July Top Ten

So really I burn a lot more then just these but ya got ta draw the line somewhere :)

Yamadamatsu Kouboku Senshu Sandalwood: This is straight up high-grade sandalwood and not much else. I think it is one of the very best sandalwood scents one can get, assuming, of course, that you are not interested in a sandalwood blend. Japanincense.com sells this, sometimes it comes in a box by itself and sometimes they stock it in a three-way combo pack with an aloeswood as well as a kyara blend. To me the other two are a bit much, but I know many people who would be very happy with them.

Baieido Byakudan (Sandalwood) Kobunboku: Recently got a new box of this and was very happy with it. I think it is one of the best sandalwood “woody blend” style sticks around, along with Shunkohdo’s. They are both relying on the wood and not oils, which makes for a very different experience.

Seijudo Kyara Seiran: All of the three kyara blends from Seijudo are very good and really it probably comes down to which day as to which one I like the most. These are loaded with the scents of kyara, musk and a number of other “secret ingredients” that make for  real show stoppers. I can think of at least three to four times where I have lit one of these for someone and literally watched them lock up in amazement, me being one of them.

Shunkohdo Ranjatai: Shunkohdo tends to make pretty traditional scents, when I light a stick of this I always get a sense of going back to a different era, it is sort of like instant time travel to Old Japan. It is very elegant and at the same time primeval with the scent of the musk wrapped around a very good aloeswood. As an added attraction there are a lot of sticks in the box. This is on many of our Top 10’s with good reason.

Daihatsu Chips or Slices: So if you really want to smell sandalwood and you have some sort of incense heater or even good quality Japanese coals, this is it. It does not get any better that I have found. I like the slices, if for no other reason that they look cool. Shunkohdo also makes these and they are very similar in scent.  Given the increase in sandalwood prices as well as it continuing decline in availability these are a great thing to have and hold onto.

Kunmeido Kyara Tenpyo: This is a beautiful kyara blend that is ultra refined and more or less the top of Kunmeido’s line. The woods really stand out with just a faint hint of the Reiryo Koh scent in the backround. It is very uplifting and refreshing and also makes for an interesting choice for meditation, especially during Summer. Not as expensive as the Seijudo’s and also probably not as much kyara.

Kunlha’s Lotus Pema & Loong Po: One of our readers wrote in about these (thanks IO) and I ordered a bunch recently. So far I have found myself using the Loong Po and Lotus Pema quite a lot. The sticks are much thinner then the standard Tibetan style and there are around 20 per box. They seem to be made without any animal ingredients (not 100% sure about this) but do use what seems to be very good quality materials. They may also be formulated with a more “Western” audience in mind. The Lotus Pema has a very nice clean juniper scent to it and is quite uplifting. The Loong Po has a subtle green herbal scent with a very light but noticeable clean floral/perfume-ish top note riding over the whole thing. This is a pretty unique combination (at least to me) and one that works for my nose. Both of these sticks have enough complexity to keep them interesting although they are lacking in the funk factor.

Mermade Magickal Frankincense: Mermade has a great line up of frankincense’s at the moment, and they are all different smelling. I am particularly fond of the Superior Hougary and the Black Frankincense, their lemon lime and orange smells are truly wonderful . At Christmas we burn frankincense for the 24 hours before Midnight Mass, I really am looking forward to this one.

Fred Soll’s Honey Amber: I do not know of another stick quite like this one. It is a great blend of scents that just work well together with a very deep and almost hypnotic scent quality that does a great job at scenting a room.  Great stuff at a good price.

Baieido Sawayka Kobunboku: I love cinnamon and this has lots. This is really good in the morning when getting up and getting it together enough to make it out the door to work. It also gives an interesting scent to ones clothing and/or hair. I got both this and the Koh at the same time and at this point am not to sure if they are the same thing, I am leaning towards two different mix’s but could be wrong. Maybe David Oller will chime in with some insight :)

April 2012 Top Ten

1. Dhuni Frangapani: Maybe one of the best flora’s around. It smells a lot more like the real flower then, say, as essential oil. It is also not cloying or overly sweet. A remarkable incense and well worth the price (actually it is dirt cheap compared to most Japanese scents, I am clueless as to how they manage to do this).

2. Dhuni Citronella: I really like the somewhat sharp top note in this one; it is unlike anything else I am familiar with in incense. The floral notes that follow behind are also very nice and like the Frangapani not cloying. A very nicely balanced scent.

3.Tennendo Enkuu: One of the last words in a dry scented incense. Very elegant and austere as well as a great mediation tool. Lots of Vietnamese Aloeswood make this unique and a real winner.

4. Kyukodo Murasakino: This comes in a truly beautiful wooden presentation case, inside of which is a scroll shaped tube covered in dark silk. The sticks are a deep shade of green and have a wonderful aloeswood base upon which a stunning, somewhat indescribable floralish/spice/perfume set of notes ride. I cannot think of any other maker that does this as well as Kyukodo. This is a real show stopper and is also a very classical “Old Japan” scent offering. They seem to have pulled out all the stops on this one, the word “flawless” comes to mind.

5. Kyukodo Seigetsu: A beautiful Japanese floral based on aloeswood. More overtly floral then Murasakino but less sweet then Azusa. Somewhat like Jasmine but with notes of Honeysuckle and some other white flowers. Like some of the offerings from Kyukodo there is a very slight under tone of charcoal (at least to my nose) but in this case the overall floral is so beautiful that it just does not matter.

6. Mermade Hougary Light Green Superior Frankincense: If you like Frankincense you should get this. It has been hard to get really top quality green Hougary and I am glad that Katlyn has found a source. This has a really clear citrus note riding across the resin backround that is pretty unbeatable. A winner.

7.Baieido Byakudan Kobunboku: One of the all time incense deals and still going strong. Given the recent price increases in sandalwood I was a little worried but having used this for the last ten days or so and compared it to an older box it still rocks. I tend to judge most other sandalwoods by this one. It has a very well done and classic set of spice notes (cinnamon, clove, camphor and lord only knows what else) that add to the blend.

8. Minorien Granulated Aloeswood Blend: A great loose aloeswood blend for the electric heater or coals. Very spicy with a big dose of Japanese/Chinese herbs mixed in at a very reasonable price. Somewhat dry in nature without all the overt green notes that can tend to be in these blends.

9. Yamada Matsu Firebird Select (Houjoukoh Gokuhin): There is a wonderful dry, aloeswood set of notes here on top of which clove, borneo camphor and a host of other notes are riding. The wood really makes this loose mix, which reflects the price. I have found my hand reaching for this a lot since I got it from Kohshi in San Francisco.

10. Baieido Kai un Koh: Because sometimes you just need an incense that can run with the big dogs :) Very deep, thick, strong, multi layered, strong and with an amazing balancing act between dry and spicy, not to mention strong. Not for all occasions but just the thing for some moments. There are a lot of reasons that this has been in so many Top Ten’s at ORS, all of them viable.

 


Top Ten November 2011

1. Akikaze from Kyukyodo: This is part of what I think of as the “The Heavy Hitters in Wood Boxes” from Kyukyodo. You can get an idea about them at this page in our blog. With luck I will get a review of them out in a week or two. This one is a reasonable price (for what one is getting) with a really beautiful perfume note on top of the woods and a light musk back note. You can check with Kohshi/Japan Incense for availability. I think Kyukyodo does this type of style (perfumed floral’s mixed with quality wood) really well and it very hard to beat here.

2. Kyara Seiran from Seijudo: This is number two in Seijudo’s high end line up, based mostly on price point, not scent. I think it is a little less strong and more likable then the Kyara Enju while still being heavily laced with a very strong set of wood notes and spices with musk undertones. If you are in the market for a Kyara blend this is a great one. I find myself liking it more in the cooler months; it is also very relaxing and quite nice in the evening. It is right up there at the pinnacle of this style and not to be missed; it also comes in a number of different sizes and price points.

3. Byakudan Kokoh from Baieido: This is one of the very best of the “straight up” Sandalwoods, in other words, no perfumes and minimal spices or herbs. It is pretty dry in scent but very true to Sandalwood’s nature. Great for reflection or the post work chilling. Baieido really does the woods oh so well, it is hard to go wrong with them and this is a real winner in a old Japan incense style.

4. Enkuu from Tennendo: You can check in the blog for the notes on this one, it has always been a favorite here at ORS and with good reason. It is very much on the dry side of the scent spectrum, it is also has a very clean (not pine or camphor) set of notes to it combined with a very unique and clear wood base of Aloeswood.

5. Cracked Earth from Aluwwah:  Aluwwah is a Canadian Oud  oil and wood seller as well as an incense maker. He has a number of styles of real, hand made Bakhoors at his site. They use real ingredients and quality woods and oils. This one has a nice resinous note mixed with some woods and ambers. It is somewhat lighter in scent then the Bakhoors that I have tried before, which I like as it tends to allow me to check out the different aspects of the mix. There was also a mix called Deer’s Breath that was a huge floral/musk/oud master piece. It’s out of stock but I hear tell that a successor called Lamb’s Breath is in the works.

6.Deep Earth 2011 from Mermade Incense: For the incense heater or coals, but for sure made to be slowly heated up. Stunning deep resin notes wrapped around woods and herbs, I think the name pretty much says it all. Perfect for Fall into Winter.

7. Evergreen Forest Incense from Mermade Incense: This is, again, for an incense heater, you could also try Sacred Grove if you wanted something along the lines of a cone. Either produce a wonderful “in the forest” scent that freshens up the atmosphere and generates a wonderfully clean and very green scent. Very much a Winter forest scent and just a wonderful treat for the senses.

8. Jihi – Amacha kou from Awaji-Baikundo: Very strong and beautiful amber note with borneal camphor added as well as Hydrangea Tea. I think this is one of the most beautiful amber’s on the market, no matter what country you are from. It is a very clean and warm offering that really livens up a space and would also be great to scent ones clothing with. Very long lasting scent.

9. Meena Supreme from  Happy Hari: Easily one of the very best of the Indian incenses and in general this company looks to be a real winner all around. I have not gotten to try the newer releases yet but you can see Mike’s notes within the blog. This has all the deep floral’s along with the woods and spices. There is also enough separation between the notes to make it really interesting. It is pretty strong; you might not want to start here if you are going to be going through a number of different sticks at one setting.

10. Genmyo from Yamada Matsu: These are in the kneaded style or incense balls. These happen to have Kyara and Aloeswoods plus a spice and oil (I think) blended together for a more modern take on this style. There a sort of amber and caramel mix that rides across the woods. There are three different blends from YM that Kohshi has at their retail outlet in San Francisco. The Aloeswood blend has this same set of notes but the amber/caramel notes are stronger and the woods more backed off. It sort of depends on the day as to which I like more.

August Top Ten 2011

Minorien  FU-IN® Kyara Ryugen: This is Minorien’s top of the line(at least here in the US)  Kyara blend. If you are familiar with the companies style then you will see that this is the end result of ever increasing refinement. The balance of all the differing elements and the way they have been mixed is truly remarkable. Not to be missed and you can pick up a small box for around $40.00.

Keigado East Temple (Ansoku): Sandalwood with a spice note that is also somewhat (a little) perfume like. This is a very pleasant and usable “everyday” incense. I find myself giving away a lot of this just to show people that you can get good Japanese incense and not blow away your bank account.

Kyukyodo Akikaze : No one does this style like Kyukyodo. There are notes that are floral married up with perfumes and all this rides across a quality Aloeswood base. One of the masterpieces of the incense maker’s art. It’s available from Kohshi by special order. Not inexpensive, but worth it.

Kunmeido Shoryu Koh (Rising Dragon): A great Aloeswood mixed with a wonderful “green” note, which seems (to me at least) to be this companies signature style. This one is much more forward in all these elements but also smoother than their Reiryo koh blend and costs much less than their upper tier blends. A nice balance point.

Seijudo Shiragiku - White Chrysanthemum: One of the great deals in incense, with a distinctive “high end” style that mimics the much more expensive real Kyara sticks that this company also produces. It’s rich, powerful and you would swear, loaded with Kyara and musk. This is not the case but it is a great introduction to that world. This is a great treat for one’s self.

Shoyeido Muromachi: This has seemingly gone though some changes over the years but is still great incense and also a pretty unique scent. Nice, almost caramel note which is mixed into the woods. I use the coils, which seem to me to have a slightly woodsier note going for them then the sticks.

Nu Essence ABRA MELIN: These are small tins packed with a lot of scent. This blend has a strong rose note along with frankincense and other resins. There is a wonderful interplay between all the different ingredients and the scent can change depending on the length of time on the heater. Very nice to scent a room and a little goes a long way. I have encluded the makers link as it’s a very informative site.

Mermade Arts Pan’s Earth: Deep resin scent mixed in with the woods and the addition of Patchouli and Vetivert, which adds a lot more depth to the mix. There is also a slight edge to this incense, which reflects the idea of Pan to me. Pan’s Earth is always a winner but I think this batch is one of the best.

Deep Earth Premium-2011: These incense balls or nuggets have been aged for quite awhile which adds complexity and depth to the scent. They are very resinous with wood notes as well as a subtle blending of spices. There is a slightly sweet side to the whole thing and it is best used in an electric heater at a low setting.  This is a good choice for reflection and meditation.

Baieido Kokonoe Koh: I find this to be a really good and classic Baieido style stick. It has a great combination of Aloesood, Sandalwood and spices and is also very reasonably priced. This would make a nice gift for someone who is not into the sweet or floral scented incense’s. This is one of my “go to” or must have sticks.

Awaji-Baikundo Jihi – Amacha kou: One of the best amber scents around and it also has some serious Boral camphor along for the ride. It’s quite distinctive and very good. I use it a lot late at night. The scent lasts a long time and also works well for scenting clothing.

- Ross

Top Ten, July 2011

I put these together based on what I have been most drawn to during the month, which tends to change to some degree as we progress through the year. I am really liking the incenses made by the smaller makers more and more. They can make small batches and take some chances that the larger companies will not. So you can find some really interesting offerings from them, plus many of them use “non-traditional” mixes or materials that produce some real winners. I am hoping to produce a listing of the “niche” or smaller makers, if you know of any that are not mentioned here at ORS, please let us know.

Baieido’s Kyara Kokoh: I actually hide the box of this from myself, so it will last longer :)

On a lot of different levels this is incense as art; it is also a masterpiece of its kind. You can see our reviews on it within the blog. It really is amazing. If you get the chance, just go for it. It is not going to get any cheaper. I do wonder why Baieido does not offer a sampler.

Tennendo”s Tensei: This is a really nice and also reasonably priced aloeswood blend. It is nicely balanced with a distinctive overall scent that somehow goes from a little spicy to smooth from moment to moment. I have been burning this a lot lately because, yes, it’s a great deal and also a wonderful backround scent in a room that can set up a nice focused environment.

Kyukyodo’s  Mukusa no Takimono: This is a set of five different mini sticks that mimic the scent of the classic five  kneaded incenses. They are distinctive, rich and very good. There is also some pretty serious Aloeswoods in these. Many people use them for the tea ceremony. I have heard that Kyukyodo is not making this set anymore and I do not see it in the current catalog, which means that this will be quite a limited time offering. Think of it as a real treat.

Kyukyodo’s Akikaze: This comes in a large wooden box, nestled inside is a stunning silk wrapped tube, done up like a scroll. This is sort of along the lines of Sho Ran Koh, but it is a lot more refined with the wood notes riding across the perfumes and a subtle musk note mixed in. Kyukyodo produces what are probably the best perfumed incenses going. There never seem to be any of the synthetic notes that most others have, which is most likely one of the reasons that they have a great reputation and are not inexpensive, but they are also worth it. Japan Incense might have a box or two of this and the Mukusa no Takimono above. But they go fast.

Kunmeido Reiryo koh (Aloeswood): The Aloeswood blend is a completely different animal from the Sandalwood take on this. It is a very rich woody scent with the distinctive greenish notes of fenugreek mixed in. There is a nice balance between the different layers going on and is great for meditation, it’s also nice to use at bedtime. A real winner at a good price.

Kunmeido Kyara Tenpyo or Asuka: These two are the Reiryo Koh style taken to the height of complexity and nuance. There is a real art in the mix of woods and spices and herbs that compose these two sticks.. The Kyara Tenpyo pulls out all the stops and every stick reveals new aspects, the Asuka is very similar, it might come down to personal preference and how much you like this style, not to mention your bank account J

Baieido’s Kokonoe koh (Jinkoya Sakubei Series): This is a very dry and rich Sandalwood blend done in a style from the eighteenth century. It is very different from any other sandalwood I can think of and is a nice change of pace. It has a lot of presence and at the same time can really set the mood. It is great for meditation or quite moments.

Mermade’s Sanctuary Loose Blend:  Hougary Frankincense and white Sage make for a wonderful Spring/Summer mix. It’s clean and does a great job of cleaning out a space on so many levels. A one ounce jar that can last for a while with all the best ingredients.

Fred Soll’s Amber Honey:  Fred Solls makes some great incense at a great price. I really like his Amber Honey; it has a wonderful balance to it where all the notes are in harmony with each other. It’s also not too sweet or cloying. It is one of the very few incenses anywhere to use ambergris. I noticed that Solls has cut his line back somewhat because of the halmaddi shortage, which in one way is kind of reassuring, he is holding true to a high quality standard. We can only hope that a new source makes it to his doors soon. He really is so very good at blending.

Blue Star Incense’s Lavender:  These are very inexpensive and they rock! The Lavender scent is beautiful, fresh, very much like breathing in a large gathering of fresh lavender flowers. The sticks are thick (think Tibetan) and really you don’t need to use an entire one (however, don’t let me hold you back). Also the Rose is very nice to. Good, real floral note incense, that uses real essential oils, is not easy to make; nor is it inexpensive to produce. William does an amazing job, don’t miss these.

I notce in my internet searches that both Aloeswood and Sandalwood(in Japan) prices just went up somewhere between 20% to at least 30%. This, coupled with the decline of the dollar, means that incense prices are going to be going up, real soon. Sooo,  if there is something that you have been eyeballing for awhile you might want to go for it now, before the prices gets way worse or, heavens forbid we get formula changes to offset materials availability. That is the other thing going on, the woods are getting harder to source which also drives the prices up.

April 2011 Top Ten

Tennendo: Enkuu: Dry, austere and intriguing. The perfect meditation scent (well, for some of us). A long time favorite here and with good reason. This is not a simple scent, there are a great many levels to it; it can become a fascinating study listening to it.

Baieido: Kun Sho: This is Cambodian Aloeswood with the subtle addition of a supporting caste of a few other traditional Japanese incense materials. The whole idea here is to showcase the Aloeswood and of all the incense makers I think Baieido does this the best. I reach for this box quite a lot.

