There are only two ways to get a whiff of this smell. The first is if you know someone who’s had a bottle of it stashed away for the last thirty odd years. The other way takes a bit longer...
After the first kilometer it feels like you’re stuck in quicksand. Walls of towering trees trap you, make you feel like you’re looking up from the bottom of a well. At this point you have to reach for your machete to start slashing your way forward, incessantly jerking your legs to untie your ankles from the vined knots below. Any trail you leave gets covered again in a day. Forget about pitching a tent at night. For the next three days it’s just you and your crew, large yellow spotted spiders and a mountain thick with thorns and buzzing critters that cry out “turn back!”
No wonder it took us months on end just to gather the first batch of this wild agarwood. By hand, the few brave enough to go gaharu hunting in this Cambodian jungle chisel out only the most densely resinated chunks. The jungle is so thick and remote it’s impossible to harvest an entire tree even if you wanted to. No trucks, no roads, no room to turn. Just the bag on your back to carry back what you can, while the wild giants are left to continue growing once you’re gone. This way, bit by bit we collected and stored the agarwood in Koh Kong over the months until we had enough to run this distillation.
To understand how old school Cambodis used to be made meant visiting every veteran distiller we knew. Each one had some wisdom to share, but they all agreed on one thing: “If we could make that kind of oud oil today, we would,” they’d say. “But those days are gone. Forget about your old Cambodi!”
Thirty some Cambodian visas to account for, our names blacklisted on both sides of the Cambodia-Thai border, a one ton water tank lost along a highway, weekly food poisoning, and most of the winter spent sleeping in the distillery, and we can finally go back to our friend with his decades-old Cambodi and say: “Here, take a swipe of this!”
Kambodi Kadeem was infused by Mr. Nhek’s mineral well water, soaked in ceramic, cooked in copper. Instead of the typical yellow-orange scent profile, its smell is sunset red. It’s such a tightly woven fragrance that nobody will blame you for believing this is a perfume rather than single origin wild Cambodian oud. You don’t know where the fruits end and the flowers begin. Woods awash in the gentlest breeze of pollen and spice sway beneath a drydown that’s so fresh you’ll think you’d just put on a drop a few minutes ago. There’s no hint of that dusty-fruity glaze that haunts so many modern Cambodian ouds, nor that barnyard buzz that kills poorly distilled oud dead in its tracks.
Agarwood gurus will tell you that unless you’re a Chinese bead collector or a Taiwanese incense connoisseur, don’t expect do get your hands on a batch of agarwood like this. And even if you were an oudbead-wearing incense tycoon, forget about finding oud oil distilled from this wood. Forget about Mr. Nhek’s mineral wonder water. Forget about the smell of sunset red. The only oud oil that’s getting distilled from this batch of century-old wild Cambodian agarwood is the drops you see in your bottle of Kambodi Kadeem.
Behind the Scenes | The Making of Kambodi Kadeem
10. Mr. Nhek
First off I’m a bit too young to have any experience with the fabled Oud Cambodis of yesteryear. After sitting down with Kambodi Kadeem I finally get what all the fuss is about. From this day forward Kambodi Kadeem will be the standard for which I judge all future Cambodis.
Kadeem starts off with a powerful vapory mineral-ness. It is a note I picked up in the recent Sultan Murad, and let me tell you it is soooo addicting. It is almost salty in a savory way. I could be wrong but I attribute this note to the use of Mr Nhek’s famed red well water. It seems to add a depth and complexity not found in many other ouds. As the scent matures the florals and fruits come out to play. Without even lifting my wrist to my nose I get bursts of the most succulent berried fruits! When I finally do lift my wrist up in an "aha! I got ya!" move, I get blasted with florals instead of fruits! The mineral essence is always there creating an olfactory equivalent of the sweet and savory taste sensation. After four hours or so the mineral-ness fades a bit to be replaced by a fruit and sweet wood symphony. The complexity of this oil is outstanding! All throughout the life of this oud I would get whiffs of random aromas that would stop me dead in my tracks... only to disappear leaving me bewildered. Some of these notes included jasmine, apple, ozone, and bubbling oud resin... all very fleeting and mysterious. As KK starts to wind down it gets very woody and incensey, but still retains a soft fruity-floral bouquet. A very heady experience if I may say so!
Kambodi Kadeem is great for those who love to really study an oil. Kadeem almost seems to delight in the fact that you have to play ‘what’s that note’ with it. I really look forward to getting more intimate with this oil. I don’t think I’ve even scratched the surface of what this elixir has to offer! It has an aura of antiquity that gives it real character. If you are lucky enough to have a bottle of this 10 years from now... you’ll be in for a real treat! I really believe that Ensar did what he set out to do and created that vintage Cambodi of days gone by! – Chris, SD
I read a lot of reviews that compare Ouds to other smells, but as a visual Artist I tend to describe them more as an ‘experience’ of how they make me feel. I dislike the barnyard present in less refined Ouds so imagine my surprise when I feel like I am in a field of Sweet freshly shorn Hay, near a warm inviting small family farm. This is the kind of ‘barn yard’ I would not mind spending time in, perhaps practicing my Cello, playing for a small group of well tended and beloved Animals. This is the earthbound ghost of an ancient tree that gave up its personality so we too can share in its spiritual energy. Delightful. – Woody, CA
Received and wearing. Reminds me of Cambodi Cacao. Awesome fragrance. There is a mystery behind it which surpasses Cacao. – Rican, IL
It is by far one of the most unique and intoxicating ouds I have ever had the luxury to enjoy. What is most shocking is the sheer longevity....it is like the energizer battery of ouds. It is very sophisticated, refreshing yet deep. I feel like I am really wearing an oud worth raving about. MashAllah, walhamdulillah. – Taher, UAE