Oud Assam smells (to me) like real Indian oud oil tinctured in perfumer’s alcohol, bracketed by a simple bitter orange note on top and a fresh, mossy note on the bottom. This pared-back approach allows all the complexities of the Indian oud used to come out and show themselves – the leather, the woods, the funk, the cheese, the rot, and the sour tang of moldy earth. It’s pretty close to being an oudiflore.
The extent to which you’ll find the oud in Oud Assam dirty depends on your level of experience with real oud. If you’re used to the Montale type of oud (plasticky, band-aid-y, rubbery, or even paint-thinner-ish), then Rania J.’s version might have you running for the hills screaming “Cow dung! Blue cheese!” If you’re coming at this from the perspective of Oud Palao, Leather Oud, and Oud Ispahan, which are all based on the aroma of smoking oud wood chips (rather than the oil), then this will also be quite a departure. But if you’ve smelled real oud oil, and especially Indian (Hindi) oud, then you’ll sniff Oud Assam and say to yourself, “Damn, but they sure put the real stuff in here.”
Describing the smell of Indian oud to someone who isn’t familiar with the aroma is tricky. It’s like trying to explain the flavor profile of blue cheese aged for twenty years in a mountain cave in the Andes to a guy who’s only ever tasted Kraft singles. It’s not only a question of vocabulary but of where the person is coming from, culture and experience-wise. Objectively speaking, anything with a more complex flavor profile can be said to be superior – but it doesn’t mean that your personal taste will agree.
Real oud is a complex material made up of over 500 different flavor compounds and, famously, can vary from region to region, tree to tree, distiller to distiller, etc. Like cheese or wine, it’s not just that your taste might vary from mine, but it’s that the product itself might vary from one year to the next, from one tola to the next…it’s a frustrating business. But if you want to know what Indian oud smells like, and you don’t have either the money or time to go down the oud oil route (and I wouldn’t blame you), you’d be as well off to go for an option that is shelf-stable, quality and batch-controlled, and easy on the wallet, such as Oud Assam.
Oud Assam is a very good representation of what Indian oud smells like. To me, Indian oud initially smells hot, sour, and slightly bilious, like the taste in the back of your throat after you’ve just thrown up. Some describe it as fecal. Are you still with me? Heh. But underneath the initial sour dung/vomit stench, there is brown leather, woods, smoke, oil spills, fruit, earth, rot, flowers, and resins, all packed one on top of each other, going ten thousand miles deep. If you like the salt-sweet-sour-savory flavor profiles of Parmesan cheese, miso paste, bleu cheese, wine, fois gras, and er, breastmilk (yes, really!), then you will likely love Indian oud too.
I would still recommend Oud Assam to the uninitiated, because the animalic aspects of the oud oil die away pretty quickly, and what you’re left with (within the space of, let’s say, half an hour) is the deep brown leathery, woodsy, Unami-rich depth that real oud fans find so utterly addictive.
And real oud really is like an addiction – it might seem repellent at first, but there is something so complex and interesting about how “packed” the aroma is that you will find your nose being drawn to your wrist over and over again, despite yourself. I have an Ajmal oud oil blend that smells like the arse end of a sheep. It’s too much for me. But my husband absolutely loves it. He says, “Now that is perfume. Throw out all your other stuff because this is the only thing that smells good to me”. My five-year-old son smelled it and reared his head back with a big “Euuuurgh” but couldn’t stop going back to his father’s wrist and sniffing it.
Rania J.’s version is excellent because it puts the real thing up front and center, so that you can’t miss it, and allows it to shine without the distraction of too many other notes, like the ubiquitous rose. The only thing stopping me immediately springing for a bottle is the vetiver in the base – I’m not a huge fan of vetiver at the best of times, and this version of it has that faintly marshy, rooty runner’s sweat angle I don’t appreciate. The non-vetiver-averse won’t have a problem with it, though, as I’m sure that it will appear as very subtle to them.
If you like Oud Assam, with its fresh, almost green-herbal take on the genuine article, then I suggest you also try Dahn al Aoud Anteeque by Abdul Samad Al Qurashi and Mukhallat Dahn al Oud Moattaq by Ajmal (the EDP version). What all three have in common is that (i) they are rare examples of spray/EDPs that contain (varying) amounts of real, honest-to-goodness oud oil, (ii) they are all quite fresh, herbal-leathery takes on the note, rather than the usual rose, amber, or sweet vanilla, making them excellent choices for summer, and (iii) they are all slightly masculine-leaning in the gender spectrum.