Yamada Matsu: Hyofu: This incense relies on a very good grade of Aloeswood, probably Vietnamese, to produce this sort of ultra light floral/clean note (which might be Jasmine) that mixes in with the woods and produces a scent that is very hard to describe and also very intriguing. It has an interesting property of cutting through other scents even though it really is a seemingly light scent. Great for meditation or as something to subtly scent a room. This one also takes a long time to even start to figure out  :)

Kyukyodo: Kinbato: A very nice Aloeswoods base with some sandalwood added in over which rides a beautiful floral with hints of spice. I find this to be a real favorite of mine the more I pull it out. Kyukyodo is shaping up to be the masters at these types of Japanese floral/perfume scented incense. It probably does not hurt that many of these recipes apparently come from the Japanese Imperial Court and its past  incense masters.

Dhuni: Khus:  I burn this in small amounts as I find it strong. That being said I also really like the somewhat greenish and uplifting qualities it has. There are a lot of the Indians that are simply too much for me but this one works quite well. Great stuff and not to be missed. I figure Dhuni (who seems fairly new) is already one of the best around and look forward to new releases. I would really like to see them go for a big woods line.

Minorien  Kanzeon: This is very different from the standard Minorien’s we have had in the past, you can check out my review on this and Daijyoukoh for all the tasting notes, but in general I find this a very refreshing and clean scent, just the thing for Spring time.

Minorien: Granulated Kyara or Sandalwood: These are in a granulated or loose style and while they work well on an electric heater they really cut loose on a makko trail. The Kyara is somewhat reminiscent of their Kyara stick incense, but it is also much more potent and “in your face”. Very deep, almost musty at times, not used lightly! The sandalwood is altogether different with a wonderful sandalwood scent combined with camphor and spices; it’s an upbeat scent that is very fresh and spicy. Available at Japan Incense/Kohshi

These next three are all from small makers; most of them are limited editions or small batch runs. They all use the best of completely natural materials. These are the real deal in hand made aromatic art and every one of them is a treasure.

Mermade: Incense Kisses: These emit a wonderful coco/chocolate scent for all you foodies, very different from anything else I have tried, anywhere. Don’t miss these; they are really fun and something of a real show stopper. You might also try Spring Sutra, which uses a very special Attar(something like 50 different ingredients distilled into in just this). Got a feeling this is very limited. A stunning romance floral.

Nathaniel Musselman: High Temple: Nathaniel does quite a lot of research and goes to great lengths to source the materials for his blends; most of them are also very labor intensive. This one is great on a heater with a great, rich resin scent. It really does justice to the name as it’s very easy to picture something along these lines in ancient temples in Egypt and surrounding areas. It has a very clean and open feel to it. I find that using it on a heater or charcoal, letting it simmer and coming back into the room after about ten to fifteen minutes is a wonderful experience.

Parfume Phyto:  Rose Neriko: Neriko are incense balls made to be gently heated, not burned. When done correctly they will last at least an hour, with enough scent left in them to use again. These are a sort of East meets West scent, using traditional Japanese incense materials and techniques with the addition of assorted forms of rose added. They are delicate, gentle and at the same time come with quite a lot of depth. Not overpowering but they do get the point across. Plus they are smokeless and totally hand made from first class ingredients.

February 2011 Top Ten

This is, more or less, what I have been using this last month. It is winter so I find I turn towards some of the heavier scents. I also just got around to ordering some of the new Indian incenses that have come on the market but it was a late order so they didn’t make this list.

Onkun Koh by Kunmeido: I have had this for awhile; it got buried and then resurfaced recently. It has a deep, somewhat bitter, yet also smooth scent to it with a touch of green notes. There are lots of Chinese herbs and spices floating across a nice woody base. It’s not very expensive, lasts quite awhile and delivers a pretty well balanced ride.

Tokusen Syukohkoku by Baieido: Subtle, complex and a long learning curve make this a great incense. It also happens to use some of the best Aloeswood around. This is something that could easily be overwhelmed if not burned first. There are an infinite number of layers within  this blend, I consider it one of Baieido’s best.

Ranjatai by Shunkohdo: Deep musk mixed with a superb Aloeswood, this is one of my all time favorites, it is also(considering what you are getting) a very good deal. The bundle should last quite awhile, even with “excessive use”. It has made a lot of Top Tens for a good reason.

Sarasoju by Shunkohdo: This is a very good straight up sandalwood, with a minimum of additives. It delivers a very nice Sandalwood scent that is neither sweet,  wet or dry, just, you know, Sandalwood. Great stuff from a very traditional maker.

Kyara Seiran by Seijudo: On a Japanese site that I have seen, this is appears to have both green and purple Kyara plus musk, how can you not like it? But really it’s just stunning; it is also quit strong and potent with a huge amount of depth and complexity. It has all the interesting Kyara notes that twist and turn between bitter and sweet with the musk and spice notes somehow interwoven throughout the mix. I notice that Essence of the Ages has sampler sets from this company.

