Today, I’d like to look at six luxury oud oils from Ensar Oud which cover a spectrum of agarwood varieties and scent profiles. Some smell of the best Islay single malt scotch poured over leather and smoked mesquite; others transport you to the heart of a green forest, have stages redolent of lilacs and peaches framed by fresh vetiver, or smell of fruits, honey, and jasmine. No two are identical, but they are all smooth, high-quality, interesting, and highly nuanced.
As noted, there will be six reviews in total, subsequently followed by detailed sample information at the end and some advice tips, so I’m going to attempt to limit the length of each review as much as possible for someone with my verbosity and my obsessive-compulsive mania for details. The descriptions for a few of the scents will be short(er) — at least by my admittedly crazy standards — than the scent analysis for the ouds which really stood out for me. Also, I’ll skip my usual practice of quoting a fragrance’s official description because most of Ensar Oud’s are a page long, although I will provide links for you to read further on your own should you be interested. On occasion, however, I’ll quote portions of the text if they are relevant, informative, or helpful in giving you some sense of the oil’s character, why it might be special, or the reasons for its price. So, with no further ado:
According to Ensar Oud, Chinese agarwood is “exceptionally rare,” but Hainan 2005 goes a step further: “Extracted from rare Chinese agarwood that’s now officially extinct, it boasts the most sought-after fragrance in the world, second only to Vietnamese kinam.” (Emphasis added by me.)
The oil was distilled in 2005, and then aged for 12 years. On his website, Ensar Oud describes its aroma, in part, as follows:
Notes of ambergris, mahogany, tobacco, orange peel and deer musk hurl the scent into a pheromonal zenith that’s as primordial as the Himalayas, with strong longevity even in humid weather, and a soulstirring kinam drydown that evokes the most precious notes found in Chinese agarwood.
Hainan 2005 was quite different on my skin, and it was an absolute roller-coaster of a ride. It was this oil which made me understand the many things that oud can be when in the right hands, thanks to its range of the notes, the many highs and lows, and the sheer degree of transformation which occurred. It’s such a complex shapeshifter that I was genuinely impressed, even if parts of the scent were absolutely not for me.
Hainan 2005 is a play with many parts, and Act One is set firmly in the middle of a barnyard. It opens with creamy oud that is filled with animalic and barnyard funk. There is wet earth, a touch of cow poo, and a heaping pile raw animal hides left to cure and ripen in the sun. Slathered on top of the hides is an equally ripe mix of fermented, runny goat cheese and Gorgonzola blue cheese. I’m twitching at the mere memory, in part because I loathe Gorgonzola, in part because the goat cheese also bears the smell of a lot of unwashed goats running around as well. (At least it wasn’t camels. I once tried a Hindi oud which smelled like camels and camel breath. Urgh.) However, the beating heart of Hainan 2005’s farm is oud woodiness which pulsates out thick veins of animal musk, smoky blackness, and immensely sticky oud resin, coursing out to the other notes to tie everything together.
Roughly 10-15 minutes in, the levels escalate, particularly the fermented cheese mix, the smoke, oud resins, and the uncured, ripe, raw animal leather. It was at this point that I started to wonder if, despite its Asian-sounding name, Hainan 2005 was actually a Hindi oud. All the olfactory facets that make me shy away from the latter were on full display here. It’s not. It’s pure Chinese agarwood.
Despite the challenging nature of its opening bouquet, Hainan 2005 is extremely deep, thick, and rich in aroma, more so than many comparable barnyard oils. For all its funk and rawness, it’s also smoother as well. There is nothing burnt about the aroma and, odd as it may be to say this, nothing hugely dirty, either. This is primarily an animal bouquet, in the literal sense. The one “dirty” note, the cow poo, is both minor and limited to the first 15 minutes. Thereafter, there is nothing fecal about Hainan 2005 on my skin, and the animal aromas are more in the vein of natural animal hides or deer musk as opposed to a truly dirty, fecund odor. Be that as it may, the ripe animal hides are painfully difficult for me. I find them to be smelly, sharp, rank, raw, and, on occasion, even a bit sulphuric on my skin. But one man’s difficult funk is another man’s glorious funk treasure, and I suspect a true, hardcore oud addict would probably find the first stage to be either tame or super macho.
Act Two of Hainan 2005 is different, and it begins roughly 1.75 hours into the oil’s evolution. The goat and Gorgonzola cheeses disappear, and what’s left behind is basically a simple smoky oud-leather with musky, furry, tarry, and animal undertones. The leather no longer smells like uncured hides. Instead, it resembles castoreum-based leather. The overall scent is simultaneously dry, deep, and somewhat plush in texture. In aroma, it feels like a cousin to Dior‘s Leather Oud in the Privée Collection, although there are key differences: Hainan 2005 does not smell synthetic in any way; there are no urinous civet aromas here, nor anything arid in feel; its oud is clearly both genuine and multi-faceted; all the notes are significantly deeper, smoother, and more rounded; and the scent is heavier in both body and weight, similar to an attar rather than a mere eau de parfum.
Hainan 2005 changes again in Act Three which begins 3.25 hours in, and this one was truly an astonishing surprise. Lilacs appear out of the blue, smelling soft, sweet, liquidy, faintly powdered, and lightly honeyed. I couldn’t believe my nose. It’s another one of Ensar Oud’s oils, Oud Yusuf (described further below), which is known for its lilac scent, so I didn’t expect it here and certainly not after that difficult, challenging opening. Yet, nevertheless, lilacs are now in full bloom all around the smoky leather.
