Pure Incense / Tuberose, P-Gokula, Pushkar, Pavitra Vastu; Revisits / Connoisseur / Agarwood, Blue Lotus, Parijata, Rosewood

Pure Incense have been kind enough to provide lots of samples for Olfactory Rescue Service review and I recently received a new batch, including four old sticks previously reviewed in order to give a taste of where these classics have been heading as ingredients and recipes change over the years. In my opinion this kind of transparency is to be highly lauded when so many companies just change things completely without notice and I believe it to be a true acknowledgement of the art of incense in that change is inevitable in this field and that your favorites will probably not be around forever. It is good to see that even with changes that new formulas are being added and experimented with and that Pure Incense really do have a way with the perfume notes in their incenses. So let’s start with the new and previously unreviewed formulas.

When it comes to certain floral incenses, a lot of Indian incenses tend to a high level of charcoal in them, after all you can’t really burn rose petals and have the scent smell like roses and so there is a high level of oils in incenses like this. Tuberose is one of these scents and I’m probably not alone in not being a fan of this format of incense. But just like when you compare Pure Incense to their US cousins Primo, the quality level seems to be a lot higher with Pure Incense and I found the base to be, if not pleasant, and least not offputting. I seem to remember Primo’s version being a lot harsher and eyestinging. The oil on the base, of course, is quite nice and while you can still sense a bit of the vanilla floating behind it in the base, the Tuberose is a soft, rounded and cushy floral, somewhat powdery and quite feminine.

The Pavitra Gokula scent, which seems to be a subline of Pure Incense’s Premium collection, appears to be a new riff on their classic Blue Lotus scent. And like anything even remotely similar to the Blue Lotus, this is a very beautiful and bewitching incense, almost like a caramel-tinged floral. It has some similarities to one or two of the Vrindavan incenses elsewhere in the line, and there’s that wonderful hint of sweet and crystal pink that these incenses are topped off by. The Gokula has an almost candy-like middle, giving it a real complexity (especially when you consider how complex the Blue Lotus perfume is on its own). Perhaps its only weakness lies with the base, but its likely most readers will already know if they’re OK with it or not. And if you’re not sure I wouldn’t let it put you off as the base layer actually adds more than detracts from the complexity. It’s really the kind of direction you want to see a company take, experimenting with their formulas for new takes.

The Premium incense Pushkar also riffs on the Blue Lotus incense, this time combining it with the Vrindavan Champa scent. I believe it is with some modesty that Pure Incense hasn’t ranked this with their Connoisseur level, as the crystal pink floral scent mixed with the Blue Lotus oil is really a product of master craftsmanship. The mix has some similarities to the line’s brilliant Rosewood incense as well in that the scent seems to have a bit of woodiness in the middle to give it a nice breadth. It’s almost like a mix of pink florals and evergreen foresty scents. It’s truly well worth checking out, a really fine entry to their line.

The Pavitra Vastu is notable for not having any flower oils in the mix and is instead a mix of herbs. The result is a spicy, tangy herb and wood heavy blend with a hint of citrus in the middle. It’s a very robust and hearty incense that has more than a hint of orange tea in the mix, although it really doesn’t get too spicy. After a couple of sticks, I wasn’t sure about how complex this could be, but it is nicely balanced and has a nice clarifying affect on one’s surroundings.

As could be expected the Connoissuer line has changed in scent in the few years since I reviewed them last. It would still be a good idea to revisit the reviews here and here in order to see where these new reviews get their basis from. I only had a stick of each of the new version to sample and so I can only really approximate the changes, but none of them are particularly severe, which leads me to speculate that the changes are mostly via the ingredients.

The Connoisseur Agarwood has, unsurprisingly, changed the most, which is what you’d expect. Of course it’s important to note again that Indian agarwoods differ a lot from the Japanese, but the Pure Incense version from a few years ago was easily the best of the Indian agarwoods, with a wonderful deep and resonant foresty camphor like note that gave it a huge amount of dimension. This new version (marked Autumn 2013) doesn’t strike me as being quite as woody and I wasn’t sure with just one stick if that note was as strong as it used to be, but the incense really hasn’t lost the agarwood scent at the center. It just seems maybe a little more concentrated, and it isn’t overshadowing the vanilla note in the base like it used to. But I think if I was coming fresh to this I’d still enjoy it a lot, there is really no other Indian agarwood on the market with this kind of scent. It doesn’t have a perfume based scent like other Indian agarwoods, and so it’s still quite dry and stately.

The new (Sept-Dec 2013) Connoisseur Blue Lotus is quite close to what you might remember from my original review and in a way is a lot more difficult to describe since essentially what has changed is the perfume oil(s). None of the subtle notes have disappeared so much as changed in just the way you’d expect from the flora the oils were distilled from. The overall scent still has the soft and floral notes the original did and honestly I don’t think this has changed for the worst, it’s at least as good as the stick I previously reviewed. And this is really a special incense, there’s no other like it on the market.

The Connoisseur Parijata seems to be a much milder incense this time around and seems to lack a bit of the punch and personality of its predecessor. Keep in mind again I’m only evaluating one stick and the nose has the ability to close up on some occasions. But this one strikes me as light and airy and so the base comes through quite a bit and seems to render it a bit more generic than I had remembered it (I still need to dig out the old stick as I’m going mostly on memory here). It’s a bit powdery, woody and sweet but ultimately I found the burn a bit too mellow to get my attention.

On the other hand the Connoisseur Rosewood was an improvement to an already excellent incense and I found this new version to be absolutely superb in every way. It’s hugely rich, floral and fruity, having those fine wine-like qualities all good perfume oils have. And like all good oils, the scent has lots of subnotes, all of them red or pink. It’s hard to quantify why this is much better than most Indian rose incenses, maybe the hint of wood or spice in the background helps to make up for the bitter notes often found in these sticks. Nonetheless this is superb and the biggest upgrade in an already fine group.

It’s good to see Pure Incense still going in what has been something of a difficult market of late and nice to see they still have a commitment to quality and connoisseur level scents.

Pure Incense / Amber & Rose, Frankincense & Rose, Parijata, Pavitra Vastu, Saffron & Rose, Yellow Rose

It has been a while since I sampled any new Pure Incense scents after reviewing most of their range in the last few years, so was pleased to receive some samples in the mail, although without much in the way of explanation, I’ve had to put two and two together from looking at their revamped product line. Almost all of the samples came labelled, but at least half of them weren’t tagged as Connoisseur, Absolute, Premium or Classic. It seems  that almost everything I was sent is part of their Premium range, which I assume is just the revamped Absolute range. At the same time I received a sample of Yellow Rose but can’t find it anywhere on the site.

