A New Year’s Gift from Padma Store

In our quest to find good incense at ORS, we have been patronizing a little shop in Germany that has a good back catalog of incense from Happy Hari, Shroff and others. Some of the things they carry are not available in North America currently, like Fiore D’Oriente. Ashok, the owner of the store, has offered a 10% ORS discount if you use the code “Shanti”.

I will point out that if you are not in Europe, the shipping can be too expensive to make a small order. If you want your order quickly, the shipping is around 50 euro for DHL. If you don’t mind it taking a longer time, the German post tends to prioritize local mail and international mail can take a long time. You can get away with a much cheaper shipping cost if you’re not in a hurry. Just send a note to Ashok with your order to let him know if you want the expensive shipping or the slow shipping.

In the next few months, I plan on trying to review Fiore D’Oriente and Rasbihari Lal & Sons as well as other manufacturers in the inventory.

Stephen’s 2021 Top 10

The biggest thing to note is I am ranking the 10 favorite incenses I encountered for the first time this year. Many are older than this year but they were tried by me for the first time. This is Indian-style heavy because I spent most of 2021 exploring Indian incense for the first time. Before 2021, I had really only burned a handful of crappy Indian incense and was kind of biased against it until I started getting some incense from Reddit’s /r/IncenseExchange, which turned me onto Absolute Bliss and Happy Hari’s incense as well as Yi-Xin Craft Incense.

  1. Absolute Bliss/Natural Beauty – This made the top of my list because I asked myself which stick I burned the most this year and this is it, in fact, the top 4 are in order of most burned for the year. 5-10 are more favorites that didn’t get as much ‘air time’ but definitely were worth mentioning. Natural Beauty is a masterpiece of cedar/oud/halmaddi and this scent profile has popped up in incenses that are no longer available.
  2. Temple of Incense/Ganesha – This fat pink stick won over the hearts of everyone in my household. My husband is a devotee of Ganesha and we have statues of the elephant-headed god all over the home. This incense gets burned regularly on the altar and scents the house with a sweet halmaddi scent.
  3. Absolute Bliss/Devansh – When I was looking for a ‘Super Hit’ that wasn’t synthetic and headache-inducing, I came upon Devansh. It is kinda like Super Hit only with a rose note on top of the creme brulee scent. I fell in love and have been burning this on high rotation ever since.
  4. Absolute Bliss/Forbidden Fruit – This fell into my lap and didn’t become an instant love. No, it took several burns before I realized this had almost the same smell as my favorite hand soap – Everyday Shea Spiced Lavender. While I don’t think there is lavender in this smell or the soap smell, it is a wonderful sweet spicy scent that seems to share a common thread in it’s floral/fruitiness with sticks like Queen of Roses and Bengal Jungle Beauty.
  5. Yi-Xin Craft Incense/Into the Agar Woods – While we tend not to review ’15 minute incense drop’ incense producers mainly because they don’t need our help to sell out in 15 minutes and because we want people to visit this site and be able to purchase the things they read about. However, since this is a top 10, I selected one of Ken’s creations that has been on High Rotation on his monthly incense drops(I have seen it in his monthly collection at least 5 times this year). Ken is a student of KyaraZen and his ideas and techniques are next level. Highly recommend subscribing to his newsletter so you get notified of his monthly drops. Since there isn’t a store, link is to the front page of the artists’s website.
  6. Mother’s/Guna Nag Champa – In my vast sampling of 2021, where I think I sampled close to 300 new incenses, this one stuck out as really unique. It is the only coffee incense I’ve tried so far. I know less reputable companies make incense with artificial coffee smells, this one has a sweet and bewitching scent of being in one of those specialty stores like Gloria Jean’s Coffee Beans or similar shop where there are coffee roasters mixing in with the smells of the additives for the flavors, which normally smell like sweet, nutty candy to me.
  7. Dr. Incense/Cinnabar – Another 15 minute incense drop producer. This Taiwanese incense artist is doing the research into the ancient techniques. His blog is a treasure trove of legends around incense. Cinnabar caught my attention because of it’s TCM value but also because this is one of the first times I’ve seen a mineral used in incense. Since the store is a once-a-month etsy drop, I am linking to his blog.
  8. Happy Hari/Oudh Masala – This stick actually sent me on a quest into the Oud Oil world. In a podcast, Happy Hari himself claimed that this Oudh Masala came from the Assam region. So I bought several different distillations from that region from different vendors at different price points and quality. I couldn’t find the smell in these sticks until one day I doused my mask with a few drops of an Assam Oud and went out. After a day of wearing it, I put it in the wash. After going through the wash it came out and HAD THE EXACT SMELL OF HAPPY HARI’S OUDH MASALA!! So it just goes to show that the sticks probably have less than a drop of the oil to get the smell profile.
  9. Kin/Pear Chamber – I encountered this when I decided to try out a sampler from Kin Objects, a Chinese incense manufacturer that ships to the US. This is an ancient recipe where a pear is hollowed out and filled with sandalwood and aloeswood and then steamed. The resulting steamed pear is mashed into a dough and turned into incense. This bewitched me on the first stick and I was reaching for more immediately.
  10. Absolute Bliss/Emperor Amber – A 2 hour slow burn of a wonderful interpretation of amber. One of the first Indian ‘fatties’ I’ve tried, these quickly became a favorite in the house to burn after a stick of Ganesha.

Dimension 5 / Terra Collection / Terra Teleportica, Terra Profunda, Terra Esoterica,

We now turn to the back “half” of Dimension 5’s Terra Collection. The previous two incenses were originally planned for review when I was expecting the Terra Collection to include four incenses, but Josh Matthews managed to get a new entry in under the wire, one which actually fits in pricewise between the two previously reviewed.

