Sumatora 1996

Some people love to see you sell wood at cost. If you sell for less than that, you’re even more of a hero. Free shipping on top… why not?

Self-proclaimed couch ‘experts’ from the West tell us the jungles are still brimming with wild agarwood. I guess that’s why regulation is tighter than ever before. It’s why even the basics, like Port Moresby Basic, aren’t around anymore. Why the New Guinea brokers opened up a shopping mall…

To get anything even resembling Port Moresby Privée, which was 100% sinking, I’d have to pay the same price I sold it for myself. And if it’s so widely available, why don’t you see anything like it on offer elsewhere?

We’d think we priced our Borneo Signature fairly, except that we’d have to pay double within just months to get the same wood again.

If there’s any market that’s insane, it’s the agarwood one.

We sold Yunnan 1991 for $50 a gram, yet just paid over that amount for Borneo wood last month. How much can that wood sell for?

Fresh harvests of quality agarwood are getting real hard to come by. In fact, we are well past the ‘harvesting’ phase of aquilaria trees. What we do now is recycle.

Our current distillations are mostly vintage batches of wood we dug out from the collections of old timers and veterans who are now cashing in on what they’d kept stashed away for decades. FYI: this is NOT the cheaper way to go.

Most of the wood ends up in the pots, but we’ve shared one or two of these batches with you before.

Here’s one I’ve been especially stingy with…

There’s good reason some collectors insist on vintage harvests. It’s not because the wood is years old – in itself that doesn’t add much to the equation. Once the wood is dried properly, stashing it away won’t add complexity to the aroma like it does with oil.

Take a whiff of a 20 year-old oud like Tigerwood 1995 and you can literally smell the age. But that’s not all you’re smelling. More so than the maturity of the scent, it’s obvious you’re smelling an unusual breed of agarwood. You don’t know exactly what it is, but it’s – different. And it’s got to do with a lot more than just the number of years it’s been quietly aging.

What makes vintage batches of oud wood (and oil) so appealing is exactly because it hands you a pass to scents you just don’t find today, even in the most resinous harvests.

On the one hand you’ve got the mother-daughter genealogy of aquilarias. Older generation trees have unique properties younger generations lack – but that’s not only why their aroma stands out. The air back then was different, the water the roots drank, the soil they grew in, the pollution around them, the species of plants and insects that have disappeared since. All of it. Just look at how different fruits can taste based on where and how they grow.

So, if you wondered how Tigerwood 1995 could share a note with Oud Royale (distilled in 1982), now you know why. Or, why a sample of a modern sinking-grade distillation that sells for $500 / 0.1 gr will never smell like Oud Ahmad, even if aged the same number of years.

A trained eye easily spots a cultivated chip in a batch that’s supposed to be exclusively wild. Oud chips from trees that were inoculated look even more suspect. The color, texture, and certainly the scent. The way the resin solidifies – and the conditions it forms under – has a huge impact. Oud chips from the mother generations that grew in more pristine conditions will smell more exotic – move you differently; show you subtle olfactory dimensions you can never hope to discover in oud from a younger era.

Sumatora 1996 gives you just that. A look back, the chance to smell your way 21 years into the past. A profile that’s lush and innocent. Wild. Indonesian oud had hardly yet found a market back then, so there was never any tampering with the jungles or the trees; none of the pre-planting sprays or post-harvest treatments SO MANY of today’s batches undergo. Just natural, wild, musky Sumatran centennials that smell of a bygone era.

If you’ve smoked up oud chips till you’re blue in the face, here’s to indulging in something old school. Seasoned connoisseurs will be thrown back to the wood of a decade ago… very different agarwood to what we’re smelling today.

Sizzle it up… and unwind! Its haunting, otherworldly presence sets the mood for a gathering of dhikr or meditation like only ancient wood can. More jungly green than Borneo chips, less sweet than Cambodis, packing more spices, and miles more crisp than the muddy scent of cheap dead wood from Colombo.

About a year ago I sold a 1.5 kg Cambodian log that’s close to 30 years old, with a shape I haven’t seen the likes of since the day I got it, almost eight years ago. The classic red tone of the wood, so old it looks polished, with a smell nothing I’ve tried lately lives up to. I sold it for barely $20 a gram. Now, I’m banging my head on a brick. I cannot buy wood like that today for less than $70 a gram. The person who owns it now ought to treat it like a 10 carat diamond.

Still, I keep hearing that “Come on, brother… $20 is a bit steep” or “I’m sure I can find it cheaper from so-and-so.”

That’s why you must be bored of seeing so many vintage Sumatran batches going around. Because it’s easy to travel back in time and get the likes of it……

If you haven’t been duped by those propagating the ‘abundance’ of agarwood, you’d be wise to grab a couple of these chips while you can. And my advice: stash a chip or two away for tomorrow. The day is fast approaching when you’d flip a piece through your fingers and realize what a farce some folks have been peddling, and you’d wish you had gotten more.

Buying agarwood is like buying currency. You never lose if you invest in a solid, strong monetary instrument. And natural resin, carefully selected for olfactory integrity, free of ‘make up’ and ‘mock up’ which is standard fare with most wood suppliers, is the best currency, no matter if it’s Papuan or Chinese. If it happens to be a batch two decades old on top, you’ve already made a profit.

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