Anyway if you’re new to Pure Incense, I’d recommend looking here for previous reviews and to try some of their long standing catalog before trying most of these, many of which are hybrids of other scents. For those that don’t know, in many ways Pure Incense is like the United Kingdom outlet of the Madhavadas family, in the same way Primo is in the United States, however unlike Primo, Pure Incense extends the Madhavadas line into Connoissuer levels, and many of these like Blue Lotus, Nepal Musk and Agarwood are well loved at ORS. The theme common to most Madhavadas incenses is their base mix of charcoal, vanilla and sandalwood. In many cases the vanilla is strong enough to be part of the bouquet of their scents and so it’s good to know if you like the style early. Fortunately the company is a master at this type of incense, often using very high quality perfumes for maximum enjoyment.

We’ll start with the Amber & Rose which is largely a variant of Pure Incense’s Connoissuer Rose. The amber in this case reduces the heaviness of the floral oil, which also brings the vanilla/sandal base to the fore. You can sense the line’s actual amber in the background, largely because the floral perfumes drown a bit of it out. Overall it’s hard not to like this one, it’s familiar in its elements but other than wishing the amber was a touch stronger, the merging is quite well done: soft, pink and pretty.

The rose element in the Frankincense & Rose is much more subdued to the frankincense and acts to give it a subnote rather than the 50/50 hybrids you usually see from Pure Incense. This is a neat trick as the florals touch the citrus notes of the frankincense a bit more than you usually find in Indian incense. The main issue is this is still very close to the regular frankincense that you might not need both, but given this caveat, I’d go with this one as it’s more complex.

The Parijata is a somewhat generic fruity flora, with quite a sandalwood presence. It delivers a light, powdery and floral pink type of aroma without any particular element standing out. It’s interesting because I remember trying both the Absolute and Connoisseur versions of this previously and thinkings they were quite good, so I was surprised to be a bit lukewarm here. Anyway you’re probably safer with my original review – this sample did say it was Connoissuer but I remember that stick being much better.

Newcomer Pavitra Vastu is a spicy and herbal evergreen incense with a pleasant green scent mixed with a noticeable woodiness. This has some similarities to Shroff’s Amir, a certain saltiness in particular drew my attention to the comparison. It has more of a juniper needle and cedar oil note in front that is very nice. Overall a very masculine, Jupiterian type of incense and one I’d love to try more of.

The Saffron & Rose (labelled Connoisseur if my memory is correct), like other incenses with this mix, comes off somewhat furniture polish-like to my nose. The floral perfume is modified in a way that brings out the lemon or citrus qualities a bit too much. The rose character without the mix is a lot more identifiable (if not totally authentic due to expense). There’s a bit of a saffron note, but it’s not really in the right spot. Perhaps it’s just personal taste with this, but of all the samples I received, this came with the largest supply and over the batch it ended up wearing me out more often than not.

I’m not sure if Yellow Rose has been discontinued, but I couldn’t locate it at the web site. It’s a typical charcoal rose with its incumbent harshness, at least the aroma mixed with vanilla is quite nice, the sort of soft and gentle floral you tend to get from yellow roses. I also got an amber, which I had review before, but even though it struck me as slightly different I’m not quite sure which product I’m looking at.

Anyway I’m still glad Pure Incense is with us, they’ve always been a class act with great incense and beautiful packaging and if you haven’t tried them yet, I recommend checking out a sampler or two.

Pure Incense / Absolute / Black Sandalwood, Sandalwood and Lavender, Sandalwood and Rose, Patchouli, Patchouli and Rose

This is the sixth installment of the Pure Incense range, for previous reviews please refer to the Pure Incense link on the left (categorized under Indian incenses). In this installment I’m going to cover a small handful of sandalwood and patchouli incenses.

It’s probably worth reminding everyone that Pure Incense is an English company offering incenses made by the Madhavadas family which is also the source for Primo incense. There’s definitely some overlap between the two companies, so it’s a good idea to check what you have first. However, not only does Primo not offer the hybrids Pure Incense does, but Primo seems to stick to the inexpensive, so you’re far more likely to find quality incense via the Pure Incense route. But what all the Madhavadas incenses have in common is a sort of vanilla, charcoal and sandalwood base and in particular the former ingredient is quite noticeable in almost all of the line’s incenses, a trait that doesn’t always work out.

Black Sandalwood presents an alternative to the line’s regular Sandalwood, which can be found in both Connoisseur and Absolute ranges, however this variant is only found in the latter. The differences between this and the Absolute Sandalwood, however, are far more subtle than noteworthy. Like with the other sandalwood, the vanilla aspect of the base comes through quite strongly and changes the contour of the wood. The level of oil seems more matched by other elements that aren’t part of the Absolute Sandalwood, with a touch of mellow spice in the mix that tends to give the Black Sandalwood more breadth where perhaps the Absolute Sandalwood had more depth. Be sure you love the Absolute Sandalwood a lot before grabbing this one as the two incenses are very close.

While the fresh Sandalwood and Lavender stick allows one to sense both the sandalwood and lavender oils in the mix separately, like with many other Pure Incense “duos,” the two ingredients merge into something more hybrid-like while burning, and in this case the results are quite spectacular. For one thing, while you can smell the lavender oil on the fresh stick, the oil itself is more submerged in the burn allowing the lavender’s best aspects to rise to the top. It also helps to keep the ubiquitous vanilla scent a bit lower in the mix. The play of elements on top is particularly fascinating as the merging strengthens its floral characteristics. This is a good example of a scent being much more than a sum of its parts.

While the previous two scents are masala types, Sandalwood and Rose is a definite black charcoal-based stick, which is a style I’ll probably never fully embrace as the charcoal subscents always get in the way due to the sheer amount of smoke produced. While the oils are quite good, the vanilla is probably a bit too strong to work well and thus there seems to be as much charcoal and vanilla scent as there is the rose oil and a vague sense of sandalwood in the background. I expect the shelf life, like other charcoals, isn’t high and I’m wondering if the sample I was provided had already lost some of its power. Needless to say be sure you like strong charcoal scents before taking a chance on this.

Pure Incense’s Absolute Patchouli is quite a bit different from the Primo version although it’s similar in its green color. The oils are much richer on this one and in many ways this actually removes the scent from the more typical patchouli scent in the Primo. There’s a bit of lime hint in the mix (slightly similar to the Vrindavan Flower) that mixes with a soft almost uncharacteristic patchouli oil and the base’s usual vanilla and sandalwood mix. It all makes for a pleasant and unique patchouli variation.

The Absolute Patchouli stick can be detected almost as a subscent in the Patchouli and Rose and although the rose oil is strong, it mixes in quite nicely with the previously mentioned lime note. As with several of the (non-charcoal) hybrids, the blend of the two ingredients creates something new as a result. The oil mix does remind me of furniture polish to some extent, due to the rose somehow increasing the citrus-like qualities of the patchouli variation, but don’t take that to mean this isn’t a friendly incense. Like the Absolute Patchouli this is quite unique and it makes you wonder what other combinations would work well with the company’s patchouli.

