Unearthly Harvest: 20-year Organic Aquilaria Crassna Oud Oil

Ensar Oud

Well-Known Member
Ensar something puzzles me about oud distillation. Maybe you could enlighten me. The way I see it, oud distillation is a 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.
Thanks for the very insightful observation, and your highly relevant questions, Ahmir. When I started out on the oud scene, I was expecting to find some really incredible oil, for exactly the reasons you name. People have been distilling oud for centuries, so surely there must be some exquisite oils being produced.

This was not the case.

Why doesn't the average distillery produce quality oil if it has been in the business for 50 odd years?
Because they don’t have to, nor do they have the time to. The market is unitary, and the bar not set very high. Although many distillers might have the desire to produce something really special, the opportunity cost is usually just too high. There’s fierce competition – although oud is sold on a seemingly large scale, a great deal of the perfume houses’ supply can be obtained from only a few distillers. These few not only dominate the market but also dictate the practice of those competing to make ends meet. Distillers often sell to each other just in order to at least sell something; a small-timer would sell his oil to one of the major suppliers to the Gulf (where oils are systematically mixed anyway).

Many distillers are aware of just how ‘standard’ their oils are – having tried and even made some great ones in the past. But today, our commercial mind-set simply doesn’t allow them to employ their creativity as much as they were able to previously. For most, it’s a rat race, where the unfit are left behind. Whether they produce high quality oil or a mediocre quality, there’s a price ceiling on what they’ll be offered either way – ‘so why bother?’ the thinking goes.

The market doesn’t differentiate much between quality. Most distillers who supply to major Middles Eastern perfume houses all sell their oils in large quantities at low prices. It’s that, or no sale. Although we’d like it to be otherwise, today oud distillation is predominantly a trade, not an art form.

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.)
Nowadays children of, say, traditional carpenters or sculptors, frequently don’t follow in their father’s footsteps. Rather, they go off to university to pursue studies in engineering, computer science, medicine and the like. Carpentry or sculpting used to flourish under the time-honored institution of guilds, within a teacher-student tradition. Today, both are firmly in the grip of the industrial age, where production is geared towards the masses, and executed by machines. We no longer see the finer detail that made older pieces so remarkable. That’s why people eagerly shop for antiques, and are willing to pay a lot more for them.

The family-run businesses I’ve come across were not much different from the rest. Having a craft handed down from one generation to the next doesn’t necessarily mean that a particular family will excel in the craft. It takes passion to excel, and often the child to whom the business is handed down lacks that passion or is even disinterested in the business altogether.

But aside from this, a major factor seems to be that the one-dimensional market to which each distillery caters has pretty much leveled them all out. The quality may range from bad to good, but rarely ‘excellent’.

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 practiced most family distillers.
Statistically, many things in the world should not be the way they are. :) We are more obese than ever before; more diabetic than ever before; more people have cancer than ever before. Despite how ‘advanced’ we ought to be by now, we choose to skip our veggies, and eat McDonalds instead.

Like many cultural norms and traditions, crafts and technologies can stay static for a long time. I always think of medicine, where there have been some really absurd practices through the ages that went unchallenged for centuries.

This appears to be the case with oud distillation as well. We don’t want farmers to spray their fields with strange chemicals, but they do. We don’t want to see young saplings being indiscriminately cut down, but we do. We’d like distillers to take greater care each step of the way, but they don’t.

Anyone can easily contact any of the hundreds of distilleries across the East, so it’s easy to judge the ‘best’ quality available for oneself. But like in any industry, the true artists in the field are few and far between. Since I started, there have only been two distillers with whom I had no issues working with right from the get-go; who shared my vision, and knew how to deliver what I was after . The one is the man behind works like Oud Royale and Kyara de Kalbar; the other, the man behind Oud Yusuf.

Everyone else I’ve ever worked with was taken aback by my approach. Time and again, they'd tell me this is the first time they heard of this kind of thing being proposed. Not a single one of them ever did the kind of work I asked of them to before, despite having been in business for decades.

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 products in their daily lives / worship. Do they have relations with secret distillers that have spanned generations or do they go out shopping too?
Something to note is that oud distillation is not quite the same as, say, carpentry, fine book-binding, or sculpting. The reason is that the raw materials used play a more significant role in oud production than they do in most other traditional crafts, where you can still clearly see the artistic touch behind something that would otherwise be considered ordinary. Aside from the market catered to, when it comes to oud produced these days, there are simply a lot more distilleries than before, and a lot less high quality wood to go around.

In this competitive atmosphere, the things we ask are just too much of a pain in the neck for most distillers. ‘My employees won’t listen. If I’m too demanding, they’ll leave. I can’t keep watch over them all the time,’ the one told us. Which is why we literally have to supervise and do a lot of the physical work ourselves – to be sure it gets done right. At other times, our way of doing things simply interferes with the given distiller’s scheduled production quota. We often demand pro-longed soaking, lengthier cooking periods, a certain combination of pots, a great deal more care in the cleaning of the wood, the equipment, etc., which means that their regular productions need to be kept on hold at times. For them it’s just too much of a bother, however much we try to explain how the endeavor is mutually beneficial.

The amount of incense that gets burned at common peoples’ homes, never mind monasteries, is incredible. If they were burning ‘the good stuff’, I can’t imagine how our resources would have lasted for more than a week. :) But it’s an interesting point about the monks. I haven’t actually asked any about the quality wood or oil they use. It’s something worth keeping in mind for upcoming trips. However, if Middle Eastern culture is anything to go by, I suspect that the monks don’t necessary use anything exceptional. Religious devotees here (the Middle East), no matter how fervent they might be in their practice, for the most part wear some really nasty stuff.

Yet you do find really fantastic oud out there. But only a bottle, here and there. These are usually kept as mementos or religious tokens. Still, what you say is true: ‘Such a refined alchemical artform must retain a quality core at its heart that is easy to find.’ It’s easy to forget that each oud drop’s very existence is a wonder, and from this point of view every [pure] oil has a ‘quality core’, and is easy to find. That said, although I try to savor each oud oil I come across, no matter how ‘bad’ it might be, it’s the potential that drives me. As a trade, oud distillation might be alive and kicking, but as an art, it’s not at the level it can be. Through my productions, I’ve tried to show people what I mean.



This is my first post on gaharu and any oud forum for that matter. Ensar, I thought the questions put to you were excellent and expressed the thoughts of most oud fanatics who have given some thought to the origin and nature of the oud they wear. Your answer however was breaktaking and despite knowing you since 2006 I was not aware of the depth of thought and deliberation that has obviously gone behind your efforts in producing what I can only describe as the world's best oud.

I am in complete agreement with the philosophy and approach that guides Oriscent, but it is unfortunately, a relic from a previous era. The problem is that the true price of everyday produce from the food we eat, to our clothes and furniture is hidden by an industrial process that very often produces a debasement in the quality of a product that is directly proportional to the manufactured quantity. Modern capitalist industrial economies manufacture disposable products that are an unescapable consequence of the need to produce and sell more and more. A product that has its basis in honesty, excellence and awareness of the environment cannot easily exist in the present time and this makes your achievement with Oriscent even more unique. There is a Hadith of the Prophet (salat was salaam) which commends the mu'min to approach all his actions with ihsan and Oriscent is a living example of this.


New 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.
How is it possible to 'steam' distill below the boiling point of water ? Are you distilling at pressures lower than atmospheric pressure ?

Smelly Vision

Super Moderator
Staff 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!
Incredible to read stuff like this and learn from threads around ten years old.