Terra Teleportica is simply unearthly. I am sort of reminded by how one would place microphones or speakers in a room for recording or listening to music and how the placement can so quickly alter perception or the sound of music. It is the “placement” of the ingredients in the Dimension 5 incenses which is often one of the most impressive things about them because while the mix of elements does describe a combination, I like how often and how easy it is to really get the separate elements of the ingredients in Josh’s incense. This has a really marvelous oud oil in the mix with agarwood, sandalwood, resins and other ingredients. Although spice is not listed I do get some feeling of that, probably through the oud, and you can definitely feel the resins at the bottom of the mix. I didn’t get it until the second or third stick, but the resins here also seem to help create something of an apricot or fruit note, although here they blend nicely into the spice. The sandalwood feels a bit more lightly placed than in some of the other Dimension 5 incenses but not to where it disappears and more towards where it connects everything together. But beyond all this is just a feeling that what is speaking the loudest is the complexity of the fantastic ingredients, the depth of the woods and the oils from the woods. When I first got into agarwood incenses and experienced some early ones I felt like I had a sort of vision of this ancient grandfather tree where the whorls and knots of the wood were so infinitely complex that you could follow them like a labyrinth. That’s the sort of experience you will find in an incense like Terra Teleportica, it is literally an aromatic feast that that will tickle one’s subconscious and memory functions. Incredibly well done, and a tribute to Josh’s own skills improving more and more as his creativity produces new treats.

If there is sandalwood in the Terra Profunda it would have to fall under “other” category and therefore shifts this a bit over from many of the Dimension 5 incenses where it is named. In fact when I lit this the first thing I thought was mm spices, and then went to look at the ingredients and found these as well as agarwood, oud and resins. Overall there seems to be a bit of a marriage between the resin content and the fruitiness of the oud oil and given that I could compare the actual oil, I noticed that it has been dialed back to be an equal player in this clever little blend. I might say there is actually a bit more woodiness from the actual agarwood, but it doesn’t overwhelm. I had some apple vibes from this, some level of cinnamon, star anise and pepper pizazz in there somewhere and an overall feeling of freshness that I appreciated a lot. It reminded me a little of when you open one of those dry packages of Quaker apple cinnamon oatmeal on a cold day. It allows the resin to perhaps sing a bit more than the other blends it is included in. I would guess there is some level of good frankincense or one of the more piquant gums to allow this. I think the skill here is allowing a higher quality of wood to sing in perhaps slightly less powerful quantities letting it sit nicely next to the other elements rather than dominate. But part of it is that this is a very fine oud in the base, one that has a great deal of complexity on its own and like many of the Dimension 5 incenses, it is maybe that fifth dimension that really gives you so much to appreciate.

The resins are also listed in Terra Esoterica but I don’t smell them quite so much, or rather they seem less of the more citrusy type resins. I’m sort of reminded at the way some Japanese frankincense sticks kind of go in an apricot direction and with the woods, the mix has some level of turpentine. This incense has an actually remarkably different profile to my nose from the rest of the collection, and everything else listed includes agarwood, oud and sandalwood. Some of the woodiness of this one actually brings some different subnotes that I’m not as used to, an almost earthier sort of scent, dry soil, clay, subnotes of peat and so forth. The incense even has something like an oakmoss note, so overall all of these elements kind of come together in an ancient, untouched deep jungle sort of way. The oud that goes into this one is a bit more dangerous than in the previous incenses in that it has some of the sort of animalistic or slightly fecal-like notes a lot of ouds can have, so it’s a bit of a tribute to Josh’s skill that that element does not show up in the incense, just the really fine aspects of the wood, of which there are a multitude. As all of the Latin names go in this collection, this one certainly deserves the appellation of esoteric as it really dives deep into some fairly cool and new territories. Of all the incenses this is one that really feels like it needs time to unfold to speak its treasures.

Overall the Terra Collection may be the finest of Josh’s work although I would guess only until the next collection. These are honestly some of the most complex, deluxe sticks of incenses you can buy and I really feel like I could burn another dozen sticks before really feeling like I’ve listened closely enough because not only are the incenses complex in their compounds but each ingredient is as well, and at times it can be bewildering just to catch everything spiraling out from the smoke. If you are interested in any of these fascinating incenses or any of the previously reviewed sticks (see the Reviews Index for previous entries or click on the Dimension 5 category), please contact Josh at dimension5incense@gmail.com.

Mike’s Top Ten Incenses and Lines of 2021

So this is my first top 10 since ORS restarted and rather than doing a straight ten incenses, which would have been difficult in such a busy review year, I wanted this to be a mix of lines, companies and incenses that truly enchanted me in the last year and gave me the aromatic experiences I was hoping for. As such it isn’t really possible to throw in a photo with everything on this list (some of these companies and lines would fill a screen on their own), so all of the links will go to either reviews that will have specific photos or to the company categories which will be sorted for multiple reviews (with photos). If you’re interested in purchasing any of these either follow the links to the reviews/category searches or use the Reviews Index to find more specific lists from each particular outfit where you will also be able to find links to the sources. Oh and I should mention that Stephen will also be posting a top 10 soon as well! Please feel free to use the comments section here to post your own favorites for the year. Thank you to everyone I have talked to and collaborated with in 2021 and recently, new friends, people who pitched in samples from their own generosity, all who contributed incenses for reviews, everyone who took the time to provide their own reviews and comments of incenses this year, etc etc. Special thanks to new ORS staff writer and good friend Stephen as well! All of this goes to helping ORS become a better resource for the incense fan and you are all very much appreciated.

