The original Santal Sultan oil stole my heart and was my Holy Grail sandalwood scent. Heck, as far as I was concerned, it was THE Unicorn sandalwood that nothing else came close to in terms of notes, smell, opulence, smoothness, or quality.
My total adoration of Ensar’s Santal Sultan oil was no small thing; a long-time reader teasingly called me a “Sandalwood Snob” almost a decade ago and that moniker is so true that I adopted the name for myself. (I’m still waiting on those “Sandalwood Snob” t-shirts that were promised to me, “Hajasuuri.”) Whether it was an Amouage santal attar or something from Tom Ford, Rising Phoenix, or Killian, nothing was the perfect fit for my personal tastes or impressed me much.
Nothing until Ensar Oud’s (original) Santal Sultan oil.
And now he’s made a sprayable pure parfum version of it!
Let’s start at the beginning. I was crushed when I learnt some months ago that the original Santal Sultan is no longer available; I’ve never encountered any sandalwood fragrance with its characteristics. So you can imagine my excitement when I heard that it had been replaced by a sprayable pure parfum or extrait in addition to an eau de parfum concentration. When I couldn’t find the scent on Luckyscent to order samples, I wrote to Ensar Oud to plead for the option to try My Beloved’s successor. He was incredibly kind and sent me a bottle as well as a plethora of other new oud oils and perfumes.
(As a tangential housekeeping matter, I will get to all of Ensar’s delicious bottles eventually, but I need to mix things up in terms of the fragrance genres and the price levels that I review so that people who aren’t in ouds don’t feel left out or invisible. In other words, I’m going to have to spread out my slew of Ensar, Di Ser, and Agar Aura pieces so that everyone eventually reads about a fragrance that they may like or that they may be able to afford (relatively speaking to some of the crazily exorbitant other stuff that I review).
Let’s move on to what made the original Santal Sultan oil so special in my eyes before we examine its new parfum successor, its different source materials, its completely different scent profile during the first 9 hours on my skin, and how it compares overall.
THE ORIGINAL SANTAL SULTAN OIL:
When I smelled the original Santal Sultan, it felt like I had captured a unicorn. It is only natural that my feelings about the oil and its olfactory characteristics will play a large role in this review for the successor spray extrait. How could they not? I’m covering My Beloved’s replacement.
Although I will make every effort to analyse and judge its successor in a vacuum, as best as I can, it would be impossible to avoid all comparisons, particularly as I’ve raved about the original oil for years, including recently when shrugged with slightly disdainful indifference at Bortnikoff‘s luxury sandalwood parfum, Santa Sangre.
I think it’s important to revisit the source materials in my Holy Grail oil in order for you to have a framework to compare with the materials used in Santal Sultan parfum and also as a explanation for why I reacted differently to the new parfum. Ditto to the basic primary scent bouquet of the original. It’s a relevant context for you to understand my feelings about the parfum and why I did not fall head over heels in love.
So here are some details from my 2017 review of the bewitching, stunning Santal Sultan oil (RIP) on its very different source materials, a few of my thoughts on the olfactory bouquet they created, and how Santal Sultan oil compared to other notable sandalwood fragrances on the market back then:
Santal Sultan is a twelve-year old oil that was distilled in 2005. According to Ensar Oud, it was made from a co-distillation of two varieties of wood: rare Aceh (Indonesian) santalum album (the type known as “Mysore”) and wild centennial Tanzanian sandalwood. There are other details which explain the special nature of the materials. First, wild Aceh santalum album wood is apparently rare, and extremely old trees rarer still. Here, Ensar Oud found trees that were over 100-years old, so old that they had “gigantic girth,” and he used their roots which he says distillers consider to be the best part. He then combined those ancient white roots with the red heartwood of wild Tanzanian trees that were also a 100-years old, and had his Taiwanese kyara maestro distill them together in the same mold used for his top Kinam ouds. (See Part I for information on “Kyara” and “Kinam.”) The pairing impacted the scent profile of the oil:
Missing in common ‘white’ sandals, red wood adds a distinct sweetness to the scent that for many puts it in a league of its own. […][¶] The lovely jasmine/rose notes in pure Tanzanian sandal get even sweeter, and the mellow animalic profile of rare aged Aceh santal amazingly turns to citrus peel (especially when you wear it outside), in a smell that’s sweet instead of creamy, beautifully floral instead of the buttery profile of traditional Mysores… all with a dab of ambery, frankincense oomph.
