Unearthly Harvest: 20-year Organic Aquilaria Crassna Oud Oil

Ensar Oud

Well-Known Member
Just collected the oil from our twenty-year organic aquilaria crassna tree harvested last month in Thailand, after seven days soaking and four days hydro-distillation...

Ensar, would you be able to elaborate on the different types of distillation equipment? In this video you mention the equipment being stainless steel. Is copper also used? What have you found to be superior?

Ensar Oud

Well-Known Member
So far as I know, there are only three distillation methods for oud oil: steam, hydro and CO2 extraction. The latter is seldom used save in low quality cultivated oud. The results are far from impressive, with a pasty, sticky, solid at room temperature wax as the end product. The scent is impaired by the extraction of non-resin particles along with the agarwood essence.

Steam distillation is widely used in Indonesia. I am unsure about the benefits of using steam, considering that the oil is subjected to temperatures above 300 degrees centigrade. Some of my distillers harbor an intense dislike for steam distillation when it comes to oud. Yet Borneo 3000, Borneo Kinam, Kyara Koutan, and so forth were all steam distilled. Given the controversy I've found among distillers regarding steam, I do not plan on employing this extraction method from here onwards.

Then we have classic hydro distillation. Simple chemistry: you boil the wood and the resin rises to the top; from there you funnel it into a glass vessel where it gathers over the course of several days, floating atop the water. This is the oldest, most widely used method in Southeast Asia and Assam. The original Oud Royale, Oud Mostafa, Thai Encens (1 and 2), and other oils were extracted via this method.

This is where distillation can get real high tech, with different material tubes for different steps of the process.... You can have, for example, a stainless steel boiler with copper tubes that the oil travels through; or a fully stainless unit; or a fully copper one; or a copper still with stainless tubes; or different material tubes for different parts of the process, such as the water traveling through copper and the oil through steel; or vice versa. The possibilities are endless.

With steam distillation, all you get is agarwood oil that was heated up to a certain temperature and then separated from the condensed steam, with the resultant oil potentially impaired due to the high temperature. In hydro distillation, the raw materials are in close contact with water for a period of several days. The water has an almost magical effect on the oil, changing its character dramatically depending on how long it stays immersed, what type of water it is boiled in, the chemical breakdown of the water itself, salt and mineral content, etc.

Believe it or not, whether you get a fecal, a fruity or a woody, a dark or a light, a leathery or a green smelling oud oil all depends on the water you use to cook the raw materials!
Thanks for the information Ensar. The aversion you mentioned of some of the distillers to using Steam, is that because they believe that the results are inferior to Hydro in quality? or is it because of economical reasons (lower yield and higher operating cost)? Also, I had thought that certain types of Ouds woods lend itself to steam Distillation and others to Hydro, if that is true and you say that you will only do Hydro Distillation from here on, what would you do if you come across a patch is best for steam distillation?
The distillation plants, do they get tweaked (new parts added and other replaced) after every distillation or the equipment remain the same and one has to find different plant setups for the different Ouds?
Because of the effect of water among other things on the "flavor" of the Oud wouldn't you say that steam distillation is more "true" to the smell of the tree without "effects" and "flavoring" of the Hydro? Have you ever tried aging the oils after distillation in say Agarwood vessels or copper containers? and would that impart additional flavoring (similar to what is done with the wine industry).
Finally, I noticed in the video that there is a rubber hose that connects the vessel to the glass collector. Didn't they say that this is the cause of the often talked about "the rubber" note that many dislike. is it true? and if so why not why exchange it with metal or glass? I Hope you don't mind all the questions, it is just the subject interest me a lot. Thank you again.
Wow. Your last post, Ensar, simultaneously informs and opens-up a whole world of questions. For starters:

Because many of the Indonesian (and beyond, as in the case of Burmese Kyara Koutan) oils share at least some commonality in notes, namely the whispy and ethereal top notes, as in Borneos and Kyara Koutan, how much (approximately) of a note like that can be attributed to the genetic make-up of the regional trees, vs. that those oils were/are distilled using steam distillation?

For water, I guess I've imagined that using highly filtered (reverse osmosis, at least) would be standard. It interesting that the trace elements in the water used to cook the raw materials can have such a massive impact on the end-result oud's profile.
Again; if local 'tap' water is used (in the respective locations for the various oud production) for the cooking process, does that account entirely for the characteristics which we associate with given regions' typical oud profiles? I'm over-generalizing, but; Indian = barnyardy/leathery, Thai/Cambodian = fruity/sweet, etc.? If, hypothetically, the exact same highly-filtered water (in addition to same distillation factors; vessels, timing, etc... aka; all factors were equal, except for the actual wood) was used across the board, would it result in all of the regions ouds having much more in common, with regard to end-result aromatic profile?

