Jungle: Tawi-Tawi island, The Philippines
There’s a word in Arabic that has characterized the creation of Middle Eastern scents throughout history. Namely, Ihsan, or in English, excellence of the higher order. I’m here to tell you about our story in pursuit of Ihsan, about the story of two young men (some would call boys), by the names of Ahmad and Malik, whom found their calling where they least expected it; In the wondrous world of Oud. Nobody introduced us to Oud, it has been a central part of our daily lives ever since we were children. Oud to us was the equivalent of tea and biscuits to the British. Yet, while we were so close to the substance we came to know and love, there’s a difference between looking and seeing, and we looked at Oud without ever seeing it, which is the case with most people who encounter Oud. But sometimes, if you look hard enough, you’ll get a glimpse of what you should be seeing, and in our case, what we could be seeing.
And so it began, the venture into Oud. What I thought would be an ascent ended up being a descending spiral into the depths of a cut-throat, dog-eat-dog world. But that didn’t stop me, it hardly even phased me. I knew what I wanted, and that’s when I called Ahmad and asked him to join in cahoots with me. I knew he was just as hungry, just as determined as I was to achieve Ihsan within this field, within our passion. He was just as ready as I was to give away and sacrifice everything, for a few drops of fragrance in a bottle.
And so we did. We started off our journey through acquiring batches of high quality woods, while commissioning custom distillations tailored to our tastes and requirements. Although we were more than happy with our Oud, it wasn’t enough. We wanted our Ouds to be distilled in-house. We wanted to be on ground zero, acquiring woods, loading pots, and cooking oil.
Enter the Philippines, we were so excited with the new profile, sharing characteristics in aroma with both Borneo and Sri Lanka, and wanted it to be our first full fledged distillation. Thus, the planning began, the wood, the grade, the type of distillation, lining up all our ducks in a row, re-iterating our variables until we were satisfied. It wasn’t easy, there were times that seemed hopeless and bleak.
During collection of our distillation material, most of the wood became unfit for distillation due to negligence by the hunters. An entire 13kg of wood lost (8kg of it being sinking grade), which felt like a punch to the kidney to me. The lost wood doubled our cost of production, as our smaller batch would now have to incur the costs of travels and distillation, instead of being absorbed into a larger batch. Any sane person would’ve quit by then and cancelled the project. I couldn’t do it, I had to see things come through with this project, I took what wood we had, a mixture between sinking grade, double super, and super grade shavings, and carried it 30 minutes in a sack over my back, just to get it packaged in a box for easy transportation to the distillery. When Ahmad asked me why I didn’t just take a taxi, I explained that we needed to save every penny, and cut every cost we can, even if it were just a few dollars, just to be able to afford completing our project, especially after the huge loss we faced.
The next day I was at the distillery, preparing the wood for distillation. Thoroughly cleaning the wood, drying, grading, and grinding. Within a couple of days, we loaded the pots and started cooking. Hydro-distillation in a copper pot, zero soak, low temp. No fancy techniques or methods involved, just a very clean and controlled distillation bringing out the salient features of the wood.
Distillation was an entirely different story; you can view the figures below to get an idea how our distillation went.
Fast forward 30 days of distilling, Adan was ours. The first from Tawi Tawi, brought to you by Al Hashimi.