It’s an appealing description, but the scent actually surpassed my expectations. Sandal Sultan opens on my skin with even greater richness and spice than Santal Royale. A flood of red-hued cream gushes forth, infused with a wide variety of spice aromas that resemble green cardamom, lemony coriander, red-hot chili peppers, nutmeg, and a touch of clove. Following them is another wave, this time centered on dark chocolate. It merges with the red chili pepper and cream to give a rather Mexican chocolate mole vibe which I find to be both delightful and quite unique. Bright citrus peels lie in fragrant, aromatic curls on top, while patchouli-like spiced earthiness dances on the sidelines next to a honeyed, indolic white floralcy that resembles syrupy jasmine sambac. Tying everything together are chords of sandalwood heart resin, oud-ish wood smoke, and ambered resins. The latter veer in scent between smoky, leathery styrax, the honeyed-toffee aspects of labdanum, and more caramelish ambergris tonalities.
It’s a beautiful bouquet, and it turned my head from the very first sniff. The inordinate spiciness, the visual sea of redness, the perfect juxtaposition of aromatic citrus peel next to smoldering, chili-spiced dark chocolate which, in turn, pairs so perfectly, with the ambered toffee-caramel, jasmine honey, and my beloved patchouli… I’ve never encountered anything like it before, not in any sandalwood oil or blended fragrance, not even back in the 1970s when Mysore was plentiful. This is my ideal, my perfect vision of sandalwood, and what a fragrance centered on it should smell like, not the alleged “sandal” of so many popular creations today, like, to name just a few: the peculiar cucumber-calone-iris concoction in Le Labo‘s ridiculously over-hyped Santal 33; the simplistic one-dimensional base accord that comprises the entirety of Kilian‘s painfully anemic snooze, Sacred Wood; the equally simplistic green buttermilk of Amouage‘s Sandal attar; the Middle Eastern dill-fenugreek dinner plate from Serge Lutens (Santal de Mysore) which is combined, in my opinion, with Ebanol and Javanol instead of any actual Mysore; Guerlain‘s nose-searing, aromachemical hot mess, Santal Royale; or Tom Ford’s abrasive Javanol cocktail, Santal Blush.
SANTAL SULTAN SPRAY PARFUM VERSION:
Ensar Oud‘s official description for Santal Sultan parfum, the replacement for the old oil, is too lengthy for me to quote in full, so I’ll share some snippets and then leave it to you to read more if you’re interested on his site.
The story starts with Ensar Oud acquiring rare or vintage sandalwood oils from “Sultan Qaboos’ royal collection” of high-end olfactory materials. There were three in specific, each with different aromas:
One distinctly sweeter than the other, one uniquely herbaceous with a bitter-spicy veneer, and the third with santalum’s signature creaminess on full display, they all shared the same fate.
The thirty-year-old Timor joining the Sultan’s line-up may well be the youngest of the crew. […][¶]
To complement the distinct profiles of the Sultan’s santalums, you’ll smell chords of citrus and jasmine to augment the sweetness, cedar and pineapple to ride the bitter-spicy notes along with amber patchouli to play on the subtle herbaceous tone, while mimosa and rosemary layer the creamy banquet in a gourmand floral flush I find deeply addictive.
As far as ingredients and concentration go, Santal Sultan is as lavish as any perfumer can dream. No expenses spared, with access to the finest vintage sandalwood oils on Earth, and instead of just alcohol, the juice is drunk on Mysore tinctures using granules I don’t know where to find again—this, my friend, is your bottle of Santal Sultan.
Ensar Oud also provides some very relevant, important details regarding the varying concentrations of the new Santal Sultan:
At 70% concentration, the Pure Parfum edition is the strongest concentration perfume we’ve made—and I’m sure the highest concentration you’ve ever smelled in anything short of a pure attar. And the entire carrier is tincture made from Mysore granules harvested in the 70s and 80s.
