February Top 10

It has been a long time since I’ve done an incense top 10 here and it has been a while since I visited some of my stock, so I’ve limited the entries to seven as you can more or less count the recent Dhuni group as four slots. This is basically a lot of what I’ve been using of late….

  1. Various Incenses / Mermade Magickal Arts – Let’s just call this first entry a salute to one of the US’s top incense talents Katlyn Breene. Mermade should be well known around these parts, but this is a reminder that there is an almost incredibly high consistency level in the work from this company from the art to the incense to the presentation. It doesn’t matter if it’s evergreen treasures like Earth Church or ancient blends like Kyphi, every item is delievered with skill, integrity and a dose of light. To be honest I’m not sure this site would even be here had I not been blown away by blends like Dream Snake and Dragon Fire over 15 years ago so it’s always a great joy for me to spread the word.
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  3. Dhuni / Frangipani, Lakshmi, Sandalwood, Temple – As I’ve said before Dhuni’s biggest weakness is their lack of 100g packages. Because honestly these 12-15 stick packages I can put down in a weekend. Anyway I reviewed these recently so check there for more but this is a terrific group. I might give Frangipani the nudge of the four just because it’s so florally gorgeous.
  4. Ross Urrere / Ocean of Night Sure this is highly biased, to put one of my cohort’s incenses on this list (and I should say it here too, there wouldn’t be an ORS without Ross), but if you go check out the sales page, you’ll see I’m not alone in admiring this incredible mix of high quality woods and herbs.  In 2030 we’ll be looking back at how great Ross’s “early work” was. 🙂
  5. Kyukyodo / Unkin  Of all the Kyukyodo items I put up for sale I think this could be the biggest surprise none of these moved as this is a terrific incense and one unavailable outside the five roll box. I almost think of this as something like the Kai Un Koh of the Kyukyodo line up in that I think for the price it’s a bit better of an aloeswood than you’d normally get. For a while I was lighting up two sticks at once which really increases the woodiness. It’s smooth, undeniably Kyukyodo in that there are some oils at work. And yes I have two rolls left, but not for long!
  6. Shroff Channabasappa / Sugandha Mantri – I’ve had a difficult time thinking or even talking about the batch Sugandha Mantri came with as they’re all very good incenses, yet to some extent most of them seem to be champa based with a mysterious and exotic floral/musk blend on top. This tends to mean it’s a group of incenses you haven’t really tried before and aren’t comparable to much that’s out there in the field. There’s really only a hair of difference between this and the others.
  7. Shoyeido / Premium / Ga-Ho – There’s a pungent green exotic floral note to this that has always made it a favorite in my book, it’s like the beautiful flower you’ve never smelled in person before. Most of the Shoyeido premiums are amazing but I have a soft spot for this one, it perhaps has the type of aloeswood hit I like best.
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Dhuni / Frangipani, Lakshmi, Sandalwood, Temple

It’s going to be tough for me to complain or criticize anything about this latest batch of new Dhuni incenses, so for the critical record I’ll just come out and say that, um, Dhuni doesn’t expand fast enough for me? I’m only kidding of course, but this latest batch of goodies is as close to an incense TKO as I’ve ever seen. Users of Dhuni incense already realize that they’re becoming very close to the premiere connoisseur Indian incense imprint and if these new incenses are any indication they’re getting better with every new scent.

If you want the short review, it’s that I’ve added the first three to our hall of fame and the fourth isn’t entirely out of the running either. It actually struck me burning some of these that the ingredients are so good that at times it’s almost as if you’re experiencing the Indian version of Baieido incense because it’s clear a lot of the aromatic value in these incenses come from very high quality ground wood powder and herbs, the subnotes on all of these pop and catch your attention constantly.

Frangipani is a fairly common Indian incense but I guarantee you’ve never tried one nearly this good. This is an incredibly beautiful and floral aroma, soft, sweet and decadently rich, in fact only Pure Incense’s Pink Sayli even remotely comes close to this incense’s almost archetypal femininity. Other frangipani incenses often seem generically floral, but Dhuni have managed to really extract the essence of the aroma and surround it with the appropropriate base and high level of ingredients. When I first got into Indian incense, it was the sweet and rich luxurious champas that drew me in and this is a great example of one. It’s simple, direct and undeniably pleasant.

Lakshmi is another superb champa style, full of halmaddi and honey, backing an almost even mix of woods and florals, not to mention a thin thread of spice that runs through the middle as well as a touch of vanilla. In fact this contrasts quite nicely against the Frangipani as where that stick succeeds in simplicity, the Lakshmi succeeds in complexity. The main difference is the quality makes it all breathtaking and reminiscent of the golden era with a real nostalgic flair. The last stick I burned before I did this review was mesmerizing, this almost seemed to have Baieido quality level ingredients and the way the burn spun off subnotes was extremely impressive. In fact this is really one of the finest champa styled incenses I can think of.

Dhuni’s Sandalwood sticks to the champa style and is of the same ilk as Happy Hari’s recent King of Sandal, the two Sandalwoods in the now defunct Rare Incense line, and almost any incense you’ve come across called sandalwood champa. However now take that idea and think of it Dhuni style. There are no slight imbalances here at all, the sandalwood sticks to a nice and light woodiness without the intensity of the oils you usually find in other sticks. Rather than a really strong oil-based sandalwood aroma, the Dhuni stick goes for a bit more of a high-altitude evergreen feel, likely due to the huge balsamic hit the halmaddi gives it. Like all Dhunis it’s luxurious and rich, and it’s hard to imagine a sandalwood champa lover who wouldn’t take immediately to this.

Reviewing Temple after three hall of fame level incenses might make it seem this is the stinker in the bunch, but that’s anything but true, if anything it’s just one I’d like to evaluate a little longer. The difference to my nose is that Temple’s aroma is carried more by the oils than the other three incenses and like any incense of this quality level you wonder if the oils might overwhelm some of the powders and herbs. Temple has some citrus touches in the mix, I’m detecting something like lemon or bergamot on the top, but mostly it seems to be largely a mixture of woody oils, maybe a touch of sandalwood at least. Make no mistake this is a beautiful incense, but really what else would you expect from Dhuni at this point?

What else can I say but more, please? Dhuni have really outdone themselves with their latest and can hardly wait for the next expansion.

Keigado: Keiga Byakudan (Sandalwood)

Keigado has a very large assortment of scents like Purple Magnolia, the East & West Temple sticks and Full Moon, to name just a few. They use Sandalwood a lot, although it is usually a medium for other scents to be carried along with. This particular stick has the Sandalwood up front and I think it’s a winner. It is a “straight up” style, with few if any additions. If there are any they are in there to help elevate the sandalwood scent itself. There is a very slight sweetness, pretty much what you would expect from burning a piece of sandalwood from the heartwood of a sandalwood tree, in other words it is true to the natural scent. It also has great hang time; the scent stays within the room for quite a while (not hours like a synthetic would, but a decent amount of time).

If you are looking for or simply enjoy sandalwood based incense you might want to give this one a try. It is different enough from, say, Shunkodoh’s Sarasoju or Yamada Matsu’s short stick to be worth a look. It is also at a very good price for what you are getting.

-Ross