This installment is not the final one in this series, but is the last of the samples I have at present and I’d like to thank both Pure Incense and Essence of the Ages for providing me with enough samples to be able to review the line. Since I received them, there have been several new additions to the line including Frankincense and Rose, Night Queen, Rhus Khus, Rose and Lavender, and Yellow Rose, so I hope to eventually get to try those out in the future.

Tis the season for some Frankincense Frenzy and a little bit of Myrrh Madness…

Season’s Greetings and Happy Holidays to all our ORS readers! In the spirit of the season, I will be reviewing some frankincense and myrrh incenses. As many of you likely know, frankincense and myrrh were two of the gifts given to baby Jesus by the Magi (three wise men or three kings) with the third gift being gold. According to some interpretations by biblical scholars, the frankincense represented Jesus’s spirituality and his connection to the divine, the myrrh represented his human mortality and prophesized his mortal death, and the gold represented his royal power and influence.

To my mind, frankincense and myrrh are like the peanut butter and jelly of the incense world. Each is good on its own, but teamed together, they achieve greatness.  The following incense reviews lean more to frankincense then to myrrh. This is a reflection of my own bias; though I like myrrh, I love frankincense. Also, some of these incenses were already reviewed previously, but are included again because they fall into the theme and to act as a reminder of what’s available. Though of course, there are so many more frankincense and myrrh incenses out in the market.  However, I do believe the below are a good representative sampling of some of the better ones.

Fusoos frankincense resins: We’ve talked a lot about Hougari frankincense here at the ORS – and rightly so, it’s amazing frankincense, with its bright and lovely citrusy top notes followed by an earthy balsamic endnote. However, it’s time to give Fusoos, Hougari’s sibling, some consideration as well. Fusoos is a type of frankincense from Oman (which incidentally is the birthplace for the best frankincense resins) and differs from Hougari in that it’s less citrusy with a drier scent and is slightly earthier.  Incidentally, the Omani people consider Fusoos to be superior to Hougari.

Yemeni Myrrh: Those that love myrrh really should try and obtain the resin from Yemen. This Middle Eastern country produces the best myrrh, with a darkly resinous edge, one with depth and a scent that lingers for a long time.

Minorien frankincense: This provides good frankincense aroma with a woody undertone; alas there is no citrusy top notes though.  Nonetheless, Minorien as a company has provided consistently good work, and their rendition of frankincense is a good one, one that is more subtle.

Tennendo frankincense:  Tennendo uses frankincense resins from Oman. Whether or not Tennendo utilizes hougari resins is unknown. Regardless, don’t expect the citrusy top notes that are often found in Hougari frankincense, but instead a slightly sweet, slightly fruity honeydew melon top note. The frankincense scent itself is earthy. I’m quite fond of this incense, but I know others don’t care for the fruity sweetness, and prefer a darker more straight up frankincense scent.

Kyukyodo Shirohato White Dove: This is an interesting mix of frankincense, sandalwood, and a touch of floral. This is not a sweet scent like Tennendo’s frankincense. This is a warmer, woodier aroma. The frankincense and floral scents are accent notes.

Pure Incense Connoisseur Frankincense:  This is a sweet and foody type of frankincense scent. Due to the vanilla powder and other ingredients in the base, there are touches of cocoa and caramel notes to this incense. The frankincense scent is an endnote and muted as well. Those that would prefer a less candy like scent and more frankincense should look elsewhere. However, those of you that like the sweet scents are likely to be over the moon for this incense.

Fred Soll Classic Frankincense: The name says it all; this is a classic frankincense scent. This is smoky and resiny goodness in a stick form.

Fred Soll Frankincense and Cedar: This is a mix of frankincense, cedar, and pinon herbs. This is an unusual blend that is slightly musky. This incense does not have the bright citrusy notes of Hougari (boswellia sacra), which isn’t surprising because Fred uses resins from boswellia thurifera, another type of frankincense tree from Somalia. Nonetheless, this is still a good frankincense scent, and due to the addition of cedar, has a warm woody note.

Fred Soll Frankincense and Patchouli: A nice mix of frankincense, patchouli, and pinon. The frankincense and patchouli are the more prominent scents, and work surprising well together with the earthy sweet patchouli blending well with the resiny frankincense.

Fred Soll Frankincense Jasmine and Roses: Due to the jasmine and rose notes, this is more of a floral than frankincense aroma. Top notes are jasmine, followed by rose, and the frankincense is the end note. The frankincense is muted here, so for those that prefer more dominant frankincense, you should consider going with another incense. Though this is still a very good incense blend, and those that are looking for a new floral twist on frankincense may enjoy this particular blending.

Fred Soll Frankincense and Myrrh: Fred’s rendition on the classic pairing of these two incense resins. The myrrh is not very strong, which may appeal to those that aren’t myrrh aficionados. Frankincense is the more dominant scent, with myrrh being muted and the end note. This is still nice incense, and is a good choice for people that want an easy accessible stick with these scents but don’t want to bother with the real resins.

Ancient Forest Frankincense and Myrrh: An excellent blend of frankincense and myrrh, with a nice even balance between the two resins. The myrrh is readily apparent but not overwhelming. These short little incense sticks once lit are very smoky. Though like Fred Soll sticks, they do have a tendency to be difficult to light or stay lit.

Orthodox Incense Myrrh: About a year ago, I wrote this about orthodox myrrh – “The athonite style myrrh, blended in with floral oils, is a nice change of pace. The top notes are of a fine floral bouquet, the scent of various flowers blended in together, which then give way to the bitter resinous edge of myrrh. The two play off each other very well, the soft sweet florals give way to a sharper, dry, resiny myrrh earthiness. However, the floral notes still linger, and so the edge that myrrh brings isn’t completely overwhelming. It’s an interesting contrast, as if this is the olfactory version of balancing sweet with sour/bitter in a culinary dish. That said, I think that those that don’t normally take to myrrh would like this athonite style of it. However, hardcore myrrh lovers and traditionalists could literally turn their noses up at this, believing that the florals are too soft, too sweet, and detract from the lovely bitter edge that myrrh is known for. The floral bouquet in this athonite style is myrrh is very hard to pin down. I can’t say definitively what floral oils are in it, but I think I’m detecting honeysuckle, lily, lilac, perhaps lily of the valley, and the merest whisper of rose.” I recently revisited this incense and all of the above remains true, though the myrrh scent is now a bit more muted, having lost some of its potency. Nonetheless, this is still lovely incense, and one that I recommend.

Omani Frankincense sticks: This is an incense stick that I discovered a while back, one that is made in Oman and which uses genuine Omani frankincense resins. The aroma is bright, sharp, and penetrating, and very fragrant. This is an excellent frankincense stick, one that provides a very authentic frankincense aroma. It doesn’t state so on the package, but it’s quite likely that hougari frankincense are used in these sticks. The citrusy and balsamic notes associated with hougari are present in these sticks. Regardless of whether Hougari is used or not, this is a superior frankincense incense stick, and might just be the best in the market for those looking for a pure unadulterated frankincense scent without having to use the actual resins. This incense stick is about eight and half inches in length, with six inches of it being burnable, and the remaining two and half inches being the handle. This is very smoky, and burn time duration is about an hour and a half.

