame you. But bear with me.
It helps if you look at Tawau Al Awwal as a feral child with absolutely no control over their tongue. In the opening moments, you would be forgiven for thinking this was a Hindi oil fresh off the still. It is monumentally animalic, with the pungent miasma of stinking leather, barnyard waste, and soiled hay roiling off the skin two minutes into application. It also smells sourly dusty and stale, like clothes folded away while damp and not shaken out for six months.
This unexpected ‘Hindi’ phase lasts for an objectionably long time. But towards the end of the first hour, there appears a very nice smoke aspect that ennobles the barnyard honk somewhat, mopping up the worst of those wet, fecal leather notes. It becomes drier and smokier as time goes on, and dare I say, far more pleasant to wear. The smoke notes are associated with the Malaysian profile of agarwood, so that fits. However, there is no sign of the characteristic Borneo notes at all until far down into the base when a faintly vanillic creaminess appears, as well as camphor, mint, and herbs. This minty creaminess never fully subsumes the smoky, dirty leather notes, but it does soften the harsh roar of the opening.
Although I personally find Tawau Al Awwal a bit too unhinged to wear with pleasure, I admire the adventurous spirit with which Russian Adam distills his oils. He is unafraid to tinker with the boundaries familiar to us and is cheerful about the dismantling of sacred cows. He is not reverential, which can only be an advantage to people looking for an oud experience that colors outside the lines. Tawau Al Awwal is an excellent example of how innovation and taking risks can pay off. Specifically, it demonstrates that you can distill wood from one terroir in such a way as to make it mimic the characteristics of a completely different terroir. I like the cut of his jib.
Photo by Prchi Palwe on Unsplash
Thai Leather (Rising Phoenix Perfumery)
Type: pure oud oil
Style or Profile: Cambodi-style Crassna grown on Thai Plantation
Thai Leather, made from organic oud wood grown on a plantation in Thailand, has the fruity Crassna vibe of most Cambodi-style oils. This makes sense since the majority of Thai plantation trees are Crassna. What that gives this Thai oil its character is a core of gummy fruitiness that smells like a pan of apple caramel boiled hard to leave a layer of compressed fruit leather. The official description for this oil notes that it is not fruity, but, baby, I beg to differ. It is balanced by the sourish leather notes beneath the caramel, but some fruit is clearly present.
In the case of Thai Leather, the fruit/sugar element smells like green apple caramel. This layer of sweetness disguises a smooth, smoky leather note that emerges after the first hour. It is not animalic or challenging in the slightest, but there is a pleasant hint of sourness to the leather, which acts as a necessary counterbalance to the fruits and caramel.
In the far drydown, the fruity leather note grows slightly grimier, like a leather saddle that’s been sitting on a sweating horse for miles. To my nose, it smells quite similar to the far drydown of some sambac jasmine oils. This nuance is not disturbing or unpleasant, and in fact, lends a grungy sort of gravitas that’s sorely missing from the affable topnotes of fairground caramel apples.
Thai Pa Pa Kea (Rising Phoenix Perfumery)
Type: pure oud oil
Style or Profile: Crassna (wild harvested in Thailand)
Thai Pa Pa Kea is a special distillation from one of JK DeLapp’s distillers in Thailand, who also happens to be the royal oud distiller for the Thai royal family. Given this distiller’s access to some of the premium pieces of agarwood on the market, he was able to source wood from a wild, 190-year-old Malaccensis Crassna tree in Thailand, and used to it distill a single batch of oud oil. He offered a small amount to JK DeLapp, which is how this rare oil came to be offered through Rising Phoenix Perfumery.
So, what does an oil from one-hundred-and-ninety-year-old wood smell like? Immediately, the aroma is very strong and diffusive, far more so than Rising Phoenix Perfumery’s other oils. It contains all the fruity hallmarks of a classic Crassna but is much smoother and rounder. It smells like a rich, golden pear that has been fermented for years and then deep-tissue massaged into a piece of wood.
There is a hint of sourness at the start, although this comes across as tannic – flower petals floating on black tea – rather than ureic. A soft fur-like note flits at the corners of the aroma, adding a touch of drama.
Mostly, though, Thai Pa Pa Kea is pear leather with a golden oolong tea nuance in the background. It is syrupy and thick, with a distinctly furred texture, but not at all dark in tone. Three hours in, the fruity brightness dims a little, allowing a smooth honey nuance to slot into place. Strong and sweet in a clean, bright manner, Thai Pa Pa Kea will please those for whom projection and volume is as important as the oil’s actual aroma.
