Agar Aura is very excited to roll out our very own ‘Jinkoh Series’ oud oils of 4 (almost 5) out of the 6 types of agarwood found in Japanese Rikkoku-Gomi sets.
Of course every single oil we produce is unique in its own way, but for this particular series we decided to seek direction from the scent profiles of Rikkoku-Gomi agarwood specimens.
In this post, I will we be doing an exegesis of two ouds of the series: Sasora Jinkoh and Manaka Jinkoh. I will be going through the “what’s” we did, and the “why’s” — so you develop a better appreciation of this series, and also get a glimpse at how I design and conduct distillation projects.
(I’m afraid I will be leaving out most of the “how’s” for reasons I hope are understandable: the techniques are proprietary and took me an incredible amount of R&D to discover).
And now, without further ado…
Sasora Jinkoh 佐曽羅
The raw material consisted of a rare and unusual type of wild agarwood from Assam, India. I had a feeling I would get the scent profile of Sasora agarwood found in Rikkoku-Gomi sets, but I wanted to ensure that the oil would have the right types and proportions of sweet-spicy-bitter notes, so the distillation had to be controlled. Here’s what we had to do, and why:
1) We collected every dominant fraction of the oud extract separately to assess it individually to ensure everything was done right, before mixing them all together.
2 )Typically, Indian agarwood is dominantly heart-note-heavy (hay, creamy woodiness, and so on), so it was imperative that I design the distillation to amplify the top notes — in particular the fruity and camphoraceous aspects. I decided to go for a traditional Indian distillation setup BUT a hybrid copper+steel pot (the first ever Indian oud distilled in this manner), to usher in the fruit platters. As well, I had to ensure the top note fractions were the largest proportion of the extract. This was a bit tricky, but we managed to achieve a whopping 74% yield for these fractions.
So why did I decide on doing this? Red fruity notes are not an easy thing to capture from Indian agarwood, but it was essential to have them not just in the opening but also present all the way to the drydown. This was crucial to achieve the Sasora aroma. The tart fruity notes are SO berried, that this oil actually passes beyond the limits of Cambodian fruitiness and treads on Vietnamese ground. It was imperative to achieve the ‘reddest’ possible sweet-tart notes. Cherry and strawberry notes are relatively easy to capture in high quality Indian distillations. Raspberry and cranberry, harder to capture. I’m thrilled to inform you that we not only got these two, but surpassed them and also got hibiscus! Aside from the fact that hibiscus is the most accurate fruity (i.e. ‘sour’ in Japanese terms) accent of Sasora wood, it also works much better with the bitter-medicinal base notes (point #4 below).
3) The rich spicy heart notes are naturally abundant in Indian agarwood, so we didn’t have to do anything special. Fennel, nutmeg, and white pepper abound in this oil. The yield of these fractions was 15%, which is relatively low for an Indian oud, but that worked to our favor (the top notes needed to dominate).
4) Bitter-medicinal notes are usually the most difficult to achieve in a pristine high quality (and simultaneously non-barnyard type) extraction. Its usually a case of this-or-that. You can either have the sweet clean aroma of the likes of Mokokchung Oud, OR you can go for the bitter base notes. Typically, its impossible to have both in the same oil if its high quality. But it was imperative to have both of these qualities to accurately mimic the aroma of Sasora wood. And that’s where our latest distillation techniques came to the rescue! By using the same methods that were used for pulling the purest expressions of the base note (bitter, woody, smoky) fractions of oils like Berkilau and Royal Pursat, we got a last-pull fraction of oud that even smelled amazing on its own. Typically (i.e. in conventional distillations), the last pull smells like rancid olive oil, day-old baby-puke drenched clothing, and burnt rubber. But what we captured was the pure essence of pure bitterness. Imagine the bitterness of cocoa beans, without the actual aroma of cocoa. Or grandma’s homemade remedy for colds, made of bitter herbs. Or the bitter notes in the deepest crevices of the agarwood aroma. This was beautifully captured in the last pull, which consisted of 11% of the total yield. And its married beautifully to the hibiscus top note, stretching it all the way to the drydown. Just perfect.
After all the fractions were combined, I was thrilled to find that we had achieved the aroma I was hoping for: soaring cool and clean camphoraceous and fruity top notes, a nice warm butterscotch heart, and deep scarlet medicinal-agarwoody base notes anchoring everything.
Sasora Jinkoh was a success!