Not only that, there is also a distinct whiff of peaches weaving around the edges. It’s a multi-faceted note that combines honeyed peach juice with the smell of its soft, fuzzy, fragrant skin and the more almond-like aroma of its kernel. Flickering deep in the background are ghostly glimpses of oranges and also, once in a while, the petitgrain wood of its trees.
The cumulative effect of the lilacs, peaches, and smoky leather (with tiny drops of bitter almonds and oranges) is both beautiful and unique. I’ve never encountered anything like it. Ever. Anywhere. I kept thinking to myself, “why hasn’t a niche perfume brand done this combination before? It’s fantastic.”
On another level, the lilac and peaches were a real eye-opener for me. Putting aside the astonishing aspect of lilacs (lilacs of all things!) emanating from agarwood, the sheer range of notes covered by this one oil demonstrates what oud is capable of when it’s high-end and in the hands of a master distiller like the sort Ensar Oud employs. To end up with lilacs and peaches after a goaty, ripe opening set in the middle of a smelly barnyard… I’ll never get over it.
Hainan 2005 shifts a little when the 4th hour draws to a close. The lilacs temporarily fade away, the orange grows stronger, and vetiver appears on the scene for the first time. The mix of peaches, oranges, smoky vetiver, and leather has a vintage, quasi-chyprish feel to it, particularly as the vetiver bears a distinctly mossy aspect.
It’s a chic scent, but lilacs are one of my favourite flowers with their sweet, liquidy, nectared, and crystalline aromas, so I was delighted when they make a return at the start of the 6th hour. They meld beautifully with the sweet peaches for a more delicate, fruity-floral, pasted-hued bouquet, framed all around by leaves of vetiver greenness and curlicues of oud-ish smokiness. Honey lies like dewdrops on their petals. And a creamy quality runs under them all which is particularly lovely next to the sweetness, smokiness, fruitiness, and floralcy. I wish I could bottle this stage of Hainan 2005 by itself because it would be one of my go-to scents.
Hainan 2005 doesn’t change significantly beyond this point. For the most part, it’s primarily a bouquet of lilacs and peaches, framed with vetiver greenness. From the 7th hour to the 9th, the oud’s leather and smoke becomes increasingly muted and minor. Midway during the 9th hour, the vetiver weakens, turning into thin wisps that cling to the fringes. At the same time, the oud’s smoke and leather becomes elusive ghosts, disappearing for long swathes of time before making a brief reappearance, then vanishing again. As the hours pass, Hainan 2005 just grows creamier, softer, more perfumed, and more fragrant. I loved it so much that, at one point, I just stuck my hand under my nose for an entire half-hour while I watched a television show, breathing in the beautiful fumes with every breath.
By the time the 12th hour rolls around, Hainan 2005 is primarily a delicate, soft, creamy fruity floral dominated primarily by lilacs with a hint of peach in the background. Hainan 2005 remains that way until it eventually fades away.
I applied an amount that seemed to equate to two drops of oil, although it’s difficult to estimate precisely. Like most natural oils, particularly those dabbed on in tiny or small quantities, the projection was low and the sillage was average when the scent was considered as a whole, from start to finish. However, the scent trail during the first 2.25 hours was roughly 6-7 inches, which is impressive given how little I applied. The numbers gradually dropped after that. Hainan 2005 became a skin scent in the 8th hour, but was detectable without much effort until the end of the 12th hour. In total, it lasted just short of 16.5 hours. I suspect this is one of those oils that could easily last 22-24 hours if one applied a decent quantity.
PURPLE KINAM (LEGENDS COLLECTION):
Purple Kinam is an oil in the Legends Collection. It was distilled from Kyara grade Malaysian oud in 2005 and has been aged for 12 years. According to what Ensar Oud told me for Part I, the profile piece, it also contains some sinking-grade wood as well. (You can read Part I for an explanation on Kyara, Kinam wood, incense-grade, and sinking-grade categories of agarwood.)
Purple Kinam opens on my skin with an emphasis on four central elements. First, there is that special, unique scent of oud’s “noble rot,” that tell-tale mix of earthy, musky, resinous, slightly fermented, and very mushroomy aromas. Slathered on top is the second chord: a thick, treacly layer of dark macerated fruits that skew extremely purple in visuals. There is the faintest suggestion of purple Welch’s grapes buried within but, on my skin, the primary aromas are stewed raisins, prunes, and honey-coated, grilled, faintly charred plums.
Tying everything together is the third chord: a multi-faceted darkness consisting of wood smoke, incense smoke, medicinal camphor, bubbling tar, burnt peat, charred earthy moss, and Islay whisky malt. Roughly 10 minutes in, the darkness crashes like a wave over the oud’s “noble rot,” pushing the purple stewed raisins, plums, and prunes to the sidelines.
Around the same time, the fourth central chord awakens and raises its head. It’s the most complex one of them all, a composite of tiny olfactory flickers that pop up, darting around like fireflies, changing in scent as well as in prominence and colour from one moment to the next: bitter chocolate, tobacco, pine, dust, dried parchment paper, old leather-bound books, the mustiness of a library, the tannic dregs of old red wine, and, finally, clumps of soft, clean fur. There is even an oddly savory element, probably the result of several aromas combining together to create something entirely different, and the only way I can describe it is to compare it to meaty Portobello mushrooms drizzled with very aged balsamic vinegar, mixed with dry-aged filet mignon, then dropped into the smoldering remains of a campfire barbecue made from birch and cedar logs.