Ensar Oud

Well-Known Member
@Masstika: Some distillers dislike steam because of the high temperatures it exposes the oil to. They are unable to impart their desired 'smell' to the oil, which many artisans take years to perfect and consider their trademark. You can do a lot less with steam. It's basically chopping the wood into pellets, placing them on a metal grid and steaming 'em up until the oil separates from the vapor. No artisanal anything happening here apart from the wood selection process preceding the distillation. True, you can maintain the temperature not to exceed a certain level so as not to impart a 'burnt' smell to the oil, but that's as technical as it gets. So in other words, I don't think there is a certain type of wood that is more suited for steam distillation.

So far as 'economical considerations' go, steam is far less labor intensive than hydro distillation, which can take weeks of processing. Some argue that with hydro distillation there is more yield, but this is not something I have seen save in Assam, where the soaking is extended to 25-30 days, which leads to the hallmark 'barnyard' smell associated with Assam oils.

I am very puzzled by something I witnessed in a recent distillation. When we harvested the tree, I picked up a chunk of wood that smelled extremely fecal, or like some nicely aged cheese. I even said in one of the video shoots that I encountered a 'fecalicious' scent when entering the distillery where that wood was drying atop the cookers, prior to grinding. Yet when I collected the oil just the other day, I got the very greenest scent I've ever smelled in any oud. It's almost too green. I was really looking forward to some barnyard Thai oil, given the firsthand encounter with the super fecal smell direct from the still moist tree. And post soaking and distillation I got the greenest smell imaginable. How did that happen? The type of groundwater used for soaking the wood, and then the stainless steel stills. Would I have ended up with an aged cheese smell had I used steam extraction? Most probably! Would I go back and use steam if I could? Nope!

Most distillers cannot go into the nitty gritty of different material ducts and tubes. I only know of one guy who built and rebuilt his entire distillation systems three times within one year because the smell of the oil was not what he was looking for. As you can see in various pictures, hydro distillation stills are cemented in place, and it is not possible to change anything once they're built.

I'm not sure about the rubber note, but I've only seen rubber hoses in one distillery (others using glass or metal) and haven't encountered any rubber notes. Do you smell any in Thai Encens 1? It was distilled in those same degs.

Ensar Oud

Well-Known Member
@YouNight: In the case of Borneos and Kyara Koutan, all you have in the bottle is the smell of the wood itself. There is no scent imparted to the oil save by minimal contact with the steam (several hours distillation). So the whispy ethereal notes are the hallmark of Borneo oils, if the grade of wood going into the stills is high enough. Kyara Koutan was even higher grade wood, and given that this was exported to Taiwan for state-of-the-art steam extraction (far removed from the hydrodistillation degs of its native land) all you've got inside the bottle is the scent of that wood, unaffected by anything pertaining to distillation. In the case of steam, the mastery of distillation is as it were the opposite of what is sought in hydro distillation; the less the oil is affected by the extraction process, the more successful the job, the more masterful the distiller. A distiller who uses steam and gets a 'burnt' smell in the oil is still green. A hydro distillation expert who gets an incense smoke smell in the oil is a great master.

Water is never filtered prior to soaking the wood. Rather, it comes directly out of the ground. Every distiller has a signature, and it is most certainly his groundwater. I know of a great master whom I have a huge reverence for, the only man who refused to distill my incense grade wood in his stills which are regularly used in organic oud extraction; lest my incense notes should disturb his lilies and lilacs which he's worked 20 years to perfect in his oil.

Yet I'm still convinced it's worth getting him to 'forfeit' one still to use long-term for my incense note oils, just to see if they'll be accompanied by any lilacs or lilies. Now wouldn't that be something?
Got it. Thanks very much for the clarification on steam distillation's affect (or lack thereof) on the characteristic notes of Indo (and beyond) ouds, Ensar.

I have to say; I've had in my mind, a more 'sterile' vibe, during cooking and distillation of this treasured substance that we all love so deeply. But, that the local groundwater plays a part in imparting a distiller's signature is pretty cool, too.
(by the way, I also got a kick out of seeing the lounging cat on the floor next to the wood you were chopping from the trunk of that tree, in the video clip in the other thread. Again; far removed from the controlled and hyper-antiseptic environment that I was imagining) =)

Oh, an oud with the light kiss of lilac-ghosts from distillations-past sounds dreamy. I can imagine, in my mind's nose, lilac working wonderfully with a Borneo, actually. I know that rose can work beautifully with Indian oud... a Borneo with lilac? mmmm...