Incidentally, note that the Orthodox athonite myrrh resins are available from OrthodoxIncense.com. The Omani frankincense sticks are available from Ibn Saif Trading in Oman (see my review of this incense retailer in the Review Your Retailer section). The other incenses mentioned in this article can be found at various retailers on the internet.

So what are you burning this December? Are you veering toward the traditional frankincense and myrrh due to the holiday/seasonal associations? Or are you burning whatever suits your fancy? Perhaps something calming and relaxing to sooth raging emotions caused by holiday stress and madness? Chime in and let us know!

Pure Incense / Absolute / Cedarwood, Cedarwood & Lavender, Cedarwood & Rose, Cedarwood & Sandalwood, Saffron, Vanilla

This is the fifth installment of the large Pure Incense catalog and as it has been a while since the last one, I’d suggest clicking on the Pure Incense tag on the left to see the others as this is a mighty fine series of incenses with a diversity that probably won’t be self evident just from this particular subsection. Here I’ll be discussing several cedarwood blends, the Absolute Sandalwood and what perhaps could be considered the line’s most basic incense in the Absolute Vanilla. You may have guessed that these are all part of the line’s standard series, although in the case of many of these incenses they are the highest quality versions of their particular aroma.

As the Madhavadas family is the source of these incenses, it’s no surprise that their Absolute Cedarwood is more or less the exact same incense you’ll find in many lines such as Primo and Triloka, if not very similar to those from Incense from India and Mystic Temple. It’s a sweet and perfumed cedar, perhaps even more obviously so after trying Shroff’s most recent version, which is completely different. I’ve always had a fondness for this scent and consider it unique in comparison to other cedarwood scents, which often have little depth and are closer to, say, pencils than aromatic wood. No doubt this is due to an oil, but I’d guess its sweetness is also due to the line’s ubiquitous vanilla-enhanced base. I’d consider this the place to start before moving on to the hybrids as you’ll then be able to see how brilliantly a second ingredient tends to transmute the cedar aroma.

The first hybrid is the Absolute Cedarwood & Lavender whose added lavender perfume changes the entire contour of the cedarwood and as a result ends up in a very different lavender as well. The overall scent has definitely changed to the floral and just as the charcoal, vanilla and sandalwood base changes based on what is being laid over, the cedarwood also seems to go chameleon. It’s not even a combination I probably would have thought of and the result is something almost entirely new with neither main ingredient resembling what they do on their own. In fact you’d think this might be sweeter than it is, but it almost seems like those elements are cancelled out in the new equation.

The stick is a bit darker with the Absolute Cedarwood & Rose perhaps implying an adjustment of some sort to the base. To my nose the oil Madhavadas used on this stick strikes me as being a bit more “authentic” than the lavender and thus find this a very successful incense, the combination bringing out the darker and more mysterious aspects of both ingredients. It adds up to one of the more heavier rose incenses, but unlike many that are rough, this one has a pleasant roundedness. When I originally tried it as a sample, I ended up ordered a full 50g package. It’s only weakness is a slight ammoniac presence common to the occasional perfumed Indian stick.

Perhaps a more obvious pairing is the Absolute Cedarwood & Sandalwood and it’s probably not a surprise that the aroma is tilted more in the favor of the former ingredients and much closer to the base than the previous two mixes. The sandalwood does help to make this a much drier incense and as such it will be seen as an improvement for those whose tastes lie that way. It actually ends up with some rather unique combo notes, with the sandal presence taking the place of the cedar oil on the very top. There even seems to be a little patchouli in the mix, although I’m not sure if this is due to the combo or not. It’s actually quite an unpredictable scent in some ways.

Like the Cedarwood, I find the Absolute Saffron to be a fairly prevalent scent in Indian incense, although I’m not sure they’re all exactly the same given the possibility of diversity in such a scent. This version may not have the classic saffron scent per se, in fact it reminds me more of what I’ve occasionally seen classed as a saffron sandalwood, and that may very well be part of the base playing here. It’s an extremely dry incense, with a bit of spice in the middle as well as the usual vanilla subscent so common to this line of incenses. And there are even hints of some resins in the mix, or at least that’s what I’d guess is giving the incense its intensity and pungency. Quite nice and somewhat complex as well.

For those who have sampled many Pure Incense incenses, the Absolute Vanilla will probably strike you as the very base of the style, in that it really IS the Madhavadas Vanilla. For one thing, it’s relatively less powerful, as if the other oils have been subtracted. On the other hand it’s almost as if you can pick out the vanilla in most of the other incenses before you can with this one, where it’s very dry, as if the rest of the base is less disguised, such as the charcoal and sandalwood. Personally I find vanilla a rough thing in incense (perhaps my favorites are the Shroff Vanilla and Vanilla Balsam, neither of which is particularly comparable here), very difficult to get right and I’m not sure this one is particularly close, unless you have the predeliction for drier masalas.

Next installment will cover some patchouli and sandalwood variations and hybrids and beyond that I think there are a few newer scents I’ve not managed to try out yet, so still more to come.

Top Ten Incenses for July 2010

I have the pleasure of writing up the Top Ten Incenses for the month. Below are my top ten for July 2010. In the review process, I’ve re-acquainted myself with forgotten favorites, and have had to revise an opinion of an incense which at first I didn’t particularly care for all that much. That’s one of the bonuses of writing top ten reviews – old favorites resurface and remind you why their favorites and other incenses get additional chances to impress.

Well, without further ado, here’s my July Top Ten for 2010:

Pure Incense Blue Lotus: Absence makes the heart grow fonder, and indeed, that’s what I’ve found with this incense. It’s been a while since I’ve burnt some Blue Lotus incense, and I only recently returned to it, but I’m glad that I did.  I’ve been critical in the past about Pure Incense, citing their base blend of charcoal, vanilla, and sandalwood creates a generic shared aroma to all their incenses.  I still think that is the case, but that shouldn’t detract from the fact that they make very good incenses. This Blue Lotus is floral and perfumey, and sweet, and really all around lovely.

Shroff Patcholie (Patchouli): Earthy and perfumey, with just a touch of sweetness, this is a wonderful patchouli scent. It’s got a good scent throw, and one stick will scent a large room easily, leaving a lingering patchouli scent that is sure to please. One of the best patchouli incenses out there, with an authentic aroma, very affordable, and lasts a good long time. If you like patchouli, you owe it to yourself to try Shroff’s Patcholie.

