Mermade Magickal Goddess Hymn & Moon Goddess (-Ross)

Both of these are for charcoal or electric heaters

Goddess Hymn, which has some large bricks mixed in with a loose incense mixture has a very nice combination of resins and woods with a slight rose scent that sort of hovers in the background. If you only heat up the bricks you are presented with a distinct Labdanum scent, along with vanilla notes that is wonderfully deep and mysterious. When the loose mixture is added in the rose notes come into play as well as quality Sandalwood. The rose notes seem subtle, yet are also of a very high quality. A nice combination of scents and one that can be used to get three different scents.

Moon Goddess, which has Orris (Iris) root and Jasmine as well as Frankincense and Sandalwood is a lighter scented incense then the Goddess Hymn. The Orris and Jasmine combination really stand out to produce a very elegant floral note that rides across the resins and woods. Orris is not a very common note in incense, mostly because real live Orris root is expensive and not easy to work with. There is an almost formal or ritual feel to this one, something for the special occasion or ceremony.

As seems to always be the case the quality of the ingredients that go into these blends is very good. This is one of the few companies that I believe when they say “natural ingredients”.

-Ross

Happy Holidays

A quick note to wish everyone a happy holiday, I won’t be back posting or commenting until early January, however Ross and Steve should be around. Should have some thoughts on the new Shroffs at that point. Best to all. – Mike

SAMPLER NOTES: Maroma, Scented Mountain

In most cases Olfactory Rescue Service is driven by what we like, rather than what we don’t, after all, despite the internet’s evidence to the contrary, my theory is it’s better to walk away from what you don’t like than take swings at it, but even though my purchasing schemes are geared to bringing in what I consider good incense, I do try to branch out. At the same time that Pure-Incense and Purelands hit the shores of the US to great acclaim, so did the incenses of Maroma and the story here doesn’t appear to be quite as pleasant. Where the incenses of the previous companies are definitively and boldly Indian, Maroma’s products, at least the few I’ve sampled here, might have come from anyone with a bag of charcoal punks and a small and indistinguished essential oil collection. Suffice it to say this small smattering of Maroma scents were requested as samples and more or less stopped me dead from investigating any more. Of course that’s not to say I necessarily got the good ones in the group, but I think I got enough of a range to make a rough judgement call.

Maroma’s got a few internal ranges, and the first two scents here are part of their Encense d’Auroville range. At roughly the same time I wrote this I was also evaluating Primo incenses and it was difficult not to compare the two charcoal bases between the companies. I’m not fond of the style at all but at least in Primo there appears to be enough vanilla in the mix to mostly account for the off charcoal notes, in Maroma’s Encense d’Auroville line there’s no such luck. That is it’s not difficult to point at this range as an example of what I tend not to like in incense, essential oil mixes whose better qualities get lost in bitterness and overly pungent and astringent smoke.

The Champak in this range is described as an Indian tropical floral with a mix of olibanum resin, benzoin absolute and vanilla. I dug up the ingredients list after experiencing the sample sticks and was perhaps not so surprised to see they didn’t add up with what I thought I was smelling. It’s true, with samples, we do often find a decay in the amount of oil strength, but like lots of synthetic charcoal mixes the images that come to mind are commercial products like suntan lotion and deodorants rather than anything natural. Whatever resinous attributions one might guess from the olibanum and benzoin only seem to manifest in a certain background note and most of the time all you’d notice is the harsh charcoal base smoking like a chimney.

I thought the Encens d’Auroville Patchouli might fare better but the ingredient list also includes vetivert and clove, making this far more blend than a true patchouli stick. After all patchouli alone might be enough to make up for a smoky charcoal base, but as it goes it doesn’t work at all here. In fact this is perhaps the sort of smell many associate negatively with patchouli and thus doesn’t do anyone any favors. Even the charcoal Patchouli sticks done by Primo, which aren’t among even that line’s best incenses, are far better than this one.

We get a little more distinction moving to the Kalki line which at least from the evidence found in Clarity seems to be more of a masala than charcoal style and it benefits from following the two E d’A sticks. However, the Clarity mix of clove, orange and nutmeg seems like it would work much better in a hot cup of tea than on this masala base. With so much incense to choose from one wonders why such an oil blend is even needed on a stick and the combination of these strangely verges on a lemongrass scent with the spices being a little too mild. I’m not saying there may not be something to like here, but this doesn’t strike me much as good sort of scent for an incense, I’d probably enjoy a blend in an oil mix in a terra cotta ring a lot more. No doubt this is a scent even the most amateur of oil mixes might come up with accidentally.

The Spa line moves back to charcoals (assuming this is true across the whole line), or at least it does with the New Energy blend. Here the essential oil mix seems to be more audacious, with a cast of characters including orange, lemon, basil, peppermint, lavender, cubeb and rosemary. I don’t know cubeb, but at least can fairly say that I can evince the notes of all the rest of these from this incense which is no mean feat. For sure the peppermint is nicely placed and not too strong like it can be, rounding the edges of the blend. The same issues for me are true, this seems to be more effective in an oil or perfume blend than in an incense, but at least it mostly overcomes the charcoal base problems, or at least does more than the E d’A duo.

Moving to the opposite spectrum and partially based on some comment conversations elsewhere, I revisited some of the Scented Mountain work of late. My journey with these is that when I first sampled the work of this august company (a project I think we’re all well behind here), devoted to ecologically sustainable Agarwood products, I actually really liked what I got, but upon restock I found myself less lucky. I’ve never been able to tell where my general experience with agarwood incense interfaces with my opinion of the Scented Mountain Grade 1 agarwood, but it seems to be declining even at the same time the agarwood actually seems to be improving. While I think cultivated aloeswood still has a long way to go to be talked about in the same breath as Baieido Hakusui or Ogurayama, there is indeed an almost rustic pleasure burning these sticks or cones (my comments are based on samples of both, in the Grade 1 form). My problem actually isn’t with the resin scent which, while average, is still quite nice, but the bitter almost harsh aspect of the wood the resin has come out of. While you can certainly cut down on these off notes by putting product like this one the heater, it in fact is a much worse aspect when you burn a binder heavy cone.

I should also mention that even in the proper packaging, the few samples I was sent of the sticks actually managed to totally disintegrate in the mail, to 1/8 inch fragment and powder which I actually found quite instructive and hilarious as while Japanese style sticks are easy to break I rarely find that to the be the case when they’re protected. But I think it’s reflective of the weakness of the binder, so one might want to keep an eye on these if you’re an owner so they don’t vibrate to death.

The Olfactory Rescue Service Top 25 (Mike and Ross)

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

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

N. Ranga Rao & Sons / Woods

In the short version of this review, I’d link to this Mystic Temple review, make the note that N. Ranga Rao & Sons Woods incense is virtually identical to Mystic Temple’s Sacred Woods and then be done with it (and cheers to Janet for making the association in the comments there), and if I did so I’d be fairly accurate. Even on separate occasions I might have noticed each incense’s similarity to the fresh greenness of Shrinivas Sugandhalaya’s Patchouli Forest blend or made note of the high woody oil content it contains. However as is always the case with incense sometimes even two different batches of the same incense often have some differences.

Most noticeable here is that the Woods stick is much bigger than the more standardized Mystic Temple Sacred Woods. I toyed with including these with a (now future) review of various floras, and then thought I might move it to the champas but at the last moment thought better of it, in some ways it’s a hybrid of the two styles, but I think there’s an oil content here that perhaps makes it a one (or perhaps two) of a kind. In terms of “Woods” I think we’re talking of the Woods as a synonym for the forest, rather than the normal aloeswood and sandalwood associations that pop to mind with incense. Although there certainly seems to be a sandalwood in the mix, so much of what we’re smelling here is green, and I’d note again the Mystic Temple review where I compare this to some of the celtic or forest resin blends. That is, where there might be oils here, there are also, perhaps, pitches and resins. My nose picks up a bit of high quality cedar oil in there, waves of evergreen oils that could be anything from cypress to juniper to pine and that almost lilting fresh patchouli-like scent mentioned earlier, less the dark and earthy oil than the fringes around the edges that speak more of the fresh than the harvested. And all of this has the layers of sandalwood oil that help root the scent and give it a somewhat ancient vibe. It’s really a brilliant piece of work, a highly attractive incense that most will enjoy in either of its forms. I dare say it might be iconic despite its spin off.

