I'm still amazed at how it happens. Oud is among nature's most soothing and meditative aromas, and perfumery's latest celebrity scent.
But many forget that oud is first and foremost medicine… made to cure the very tree that produces it. A self-generated cure that would not exist had the tree not fallen victim to an infection triggered by a hoopoe's innocent peck.
Freshly harvested agarwood usually teems with ants, which if you're looking for oud is a good sign. Where there are ants, there is resin.
You see, ants, along with all sorts of critters, are responsible for spreading the resination and the reach of the infection inside the tree… and at the same time its cure—the resin; the oud.
Unbeknownst to the ants who go about their day, chiseling away, layers of black gold begin to envelop their tunnels. The resin starts to line the hole, growing thicker, expanding, and will one day, decades later, turn into what you know as sinking-grade agarwood—or a bottle of Nha Trang LTD.
There are other ways oud grows, and other resination patterns. But this batch is predominantly 'anthole' agarwood, which denotes the resin that forms right around the 'infected' area, where ants started making their way inside the aquilaria, after a hoopoe left its chip mark.
The chips are a treat. Doubling as both a piece of history and the perfect daily burn, dig into the smell of agarwood's most acclaimed jungle.
Nha Trang is to oud lovers what Dayuling is to tea connoisseurs. It's the jungles that grew kinam, and the aloes behind the likes of Kinam Rouge and Royal Guallam.
As we live through the commercialialization of agarwood, where you can buy anything and everything agarwood right at the airport, from bangles to carved Buddhas, here's a little reminder of pre-drill agarwood – where the holes are drilled by ants rather than humans.
I'm sure I speak for everyone when I say that artisanal oud distillers hang onto any batch of natural mountain agarwood from Nha Trang they find. Not to keep, but to instantly capture its medicinal, bittersweet profile in a bottle. That's partly why you haven't seen me offer many Vietnamese chips, and instead get to indulge in the Rouge. It's why you see very little wild Nha Trang anywhere, and instead a lot of the new-breed plantation stock that shows off the muscle of all these inoculants that are the bane of any oud puritan's existence.
Vietnamese oud chips are a must. And Nha Trang is required reading. So, here's your chance to stock up on excellent weekend burnables, as well as stash away some for posterity's sake. To watch the chips begin to bubble and feel that chill of amazement as the first strands of smoke remind you of the magic that brought this scent to life. From the hoopoe to the ant, and many slow years in between. What a journey. What an end.
Nha Trang Ant Hole smells really nice. I burned it before Isha and I could have sworn it increased my concentration. – Nazif, USA