We made the deal. The only problem was we didn’t have enough cash on hand. (You learn your lesson about traveling with cash after Cambodian customs steals a few grand from you.)
It was only Kruger and me at the time in Phnom Penh, with over 30kg of rare south Thai incense-grade logs to pay for in cash. Most dealers in the oud world only do cash and carry—and, trust me: you want to carry immediately. Leaving the agarwood you agreed on behind is seldom an option.
We had planned to go to Thailand from Cambodia, so we agreed with the owner of the logs that he’d escort me on the six-hour drive up to the Koh Kong border, where Kruger would meet us with cash to finalize the deal, and he would help us get the wood across the border.
So, I went with the old kingpin and a few of his men, wood in the back of the SUV, while Kruger took the first flight to Singapore, where he’d simultaneously meet someone who’d have the cash ready and also collect a large trunk of Brunei wood we intended to distill in Thailand.
So, up I went to Koh Kong, while Kruger flew off to Singapore, got the money and the Brunei log, flew back to Bangkok, took the bus up to Chanthaburi, then a moped to the bus heading to Trat, where he‘d meet up with our man who would drive him to Koh Kong. All the while carrying the Brunei log, and tens of thousands of $ in cash. And it all happened the same day.
Finally, we all met up at the border and finished the deal. However, en route, I started to have misgivings about our purchase and wondered if we were being scammed in some way. It was just a feeling. We‘d inspected the wood as best we knew how, but gradually I got the sense something wasn’t right. This kind of wood is rare, and we were paying a premium, but they seemed a tad too eager to finish the deal.
We had barely parted ways when my gut feeling intensified, and I decided to cancel the deal if they’d agree. Our calls went unanswered, which added to my suspicions. We ended up going to a casino hotel on the Cambodian side of the border, with a hunch we’d find the crew who drove me there.
They were all gathered around a card table, about seven of them, obviously gambling away the cash they‘d just received. We approached them and started to explain how we wanted to return the logs.
There was no rebuttal, no reaction at all. The men flatly ignored us. They continued to throw down their cards and chat amongst themselves like we weren’t even there. We got someone to intervene, to no avail, and after this went on for a while, we realized what was going on.
Over the next few months, we lost almost 10kg of the total weight we‘d paid for. That’s when we first learned of moisture pressure guns. Since then, we’ve also heard stories about this man, the kingpin who’s done in many others besides us, cheating them in some form or another.
We weren’t sold bad wood. Quite the contrary, the wood was excellent. That’s why they’re able to convince you. You don’t bother to treat wood that doesn’t have anything going for it. Nobody injects generic agarwood with metal shavings—they do it with kinam. It only works if the wood is valuable to begin with, otherwise it’s not worth the effort. That’s why it stings so badly. It’s not that you were overcharged. It’s that you paid thousands of dollars—for water.
Would we do it all over again? Probably, if only because of the life values it taught you. It’s what made us who we are and allowed us to distill the caliber wood we went on to distill. It opened your eyes to a thousand forms of counterfeiting that became increasingly popular in subsequent years as quality wood like this continued to dwindle.
I haven’t seen oud wood likes this before or since, so you could eventually sell the logs and get your money back. That’s why we undertook such a mission. To make sure it became ours. Still, at the time, it was a massive financial setback.
The pieces eventually turned into centerpieces at our EO showroom in Amman. Those who have visited me have seen and held some of the pieces. They were on the display table where we sat and showed you the kind of agarwood that exists (or used to exist). They were showpieces as well as educational relics we used to explain how oud resin developed firsthand… and how you can end up spending thousands per kilo on… H2O.
The pieces came to embody much of our oud journey: the memories, the struggle, and the quest to push artisanal oud oil into uncharted waters. They were mine. From gargantuan trees in the war-torn North Malaysian/South Thailand border, the likes nobody today, East or West, has seen since, up into Cambodia, back to Thailand, these pieces made their way across several countries and finally ended up in my atelier way over in Jordan, where they were meant to forever stand on the table as a memento of that time, that journey, and of what you’ve accomplished.
But when your veins pump oud oil and you can’t think of the next frontier to conquer, the next norm to break, this is what happens:
You pack up those pieces and fly them back to Bangkok, drive those six hours to the distillery and grind up what until then belonged in The Gallery.
And so, like with my now-juiced-up showpieces, these oils were never meant to go anywhere. They were mine.
This isn’t only because of the sentimental value they hold. You can’t just find oud wood like this—even back then it was a feat, which is why we did what we did to secure them. But rarity aside, distilling these logs is the stupidest financial decision you can make.
With what you paid for 10kg of injected moisture out of the picture, this wood was never meant to be distilled. Not if you wanted to stay in business. So, this oil wasn’t just mine—I was stuck with it. A Schott Duran housing priceless oud oil you could never hope to ask its actual worth. Not even to cover the cost of the wood. And it wasn’t just these logs that went into the pots…
That’s how we lost equally limited micro-batches of irreplaceable New Guinea lots, Malaysian and Maroke harvests we had sealed up in tiny bags to use one day for something extra special. It was never going to be more special than brewing alongside your fat-resin mementos, axed up, ground to a semi-powder, and boiled for a month on end.
Today I’m sharing my memento. I don’t have to, and many would say I shouldn’t. But here it is. Oud which history only sees happen once.
The drydown is a flawless show of pure low-temp oud oozing from five different burners. The drydown alone is worth a swipe and is all the proof you need of the caliber oud this is. Take a look at the seah in the pictures. Mentally shave off a sliver. Heat it. That’s it.
Except, you have Marokean vapor admixed with Siamese malaccensis flooding the scene. A petrichor, blue-spice note of chewed resin unique to the Southern aquilarias coaxed into a kaleidoscopic fusion of medicinal sweetness and the subtle-incense green that defines Sultan Mustafa—that oceanic New Guinea, island oud fragrance imbued with a deeper dose of Maroke’s earthy, moist after rain aroma. All of the notes more piercing, closer (magnified) because of the quality of the wood.
On my end, it’s a loss. You can’t put a price on Ertugrul Gazi. There’s only this one distillation; will ever only be this one. Based on the wood that got distilled alone, you’re getting Ertugrul Gazi for a fourth of its worth. But as you know—art isn’t about just the paint.
If not for artisanal adventures like Kruger running to a closing gate while his name is announced on the intercom as the last outstanding passenger to board, then sitting on the back of a moped, legs spread, balancing a huge Brunei log in crazy traffic, while we dodge potholes during the infamous trek to Koh Kong to watch thousands of $$$ spent on moisture injected with a precision pressure gun into wood gambled away into the night; if not for that crook’s foresight to stash away these centennial aloes until a New Yorker and a Boer recognized their worth years later; if not for the tech that allowed you to gauge the perfect distillation to not ruin such precious agarwood; if not enlisting your in-laws to help carry oud wood born thousands of miles away in the heart of Papua to a distillery tailored to distill exactly that kind of oud; if not for folks who get their brains blown by such fragrances, then these scents would never exist.
By juicing this oud, I’ve forever foregone any hope of breaking even. That’s why the logs came to Jordan and stood on display. It’s sheer obsession that compels you to fly them back, years later, and compress them into a bottle of liquid.