Kodo Utensils Post at Alices Incense

David Oller, who besides being Baieido’s representive in the US,  also has a large amount of great information about Japanese incense, its customs and uses. He has posted a great blog entry on Kodo equipment with descriptions and pictures. Nicely done and very informative.

http://www.alicesincense.blogspot.com/

-Ross

Champacopia – Contemporary Nag Champas

Back in August 2007 I left one of my rare Amazon.com (of the  world famous, best selling incense Shrinivas Sughandalaya Sai Baba Nag Champa) reviews here. If you browse around a little you’ll find that even with a 3/5 star rating, my review is easily one of the most critical for that product and at the time I still hadn’t quite learned exactly why I was continuing to notice a variation in this product from box to box.

Wikipedia’s Nag Champa entry describes Nag Champa, saying “Champa incenses contain a natural ingredient indigenous to India called “halmaddi”, which is a semi-liquid resin taken from the Ailanthus Malabarica tree. It is what gives Nag Champa its characteristic grey color. Halmaddi is hygroscopic which means it absorbs moisture from the air. This can cause Nag Champa incenses to have a wet feeling to them.” What it doesn’t say is the the resin halmaddi was also reponsible for the large portion of the incense’s scent.

However, halmaddi has become increasing rare and now is part of biodiversity conservation measures to prevent the declining population of one of many non-timber forest products in India. And about a decade ago, without a word, the Blue Box Nag Champa incense, famous worldwide for its quality, changed its recipe by removing most, if not all halmaddi from its champas. What was once an incense institution now left users scratching their heads and trying to figure out why things weren’t the same. But not only did this shortage affect the famous Nag Champa, it laid a trail of devastation through several companies and has unfortunately laid waste to most of the Shrinivas Sugandhalaya catalog. Super Hit, Satya Natural and many others are just not the incenses they once were.

The most obvious way of telling the halmaddi has been reduced is that the incenses are not wet anymore and the deep and resonant honey and vanilla scent of the halmaddi has become a shadow of itself. What’s perhaps interesting about all of this is that halmaddi hasn’t completely disappeared, if you look around you can still find the resin itself. So it’s likely it’s just too expensive now to be an ingredient in a box that retails for only a few dollars. But as no company has taken it upon themselves to create halmaddi champas in a more premium price range as of this writing (I suppose I’m still crossing my fingers that the two new Shroff wet masalas might fill this niche), perhaps there are other conservation regulatory complexities I’m not aware of.

This write up is going to talk about a group of champas in the modern age. I’ll state right at the front that while a few of these are quite good, there’s not a one of them that truly resembles the old Blue Box, none of them have the semi-wet, gooey consistency the original had and while I’d guess maybe one or two of these do have a slight hint of halmaddi, none of them have enough to cause the incense to display the hygroscopic tendencies it used to. Read the rest of this entry »

New Shroffs are in

Assuming you have any money left after Beth’s exhaustive 12 day sale, I want to let you all know that not only are the old Shroff Channabasappa scents restocked at Essence of the Ages, but there’s a whole group of new ones including what could be considered the first true Indian premium incenses to reach US shores, several whose prices are very close to Japanese ranges. As always comments and then reviews will be eventually forthcoming, although keeping up with this amazing company is proving to be quite difficult! But be aware many of these will move fast…

SAMPLER NOTES: Nippon Kodo, Men-Tsee-Khang, Lhundup

Nippon Kodo were apparently started in New York, or at least I read that on Wikipedia once, so I suppose a grain of salt is in order, but I take such a statement as part of a rationalization that helps me separate the company from the big group of other Japanese incense companies. But to be fair the major separation here is that Nippon Kodo are more of an incense company for the masses, creating many of their lines so that they’re modern in tone and cheap in price, meaning that there are obviously a lot of synthetic perfumes at work in these, a fact we can infer from a couple of their lines being marketed as pure or all-natural. So it has been difficult from my end to really sing the praises of Nippon Kodo’s incenses, although to be sure in some cases they really do succeed.

For one thing, Nippon Kodo, like most Japanese companies have a line of aloeswood incenses that could have the widest range in the world, starting down in the cheaper categories covered here a while back with Kangetsu. Shuin and others and apparently moving all the way to kyara sticks in the 5 digit range, well beyond the standards of all but the truly wealthy. In the US, we’ve seen as high as the $420 box Tokusen Kyara Kayou. More common (and covered by Ross a while back) are the next two in the series, the Tokusen Kyara Taikan and the Gokuhin Kyara Taikan at $146 and $250, both of which are excellent incenses if, perhaps, overpriced compared to what you might find from a different company in the same range. After these scents, the Nippon Kodo aloeswoods drop to the Kyara Taikan and Kyara Kongo, two incenses that seem to mimic a certain type of stylized kyara scent that may be considered too perfumed from a traditional perspective.