  1. Wara Monastery Incense. My number one incense of 2021 was literally a runaway. Honestly if I was to do an all-time incense list it would still be hard pressed to beat. I discovered this incense at incensetraditions.ca in 2021 and I am something like 4 sticks away from my fifth roll of this utterly mystifying and unique blend. I burn it nearly every night and it’s almost like an addiction now, I go up to the bedroom to read a bit before I settle down and nearly always light a stick. I am one of those people who are somewhat skeptical about the effects of incenses beyond smelling good, but this one is so vastly under my skin that I do indeed wonder if there’s some sort of secret Tibetan drug in the mix that screams “buuuurn me!!! BUUUUURN MEEEE” every time I sit down. I have been able to listen to it roll after roll and see each one changes slightly, I remember on my third roll wondering if it might have taken a bit of a dive only for the next one to come roaring back. What can I say about it? It’s just Wara really, I don’t even know if it has a subclass except that it has a resinous quality that is somewhat analogous to aloeswoods along with a mix of a million other things that created a wonderful tanginess and spiciness that I find endless fascinating and yes soothing as well. It is a bit of dangerous blend and it may not be to everyone’s tastes but there may be something in the impossibility of classifying it that makes me come back to it constantly.
  2. The Kourindo line. Japan Incense is still the marvelous and extraordinary #1 importer of Japanese incense into the US and one of their latest “gets” is this 11-flavor line of Kourindo’s incenses. In my opinion this line is gorgeous from top to bottom and as of a couple of days ago I finally gave myself the holiday treat of the KourindaiKyara, which may be the finest of kyara incenses along with Baieido’s Kyara Kokoh and not including the Nippon Kodos that noone can afford. I have been having this ongoing conversation with Josh Matthews on this particular line because where in other companies and lines one might immediately find out which ones you like the best, this is a very difficult line to choose from simply because they’re all fantastic. I might start with either of the two middle-high incenses, the Kodaikourin and Jinkourin, because they are startlingly complex in a way that stays at about the same level until you hit the kyara. But then there’s the Jyakourin Musk which is really like no other incense in any other line and one might also want to travel into the rather impressive low end before bouncing back to the near top and going for the spicy, square cut of the Saikourin. They’re all a bit thicker than the normal Japanese style, which seems to give them a little more power, which is always a good thing in my book. In the end, like me, you may want them all.
  3. Absolute Bliss/White Lotus Oudh Saffron. Corey of Absolute Bliss whipped out this variant of their Oudh Saffron incense when I least expected it and I was utterly bewitched by whatever is making up the floral component of it. It started this train in my mind of what happens when you “floralize” a woody stick. There’s something about the mix of this that adds a lot of complementary subnotes, no less this sort of minty vibe that threads its way through the middle like its sewing everything together. It is probably one of the most deluxe Indian sticks currently available at the time and it might be one of the best charcoal-based incenses I’ve ever sampled. As I implied with Wara, my main reasoning for inclusion on this chart is simply just how much I reach for a stick because I need this scent right now.
  4. Absolute Bliss/Natural Beauty. My brother Stephen spoke very highly of this one for quite a while before I got to try it, but in Corey’s first batch back the supplies of this were highly limited, so it wasn’t until his second that I got to stock up fully on this utterly wonderful scent. For one thing, I think this second batch might have used a bit more halmaddi than the first because it struck me as a bit softer. But even with that sweet middle what you come to this one for is the mix of woods that front an almost perfect cedarwood note. It is literally one of the best incenses on the market now, and if you like cedarwood in any way I strongly urge you to check it out. Like everything I discuss here it’s a “reach for it” classic. At any time it could move up a spot or two on this list.
  5. Temple of Incense/Absolute Sandalwood and so many others. While the British importer Temple of Incense opened their doors during ORS’s hibernation, we were not aware of their presence until reader Peter Bartlett alerted us. This sent ORS staff into a buying frenzy over culminating months to try everything in this gigantic stable of incenses (well over 50 I believe), which, in some ways feels like an expansion of the Happy Hari and Absolute Bliss imports. First of all, the Absolute Sandalwood absolutely took my breath away, being markedly the most accurate-to-scent sandalwood incense on the market at the moment, bringing back memories of the old days when it was not an endangered wood, meaning it was either duplicated rather well or someone came across old stores. But it wasn’t just this, but the three super thick stick glories of Shiv, Ganesha, and Shakti; the weird glories of the blue Electric Musk, and the gorgeous beauty of Tulsi among so many others that have made this company one of the best Indian incense importers in the world. And it doesn’t hurt that the service and great energy of the Aydee family make one feel very comfortable supporting such a fine outfit.
  6. Mermade Magickal Arts/Sweet Medicine and so many others. When ORS was in hibernation I often wonder what treasures I must have missed from Katlyn Breene and Mermade when my attention wasn’t turned their way. In a field where so many incense companies and creators come and go, vanishing into the mists of time, I can honestly say that I have been experiencing Mermade creations since some time in the late 90s and have experienced an overwhelming and bewildering array of incredible incenses with something like a 95%+ hit rate. Katlyn has never showed any signs of slowing down, not to mention continuously and steadily improving her sense of craft and prowess. She is now a mentor to so many other nascent incense creators and I am often just amazed at what her creative genius will dream up next. This year she not only found a cool shortcut to being able to increase and vary her kyphi incenses but she has also dipped into South American, Tibetan and other styles of incense, all bearing her creative stamp in all the best ways. Perhaps my favorite of the year and worth listing here because it has become one of her revolving staples, is the propolis and sweetgrass based Sweet Medicine, which is so lovely you might be able to replace candy with it.
  7. Espirit de la Nature/Mother’s – Ancient Winters Remembrance. Another wonderfully skilled magician of scent hails from Canada and often collaborates with Katlyn, selling some of her incenses through Mermade and many others through her own imprint Espirit de la Nature. It is one thing to find incense creators out there who create their own blends, another to find someone with as distinctive a creative stamp as the work of Bonnie (Be) Kerr. Incense from EdlN is not merely an experience of combinations but a presentation of the voices of botanics and fungi, with a quiet resolution encouraged by careful crafting and a number of ingredients that are not often common in incenses. I was first introduced a year or two back to Bonnie’s skill with larch resin, in an incense that had all the depth impact of a great agarwood stick, but this was only the first in a long series of amazing and bewitching scents that I eagerly grab when I have the opportunity (I will only add that at Mermade these fly off the shelves, so you need to get in early). I have two new ones sitting here that I haven’t even had the time to heat up yet but in the previous batch was the astonishing Mother’s incense which was an evergreen incense with a different slant to those you often find from Katlyn’s, all of which show Bonnie’s art as ever improving, becoming more impressive with further new creations. Oh and there was the incense cones, showing another wonderful innovation. I would guess like with Katlyn, Espirit de la Nature would be likely to be on every ORS top 10 from me going forward, she’s that good! Be sure to visit her own site and check in as she has all sorts of incenses I haven’t even been able to try yet, undoubtedly a veritable cornucopia of brilliance.
  8. Drigung Monastery / Drigung Fragrant Incense. – So if I was to have a potential follow up to my obsession with Wara Monastery incense it would probably be Drigung Fragrant Incense. This isn’t to say I haven’t tried and reviewed a cavalcade of great Tibetan incenses this year thanks to the wonderful incensetraditions.ca, but this is another in the “reach for it” category that I have tried restocking and storing as well. However, I am not sure of the viability of this stick moving forward, simply in that the sticks have apparently gotten a bit more fragile over the year and are not reaching North America in mostly one piece. So in terms of the availability of this I would definitely get in touch with Hart over at the store. But scent wise I think this a good example of the sort of vegetable imitating animal scent that seems to be the puzzle we often have over some Tibetans these days in that they have musk or civet sorts of tones while purportely not harming and of the animals in the production. I like this one’s overall sort of musk hit, it’s kind of like a tweak on Mindroling grade A incense in a direction I like more.
  9. Dimension 5 Line. I was pleased to watch Josh Matthews high end craft sticks start to reach a market this year. Josh has a creative urgency that combined with a deep aesthetic and understanding of fine woods and oils have begun several lines of incenses that actually DO use fine woods, ouds and other ingredients (rather than including these ingredients in descriptions and leaving us to guess over the provenance). While this undoubtedly puts a higher cost on the sticks, it is commensurate with the prices also put on the ingredients and so in some ways if it’s not something of a first, at least it is a first in terms of having them generally available (rather than being part of an operation that tends to be something of a rush to place an order in a small time frame like a few other really good small companies use as a model). I also have to say that I have learned an incredible amount about fine materials from Josh, which I’m sure will be trickling into my own reviewing as time goes on, and I have enjoyed our ongoing conversations. But I do think Josh and Dimension 5 are well worth keeping an eye on as time moves forward because as with Katlyn and Bonnie, he already has a fine sense of aesthetics that is only likely to keep improving with experience. If you want to try something that is remiscent of Japanese incenses but often just as high end or more, be sure to check his work out. Right now it’s hard to even pitch one as they’re all at the same consistent level and each new one I try is a marvel.
  10. Kida Jinseido/Ikuhokoh. The problem with doing a top 10 of a year is sometimes the front end gets away from you and I was actually confusing Kida Jinseido when trying to find a Kikijudo incense to put on here when I realized I had missed a biggie on my list that I haven’t burned in a little while simply since it’s out of rotation but nearly went through a large roll of it early in the year. This is something of an analog to Shunkohdo’s great Ranjatai a sort of mid to high end aloeswood blend with a lot of fine materials. If I had done this list halfway through the year it could have been a lot higher up the list.

