Mermade Magickal Arts / Sanctuary, Pan’s Earth (2021) + Esprit de la Nature / Lavender Kyphi (via Mermade) (Discontinued)

Here’s another handful of Mermade offerings including one direct from Esprit de la Nature. One I almost missed and the other two newly arrived…

I bought Sanctuary a little while back so I’m not sure if what I’m reviewing here was the first or second batch as mentioned on the page. Katlyn lists the ingredients for this blend of sacred space as Copal Blanco, Copal Negro, Maydi and Sacra Frankincense, Breu Claro, Greek Sage, Palo Santo, Peru Balsam and Fir Balsam. So I think the one thing that this instantly brings to mind is the idea that this is something of a South American blend with a touch of the outside. Space clearing incenses often to tend to be resin heavy, so this checks the box, plus this has that sort of uplifting feel that copals frequently bring to incense especially when they’re high quality. Sanctuary is also a bit of gentle blend, much more so than resin mixes that are frankincense heavy, in fact the frankincenses here seem to have not so noticeable an impact on the overall bouquet. The Palo Santo is fairly obvious as it always is in a mix, and I very much like the way the balsams weave in here as well. Once again Katlyn’s skill at blending multiple ingredients and getting them all to face out in a noticeable way is quite apparent.

Be en Foret’s Lavender Kyphi (picture is just a sample container but cool enough to include – check out the final artwork at the link) is another one of her intriguing variations on the old Egyptian formula. Check out this amazing ingredient line up: “From the Garden: Salted lavender buds and Dominican Sage leaves from my garden, Spikenard root from the Himalayas, Violet leaf extract from France. Resins: Dark Frankincense, Tolu Balsam, Dark Benzoin, Labdanum, Kua Myrrh, Liquidambar, Peru Balsam. A dash of aged Ambergris in Sandalwood oil ● Bound with organic honey and raisins ● Rolled in Agarwood and Sandalwood powder.”

Gulp. That’s a whole lotta goodness there, as is common with labyrinthine Kyphi preparations. Be sets this at a very low temperature kind of melt so you really gotta get in there to experience how complex this is, but of course the lavender is in front just like the name implies. One thing I love about kyphis is there are multiple ingredients, multiple recipes, everyone does them differently, they’re aged and tend to have vintages even among single “authors” and so vary all over the place while still hitting these notes that remind me of the finest of wines or even ales. The second thing I notice off this incense is the honey and balsam scent, a lovely mix that also tends to highlight the spikenard which is a favorite of mine. I do tend to like my lavender as close to the plant as possible, so I appreciate that it’s the kyphi that tends to be sweet here, which is a really nice contrast. And yes this does have that almost thick, wonderful base of a kyphi, more noticeable as the heat progresses, which I always contribute to the raisins and the way they kind of infuse a bit of wine-like goodness to the mix. Anyway I hope you’re convinced on this one, Be has the kyphi juju down!

And if kyphis are a tradition going back to Egyptian times, Katlyn has made something of a vintage out of Pan’s Earth herself. This is one of Mermade’s perennial classics, an almost definitive pagan earth incense, a mix of divine resins with all sorts of herbal notes that furrow their roots deep into the soil. And like kyphi, repeated vintages of Pan’s Earth always seem to improve and get more deep and impressive, and honestly, this one’s even a bit of a quantum jump in how good it is, easily my favorite of all of the good scents under this name. So what’s in the 2021 version? Black frankincense; breu claro; copal negro; vetiver root; aged patchouli; agarwood chips, powder, and oud; Pan’s Earth Special Blend Oil; Arbor Vitae cedar tips; jatamansi; costus root; kua; and Yemeni myrrh. The first thing that always strikes me about Pan’s Earth, despite all of the high end ingredients is that patchouli and vetiver mix. That green, soil-rich earthiness is just right up my alley and has always been the feature that would draw out this god of satyrs (and to be fair jatamansi and spikenard also have a little of it). If you’re gonna talk about Pan you need something feral and dark, something that makes civilization vanish. However to my nose this is actually a bit more resinous than I remember previous vintages, and it almost feels like the aged depth of it actually highlights and provides a well-roundedness to the incense that reminds you that the mystery of Pan still remains and that matched with all that earth is the sense of the universal as well. Perhaps 100s of years from now, some future archaeologists and anthropologists will be trying to make sense of the complexity of Pan’s Earth. Because this great incense is now becoming a tradition like kyphi, where there’s so much to experience, a review may not be able to do it full justice. One subnote melts into another into another. Definitely don’t miss this!