Fred Soll’s Desert Patchouli: Different from Shroff’s patcholie in that there’s Soll’s signature blend of pinon resin present in this incense. This is a really nice patchouli pinon combination, with the pinon adding a nice resiny finish to the stick. Unlike Shroff’s version, the patchouli scent doesn’t have that sweet note in it, either.  This is a lighter and drier patchouli scent and worth trying as well.

Hougary Frankincense: This is the King, nay, the Emperor of all franks, and if you like frankincense, then you really must sample Hougary.  Resiny rich, with the balsamic base note and the wonderful citrusy lemon and/or orange top note, Hougary, which comes only from Oman, is in a class all by itself. Hougary is more expensive than other frankincenses, but you get what you pay for, and here you’ll get top notch quality. Even unlit, these resins perfume the air with their unique rich resin scent.

Al Haramain Bait Al Arab Cambodi Oudh Bakhoor: Baby, it’s bakhoor, and what a bakhoor! If you are unfamiliar with bakhoor, it is a type of incense from the Middle East.  Bakhoor can come in tablets, pellets, and/or chunks of woodchips. Bakhoors generally contain oudh (aloeswood) scent and are usually very aromatic and/or perfumey. Seriously, virtually every bakhoor that I’ve ever tried has packed a serious scent wallop. A little goes a very, very, very long way with these incenses. Al Haramain’s version of Bait Al Arab shouldn’t be confused with Swiss Arabian’s Bait al Arab (which was previously reviewed here on the ORS).  Firstly, Al Haramain’s Bait al Arab comes in perfume drenched wood chunks or chips, and not dry tablets like the Swiss Arabian version. Secondly, these woodchips are just permeated with one of the loveliest mélange of scents. A lot is going on here; the overall scent is a complex blend of oudh, amber, floral essences, and resins.  It’s very rich – and err, so is the price tag for this bakhoor.  Available at ParadisePerfumes.com, this retails for $39 CDN for 100 grams. However, since it is such a potent bakhoor, a little does go a long way and therefore this will last a long time. So in the end, you will get quality and your money’s worth. This is just my personal preference, but if I had to choose between Swiss Arabian’s version or Al Haramain’s version, I’d go with Al Haramain’s Bait Al Arab.  Incidentally, note that you will need charcoal tablets and/or an electric incense burner for this bakhoor. This type of incense cannot be burnt by itself, and needs a heating element like a hot coal or an electric incense burner.

Swiss Arabian’s Kashkha Oodh Muattar: Another bakhoor, this time from Swiss Arabian. This bakhoor smells like a sophisticated aloeswood floral perfume. I’m not kidding, if you like perfumey aloeswood, or just perfumes and colognes in general, you should consider trying this bakhoor.  Kashkha comes in small agarwood (aloeswood) pellets, and even unlit, smells of oudh, musk, and floral essences.  This is because the agarwood has been drenched in concentrated perfume, and thus emits its  oudhy floral goodness into the air. Though bakhoors aren’t generally aimed as for being for one particular gender, I would classify the Kashkha scent as being more feminine. It truly does remind me of a high end women’s perfume. This bakhoor also requires charcoal tablets and/or an electric incense burner to burn it. Note that this bakhoor is available for purchase at: http://www.mukhalat.com/Bakhoor_c2.htm.  I hasten to add that I did not purchase my Kashkha bakhoor from Mukhalat.com, so I have no idea what their customer service is like. However, note that Mukhalat offers free shipping on all products for delivery within the USA.

Gangchen Healing Buddha Incense:  Excellent and affordable incense from Gangchen. The box states that “These Aroma Therapeutic incense is made from very special thirty-one (agar 31) natural ingredients. This incense specially made for Lungny (wind diseases) which we got from nervous and fear, such as heart attack, insomnia, shivering, temporary loss of consciousness, back pain, dryness of the mouth.  This incense can help.  Also it’s very good for massage.”  This is gentle and soothing incense, with a soft woody aroma. The scent is comprised of aloeswood, juniper, and Himalayan herbs.  I personally find it very calming and relaxing, and one good for decompressing and unwinding.

Baieido’s Koh En:  A delicious spicy aloeswood treat that is to be whipped out for those special occasions, or when one is feeling particularly indulgent and/or flush. This is one of Baieido’s more upscale aloeswood incenses, and retails for $120 USD for sixty 6.5 inch sticks (though given how expensive some of the kyara incenses are, this is really more like the mid-tier or low end of the upscale level!).  My budget doesn’t allow for this to be an everyday treat. But when that aloeswood craving needs to be satisfied, this incense is one that will certainly fit the bill (alas, in more ways than one! :o ).

Minorien Fu-In Sandalwood: Classic sandalwood scent, using classic “old mountain” sandalwood from India.  If you’re looking for an authentic sandalwood scent that won’t break the bank, then try Minorien Fu. This is excellent sandalwood incense, and one that is not likely to disappoint.

Tibetan Medical College’s Holy Land Grade 2: This is a surprise entry even to me, given that when I first tried Holy Land Grade 2 a few months ago, I was underwhelmed. All the hype and praise heaped upon it had built it up to mythical levels, plus I was still in my perfumey incense phase, and was at the time, taken aback by this incense’s muscular rawness, its combination of musk and floral and spice and dark earthiness.  To give you a point of reference, if you’ve tried Dzogchen Monastery Lotus Incense, think of Holy Land Grade 2 as similar to that, but amplified and expanded upon.  Anyway, as time passed and I fell into a Tibetan incense phase, I started burning the HL Grade 2, and slowly, little by little, I went from being disinterested to liking it, and now to really loving it. In a previous email to an ORS reader, I had stated that once I had used up my HL Grade 2 that I wasn’t going to re-purchase it, opting instead to spend my money on other incenses. But now, as I look at the last few sticks of it in my collection, I’m forced to reconsider that notion…

Well there you have it, my top ten for the month – all incenses that I heartily recommend. What ten incenses are in your top ten for July? Chime in and let us know what you’ve been burning, and why. :)

Best,

Anne

Pure-Incense / Absolute / Golden Champa, Green Champa, Magnolia, Vrindavan Champa, Vrindavan Flower, Vrindavan Leela

Pure Incense Part 1
Pure Incense Part 2

For installment 3 of the Pure-Incense series, one of two British outlets for the incense made by Haridas Madhavada, we’re going to move away from the current Connoisseur line into the Absolute range for the next several installments, a group of incenses that has already grown by five new scents since I started writing about them. This group roughly covers the champa and Vrindavan scents along with the very similar Magnolia stick and perhaps the commonality among these scents is they’re mostly very sweet florals and among the most accessible of the catalog’s aromas.

It’s worth noting something that really does affect all the incenses in the Pure Incense range, the base of charcoal, vanilla and sandalwood. Unlike many incenses this base is always aromatic enough to be part of every incense’s bouquet and this is no more true than it is in the Absolute line. In the Connoisseur range, the heavier amount of oils often plays this base scent down a little, but it’s very noticeable in the Absolutes, particularly so in a group of incenses like these where the sweetness of the base matches the scent. So it has to be said that vanilla plays a part of all these incenses, some more so than others. This is a tendency that can often be quite strong depending on one’s moods and it really does set apart the Madhavada family incenses from other scents, and perhaps ironically few of these are pure scents of any kind. On the other hand they’re still very very good.