If this olfactory smorgasbord of tertiary notes were not enough, while all of this is happening, the third main leg of the triad — the peat, camphor, leather, wood smoke, incense smoke, and medicinal tonalities — is growing stronger at the same time.
It’s quite a lot to take in. I’ll confess, I was rather taken aback the first time that I tried Purple Kinam, but there is something incredibly compelling, evocative, and fascinating about the opening. It demands your attention and your respect. It draws you in with its sheer complexity but, most of all, with its dichotomies.
Thirty minutes into Purple Kinam’s evolution, I was left in two completely different but equally well-defined worlds. The first was an old, book-lined study, where I curled up in a Churchillian-studded leather armchair, sipping Islay whisky while thumbing through a slightly dusty leather-bound manuscript. Candles cast soft shadows on the walls. Smoke billowed in one corner from falling logs in the fireplace, while incense burned in another. The stereo blasted its way through Led Zeppelin, Bob Dylan, and Nina Simone.
The second world was a campsite in the Pacific Northwest. There, I stirred a concoction of stewed raisins, prunes, bitter chocolate, balsamic vinegar aged into a thick liqueur, red wine remnants, Portobello mushrooms, and steaks over a birch fire. To brace myself against the chill, I rubbed Vick’s Vapor Rub on my chest, wore a black Perfecto leather jacket, and drank a big glass of a particularly peaty, smoky Ardbeg Islay single-malt.
As Purple Kinam develops over the hours, the two worlds move, sometimes operating side-by-side or merged together, sometimes appearing consecutively. One thing remains consistent, however: the sense of masculinity that is simultaneously rugged, macho, elegant, smooth, polished, and sophisticated. It’s an Alpha male of many hats, showing his complex versatility and different sides. The only place he is not present is the barnyard. There is not even a hint of anything fecal, skanky, raunchy, or animalic on my skin. This is a smooth masculinity where leather, smoke, whisky, dark fruits, camphor, medicine, incense, dust, and parchment paper are set to the low throbbing soundtrack of the blues, occasionally interspersed with a few hard strums of Led Zeppelin and Rammstein. It’s not the sort of scent that I personally gravitate to, but I find it absolutely fascinating and compelling. It’s one of those things that is an experience as much as it is a fragrance. It is certainly not a mere oil nor basic in any way.
Purple Kinam grows smokier, darker, and much simpler from the third hour onwards. The leather, campfire smoke, and singed, single malt, Islay-style peaty greenness essentially take over. Vetiver and oakmoss greenness are layered underneath, along with faintly dusty parchment paper, and small flickers of raisins, chocolate, and mushrooms. By the start of the 5th hour, the secondary and tertiary notes largely fade away. However, the chocolate returns during the drydown which begins late in the 6th hour. The result is a fantastic mix of smoky leather, chewy reins, and dark chocolate. In its final hours, all that’s left is smoky, resinous chocolate.
The sillage, longevity, and projection were in line with the numbers I’ve given for Hainan 2005. Good early sillage, low projection, and excellent longevity. (I’m trying to keep things short.)
I should note that Ensar Oud’s description of Purple Kinam specifically mentions that there is “Zero leather laced with notes of coffee and cocoa which are the hallmark of present-day Malaysian brewings. Zero ‘chocolate’ notes. Zero caramel. Zero honey.—Did I say zero leather?” (Emphasis in the original.)
Well, all I can say is that there was both leather and chocolate on my skin, and I thought it was great, particularly next to the fascinating smorgasbord of the fourth chord. (Plus, I love chocolate notes in perfumery.) So, even though Purple Kinam as a whole is a bit too camphorous and smoky for my personal tastes or for me to be able to pull off and wear, I thought it was fantastic, exceptionally smooth, and extremely well done. It was also, without a doubt, one of the most interesting and thought-provoking scents I’ve tried this year — far more so than several new 2017 releases from famous luxury niche brands. Purple Kinam wipes them to the ground in its complexity, quality, and character. A big thumbs-up from me. It’s one of my favorites in the line.
Kinam Rouge is also in the Legends Collection and, like Purple Kinam, is made from Kyara wood, one of the most prized varietals of wood. The one used here is incense-grade Vietnamese agarwood which was distilled in 2014 and aged for three years. On his website, Ensar Oud describes the oil’s aroma, in part, as follows:
Deep red ripe tobacco leaf laced with cherries and other über-vibrant psychedelics that take shape right under your nostrils. Spice and red flesh of tobacco leaf laced with kinam, which leads the drydown. [….]
The tabac note scintillates clean and crisp, laced with cherries as when you’re heating up molasses for shisha. As you swoon into the heart of the dance, incense chords and cherry notes are fully married to set a mood that’s deep maroon à la the suavest pipe tobacco you can think of. The more the scent unravels, the clearer the bitter kinam note emerges from the back, until it sits center stage.