Here are a number of runners up, all of these were mostly new incenses I discovered and really enjoyed or old favorites that are still part of a heavier rotation. Please use the above-linked Reviews Index if you need to find any of these if and until when I find the time to link em up: Kikijudo/Kouboku Ginmi/Sandalwood India; Absolute Bliss – Floating Lotus Flower, Forbidden Fruit, Bholenath, Bengali Jungle Flora; Happy Hari – Oud Masala, Niyama Sutra; Pure Incense – Connoisseur Opium, Connoisseur Blue Lotus & Musk; Baieido – Kyara Kokoh; Kunmeido – Asuka; Kyukyodo – Fuyu No Yoru; Nippon Kodo – Kyara Heian; Seikado – Kyara Koh Hien; Shunkohdo – Kyara Houzan; Tennendo – Propolis; Yamadamatsu – Shuju series, Hojo “Kyara Firebird” line, Kumoyi, Ouju; Aba Prefecture – Agarwood Heart of Shambhala, Gang-Zi Nunnery Incense.

Dimension 5 / Terra Enchantica, Terra Conundra

Dimension 5’s Terra Collection (pictured above) is what one would have to consider the Dimension 5 high end in the sense that even the individual 3″ sticks here come in in the teens in pricing from top to bottom. As Josh Matthews puts it, “The Terra Collection features unique and extraordinary agarwoods and ouds. Each one presents a striking and exotic scent profile, highlighting the specific agarwood or agarwood/oud combo.” Josh uses the real thing in these sticks. When you read about something like an oud in an Indian stick, you can be assured that the creators are either making a little go a long way or they’re using their creative skills to approximate one, but the Terra sticks are created with real oud and therefore bear the appreciating costs of highlighting oils of this expense. Even small quantities of real oud can go for $100s. So these are absolutely in the realm of delicacies. Josh was also kind enough to provide a trace amount of the actual oudhs in these sticks so it would be easier to review them, but this also means I can confirm their presence. All of these incenses include agarwood, oud, sandalwood and spices and most also have some resins in them as well.

When I first got some samples from Josh both of the two incenses I am reviewing in this first installment were included, so I’m able to sense their development as well. Both of these sticks strike me as having quite a bit of fine sandalwood in the mix which I think probably helps to highlight the oudh oils or woods in different ways. Sandalwood is also notoriously a strong part of any good base. Unlike some of the other incenses I’ve reviewed in the line, however, I think the presence of actual oud oil is definitely more prevalent in the sticks that have it than in most of the other Dimension 5 lines. I once bought an oud sampler many years ago and really enjoyed trying them and so dipping into the ouds themselves to compare brought back some good memories.

The mix of woods and sandalwood oil featured in Terra Enchantica is one that really has some great woody and fruity notes. The wood notes sit very nicely next to the sandalwood oil (and there should be some sandalwood wood too), but I also very much like the mix of spices that is being use at the bottom as they feel really intelligently placed alongside these other notes. Enchantica is actually the bottom of the Terra line in price (although it looks like it’s tied with Terra Teleportica, which was a more recent addition to the collection and will be reviewed next installment) but it’s already quite spectacular. In speaking to Josh, it was also mentioned that the agarwood itself also tends to a bit of a sandalwood scent as well, so I think it’s a very good example of how agarwood can drift into other profiles as well. While you get a huge sandalwood presence through the middle, there are a lot of more playful notes that are really quite different from the usual Japanese stick and I think you have to credit the fine sandalwood oil for this sort of feel. The note that actually strikes me the most is this sense of apricot in the foreground. Overall this is a very nice example of how you can say this is sort of on the lighter side, but without really losing any complexity whatsoever and that is a refreshing change indeed.

The oud being used in Terra Conundra is a fine, balanced example of such an oil, rich, complex, and multi-faceted, bearing everything from the sort of wilder notes all the way to fruity top notes. However taking a quick sniff of the oud and going back to the stick not only confirms the identification but also shows there’s quite a bit of actual fine agarwood boosting this as well. It is a very different stick from the Terra Enchantica, journeying into some more traditional woody territories, while having a unique touch of spice. In fact I’d say historically, Terra Conundra has really improved from early batches into a very fine incense indeed. Instead of just the many notes from the oudh on its own, you now have a great deal of interplay with the woods and whatever other mix of ingredients that are helping to balance this out. There is so much going on in this stick it’s almost overwhelming, it’s even starting to approach some of the complexities of fine Japanese agarwood and kyara sticks. It’s also a very fragile stick so keep that it mind when handling. And absolutely do not leave your area when this is going, this is not the sort of incense you use to generally add scent to your environment, it is designed specifically to pay attention to. One can really only imagine a world when you could get 50 sticks in a tube of something this intense, one might not buy anything else.

If you are interested in any of these incenses or previously reviewed sticks, please contact Josh at dimension5incense@gmail.com. Next installment, likely to be posted some time in January, will include the other three Terra sticks. To all of our readers thank you for paying attention and enjoy your holidays!

Mermade Magickal Arts + Esprit de la Nature / The Mothers – Ancient Winter Remembrance, Emerald Temple – Katlyn’s Kyphi “Green”

So right about when we turned to ORS holiday time, Mermade Magickal Arts went all festive on us and released a bunch of really yummy new treats. I love all of Katlyn’s work but I might have particular favorites in the whole axis of evergreen/green/winter seasonal incenses that she does and so it was impossible for me not to make an order, and then when I got everything wonderful in, I’m like oh my god how do I share what I am experiencing and write about these on holiday time when a lot of Mermade blends rocket out the door in a few weeks time (or sometimes before I can even write anything). Well I’ll give at least these first two a shot, and although this might not be up to usual review standards, for sure these incenses are up to the usual high Mermade (and Esprit de la Nature) standards. These are two really wonderful incenses.

But let’s first start with one that a periodical and greatly admired contributor to the Mermade catalog has created. As many may be aware of, Be en Foret of Esprit de La Nature is also one of the great artists of heatable incense out there and her new blend The Mothers – Ancient Winter Remembrance is an absolute triumph of the style, one of the finest conifer incense blends ever made. I am still marveling over the complexity, beauty and triumph of this stunning incense, it is literally not to be missed. Look at these ingredients: balsam fir (Abies balsamea) bark, needles, resin, extract; Amanita muscaria mushroom; juniper (Juniperus virginiana) berries; spruce (Picea rubra) needles; hemlock (Tsuga canadensis) needles and extract; cedar (Thuja occidentalis) tips; mugwort (Artemisia vulgaris) flowering tops; rosemary (Salvia rosmarinus) leaf extract; tree mosses (Psuedoevernia spp and Usnea spp); pinion pine (Pinus edulis) resin; and poplar (Populus tremoides) buds. All of these ingredients are bound with black elderberries (Sambucus nigra) and homemade hydromel (mead) and mixed with the Amanita muscaria mushrooms.

So the first thing one must look at is that in the overall sense of things we’re usually used to pine scents, perhaps balsamic scents and so forth when we talk about evergreens and conifers. It’s that experience of walking through a forest in cool mountainous air and experiencing the whole unified scent that so many plants combine to create. But there are so many different sorts of plants being used in this one that the aroma becomes so complex it actually starts to become somewhat kyphi-esque in its profile. I mean just sitting here after a second heat and trying to describe everything that goes through my head as I experience this is virtually impossible. First without any listing of something like frankincense, this still has a very resinous scent that one must chalk up to the various tree extracts and materials. The Mothers has a very pleasant, somewhat spicy fruitiness in the mix that is amazingly enjoyable, but this mix isn’t facile, it is deeply complex, aged and beautiful. I smell orange peel and marmalade, caramel, honey and wine, and where Katlyn’s green incenses tend to speak the voice of the Sierra Nevadas with a much greener finish, Be’s has its own unique character that is separate enough that you are likely to find both different species of the same genus. I’m not sure I can speak quite to how something like the amanita speaks through the scent, but the incense does feel like a conglomerate of smaller voices and there is a slightly psychedelic edge on all of this that adds to the choir’s unity. It is that sense of mycorrhizal fungi as a symbiosis of plant and fungi and, as the aroma spreads, human life as well.

Sort of in the reverse (or maybe inverse?) direction of this is Katlyn’s Emerald Temple, a “green” kyphi. One of the reasons I found this fascinating in the description is I sort of imagine kyphis more as brown, purple, or maroon, so I really liked the idea, given Kat’s skill with greeny goodness. The ingredients on this one, always a big list with kyphis, include fir balsam raw resin, green frankincense (Sacra of Oman), copal blanco, fir balsam Absolute, Cedar (Thuja) essential oil, Benzoin Essential oil (molecular distillation), and Chios Mastic. All dusted in green fragrant Arbor vitae (green cedar) powder. I would guess this kyphi is made with the production techniques of the previous kyphi we reviewed. Like some green mixes this also crosses over into lime-like territory, particularly due to the green frankincense and some element of the copal. My grandmother and a few other members of my family used to live in Key Largo for many years and could whip up a great key lime pie, which is what this scent reminds me a lot of with that mix of lime and sweetness. Even something like a lime Jolly Rancher kind of captures that front note. Of course this notable green frankincense note is really just the lead for that typical melange of caramel, wine-like, raisin tinged kyphi base, something that tends to remind me of autumn, except the lime pushes it all into different territory. It’s a nice little divergence from the kyphi norm and a cool little experiment that’s well worth looking into if you like the kyphis that come out of this venerable outfit.

But even as I come to a close here, I really want to remind folks to act fast. I just realized that Katlyn’s stupendously great Lord of the Rings inspired incense Elvish has already gone out of stock, and I can only imagine these two and the wonderful Southern/Central/native American inspired Lucida and the Tibetan inspired Golden Tara are soon to follow. These incenses, as always, show Mermade on the very cutting edge of cross-cultural experimentation with incense scent and culture and I often can not write fast enough to keep up with their demand and in many ways that’s a good thing as it shows their great appeal.

Dimension 5 / Voyager, Ottoman Empire, Ethyl Phenethyl

The three incenses here, along with the previously reviewed Urrere Unlimited and Tibet With Love, are all part of Dimension 5’s “Eclectic Collection” (all five pictured above). This seems quite fairly described as there’s a lot of diversity in style across this group, a range that really touches on a lot of scent areas. When Josh sent me the first samples I received of his work, two of them were early versions of both Ottoman Empire and Voyager, so I also got a chance to see how his recipes evolved over time, although it wasn’t until later that I got to see the approximate recipes.

With Voyager, you get a list of sandalwood, agarwood, frankincense, spices, resins and others, but as Josh describes, the incense is essentially “frankincense forward.” Voyager reminds me of a lot of the Japanese frankincense sticks, not only the Minorien and Tennendo sticks but the Shoyeido Incense Road as well, like the profile shares aspects of all of them. In this sense it would be sort of the frankincense on wood of the Minorien, a bit of the sort of banana tang you find in the Tennendo (although I notice this a little bit more in the original recipe, the piquancy is a bit mellower here) and a bit of the confectionary like sweetness you would fine in the Incense Road. As in many of the Dimension 5 incenses, Voyager has a very noticeable high quality sandalwood in the mix, one that peaks its way out in what I assume is Mysore glory. Obviously at a more luxury price it is the additional elements that complement the Frankincense that are the draw here over the other more affordable frankincenses made for the US market, although compared to a lot of other Dimension 5 incenses the agarwood is dialed back a bit. But overall I can’t really think of a sort of deluxe Japanese-style frankincense incense that has this more luxury take and so Voyager is actually quite unique. And the more you use it, the more you will see some other interesting things pop out from its profile.

With Ottoman Empire, you are more or less instantly reminded of fine Turkish rose oils. I’m not sure what the specific scent is but it strikes me as a fine absolute (it is actually a specific essential oil so I am adding this note on 12/3). Although it is listed second it may be the scent’s real primary note. With agarwood, sandalwood and other spices in the mix it’s probably not shocking that this is going to be reminiscent of ouds in a surface sense, however this feels a bit less wet or oil/perfume based and more of a dry wood kind of thing. The difference between the earlier version I received and the one being reviewed here is the balance has been adjusted for the better and it feels like the new one has a bit stronger of an agarwood presence, which means it is balancing quite nicely with the rose being used. I’ve said this before but often Dimension 5 incenses will elicit a wow out of me. Like if I have this routine where I light a stick, and then say check an email or something, the aroma will hit me and for a second I’ll forget what I lit and be wow that’s really good. Ottoman Empire is one of these. There’s some very fine aloeswood in this one, the kind of higher end wood that tends to have more of a personality, but that mix of it, the sandalwood and the rose essential oil melts really nicely with whatever spice part of the blend that gives it a nice tertiary deepness to it. A really gorgeous stick and one that after burning a few sticks of the original blend and a few of the new blend, I’ve gotten to know really well.

Ethyl Phenthyl could possibly be the most chemical name I’ve seen for what seems like such an organic sort of stick. The alcohol appears to be used in perfume, and I looked up some rose and honey descriptions of it, and for sure there is a really honey-ish note in this intriguing stick. But given the list of ambergris, agarwood, sandalwood, orris and others, it’s really that list of notes nearly in that order that is what is really featured here. The ambergris is exquisitely lovely on this, salty and rich, but I found that in some of the sticks, when it hits the sandalwood pockets, the incense is really arresting in how it profiles how great that note is and I would assume it’s because the orris (extract?) is melded so closely with it. Orris is something I’ve never quite checked out on its own yet, but when it pops up in incense it seems floral and yet deep at the same time, imparting a note that’s all too unique (it strikes me as a bit violet-like). So there is really a ton going on in this one, because I got through all of that without talking much about the agarwood, which also does really weave it’s way in here nicely. All of this is just further testament of Josh’s improving skill with melding a wide array of aromatics with deep complexity, and this is another that is a real joy to listen to. I’m starting to do that thing where I’m like no maybe THIS one is my favorite Dimension 5.

If you are interested in any of these incenses or previously reviewed sticks, please contact Josh at dimension5incense@gmail.com. In many ways the Eclectic Collection is really a wonderful place to start in his catalog as it shows such great diversity, as well as some really unique incenses that aren’t particularly common in the field. Stay tuned as I will hopefully be getting to his Terra Collection in a couple of installments later this month.

Absolute Bliss / Bholenath, Exotic Sandal, Navanath, Samadhan

This latest group of Absolute Bliss imports covers what are largely very lightly dusted charcoal sticks. Two of these are florals in the vein of the old Shroff florals (most of these were in what was called the Masala Base line), one is another sandalwood variation and the first one I will start with is something of a merger of a number of different oils.

In fact some of you might remember being a kid and going to the local 7-11 or Circle K and making what used to be called a “suicide” where you’d get to the soda counter and just fill it with splashes of everything on display. While Bholenath is certain much more thoughtfully assembled, the number of different notes in it is almost bewildering, leaving one with a very exotic, complex and intense sort of palate. First of all there is some deep floral in it. Given everything else it’s mixed in I feel like I only get this in snatches and I’m reminded of carnation and pink rose and even lotus at times. If you’re familiar with Temple of Incense’s Ganesha then you might be familiar with the way super pink florals start to push towards Valentine’s Day heart candy. But it’s only part of the aroma. There’s a definitely woodiness to it that hints at sandalwood and oud as well, although I would highly doubt there’s real amounts of either in there. The woodiness never fully materializes when the floral is sitting on it. There are levels that are almost leathery, cologne like and then others that are more like cooking spices, dill, coriander or even something like celery salt. Stephen once sent me notes that included Zest/Irish Spring (which is particularly obvious as the first note in a stick), clove, tuberose, orange blossom and ginger blossom and yeah all of these show up as well, although with every single element in the incense it seems like it’s arm-locked with its neighbor. Bholenath is an almost kaleidoscopic display of notes and as such I am going to call it both utterly brilliant while at the same time cautioning that it might not be to everyone’s taste. But to me this sort of incense audacity is exactly what I want. There’s just nothing else like it in the entire catalog.

Exotic Sandal on the other hand is almost exactly what you’d expect. As every new sandalwood incense from the AB-TOI axis comes forward you do end up finding it difficult to separate the differences and my first burn of this made me feel like it just wasn’t really all that different from the AB Mysore Sandal or the Temple of Incense Sandalwood Extreme (or a bit less so the Pure Incense version or Happy Hari Absolute/King Sandal). The difference with the Exotic, perhaps more apparent with further use, is there’s some level of feeling that much of this exists with trickery. It’s a sandalwood with a lot of lemon in it and that combination of lemon and wood is actually very similar to furniture polish post use. While the incense does have a rough sandalwood profile there’s very little in the way of complexity or depth to it, all of which implies that there may not be even a drop of sandalwood essential oil in it anywhere. I believe Corey sells this for exactly the same price as the Mysore Sandal, which is a much more satisfying burn. So unless you are a huge fan of lemony sandalwoods, I would stick to the Mysore.

As I mentioned earlier, Shroff Channabasappa used to do what they called a Masala Base line. I think perhaps what was meant by this is the charcoal of a masala base because most of these incenses were dipped charcoals. The point of these was to portray a number of different floral incenses. Some of these florals also fell within their dry masala line. But many of these covered all sorts of flowers from mogra to lily to lilac to night rose and so on and so forth. The trouble with reviewing a lot of these incenses is where you might know some, a lot of native Indian flora are not as readily available in the west and it can be really tough to remember the oils, especially on many incenses I reviewed years and years ago, many of which I was not inclined to keep or restock. But both Navanth and Samadahan fall in this category. They are essentially floral oils on charcoal. The issue with a lot of incenses like this (and Stephen reminded me of this) is that charcoal is masked the least with a floral and there can be notes that are a bit like burning hair. I think once you sink into the incenses a bit that’s not as noticeable but it’s worth bringing up. Navanth reminds me of a few different florals but I am wondering mostly if it’s a Mogra incense of some sort, as that is often something of a classic Indian floral (and it also will bring up old head shop associations as well). I’m not sure how to describe a Mogra vis-à-vis a lot of different florals as they are so specific, but if this ended up being something like a lilac or another flower it wouldn’t shock me. I would guess it’s probably a synthetic of some sort but on its own it might have some level of character, but it’s hard to tell fully with the charcoal base blasting away.

Samdahan is really little different, it’s just a different floral oil. But in immediate comparison to Navanth it is a much pinker sort of smell, less exotic, perhaps more classically feminine. I think of carnations and roses with a scent like this and would rerefer you back up to my Ganesha connection up in the Bholenath paragraph. Strangely and perhaps due to the kind of floral it is, the charcoal doesn’t strike me as quite as conflicting with this one, although that doesn’t stop the bit of burning hair (to me this one even reminds me of the scent of a salon with someone sitting under a perm machine). But in the end, at least to my nose, it’s no less fatiguing as an incense as the Navanth. The issue, really, with both of these if in this fresh a form, you’re already getting this much charcoal interference then it’s going to lose the battle with age pretty fast. And both sticks also burn really long, so there is no recommending this unless the base of a charcoal stick doesn’t bother you. This isn’t so much an incense quality issue so much as a format issue; one of the reasons I really try to avoid reviewing pure charcoals is the complaint is often the same. If you can drown it out or maybe dust it up enough than you can mitigate some of the issues, mild and gentle floral oils just don’t really stand a chance.

As always, there are no current plans to actually put these incenses up at the Absolute Bliss website so it is highly recommended and encouraged to contact Corey directly using the methods at his contact page. My experience is that you can find what you want and ask him for a Paypal invoice. Please note that currently Absolute Bliss only ships to the US.

Olfactory Rescue Service: The holidays and beyond.

ORS will be doing a downshift for the rest of the year and I’m sure some time into the new year. In terms of my own pattern of writing, when you start getting into a rhythm with it there becomes an inevitable feeling that the quality will start to drop off at some point and I have become a lot more aware of this threshold where writing goes from inspiration to just slight a bit of a chore and it’s at this point I think it’s worth mostly signing off and recharging, at least through the holidays. There will still probably be a scattering of occasional reviews and so forth, I have some more Dimension 5 goodies to share and I think both Stephen and I are planning on doing end of the year top 10 lists. And who knows what else. But the pattern. after tomorrow’s Absolute Bliss review, will be more intermittent.

Anyway thank you all for reading and weighing in, it is nice to meet a lot of new friends this year, see a lot of old friends return, and to finally have ORS back and looking a bit less aged finally. I’m hoping to do more site upkeep at some point, but it’s the kind of thing you have to be in the mood for and I’ve waned out a bit for the time being.

Dimension 5 / Urrere Unlimited

One of the sad parts about resuscitating ORS earlier this year was that the man who was practically my original partner in running the site passed away not long after I announced the site’s return. ORS might not exist if it wasn’t for Ross Urrere. Historically, this site started when I started posting about incense on my own blog. Ross joined in quite a bit and then there was some discussion about actually breaking off the incense part of the blog and creating something independent. Ross agreed to start writing, christened the site fairly quickly and off we went for many years. Ross also was interested in making his own incense and over the years went from afficionado to a revered creator in his own right. Ross was very generous and kept me fairly well supplied with samples of his incenses like Ocean of Night, Comfort, Souked Aloeswood or Sandalwood with Ambergris, all of which were brilliant. I am sad that I have completely run out of Ocean of Night even though, I was probably the benefactor of 4 or 5 vintages of it, but I do remember it fairly well (there is some truth that the inspiration to start up the site again came from revisiting a lot of vintage incenses that I actually ran out by the time I pressed go). Ocean of Night was a remarkable incense, almost sui generis from an incense standpoint, with an oakmoss presence that really set it apart from many of the heatables on the market. And I know I wasn’t the only fan of it, in fact I’ve never met anyone who didn’t like his incense work, a work I might add that was informed by studying perfume as well. In fact it is his friends in Mandy Aftel’s circle who inherited Ross’ recipes and I can certainly say for myself I look forward to the day that these return to availability.

Another appreciator of Ocean of Night is Josh Matthews at Dimension 5 who actually created this really wonderful tribute to Ross, an incense that includes Ocean of Night as an ingredient in the blend (as well as a tiny touch of the original in order to suss it out in his blend). We did make sure to OK it with Ross’ inheritors and very much appreciate their graciousness in allowing Josh to offer this wonderful stick of incense. So first of all, Ocean of Night included sandalwood, oakmoss, frankincense and the usual unlisted herbs, resins, spices and woods. To create Urrere Unlimited Josh uses Vietnamese and New Guinea agarwood, as well as other spices, including cardamom. Just reading this again, I like the idea a lot to use this unique spice in the mix. If Ocean of Night included any agarwood it was largely marginal so this uniquely crafted stick that actually marries that scent to fine aloeswood is a perfect tribute. I like the unique take of matching up the cardamom spice with the oakmoss front of Ocean of Night. I also like the way Urrere Unlimited reminds me of Baieido’s Kai un Koh in its relative unsweetness as Ross was a huge fan of that stick. The aloeswood here has a nice sense of dry elegance and bitterness that I think matches the incense quite well. The blend also reminds me a lot of another favorite of Ross’s, Shunkohdo’s Ranjatai. All of these things make me feel like Ross would have appreciated this stick very much. And overall there is a lot to listen to, after a few sticks I think you’re very likely to sense a lot more of what is going on than just the surface.

Like Tibet With Love, Urrere Unlimited is also part of Dimension 5’s Eclectic Collection sampler. Reviews of the final three scents in this sampler as well as a new batch of incenses called The Terra Collection are all forthcoming here, but are all now available. If you are interested in any of these incenses or previously reviewed sticks, please contact Josh at dimension5incense@gmail.com. I will say again that these are wonderful treats for the incense connoisseur, made from a collection of very fine materials, many of which rarely show themselves in stick form. In that sense many of these are completely unique in the market.

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