On the Boardwalk

The first incense that ever “floated my boat” is an ambergris/oud mix made by our own Ross. It is soothing yet uplifting, penetrates without sharpness and gently seeps into my soul with firmness and tenderness. It conjures up images of a magnificent old tree in the middle of a forest- a tree whose roots drive towards the center of the earth, whose trunk spans 6 men’s chests and whose branches vie with Icarus to reach the sun. Each branch is strong enough to hold a city-full of children and beneath its branches flowers grow, worms crawl, antelopes lounge in its shade and mothers read to children. They all feel safe and protected.  The ocean gently washes its heart-spread leaves, its strength is encrusted in it’s bark; it’s roots are scaled with sober purpose. A mineral firmness thickens and darkens its sap as it drifts in anchored solitude.

Yesterday I sampled Agar Aura’s Tropica- a mukhallat dominated by Borneo oud, rose, frankincense and above all- ambergris. It is the dry, salty, breezy scent that makes my heart beat faster before the ocean even pops into sight. It smells of skin after gentle exercise, a child’s tears, of a rosebud covered in snow. It smells of the sea-kissed tree that  grows in Ross’s beautiful blend. If I were to color it, it would be the color of the Acropolis.

Many mukhallats are too heavy and dense for summer but Tropica’s cool dryness is perfect for sweltering days and humidity laden nights. It can be purchased at Agaraura.com.

Mandy Aftel and the 2011 Fifi’s

The Fifi’s are the perfume worlds Oscars and this year, for the first time ever, there is a natural perfumer in the running. Mandy Aftel has three different perfumes on the ballot. If you are interested in seeing a small independent “niche” perfumer win, one who is also directly responsible for the perfume world and the buying public becoming aware of alternatives to main stream perfumes and fragrances, this is your chance to make a difference. Having her perfumes on this year’s Fifi ballot is a huge step forward for all the independents and small perfumers.

You can caste your vote by going here: Facebook Page for FiFi 2011 Consumer Voting, or you can also go through this link, which is sponsored by some of Mandy’s students: http://www.facebook.com/event.php?eid=152953168103565.

She is asking that people vote for the scent called Honey Blossom so as to not split up the votes.

Honey Blossom was created in a meeting of the minds with fellow niche perfumer Andy Tauer for a project where they both created perfumes from a starting point of two materials (each of them picked one material) and their scent journey is chronicled on Nathan Branch’s blog (which is always a good read in itself). This is a fascinating read into the creative process of two very well thought of artists.

I was lucky enough one evening to go by Mandy’s studio to drop something off and she had just pretty much finished up Honey Blossom. To say she was excited would be putting it very mildly.  She puts her all into her creations and it shows, this is a stunning, very beautiful floral with miles of depth and, on me, lasted about 6 hours or so. Plus it keeps evolving as it goes, what more could one ask for?

You can also check out my piece on being in a perfume class with Mandy here.

Dhuni / Extra Special Amber, Kashi, Nag Champa (thick versions), Bhakti

I’m encouraged by the efforts of the Dhuni company to tinker with their incense formulas, especially when the results are as spectacular as they are here. It seems possible that they’re in the process of creating a true connoisseur line of Indian incense here as this group of scents is easily top tier.

I’m hoping maybe Piers or someone from the company might drop by and explain if these are actually the new versions of these scents or alternates as it’s difficult to tell from the catalog what’s going on here. All I know is I was already quite impressed with Dhuni’s initial grouping of incenses, but what we’re seeing in the new reformulations is a level of quality that closes in on the decadent.

Take the new version of Extra Special Amber. This is possibly the thickest stick of Indian incense I’ve ever come across, so heavy in weight that if you use an ash holder you’ll need to make sure it’s sunk deep. What seems to have happened is that the larger stick gives the opportunity to use more in the way of the resinous materials. The original Extra Special Amber is quite excellent but it’s also highly perfumed, this new version seems like the perfume or oil contents have either been reduced or spread out among the new materials. The result is tangy, brassy and rich, but largely so because the quality natural ingredients are now carrying more of the bouquet. It makes it so the overall aroma is slightly less intense and more diffuse, letting the amber waves ride out in an airier fashion. In the end both versions are still largely in their own category amberwise and it should also be mentioned that despite the size of the stick, the smoke content is still about normal. This is a stick I’m definitely looking forward to stocking deeply, it’s an incredible work of art.

While Extra Special Amber has made the most visible change, the further refinement of Kashi is possibly this batch’s most impressive move. The sticks are slightly thicker in size and are now thick enough that they don’t resemble at all the style of incense Kashi is in the same family of, the one including Incense from India Honey Dust, Mystic Temple Vanilla, Satya Natural etc. From just eyeing it I would say that the new version has a touch more halmaddi resin in it if not more honey, because it’s even sweeter and more deluxe than it ever was. Now sometimes, this isn’t a good thing but it’s been done in a way where the results aren’t cloying and the sweetness is perfectly balanced by the quality ingredients in the mix. I mentioned it in last month’s top 10, but this is a style I’d grown quite tired of until Dhuni managed to rejuvenate it in the most perfect way here, making it by far the best version of this scent to hit the market.