Once again, my experience was different. On my skin, I didn’t experience cherry or pipe tobacco. I did, however, experience what I think might be some of kinam or kyara’s signature traits: a bitter medicinal greenness infused with smokiness, camphor, and parchment paper. Or maybe it’s just me and my skin. Either way, Kinam Rouge shares some DNA with its Purple brother, but they’re not identical by any means.
Kinam Rouge opens with oud’s signature “noble rot” enveloped in a cloud that is, at once, immensely honeyed, bright, almost indolically floral, and citrusy. Jasmine abounds, as thick as syrupy. There is a fleeting whiff of a grape-like aroma lurking within but, this time, it seems to be more of a by-product of the floral note. (Jasmine, like many white flowers and some fruits, contains a natural organic compound called methyl anthranilate whose fruity aroma can sometimes resemble concord grapes. I have no idea if there is a similar chemical compound in agarwood resin; my point is to give you an idea of the sort of floralcy that is at play here.)
Other notes quickly appear. Leading the charge is a dark, resinous, smoky, tarry, and immensely leathery accord which quickly entwines itself around the “jasmine” and honey. Trailing behind are chocolate, old parchment paper, camphor, campfire smoke, and a bitter but very fragrant bergamot citrus peel. There is little to no red wine, savory mushrooms, or singed peat. That said, there are green elements running throughout, aromas which resemble vetiver, oakmoss, pine, wet leaves, and camphorous trees. There is also a subtle, muted note that smells like red berries.
Roughly 30-35 minutes in, Kinam Rouge changes. The leather suddenly turns airier, lighter, more diffuse, and its smoky resinousness melts into what is now an equally airy cloud of citrus, fruity florals, and honeyed sweetness. The sun shines brightly on a landscape of yellow and green, dotted lightly with pulpy, berried redness, with only a few soft clouds of smoky, leathery, resinous darkness floating like thin, shredded cotton wool across the sky.
For much of the first hour, it’s a very different vision and effect than Purple Kinam. Everything about Kinam Rouge is brighter, sunnier, lighter, and noticeably sweeter than its more smoldering brother. The smoke, scotch, leather, peat, camphor, and campfire smoke are significantly toned down as compared to Purple Kinam, amounting to breathy murmurs rather than a full baritone. For me, the result is an easier, more versatile, perhaps more approachable scent on some levels but, also, one that is perhaps not as compellingly bold, immediately visceral, riveting, transportive, or intense. There is nothing wrong with approachable or versatile; these oils are merely two different interpretations of a vaguely similar theme, each having its own positive attributes and appeal.
Generally speaking, it’s the first hour which marks the greatest differences between the two oils, then the drydown. As Kinam Rouge develops, its middle or heart stage hews closer to that of Purple Kinam, minus the chocolate, savoury aspects, and stewed fruits. The central core of the two oil seems to be the same, though, even if their beginning and end differ, not to mention their secondary and tertiary notes. Maybe the shared DNA is what constitutes “Kinam,” but I’m hardly experienced enough to know. All I can say is that their core is a particular olfactory mix of: the camphor, medicinal bite, leather, smoke, greenness, and resins. In Star Trek terms, it seems to be the “warp core.”
That core rapidly expands and blooms during Kinam Rouge’s third hour, making the differences between the siblings increasingly one of degree, not of kind. And they’re small degrees at that. On my skin, Kinam Rouge has a fraction less greenness, peat, smoke, tar, camphor, and darkness. There is no longer a sense of jasmine, honey, pine, or dusty parchment manuscripts at this point. There is no chocolate at all. But those were all either secondary or tertiary notes, and the fundamental core of the two books is largely the same. I did a side-by-side test one day, and the primary difference from the third hour until the drydown began late in the 7th hour was that Purple Kinam felt heavier, stronger, thicker, blacker, and more resinous than Kinam Rouge. It was more treacly in scent as well as body and weight, and it projected more. Comparatively speaking, Kinam Rouge felt airier, lighter, softer, and fractionally brighter, in part due to a lingering vestige of something citrusy.
Kinam Rouge diverges completely from Purple Kinam during its drydown which begins late in the 7th hour on my skin. It’s predominantly a soft, diffuse, and very golden cloud of honeyed sweetness. Small streaks of amber, muskiness, smoke, and clean oud-ish woodiness are subsumed within, but they’re quite minor, muted, and elusive. In its final hours, all that’s left is golden sweetness that has something honeyed, musky, and warmly ambered about it.
Kinam Rouge was softer and quieter in both its sillage and projection than its brother, although not significantly so. The longevity was also lower. The scent seemed close to dying late in the 10th hour, but it ultimately clung on until the 13th. I would guess that I applied two tiny drops, but it’s difficult to estimate amounts when one is repeatedly swiping the wetted end of a paper clip, which is the method by which I apply oils in the sort of v-tipped bottle provided to me here. Obviously, a larger application would yield higher numbers, particularly for longevity, but I think the oil would still be softer and more diffuse than Purple Kinam. It’s simply a question of different styles.
Oud Yusuf is an organic oud from the Trat region of Thailand. It was distilled in 2012 and aged five years. On his website, Ensar Oud describes its scent as perhaps “the prettiest oud you can wear,” thanks to a lilac bouquet whose seductive effect “is punctuated by subtle honeydew and an ever present apricot that follows the scent all the way down to its immaculate powdered woody finish.” Judging by the comments left by a number of people, Oud Yusuf is viewed as one of the more “feminine” oils, and seems to be popular with the ladies, although quite a number of men say that they like to wear it as well.