Purer than the purest parfums, you could not make this a more replete fragrance even if I gave you solid sandalwood absolute to add—upping the dose any more would make it un-sprayable!
As for the EDP…… well, that’s just what the gold plaque will say: Eau de Parfum. At a crazy 50% it’s more than double the concentration of most Extrait de Parfums out there and easily four times the strength of most Eau de Parfums…
[Emphasis in the original.]
Santal Sultan spray parfum opens on my skin with the most unexpected culinary and buttered bouquet imaginable: Rosemary leads the way, then hot melted butter, a pinch of clove, then more melted butter, a speck of something vaguely saffron-ish (which may just be the buttered spice aroma triggering saffron’s scent) and, finally, what I can only describe as a bubbling, buttered, herbal citrus chicken aroma. I mean, what can I say? It’s all culinary – on every level and in every nuance.
It doesn’t stop there. The entire dinner platter described above is then dunked into a gigantic vat of creamy, herbal sour cream and tangy, citrusy buttermilk before the cumulative whole is splattered with roasted peanut shells, peanut-y tanginess, and a smidge of buttered popcorn.
If any of you are recoiling in disbelief, it’s important that you know that the majority of these aromas and/or nuances are typical of the best, high-end, real (Santalum album) santal scents. In fact, that’s the olfactory bouquet that is in demand and also lauded by many santal aficionados. (Not me.) In other words, people (other than me) actually seek out the creamy dairy, tangy buttermilk, peanut, and buttered popcorn odors that are prevalent in many natural, even vintage and Mysore Santalum album oils.
Personally, I hate it. It is absolutely not my idea of Mysore sandalwood or the aroma that I recall so vividly from in the 1970s when Mysore was everywhere from jewellery to fragrances. No, my platonic idea of opulent, rich sandalwood was something from Mysore that smelled immensely spicy, then citrusy but resinous, quietly dark and smoldering, almost red in visual hue, musky, leathery, golden-red in ambered warmth, smoky as if trails of incense and wood smoke were seducing you and, finally, just like thickly buttered suede on the skin in texture and vibe.
That was Santal Sultan oil on my skin almost from the start.
But that is not Santal Sultan parfum on my skin until after the 9th hour has passed.
And that’s far, far, far too long of a time for me, personally, to smell like a herbal ranch sour cream veggie dip, roasted peanut shells, buttered popcorn, and an absolutely crazy amount of hot, steaming, melted butter imbued with various green, aromatic culinary items or savory food items.
During those first nine hours, Santal Sultan parfum changes slowly and primarily in the nuances, prominence of individual notes; there are not the typical stages that occur every 2, 3, or 4 hours as there are in fragrances which aren’t soliflores. Some of the changes are extremely subtle because the driving force or central bouquet of Santal Sultan remains, for eons, almost entirely the lactonic, dairy, peanut-y, citrusy, and immensely buttered herbal aromas that I’ve described above.
As an example of the changes, let’s take Santal Sultan’s very glacial and incremental shifts away from culinary foodiness (particularly the roasted chicken in butter aroma) and towards something fractionally fresher and brighter before the fragrance ends up, 9-12 hours later, as a darker bouquet that (finally) resembles (somewhat) the original oil.
Roughly 15-20 minutes in, the citrus notes start to dominate, not the green herbs, as the lemon is joined by a much sweeter, almost honeyed mandarin note. The rosemary-in-melted-butter accord and the herbal sour cream, buttermilk dairy accord remain, but they’re not as in-your-face and are now infused with a variety of other nuances from the sandalwood. Separate from the lemon, mandarin, and honey, there are now the first quiet, muffled pops of a sweet, almost sticky floralcy weaving through everything. The flower is initially amorphous and indeterminate but slowly, gradually, it turns into that once in a blue moon, if I sniff hard, is vaguely suggestive of honey-drenched mimosa mixed with honey-drenched jasmine-honeysuckle. Have I mentioned “honey” yet? It’s that clearly delineated on my skin, unlike the muffled floralcy.
