It’s been mentioned a lot here and I generally agree that really high quality aloeswood incense has a steep learning curve. This idea was brought a little closer in comparing the three sticks in the subject line. All three of these incenses use very high quality wood, although if the latter two do not have kyara level wood, they certainly have the next best thing. Sticks like Minorien’s aloeswood, not to mention the various qualities in Shoyeido’s aloeswood chips bring home just how obviously resinated a wood can be. Whether you’d describe it as tarry or turpentine like, it seems to me all the glory of a wood can be found in this element, this conglomeration of aged aromatics.
Yet it’s not always that obvious and in particular I picked out three sticks by three different companies I’ve been using lately that actually have the same sort of element. In none of these did I recognize just how quality the wood was right away. With Ga-Ho I first noticed the dill or cumin notes that bring out the dryness. Second I noticed the floral perfume that balances it. Only after a third or fourth stick did the powerful resin of the wood really make itself known, but when it did this stick opened up like a lotus flower and my impression of it went up.
This is even more obscure with Baieido’s Koh En. Like most of their premium aloeswoods, the sticks are thin and the aroma is mellow and if these sticks use any spices or extra ingredients other than binder, I can imagine the purpose is to bring out the wood alone. But such a stick also fooled me into ignoring the resin quality at first. I think there’s a pretty big difference between Baieido and Shoyeido aloeswood, the latter seems robust and intense, while the former seems to capture the sublimity better, but it’s a quality so fleeting and faint it can be hard to pick up. Because with higher level Baieido aloeswood like Hakusui, the general nature of the resin, while just as conglomerated and fierce as any other good wood, actually seems more floral and/or spicy in quality and less resinous in a tarry sense. And with Koh En you get those qualities more up front. At first it’s hard to differentiate it from the lower ends in the same line, but the more I thought about what makes Koh En different, the more I realized it was the same level of resin. It speaks to a very long learning curve.
Kyara Ryugen, of course, really does up the resin element and at levels like this the whole glory of what makes aloeswood special comes out. Both Koh En and Ga-Ho are great at evoking old memories, but it’s a different level with Ryugen. Koh En definitely has complexity in terms of listening to the wood and Ga-Ho is complex among all its facets, but the quality of Ryugen is high enough to do what Koh En does while making it seem like it’s as multi-faceted as Ga-Ho, without much need for anything but the wood. Ryugen can start, woody, dry and brash like the rest of the Minorien line, but almost instantly the wood’s resin starts to emit spirals of inherent floral behavior, but on a level that is so intense that the incense continually reminds you this character comes from the kyara, at least in part. And like Koh En, the resin feel never quite gets tarry, on the contrary Ryugen has an almost powdery sweet like quality that is almost tropically exotic, so exotic that it resonates with watery, emotional qualities and continually drives one to passionate responses.