I’m starting to realize that my skin is quite wonky when it comes to oud because, once again, my experience was completely dissimilar. I’ve noticed that my particular skin chemistry magnifies and heightens oud’s darker aspects, especially any vetiver, green, medicinal, or smoky tonalities which may be present. Lilacs simply were not the lead note on me when I consider Oud Yusuf as a whole, from start to finish.
It opens with thick, molten honey poured over musk that is both furry and ambered. The musk is softly, quietly animalic in the way of sun-warmed pet fur, but it’s not barnyard or fecal in aroma at all. Warm spices hang thickly in the air, smelling like a mix of buttery saffron and cloves. After a few minutes, tendrils of smoked peat, vetiver greenness, and savory, meaty mesquite woods appear, curling their way around the honey and the furry musk.
Initially, Oud Yusuf’s dominant focus is on the honey and musk, but the focus expands at the 30-minute mark to encompass the smoked mesquite and smoky vetiver-ish peat as well. The result is a seamless quartet that, in its simplest essence, can be boiled down to honeyed, musky, smoked woods layered with smoked, peaty greenness.
Oud Yusuf changes direction a few more times as it develops. At the end of the first hour and the start of the second, the honey gives way to vetiver which is now minty in addition to being smoky and earthy. As some old-time readers may recall, I’m actually not crazy about vetiver in solo or major form; in fact, I generally don’t like overly green fragrances or most green notes, with the exception of oakmoss, so I can’t say I was jumping up and down with excitement over such a vetiver-dominated bouquet. I was even less enthused by the powerful blast of menthol which also appears at the end of the 1st hour. Together with the minty, smoky earthy vetiver, they obliterate all but a sliver of the honey.
The secondary notes don’t alleviate my struggle. A touch of eucalyptus weaves about from time to time, but the fur, musk, spice, and ambergris-style golden warmth are now only minute, ghostly, and increasingly rare flickers on the far horizon. The cumulative effect is a bouquet which is primarily centered on heavily mentholated, medicinal, and vetiver-led greenness. I think I would have preferred the Hindi barnyard….
Thankfully for me, changes lie ahead. Roughly 1.5 hours in, a new note arrives on scene. Initially, it’s merely a soft, diffuse, abstract, and wholly amorphous floralcy but, slowly, gradually, it coalesces into dewy lilacs. I must say, I found it quite disconcerting to have pastel, sweet, nectared, and crystalline lilacs juxtaposed against bitter menthol, camphor, vetiver, and smoky greenness, and I’ve never encountered a similar combination anywhere else, but it gave me hope that easier things (by my personal standards) lay in store.
Those things finally arrive at the start of the third hour when Oud Yusuf changes directions again and turns predominantly floral. Lilacs coated with honey dominate the scene. The vetiver retreats to the sidelines where it wafts a soft, diffuse minty and leafy greenness. There is no camphor, menthol, fur, musk, or amber.
The vetiver stages a comeback when Oud Yusuf enters its drydown an hour later, roughly at the start of the 4th hour. The scent is basically a simple vetiver bouquet on my skin, although it is lightly infused with a small amount of abstract, amorphous, sweet, lightly powdered, and pastel-hued floralcy. Oud Yusuf remains that way until its very final hours when there is mere greenness with only the quietest, ghostliest whisper of floral sweetness.
Oud Yusuf had low projection, generally discreet sillage, and moderate longevity of roughly 10.75 hours with two small drops.
Green Papua is part of the Aged Wild Oud Collection, was extracted from trees in the Papua jungle, and was distilled in 2014. It appears to be a re-distillation of an earlier “Green Papua” from 2004 which Ensar Oud says many people consider to be his “signature oil.” He describes the sequel, in part, as follows:
The new Green Papua was distilled from live and vibrant gyrinops, legally harvested, and incense-grade. Then aged for two years to give you an oil that’s as pristine green, as rich, as minty floral as if you’re back in 2004, smelling Green Papua all over again.
Green Papua’s opening minutes transported me to two different worlds simultaneously, worlds with nothing in common between them. First, there is the dry desert of the American Southwest where a mesquite fire is burning for a barbecue of thick meats and mushrooms. Weaving through the background are the smells of hickory smoked woods, dry sands, bitter cactus juice, and creosote tar.
The second world that Green Papua evokes is a green jungle that is earthy, damp, and mossy. Pine sap and dark resins drip from the trees, falling onto clumps of minty pea shoots. Droplets of dew glisten on large fougère ferns. The scent of camphor, menthol, eucalyptus, patchouli, wet earth, and smoked vetiver lingers in the air.
A mere 12 minutes in, the second world takes over, transposing itself onto the mesquite-filled desert campfire barbecue, but it’s slightly different now. The scent profile shifts to emphasize green, camphorous patchouli leaves, minty vetiver, baby mint shoots, smoky birch tar leather, and oakmoss. The latter bears no resemblance to the sort of heavily diluted oakmoss which one encounters in perfumery but, instead, to the stickiest, darkest, and most heavily aged oakmoss absolute, the sort where the gooey material is almost semi-solid and wafts aromas of raw, green-black tobacco, leather, and loamy earth even more than mossy greenness.