Roughly 40-45 minutes in, Santal Sultan no longer smells purely of buttered lemon chicken encrusted with rosemary, other green cooking herbs, and peanut shells before being dunked in a citrusy, sour buttermilk sauce. No, now the fragrance bouquet smells of all of those things plus a comforting, natural flu remedy: honey, lemon, lemon peel zest, ginger, herbal, spices, indistinct yellow floralcy, and tangy, slightly sour, wooded buttermilk creaminess.
None of it resembles my beloved Santal Sultan in oil form. To be honest, the buttered, culinary foodiness leaves me less than enthused. On the other hand, the parfum’s bouquet does slowly, eventually, grow on me — not only as time passes and the scent transitions but also the more times I wear the fragrance.
Over the next 9 hours, Santal Sultan parfum veers back and forth in emphasis and focus between the various accords described above. One minute, the herbal (chicken) melted butter is dominant; 20 minutes later, it’s the herbal sour cream, citrus, and honey which takes the lead; 10 minutes after that, it’s the honeyed lemon, mandarin flu remedy with its undertones of ginger, spice, quiet floralcy, and slightly tangy, lactonic, buttery woods. The few constants are the (now) background notes of peanut shells and buttered popcorn and the growing forefront clouds of wood-charred, resinous smokiness and ambered goldenness.
One thing that I want to highlight is the textural change to Santal Sultan’s bouquet from the 4th hour onwards. The sandalwood’s incremental transition to an almost tactile creamy and velvety feel comes to fruition in the middle of the 4th hour, leaving a sense of practically suede and velvet texture in olfactory form coating my forearm. It’s lovely and thoroughly enjoyable.
If I had to estimate the olfactory ratios and prominence of Santal Sultan’s central accords from the 4th hour until the end of the 9th hour when the fragrance’s second stage begins, I’d break it down as follows: 40% consists of the buttermilk sour cream with green herbs and lemon; 45% consists of peanut-scented, suede-like, buttery sandalwood; and 15% are the sandalwood’s remaining aromas or nuances (singed wood smoke, incense smoke, sticky amber, floralcy, ginger spice, dark musk, and overall resinousness).
Another small glacial shift occurs about 5.5 hours in when Santal Sultan loses half of its foodiness on my skin and begins the incremental transition into a darker, muskier, smokier, spicier, and more resinous bouquet. First, the various scent combinations no longer evoke mental, olfactory associations with buttered lemon chicken or with a honey lemon ginger flu drink. Though the tangy, herbal, lemony citrusy buttermilk and the roasted peanuts remain, they are finally overshadowed by darker aromas: ambery resins; nutmeg-like spiciness; resinous, almost balsamic amber; and a new, very different sort of woodiness. That woodiness feels similar to oud in its scent profile which includes slightly dirty muskiness, incense-like smokiness, and a few chords of tarry leatheriness in the base.
Neither these dark elements nor their cumulative effect are the same in aroma as what ran through the original Santal Sultan oil – not at this point at least – but the parallels are there and one can see the shape of things to come. For now, however, Santal Sultan parfum still smells completely different than the oil did on my skin due to the strength and prominence of the buttermilk/sour cream herbal accord. Plus, there continue to be pops in the background of hot melted butter and buttered popcorn on my skin every now and then.
From the 5.5 hour mark until the end of the 9th hour and the start of the 10th, Santal Sultan pure parfum slowly and gradually transitions away from its original focus, bouquet, and scent profile and towards one close to the original oil. Step by step, nuance by nuance, the fragrance incrementally grows darker, more ambered and golden, more tarry, more spicy, more smoky, more musky, woodier, and more leathery.
By the time the 10th hour begins, the scent has done a complete 180-degree turn from its opening. Now, the sandalwood unexpectedly mimics the multi-faceted aromas of a high-end oud oriental. The bouquet smells like: cumin spices; oud-like woody leather; treacly, balsamic amber; singed wood smoke; singed, resinous woods; quietly skanky muskiness; and a lingering undertone of buttered popcorn. Running under everything is a river of dark chocolate and a velvety, suede-like tactile feel.
The cumulative effect may not be olfactorily identical to Santal Sultan oil, but it’s closer now to the original in scent, vibe, and overall feel than at any time since the parfum version opened on my skin.
