British distributor Pure-Incense (available in the US) are responsible for two of the finest Indian incense lines available in the Western market, in fact they’re probably the only company that delievers a product on the same level with a similar large and diverse catalog as Shroff Channabasappa. Not only do Pure-Incense distribute fine versions of the most common variants in Indian incense but the company raises the bar by adding a wide variety of combinations and new forms. And ultimately its finest achievement is their Connoisseur line, a higher quality level of Indian incense than found in their regular line. Here there are oils to bewitch and enchant even the most ardent Indian incense skeptics, scents whose level of aroma move into the level of memory, nostalgia and sheer mastery of scent.
The base of both incenses is created from a mixture of charcoal, vanilla and sandalwood. The ingredients of this base can not be stressed enough as it has an impact on the aromas, particularly in Pure-Incense’s Absolute line. The base contents are reduced for the Connoisseur line, perhaps in an opposite manner to the way some Tibetan companies create grades by adding juniper wood to thin down content for cheaper versions. It’s particularly important to note here, however, as the presence of vanilla is very noticeable at the Absolute level, to the point where it becomes part of the overt aroma. At the Connoisseur level the base is far less apparent. In incenses where the charcoal content is at its most overt, generally in the more floral types, the Connoisseur level is particularly impressive. However, there’s no question that in either range there are some very high quality oils at work and in all cases I believe these to be natural and pure and it makes all the difference in the world.
Pure-Incense’s Agarwoood is impressive in both ranges and it’s a very different incense depending on which version one purchases. In the Absolute range it’s not a particularly complex incense and actually resembles a number of other woodier incenses in the range, somewhere between the cedarwood, sandalwood and Golden Champa. But make no question, even at this level there’s a distinct agarwood oil in the mix. The deciding factor as it is with all these incenses is that with the heavier vanilla content the Absolute Agarwood is a sweeter incense, with slight hints of cocoa, honey and floral oil in the mix. The Connoisseur version is a revelation, to date the finest Indian agarwood available in the Western market. With the reduced base and much stronger oud oil presence, this becomes a much woodier and complex incense. The company’s claim of “camphor-like” is much pronounced here although it is only one impressive note in a bounty of woody subaromas all of which reflect rather well the intricacy of good agarwood, however unlike Japanese agarwoods all this seems to be done on an oil level. While the honey and vanilla scents from the absolute only work on a sublime level, added are hints of root beer/sasparilla, tea, maple and a very slight spice. Overall a truly world class incense and be sure not to start with it and move backward to the Absolute.
The Absolute Blue Lotus is one of the many in the range where the vanilla is so obvious as to be a co-note rather than a side aroma. In this case the melding is quite pleasant, giving the light Blue Lotus oil a more polished and subtle feel. The perfume is hard to describe, very feminine and unique, but it’s only at Connoissuer strength where the concentration moves into areas that are heady and magickal. Here you have a reduction of vanilla and an increase in the perfume oil and it’s profoundly mystical and gorgeous at this range, an instant winner in my book. Lotus is such a variable aroma that in incense it’s very difficult to find a standard (perhaps the closest would be the Blue Pearl Lotus, but that’s definitely not a Blue Lotus per se), but in this Connoissuer version it’s more than just a charcoal and perfume, almost as if there is some unknown new base notes at work that enhance the whole. Pure-Incense describes this as ethereal and really it’s hard to find another incense that so earns the description.
Hari Leela is a floral mix and charcoal heavy in both its Absolute and Connoisseur ranges, in fact the only major difference as always is the vanilla has an aromatic presence in the Absolute and the oil levels are cranked up in the Connoisseur. The perfume is very mellow in the Absolute version, something like a mix of rose and carnation notes with the overall mix kind of polished and smooth. In the Connoissuer version I seem to sense more hints of jasmine in the mix with the increased oil content, but overall of the almost dozen incenses that share across the two ranges, the two versions are pretty close for Hari Leela. It should also be mentioned that scent apparently comes from the Bakula tree, so I can only approximate the overall scent by approximating the subnotes. From a more general view this is yet another heady, exotic floral and as it has few analogs outside the range, certainly worth adding to your incense diversity.