And for a long time here is where I stopped, not realizing that when the range drops to Jinkoh Juzan, it has actually come up with a startingly decent and fairly affordable aloeswood incense. Like with the higher ends, it does retain a certain perfumed characteristic that’s common to all Nippon Kodos, however, the Juzan is not nearly as rich as the two Kyaras above it and somehow a distinct woodiness that is common to most aloeswoods is not lost at all, giving the perfume and oil quite the decent balance. That Nippon Kodo could get away with an aloeswood having this resiny a subscent at this range is quite a surprise in my book. However, the crux of the issue is whether I’m enjoying the sample or would go on to like a full box of Juzan without getting tired of it. Honestly I’m more inclined to thinking it would be quite good, as it has a similar balance to the Tokusen Kyara Taikan, which I do like quite a bit.

On the other hand Nippon Kodo’s Jinko Seiun is perhaps more what you’d expect from a low end Nippon Kodo incense. Despite the $36 asking price, you’re still getting 170 sticks which sort of belies the idea this is a deluxe aloeswood and implies this probably fits better with the low ends. I’ve not, nor plan to try any of the other Seiuns, so I’m not totally sure what the characteristic is of the line across Amore, Violet and Chrysanthemum incenses, but the Jinkoh is certainly floral enough to where its nature as an aloeswood is somewhat trivial. Certainly this seems to have more of an aloeswood approximation than definition and as such it seems like it’s crossing a modern/traditional divide that’s likely going to appeal more to the modern-inclined.

So now over to the continent to the Men-Tsee-Khang medical center that appears to operate in two different countries (Tibet and India), however from the constituency of the incenses (that is, lacking the sorts of animalistic scents found in incenses from the Tibetan Autonomous Region) I think we can assume these scents follow alongside traditional Nepalese and Indian styles. Men-Tsee-Khang produce two stick incenses and two powders. I’ve not tried the powders, but the sticks certainly seem akin to incenses found at the Dhoop Factory and other Nepalese outfits, with heavy Himalayan woods and herbs at the center. The regular Sorig Incense, like many Nepalese or Indian monastery incenses, has a number of ingredients (listed by Latin name at the above link) that impart herbal and berry-ish tones to the scent, but overall is distinguished by a large amount of woods and binder that give the typical campfire smell associated with these types of incenses. While I only had enough of a sample to touch the surface, it did seem that this seemed to be one of the better in the style, with a bit of complexity and an unsual wild note in the mix. While I probably have enough incenses in this style not to immediately pursue a box, I can imagine I might eventually replace something else similar to this in the future.

The Sorig Healing stick is much thicker and resembles Dhoop Factory’s Agar 31/Medicine Buddha line in a couple of ways. It definitely seems to be akin to the common scents in this style, with a mix of woods, herbs and a very slight agarwood tang to it, but most importantly it doesn’t seem to have a great deal of filler to it and few if any off scents. It’s perhaps a bit hard to get lit, but for such a thick stick it doesn’t put out a lot of smoke and seems to have a gentle calming effect.

There are a couple grades to Bhutanese creator Lhundup, however I only received a sampler of the top A grade. Naturally this is sort of the typical Bhutanese style stick, roughly similar to Nado Poizokhang’s incenses or World Peace Grade B or Kuenzang Chodtin, with a pinkish hue and a similar berry-like tang to it. The consistency isn’t quite as snappy or plastic-like as some of these other incenses and there’s a bit deeper of a tone to it. Overall there’s a lot of sandalwood, both white and red, spice, cherry, musk and at times a slight unique gentle floral that sets this apart from other Bhutanese sticks. Quite interesting overall, although it’s difficult to tell whether it earns its $18.50 asking price or not.

Next up in the Sampler Notes series, the bad news, a very rough sample of a few Maroma Indian charcoals and perhaps another incense or two as a late addition…

Oud Article at Perfume Shrine

Found this great post about Oud at Perfume Shrine.  Some really good insight on pricing and availability. The author is a great writer and always has fascinating pieces on scent. A good read.

-Ross

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