— THE KINAM MYTH
A teacher in Jordan once told his students about oud and why it’s so rare and expensive. He taught a few Cambodian students, he explains, who told him that there’s a unique snake that lives exclusively in agarwood trees and attacks anybody who tries to get near one. That’s why getting oud is so dangerous.
You know it’s nonsense, but he really believed this — and taught it as truth.
One thing I’ve learned is that many people who talk about kinam have not smelled kinam; not even the offerings by established Japanese houses. I’ve even been treated to kinam by esteemed distillers only to realize what they generously offered me was not kinam by any standard. Kruger and I thought they were joking or testing us, but no… they genuinely thought what they showed us is kinam.
Kinam is massively hyped and marketed – I’ve gotten slack for this myself (I guess people don’t read my blog enough) – and the result is a cloud of confusion.
On the surface, it looks like nobody has a clue. Some believe ‘kinam’ is purely a marketing gimmick. Others believe that one man’s kinam is simply another’s sinensis. Some even get hung up about the sinensis distinction, without having smelled either kinam OR sinensis.
Though nobody seems to have a clue, most agree that kyara is a mystery. That’s why kyara discussions often read like philosophy lectures, and why it makes for a great marketing hook to cash in on the confusion.
The truth is, while kyara is made out to be a mystery, it’s not.
While everyone is unsure about its origin and how exactly it gets produced, there’s no mystery about what kyara smells like. Proof? Visit Baieido or Shoyeido and buy their kinam. Go to Hong Kong, Tokyo or Taipei to meet a kinam collector and smell what he calls kinam…
Kinam is hyped up so much because few know what they’re talking about. For those who deal in kinam, collect kinam, or routinely indulge in kinam, there is no confusion. Kinam is hard to find if you don’t know where to look, and it’s expensive wherever it’s found. But – there’s no mystery about its smell.
I get it, though. That you’re reading this means you’re into a niche within a niche within a niche. Even old-timer fragrance lovers don’t know what oud really is, and within the world of oud kyara is out of reach for most. So, things can get puzzling. That’s what makes the scent of Borneo Kinam such an eye-opener.
— DON’T READ. SMELL.
To claim you know anything about kinam, you should at least have smelled the varieties offered by established Japanese houses. If you haven’t, and you got your kinam from Facebook vendors or online circles swapping little splinters of ‘kyara’ then chances are you’re still in the dark about what kinam is all about.
That’s what I find so fascinating about discussions about kinam: the uncertainty. That people aren’t sure what it smells like; that to them kinam doesn’t really stand out from the crowd. It’s like not being able to tell the difference between goat yogurt or cow’s, or the difference between Thai oud and Maroke.
It gets more tricky when you hear that kinam doesn’t even need to be agarwood! But historically, it’s accurate. If whatever-piece-of-wood fulfills certain scent characteristics, it gets the label.
This might have been true two hundred years ago, but certainly doesn’t apply today. Just like using those old charts outlining the traits of different kinds of agarwood is effectively useless today — sasora is ‘sour’ while kyara is ‘bitter’ or smells ‘like an aristocrat in its elegance and gracefulness’. Seriously, how far will this get you?
One thing you do learn from ancient descriptions of kyara is the simplicity: kinam is ‘bitter’ or ‘smells like a monk’. Reading this you realize these texts weren’t meant for teaching… and, as you’ll discover after you’ve smelled it, the scent of kyara is strikingly simple in its beauty.
You can spend ten years reading charts that compare Borneo oud to Cambodian oud, and still be none the wiser. Just take a whiff of each and you’ll know! Same with kyara. Enough with the charts and ancient descriptions. We’re in 2020 folks. You can order any of our kinam (Vietnam, Brunei, or this Borneo) right now and know more than anyone stuck in them charts will in a decade speculating about what this ‘bitter’ note is they’re talking about.
— KINAM & MARKETING
Skeptics say that because there are now different types of kinam (Brunei kinam, Chinese kinam, white kinam, etc.) it must mean people are making stuff up. But remember this:
If you were still stuck in that mantra of Oud = Cambodi/Hindi only, you’d never have enjoyed the depths of Papuan green or Brunei’s blue. There was once only one kind of car. Now you have sedans, SUVs and coupes. Connoisseurs refine their senses and appreciation because that’s how you evolve. If all kinam smells the same to you, fine. But if someone with more experience and a deeper appreciation for nuance identifies differences, that doesn’t mean he makes things up.