Both Purelands and Pure-Incense have a similar Golden Champa. They’re both masala styles and thus completely different from the Sai Flora clones that show up with the same name. Between the two masalas, this one’s slightly the superior, with a rich, full, sweet blend full of vanilla, honey, spice and a floral oil that’s like a different take on a blooming jasmine or magnolia like aroma. The only thing this incense does share with the Sai Flora clones is the sort of sugary/confectionary-like sweetness at heart, but other than that everything else is different, there’s no power shock here, no soil-like earthiness or coppery overtones. But despite being a mellower stick, it’s still very rich and thus matches the idea of “golden” as being something a little more special. And as an Absolute range incense it’s already topped out on the perfume, so it would seem no connoisseur version is even necessary.

Pure-Incense’s Green Champa mixes up the champa quite a bit, removing the central richness the Golden version exhibits, giving a much drier note that lets the floral oils come to the fore. This is one of those incenses where aromatic fatigue would easily kill the top note, in a cleared out room this is actually a very special incense on top, with a wonderful flowery scent. While a green incenses often hints at evergreen, mint, patchouli, and/or vetivert there aren’t really huge hits here of any of these scents, rather the greenness is almost a result of its individuality rather than any added ingredients. And it leaves the Green Champa slightly diffficult to describe as you’d really have to check a stick out to get an idea of its unique personality.

From gold to green to distinctly red, the Magnolia in this range definitely has some similarities with the other sweet and friendly red scents such as the Vrindavan Champa or Pink Sayli, which makes it fit quite nicely in this group. Those who know the Primo version of this scent will already be roughly familiar with it, but even at the Absolute level this incense is far more deluxe, with a nice redolent magnolia on top. As I mentioned earlier this is one of those incenses where the vanilla is almost equal to the top note, which too makes this an incense close to champa regions as well as having some similarities to jasmine. The fruitiness of the scent also blends in quite nicely with the floral and vanilla elements, leaving this incense quite attractive. And again it’s hard to imagine the benefits of a Connoisseur version except that it might knock out the heavy vanilla a bit. However in this case you might not want that.

The Vrindavan descriptor refers to a town in north India where I believe the creators of all these incenses originates, a town with a rich religious heritage. Thus, unlike many Pure-Incense scents these seem to be variations on themes rather than direct aromatic representations and as such some of the more interesting incenses in this Absolute line. The Vrindavan Champa is a glorious, sweet and rich champa masala with a fruity floral blend not terribly far from the Pink Sayli (as implied above). The sandalwood peaks through quite nicely here and gives the background a nice bit of breadth and depth. I get lots of cherry and strawberry along with the heady champa oil and the type of pleasant tangyness that helps the whole from getting too sweet. Perhaps my appreciation for this is that I’ve already burned through about half of a 50g package of this already.

Vrindavan Flower is totally different and it’s been an incense discussed around here in the comments before. In this case we’re talking about a variation on a similar theme as that of the Purelands Flower, Desert Flower or other masalas that tend less to the rosy and sweet than to a sort of exotic dry and herbal blend. However in this case the incense goes even farther into a much more intense, oil rich blend that has a really heavy lime and citrus scent to it a long with the herbal florals. It has also been pointed out to me on a couple of occasions that it does also have some soapy notes to it, which perhaps leaves me to feel this is an exception to the rule, an incense I like very much even with those sorts of overtones. Indeed this probably won’t be for everyone and its participation on our Indian Hall of Fame is probably on the fence, but it still knocks me out every time, and I do think it’s unlike any other scent even those that roughly fall in the same family.

Vrindavan Leela (also known as Ponds) is an incense I’m fairly confused about. I received a nice sample of this which included a package of three red sticks and instantly fell in love with them, it was yet another group of red floral sticks similar to some of the others I mentioned above, but yet again a different direction. So I was surprised to find out when I ordered a 50g package that I received a completely different scent, one that was colored green and while nice, nothing I’d have been in a hurry to restock. This green stick is more similar to something like the Primo Original Musk blend with some floral topping, it’s much more a generic type of Madhavada stick then the red stick was where the milder ingredients end up letting the base come through a bit too much. Anyway I’m not sure what the change was, if perhaps a mix up was made in the sample (because there wasn’t a mix up with the 50g package given the label), but it’s perhaps the one among these six I can’t immediately recommend. Even after some time and use I haven’t felt this assert its personality.

More Pure-Incense sticks to come, I’m counting at least another 20 we haven’t covered yet…

The Olfactory Rescue Service Top 25 (Mike and Ross)

Today we introduce to you the Olfactory Rescue Service Top 25. However, unlike our usual top 10s and last year’s combined top 20, we thought we’d do something a little bit different and a little bit tricky. This year’s top 25 is something of a meta-list, in a way we want to capture the best of incense by looking at things from a larger perspective. So instead of having one incense per entry, we’re just going for broke: full companies, sublines, incenses, incense materials, incense supplementals – everything we could think of that would lead to a top tier incense experience. In fact we started at a top 20, expanded it to a 25 to make sure we got everything and ended up with a pretty good group.

Please keep in mind as always that our best of lists are something of a lark. For one thing I think both Ross and I probably find it somewhat difficult to truly tier these in order and so while maybe we like the stuff at the top a little more than at the bottom, maybe, there’s no particular rhyme or reasoning to the ordering and we consider everything on here to be superlative work, perhaps with a few individual idiosyncracies we won’t mention. As a whole though, I think this is a good look at what we consider the best incense related stuff on the US market today and we’ve pared it down only to include what is available here. As each entry often includes several incenses, we’ve left off links to reviews and sites, but just about everything on here has been reviewed previously and links to them can be found in our Reviews Index. So, after the cut, the ORS Top 25. Read the rest of this entry »

Pure-Incense / Absolute & Connoisseur / Frankincense, Jasmine, Parijata, Rosewood, Sandalwood

In this group of Pure-Incense sticks, I’ll be tackling the back five of the incenses that come in two forms, the Absolute and Connoisseur lines. Some of the Connoisseur packages also say Double Absolute, so one might be safe in guessing that the top line doubles the relevant oil or ingredients from the Absolute and that’s actually not a bad gauge to go by, it really does seem in many cases (although there will be two exceptions in this group) that the Connoisseurs are twice as intense or strong as the Absolutes.

