Hello everyone! I hope you’ve been well. I’m safe, dry, and gradually recuperating from the extremely stressful aftermath of Hurricane Harvey, but wanted to check in and give you a small peek into what lies ahead. I’m working my way through a few treasures as I prepare a long, detailed series on Ensar Oud. He is perhaps the single most famous name in the oud world, a pioneer who revolutionized the field with his luxury oils, many of which are made from the oldest, rarest and highest grade wood. He also does sandalwood oils. In both cases, not only are the woods themselves frequently very old, but many of his creations are subsequently aged as well, like the finest cognac or scotch, before they’re released.
The series is taking quite some time. The first part will be a profile on Ensar Oud, his philosophy, his approach, and why he’s a legend whose name is spoken in reverential, awed tones. He’s a complex, intriguing man who makes passing references to Yeats, Rachmaninov, or Walt Whitman whilst speaking passionately about oud as a force of life. And he writes Hemingway-esque stories about trips into the heart of Far East Asia with his lieutenant “Kruger,” like the time they met with their master “monk distiller” and a member of the local mafia who talked about the old war in Cambodia over Tom Yum, steamed fish, and darts. Part I will be about him, the world of oud, changes to it over the last 10-12 years, and why his work stands out. It is basically finished, but I’m waiting on some information from Ensar Oud. Part II will review three lovely sandalwood oils, all of which have already been tested at length.
Part III will be a number of oud reviews and will be a long work in progress. I’m trying to get through as many of the oils currently offered in the 9-piece Ensar Oud Ultimate Oud sampler kit as I can. There will undoubtedly have to be a Part IV later on down the line because I was sent 21 ouds in total, and it’s difficult not to get distracted by some of the more famous ones. A number of them are long since sold out, but I received samples, the oils are still talked about in awed tones, are now collector items, and are well-known to the oud aficionados. So reviewing them would be valuable or interesting to that group in the same way that a review of Shiseido’s Nombre Noir or Guerlain’s vintage Apres L’Ondée was to perfume people. Still, I’m doing my best to focus, for now, primarily on oils that are currently for sale, even if some of the samples are not in the sampler set and have to be purchased separately.
Some of them quite incredible thus far. Who knew that oud could go from animalic funk to smelling of lilac and peaches?! I kid you not, lilacs!! Or that oud could be redolent of: indolic jasmine; chocolate and patchouli mixed with plums and stewed raisins; the best single-malt Islay scotch sipped over old parchment manuscripts in a leather armchair before a fire; or a mesquite-filled desert that suddenly morphs into the verdant heart of a Papua New Guinea jungle?
I thought I would share with you photos of the oud oils sent to me. At the very least, it will give you an idea of the task before me as well as the difficulty of picking, choosing, and sticking solely to the ones currently available:
Ensar Oud’s three most famous collections are the “Oriscents,” the “Legends,” and his “Sultan” series. The most legendary “Oriscents” are collector’s items now, and only one limited-edition oil is currently left for sale, along with a stratospherically priced sample set. A few of the more recently issued, vintage, aged “Legends” are still available, but most are sold out. Samples of two are available in the Ultimate Oud sample kit. But the super-luxury Sultan series is the one that I have to fight off the urge to try because only one remains available for sale, Sultan Ahmet, and it sounds like the zenith of Ensar Oud’s art. Unfortunately, its price is so astronomical that a review would not benefit the vast majority of my readers. Then again, sometimes, one has to do something for oneself, either simply for the experience or to see what the fuss is about, so who knows. Maybe I’ll indulge myself for Part IV, much further down the line.
I never took photos of the sandalwood oil samples which were sent to me and which will be the focus of Part II. I was so caught up in the rapture of smelling my ultimate, Holy Grail sandalwood, Sandal Sultan, that I simply forgot. By the time that I remember that I should probably photograph the vials to show, at the very least, the colour of the oils, it was too late and I’d gone through most of them in testing. But they are excellent, and if you’re a hardcore santal fan, you may want to consider the Sample Set which includes three oils and two sets of granules or powders, 15 grams each, to burn like incense.
As a side note, I know some of these prices are high to very, very high, and I also know that oud is not everyone’s comfort zone. It’s not particularly mine, either. But these are truly exceptional quality oils, many of which have an astounding range of notes, depth, smoothness, and complexity. They’re not only made from wood that is top-grade, rare, and of vintage age, but they’ve also been treated in a fashion intended to create “Art” with a capital “A,” by a man who is a legend and revered in his world to a degree that I think no-one — not even Serge Lutens — is revered in ours. My goal with this series is to open the door to his world, give you a glimpse inside, and to try to explain why oud at this level is something entirely different. My hope is that you will view the series as an educational trip into a very different universe and that it will be interesting on that level even to those who don’t actually like oud or who blink at the prices.
I know that, for many people, it would be far more useful or relevant if I wrote about the latest Masque releases, Lubin’s new Epidor, the gazillion new Roja Doves, Tom Ford’s Oud Minerale, the many Fragrance du Bois oils which have arrived in the U.S., or some other hot, trendy, new thing that has just released. I have samples of most of the scents I’ve mentioned (amongst many, many others), have tested a handful, and I’m afraid that, nothing I’ve tried thus far (particularly Roja Dove’s Qatar, Kuwait, and Elysium) inspires me to cover them right away instead of focusing on an artisanal brand that won’t be for everyone.
So, please, may beg your indulgence for now? Who knows, maybe you’ll be tempted by an oud oil that smells of lilacs, or one that layers peaty, smoky Islay scotch with leather, old books, patchouli, campfire smoke, red wine, and grilled portobello mushrooms. Or some other variation in these most unusual, complex oils. At the very least, you’ll never see the world of oud in quite the same way. I promise you that.
Disclosure: My samples were provided courtesy of Ensar Oud. That did not impact this post. I do not do paid reviews, and my opinions are my own.