Manaka Jinkoh 真那伽
Okay, so we veered off the path and used our lovely Royal Belum (Perak State, Malaysia) raw material for this oil, instead of agarwood from Melaka State which is conventional in Rikkoku-Gomi sets. However, because of the close vicinity of the two states to each other, the incredibly close scent profile of the Royal Belum wood compared to the Manaka of the Japanese tradition, and the fact that the jungle which we got the wood from is THE most ancient and virgin in all of Malaysia (and many argue the most ancient in the world, surpassing the Amazon and Congo jungles… ancient & virgin jungle = ancient trees = superior agarwood), so I just simply had to use this prized batch of wood for our Manaka Jinkoh oil.
Again, keep in mind that the wood itself was remarkably close in its scent profile to its namesake in Rikkoku-Gomi sets, but I couldn’t take any chances and just ‘boil some wood’ to get the oil. No, everything had to be done right to ensure I got the scent profile I needed to achieve, and I had to assess each pull separately.
1) One of the neat things about Malaysian agarwood is that it has very prominent and tell-tale signature top notes. For example, you have tamarind and syrupy notes in central Pahang State oud, purple floral and purple fruity notes in Terengganu oud, strawberry lemonade and zesty spices in Johor oud, and so on.
But these region-specific signature notes would have been a curse for making Manaka Jinkoh, because it was absolutely crucial to avoid them in order to achieve the perfect balance of Manaka wood.
Now, our Royal Belum wood when burned is predominantly just straight-oudy without any biases or prominent region-specific signature top notes. That was the first thing that made me realize this was the perfect candidate for our Manaka oud oil. However, this oil was distilled in a copper boiler, which can over-amplify sweet top notes. I decided I would allow this, and instead of subduing them, I would further amplify the heart notes and base notes to balance out the top.
2) Given the sheer oudiness of Malaysian oud, perfecting the heart notes was not a very difficult task. All that was done was to slightly fluctuate the temperature, which ensured all possible ‘flavors’ of the heart notes were extracted.
3) The base notes: ah, now this was the trickiest. Typically, getting pristine top note fractions is the biggest challenge for most distillers (due to cost implications, as well as lack of technical knowledge), but as you already know from smelling Agar Aura ouds over the years, top notes are our specialty. Its the base notes that are the trickiest to get right, and ESPECIALLY in the case of Malaysian oud. The final pull (i.e. the heaviest fractions of the oud) in a high quality distillation, can have biting overly-peppery and overly-smoky notes (furfural, α-agarofuran, jinkoh-eremol etc). Now that’s great and all, in fact many of you may not have realized this before but its precisely these components of Malaysian ouds that have made our Malaysian oils the favorites of most of you folks.
For Manaka Jinkoh, we needed to ensure that these heavy fractions would be as ‘tame’ as possible, to achieve the perfect olfactory balance of Manaka wood unanimously-recognized and revered by the Japanese masters. This entailed conducting our trickiest last-pull extraction ever, coupled with a full-bodied agarwood heart that dominated the base note tendencies of Malaysian oud and of course powerful top notes balancing out the heavy fractions as well.
The end result: the top perfectly balanced by the heart perfectly balanced by the base.
Manaka Jinkoh, another success!
Important side note: Malaysian agarwood is extremely high in α-agarofuran, jinkoh-eremol and agarospirol to begin with (surpassing all species and all other countries’ agarwoods). These are the compounds that give Malaysian agarwood that intense, satisfying oudiness. What’s even more amazing is that in the case of far-west-coast Malaysian agarwood (Melaka, Perak and Selangor) these compounds are EXTRA concentrated (up to almost four times more in some cases), compared to Malaysian agarwood from other regions. And there is minimal ‘interference’ from auxiliary notes (fruity, floral, etc.). Yes, those auxiliary notes are there, but they are all in equal balance, and they do not dominate the sheer oudiness which is the prominent feature of agarwood from these regions.
I will let you, the reader, make the connection between this information and why this particular batch of wood was selected for crafting our Manaka Jinkoh oil…
I don’t have words for praising this oil that are worthy enough, doing it justice. Manaka Jinkoh is… well… you just wait and see for yourself.
Prepare to sell off your entire oud collection, just to replace it with this oil. ; )
Side note 2: the actual origins of the concept of ‘tastes’ and ‘flavors’ are in traditional Chinese medicine, and the Rikkoku-Gomi taste classifications were actually founded upon these concepts (very different from merely the aroma, it has to do with the effect that substances have on the body). However, Agar Aura is a perfumery company after all, so my focus has been on the scent aspect. Perhaps in a future post I may post about the Chinese medicine concepts, as well as Kodo experiences in Osaka, Japan.
I hope you enjoyed this blog post. Although we won’t be doing exegeses of every single one of our Jinkoh Series ouds, hopefully with these case studies you got a taste of (some of) what goes into the finicky process of designing and conducting high grade oud distillations.
I hope you will enjoy the oils too! : )