March 2010’s Top Ten

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Seijudo / Kohshu, Shogetsu, Nichigetsu, Kyara Horen

The first time I tried Seijudo’s Enju, one of three new Seijudo imports Ross reviewed here, I actually thought I was trying a sample form of Shoyeido’s Shokaku. Like that venerable and expensive incense, it was a black stick drenched in extremely high quality kyara oils and it was hard not be impressed. And in many ways the Shoyeido premium line is the easiest line to compare all of the Seijudo imports including the four I’m going to discuss today, because the Seijudos are very pricy incenses and they’re all aromas with very high quality aloeswood oils in front. Unlike the Shoyeido line, however, all seven of the current Seijudo imports are all black sticks and they all seem more shades of one personality than having the distinct and individual scents of the Shoyeido Premium line, where Ga Ho is as different from Nan Ku as two incenses could possibly be.

So in the first wave of Seijudo imports, courtesy of the venerable Kohshi, we witnessed what appeared to be the top three scents in the line, only for this newer quartet to slot right between the two Kyaras, Enju and Seiran, and the (surprisingly) most inexpensive scent Shiragiku. All seven scents come in two different sizes here, a very small, compact six stick “sampler” in a tiny little cardboard foldout virtually incapable of protecting the sticks from breaking without being really careful, and the more standard tube within a box that carries 24 sticks in 4 1/2 inch length.

I have to admit to having great difficulty with these incenses, because while they all use what’s obviously the most incredible aloeswood oils and seem to be as high quality as what you’d hope for given these prices, I also find them fairly difficult to tell apart from one another. I’m not sure if the heavy oil bases in the samples I worked from had faded some, or if this is just the nature of these scents, but over several sessions I noticed that even one of the small sticks could deaden my sensory perceptions quite fast to the point that subsequent evaluations of the others in line were made more difficult. I think it’s worth noting Ross’ quote in the above mentioned previous write up, “When I first smelled [Shiragiku] I assumed it was Kyara based.” I agree with this observation, and when you add in this new foursome, the whole line starts to look more like shades of a common theme than seven distinct incenses, it’s almost as if from Shiraguku to Enju, there’s just an incremental improvement in aloeswood quality along with variations in spices and other perfumes that only barely modify the central woodiness of the incenses.

Kohshu (Fleet of Scents) fills the tier just about Shiragiku and if Shiragiku played around with kyara like tendencies, Kohshu is more distinctly an aloeswood oil that one might think would fill this price range, with the bitter (pleasantly so I might add) end notes one might find in Tennendo’s Shorin, except executed as an oil scent rather than deriving its nature from the ground wood. The mix of spices in this one also tend to the greener, almost medicinal variety, which also sets itself apart from the Shiragiku. It’s such a potent, damp and intense oil scent that I found it overwhelmed by sense of smell for a while after, leading me to have to stagger subsequent evaluation sessions as it played havoc with the next scent.

Shogetsu (Pine Moon) seems almost a variation on Kohshu and as I just mentioned, it was very difficult to evaluate this scent on that incense’s heels. After time, I have to admit that I was finding it difficult to suss out Shogetsu’s personality, of all the incenses in this line it’s probably the woodiest. It’s missing the bitter afternotes of the Kohshu and doesn’t go for the damp, green spice mix, leaving the scent almost pure wood and slightly lacquerish, as if someone just added finish to a small table made of aloeswood. It’s description gives “deep and spicy scents” and I have no argument to make over the deep part, except that it might take a while to really get that part of the incense. I think that there’s perhaps so much aloeswood in this incense that it’s almost overwhelming. Of all these incenses, the jury remains out on Shogetsu.

By price, Nichigetsu (Daily Moon) is the highest of the three non kyaras in this line and seems to fill the spot most analagous to Ga Ho in the Shoyeido premium line. Like Ga Ho, this also plays with a much more drier aloeswood scent, almost anticipating the switch to the decadent sweetness of the kyaras. Like Shogetsu the strength of wood oils here is so intense that it gives the scent an almost lacquer or turpentine like finish to it, and even more so this has the scent of newly finished furniture glossed with polish. Again, it really seems like the potency of the wood oils had the tendency of blocking my impressions and I was left with the feeling that this seemd more like a slightly more deluxe version of Shogetsu. Undoubtedly without further evaluation I’d say one would probably need only one or the other at first.

If Nichitgetsu was Seijudo’s Ga Ho, than Kyara Horen (Lotus Treasure) must be its Go-Un and the analogy seems to work in that kyara seems more a part of the bouquet than the dominant force it is in Seiran or Enju. And as such it does seem to strike the middle ground between Nichigetsu and Seiran, having some of the drier qualities of the former and only a touch of the sweetness of the latter. However, where I felt a bit overwhelmed by the extreme woodiness inherent to Shogetsu and Nichigetsu, the balance here allowed the finer qualities to come through a bit more and there’s a definite floral oil in the mix that helps to give the scent a little more personality. I suspect this is part of where lotus comes into it, but I would think the delicacies of the lotus scent, which is often approximated, are somewhat cancelled out by the heavy wood oil.

Overall this is a very tough line to evaluate. There’s no question that some very fine wood oils are being used here across the spectrum and not only that but they’re based in the most fragile of stick sizes as if the creators were fully aware of the potency of aromatics going into the making of these. The fortunate side of all this, of course, is the small mini samplers, which should allow those who reach the price range to sample most or all of the range. In many ways I think these perhaps are the type of incenses that might be evaluated best on their own, that is, to pick one scent and keep with it. Indeed my favorite in the line might actually be the most inexpensive, Shiragiku, which also happens to be the one I’ve lived with the most. So this is probably yet again an example of a series of incenses that I might be even more favorable with a year or two for now. They’re all certainly good enough that I’ll probably eventually try the full tubes, but on the other hand if you’re looking at your pocketbook and wanting to know what to try at these prices, I might very well suggest something else … first.

Baieido on Facebook (Ross)

Some great information on some of the more popular formulations from Baieido on their Facebook “wall”.  Nice insight on how the different Aloeswoods effect the scent. Plus an intriging comment on materials and the possible differences of today’s vs what was used (or available) long ago. Baieido must have an amazing materials library by this point.

Always nice to get real info on incense from the makers, it is something of a rare event  🙂  Thanks David

Aloeswood groups

There’s been some activity in our Ask the ORS thread lately regarding beginning areas to start a Japanese incense collection, which is something we’ve been intending to document on its own page for a while. In replying, I did sort of a basic breakdown of different aloeswood incense styles and thought I’d bring that part of the post over here for discussion in order to eventually make something like this as part of a basic starter document:

Sweet aloeswoods: Tennendo Renzan, Tennendo Kahin-Gold, Baieido Ensei Sweet Aloeswood, Kyukyodo Shiun, Baieido Kun Sho, Baieido Syukohkoku, Shunkohdo Zuika (maybe), Kunmeido Reiryo Koh Aloeswood, Nippon Kodo Jinko Juzan, Shoyeido Sei-fu, Baieido Kunsho Koh (maybe), Gyokushodo Jinko Hoen, Nippon Kodo Kohden Sweet Aloeswood, Nippon Kodo Zuiun, Seijudo Shiragiku
Spicy aloeswoods: Tennendo Kuukai, Tennendo Tensei, Tennendo Johin-Bronze, Baieido Ensei Spicy Aloeswood, Baieido Koh En, Baieido Tokusen Syukohkoku, Gyokushodo Jinko Yomei, Gyokushodo Samei Koh, Nippon Kodo Kohden Spicy Aloeswood, Shoyeido Shun-Yo
Green aloeswoods: Shunkohdo Yoshino No Haru, Kunmeido Heian Koh, Kunmeido Asuka, Shoyeido Ga Ho, Shoyeido Kyojiman, Shoyeido Misho, Shoyeido Horin Gen-roku, Tennendo Shorin (maybe)
Floral aloeswoods: Shunkohdo Haru No Kaori, Kyukyodo Asuza
Spikenard aloeswoods: Shoyeido Nan Kun, Shoyeido Horin Muro-machi, Tennendo Enkuu-Horizon (maybe)
Blends: Baieido Kai Un Koh, Baieido Tokusen Kobunboku, Baieido Kaden Kobunboku, Baieido Tobiume, Shunkohdo Ka Cho Fu Getsu, Tennendo Karafune Yuhin-Silver

