October Top 10

  1. Mother’s India Fragrances – Om Nag Champa  I don’t mean to take much attention away from all of the other excellent incenses in the Mother’s series, but there’s something about this one that’s hit a bullseye with me, to the point where I ran out my first 20 stick package of this about a month or so after I received it. However in stocking it deeper in the smaller packages, I noticed the batches were a little different and it’s something I’ve been wondering about in terms of aromatic differences as the Om I started with really is something of a triangular balancing act and the small package scent falls perhaps a little short. But generally speaking this works for me because I love an incense with a perfect cinnamon/cassia note and this one, at least in the big package has that to an almost addictive state.
  2. Shoyeido / Premium / Myo-Ho  I find this to be one of the greatest incenses period, definitely my favorite of the top 3 premiums and I love the effect it has on company when they first get the aroma. The liquerish sweetness and dark kyara and aloeswood notes mesh just about perfectly in this one.
  3. Baieido / Ogurayama Aloeswood  I still find this a natural miracle, it just never ceases to astound me that you can get this much aroma from a small piece of this wood. I mean you can literally get 3-4 hours of it when you get the right temperature and I spend most of it double taking, going yeah it really is that little chip doing that. I might actually slightly prefer the Hakusui in terms of its spiciness but I think the resin might actually be a bit more intense in the Ogurayama. Anyway this is about as close to incense nirvana as it gets for me.
  4. Fred Soll / Red Sandalwood  Like many Solls this does have the penchant to not stay lit, but that’s really its only weakness. Like Shroff’s Red Sandal, this is a spicier take on a sandalwood incense, showing a totally different facet of the wood due to the cinnamon-ish notes. With Soll’s version you get that combination mixed in with that southwestern woodsy/resiny vibe to great effect. It’s also one of the mellower Solls and seems to have less powerful oils than they usually do.
  5. Tennendo / Enkuu  This is always a perennial favorite in my book, in fact long time readers might know that this is one of the most common incenses in the top ten lists here. I think that’s largely because so many of the top end incenses have kyara and are thus very sweet, Enkuu is more at the apex of the drier spicy end, for its kind there are really few better incenses. And even after a year or two since I first tried it, I still find it strikingly original and only find it mildly comparative to other high end aloeswood/spikenard mixes.
  6. Fred Soll / Nag Champa with Amber and Vanilla  I don’t bring out the Soll champas very often as for a couple of years now they’ve shown nothing but delays in terms of restocking these scents, no doubt due to the usual shortages. But when I do I’m always completely bowled over by how great these are, particularly in the realms of the sugary sweet. This one’s about as rich and amazing as you can imagine, perhaps even too much so for a small room, but perfect for these late warm California summers outside where it can penetrate with even a small wind.
  7. Yamadamatsu / Kumoi Koh  Another absolute classic in my book, an oil and woods mix that is rich, spicy and animalistic, so strong that you can get an idea of its scent just from the fresh stick. It’s similar to one or two of the coils that haven’t been imported here yet that clearly use some ingredients you don’t usually find in incenses at this level of strength. Very exotic and heady.
  8. Kyukyodo / (several)  Clearly the top catalog whose entry to US shores seems to be problematic at the very least. Sure you can find Sho-Ran-Koh and Azusa these days, but there are just a good dozen incenses or so that just badly need to be imported that haven’t ever been over here, such as the incredible aloeswood Akikaze or even the stunning and much lower end Benizakura or one of the really great high quality sandalwood based incenses Gyokurankoh. Oh and RIP Shiun and Yumemachi, what a pair to be deleted!
  9. Nippon Kodo / Tokusen Kyara Taikan  Readers may not fully be aware that if you don’t count the regular Kyara Taikan or Kongo, which I don’t, this is actually the lowest incense on a scale that goes up to what seems like the world’s most expensive stick incense, the $2500 Gokujyo Kyara Fugaku. I think you’d only have to pay $120 something for the Tokusen Kyara Taikan, which is actually an excellent stick in that it drops some of the more perfumy sweet aspects of the straight Kyara Taikan for a more elegant result. It’s a shame these are so breakable and thin, but they do pack quite a wallop.
  10. Shroff / Akash Ganga  I’ve always found this an odd scent because it’s one if not the only incenses in the Dry Masala range that shares the yellow boxes with the Semi-Drys, and I can see why as it seems to fall somewhere in the middle. I find this a very unusual variant on the “desert flower” sort of scents in that it doesn’t have the heavy camphorous notes they usually have or the sort of sickly sweet perfumes. And as a result it strikes me as a very mysterious scent with a depth that continues to make me go through my supplies very fast.

As always feel free to share with us what amazed you this month!

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New Incense and Aromatics Website

Check this site out.  www.hausofwaft.com/

Nicely done with lots of information on ingredients and the incenses and aromatics of different regions.

-Enjoy


Tibetan Yak

In the wake of a number of questions about animal sourced ingredients in the Ask Olfactory Rescue Service thread, it felt like a good time to introduce the site to the anonymously sourced incense called Tibetan Yak. As someone not intimately familiar with the scent of yaks, wet or dry, it’s very difficult to say how close this incense gets to its namesake, although given the aroma’s similarity to many other red-colored, juniper heavy, tangy Tibetan incenses, I’m now wondering if some part of a yak is not a key secret ingredient we’re not aware of. However, extrapolating to some extent, the lack of damp fur smell makes me doubt that this particular animal product is a part of the bouquet. The lack of information on the box also continues the mystery, we’re just confronted with some patterning and two pictures of a white headed, black furred beast of burden. This serene animal reminds me that this is a bit of a rough incense, a touch gravelly, with the usual wild herbs mixed in. Tibetan Yak may not bring the scent of a handful of yak fur over a bed of coals but it isn’t far off from your average campfire and as such is pretty much your average Nepali blend.

Pure Incense / Absolute / Cedarwood, Cedarwood & Lavender, Cedarwood & Rose, Cedarwood & Sandalwood, Saffron, Vanilla

This is the fifth installment of the large Pure Incense catalog and as it has been a while since the last one, I’d suggest clicking on the Pure Incense tag on the left to see the others as this is a mighty fine series of incenses with a diversity that probably won’t be self evident just from this particular subsection. Here I’ll be discussing several cedarwood blends, the Absolute Sandalwood and what perhaps could be considered the line’s most basic incense in the Absolute Vanilla. You may have guessed that these are all part of the line’s standard series, although in the case of many of these incenses they are the highest quality versions of their particular aroma.

As the Madhavadas family is the source of these incenses, it’s no surprise that their Absolute Cedarwood is more or less the exact same incense you’ll find in many lines such as Primo and Triloka, if not very similar to those from Incense from India and Mystic Temple. It’s a sweet and perfumed cedar, perhaps even more obviously so after trying Shroff’s most recent version, which is completely different. I’ve always had a fondness for this scent and consider it unique in comparison to other cedarwood scents, which often have little depth and are closer to, say, pencils than aromatic wood. No doubt this is due to an oil, but I’d guess its sweetness is also due to the line’s ubiquitous vanilla-enhanced base. I’d consider this the place to start before moving on to the hybrids as you’ll then be able to see how brilliantly a second ingredient tends to transmute the cedar aroma.

The first hybrid is the Absolute Cedarwood & Lavender whose added lavender perfume changes the entire contour of the cedarwood and as a result ends up in a very different lavender as well. The overall scent has definitely changed to the floral and just as the charcoal, vanilla and sandalwood base changes based on what is being laid over, the cedarwood also seems to go chameleon. It’s not even a combination I probably would have thought of and the result is something almost entirely new with neither main ingredient resembling what they do on their own. In fact you’d think this might be sweeter than it is, but it almost seems like those elements are cancelled out in the new equation.

The stick is a bit darker with the Absolute Cedarwood & Rose perhaps implying an adjustment of some sort to the base. To my nose the oil Madhavadas used on this stick strikes me as being a bit more “authentic” than the lavender and thus find this a very successful incense, the combination bringing out the darker and more mysterious aspects of both ingredients. It adds up to one of the more heavier rose incenses, but unlike many that are rough, this one has a pleasant roundedness. When I originally tried it as a sample, I ended up ordered a full 50g package. It’s only weakness is a slight ammoniac presence common to the occasional perfumed Indian stick.

Perhaps a more obvious pairing is the Absolute Cedarwood & Sandalwood and it’s probably not a surprise that the aroma is tilted more in the favor of the former ingredients and much closer to the base than the previous two mixes. The sandalwood does help to make this a much drier incense and as such it will be seen as an improvement for those whose tastes lie that way. It actually ends up with some rather unique combo notes, with the sandal presence taking the place of the cedar oil on the very top. There even seems to be a little patchouli in the mix, although I’m not sure if this is due to the combo or not. It’s actually quite an unpredictable scent in some ways.

Like the Cedarwood, I find the Absolute Saffron to be a fairly prevalent scent in Indian incense, although I’m not sure they’re all exactly the same given the possibility of diversity in such a scent. This version may not have the classic saffron scent per se, in fact it reminds me more of what I’ve occasionally seen classed as a saffron sandalwood, and that may very well be part of the base playing here. It’s an extremely dry incense, with a bit of spice in the middle as well as the usual vanilla subscent so common to this line of incenses. And there are even hints of some resins in the mix, or at least that’s what I’d guess is giving the incense its intensity and pungency. Quite nice and somewhat complex as well.

For those who have sampled many Pure Incense incenses, the Absolute Vanilla will probably strike you as the very base of the style, in that it really IS the Madhavadas Vanilla. For one thing, it’s relatively less powerful, as if the other oils have been subtracted. On the other hand it’s almost as if you can pick out the vanilla in most of the other incenses before you can with this one, where it’s very dry, as if the rest of the base is less disguised, such as the charcoal and sandalwood. Personally I find vanilla a rough thing in incense (perhaps my favorites are the Shroff Vanilla and Vanilla Balsam, neither of which is particularly comparable here), very difficult to get right and I’m not sure this one is particularly close, unless you have the predeliction for drier masalas.

Next installment will cover some patchouli and sandalwood variations and hybrids and beyond that I think there are a few newer scents I’ve not managed to try out yet, so still more to come.

Triloka / Cones / Amber Sun, Angelic Frankincense, Arabian Jasmine, Dream Rose, Green Patchouli, Musk, Royal Sandalwood, Sandalwood Fire; Ropes (4 unnamed)

In the Indian incense field some very heavy players have emerged onto the field in the last year or two. They appear to be using quality ingredients and some very well thought out combinations of herbs, spices, oils and resins to produce stellar results at very affordable prices (the fantasy of being able to buy 10 sticks of quality Japanese Aloewoods or Sandalwoods for under $5 makes me glassy eyed : o ) ). So the expectations for quality in the Indian incense market have been raised a great deal. This has resulted in making the selection much bigger and at the same time somewhat harder to deal with from both the consumer and the manufacturer point of view.

A couple things that Triloka has going for it are the quality of ingredients and their pricing. Plus I am sure they have a lot of established fans, having been around for decades at this point. We’ve covered some of the company’s sticks in the past so will be covering a series of cones and ropes in this write up. Mike’s reviews are noted by asterix, the rest, including the intro is by Ross.

In most of these cases the base used to create these cones can come off fairly harsh, particularly when the main ingredients don’t work so homogenously together. In Amber Sun‘s* case the cone appears to be going for a similar scent to the honey amber wax/resin combos. Due to the combo of base and aromatics the mix is fairly soapy and a little rough, but not at all unpleasant. Given the sun in the name, it seems appropriate for this to be a little on the hot side (almost like the scent of granite in the summer).

The Angelic Frankincense* also seems about half “cone blend” and half frankincense scent and if it wasn’t for all the deluxe frankincense resins that have been coming out way of late, I might rate this higher. At least this does what it sets out to do and unlike a lot of Indian incenses (including Triloka’s stick frankincense), this has a distinct if mid-quality, resinous scent with a tough of lemon. Like all the cones here, the binder might irritate the sinuses, so expect it to be a little hot.

The base of the Arabian Jasmine* isn’t quite as strong here, so I’m not sure if the make up is different due to the red color here (as opposed to the previous two cones’ tan color). Unsurprisingly, this is a very perfumed cone. Fortunately, even if it’s obviously not a premium jasmine scent at this price, it’s still fairly dry and not too cloying, a touch fruity even, like a strawberry synthetic. Not amazing, but not offputting either, for the price it’s quite well balanced.

The Dream Rose* is an interesting floral cone to be sure, only roughly approximating (or dancing around) a mix of dry petals, fruity and perfume scents. There’s rarely ever a rose incense that hits it right at this cost level and overall this is a bit on the cloying side, particularly by the end of the cone.

There is a sort of classic sweet Patchuli note in the Green Patchouli that is married up to a “green” spicy note. For me this does not work, but I could see how it would for others. The two main notes seem to be trying to act as a balance between each other but for me it is more like being pulled back and forth.

In the Musk, a somewhat balsamic floral musk quality is hampered by the wood. This might really work well if the quality of the wood had been higher. The actual musk scent is at least in the ball park (given how wide the variations seem to be). I would guess it is herb/spice based and it works. The burning wood scent tends to get in the way of the musk tones, which is too bad as they are well done.

The Royal Sandalwood has a somewhat floral note with a semi sweet quality to it. It smells like it is made without synthetic based oils, which is a relief. It does not have a particularly noticeable sandalwood scent to it but is overall a pleasant floral based scent. The floral quality may be the “Royal” part of the name. I could see a lot of people liking this. It is a cone so it will put out a lot of smoke and scent very quickly to scent a room.

The Sandalwood Fire has a much more pronounced sandalwood scent to it; it also has a very dry overall character, not at all floral or spicy. It is rather surprising in that respect. I generally expect to find a deeper oil based sandalwood scent in Indian incense so if that is your goal then this is most likely not your incense. However, if you were looking for something to break up the traditional heavy oil approach then this might work for you.

The Triloka rope sampler we received contains four different rope incenses only identified by the colored tips, so we’ve indicated the color for each incense.

Like a lot of Tibetan rope incenses, the overall bouquet in the Blue Tip* is like a mixture of herbs, the smell of juice powder mix and spice, so it not only has a wood base but a wide variety of combustibles that make for an unusual and very smoky blend. This has tints of sandalwood, citrus, the tannin like scent from seeds (like in wine), grapefruit, hints of evergreen (juniper, maybe cypress), and a mixed fruit scent that makes this quite pleasant through the final rope loop.

The Green Tip* rope is a much woodier and less fruitier blend than the Blue Tip and subsequently a lot more generic, with there being more of a cedarwood presence than the softer woods in the previous rope. There’s a slight tinge of orange peel but mostly a lot of BBQ, cardamom, clove or spice. An average rope, pleasant, but not arresting.

There is a certain sweet floralish quality to the Red Tip mixed into a herbal note that is very interesting. There are no oil notes present and little of woods. So what you are getting is pretty much herbs, spices, resins and whatever flowers are in the mix. I do not recognize any of the notes but do find the overall mix to be interesting and pleasant. I could see this working in a prayer or alter setting quite well.

When the Yellow Tip is lit, a pervasive juniper-like note comes on very strong followed by a very clean burning herb note. The overall feeling here seems to be cleanliness or purification. There might also be something along the lines of sage in the mix. Probably not something you are going to use all the time but in the right context it would work fine.