Tensei by Tennendo: This is another that I rediscovered. Tennendo makes some of the best incense around and this is one of their Aloeswoods blends. It smooth with a nice touch of herbs across a good grade of woods. It is not sweet nor is it bitter, yet at different times it just brushes those notes. Elegant.

Kyara Coils by Yamada Matsu: These are available from Kohshi and they are stunning. If you are similar with Shoyeido’s Tenpyo, they are along the same lines but this is much, much more. I am pretty sure these are using wood instead of perfumes/oils to achieve the scent, it is very deep, smooth and full of that Kyara scent that also has a touch of musk. Not inexpensive, but worth it.

EverGreen Forest & Sacred Grove by Mermade: These two are the deep evergreen, cedar and aromatic woods duo. They are the perfect scents if one has been indoors for too long. These are some of the greenest scents I know of and I use them a lot. They have both been reviewed and talked about here and are simply great. Katlyn goes to great lenths to use the best materials around and it show.

Dragons Blood by Blue Star Incense: Blue Star Incense makes some really nice blends at an incredible price, especially given that he is using natural ingredients plus real essential oils. This one uses a good helping of Dragons Blood resin to produce a very grounded and soothing scent with a nicely done woody base. It’s relaxing, smells great and does a great job of scenting a room at a insanely low price. He also puts samples in with orders. A winner.

November Top Ten

Welcome to the November Top Ten. As is usually the case for me these are not necessarily laid out in any kind of  “order of wonderfulness”! I like to use many different styles and types of incense so getting it down to ten is an interesting endeavor and something of a difficult task. I would also like to mention we try and hold these to ten selections so if you current favorite is not listed, remain calm and perhaps light another stick :)

Next months Top Ten will turn into our “end of the year, completely over the top, blow out list” which we hope to get up by mid December. We are holed up in the secret ORS testing lab wildly waving sticks at each other to back up our various favorites. It’s getting a little smoky in here and I hope the extra fire extinguishers show up soon.

You can find all the incenses listed below in past reviews at ORS unless I have added a link as they are too new to have a review. Enjoy  -Ross

Baieido’s: Rikkoku Aloeswood Set: Quite simply put this is a work of natural art. It comes in a wonderful presentation box that is stunning all by itself. All the woods are great and at the same time very different. The Kyara is mind bending, but then again, in their own way, so are the others. There is a lot of study potential here. Used in the recommended manner this set will last one for quite awhile. You can also sometimes find this in the “mini” size.

Baieido’s Kokonoe: This is one of my “go to” wood scents. I find it very enjoyable and the cost makes it pretty easy to use. It has a clean aloeswood scent and does a great job of showcasing the Indonesian wood. Its also a good place to start looking at specific examples of regional scents within aloeswood as any extra spices or resins in these sticks is there to highlight the wood.

Nippon Kodo’s: Gokuhin Kyara Taikan: This is the second rung up in NK’s high end Kyara ladder. It features a more distinct wood note as well as more refinement in the top notes then Tokusen Kyara Taikan. It is a very elegant incense and quite potent at the same time. There is a sort of resin/floral/powder feel in the overall scent that is a wonderful counterpart to the wood notes. It’s only draw back is that it makes you start wondering how you can afford to get the next one up, which is much more money.

Kyukyodo’s: Sho ran Koh: This one is on our Top Tens a lot and with good reason. It is a very beautiful scent, an elegant floral that is not overdone and has some quality Aloeswoods backing it all up. Not to mention the roll is very large, just opening the box is a huge treat. Koh Shi in San Francisco tries to have this in stock.

Seijudo’s: Kyara Horen: Seijudo decided to create the best Kyara blends that they could for as long as they can get the materials to do so. The top three in the line up actually use Kyara in their blends while the other 4 have very similar notes but use aloeswood. Sometimes the differences seem very subtle. This one is the third from the top. I find it the easiest to get along with, it has tons of Kyara notes mixed in with spices and maybe a hint of musk. It is refined and elegant, but still friendly. It’s also something to be burned first and savored. There is quite a lot going on here and you will get the most out of it this way.  Not inexpensive but a real treasure as well as a treat for the soul.

Mermade’s Scared Grove: Lighting this will almost instantly surround you in the scent of a very large forest. It is very clean and for this time of the year I find it a great way to sort of “open up” the room it’s burning in. High quality and natural ingredients play a big part in Mermade’s success. I notice that there is a bunch of new offerings listed on their site right now.

Daihatsu’s Kaizan: Not only does this has a very nice amber note but the story I was told is that it was formulated by Daihatsu’s Ko Shi ( Fragrance Master) to mimic the scent that geishas used in their hair. Nice scent and a great price. A strong and long lasting aroma that can easily fill a room. Just the thing for all us amber fans.

Shunkohdo’s Houshou: A quality aloeswood at a very reasonable price. It has subtle top notes of chocolate that play with the aloeswood. Quite a beautiful combination and at the price($20) is a great deal not to be missed. Great gift for the incense people in you life.