Dhuni’s newly formulated Nag Champa is probably the mildest adjustment, although the changes are enough to make the new version less traditional than the original, but don’t take that to mean it’s less quality. Like the Kashi the new version is a bit gummier, with a massive halmaddi presence. I like the fact that this increase in sweetness tends to balance out the dryness of the scent, which is an issue I have with a lot of modern Nag Champas, they’ve often lost their finish. While with ESA and Kashi the replacements are definitely final, in terms of the Nag Champa I think both versions have a lot to like about them.

Dhuni also has one new scent, Bhakti. It’s described as a floral spice blend and has some slight similarities to Shroff’s Little Woods in the base. However all of the perfume and oil notes in the incense take the base in a completely different direction. This is a perfume mix that is very difficult to describe because it manages to be both light and complex at the same time. I get everything from unidentifiable florals to a spice content and even a touch of orange tea in the mix, not to mention a strain of wood scent that is less identifiable as a note than an ingredient of depth. Unsurprisingly it’s a triumph in the end and if it’s any indication we’re only seeing the beginning of a powerful run by Dhuni.

Keep tinkering, we’re noticing!

Update to Kyukyodo Catalog page

https://olfactoryrescueservice.wordpress.com/kyukyodo-catalog/

Thanks to a couple readers (Arisan and Glenn), we’ve managed to substantially update our Kyukyodo catalog page, including descriptions (several forthcoming) of incenses and their transliterated names. This has been a fun project, if nothing else that I become slowly more and more convinced that Kyukyodo may be at the apex of Japanese incense art. Hopefully we’ll be able to do this for more unimported companies in the future.

March 2011 Top 10

  1. Shroff Channabasappa/Wet Masala/Little Woods – Quite  simply this is one of the best Indian incenses you can buy. I think I’ve lost count how many sticks I’ve gone through at this point, there have been times where I’ll just burn one after the other. In fact I’ve been meaning to get to this latest and finest batch from Shroff, but haven’t found the time yet, but this one is described as containing fouger, rose, ambery sandal and oriental scents. It strikes a balance I can barely describe, but has an oil mix that’s extremely addictive.
  2. Shroff Channabasappa/Wet Masala/Darshan – This spearmint fronted work of magic could be interchangeable with Little Woods, as I’ve burned nearly as many sticks of this. This is an Indian incense I think almost everyone will like, it’s redolent of minty, spice cookies and very friendly.
  3. Kyukyodo/Musashino – Kyukyodo have a kyara and it’s a lot different from the dark and resinous kyaras you’ll find in, say, Shoyeido’s stable. In fact the first time I tried a stick it was difficult to describe because it has a lot of similarities with other Kyukyodo green sticks (Denpo for example) in that it’s kind of light and foresty. But once you get used to it and the green kyara note comes through, it becomes breathtaking. Like most kyaras it’s an expensive buy (given other Kyukyodo prices, my guess this would run $350 or so at 20 sticks if it was imported here) but in this case there’s really no other kyara like it.
  4. Meena Supreme – There’s an up and coming new company in Britain who’s set forth trying to import some incenses not generally seen outside of India and Meena Supreme was the first one (a more indepth review is forthcoming) I received. This was described to me with a hail of superlatives and has managed to live up to most of them. It’s a fluxo style incense, very thick and smokey with some earthiness in the background making it somewhat akin to Sai Flora. Quite frankly I’d have trouble describing the aroma even after going through two boxes of it, except to say it’s extremely addictive.
  5. Dhuni/Kashi (new version) – I’m not sure what’s going on in the Dhuni labs of late, but their latest care package was absolutely astounding despite there only being one true new scent. What else arrived was improved versions of three of their incenses. The new Kashi seems to increase the thickness and richness of the sticks. If you’ve ever tried Honey Dust or Vanilla or Satya Natural then you’ll know this scent, but I guarantee you’ve never smelled it at this level of luxuriousness. For me, it rejuvenated a scent I think I’d grown rather tired of.
  6. Dhuni/Special Amber (new) – The one stick sample of this I received is possibly the largest stick of Indian incense I’ve ever encountered, in fact I wondered if I could use it to defend myself. And bigger is better is definitely the case with this new version which seems to increase the content of the fine amber resins being used because at times this stick is like burning a fine resin mix, very sublime and much more balanced and measured than the original version (which was pretty great in its own right as it was). This is definitely one I’ll want to restock.
  7. Kyukyodo/Murasakino – It’s difficult to tell for sure, but other than the Musashino above, I’d probably put Murasakino at the top of the premium Kyukyodo aloeswood list. It comes in a variety of different boxes and packages but the silk roll in pawlonia box is probably the standard version. This is a potent, green aloeswood with that wonderful sharp acridity good wood always brings. And unlike Haru-no-yama, this is different enough from the Sho-Ran-Ko to make it feel not too duplicative.
  8. Dhuni/Khus – Much thanks to the Dhuni group for stocking me up on this utterly fine and fantastic vetivert champa. I had left a stick of this burning upstairs last night and remember just how incredible the aroma it left. Vetivert is often described as cooling, which isn’t something I always pick up in incenses it contains, but this one has absolutely nailed that vibe. This one’s an essential.
  9. Shroff Channabasappa/Ruby – I’m a little slower burning this one because I haven’t nabbed a 100g box yet and it took me a few sticks, but when it comes to the red colored, floral/rose type of champa, this one is the supreme version by a long way with a perfume intensity that’s unusual for this style. Very well rounded and gorgeous.
  10. Tibetan Medical College/Holy Land – What can I say that I already haven’t on this one. Still a staple around here and just polished off another box (third maybe?). In a class of its own.