Photo by Andres Vera on Unsplash
Thai Roast (Rising Phoenix Perfumery)
Type: pure oud oil
Style or Profile: Crassna grown on Thai Plantation, Seattle coffeehouse style
Thai Roast is an interesting experiment on how you can alter the basic aroma profile of oud oil through tweaks to the treatment of the wood prior to distillation. Wishing to imbue the oil with the aroma of black coffee, JK asked his distilling partner to char the wood prior to distillation. This gave the wood – and its resulting oil – an intensely dark, almost burned aroma similar to that of fossilized amber and burning frankincense.
Weirdly, Thai Roast truly does smell like coffee. It has the smooth, dark-roast effect of coffee beans ground by an experienced barista in front of you. Many oils and perfumes claim to capture the smell of fresh, dark coffee, but they mostly fall apart in the details. This does not. As far as authenticity goes, Thai Roast batters all other coffee scents into the ground. A dab of this will jolt you awake as surely as a double espresso.
Delving deeper into the coffee aroma, some individual facets begin to take shape, including charred, dry wood, bitterness, smoke, hot metal, licorice, and dark chocolate. It is a peculiarly intense experience, and truth be told, one that has the potential to tire your nose out very quickly.
But then, I notice something unusual. Take your nose away from the coffee, then return it, and suddenly your nose now discerns the coffee aroma as a knot of frankincense and myrrh smoldering softly on a priest’s censer. What was once coffee is now something less prosaic – High Mass. This switch in perception swings the wearer 180 degrees from the coffee shop to the gloomy insides of a church after mass, incense lingering in the air.
If this is what the future of plantation looks like, then it gives a glimmer of hope as to what can be achieved through creative distilling. One criticism might be that Thai Roast smells nothing like a pure oud oil. And to be fair, it really does not. However, as a coffee-resin distillation, it more than succeeds. Thai Roast will be of value to anyone interested in the world of possibilities opened up by tinkering around with distillation style.
Thai Suede (Rising Phoenix Perfumery)
Type: pure oud oil
Style or Profile: Crassna grown on Thai Plantation
Thai Suede is similar to Thai Leather, described above, but there are three key differences in how they evolve on the skin. First, the fruity caramel this time around is more red berries, peaches, and plums than the green apple-magnolia vibe of Thai Leather. Second, the tone is denser, with a winey, fermented depth missing in Thai Leather. Lastly, the suede core of Thai Suede is accompanied by a slightly synthetic smoke note, something that is not noticeable in Thai Leather.
That is not to say that Thai Suede contains synthetics, but that there is a note suggestive of modern smoke or leather aromachemicals. This is probably just a feature of the wood from which the oil was distilled, or even the materials or mineral content of the water used in the distillation, but it is worth mentioning.
Tigerwood Royale, Tigerwood 1995 (Ensar Oud)
Type: pure oud oil
Style or Profile: Malaysian
Tigerwood is so-called because of the densely resinated ‘tiger’ stripes of oleoresin that run through certain heritage stocks of wild Malaysian agarwood. The story behind this is that Ensar came across a distiller who had distilled these Tigerwood oils, one in 2001 (the Tigerwood Royale), and the other further back in 1995 (the Tigerwood 1995).
Tigerwood Royale, although younger in age than the 1995, is actually a much deeper, more resinous scent than the 1995, thanks in part to the much higher grades of tigerwood that were used for the distillation. But both oils are roughly similar, sharing a certain evergreen freshness at their core, as well as a very classic Malaysian aroma profile.
Both oils open up with a very medicinal scent, which remains remarkably intact despite many years of aging. The aroma that develops in both cases is robust, earthy, and oudy to the core, meaning a very classic profile of notes and nuances (leather, woods, greenery, incense). The texture of both oils is silky thanks to the many years of careful aging. However, the two tigerwoods diverge on some key points, and it is important to talk about them here.
First and foremost, Tigerwood Royale has a salty funk to it that makes me think of heavy deer musk or ambergris tinctures, whereas Tigerwood 1995 stays clean all the way through. Tigerwood Royale also has a furry sourness that carries a whiff of the barnyard more characteristic of Hindi oils than Malaysian oils.
Tigerwood 1995, on the other hand, follows up on the medicinal brightness of its opening with a heart that is very green. It is heavy on the camphor, mint, and forest-like sappiness of some Borneos. Although the oils diverge in the heart, the drydowns bring them back together, united in an almost creamy oudy-leather drydown with nuances of camphoraceous woods peeking out every now and then. Personally, I find Tigerwood Royale too animalic to enjoy, and both Tigerwoods deeply masculine, so they are not my favorites from Ensar Oud. (Keep in mind that I am female and my tolerance for animalics is quite low compared to the average oudhead).