Well-Known Member
Ensar, although temperatures of ≥ 300º F are the norm for for distillations in Indonesia, I would imagine that your Borneo oils were distilled at a temperature around 200º. Definitely below boiling point. The delicateness of the oils, as well as their color, indicate that the distillations had been *very* gentle. As a general rule of thumb, I *never* want to go any higher than 212º. I find that the top notes are best preserved with delicate sub-boiling-point steam distillation.
Interestingly, my distiller sent me a text message a few days ago about a new distillation. A hydro distilled Indonesian oud. He said "the oil result is with etheral [sic] all the way to it's drydown never ending top note."

I agree about the overall superiority of hydro-distillation. And its funny you mentioned about the effect of the type of water used - this is something I had beein discussing with my Indian distiller some time ago; he said he wanted to use reverse osmosis water, and explained about the types of water used (rain and ground water being most common), and the effect on the smell of the resulting oil.
Thanks Ensar for your explanation. My concern with Hydro distillation I guess is that it becomes more about that signature scent or note that you've mentioned Distillers take years to develop and less about the true encased spirit of the Agarwood wood itself. Beside water, degree of heat and length of pre-soaking do distillers add any kind of flavoring or "secrete house recipes" like a bit of vertiver or Patchuli to achieve those special notes? Do the distillation Kegs get "seasoned" like Iron skillets or are they cleansed thoroughly once the distillation run is completed? Also what kind of fire was used for Encens I and II, gas or wood logs? in your experience, which Distillation method requires less energy consumption, steam or Hydro? And finally what is in your opinion is the main factor behind your decision to go solely with Hydro distillation from here on?
Ensar, I am going to have to pull the bottle out of deep storage to check on that rubber note, but if my memory serve me right I don't recall smelling it. There was many other nice things going on that even if t was there I really did not notice it at all.

Ensar Oud

Well-Known Member
@Taha: Once our distillation requirements got finicky enough (circa 2005) the distiller threw in the towel on Borneo and Papua equipment and started having the wood exported to Taiwan. Here we found a mad scientist sort of character who'd built himself a state-of-the-art distillation facility way out in the weeds. The temperature was maintained by these automatic gadgets that would shut the steam off once the max temp was reached (which could not have been beyond 200 degrees, as you suggest).

I've wondered what French spring water would do to Thai agarwood, and even seriously considered buying a few cases of Evian to run a test batch. But the thing I concluded is, the water that wells out of the ground upon which these trees grow is the one that was meant to be used in distilling them. You can even smell the zest of Thai cuisine in the flavor of this region's agarwood oil.

@Masstika: Never is anything but pure water added to the stills. Most of these guys don't even know what patchouli and vetiver are; they just live and breathe agarwood. I asked around for blue lotus farms, and they didn't know what blue lotuses are; yet the only non-absolute blue lotus extracts are done in Thailand. No one from the agarwood producing folk here could guide me where to find lotus extracts.

The distillation units do get seasoned with the continual cookings, and some craftsmen never change the water. Others cleanse everything thoroughly. I side with the former.

Wood logs are only used in Assam; all the rest of hydro-distilling Southeast Asia uses gas. Due to the much higher temperatures, steam usually consumes more energy. Although I could be wrong.

I've decided to go hydro simply because the tweaks you can do to the scent are endless. From the still to the water to the soaking to the cooking, everything is modifiable. Sort of like driving a stick shift as opposed to automatic, where you just hit the gas.....

Ensar Oud

Well-Known Member
"As we mentioned in the recent posts, Ensar picked up a chunk of this tree when it was freshly harvested (which you can see at the end of one of the videos of the actual harvest), that smelled extremely fecal. In fact, Ensar and I were stuck with quite a dilemma that night in the hotel room. The smell simply became too intense, and quickly filled the entire room – it was as if we were stuck in a cheese factory. And this was already after we had put it in a zip-lock bag...

But after the distillation, every aspect of that fecal aroma was transmuted into one scent category: Green. Yes, there are other oils that are green, but this one is ultra GREEN, with no trace of any barnyard whatsoever. While not as complex as Thai Encens 1 or as refined as Thai Encens 2, Crassna Cha outstrips both in its sheer sillage, vibrancy and crisp green character. It's more astringent than TE1 and more like tea, but at the same time possessing a clear incense note, due to the stainless steel distillation."




