Somewhere in a Shanghai penthouse, a wealthy oudhead is missing an agarwood bangle. A Beijing business baron’s display case stares back empty. Taipei’s illustrious incense tycoon is missing his most sought-after ingredient. In turn, your oud collection may now boast a bottle of China-Market New Guinea oud oil drunk on Cambodian groundwater, cooked in steel.
Christmas was around the corner and there was unrest in Bangkok. Airport security was on high alert. We had duffle bags stuffed with über rare aloes on our trolleys passing through customs. Roadblocks were extra tight and the officers’ tone extra strict. It’s a five hour drive to the distillery. Port Moresby—Singapore—Bangkok—Khao Ra Kam—Bangkok—Singapore—Khao Ra Kam—Singapore—Bangkok—Khao Ra Kam. “What’s this, sir? And what’s it for?”
We could have cargoed our wood. We didn’t. We personally flew into Thailand with our duffle bags and boxes twelve times instead. There is a niche tier of aloeswood that isn’t used for burning or oud distillation that always ends up in upscale China—next to a Patek Philippe on a night dresser, or locked in a laser-protected glass display cabinet. The wood is rare and it costs a fortune. You don’t risk losing a gram of it.
We’re not talking about any kind of China Market wood here, either. We’re talking wild New Guinea wood of the blackest order that went into the pots on January 5, 2014 to kick off a series of insanities like you’ve never seen before.
Sultan Fatih is the most expensive New Guinea distillation in the history of Ensar Oud. The raw aloes alone was almost quadruple the price of the already resin-packed incense-grade wood that went into crafting the sublime Sultan Murad. Insane, right?
With aloes as rare as this, there are no second chances. Distillation has to be spot on first time around. After all the parameters were set and the equipment prepped for this high-resin-density cooking, all systems were go and the boilers were lit.
Could we have distilled the wood locally in New Guinea? Sure, that would have spared us months of preparation and thousands of dollars. But would you get Sultan Fatih?
Every step of the distillation was designed to be unique. We hand picked the hand-made pre-distill ceramic barrels. Mr. Nhek’s legendary well water, personally brought in from Koh Kong, intoxicated this batch of resinous gyrinops from soak to finish. The thick steel pots (inspired by the original Oud Royale) were designed by the leading craftsmen in the trade. The system planned and installed by the most avant-garde tech-head the oud world’s ever known.
Some of the system tweaks include that the condensers don’t just run straight from the pot into the beaker like you see everywhere else. We’ve got an elaborate cooling system that even cools down the coolers! This means an exceptionally crystalline scent profile that captures the finer subtleties that would otherwise fly under the radar. And you should smell what it does to the ‘incense’ note!
Traditionally you distill densely resinated aloeswood through two polar extremes: at super low or super high temperatures. We did neither nor between. Our oscillating temperature technique requires that you monitor the scent progression daily (multiple times a day, actually) which means constant supervision by a trained nose. We absolutely avoided any over-the-top fractionation to ensure we captured the full scent spectrum. There’s no ‘highlighting’ the top notes or the heart or base notes. Sultan Fatih gives you a multi-layered, complete and perfectly rounded oud scent.
When done cooking, new-age oud makers dish out the latest post-distillation treatment meant to ‘bring the oil to maturity’ and save them the trouble of aging the oil naturally. Common laboratory techniques are becoming widespread, from filtering to heating to drying the oil. Some still go to old school extremes of force aging by sunning the oil to death or giving it the ‘blanket treatment.’ But just like you can’t rush a tree to grow save through chemical interference, you can’t rush the natural aging process that adds depth and character to the fragrance. Sultan Fatih wasn’t subjected to any such post-distillation treatments and will mature gracefully.
We killed the flame 52 days after it was lit, on 26 February, 2014—distilling six weeks longer than the norm! Mr. Nhek’s featherhead red water turned blue, turned black, turned dark-green, and finally imbued into a fragrance beautified by an aquatic blue-green scent hue, a sublime ethereal incense chord that showers the fragrance throughout. You don’t find any peppery ‘woody’ smokiness. The dense New Guinea essence is clear, airy, vaporous. As I write this, my swipe’s going on 15 hours and the incense drydown is as loud as it was three hours ago. This is an oud to wear because it’s gorgeous, to study because it’s an olfactory labyrinth, to keep because there’s nothing like it.