Baieido Kyara Kokoh (Ross)

I was recently the recipient of a few of the 3.5 inch sticks of Baieido’s Kyara Kokoh. This is a dream come true and something I have been longing to sample since the first time I saw a picture of the box at Essence of the Ages (bottom of the page). The overall style is something way North of  Koh Shi Boku in strength, maybe along the lines of the Kyara in the Anniversary Set; or as David Oller once wrote, like Jinko Kokoh, but with Kyara.  It is the closest thing I have experienced to tasting a Kyara chip in a koh cup, but in  stick form.

Everything about the scent is the ultimate in multi leveled refinement, subtlety, and quality. Even the spices that play a pretty minor roll are obviously of the best quality and used to get the most out of the Kyara. There is a very slight note of clove and cassia and possibly one of the benzoin’s that makes for a stunning, slightly sweet  taste. Also somewhat along the lines of Kunsho’s Cambodian style, but really in a class all by itself.

I do not believe there is any “one best” incense, however,  for sure this is at the absolute top of the pyramid with only a few others and they might change around, to me this one is staying. OK, its time to splurge on another centimeter or two  🙂

I sent Mike a stick so I am hoping he will chime in, if we really get lucky David Oller might have a few words  to offer(please) -Ross

Quick admin note…

Things are going to be a little sparse from me over the next several weeks, I’ve cleared out my review cache and haven’t had the time or mood to make notes on incense and am not too sure when I will – although I’ll make a point of it when I find the space.

Also, I’ve made the tentative move to Facebook in case anyone wants to connect there (Mike McLatchey). Be warned that I seemed to get an account almost by accident, am not used to checking it a lot and am still a little intimidated by it, but at the same time I’m impressed with its powers of being able to hook me up with old friends.

Pure-Incense / Absolute / Golden Champa, Green Champa, Magnolia, Vrindavan Champa, Vrindavan Flower, Vrindavan Leela

Pure Incense Part 1
Pure Incense Part 2

For installment 3 of the Pure-Incense series, one of two British outlets for the incense made by Haridas Madhavada, we’re going to move away from the current Connoisseur line into the Absolute range for the next several installments, a group of incenses that has already grown by five new scents since I started writing about them. This group roughly covers the champa and Vrindavan scents along with the very similar Magnolia stick and perhaps the commonality among these scents is they’re mostly very sweet florals and among the most accessible of the catalog’s aromas.

It’s worth noting something that really does affect all the incenses in the Pure Incense range, the base of charcoal, vanilla and sandalwood. Unlike many incenses this base is always aromatic enough to be part of every incense’s bouquet and this is no more true than it is in the Absolute line. In the Connoisseur range, the heavier amount of oils often plays this base scent down a little, but it’s very noticeable in the Absolutes, particularly so in a group of incenses like these where the sweetness of the base matches the scent. So it has to be said that vanilla plays a part of all these incenses, some more so than others. This is a tendency that can often be quite strong depending on one’s moods and it really does set apart the Madhavada family incenses from other scents, and perhaps ironically few of these are pure scents of any kind. On the other hand they’re still very very good.

Both Purelands and Pure-Incense have a similar Golden Champa. They’re both masala styles and thus completely different from the Sai Flora clones that show up with the same name. Between the two masalas, this one’s slightly the superior, with a rich, full, sweet blend full of vanilla, honey, spice and a floral oil that’s like a different take on a blooming jasmine or magnolia like aroma. The only thing this incense does share with the Sai Flora clones is the sort of sugary/confectionary-like sweetness at heart, but other than that everything else is different, there’s no power shock here, no soil-like earthiness or coppery overtones. But despite being a mellower stick, it’s still very rich and thus matches the idea of “golden” as being something a little more special. And as an Absolute range incense it’s already topped out on the perfume, so it would seem no connoisseur version is even necessary.

Pure-Incense’s Green Champa mixes up the champa quite a bit, removing the central richness the Golden version exhibits, giving a much drier note that lets the floral oils come to the fore. This is one of those incenses where aromatic fatigue would easily kill the top note, in a cleared out room this is actually a very special incense on top, with a wonderful flowery scent. While a green incenses often hints at evergreen, mint, patchouli, and/or vetivert there aren’t really huge hits here of any of these scents, rather the greenness is almost a result of its individuality rather than any added ingredients. And it leaves the Green Champa slightly diffficult to describe as you’d really have to check a stick out to get an idea of its unique personality.

From gold to green to distinctly red, the Magnolia in this range definitely has some similarities with the other sweet and friendly red scents such as the Vrindavan Champa or Pink Sayli, which makes it fit quite nicely in this group. Those who know the Primo version of this scent will already be roughly familiar with it, but even at the Absolute level this incense is far more deluxe, with a nice redolent magnolia on top. As I mentioned earlier this is one of those incenses where the vanilla is almost equal to the top note, which too makes this an incense close to champa regions as well as having some similarities to jasmine. The fruitiness of the scent also blends in quite nicely with the floral and vanilla elements, leaving this incense quite attractive. And again it’s hard to imagine the benefits of a Connoisseur version except that it might knock out the heavy vanilla a bit. However in this case you might not want that.

The Vrindavan descriptor refers to a town in north India where I believe the creators of all these incenses originates, a town with a rich religious heritage. Thus, unlike many Pure-Incense scents these seem to be variations on themes rather than direct aromatic representations and as such some of the more interesting incenses in this Absolute line. The Vrindavan Champa is a glorious, sweet and rich champa masala with a fruity floral blend not terribly far from the Pink Sayli (as implied above). The sandalwood peaks through quite nicely here and gives the background a nice bit of breadth and depth. I get lots of cherry and strawberry along with the heady champa oil and the type of pleasant tangyness that helps the whole from getting too sweet. Perhaps my appreciation for this is that I’ve already burned through about half of a 50g package of this already.

Vrindavan Flower is totally different and it’s been an incense discussed around here in the comments before. In this case we’re talking about a variation on a similar theme as that of the Purelands Flower, Desert Flower or other masalas that tend less to the rosy and sweet than to a sort of exotic dry and herbal blend. However in this case the incense goes even farther into a much more intense, oil rich blend that has a really heavy lime and citrus scent to it a long with the herbal florals. It has also been pointed out to me on a couple of occasions that it does also have some soapy notes to it, which perhaps leaves me to feel this is an exception to the rule, an incense I like very much even with those sorts of overtones. Indeed this probably won’t be for everyone and its participation on our Indian Hall of Fame is probably on the fence, but it still knocks me out every time, and I do think it’s unlike any other scent even those that roughly fall in the same family.

Vrindavan Leela (also known as Ponds) is an incense I’m fairly confused about. I received a nice sample of this which included a package of three red sticks and instantly fell in love with them, it was yet another group of red floral sticks similar to some of the others I mentioned above, but yet again a different direction. So I was surprised to find out when I ordered a 50g package that I received a completely different scent, one that was colored green and while nice, nothing I’d have been in a hurry to restock. This green stick is more similar to something like the Primo Original Musk blend with some floral topping, it’s much more a generic type of Madhavada stick then the red stick was where the milder ingredients end up letting the base come through a bit too much. Anyway I’m not sure what the change was, if perhaps a mix up was made in the sample (because there wasn’t a mix up with the 50g package given the label), but it’s perhaps the one among these six I can’t immediately recommend. Even after some time and use I haven’t felt this assert its personality.

More Pure-Incense sticks to come, I’m counting at least another 20 we haven’t covered yet…