Incensio’s Palo Santo Wand: If you like Palo Santo then you will be in heaven. The incense look’s sort of like thin cigars on a stick. They are packed with a wonderful and very woody scent that is particular to Palo Santo. These are available at Mermade and a full review of the line is in the works. By the way, using just a portion of a stick will do the trick; these people did not mess around when they put the woods in! Very interesting and at a good price.

Blue Star’s: Lavender: This is from a small producer in Canada (I can hear Anne getting excited). He uses all natural ingredients and the sticks are done in a sort of Tibetan Japanese fusion style, so they are thick and go for around 30-40 minutes. This one stands out for me as it has a nice light wood base note overlaid with a very clean and clear Lavender scent. Just a tiny bit sweet and really beautiful. Lavender Essential Oil is used and then the stick is rolled in Lavender flowers. This one is a winner and a review of the lineup is coming soon. Not to be missed and you get 10 sticks for around $4.00

October Top 10

  1. Mother’s India Fragrances – Om Nag Champa  I don’t mean to take much attention away from all of the other excellent incenses in the Mother’s series, but there’s something about this one that’s hit a bullseye with me, to the point where I ran out my first 20 stick package of this about a month or so after I received it. However in stocking it deeper in the smaller packages, I noticed the batches were a little different and it’s something I’ve been wondering about in terms of aromatic differences as the Om I started with really is something of a triangular balancing act and the small package scent falls perhaps a little short. But generally speaking this works for me because I love an incense with a perfect cinnamon/cassia note and this one, at least in the big package has that to an almost addictive state.
  2. Shoyeido / Premium / Myo-Ho  I find this to be one of the greatest incenses period, definitely my favorite of the top 3 premiums and I love the effect it has on company when they first get the aroma. The liquerish sweetness and dark kyara and aloeswood notes mesh just about perfectly in this one.
  3. Baieido / Ogurayama Aloeswood  I still find this a natural miracle, it just never ceases to astound me that you can get this much aroma from a small piece of this wood. I mean you can literally get 3-4 hours of it when you get the right temperature and I spend most of it double taking, going yeah it really is that little chip doing that. I might actually slightly prefer the Hakusui in terms of its spiciness but I think the resin might actually be a bit more intense in the Ogurayama. Anyway this is about as close to incense nirvana as it gets for me.
  4. Fred Soll / Red Sandalwood  Like many Solls this does have the penchant to not stay lit, but that’s really its only weakness. Like Shroff’s Red Sandal, this is a spicier take on a sandalwood incense, showing a totally different facet of the wood due to the cinnamon-ish notes. With Soll’s version you get that combination mixed in with that southwestern woodsy/resiny vibe to great effect. It’s also one of the mellower Solls and seems to have less powerful oils than they usually do.
  5. Tennendo / Enkuu  This is always a perennial favorite in my book, in fact long time readers might know that this is one of the most common incenses in the top ten lists here. I think that’s largely because so many of the top end incenses have kyara and are thus very sweet, Enkuu is more at the apex of the drier spicy end, for its kind there are really few better incenses. And even after a year or two since I first tried it, I still find it strikingly original and only find it mildly comparative to other high end aloeswood/spikenard mixes.
  6. Fred Soll / Nag Champa with Amber and Vanilla  I don’t bring out the Soll champas very often as for a couple of years now they’ve shown nothing but delays in terms of restocking these scents, no doubt due to the usual shortages. But when I do I’m always completely bowled over by how great these are, particularly in the realms of the sugary sweet. This one’s about as rich and amazing as you can imagine, perhaps even too much so for a small room, but perfect for these late warm California summers outside where it can penetrate with even a small wind.
  7. Yamadamatsu / Kumoi Koh  Another absolute classic in my book, an oil and woods mix that is rich, spicy and animalistic, so strong that you can get an idea of its scent just from the fresh stick. It’s similar to one or two of the coils that haven’t been imported here yet that clearly use some ingredients you don’t usually find in incenses at this level of strength. Very exotic and heady.
  8. Kyukyodo / (several)  Clearly the top catalog whose entry to US shores seems to be problematic at the very least. Sure you can find Sho-Ran-Koh and Azusa these days, but there are just a good dozen incenses or so that just badly need to be imported that haven’t ever been over here, such as the incredible aloeswood Akikaze or even the stunning and much lower end Benizakura or one of the really great high quality sandalwood based incenses Gyokurankoh. Oh and RIP Shiun and Yumemachi, what a pair to be deleted!
  9. Nippon Kodo / Tokusen Kyara Taikan  Readers may not fully be aware that if you don’t count the regular Kyara Taikan or Kongo, which I don’t, this is actually the lowest incense on a scale that goes up to what seems like the world’s most expensive stick incense, the $2500 Gokujyo Kyara Fugaku. I think you’d only have to pay $120 something for the Tokusen Kyara Taikan, which is actually an excellent stick in that it drops some of the more perfumy sweet aspects of the straight Kyara Taikan for a more elegant result. It’s a shame these are so breakable and thin, but they do pack quite a wallop.
  10. Shroff / Akash Ganga  I’ve always found this an odd scent because it’s one if not the only incenses in the Dry Masala range that shares the yellow boxes with the Semi-Drys, and I can see why as it seems to fall somewhere in the middle. I find this a very unusual variant on the “desert flower” sort of scents in that it doesn’t have the heavy camphorous notes they usually have or the sort of sickly sweet perfumes. And as a result it strikes me as a very mysterious scent with a depth that continues to make me go through my supplies very fast.