The generation who first discovered kyara only knew it as one thing. The next generation said, ‘wow, do you smell that?…… you don’t get this note in that batch.’ That’s how you get ‘white’ kinam and ‘purple’ kinam, and ‘Papuan’ oud oil. It’s not ‘marketing’. It’s you and I benefitting from generations of refinement. For any oudhead, this is a delicious festival to look forward to, drinking in the meticulousness of oudheads that went before. Borneo Kinam is a testament to this legacy.
— KINAM vs. QINAN
From this evolution in kinam appreciation came two schools of thought: the Japanese and the Chinese.
The Japanese hold that kinam only originates in Vietnam, Hainan and parts of Cambodia – while the Chinese have identified kinam in various other agarwood-growing regions. Regardless of their differences, what is clear is that ‘kinam’ is a scent apart.
Vietnamese kinam does not smell like other Vietnamese agarwood, even if it be the stickiest, most resinated kind. Nor does Brunei kinam smell like any other strand of Brunei agarwood, much like Borneo kinam stands above any other local agarwood species. Rather, the closest scent to Vietnamese kinam is… Borneo kinam… Cambodian kinam… Bruneian kinam. The scent is beautifully distinct and exquisitely rare; the golden tip at the top of the oud pyramid, regardless of the country it’s found in.
We’re no longer talking ‘sinking-grade’ here, or about an untapped jungle. It’s not about Grade A or AAA or ‘Super King’. There’s agarwood… and then there’s KINAM.
Sit with a Chinese agarwood collector as he shows you his collection. He’ll point to different batches of wood and tell you: “This is Yunnan, that one’s Maluku; over here you’ve got sinking Port Moresby…” But ask him about those nuggets way at the top and he doesn’t tell you where it’s from. All he says is: “That is Kinam.”
That's why we offer a varied collection of kinam granules that covers both schools.
— NO, MY DEAR WATSON
I’m not offering you a mystery: We have kyara as identified by kyara experts in Japan and China, and sold as kyara by the most respected authorities in the field. Rather than guessing games with vague charts and descriptions, these are the smells they use as benchmarks and identifiers. Just as you would, when talking about kinam, at least have an industry-standard reference like Baieido’s on hand (eg. Kyara Saiko). Otherwise, you’re just talking through your teeth.
Kyara might have been cheaper, as was all agarwood, back in the day when there was more of it. But kyara always had a special place in agarwood culture. I don’t buy the claim that kinam is a modern marketing tool, but I do get why people say this. It reminds me of Westerners who argue about the difference between sushi and sashimi. When you want to learn about samurai swords, who do you seek out… a guy in Iowa or a master in Osaka?
The Japanese incense houses and Chinese agarwood collectors monopolize kinam because they sought out and bought out all of it over the years, long before others caught on — that’s why ‘soil’ kyara is a big thing now, because with no living kyara trees standing, the only place you’re likely to find kyara today is underground. It’s been prized in their olfactory cultures for centuries. Kinam was already part of their culture before the USA even existed!
All the confusion and difficulty in getting your hands on real kinam is exactly because Japanese and Chinese collectors have this monopoly. And they don’t flaunt it. Walk into a Baieido showroom in Japan in person and they’ll only let you buy 1 gram of kyara, even if you’re a known collector. It’s part of their culture and reflects their reverence for this precious aromatic.
Instead of philosophizing about what it is, is not, or ought to be… Borneo Kinam shows you what it IS. It’s what I, my teachers, and the veterans at the top of the chain who invest sick amounts of money on kinam, know it to be. If it was all up in the air with fluffy fairytales, there wouldn’t be millions of $ changing hands like you see in these circles. To me, and especially these guys, it’s crystal clear what kinam is, is not, or ought to be. They are the ones I learned from, smelled from, and got my kinam from.
Borneo Kinam or Brunei Kinam lets you smell for yourself why the Chinese have a strong case for saying kinam isn’t limited to Vietnam alone. But if you insist on Vietnamese kinam being the only kinam out there, you’ll still be left in awe at how these Brunei, Borneo, and Chinese palettes smell so out of this world compared to ‘regular’ varieties from the same regions. Their scents will be tattooed into your olfactory memory for life.
Diehard skeptics who criticize the Chinese school and insist that it’s a marketing trick miss one crucial point: It’s MUCH easier to find Vietnamese kinam than Brunei or Borneo kinam. When was the last time you’ve seen any of these for sale anywhere?
Despite how hungry some fakesters are to make a buck, they know there’s too much Borneo wood around to compare his Borneo ‘kinam’ to and get exposed. That’s why you hardly see any advertised.
Smell the crème de la crème of the oud world and discover an olfactory journey like no other: Kyara | Kinam | Qinan.
You order will contain kinam pellets, like this: