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.

1. Baieido / Premium Aloeswood Sticks

The quintet of Pawlonia-boxed aloeswood sticks that range from Kokonoe to Koh Shi Boku span woods from four countries, contain no oils, natural or otherwise, and present a variety of aloeswoods in a stick form only a step or two removed from the pure wood. This range is one of incalculable depth and in the face of all five, we still remain students as each scent grows alongside our understanding and appreciation of the apex of all woods. These are incenses that are practically living and no matter what we write about them, we can only approximate, hint at and reflect on what are just some of the finest incense sticks on the planet. And no matter where you come in on the range you’re perhaps getting the best deal for your money in incense. [Mike]

2. Shoyeido Premium/Premium Daily Incense Ranges

I would venture to say that many people who use Japanese incense in this country got their start from Shoyeido, I know I did. I am also quite sure that when deciding to “go for the more expensive stuff” that many of the sticks in this line have come up for consideration and purchase. There are some really great incenses here starting with En-Mei and Sei-Fu (Daily Premiums) and roaring into the stratospheric heights of Myo-Ho and Sho-Kaku. There might be formula changes within some of these recently, however I just sampled a number of sticks of the Myo-Ho and it truly rocks! Shoyeido also makes samplers of most of their lines, thus allowing people to find out what is going on without breaking the bank. Let me highly recommend the Premium 15 Stick Sampler as it has all of these two lines. [Ross]

3. Mermade Magickal Arts/Incense Heater

Having an electric incense heater opens up a whole new world for incense users, one that can be virtually smokeless and much more towards the aromatherapy side of things. Plus it can give you the opportunity to easily make up your own blends and amaze your friends. It makes the whole process of using resins and raw woods really simple and much more accessible. The Mermade unit is the best deal in heaters going. It has a large temperature range, is pretty inexpensive and works well. Once you start to use one, you will wonder what took you so long! A little caution and restraint when first using helps. You will notice Mermade in another listing in this post; they have a great selection of materials to use on heaters. Also, check out Nu Essence Resins blends, they work very well on this heater. [Ross]

4. Baieido/Hakusui Aloeswood

Baiedo has a range of four different aloeswoods, but of these four the Vietnamese wood they call Hakusui is the most transcendent of experiences. If you notice the occasional comment on ORS that, perhaps, doesn’t seem to be terribly impressed with the wood products offered by other companies, it’s quite possible that Hakusui is to blame. Because this is a selected aloeswood that is so much more than your typical wood, it’s like a completely different tree, an explosion of spicy depth that continues to take my breath away since the first day I bought a gram chip of it about the size of a thumb. This isn’t to take away from all the wonderful aloeswoods out there, but I think Hakusui proves it’s not just about the resin quantity but about certain qualities. And for heater users, I’m not sure there is any better experience than breaking off a tiny chip of this for use on a mica plate, it’s almost psychedelic in intensity. [Mike]

5. Shroff Channabasappa (Company)

Shroff is an amazing company who also appears to be in tune to what people are asking for. In the last six months or so the line has expanded and Essence of the Ages has brought in a Semi-Dry Masala line that really upped the ante in the world of Indian incense. The Pearl, Moonlight and Jungle Prince are all amazing; even more amazing is that they are so inexpensive. I also love the assorted ambers in the Dry Masala line up as well as many others. Check out the reviews here from Mike for an in-depth look. They have also just added Wet Masalas and a Natural line that promise to be true works of incense art. This is a huge catalog of great incenses and a real eye opener for those just venturing into the Indians. [Ross]

6. Shoyeido/Horin Coils

The Japanese have many different classifications of incense. One way of looking at it is as a personal/meditation style or as a room/”100 pace” style. The room style refers to incense that packs a lot of punch and has a long lasting scent. The Horin line pretty much falls into the room style. You will notice that we are referring to the coils rather then the short sticks in this write up, the reason being that we think the coils have a noticeably more woody and less perfumed quality to them, which we like. This entire line of five scents is a winner and has at least three of what I would consider some of best that incense has to offer: Hori-Kawa (River Path), a wonderful amber based scent; Muro-Machi (City of Culture), a sort of caramel and aloeswood scent that is truly glorious; and Ten-Pyo (Peaceful Sky) which brings in the nuances of kyara. You can get a sampler set of the sticks which will give you an idea of what is going on here but do realize that the coils really do have a woodier scent to them. [Ross]