For this back five, we have three sticks that are very common in the Indian masala world: Frankincense, Jasmine and Sandalwood. These are the incense archetypes one might find in any Indian incense range from Mystic Temple to Triloka to Primo to Incense from India, however, it’s easy to say that while the Absolute version of these three scents is quite comparative to similar incenses found in these other lines, the Connoissuer Pure-Incense line introduces these scents at, perhaps, their finest. Unfortunately, there’s not a whole lot more to say about them that I haven’t mentioned in a previous review or two. On the other hand both the Parijata and Rosewood sticks here are quite unique to Pure-Incense and present variations on other incense woods.

In both the Connoisseur and Absolute forms, Pure-Incense Frankincense is the most common masala form of the scent, one that carries the aroma of the resin quite a ways from its natural state, embedding it in a charcoal, vanilla and sandalwood base and thus transmuting the resin’s qualities into something different, a masala that seems to work more with a resin extraction than the resin itself. The combination of the perfume elements and the base end up creating something of a third note that varies depending on which company creates it, but ends up being something like a confectionary, anything from cocoa powder to caramel to nougat. It’s a noticeable element that one won’t find at all in frankincense resin per se, so it’s important one sets one’s preconceptions aside if you’re coming from a pure resin perspective or perhaps even the sort of frankincense you might find in Minorien or Tennendo lines. In the Connoisseur version this frankincense oil note or the combination of ingredients that make it up is refined to a very high degree thus surpassing any of the masalas that vary from the Absolute version and hail from different companies. At this oil strength the scent is sublime and the strength of the aromatics give it a scent like some fine cognac or wine which really sets it apart from other Indian masalas, making this, perhaps, the best Indian frankincense you can buy that isn’t a champa or durbar style. If you’re familiar with the style based on one of the above companies’ offerings then I’d advise to skip the Absolute and move right onto the Connoissuer, however if you’re not at all familiar with this style than you’re likely safe with either one.

Likewise, there’s a similar comparison when it comes to Pure-Incense’s Jasmine charcoal. In fact of all the sticks that cross from the Absolute to the Connoisseur, I’d say the least amount of aromatic difference exists between the two jasmines. This is the typical jasmine essential oil on charcoal base that you’ll see from many of the above-listed companies and as such it varies very little from one to another. Unfortunately as pretty as the essential oils seem to be on these sticks, the charcoal bases in nearly all cases often compete or overwhelm the oil, no doubt due to the pretty, ethereal and gentle scent of the jasmine. The combination creates a combined note that while not terribly offputting isn’t nearly as distinct a jasmine note as you might find in the Shroff catalog. Even the sparkly fixative used to bind the oil doesn’t seem to help with the dissipation and this characteristic makes it fairly difficult to tell, after some aging, that the Connoisseur version contains a stronger dose of the oil, in comparison it only seems vaguely more intense. Perhaps fresh off the batch it might be more impressive, but again I think this reflects more of the weakness of oil on charcoal scents than it does on the oil itself.

Parijata (nychanthes arbotristis) is another of India’s aromatic flowering trees and appears to be the scent the incense matches up with, but not having actually experienced the aroma of the tree itself, the scent of it seems to me to be almost a variation of sandalwood and a mighty fine one at that. The only other parijata I’ve examples is the Krishna store version and it’s a completely different incense to either Pure-Incense version here. To my nose the Parijata incense here is almost like a chandan sandalwood stick pepped up with light fruity elements, for some reason I always seem to get hints of apple with this one or perhaps citrus in the mix, not to mention an unusual floral subnote. It’s a really attractive incense at the Absolute level and only slightly more intense at the Connoisseur version, the difference obviously the amount of oil being used. And the oil in the Connoisseur version seems to impart an even woodier quality with hints of, perhaps, saffron in the background – really beautiful stuff.

The Rosewood appears to be one of Pure-Incense’s newest catalog entries and like Parijata is a tree in its own right, although I believe what we’re seeing in incense form is something different as the rosewood trees appear to be named as such for their wood colorings rather than aromatic qualities, that is, except for Brazilian rosewood from which an essential oil is distilled. Just about every rosewood incense I’ve sampled has been quite different, so I’ve never been able to guess at what could be the standard, however it’s not difficult to think of Pure-Incense’s two versions as among the best I’ve tried. Even at the Absolute version this is a floral incense that’s as sweet as a durbar and suffice it to say, this doesn’t appear to be a mixture of, say, rose and sandalwood. The rose or floral element that dominates the incense has hints of ripe or even tart cherries and one can detect behind this powerful scent a rather mild wood backing. At the Connoisseur strength these elements turn even more elegant with the tarter elements of the top floral oil mellowed out a slight amount and perhaps a bit more in the way of a woody character. I’ve really yet to get into either deeply but found both really impressive and in this case even at the Absolute level there’s quite a bit of potency at work here. Only the Pink Sayli could be described as prettier.

Finally, Pure-Incense also has the classic Sandalwood oil masala in both Absolute and Connoisseur versions and as one might have experienced if one has dealt with better grades of sandalwood, the Connoisseur is the real treasure here with a really high quality sandalwood oil at the center that does exhibit elements of the heartwood. While the oil is at a strength level that it perhaps obscures certain aspects of the wood itself, I tend to like to think of this as a different experience overall and there’s a real almost antique-like side aroma that comes out of high quality oil at this strength. At the Absolute level we’re almost dealing as much with the vanilla base and thus more of a vanilla sandalwood mix than something purely woody. At this strength it’s a scent that’s almost a dime a dozen, one that can be found in nearly every Indian incense line. The Pure-Incense Absolute version does indeed hold up quite well in comparison to similar scents from other companies, but only the Connoisseur level is truly special here.

Anyway that takes the Pure-Incense overview through the Connoisseur line and thus the next few installments will get into the Absolute only lines. At this point one will notice in many cases that the Absolute versions are at strength levels more comparable to the Connoisseurs in some cases, likely due to more inexpensive ingredients making it possible. Next up I intend to cover some of the Absolute champas and Vrindavan scents, many of which I find the most pleasant in the Absolute line.

Pure-Incense / Absolute & Connoisseur / Agarwood, Blue Lotus, Hari Leela, Nepal Musk, Pink Sayli, Rose

British distributor Pure-Incense (available in the US) are responsible for two of the finest Indian incense lines available in the Western market, in fact they’re probably the only company that delievers a product on the same level with a similar large and diverse catalog as Shroff Channabasappa. Not only do Pure-Incense distribute fine versions of the most common variants in Indian incense but the company raises the bar by adding a wide variety of combinations and new forms. And ultimately its finest achievement is their Connoisseur line, a higher quality level of Indian incense than found in their regular line. Here there are oils to bewitch and enchant even the most ardent Indian incense skeptics, scents whose level of aroma move into the level of memory, nostalgia and sheer mastery of scent.

