Sandalwood oil can be a bit low-key, so don’t you just love it when the mic is cranked up and the spice-rack smashed open? A testament to the cailber santal and its maturation, the tenacity is off the hook and, as I'm writing this, the scent shows no sign of slowing down already a couple of hours in (an obvious plus for devoted meditators).
The top note is naked santalum. What I mean by ‘naked’ is that the delicious heated-butter note is there, but with a veneer of piercing raw woodiness that smells like straight red sandalwood, pre-burn. Beautifully captured, you can almost smell through the pristine ambient aroma. Gradually, the spices intensify, pushing the typical buttercream profile even further to the side, but never letting it go entirely.
I use copious amounts of various sandalwood oils in my perfumes, but you don’t see me sell any of them neat except for rarities the likes of Santal Royale and Laosan 1999.
Finding sandalwood oil is pretty easy, and all the readily available Aussie & Indonusi santals are fantastic for perfumery ends—but they’re not standalone olfactory artworks. They don’t embody a generation of oils now all but gone; a class of smells that throw you back to another era; olfactory depths you’ll never hit by diving into the shallow scent of sticks and twigs and smaller branches used to juice up the bulk of today’s sandalwood oil.
I’m definitely going to grace an upcoming perfume with Kupang 1998 because I won’t settle except for the best—it’s why I sacrificed all the Mysore 1984 I had left, and why my Private Blend is drunk on Santal Sultan. BUT… old-school sandalwood like this deserves to be shared and lavishly swiped, so until the time comes… it's yours.
Remember that Indonesian and Indian sandalwood are the same species (santalum album), so there’s nothing that makes Indian harvests inherently better, as some believe. It’s the way they’re grown, the age they’re allowed to grow to, and the way they’re distilled that sets one apart.
So, it might happen. You might get stuck in a blind test unable to tell the difference between Kupang and Mysore. The fact that Kupang oils get sent off to India to be sold as ‘Mysore’ is proof enough. But up in the higher echelons of centennial santalum heartwood, although the similarities shine through bright and beautiful, the unique traits of terroir stand in stark contrast—i.e. Santal Royale shares as much with Kupang 1998 as it does with Laosan 1999… but you can smell the streak of caliber and maturity that paints them all.
Mysore sandalwood oil is supposed to be sunshine-yellow in color and bright-white in profile. Then Santal Royale stepped on stage and challenged all of that with its deep red oil and matching red animalic musk aroma.
Kupang oils, too, are supposed to be yellow. Supposed to.
Most trees today don’t make it past 35 years before harvest, and these obviously make up the bulk of the sandalwood oil feedstock. The wood is beige in color, its oil clear yellow (in big quantity) and it smells great. But… much older and higher grade Kupang heartwood is actually red.
As a result, Kupang 1998 itself is red sandalwood oil when looking at the source bottle—lighter in color as it’s poured into smaller quantities. (Of course, the color changes with the amount—Santal Royale looks practically black in its source bottle, but bright red when poured into smaller bottles. A deep yellow Mysore batch might turn transparent in smaller measures.)
Technicalities aside, Kupang 1998 is a vintage oldie that will tease and teach you, and inject that dose of quiet and calm we all seem to be in need of.
Aged for over twenty years, distilled at a time when red heartwood distillations were easier to pull off (and the wood less expensive to acquire), Kupang 1998 is an aromatic relic on par with the rarest Mysores—for a fraction of the price. Enjoy!