This is a rerun of one of my earliest distills which sold way back in 2004. To this day I get emails asking for Sultan Murad, so I thought it was time to revisit the old timer and see if I could improve on anything while retaining his distinct Papuan character.
For one, only trees with living resin were used in this run—no marsh agarwood that is dug out from the Maroke wetlands. Since the great Filarias of Maroke got wiped out along with everything great that was agarwood, aborigines started digging in the riverbeds, marshes and swamps for remnants of dead trees.
While it does make a nice story for telling folks, dead Maroke wood is the most abundant in the market. It’s the only wood you find in the Arab world, where trees with real resin became too costly to sell. Warehouses from West Java to Kuala Lumpur to Qatar stock tons upon tons of this ‘three hundred year old resin’ and anyone with firsthand experience in distillation will tell you it’s nothing to write home about.
So we turned to the less explored jungles of New Guinea to hunt for live resin this time, and instead of semi-fossilized Filarias employed the towering trunks of healthy Gyrinops. Quite a welcome tweak, because dead wood imparts a sharp blunt top to the overall profile. Whereas live resin imbues the oil with verve while retaining all the therapeutic properties of agarwood.
Because it’s sought out in certain markets for the smell alone, the healing properties of agarwood are often lost in the way raw materials are handled. For one, dead wood resin is of no therapeutic value. The tree must be harvested while still alive.
Secondly, oxidation might ‘improve’ the smell according to some but it is of little benefit to those looking to ingest agarwood oil. An oxidized oil might do more harm than good so you should be extremely cautious when choosing to ‘eat’ an oud oil for your health.
The new Sultan Murad is an oil I enjoy eating as much as I adore putting it on my skin. I took great pains to make sure the oil is edible by manning the pot in person through soak and distillation—and this has turned my Great Cambodian Experiment upside down.
The wood that went into Sultan Murad was so densely packed with resin that it’s been almost forty days that the pot is cooking—and it’s still cooking! There is literally no end in sight to this record-breaking run, and I’ve never seen anything like this in my ten years’ hunting, crafting and collecting oud oil.
Our Cambodian pots run a maximum of nine days before the water turns clear in the glass, signaling the end of distillation. Our Indians and Burmese might cook up to ten days. The Centennial set a record twenty-five days in the pot. Sultan Murad was lit on January 5th. It is February 13th as I write this, and there is no end in sight. Now that is resin, my friends.
Another tweak to the Sultan was the copper pot. So far as I know, not one copper run of a Papuan oil has ever been done, and every single still that was ever lit on the island was made of steel. From Oud Royale to Green Papua to Sultan Murad to Purple Papua, all of them were steel distills. I’ve wanted to smell a copper Papuan for years, and the logistics just wouldn’t work. Copper pots don’t exist in Papua. Everything’s kissed by steel.
So we had to fly our Gyrinops out to Thailand. It took three people going on six flights just to transport six pots of raw materials. People don’t do that. They slap a CITES paper on the box and hand the wood over to a cargo agent. But we can’t do that. We can’t take chances. I said a prayer that this run be blessed with an incredible oil, and my prayer was answered.
Now flying the wood to Thailand might seem like a hurdle at first look but it opened the door to a dozen other tweaks which couldn’t be done anywhere else. And because we could do something even crazier, now, than fly the wood to Bangkok and then drive it all the way to Khao Ra Kam, we sent a special truck all the way to Koh Kong, right into Mr Nhek’s frontyard. Mr Nhek’s well water is famed throughout Southeast Asia as the finest water to soak your wood in. It is red.
Facepaint red meets old Cambodi red, in Mr Nhek’s well water. This is the water all the old Cambodis were cooked in, and I’ve met distillers as far as West Malaysia fantasizing about flying over a couple pots’ worth to cook their oils in. So how’s that? New Guinea Gyrinops soaked in Mr Nhek’s redwater then cooked in copper. Old Cambodi kissed by an aborigine’s facepaint red. It smells like it, too.