A Word on Cheap Oud

Watching Roger Federer on court, you’d think that anybody can play tennis. He just makes it look so easy. But anybody who has ever stepped onto a court, and especially if they’ve watched professional tennis LIVE, and especially if they’ve actually had the chance to (try and) hit a few balls with a pro, knows that those guys are on a different planet. They move across the court at superhuman speed and hit the ball with such force and precision it makes you shiver. They have become immersed in their craft to such a degree of perfection it looks… ordinary, so much so that anybody watching them play on TV assume their game is comparable to any regular high school player’s.

When we talk about wood used for ‘incense-grade’ or ‘high-quality’ ouds, or oud oils that are not your everyday fare, automatically a certain image comes to mind (nice and dark looking chips). But that perception is FAR from reality.

Many people still seem unaware of the degrees of difference when it comes to the type of wood used in distillation. Like a good sportsman or musician who makes things look effortless, I think many in this niche market of ours have become so used to a certain standard that they have forgotten just how unique that standard is and how privileged we are to even be aware of it. Look at Adam (Feel Oud) and the videos he has posted. He uses a certain caliber of wood that has become the default image conjured up when we think about oud wood. We’ve done so many incense-grade distillation that many, especially new comes, think it’s an easily replicatable norm. Well, it just isn’t.

Some folks believe that there is no artistry involved in distilling oud.  All you have to do is grind up the wood, add water and heat it up. You know, like there’s also no such thing as a good chef – all he/she has to do is cut up some veggies, add water and heat up. A leather binder just takes leather, cuts it up and stitches it together. A watchmaker just puts together a bunch of metal dials.

About proof, we’ve shown a great deal of what goes on behind the scenes with what we do. More than most, I believe. Our blog is filled with articles, videos and pictures of what goes and what does not go into our pots…

Agarwood - White Wood

This is the kind of wood that makes up most distillations.

(Read more: Qi Nam Khmer)

Agarwood - White Oil


Agarwood - QN Khmer - Incense Chunks

Agarwood - QN Khmer - Bagged Up

Lifetimes upon lifetimes’ worth of ‘incense-grade’ chips you could be burning (that ended up in the pots).

Agarwood - QN Khmer - Distillation Batch

I believe anybody who has firsthand experience in the oud world can attest to not only the quality of this kind of wood, but more importantly… to its rarity. We collected these batches three years ago and it took us a couple of months. Ask any distiller how many batches they’re able to find today… and ask them how much it’ll cost.

This is why it’s tough for me to hear when people mockingly suggest we’ve been hyping up the quality of our ouds and the availability of the kind of wood we normally use. As if every distiller has boxes and boxes stuffed with such wood and we’re simply not telling people that they have them. It’s even stranger to hear people who praise low cost oils as being on par with far higher priced oils, claiming that we’ve simply been overcharging and that most ouds should essentially be a lot cheaper than they are (because they are in reality basically all the same and quality is just subjective).

To sum up:

1. The VAST majority of oils are made from the white looking wood you see above, or a mixture of such with wood with a small percentage of slightly better batches. This is not a conspiracy theory, and neither are most people selling gallons of oud trying cover this fact up. Anybody who visits a distillery will witness this.

2. In order to supply hundreds of shops continuously, major oud sellers have no choice but to offer this grade of oil. This is not an attack on their integrity, it is simply a mathematical reality.

3. Given the prices high-grade wood go for, only somebody who doesn’t appreciate what ‘high-grade’ means to us will scoff at the $500,000 distillations we’re conducting.

4. Aromas speak, true. So does a leather bag and plate of Italian pasta. But it speaks differently to different people. Somebody who appreciates leather tanning looks at a bag with a very different eye. A cheese connoisseur will tell you the provoleta could have tasted a lot better. A coffee lover would tell you your Colombian beans have gone stale a long time ago. An experienced oudhead will be able to tell a grade C distill from an incense-grade one. 

So, aromas speak different languages, and not everybody is fluent in them all. That’s not a jab at anybody, it’s the Jordanian in me that wishes his mansaf was home-cooked by the Adel family instead of buying it from the local fast food joint.

5. Oud can be cheap. Most of it is. But when you hear that quality oud can or should also be cheap, a red flag should go up. Quality does not come cheap.


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