7. Shunkohdo/Ranjatai, Kyara Seikan, Kyara Aioi no Matsu

It was tempting to just give the view of Shunkohdo the company as they do fine incense in just about all of their lines, but given the size of their catalog, we found it more appropriate to take a look at the crown of what they import to the United States which includes the venerable aloeswood incense Ranjatai, still one of the finest buys you can find in the US per stick, the seemingly kyara enhanced version of Ranjatai called Seikan and another unbelievably complex kyara stick called Aioi No Matsu. These are all tremendous incenses that reflect the balance of the incense making art by only using the right amount of spices and other materials to complement the woods themselves, all of which are at their finest available quality. Seikan in particular is an ORS classic, found often on our monthly top 10 lists, but to say so is almost to forget that Ranjatai is so very close and much more affordable. A roll of this may come pricy, but like the next installment, it’s one that will last you an incredibly long time, yet with a scent few incenses can match. [Mike]

8. Kyukyodo/Sho-Ran-Ko

I wrote about this in the November Top Ten. In fact it has been written about quite a lot here, I personally think this is a real deal for a high end incense in that you get about 150 ten inch sticks that smell wonderful with a subtle floral and spice combination that is very much Old Japan in nature. Rumor has it that this is what is burned in the Imperial Palace in Kyoto, how can you say no to a pedigree like that? [Ross]

9. Daihatsu/ Sandalwood Chips

To be fair, perhaps we should be crediting the fine work of mother nature for these sandalwood chips, however with many companies offering sandalwood for sale, it’s still difficult to think of a company other than Daihatsu offering this fine of a quality of old mountain heartwood. While it’s sold in square size chips, there’s something even more special about what’s being offered looking like it was cut right from a tree limb. You won’t believe your nose with these chips just smelling them directly from a box, but wait until a small piece hits a heater. I’ve converted people who say they can’t stand sandalwood with just a whiff of the box. The real deal and an essential buy for your heater, this is as close to an ultimate sandalwood experience as one might afford. [Mike]

10. Kunmeido/Reiryo-Koh, Reiryo-Koh Aloeswood, Onkun Koh, Shoryu-Koh, Heian-Koh, Asuka, Kyara Tenpyo

Kunmeido are the artisans of the tangy green note in Japanese incense and while it shows up in very small amounts in Shoryu-Koh, it practically explodes once it hits the thick stick Heian-Koh blend and then refines itself in one of the most astonishing of recent imports in their Kyara Tenpyo. In fact this trio of scents are literally among my very favorites of recent months and there’s not a single one that doesn’t compete favorably at their relative price ranges. And let’s not forget that Kunmeido are also responsible for some of the must haves of inexpensive traditional incense, indeed the only time you forget about how great they are is when you’re not burning them. [Mike]

11. Tennendo/Enkuu (Horizon)

Enkuu from Tennendo has made it onto our monthly Top Ten lists many times and for good reason. It has a somewhat unique scent profile that is very hard to put into words. It somehow spans the range from subtle to” in your face” with sharp spice/herbal notes combined with a very nice aloeswood background. This is not floral in any way, neither is it just a spice/herb/resin mix. It does not have kyara listed in the ingredients but somehow I tend to treat it the same way. This is one of my favorite incenses, one that I also tend to save for “occasions.” Excellent for meditation and reflection time. Not inexpensive, but worth it. A masterpiece. [Ross]

12. Hougary Frankincense (distributed via Mermade)

Hougary is the A grade Omani Frankincense, and lets face it, history might have been different had this not been what the wise men had as part of their legendary gift. As one finds out over time any particular incense ingredient has a long ramp of quality that rises from the dull and generic to the sparkling and gemlike and the hougary Mermade Magickal Arts has managed to import is still the finest and most defined to my nose, it’s almost like cutting into some mythic citrus fruit. So far you may have a bunch of blends, sandalwood and aloeswood on your heater list, but you won’t want to forget this either. I’d wager it would be difficult to find the person who doesn’t find this incredible. And hey, this is the right time of year! [Mike]

13. Baieido/Kobunboku Meditation line

Baieido has been around for a long time and they tend towards a pretty traditional approach in many of their lines. The Kobunbokus all seem to feature quality sandalwood along with cassia, clove and other spices and sometimes aloeswood. This is a big line up of incenses even including a smokeless one. Many people use one or more of these sticks as a daily household incense or in their meditations. They are totally natural with no oils of any kind added. They are not very expensive yet are some of the best incenses on the market and can be stunning in their complexity and at the same time very user friendly. I love the Bikou Kobunboku for its upbeat scent, the Byakudan Kobunboku is easily one of the all time best deals in sandalwood, and the Kaden Kobunboku has the addition of aloeswood for some extra punch. This line is a great place to start in Japanese incense. Not to be missed. [Ross]

14. Minorien (Company)

Minorien is an incense company whose line is very well thought of in Japan and has been brought here to the US by Scents of Japan. Their line up features a sort of “wet” note that runs through all of their sticks with the exception of their Frankincense. It is a unique and captivating addition to incense and seems to bring out a completely different approach to each of their blends. That they stick to pretty straight up wood blends without any floral or perfume embellishments might be why I see their sticks listed in a lot of temple products catalogs in Japan. Their high end Kyara Ryugen stick is gorgeous, a stunning display of kyara mixed in with wet tones, like you were lighting a stick next to the tree it came from in the Cambodian jungles. Except no bugs 🙂 Oh yes, try the Frankincense, it’s wonderful and the Sandalwood is unlike any other. [Ross]

15. Pure-Incense Connoisseur Line

Pure-Incense is a recent arrival to this country and they offer two levels, the Connoisseur being the highest of the two grades. And these are very high grade sticks, obviously using excellent raw ingredients to produce the scents that they do. The Agarwood is a wonderful scent as is the Sandalwood (they obviously went all out with the sandalwood oil in this one). The Hari-Leela is very potent and a very voluptuous, exotic floral note. These are stunning combinations of woods and oils. Not to be missed. [Ross]

16. Mermade Magickal Arts (company)

Given that most premium incense hails from the far east, we’re terribly proud of our geographical neighbors Mermade Magickal Arts, a company who may have been the finest American incense outlet in as long as I can remember, featuring “small press” bouquet items that use not only the finest available ingredients per scent, but by batch as well. They’re also one of the most inventive companies to ever grace the art, spinning out a number of unique products from incense vaporizers to triangle shaped “cones” that surprise and elate us with every turn. There’s a reason why their products show up continually on our top lists both at month and year end, it’s because we honestly feel they’re that good. And anyone who has made an order from them knows this is an outfit with a passion for the art that transcends commercialism in every way. In fact it hardly matters where you start in their catalog, there’s a treasure on every shelf. [Mike]

17. Tibetan Medical College – Holy Land

Stores are rife with the nth variation on generic Nepali recipes, so it has been an astonishing two years to start to see the gates of the Tibetan Autonomous Region open (thanks to the tireless work of Essence of the Ages) and provide us with the real and sometimes controversial deal, what are often the finest of the widely spread Tibetan incense style. Perhaps the very best of these exports is Tibetan Medical College’s Holy Land, one of the most electric incenses ever created, a true hybrid of the feral and divine. I kid you not that after the first time I bought this, I nearly burned through a box in a month or two and I’m still blown away every time I light a new stick. Other monasteries may have incenses with fleeting similarities to this one, but none are anywhere close to how good this one is.  Certainly one of my all time favorite incenses. [Mike]

18. Bosen (company)

Bosen comes to us out of Taiwan and is available on Amazon. They produce both hardcore high quality aloeswood-based Japanese styles as well as Tibetan style sticks that use very high quality ingredients. The Japanese sticks are built around different grades of aloeswoods and even the beginning levels are fine examples of aloeswood with out all the additives. Just woods, seemingly no spices or herbs in the mix. It’s a great way to see what the woods actually smell like and can give one a great appreciation of incense.

The Tibetan sticks are pretty unique blends, many of which use much more aloeswood then any other sticks of this type. These do not come across as standard Tibetan, I think the ingredients are, in general, more refined and the scents reflect this. [Ross]

19. Dzogchen Monastery/Lotus Ground Incense

Definitely one of my top 10 new finds in incense for 2009, this is a Tibetan stick like no other. While most Tibetan sticks use natural ingredients for incense, this Monastery stick has a particularly high level of oil or extracts in it and a unique one at that that I found instantly addictive. And unlike Holy Land I can’t think of any other incenses even remotely similar to this one, it’s one of a kind. One I pull out on a regular basis and have since I first received a box. [Mike]

20. Mother’s India Fragrances (five champas)

Out with the halmaddi, in with the mattipal, this is perhaps the first range to successfully adjust to the former shortage without damaging a recipe or reputation in the process and as such may be the finest Nag Champa range on the market today. In particular the Ganesh and Shanti incenses are two of the great Indian incenses available with a mixture of oils, resins and woods that its impossible to get tired of. Affordable and classic, they make you wonder why most similarly priced Indian incense competitors don’t just disappear. Their only fault is there’s only five when such an innovation cries out for more variations. [Mike]

21. Seijudo – Kyara Enju, Kyara Seiran, Shiragiku

This is the tip of the Seijudo iceberg, three scents heralding the entry of a line of incenses that ought to fit quite nicely next to the Shoyeido premium range, featuring incenses that combine the best of potent woods and unbelievably fine aloeswood oils. In fact they have the same effect that one’s initial experience with Shoyeido’s incenses have, a strength of scent that’s perhaps impossible to parse with just a stick. This is a series I’m looking forward to getting to know better and once again kudos to the Japan Incense team who just continue to astound us with their new imports. [Mike]

22. Gyokushodo/ Jinko Hoen, Jinko Yomei, Jinko Yozei

Gyokushodo has been imported into this country for a while but has always been somewhat in the background (until recently their scents weren’t identified by company). This last year Scents of Japan brought in a new (to us) stick, called Jinko Yozei. It has a really nice and noticeable Vietnamese (sweetish) aloeswood scent to it with a hit of something from the spice/floral notes lightly moving across the top. It’s quite captivating and at a good price for an quality aloeswood stick. For a more perfumed top note combined with excellent aloeswood try the Jinko Yomei. [Ross]

23. Purelands/Bhakti Yoga line

Purelands is another new import to the US. They produce rich, deep and potent scents. The Saffron and Rose stick is a knock out with a deep and very rich Rose scent and a spicy quality that makes it pretty unique. I love the Sandalwood stick and the quality oils used in great abundance and the Rasa Leela is also pretty fun with so many complex levels going on all at once. A long and happy learning curve on this one. Please see Mike’s tasting notes for all the details. It’s so nice to see Indian incense going up in quality now; god knows they have such a rich and long heritage of scented culture that has so much depth. [Ross]

24. Baieido Syukohkoku (line)

The Syukohkoku line from Baieido has much more aloeswood in its incenses than the Kobunboku Meditation series, this changes the scent profile quite a bit. The three incenses (and it might be four at this point with the addition of Tobiume) in this group are all pretty different from each other. Kai Un Koh is what I think of as “Assault Grade” incense. It will cut through anything and is quite potent, yet beautiful and almost voluptuous in its merging of woods and spice notes. A big favorite here at ORS. Syukohkoku has a very strong aloeswood note with some sandalwood and a large dose of traditional Chinese herbs to produce another authoritative scent, however, the perception of this one can change depending on what is burned before it. There are some very sublime qualities at play here. Then comes Tokusen Syukohkoku. To get this incense it needs to be the first thing sampled. It is all about the subtle interplays between the materials, of which there is a very high grade aloeswood (the Hakusui mentioned above). This one has a very long learning curve and I can admit to loving the stuff. To me these are works of art. [Ross]

25. Highland Incense (stick and powder)

Another Tibetan Autonomous Region offering, two incenses that are perhaps the most animalistic, musky scents ever imported to the US. But despite such a spunk, the base incenses are complimentarily complex, particularly so with the powder whose variations change depending on whether one uses charcoal or a heater. Once again one is left to guessing over what exactly goes in these scents as the larger hints are that these are perhaps culturally transgressive in what they include. Nonetheless, the differences between a scent like Highland and the $5 Nepali bundles you tend to find under the Tibetan heading are vast. [Mike]

In compiling this article it was decided each of us would write about incenses we hadn’t previously reviewed, although this is not the case throughout as in a couple cases we have to verge individually. However to get a more full appraisal of the scents discussed in this article, it is recommended that one click on our Reviews Index where we go much more in depth on the incenses here. Did you think we missed anything? Do you agree or disagree with our picks? Let us know in the comments below!

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38 Comments

  1. kimbola said,

    November 4, 2012 at 1:58 pm

    how does Solls compare to mother india and pure incense line ?
    i tried the last two and like them. and thinking about trying the solls.

  2. Patrick said,

    June 2, 2010 at 12:22 pm

    I love this site. Interesting assessment of the Baieido Kai Un Koh. What are some other good “Assault Grade” Japanese incenses? I love the Kai Un Koh, but the other Japanese incenses I’ve tried lack the intensity of other styles, particularly the Indian incenses I’ve tried. I’d like to find some great Japanese scents that won’t go unnoticed when I’m hanging out with my friends in my large living room. I love the subtler fragrances such as the Kobunboku but I find they are better suited to smaller rooms. Keep up the good work!

    • Mike said,

      June 3, 2010 at 10:53 am

      Hi Patrick. The first thing that comes to mind is the Shoyeido Horin coils, or really any coil form you can find. There’s also the Kunmeido Heian Koh thick sticks. Of course it hits the budget a lot harder, but when I need to amp up a certain fragrance I’ll burn a couple at once (something I do for a couple of those Gyokushodo high ends). Baieido traditionals don’t have perfumes in them so they’re naturally going to be the most subtle of Japanese fragrances. A lot of the Tennendos should work for you as well. Hopefully some of those will fit the bill for ya.

      • Janet said,

        June 3, 2010 at 10:58 am

        I often choose the Horins for that kind of thing, too – even the sticks pack a strong punch, although for a large room you might have to light a second one.
        I also think the Minorien Aloeswood has a very potent fragrance.

  3. David said,

    January 4, 2010 at 1:54 pm

    Rypdal was at the Jazz Fest as well. Awesome! Whenever I Seem To Be Far Away has always stood out.

    David
    http://www.globalaroundtown.blogspot.com

  4. David Oller said,

    December 30, 2009 at 12:14 pm

    Hi All,

    Interesting comments about Fred Solls. Fred is here in Albuquerque and I’ve spent some time with him talking about incense. You may not know this but Fred is really one of the Pioneers of incense in the USA along with people like Stuart with Triloka. I prefer to think of Fred as ecclectic rather than eccentric, but whichever I found him to be quite enjoyable and unique. We talked about his incense and I don’t think i’m giving away any secrets when I tell you it is composed of three elements, a wood, an essential oil, and pinon resin. I love pinon and wish I could share the raw aroma of the New Mexico high country which is permeated with it. Yes his incense is a little smoky and sometimes goes out on you, I would recommend the Pinon Incense to begin with, because if you don’t like Pinon you won’t like anything he makes. The uniqueness of his incense is certainly worth the smoke imo.

    • Mike said,

      January 4, 2010 at 10:38 am

      Thanks for the inside view David. In fact that’s exactly the formula I expected from having tried most of the line now. I love pinon too, very much, so I’m comfortable with most of them. The one that I really like right now is the Red Sandalwood with Special Herbs, it wasn’t at all like I expected.

      • Anne said,

        January 4, 2010 at 6:31 pm

        I like the pinon, too. Though I do have a hard time keeping this particular incense lit. The other solls have not been difficult to light and to stay lit. The first stick of pinon I ever burnt had to be re-lit five or six times. The second stick, which I’m burning now, had to be re-lit twice. But it’s worth it the bother!

        I’m kinda of infatuated with my solls right now, so much so that I haven’t even burnt some of my shroffs or pure incense! I particularly like the taos pine and the cedar from soll, they really embody to my mind, the scent of a cozy campfire out in the woods or forest. They’re much better than Juniper Ridge’s Fir, Cedar, or Pinon incenses, in my opinion.

        BTW, just for kicks, I looked up “Fred Soll” on youtube.com, and lo and behold, what should pop up but a 2 minute video profiling Fred, his wife, Joy, and their incense business. If you want to take a look, go here:

        Hope you don’t mind the link, Mike. If you do, obviously edit this as you see fit.

        • Steve said,

          January 5, 2010 at 11:06 am

          Cool video, Anne – good find! They mention the BBQ incense custom made for Billy Gibbons. And who knew Barbra Streisand was a Soll fan?

          • Mike said,

            January 5, 2010 at 11:31 am

            I remember seeing a (very) short list of celebrities who use Shoyeido products as well, but I can’t remember where.

        • Hamid said,

          January 14, 2010 at 6:54 am

          I love the Soll range.The Honey Amber is gorgeous. I have a friend who is a Hindu monk, and he is in charge of the Temples incense burning, unfortunately he is sensitive to most incense. He gets asthma. Which must be a bit like being a claustrophobic elevator attendant….. I saw this as a challenge so I sent him batches of different incense sticks. So far the only ones he doesnt react to asthmatically are Fred Solls.

          • Steve said,

            January 14, 2010 at 6:59 am

            …claustrophobic elevator attendant… 😆

            Interesting the Solls don’t bother him – my limited experience with them has been quite a smoky one! Of course they do smell great…

  5. Greg said,

    December 28, 2009 at 11:14 am

    Hi – Thanks very much for including several Shoyeido incense products among an intriguing and varied Top 25! We’re delighted to be mentioned alongside so many fine incense makers. Happy holidays to you all – Greg / Shoyeido USA

    • Mike said,

      January 4, 2010 at 10:34 am

      Hi Greg, thanks for stopping by. Keep up the great work and it’s been fun to see you all expand into the blog world.

  6. janet said,

    December 17, 2009 at 9:26 pm

    Wow! Thanks, Mike and Ross, for sharing your wealth of experience and insight….invaluable, as always. I don’t know how anyone could argue with your choices, I’m happy to say that I have at least sampled all but a handful on this list (well, and several aloeswood incarnations from the Bosen line), and I would not argue with a thing. One entry that I wasn’t expecting, and that made really happy, was the Minorien line, which seemingly doesn’t get a whole lot of chatter here at ORS, but is so amazing across the board…I love them all!
    Other than the Minoriens, some of my particular favorites on the list, of ones I have burned more than a stick of: Kyukyodo’s Sho-Ran-Koh, Baieido’s Ho Ryu, Kai Un Koh, Tokusen Kobunboku, both the Syukohkokus, and Tobiume; Shoyeido’s En-mei, Sei-fu, Hori-Kawa, and Muro-machi; Shroff Ambers, White Sandal, Green Durbar, and Paneer; Reiryo-Koh Aloeswood and Heian Koh; Pure Incense Parijata, Nepal Musk, and Agarwood; all of Mermade’s cones (esp Spirit Temple and Pan’s Earth); Shunkohdo’s Ranjatai (I haven’t tried the kyaras & actually adore the whole Shunkohdo line); Bosen’s Pythoncidere and Reserved Vietnamese Aloeswood; all the Mother’s champas; the three Gyokushodos ( I have a fondness for Jinko Hoen); and Purelands Flower and Golden Champa.
    Also, I tried enough of Seijudo’s Enju to immediately know two things: that I could become absolutely addicted to it, and that I preferred it to Sho-Kaku.
    What I was a little disappointed not to see….the Yamada Matsu aloeswoods, which – in my limited experience – are really outstanding, especially for the price. Also, one Baieido that I think is incredible, but fell outside of any of the lines above, is the Kokonoe Koh. I do have the Hori-kawa coils, and agree about the woodiness, but I would add that the whole Horin line, to me, still deserves a place here, even in the lesser stick form.
    And I would wholeheartedly back Anne up about the Solls – especially, to me, the Honey Amber, Patchoulis, and any of the pure resins (except maybe Myrrh, myself not being a myrrh fan in general).
    Thank you guys, as always!

    • Ross Urrere said,

      December 17, 2009 at 10:32 pm

      We decided to keep it to things that were readily available here in the US as well as at some point we had to sort of draw the line. We started out thinking maybe twenty and had to bump it to 25 and even include entire companies. But yes, the Yamada Matsu’s are really good, have a really good incense master and history going for them and i think a wider range will be coming in.
      Minorien does get over looked here, but seem to have a pretty dedicated following in Japan. I just restocked the Frankincense. Aloeswood and Kyara Ryugen. They are great and unique.

