Maroke: A Personal History

What is it about Maroke ouds?

They’ve got this medicinal scent that captures a somber green aroma you can’t find in any other kind of oud. They often smell like fresh wet earth, a dense forest in the rain. For some, they’re the pinnacle of the oud scent. Some love them for their extreme oudiness. Yet others ask me why theirs smell like diesel. To which I can only reply: “Where’d you get it from?”

On a scent chart, Marokes normally go down under dark, elemental, humid, jungle heavy wood scent profiles. If it’s a good one, add menthol notes – think eucalyptus or mint. Overall, it’s the most tropical of all ouds. The most jungly dense.

There was never a surplus of Marokes on the market, and a good many smelled just commonplace. Poor quality wood poorly distilled. So for many, Marokes have had a bad rep and for years I swayed clear of making any new ones myself, for several reasons.

Mainly, the market was flooded with swamp wood (dead trees that were dug up from beneath the swamps where they lied buried, often for a couple of hundred years). This is the staple Maroke distillation material because it’s easy to get and dirt cheap. Finding good wood was hard, cost a lot, and the yield from incense-grade Maroke wood was notoriously low. At the same time, I was preoccupied with setting up new cultivation standards in Thailand, hard at work perfecting the subtle craft of distilling top notch organic ouds. – And you can only be in so many places at one time!

With a collection of vintage Marokes on my shelf, I had a very different take on them compared to the letdowns oud lovers suffered time and again. Maroke 2004 fit the bill perfectly when it came to ‘dark jungly’ and Maroke LTD, too, was a benchmark Maroke in anyone’s book. None of the flack the profile was getting among connoisseurs held up to the likes of these. Clean, pristine dark jungly distills of the highest caliber.

It took me about five years before I launched another vintage one, called Papua Pua, partly as a beacon to save Oud Maroke from the bad rep; a banner to uphold this profile’s integrity as an extraordinary olfactory labyrinth.

I suspected Maroke wood was being tampered with large scale. The batches of gyrinops and filarias that went into crafting the likes of Maroke 2004, Papua Pua, and Maroke LTD were of exceptional quality and I struggled to find anything remotely similar. With all the swamp wood and foul play, I kept my distance.

I later found out what the diesel story was all about. Turns out, a mixture of bad wood and actual motor oil…

In 2014, I came back with a new series of Marokes, starting with Maroke Muah, followed by Maroke Sultan.

Maroke Muah was the black night remake of Marokes of yesteryear that epitomized the ‘dark jungly’ aroma. Maroke Sultan opened a new door, to a room filled with spice baskets. Instead of dark jungles, the scent was savory sunshine forest… until the drydown. Its fragrance was a meeting place between old school Maroke and a new path I started to explore…

Maroke Zen is the oil that tilts the scale to take over where Maroke Sultan left off.

From dark (Maroke Muah) to dusk (Maroke Sultan), Maroke Zen is sunrise, where your staple jungle mire Maroke gets thrown on its back. First whiff: mimosa, honeysuckle & pine cone. A piquant scent that outstrips the crispiest Borneos.

Instead of berries, wafts of spice – clove, anise and cardamon. Neither humid nor wet, it must be among the brightest sun-baked spicy orchestrations of top notes I’ve smelled in pure oud so far.

Maroke Muah had little spicy or soft woody notes to speak of and with Maroke Sultan the spicy top notes eventually made way for its damper Papuan jungle roots. Maroke Zen takes Maroke Sultan but doesn’t let it dry down. The top notes sing non-stop. Thirty minutes in, warm woods baked in that mimosa-sweet fennel crispness hum full steam. Two hours in, you’re dipping your head into an aged oak barrel – walking down a cellar whose walls have soaked up the scent of vintage vats bathed in maple syrup.

Maroke Zen basically never goes base. Because it’s a top-heavy oud, the scent of midday mountain air lingers longer, cooled only by a savory breeze blown by acacias nearby.

Sillage is medium to loud with strong tenacity – the scent clings on me for hours. It’s also one of the more suit-and-tie friendly ouds you can wear… And for the ladies, a small drop gently lathered over your scarf adds an air of individualism with just the right measure of Bohemian.

If you’re one of the Maroke-only! oudheads out there, take a look at the ‘new’ Royale No 5.

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