Ensar Oud

Well-Known Member
You're most welcome! I truly hope this kind of insider's look into the world of artisanal oud oil will change not only the way oud oil is produced, but also the way it is bought and sold. It is high time to give 'superlatives' a skip for more in-depth knowledge and hard facts on each oud oil that is made available to people for purchase.

In this way, I feel each custy of ours will get a more in-depth understanding of precisely how the oil she is holding in her hands came to be. Not only that, but at certain steps of the process we can ask for input, and have you call the shots on what you want done and how you want it done. You can pick the wood, the grinding method, the soak (if any), the soaking water (groundwater, rainwater, spring water, RO water), the soaking pot (ceramic, plastic, clay), the soak time, the pot (copper or stainless steel), the condenser (old school elbow length tube with no technology or state-of-the-art condenser with different pipe lengths, metals, etc), the cooking temperature, and so on.

I just think this is going to be a whole lot more fun than merely saying, "This is the sweetest, the rarest, the most floral, the friendliest..." and so forth, and slapping a price tag on each oil. Don't you agree? :)
Ensar, you would truly be a trail blazer if you were to implement such a program. My only reservation about it would be that even though the seemingly Democratic process might seem appealing but it will need to be pre-qualified with Knowledge. for the average Layman, me included, we wouldn't know what tweaking all those subtleties would result in and we would look for guidance from you and your distillers in such matters otherwise it would be akin to gambling and I am sure that is not what you're after...This truly will be a bespoke Oud Oil production. I have a question relating to the locals who are involved in the Oud Industry from farmers/ Hunters to Distillers and how they view the work they are involved in? Do they relate to it (as in using the Incense or the Oil) or is it treated as merely a Cash crop to be consumed by other Cultures, i.e...Arabs, Chinese and Japanese People?
May Allah give you Ensar and brother Thomas success in this life and the next ameen! and may he bless us all with that which he has promised of good in the hereafter al firdous 'alaa ameen. Those samples you sent me have opened my eyes and my nose and are educating me with every application and sniff! besides the ouds I am amazed and baffled at how perfect and balanced of a blend pink papua and borneo zen are. to me nothing like them existed in the natural essential oil business, but I am limited to what i know and have smelled, unless it was a synthetic that I got from one of the brothers at the mosque seeling oils after jummah prayer. This is such a joyous time for oud lovers as we are benefiting greatly from the questions that everyone have been asking and the answers that followed from the likes of Ensar and Taha. It is fun to read those two discusing the intricacies of distilling. I hope the rest of the oud lovers out there from BN or wherever will break their reluctance and join in on the discussions. everyone is welcomed and can benefit from what Ensar has provided along with other in terms of insight and experience. Luigi created this forum for us it is everything agarwood and more.

sorry for my ranting !!!!

Ensar Oud

Well-Known Member
@masstika: I'm afraid the local farmers, hunters & wood gatherers view agarwood as any other 'cash crop' to be consumed by other cultures, as you suspected. Which is why few are ever inspired to try out new things, search out new and improved equipment, or invest in things that will better the quality (rather than the quantity) of the finished product.

@Abu: Ameen! :)
Ensar something puzzles me about oud distillation. Maybe you could enlighten me. The way I see it, Oud distillation is an trade and an art form. Traditionally trades are passed on by father to son to son and so on through the generations. All the time the trade is perfected as knowledge is increased. It becomes a fine tuned art. So why it is difficult to procure fine crafted oil? I understand there is massive adulteration and the use of very poor material, the result of which mostly ends up in the middle east. My question to you is:

1. Are there still family run distilleries that have been in the same family for generations that produce outstanding oil? (seeing the huge demand for oud I dont suppose it is a dying business.)

2. Why doesn't the average distillery produce quality oil if it has been in the business for 50 odd years?

3. The techniques, tweaking and vision you apply to your custom distillations can hardly be new given that, this trade/art has been around for a couple of thousand years and should statistically be known and practised most most family distillers.

Some things don't add up. Why has it become so hard to get good quality oil regardless of the adulterations on the market.
Certain groups such as Buddhist monks, Japanese artisans etc surely use only quality prodcts in their daily lives/worship. Do they have relations with secret distillers that has spanned generations or do they go out shopping too?

I understand that market is driven, demand over quality but such a refined alchemical art form must retain a quality core at its heart that is easy to find.
People like yourself who live and breath oud don't do it for the money; you do it as passion. To share something of how you feel about oud to the world.
Others may do it for money, but still keep the traditional system healthy and alive.
Then again, why is it so hard to get good oud?