Santal Sultan’s nuances and emphasized notes change in the hours ahead. Roughly 9.75 hours in, the fragrance smells of spicy chocolate, patchouli, amber, and woods that are both like buttered suede and oud-ish.
10.25 hours in, or at the start of the 11th hour, Santal Sultan is predominantly a dark, dry-sweet, cumin-laced woody bouquet that’s cocooned in thick, golden, ambered warmth.
Ten minutes before the start of the 12th hour, Santal Sultan still smells of cumin spices, chocolate, leather, smoky woods, musk, and ambered goldenness but the bouquet is comparatively smokier, woodier, dirtier in its musk, and more resinously leathery.
The start of the 14th heralds Santal Sultan’s drydown. It’s a simple, uncomplicated amorphous haze of spicy, smoky, quietly dark santal-ish woodiness encased within dry-sweet, soft, resinous ambered goldenness.
LONGEVITY & SILLAGE:
Santal Sultan parfum had excellent longevity and initially huge sillage that took several hours to turn moderate. I tested the scent with 2 sprays from a bottle, roughly equivalent to 2-3 generous, big, wide smears from a sample vial. Closer to 3 smears, perhaps. With that amount, the opening scent trail was about 8-10 inches before expanding after 30-35 minutes to create a voluminous bubble around me that was several feet in radius. The sillage dropped incrementally in the hours that followed. Santal Sultan turned into a skin scent on me roughly 8.75 hours into its development or late in the 9th hour. It was still easy to detect without effort if I brought my nose to my arm. At the end of the 12th hour and start of the 13th hour, it became harder and I had to inhale hard when smelling my skin. However, Santal Sultan lingered on as a light coating of scent for several hours longer before finally dying in the middle of the 17th hour or around the 16.5 hour mark.
I think I probably applied a little more than my roughly standardized amount that I use in testing a fragrance because each spray amount seemed pretty generous. I try to use a quantity analogous to what a person might apply using smears from a sample in order to give you a closer approximation of what you might experience if you tested a scent. Given that my spray amount was probably closer to 3 smears, the longevity and sillage numbers that I experienced may be greater than what you might experience if you used a lesser quantity. And, of course, all numbers depend on your personal skin chemistry and how voraciously your skin eats scent.
COMPARATIVE THOUGHTS & CONCLUSION:
Santal Sultan parfum is a high-quality sandalwood fragrance that is bound to appeal to traditionalists who love santal’s conventional buttermilk, green lactonic, peanut-y, and/or popcorn-like aromas. I think it will also appeal to those who like a darker, more resinous, spicy version as well — if they have the patience to wait for that version to appear.
The cool thing about the parfum is that it combines both olfactory versions of sandalwood: the greener, milky, sour cream buttermilk conventional version and the atypical, rare red-skewing, deeply spicy, deeply resinous, smoky, dark, leathery, and musky version. The latter is my personal favourite but, again, it is not the usual scent profile of sandalwood fragrances. It was, however, the primary aesthetic, focus, and vibe of Santal Sultan oil on my skin which is why I fell for it so hard.
The parfum version isn’t my personal cup of tea. The reasons are completely subjective: I lack the patience to wait 10 hours for the rarer dark, ultra spicy, ultra resinous, musky, smoky, chocolatey, ambered version to appear. I also dislike savory, culinary, and foodie aromas on my skin. Finally, I’ve never been particularly keen on the standard green, buttermilk, popcorn-y, and/or peanut shell version that is common in real and high-end Santal album olfactory creations.
To be completely fair, though, and to return full circle to one of my early points, I think that the reason for the big differences in scent profiles between the oil and the parfum is due to completely different source materials. Something about the 100-year old rare and wild version of Aceh (Indonesian) Santalum album and the redwood heart of wild centennial Tanzanian sandalwood used in the original oil created a magical but atypical scent profile as compared to the Santalum album oils from Sultan Qaboos’ collection that were used in the parfum. There is also the fact that the original Santal Sultan was aged when I tried it in 2017 as it had been macerating since 2005. That’s bound to make a big difference, too.