Photo by Ethan Rheams on Unsplash
Trat Jam (Feel Oud)
Type: pure oud oil
Style or Profile: Trat (Thailand)
If you have ever travelled in the former Yugoslavia, then you have probably been offered fruit juices as a refreshment. These gusti sokovi are so thick you could stand a spoon up in your glass. Trat Jam smells exactly like these homemade cherry, pear, and plum juices taste – dense, grainy, and sweet. It teems with an autumnal richness that approaches that of a thirty-year-old sherry.
Trat is a border region of Thailand, and oud oils from this region tend to be fruity in a treacle-ish fashion that can get old quick (some accuse Trat oils of possessing a bubblegum-like flavor). But Trat Jam, while indeed very sweet and very fruity, has a dark, textured tonality that balances out the syrup and renders it suitable for adults. Along with the plummy flesh of the stone fruits, therefore, you also get the slightly furry, bitter skin of the fruit and a suede-like mouthfeel. A richly saliva-like honey note swims languorously in the background.
Normally, distillers will soak Trat wood in water for a minimum of one week to introduce some sour, rotting aromas to counter all that berry jam. But Feel Oud wanted a distillation of un-soaked wood, thus setting free an over-the-top cornucopia of red, winey cherries, plums, and apples. Friendly and approachable, this oil is first date material. Highly recommended to people who love gourmand fragrances, fruit, and all things harvest-related. Although you can wear oud oil in all seasons, this one just cries out for autumn and long scarves and even longer walks in the park, kicking over piles of fallen leaves.
Yunnan 2003 (Ensar Oud)
Type: pure oud oil
Style or Profile: Chinese
Yunnan 2003 comes from a very rare distillation of the revered Chinese agarwood (a collector’s item) and this batch is, at the time of writing, now almost twenty years old. Even before applying, I notice the aroma of unripe apricots and their tannin-loaded skins, tart and fuzzy but also distinctly fruity. This scent reminds me keenly of osmanthus absolute, an impression that only deepens when I apply it to warm skin and its immense coils of leather and cow barn aromas are released.
It is immediately and intensely animalic, with a barnyard muskiness vying with leather, tallow, and goat hair for attention. In fact, wearing Yunnan 2003 made me realize that some oud oils can masquerade as genuine deer musk. They share a dark furriness and an aroma so thick that you feel you might reach out and touch it with your fingers.
The opening to Yunnan 2003 makes me feel like I am standing in the middle of a herd of cattle in a shed, packed tight with the scent of warm, breathing animals, their fur, compacted hay and straw, mixed in with two weeks’ worth of piss and shit. To a certain extent, your reaction to the first half of Yunnan 2003 will depend on the sort of upbringing you have had, and specifically if you have ever spent time on a farm.
There are some high notes present in the swell of darkness, however, most notably the pleasant scent of peach, black tea, and citrus peel. The balance of the fetid fur-and-fat notes with these delicate fruit and tea notes is fantastic because it makes you feel like you’re being served tea and scones by three-piece-suited waiters – even while there is a cow chewing the cud noisily over your shoulder.
Yunnan 2003 fades gently over the course of the day, getting smoother as time goes on. The tone is tenebrous and somber – not dark exactly but certainly shadowed, austere, and a little forbidding. In the far distance, there is the siren call of resin. Zero sweetness, however. Yunnan 2003 has one of the most enjoyable (and protracted) dry downs in the oud business. A head-spinning experience, for sure, and one that is exclusively for the brave and the already initiated. Beginner beware.
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, Feel Oud, Al Shareef Oudh, Rising Phoenix Perfumery, Imperial Oud, and Kyara Zen. I purchased all Agar Aura samples myself directly from the Agar Aura website.
Note on monetization: My blog is not monetized. But if you’d like to support my work or show appreciation for any of the content I put out, you can always buy me a coffee using the little buymeacoffee button. Thank you!
Cover Image: Photo of pure oud samples, photo my own (please do not use, circulate, or repost without my permission)
 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.
 Mukhallats are blends (mukhallat being the Arabic word for ‘blend’) of essential oils and other raw materials that were distilled or compounded elsewhere. Some of them include carrier oils and synthetics, while others do not (price is a factor). 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 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 how exactly 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.