The base of both incenses is created from a mixture of charcoal, vanilla and sandalwood. The ingredients of this base can not be stressed enough as it has an impact on the aromas, particularly in Pure-Incense’s Absolute line. The base contents are reduced for the Connoisseur line, perhaps in an opposite manner to the way some Tibetan companies create grades by adding juniper wood to thin down content for cheaper versions. It’s particularly important to note here, however, as the presence of vanilla is very noticeable at the Absolute level, to the point where it becomes part of the overt aroma. At the Connoisseur level the base is far less apparent. In incenses where the charcoal content is at its most overt, generally in the more floral types, the Connoisseur level is particularly impressive. However, there’s no question that in either range there are some very high quality oils at work and in all cases I believe these to be natural and pure and it makes all the difference in the world.

Pure-Incense’s Agarwoood is impressive in both ranges and it’s a very different incense depending on which version one purchases. In the Absolute range it’s not a particularly complex incense and actually resembles a number of other woodier incenses in the range, somewhere between the cedarwood, sandalwood and Golden Champa. But make no question, even at this level there’s a distinct agarwood oil in the mix. The deciding factor as it is with all these incenses is that with the heavier vanilla content the Absolute Agarwood is a sweeter incense, with slight hints of cocoa, honey and floral oil in the mix. The Connoisseur version is a revelation, to date the finest Indian agarwood available in the Western market. With the reduced base and much stronger oud oil presence, this becomes a much woodier and complex incense. The company’s claim of “camphor-like” is much pronounced here although it is only one impressive note in a bounty of woody subaromas all of which reflect rather well the intricacy of good agarwood, however unlike Japanese agarwoods all this seems to be done on an oil level. While the honey and vanilla scents from the absolute only work on a sublime level, added are hints of root beer/sasparilla, tea, maple and a very slight spice. Overall a truly world class incense and be sure not to start with it and move backward to the Absolute.

The Absolute Blue Lotus is one of the many in the range where the vanilla is so obvious as to be a co-note rather than a side aroma. In this case the melding is quite pleasant, giving the light Blue Lotus oil a more polished and subtle feel. The perfume is hard to describe, very feminine and unique, but it’s only at Connoissuer strength where the concentration moves into areas that are heady and magickal. Here you have a reduction of vanilla and an increase in the perfume oil and it’s profoundly mystical and gorgeous at this range, an instant winner in my book. Lotus is such a variable aroma that in incense it’s very difficult to find a standard (perhaps the closest would be the Blue Pearl Lotus, but that’s definitely not a Blue Lotus per se), but in this Connoissuer version it’s more than just a charcoal and perfume, almost as if there is some unknown new base notes at work that enhance the whole. Pure-Incense describes this as ethereal and really it’s hard to find another incense that so earns the description.

Hari Leela is a floral mix and charcoal heavy in both its Absolute and Connoisseur ranges, in fact the only major difference as always is the vanilla has an aromatic presence in the Absolute and the oil levels are cranked up in the Connoisseur. The perfume is very mellow in the Absolute version, something like a mix of rose and carnation notes with the overall mix kind of polished and smooth. In the Connoissuer version I seem to sense more hints of jasmine in the mix with the increased oil content, but overall of the almost dozen incenses that share across the two ranges, the  two versions are pretty close for Hari Leela. It should also be mentioned that scent apparently comes from the Bakula tree, so I can only approximate the overall scent by approximating the subnotes. From a more general view this is yet another heady, exotic floral and as it has few analogs outside the range, certainly worth adding to your incense diversity.

Pure-Incense’s Nepal Musk is not only one of the line’s classics, but it’s also one of the finest herbal musks you can find in incense and I say this as someone who finds herbal musks “mostly misses.” The incense actually holds some similarities to the previously mentioned Blue Lotus as if the two just varied by color and vibration, the color here being an obvious green, carrying with that connotation some very earthy notes along with it. Again, the Absolute version has a distinct vanilla presence and while I’ve noted it as being consonant with some of the other styles in the line, here it manages to combine with the oil to give off some odd and intriguing notes of tobacco leaf and mint or menthol, which aren’t nearly as noticeable at the Connoisseur strength. What is obvious at the Connoisseur level is that the oil is at a strength more competitive with the more controversial animalistic strength found in Tibetan incenses and despite what you may feel about the use of real musk, it’s precisely that potent and mindbending strength where you want a musk at, so it should be celebrated that one can find one so potent at an ecologically friendly level. However the musk oil, while not quite so feral, is equally sublime and mixed with the greener notes evoking patchouli and various evergreens, making for a classic and memorable scent. This is one that had me after a stick, a tremendously addictive and complex incense.

If the Blue Lotus and green Nepal Musk nailed their color schemes rather perfectly you’d certainly have to add Pink Sayli to that mix, although the pink quality is really only noticeable in the Connoissuer range (I thought it telling that my Absolute sample had dropped the pink from the label). The Absolute version is practically a charcoal incense with some light pink sprinkling (that tends to fall off quite easily). Sayli is really as pink and sweet as valentine’s day candy hearts, and that association while perhaps lost with the “pink” gets most of it back with the increased vanilla content, making a terribly friendly incense. But in this case you might just want to jump to the Connoisseur level which brings this to the heady strength of the entire line, with the incense stick obvious wreathed through with pink material that’s sugary, sweet, floral and at times slightly berry-like. One might even call this something of a foofy incense if it wasn’t for the strength of the oil being so memory resonant. Extraordinarily feminine, it’s hard to imagine anyone not liking such a friendly, pretty incense. And in the end, based on the other incenses in the catalog, one feels like they can trust this as a perfect rendition of the South Indian flower.

And in fact a good reason for one’s trust in getting things right is Pure-Incense’s Rose incense which had gotten a heavy buzz well before writing this up. Rose incenses are very difficult to get right, or perhaps they are only when using analogs or cheap perfumes to approximate the scent, nearly all of which leave offputting chemical or housecleaner like bitter scents. But not only does Pure-Incense get this right with their charcoal Absolute, they absolutely raise things to an incredibly high standard with their Connoisseur, one of the very best Rose incenses on the market no matter where the origin. Both incenses work because the oil being used actually smells like what one would sense by smelling a large bouquet of roses before or just after they’re picked. It’s refreshing to know that such a lovely smell can be done correctly and while the Absolute certainly has the vanilla element in the mix, the perfume oil is not lost at all, just mellower than the profoundly intense scent of the Connoissuer of which a third of a stick could easily scent one’s general area.

So in many ways of this first six, there’s really not a Connoisseur version you’d want to miss, they are indeed some of the most beautiful and intense incenses you’ll find, and it’s true that you do pay for the increased quality (although if you’re like me you’ll find you’ll want to go for the 100g packages after just a sample). But again, as good as these are I don’t want to detract from the evaluation that the Absolute range really only comes in second place in comparison to the Connoisseurs, when you put many of these up against other incense ranges they still come off as extremely impressive, undoubtedly some of the finest Indian masalas available. If you’ve enjoyed the Shroff range this is undoubtedly the company you’d want to check out next and fortunately I’ll have more in both ranges to discuss over the next several months. High Class A+ work here folks.

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