There are folks who have spent themselves understanding oud, experiencing oud. Oud experts who can sniff out the dust note from a mile away, instantly identify white wood notes, and point out the oleoresin from the auxiliary notes just like a sushi connoisseur can tell you the yellowtail is off or the tuna too tough. These are the people who get oud, go mad for oud, are infatuated and enthralled by its otherworldly scent. Chogoku Senkoh is for them.
When I gave a fellow distiller a swipe of this, the verdict was ‘this is clearly a $2,500 bottle of oud.’ I met up with a fellow connoisseur, gave him a swipe, then told him the price. He almost fell off his chair, and bought a bottle on the spot. And here I am, entertaining thoughts of bankruptcy and a follow-up distillation, just so we can get more of this this smell.
This oud has had me addicted and obsessed to the point of looking weird in public as I walk down the street smelling my wrist every other second. I crave a new swipe before the drydown ever hits the first, even though the drydown matches the opening notes. This is Oud is at its best; where the temperature, the timing, the scent progression, the wood, the distillation, the days and months that went into it… where everything has come together to make the perfect masterwork.
The scent is all zen. It’s unitone and lasts for hours. The smell of sinensis half-grown on Indian soil – that sinensis essence, not its distillation apparel… i.e. super slowly heated chips (listen closely!). Even if we made a hash of the distillation, the quality of the wood would have saved us. But the attention to detail, the obsession, the success of the method is obvious to any trained nose. From pre- to post-distillation parameters, it’s all got to be exact. To crush open its resinous kernel, to extract the subtlest chords that would otherwise vapor into non-existence and never be smelled. To avoid off notes, still notes, to mute all distracting accessory notes. The combination of the grades & age – the freshness or oldness of the harvest, consistent or fluctuating heat, low or high. Curing, for not too long nor too short. Every parameter flows like music and Chugoku Senkoh is the crescendo, bottled and yours to keep.
The most direct way to capture the scent of the resin, and the scent of the resin only, without the added fruity or floral tones (that result from the disitllation process, not the inherent integrity of the resin), is to use the best batches of agarwood. But…… that’s not always enough. The highest caliber sinking incense-grade distillation could be beautifully floral, yet lack the pristine resinous core exuded at the center of the scent. So, how do you do it?
Here’s where tech meets quality raw materials. Usually super low temperature (think 110 ºC VS 70 ºC…… I’m probably revealing too much now!). Usually, a particular set of condensers and avoiding certain kinds of water. The grade of the grind. And so on. Usually. But like an alchemist, the artist knows which combination works best, and which ones don’t work at all.
The point where high grade agarwood gets distilled right, only then do you get Chogoku Senkoh. That’s when you get the actual scent of gently heated (high-grade) agarwood chips and nothing besides. Because remember – and this is essential information – even the ‘incense’ note can be an auxiliary note! Especially in lower grade oils (that end up fooling people about their actual quality). Keep in mind that there’s a big difference between the scent of real high-grade resin and a nice woody note, which even a batch of white wood can give you.
Chugoku Senkoh is so out of this world because Chinese ouds get passed off as medicinal more than many other kinds. Behind the spice, especially in the drydown you often hear of the wonderful woody notes. So long as you treat them as woody, not incensy then all’s good. But Chugoku Senkogh isn’t woody. It’s full-on resin, from top to base. The absence of accessory notes (flowers, honey, fruits…) is deliciously evident in its unitone note of resinous vapor. This isn’t an oud where you point out the top from the heart, then wait for the base notes. It’s a pristinely uniform exhibition of the heart of Chinese sinensis.
This is PhD studies in oud. This scent will illuminate every other oud in your collection, teach you the difference between sweetness and sweet resinous-ness, between top & heart notes and core notes. But most of all, this is an oud to get lost in, get addicted to as I have hopelessly been for weeks now.