Roughly 40 minutes in, Green Papua changes its emphasis yet again. The “oakmoss absolute” takes over center stage, pushing the camphorous patchouli and vetiver-like tonalities into the background. Raw tobacco and soft, smoky leather dance around the “oakmoss absolute,” trailed closely by a plethora of soft spring shoots that smell like fresh pea sprouts, mint, and even a bit of fresh sage. Every once in a while, cloves and a pulpy, prune-like fruitiness pop up before flittering away.
It’s a very appealing bouquet and not at all what I had expected from the official description. For one thing, I’m not crazy about mint aromas, but there is nothing particularly sharp, bracing, spearmint-like, or peppermint-like about the note here, at least not on my skin. It’s far softer than actual mint leaves, more like a naturalistic, spring-like freshness or the baby shoots to which I keep referring. The second unexpected thing about Green Papua is that it is not a particularly woody or oud-like scent. There is zero oud funk or “noble rot.”
In fact, at the end of the first hour, Green Papua doesn’t really smell of oud wood at all on my skin. Instead, it’s a soft layering of different green, mossy, earthy, and almost leafy notes, shot through with veins of tobacco, smoke, wet leaves, mint, fresh herbs, ferns, and just the tiniest, thinnest wisp of leather. It’s a very fresh, clean, light, and gentle take on a mossy forest and its earthen floor. If it were a conventional fragrance, I would place it at this stage in the green category rather than the oud, oud-leather, or woody ones.
As the hours pass, however, Green Papua gradually develops into something darker, smokier, and more leather-centric. Curlicues of tobacco sidle up against smoky vetiver, camphor, eucalyptus, incense, and dusty cedar-ish woods, but all of them are quiet, heavily muffled filaments woven into the background of a tapestry whose focal point is an increasingly dark accord: phenolic, smoky, black leather.
Roughly 5.25 hours in, Green Papua dissolves into a somewhat sharp and somewhat biting medicinal green-black smokiness with occasional glimmers of eucalyptus, tar, camphor, menthol, and mint subsumed within. I can’t say I’m crazy about it, because this is very far from my personal scent preferences, but Green Papua seems to have a lot of fans.
Green Papua remains unchanged until the drydown begins towards the end of the 11th hour. Suddenly, seemingly out of the blue, the bouquet transforms into creamy, minty woodiness. There are occasional whispers of smokiness, but the main emphasis is on the cream and mint. The scent stays that way until it finally dies away a few hours later.
In total, the fragrance lasted roughly 13 hours with two small drops of oil. In terms of sillage and projection, Green Papua was very quiet on my skin as compared to many of the other oils. Together with Oud Yusuf, it ranked amongst the most discreet scents out of the ones that I’ve tried thus far.
Borneo 50K follows several prior “Borneo” oils in the Legends Collection, all highly acclaimed and prized, particularly Borneo 3000 which is now a collector’s item. The newest oil was extracted from Borneo wood, from the Malinau jungle, was distilled in 2005, aged for 12 years, and released this year. Part of Ensar Oud’s description reads as follows:
It’s golden mint. Sunshine through raspberry honey based in a thousand-year-old Mysore infused with the mint of the Moghuls. Soft petal green instead of foliage green. Peamint instead of spearmint. […][¶] Borneo 50K is a head-turner, but not in the Hindi, what’s-that-animal-on-your-skin smirk. […] It’s a sweetness that surrounds you which others find irresistible and will thank you for profusely.
Lilies draped in vanilla drenched in raspberry honey married to mintiness and a soft whisper.
Wild herbaceous honey, berry-buried cinnamon, sage upon wild flower oudy-minty spread sprinkled with cardamom, with a hint of ambergris.
It’s all wood upon wood within wood (within honey within mint within whisper).
My skin decided to follow a very different path. Again. Borneo 50K opens on me with a plethora of green-black-brown notes that juxtapose mesquite barbecue with the leather and Islay scotch of a refined, members-only club in Pall Mall. Mesquite wood and grilled meats vie with a truly gorgeous Islay single-malt greenness that is salty, wet, mossy, damp, and earthy under a thick layer of smoked peat.
Other elements run parallel to the Islay green accord. The first is another green accord but this one is strongly spiced, thanks to an aroma which resembles raw, patchouli leaves covered with a layer of tomato leaves. Strong gusts of menthol and camphor blow in and out, smelling of Vick’s Vapor Rub and Ben-Gay. A whisper of honeyed sweetness lurks in the background next to bitter chocolate, sticky resins, and rather cedar-ish woodiness. When taken as a whole, however, the primary focus is on a savory, meaty, smoked woodiness overlaid with mentholated, camphorous, bitter, and spicy greenness.
Borneo 50K changes direction and its primary focus after 30 minutes. The bouquet turns simpler, its nuances flattened under the weight of heavy camphor, menthol, eucalyptus, smoke, and medicinal notes. It’s a deluge of greenness blackened in parts by charred oud smoke.
Roughly 2.5 hours in, Borneo 50K pivots and changes emphasis yet again. Now, the primary focus is on woodiness instead of greenness, although the scent continues to be quite medicinal and camphorous in aroma. If I had to compare it to something, it would be to a strongly woody version of Ben-Gay, Tiger’s Balm, and Vick’s Vapor Rub. It’s not my thing but, from what I’ve read, it seems this sort of bitter, medicinal aroma is highly prized by some oud aficionados.
Borneo 50K changes a few more times on my skin. Roughly 6.25 hours in, it turns into vetiver-ish greenness infused with mint, wood smoke, and mesquite-scented woods. When the drydown begins at the start of the 9th hour, it’s a simple bouquet of oud-ish, smoked mesquite infused with a touch of honeyed sweetness. It remains that way until its final hours when it finally dissolves into a dry-sweet, smoked woodiness.
Borneo 50K lasted just under 16 hours with two small drops. Its projection was decent at 2.5 to 3 inches in the opening hour, and its sillage was similar to the other Legends. As a general rule, they tended to have a fractionally larger scent cloud on my skin than the non-Legends; they were also deeper in body and felt heavier in weight.
PRICES, SAMPLES & VARIATIONS IN WEBSITE LISTINGS:
The oils vary in price depending on the wood in question and the oil’s category. The organic ouds start at $165 for a 3 gram bottle, and go up from there. Oud Yusuf, for example, is $250. The most affordable Olde Oud begins at $390 for a 3 gram bottle. The most affordable Aged Wild Oud, Green Papua, begins at $475. Some of the Legends start at $365 for a 0.7 gram vial, while others are more.
I realize that is not affordable for many people, myself included, but prices are driven by the market and the cost of the wood in question. If you read Part I of this series on the different grades of agarwood, how Ensar Oud uses types that are rare, premium-grade, aged, and/or very expensive, the overall agarwood market supply/pricing situation, and how some of his distillations can cost as much as half a million dollars, then you’ll have some understanding of the reasons why these oils are so expensive.
This has been a long article, so if one of these descriptions has tempted you to look further into a particular oil, I’ll save you some time scrolling and provide you with direct links to each of the available oils reviewed here: Purple Kinam, Kinam Rouge, Borneo 50K, Green Papua, Hainan 2005, and Oud Yusuf. Individual samples are available for a most or all of them. For example, Oud Yusuf costs $27 for a 0.3 gram vial, Green Papua is $49, Hainan 2005 with its now-extinct rare Chinese oud is $85, Kinam Rouge is $150, and Purple Kinam is $250.
Several of the oils reviewed here are included in the Ultimate Oud Sample Set. There are 9 oils from four different oud categories: Aged Wild Oud, Organic Oud, Olde Oud, and Legends. As you’ve gathered by now, the latter consists of oils made from the highest and most expensive grades of agarwood, then aged for a number of years like cognac. Each of the 9 vials contains .15 grams in quantity, enough for you to wear multiple times. The complete set of nine samples costs $349, down from $379. Given some of the solo prices for the Legends, the set might actually end up being a better deal, assuming, of course, that one has the money and is interested in trying the Legends to begin with.
There are a few things to keep in mind about the listings on the website, particularly if you stumble across this article months from now. First, the Sample Set changes in terms of the specific oils which are offered. So, right now, Purple Kinam is one of the choices. In three weeks from now, it might be another Legend, like Oud Ahmad instead. The current selection of Legends is entirely the result of Ensar Oud kindly and thoughtfully offering the specific ones which I told him I was going to write about, but you should be aware that the choices are bound to change later.
The second thing to keep in mind is that the selection of oils offered in all the non-Legend categories also tends to change. So, if you sample an oil or hear about an oil which you are eager to try but you don’t see it listed on the website, don’t assume that it is totally sold-out or unavailable. Several of the oils sent to me for testing — like, for example, the admired, super masculine, and extremely aged ouds, Tigerwood 1995 and Tigerwood Royale — could not be found on the site. When I asked Ensar Oud about it, he explained that it was partially due website set-up issues. He brought a few of them back, like the Tigerwoods, for now at least. My point is: if you sample something, love it, want to buy a bottle, but don’t see it listed on the website, send the company an email to inquire as to its availability.
The one exception to all this are the oils in the super-premium, super-luxe Legends Category. Those are the ones that people prize the most and/or tend to collect. Once the final bottle is sold, no additional ones will ever be made available again, no matter how much you may write to the company. The entry page may remain up, but it’s purely for reference purposes it seems. (That is the situation for one of the Legends whose opening hours I loved, Aroha Kyaku. It had a magnificent tobacco, incense, smoke and labdanum bouquet that felt like the burly love child of a three-way orgy between Sultan Pasha‘s Tabac Grande, Pure Incense, and Ame Sombre/Tribute attars, before it turned into the plushest vetiver-incense fragrance that I’ve ever tried. I’m not into solo vetivers, as you know, but that was one impressive fragrance.) [UPDATE 9/26: I misunderstood the situation with Aroha Kyaku. What I was sent was a sample of an upcoming version by the same name as the original Legend. It appears that there have been 3 Aroha oils, all similar, in the past and I tried the upcoming 4th one. It will be released at some point in the future. The misunderstanding is my fault, but I’m happy that people will have the opportunity to try it in the future if they’re interested.]
If you are one of those die-hard Oud Heads who regrets missing out and wants to try a few Legends just for the experience, the company does offer a Legends Sample Set which includes several famous, now sold-out Legends as well as some current ones. The set’s description states that the oils: “are the apex, the emblematic benchmark, and the ultimate reference guide for oud aficionados. And up till now, they’ve been in the hands of private collectors[.]” As you might expect, the set is not cheap, although it’s cheaper than it once was at $599, down from $810, for 7 samples. I don’t expect the vast majority of you to leap at it even for $599, but I did want to mention the set in case there are any die-hard oud fanatics out there with plenty of cash to spare.
ADVICE & CONCLUSIONS:
Whether it’s Ensar Oud, Feel Oud, ASAQ, or another brand, sometimes an oud cannot be sampled first, and all you have to go on when deciding whether to buy an oil is the company’s official description, so I want to discuss something that Hainan 2005 made me realize: the importance of knowing a wood’s region or country of origin if one wants to have an idea of whether or not an oud oil might be for you, even if it is only the roughest, general idea. I had never tried Chinese agarwood before, so I was quite taken aback at an opening that — to me — replicated many facets of Hindi oud. I do not like Hindi oud. At all. I find its barnyard and fermented Gorgonzola aspects to be extremely difficult, if not unpleasant. Consequently, I did not enjoy Hainan 2005’s opening stage, although I absolutely loved its end phases. But the Hindi similarities were so confusing to me that I actually had to double-check the official description to make sure none had been included. No, it’s all Chinese oud. So then I did some reading, and I found out that a number of people think that there are olfactory similarities between Chinese and Hindi agarwood in their early phases. Later, in testing another one of Ensar Oud’s Chinese oils, China Sayang, the Hindi overlap appeared again, suggesting that there may be a real olfactory signature at play. By the same token, I’ve long been aware of certain scent similarities between various Laotian, Borneo, or Cambodian ouds that I’ve tried in the past, and how they differ from the Indian variety. Geography matters with oud.
The reasons why I’m discussing this are two-fold. First, I know I’m not the only one who is inexperienced with Chinese agarwood, has Indian oud issues, and struggles with a certain type of oud scent profile. That brings me to my second and original point: if all you have to go on is a description and you cannot sample the oil first, then it’s helpful to keep in mind the agarwood’s country of origin, because I’ve found that it plays a role — sometimes a big role — in the olfactory profile which you may encounter. It’s something to consider particularly if you struggle with Hindi-style barnyard aromas.
Having said that, if Hainan 2005 is anything to go by, Chinese oud is on another level from the Indian variety in its complexity and range of notes. What a roller coaster, what a shape-shifter. It’s hard not to be impressed by that when one takes the scent as a whole.
I think Hainan 2005 is a good example of why people buy oils from Ensar Oud: the range, complexity, clarity, note delineation, and smoothness; the way some scents transition into unexpected tinkling, pastel alto highs after booming baritone lows; and, perhaps most of all, the evocative scenarios which unfold at different stages. I’ve never experienced those elements to quite the same degree elsewhere, although some of Feel Oud’s oils came close. But the breadth of the spectrum feels larger here and has more unexpected twists. I mean, nothing could be a further departure from my prior understanding of and experience with agarwood than lilacs and peaches!
For me, the multi-dimensionality of these solo oils (particularly some of the Legends), their range of notes/nuance, and their many stages of development are on a different olfactory level than the agarwood which one finds in blended niche fragrances. Take, for example: SHL 777‘s Oud 777 (Laotian and Burmese ouds), Rania J‘s Oud Assam (Hindi), Al Haramain‘s Obsessive Oudh (the type is not mentioned but it smells Hindi), Xerjoff‘s Zafar (unquestionably Hindi), LM Parfums‘ Hard Leather (Laotian and I think probably some Hindi), Roja Dove‘s United Arab Emirates (the type is not mentioned, but it’s synthetic in my opinion), Roja Dove‘s Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (ditto), or Tom Ford‘s Oud Wood (ditto). A number of these fragrances are much loved in the Western niche world but, in my opinion, not one of their ouds (or, in the latter cases, “ouds” in quotes) demonstrates the range, depth, complexity, nuance, body, or smoothness of the agarwood in one of Ensar Oud’s oils.
Each of the oils that I’ve written about today had parts that I either enjoyed very much or flat-out loved, but I have to confess that none of them are for me, personally, with my particular taste, when taken as a whole. I don’t think I could comfortably pull them off because I tend to struggle with oud all by itself, as opposed to oud which has been blended with a slew of other materials in an attar or fragrance. The main reason why is because my individual skin chemistry typically magnifies olfactory traits in oud which would not be my favourites even if I were to encounter them in regular perfumery. Like, for example, vetiver, mint, menthol, camphor, medicinal notes, or intense smoke and leather. In moderated doses, they might be manageable, but that’s not typically what happens with my skin with oud.
I’m going to keep at it, to see if I can gradually overcome my issues, but the reason why I’m mentioning this is to say that my feelings, my skin chemistry, and, perhaps most of all, my interpretation of these scents may be very different than that of a true, hardcore oud lover. So, if there is an oud which has caught your attention, my advice is to read the scent descriptions provided by other users in the comments left at the end of each oil’s entry page. Mine is but one perspective (and it is also that of a wuss); you should obtain a more complete picture from the real oud aficionados before you make up your mind.
Wuss or not, I enjoyed the experience of trying high-quality agarwood from parts of the world other than India and the olfactory knowledge which that afforded me. If you have an appreciation for oud and want to develop your nose further by learning about other types, then I suggest taking things to the next level by sampling some of Ensar Oud’s oils.
Next time, we will return to the niche world of perfumery. See you then and have a good weekend.
Disclosure: My samples were provided courtesy of the company. That did not impact this review. I do not do paid reviews, and my opinions are my own.