Given these significant differences, I would be unfair to judge the parfum by the standards and bouquet of the original oil. They’re really two very different scents.
The reason why I’ve spent time discussing the original oil is due to expectations regarding the parfum. Many of my readers love the oil version as much as I do. In fact, someone told me just the other day on Twitter that the original
is the best sandalwood ever. It’s what was always missing in every ‘sandalwood’ out there.
He was so excited to hear that there was a sprayable version now, and I think that feeling would be shared by all those who adored the original, thereby resulting in expectations that the parfum would be identical or closely similar. But I really don’t think that they are. The 10-hour opening bouquet is a significant (and lengthy) difference.
Consequently, if you try the parfum I think that it’s essential that you wipe all thoughts, memories, or expectations of the original from your mind and that you judge it in a vacuum.
When viewed in that vacuum, the parfum could be the ideal sandalwood scent for traditionalists who: 1) enjoy the standard green sour cream, peanut shell, popcorn-y aromas; 2) don’t mind the addition of the redder, darker, spicier, muskier, resinous version; AND, this part is critical, 3) don’t mind any culinary, foodie, and herbal aspects that may appear on their skin.
On a related note, judging by comments on Ensar Oud’s Sultan Sultan page and other people’s experiences, I think quite a few of you are also likely to experience the aroma of herbs and/or sauteéd herbs in hot butter on your skin, regardless of individual skin chemistry. However, I think it’s unlikely that you’ll share my odd herbal, lemon, buttered chicken part, though I did see one person referencing other comments about “Indian food” in the opening.
Santal Sultan is not listed on Fragrantica in any of its versions and Basenote’s pure parfum’s page has no reviews at the time of this article, so your best bet for reading other people’s thoughts on the scent is to turn to the Ensar Oud page listed above. It includes comments on the eau de parfum version as well. Be aware that there are no negative reviews that I could see in my (admittedly quick) scan of the comments. Also, I don’t know how many of the commentators had tried the original oil, something which may have a contextual bearing on their interpretation of the replacement parfum.
The bottom line, though, is that aficionados of real sandalwood fragrances should try Santal Sultan because, even if it’s not my personal thing, I think it is still better than other santal fragrances currently on the market.
[Update, evening of 5/21/22, day of post: It is only fair to share the key part of Ensar Oud’s reply to my review:
I sincerely wish you had reached out to me with questions about the fragrance before writing the review, as was your wont in the past…. There is a misconception at the heart of this review in that it is based on the assumption that Santal Sultan PP is the “successor” and “substitute” to the now sold out sandalwood oil. I find it rather far-fetched that a complex spray perfume composed of top, heart and base chords featuring a plethora of different botanicals should be the replacement for a single-source essential oil (i.e. pure sandalwood oil). Secondly, I never claimed that it was meant to be such a substitute.
First, fair point about contacting him, but it would not have made any difference. My olfactory feelings about the scent would be the same regardless of what I knew about’s background.
Second, as of 8:02 pm CST time on same evening of this review date, there is NO mention anywhere that I can see on Ensar Oud’s Santal Sultan Parfum page that the fragrance is not identical or not a successor.
When you choose to use the same identical name for one fragrance that you’ve used previously, the common sense or common thought reaction would be that the two fragrances are related. Misunderstandings… that’s on YOU as the person writing the official description for the entire globe.
Third, no blogger is ever required to contact anyone about anything when they’re sharing their personal thoughts and opinions on a fragrance. And, to repeat, nothing that Ensar Oud might have originally told me about his pure parfum would have changed my feelings about scent. Same name, different name, whatever, I just do not like culinary, foodie, buttery, buttermilk, peanuty or herbal bouquets in my sandalwood.
Fourth: I explicitly stated at the start of my review that I would do my very best to review the parfum in a vacuum without thought to the oil. I then went on to explicitly state at the end that anyone else in my shoes should approach, assess, and judge the parfum in a vacuum and solo.
Fifth, I would like to remind people that I have actually RECOMMENDED this fragrance.]
Disclosure: My Santal Sultan parfum bottle was kindly provided by Ensar Oud. That did not impact this review. I do not do paid reviews and my opinions are my own.