Triloka incense is quite widespread in the US so should be found at many stores. You can also find a wide array of Triloka products through Sensia.

new Shroffs

Essence has about a dozen new Shroff formulas in. I just got in my batch and thought I’d create a thread to discuss them. Any comments? I have to say I’m a little bit disappointed with the ones I’ve tried although there are a few I haven’t that seem promising (particularly the Basil Amber). Of the ones I’ve tried, I liked the Chypre although it seemed to be pretty similar to one or both of their durbars (Green/Parrot Green). I should probably add that reviews for these are probably a long ways off, I’m fairly behind of late.

Tasting Notes: Pocket Aroma Incense from Daihatsu

These are new to the US market and so far the only place I know of that has them is Kohshi in San Francisco. They are geared for scenting a room with a particular scent, in this case floral’s or woods. The sticks burn for around 10-12 minutes and there are about 150 per box, there are also cones. You can them out here.

Lavender  Tanka: This has a spicy back round note intermixed with a sort of powdery scent. The lavender/floral notes ride across all of this. In this particular case it is more spicy floral then lavender. This is a fairly strongly scented incense in keeping with the concept of a “Room Incense”. The scent is also going to last awhile within the room.

Rose  Tanka: Much like the lavender above the are a lot of spicy notes underneath a distinct rose scent. This reminds me of more a wild rose then one that has been overly cultivated. I find this to be refreshing as so many rose scented incenses can be (to me at least) overly done and cloying. Not the case here. Again the scent is strong but the spiciness tends to balance things out. Nicely done and a great way to add a rose scent to a room with out over doing it.

Cypress  Tanka: Similar base notes in this woody scented stick. This does seem to capture the feeling of Cypress trees as well as a forest in general. It is not overly “green” in scent more a mix of woods tempered with a green note. Probably my favorite out of the group, enough so that I bought a box.

Very different then Sandalwoods or Aloeswoods. Again this is a long lasting scent and very good at putting a mellow and relaxing scent through out a room. – Ross

Seikado’s Gohitsu, Daikouboku & Keigado’s Jiyou Koh

Seikado’s Gohitsu (Five Brushstrokes) Aloeswood: A nice, inexpensive Aloeswood blend from Seikado. It holds to a “middle of the road”  Aloeswood scent with a slight top note that is somewhat spicy. Which is not too say cinnamon like or anything along those lines. It’s actually quite different from other Aloeswood blends and is pleasant, easy to use as a background scent and a pretty good deal as an everyday incense. Fifty sticks in the box at around $14.00.

Seikado’s Daikouboku Sandalwood: This is a very nice straight up Sandalwood from the makers of Solitude line of wood blends. Seikado seems to big on the use of oils married up to Sandalwoods or Aloeswood to produce some pretty potent blends, almost ranging into what reminds me of Indian styles. In this stick they have not gone that route, opting instead to produce a very nice deep Sandalwood scent with a bare hint of spice/herb notes. I find it to be very easy to use and at the same time different then say the Baieido or Kyukyodo sandalwoods. This is another excellent everyday scent that will be merciful to your wallet.

Keigado’s Jiyou Koh: This is low smoke type incense, and it really is closer “no smoke”. Normally I do not like this style but this one I am finding pretty fun. When I first smelled it at Kohshi /Japan Incense it reminded me of something, about a week later I realized there were similarities with Shoyeido’s  Myo-ho in the top and mid notes. After looking at the ingredients list (Fennel, Cinnamon, Clove, Polygala tenuifolia (Polygalaceae), Angelica acutiloba) I realized that the first three are something I always associate with the scent of Myo-ho(along with Star Anise). All this being said I find this stick to be a pleasant backround scent, not very strong or prominent( like most low smoke stick) but it does add an interesting note to a room. Because it is a low smoke stick it will also tend to eliminate other scents, something to keep in mind if you want to clear the air.