It gives me enormous pleasure to introduce guest blogger Gail Gross, who will be posting here from time to time. I first met Gail through this blog, where I discovered our mutual interest in perfume and fragrant materials. Best of all, Gail lives in the Seattle area, within visiting distance, so we’ve gotten together in person several times to smell, talk, hike, eat, and generally enjoy one another’s company. It turns out that we both love oud oils, so I thought a fun project would be to get together periodically for an “Oud Fest” where we smell different ouds, ranging from the real to the “real” and the unreal, compare notes, and write about our impressions.
OUD FEST 1 began with sixteen samples of fine quality, medium priced oud oils [medium priced for oud, that is, which is outrageously expensive by most standards]. Due to their complexity we only managed to test four of them that afternoon.
The first oil tested was Ensar Oud's "Oud Yusuf", a thick, honey colored Thai oil applied to the left wrists of the two participants. "Oud Yusuf's" initial note was the familiar barnyard oud scent, immediately morphing into a sharp, woody-spicy fragrance with a faint camphorous edge. After about 10 minutes the wood warmed to a peachy, dried fruit and then to a juicy, fresh floral. At about 45 minutes, the oil took on the character of a sugary confection, thin and transparent with an open sweetness characterized by occasional references to wood, fruit and fresh breezes. "Oud Yusuf" left a distinct visual impression, a sense of a translucent blue/violet gauze finishing as a veil of very pale lilac; not the scent of lilac, but the color, elegant, light and invigorating.
The next oil was another Thai offering from Ensar Oud, "Crassna Cha", a very dark, thick oil applied to the right wrists. "Crassna Cha" started with a smoky, scorched odor. After about 5 minutes the scent turned to that of an old musty attic or my grandmother's closet. Approximately 10 minutes later the mustiness suddenly disappeared, replaced by a fruity/spice that eventually evolved into a scent of dry grass, weeds and hay. Within an hour, a green, woody freshness developed and lingered through the life of the scent. "Crassna Cha" was truly a shape shifter.
The third oil tested was a Borneo, Ensar Oud's "Kalbar 3000". This dark, amber colored oil was applied to the participants' left arms below the elbows. "Kalbar 3000" opened with a fermenting bark dust note that immediately morphed into a sharp, woody scent. After about 5 minutes, a surprising, wet odor, like rain on dry earth, appeared. A phenolic scent was also noticed about the same time. The "rainstorm" was soon replaced by a booziness reminiscent of a cake or plum pudding soaked in bourbon with the addition of davana, raisins and fermenting grapes. This boozy, honeyed, phenolic, fruity scent lingered through the dry down.
The last oil sampled was Oud Select's "Borneo Bliss" another dark amber oil applied to the right arms below the elbows. "Borneo Bliss" began with hints of barn and bark dust, quickly opening to the comforting scent of sweet, warm skin. In approximately 5 minutes this odor evolved into a strong buttery scent with a hint of barnyard, creating the effect of a farm kitchen filled with warmth and baked goods. A whisper of davana, a breath of fermentation, nutty raisins and berries, honey and dairy were evident through the comforting, woody/spiced finish beginning about 45 minutes after application.
Conclusions: Each oil tested presented a distinct scent profile as well as a geographic signature. The Thai oils were fruity and floral while those from Borneo were warm and gourmand. The sillage of the Borneo oils was more intimate than that of the Thais. The longevity of both types was at least six hours with the Thai oils lasting until the morning after application. Any one of these oils would be a treat to own but we seemed to agree that "Oud Yusuf" was the most wearable of the oils tested.
After several hours of testing both our noses were overwhelmed with oud. The OUD FEST participants and one spectator adjourned to the local pizza parlor where we sampled 3 types of mini pizzas, meatballs, and beer, all the while sniffing our wrists and arms.
Ellen’s postscript: I’m not sure that Oud Yusuf was my “favorite”, even though I agree with Gail that, of the four, it would probably be the most generally approachable and appealing to the most people. Each was gorgeous in its own way, and I would definitely enjoy wearing any of them. It’s amazing how far a little dab of oud will go, how much pleasure one can get from it, and how hard it is to decide which one is “best”. I think for me, a big part of the enjoyment is the diversity and the contrast across the different distillations of oud.
[Reviews based on samples purchased from Ensar Oud and Oud Select. Photos of Thai flowers, Thai rainforest, Borneo rainforest, and Borneo cloud forest from WIkimedia. Farm kitchen painting by Frank Shapleigh, late 19th century]