As always feel free to share with us what amazed you this month!

Top 10 August 2010

This is, more or less, my top picks for the month. This does not mean that they are really in any kind of order (well OK, the Kyara Kokoh really is the top dog). There are also a lot more then ten incenses that I burn but we try and hold the line for the write up’s. I did find that as it got hotter in the Bay Area  my use of the Electric Incense Heater went up, as did my own blending for things to put on it. Great fun by the way!  -Ross

Kyara Kokoh by Baieido: I burn, maybe,  one plus sticks of this a month, in small “installments”. It is somewhat of an almost religious experience. Baieido says that this one is hand made by the owners using green oil Kyara that had been specially selected and I can believe it. It is pretty much beyond words and just gets better with each “installment”. Not inexpensive, but quite wonderful. Note to Baieido, if any of that green oil kyara is laying around ’cause it did not make the cut, I could find a use for it :)

Ogurayama Aloeswood from Baieido: Baieido is all about the woods. This one is from Vietnam and is considered a “sweet” scented Aloeswood. I love to put a small amount on the electric heater and let it gently infuse the room with it’s beautiful and very smooth scent. Trying to describe this is not easy, but basically it is about as pure of an Aloeswoods experience as you can get. If you like Aloeswoods then this is a great way to really start to understand them. Baieido’s Hakusui is another to try, actually any of them would work! At some point (when we get really brave) I think we might be doing some full reviews on the Baieido woods and possibly the Rikkoku (Six Countries) Set.

Saimei Koh from Gyokushodo: This is a wonderful Aloeswood and Sandalwood mix with a nice helping of spices, resins , herbs and  camphor. I do wish it packed a bit more “punch” and often find myself burning two sticks at once. It has a very classic “Old Japan” type scent. There are some similarities to a number of other makers scents but(at the moment) I think this one stands out.

Ranjatai or Kyara Seikan from Shunkohdo: Rajantai is one of my favorite scents; it pretty much has it all. Really good Aloeswoods combined with musk and resins. It’s deep, dark and wonderful, plus you get enough in the bundle to go on a real incense burning binge! Kyara Seikan adds Kyara to the mix and is also much smoother, it also cost more and is worth it (but not so “bingeable”) I ended up using both of these a lot during the Mystery of Musk series just to get a straight up scent logon for musk.

Honey Amber by Fred Soll: This is one of the very few incenses in the world to actually use Ambergris(beach caste). It has a really deep, yet clean amber note to it that the honey aspect adds an even deeper sweet note to. It is pretty strong so one stick can go for quite a few burns and still do up a room quite nicely. I think that Soll’s incenses are one of the best deals in the world and this one is right up there for me.

Copal Negro by Fred Soll: I would have to term this one as “heavy hitter” copal. It is smooth with a touch of sweetness in the background that kind of tempers everything together, but all that is riding on lots of deep dark copal. Wonderful stuff, great for grounding the environment of a room(or a person).

Japanese Musk from Koh Shi (Daihatsu): I am pretty sure that this does not use real musk, that being said it does really convey the idea of musk. It is  strong and has a nice, not too sweet, quality to it. It produces a wonderful scent to a room that also feels quite clean.

Swallows in Flight by Les Encens du Monde(Kunjudo): I had not used this a while and then “rediscovered” it last month. It is very complex, uses very good quality woods, resins, spices and maybe oils. Sometimes it almost seems a bit over the top in how much is going on here (another long learning curve)but having never been adverse to excessive excess, I just light another stick and go with it.

Deep Earth Premium – 2010 from Mermade Magical: This is something for the heater, to be gently warmed over a period of time. It has many musk like elements to it as well as resins and spices, It is a very deep, complex and meditative scent that really shows off Katlyn’s skills as well as the use of very high quality materials. It also takes quite awhile to make with a lot of ageing involved, which is reflected in the complexity of the scent. Beautiful.

Healing  from Mermade Magical: One of Mermades incense triangles, which is along the lines of a cone. This has a very clean and clear scent to it, I find it refreshing and uplifting; it seems especially good during the summer months. There is a great play between the resins and woods Somewhat unique and very nice.

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