Pure-Incense’s Nepal Musk is not only one of the line’s classics, but it’s also one of the finest herbal musks you can find in incense and I say this as someone who finds herbal musks “mostly misses.” The incense actually holds some similarities to the previously mentioned Blue Lotus as if the two just varied by color and vibration, the color here being an obvious green, carrying with that connotation some very earthy notes along with it. Again, the Absolute version has a distinct vanilla presence and while I’ve noted it as being consonant with some of the other styles in the line, here it manages to combine with the oil to give off some odd and intriguing notes of tobacco leaf and mint or menthol, which aren’t nearly as noticeable at the Connoisseur strength. What is obvious at the Connoisseur level is that the oil is at a strength more competitive with the more controversial animalistic strength found in Tibetan incenses and despite what you may feel about the use of real musk, it’s precisely that potent and mindbending strength where you want a musk at, so it should be celebrated that one can find one so potent at an ecologically friendly level. However the musk oil, while not quite so feral, is equally sublime and mixed with the greener notes evoking patchouli and various evergreens, making for a classic and memorable scent. This is one that had me after a stick, a tremendously addictive and complex incense.
If the Blue Lotus and green Nepal Musk nailed their color schemes rather perfectly you’d certainly have to add Pink Sayli to that mix, although the pink quality is really only noticeable in the Connoissuer range (I thought it telling that my Absolute sample had dropped the pink from the label). The Absolute version is practically a charcoal incense with some light pink sprinkling (that tends to fall off quite easily). Sayli is really as pink and sweet as valentine’s day candy hearts, and that association while perhaps lost with the “pink” gets most of it back with the increased vanilla content, making a terribly friendly incense. But in this case you might just want to jump to the Connoisseur level which brings this to the heady strength of the entire line, with the incense stick obvious wreathed through with pink material that’s sugary, sweet, floral and at times slightly berry-like. One might even call this something of a foofy incense if it wasn’t for the strength of the oil being so memory resonant. Extraordinarily feminine, it’s hard to imagine anyone not liking such a friendly, pretty incense. And in the end, based on the other incenses in the catalog, one feels like they can trust this as a perfect rendition of the South Indian flower.
And in fact a good reason for one’s trust in getting things right is Pure-Incense’s Rose incense which had gotten a heavy buzz well before writing this up. Rose incenses are very difficult to get right, or perhaps they are only when using analogs or cheap perfumes to approximate the scent, nearly all of which leave offputting chemical or housecleaner like bitter scents. But not only does Pure-Incense get this right with their charcoal Absolute, they absolutely raise things to an incredibly high standard with their Connoisseur, one of the very best Rose incenses on the market no matter where the origin. Both incenses work because the oil being used actually smells like what one would sense by smelling a large bouquet of roses before or just after they’re picked. It’s refreshing to know that such a lovely smell can be done correctly and while the Absolute certainly has the vanilla element in the mix, the perfume oil is not lost at all, just mellower than the profoundly intense scent of the Connoissuer of which a third of a stick could easily scent one’s general area.
So in many ways of this first six, there’s really not a Connoisseur version you’d want to miss, they are indeed some of the most beautiful and intense incenses you’ll find, and it’s true that you do pay for the increased quality (although if you’re like me you’ll find you’ll want to go for the 100g packages after just a sample). But again, as good as these are I don’t want to detract from the evaluation that the Absolute range really only comes in second place in comparison to the Connoisseurs, when you put many of these up against other incense ranges they still come off as extremely impressive, undoubtedly some of the finest Indian masalas available. If you’ve enjoyed the Shroff range this is undoubtedly the company you’d want to check out next and fortunately I’ll have more in both ranges to discuss over the next several months. High Class A+ work here folks.