      • Anne said,

        December 19, 2009 at 3:10 am

        Glad to hear that there is so much love for the Minorien. I ordered a small box each of their frankincense and sandalwood while shopping during the 12 days of xmas at EOTA. Now I’m really looking forward to burning these sticks!

    • Masha said,

      December 18, 2009 at 8:37 am

      I was glad to see the Minoriens got some love, too. I own them all, and their Sandalwood is just rapturous. Of course, the Frankincense is getting a lot of play around here at Christmastime!

      • Janet said,

        December 18, 2009 at 8:39 am

        Here, too…..and I’ve been going a little nutty with the Aloeswood.

    • Janet said,

      December 20, 2009 at 1:10 am

      I just realized I kinda missed seeing Jihi, too. That’s one that always hits me anew with how awesome – and unique – it is.

  7. David said,

    December 17, 2009 at 8:49 pm

    I just received my first order of Fred Soll incense and so far I am really rather disappointed. I am finding them to be less refined than I am used to. The Ancient Sweet Frankincense cones have a prominent musk tone that I really dislike. The others , Benzoin, Myrrh, and Dragon’s Blood sticks I am sampling and what is particularly noticeable is how much smokier they are than other incense I am used to. I guess this is because of the use of resins? At this point I kinda wish I’d gotten something else.

    • Steve said,

      December 17, 2009 at 9:41 pm

      Hey David! I haven’t tried the particular sticks you purchased, but I will say that the Fred Soll incense experience is not a mild one – especially if one’s experience is with the generally less intense Japanese incense. I hate that you didn’t enjoy Soll’s – it is unique in locale (i.e. US produced) incense and its resinous, full blown offering is note worthy, if not appreciated, by everyone. It is akin to lighting an intense blaze in your living room, or perhaps (seasonal related) deep frying a turkey in the driveway 😀 Being a rather novice with Benzoin, Myrrh and especially Dragon’s Blood (don’t think I have ever tried the later directly) what do you like?

    • Anne said,

      December 19, 2009 at 3:04 am

      David,

      Like Steve, I’m sorry to hear that you are not enjoying your solls. Many of us here really like the solls, but different strokes for different folks and all that. If you’re more use to the delicacy and refinement of japanese incense, then yes, the solls can seem to be overwhelming.

      For the benzoin, myrrh, and dragon’s blood sticks, if you are finding them too smokey, consider burning only part of the stick at a time, or putting the burning incense further away from you so that the smoke literally isn’t as in your face.

      • David said,

        December 19, 2009 at 10:07 am

        Hi there Steve & Anne,

        Thanks for your thoughtful observations and suggestions. I will continue to sample the Solls hoping to better enjoy them. I’m afraid that that may not be possible with the musky Ancient Blend Sweet Frankincense Cones. C’est la vie. In the meantime there’s always my Nan Zan and Minorien Frankincense to be grateful for on this snowy day.

        Best,

        David
        http://www.globalaroundtown.blogspot.com

        • Steve said,

          December 19, 2009 at 2:44 pm

          Hey David – for some reason your comment was delivered to our spam filter and I only just now noticed it and retrieved it. NanZan and Minorien Frank sound like great companions for you today! Cool looking blog, by the way – the Long Lost Menu was great to see and seems to have made me quite hungry now 🙂

        • Steve said,

          December 19, 2009 at 5:13 pm

          David – wanted to add that if you enjoy Nan Zan and Minorien Frank, you may also enjoy Tennendo’s Frankincense:

          https://olfactoryrescueservice.wordpress.com/2007/10/10/tennendo-frankincense/

          These 3 franks are, in my opinion, the stick-form triumvirate of franks.

          The next step would seem to be (from folk’s comments here) to try Hougary frankincense resin on a heater, a step I haven’t yet taken though do intend to…

          • David said,

            December 19, 2009 at 9:33 pm

            Hey Steve,

            Thanks for stopping by Global Around Town. I hope you’ll stop back again and pass it on to anyone else who might like it.

            I do have the Tennendo Frank which I am not too fond of. Burning some Minorien right now on a snowy night here in Bethesda. Have you tried the Shoyeido Coils?

