Borneo 2012 – Agarwood Quest

The setting is Samarinda, East Borneo island. My distiller sits tired and worn out, as I type. But he is happy.

Given the current dismal state of the agarwood world and the difficulty of sourcing good quality raw materials for distillation, after many discussions, my distiller and I agreed that we will have to go the extra mile to source truly fabulous raw materials.

AB grade agarwood

I first flew him to Banjarmasin, South Borneo. There, he was greeted by Mr. Muhammad Yanie, a pleasant gentleman who was gracious enough to let him stay at his house. He owns a successful agarwood plantation and also sources wild agarwood, since his carver happens to be a gaharu hunter himself.

Aside from some really fine Teri Kacang and AB-grade wood for distillation, Mr. Yanie had some outstanding natural agarwood statuettes as well – some as big as a person, and fully resinated. But we were focused on buying wood for distillation only, so despite their lure we didn’t get any.

The next day was the scheduled visit to Mr. Yanie’s plantation. There were some very unusual specimens to be found here. Some trees had been inoculated to trigger the formation of the fragrant resin, but also got infected naturally as well. The wood chips had an unusual combination of both black as well as reddish-brown resin streaks.

Upper-Medang grade agarwood. Notice the cute broom.

The following day, our faithful distiller undertook a back-breaking 12-hour road trip to Samarinda, East Borneo. But it was worth it, for here he came across some of the finest raw materials he has ever worked with.

The wood had been collected from wild-harvested and very old trees. Even the air in the room where the wood was stored had an overwhelmingly beautiful smell.

High-grade shavings. Can you say 'wow'?

We decided to get some really good chips for distillation, as well as shavings collected from carving high grade wood – every piece to be carefully hand-picked by my distiller to ensure that only the very best pieces make it into the distillation pot.

Sleep-deprived, weary, his body aching from the 12-hour road trip in a cramped minibus, he politely requested to have his previous return ticket cancelled. He wants to fly back from Samarinda, and skip the torturous trek back to Banjarmasin for his flight. Given how hard he’s worked, and for tracking down some truly spectacular wood, I know that he deserves no less.

He flies back on Tuesday. And as tired as he may be, I know he is excited as I am to reap the fruits of his labor, and to distill what we both think will be the finest oil he has ever produced.

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