            David

            • Steve said,

              December 20, 2009 at 6:12 am

              Have not yet tried coils, though I know there are some big fans here. I hear that the same incense stick vs coil can have different tones, with comments here indicating the coils may be better!

              • Mike said,

                January 4, 2010 at 10:19 am

                A bit late on this one, but I just have to add that I didn’t find the Benzoin or Myrrh in the Soll line up to be to my tastes and I like most of the line up. In particular I felt the Myrrh was bizarre and nowhere near what I think of when I consider the qualities I like in the resin.

                David, I like your site as well, seems if we have some musical interests in common, particularly in the ECM-ish directions.

                • David said,

                  January 4, 2010 at 11:10 am

                  Hello Mike,

                  Thanks for dropping by Global Around Town. Glad you enjoyed it. Please stop back again and share it with your friends etc…

                  ECM is great. I’ve been listening to them since the beginning. Very special. 40 years!

                  As to the incenses… I have not warmed to the Soll at all. The Horin is great! Will be getting some coils in the near future.

                  Best,

                  David
                  http://www.globalaroundtown.blogspot.com

                  • Mike said,

                    January 4, 2010 at 12:28 pm

                    I just picked up the Enrico Rava – Pilgrim and the Stars CD. A great album, but I was also amazed at how cheap the reissue was, do you know if they’ve got some sort of new reissue series out at a budget line? With them it’s hard to know what I’ve missed. My favorites tend to be Rypdal, Tibbetts, Abercrombie, Weber, Priester, Art Ensemble of Chicago and probably a bunch of others I can’t think of off hand.

                    • David said,

                      January 4, 2010 at 12:35 pm

                      The Pilgrim in the Stars is a great recording. I was lucky to have attended an ECM Jazz Festival in the late 70’s in LA. A group came on stage playing wearing these masks and as the music morphed their masks seemed to magically disappear revealing Rava and friends. I’ve seen most of these guys over the years. Fantastic.

                    • Mike said,

                      January 4, 2010 at 12:49 pm

                      As much as I love ECM, sometimes I think they tend to smoothe over some of the edges I like, so I think seeing their artists live was probably more satisfactory. I’ve got a bunch of Rypdal shows from the 70s and they’re better than any of the albums, much more aggressive and thorny.

        • janet said,

          December 20, 2009 at 6:15 pm

          David,
          I love Solls, and think both the Sweet and Classic franks are wonderful, and hate that you didn’t like yours, especially as a Minorien fan….I was curious about the “musky” smell, and it had been awhile, so I burned a Sweet frank stick, and still didn’t pick that up at all – just the light sweetness, the spice, and the strong frankincense aroma. It made me wonder – do you think maybe the binder used in the cones might contribute an “off” scent of some kind? I’ve never used the Soll cones, and have heard from the company that they, too, have been discontinued, so I don’t know how much difference there is between cone and stick form.

          • David said,

            December 20, 2009 at 6:26 pm

            Hi Janet,

            Glad you’re enjoying the Frankincense sticks. That there is none of this musk smell floating around. It is really like a bad cologne or deodorant. Maybe it is because it’s a cone. Who knows. Perhaps I’ll call Soll. Thanks for your observations.

            David
            http://www.globalaroundtown.blogspot.com

  8. Steve said,

    December 17, 2009 at 6:23 pm

    Great call, Anne! Fred Soll is a must-try line of incense and certainly worthy of a “Best of” list. With the other luminaries on this list, I simply forgot about ’em (I had the privilege of seeing the list beforehand.) Sacred Sage from Soll’s has been a longterm favorite of mine…

  9. Anne said,

    December 17, 2009 at 5:34 pm

    I’m surprised that there is no mention of Fred Soll. I ordered some of his incense back in early Fall, and I’ve quickly burned through them and am nearing the end of my stock. I love his incense and think that he deserves some sort of honorable mention at the very least.

    I’ll comment again later, when I’ve gotten a chance to eat dinner and am not so distracted by hunger. But anyway, I really do agree with some of your picks, though I’m just now getting into japanese incense and am woefully uninformed in this area.

    • Alan said,

      May 18, 2010 at 1:21 pm

      I bet late 20th century Fred Soll’s would have made the list.
      The sticks were thinner, more concentrated with less charcoal.
      He’s a singular artist. More about quality and creativity than
      consistency, I think.


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