Advertisement

Zambala Company Ltd. / Khangdru Tibetan Incense

Khangdru Tibetan Incense is a traditional Tibetan incense that while not a fully high end or deluxe incense is still closer to the better traditional incenses. It comes in a rather large, long stick package with a ton of incense. The burn is mostly a combination of dry woods and a touch of musk that isn’t too overpowering. It is apparently “made with over 30 precious ingredients, including sandalwood and saffron — with several of the ingredients requiring processing over 12 days.” My nose does pick up a slight saffron hint, however the grade of sandalwood is certainly not the high end stuff. At $10 a roll it’s a pretty good deal because there’s a bit of depth and the packages are huge, I can imagine I probably won’t get through mine for many years. If you were to pick a Tibetan in the higher third quarter of tiered incenses, I think Khangdru would sit pretty comfortable there. It manages to get some depth out of what is kind of an airy and light incense, which is no mean feat.

Kunmeido / Fuji Aloeswood

Kunmeido’s Fuji Aloeswood is a bit of a sidestep from their classic Asuka incense. It’s may be just a bit less deluxe and a bit a less expensive than its cousin and I don’t know if I could argue that anyone needs both. Now if you’re working your way up their line from Reiryo Koh, I might normally caution one to take the cheaper step and in that sense Fuji is definitely more inexpensive. You’re basically getting 50 sticks at $28 for Fuji and 70 sticks for $56 with Asuka. So what are the differences? Well I know Asuka pretty well and there aren’t too many. If someone told me this was Asuka in disguise then I might think it’s an adjusted recipe to account for a little less aloeswood. Fuji Aloeswood is a bit drier and a bit more akin to more inexpensive sandalwoods in part. The aloeswood in it isn’t as well defined as Asuka’s is (Asuka’s balancing act is nigh on perfect to my nose), but it’s certainly present, but more as a subnote. It’s stronger than it is in the Heian-Koh and this is not as sweet. But other than probably some faint differences to the top oil this is essentially the same class, order, family and genus, just not the same species. If you’re like me and over the moon for the Asuka you probably will welcome it.

Admin Notes

So just a quick note to mention that I’ve added some more group incense photos to the Reviews indexes, all Japanese companies. More will be coming from Tibetan and Indian lines eventually.

Also I noticed at Japan Incense they have a discontinued note next to Baieido’s Byakudan Kokoh. So a quick salut to that lost scent, which was a very wonderful deluxe sandalwood. I have personally noticed that the Jinko Kokoh really took a major hit on my last purchase, definitely not as great as it once was. However, Kyara Kokoh, maybe because it is priced at where stock moves a lot slower is still one of the titans of incense. Due to the natural ingredients I think Baieido’s scent profile may change more than any other. Kai Un Koh definitely is not what it once was; however, the Syukohokokus still seem pretty stable. I’m assuming the more affordable line is probably doing OK too, although I haven’t revisited these in a while.

There are a ton of reviews coming up. Somehow, from previously undiscovered reserves of energy, I’ve managed to get on a really productive roll and reviews are about 3 weeks deep at this point and I may have time to push that a bit deeper the week of the 4th. Some of these include the restoration to ORS pages of a well-known Indian incense company as well as the beginning of a deep dive into the utterly fantastic Temple of Incense line, both in July. Japanese incense reviews from Kunmeido, Shunkohdo, Keigado, Seikado and Baikundo (and eventually more from Yamadamatsu, Kunjudo and others) are coming. A range of Tibetan incenses from various monasteries. More in the Soul Sticks line. Another Mermade (and Esprit de la Nature) drop this Wednesday. If you’re from a new incense company and would like to be evaluated here please check out the About page and drop me a line as I can’t promise how long the energy will last, but for me it’s easier to keep this up when everything is rolling like this.

Have a great rest of your weekend all!

Tibetan Medicine Company of Traditional Tibet / Long Du Relaxing Incense

Like Traditional Tibet Medicine Pharmaceutical Company’s An Shen Tranquility Incense, Tibetan Medicine Company of Traditional Tibet’s Long Du Relaxing Incense is a very different incense from its flagship blend. For one thing it’s a rare, short and stubby little incense, as if they were confident this was going to relax you so fast that they knew you didn’t really need more than the inch or so in the stick before you were off to dreamland. Also like An Shen, Long Du seems to fall roughly into that category of what might be called “Agar 31” incenses due to both the presence of agarwood and the intended effect; however, the only given (36) ingredients are sandalwood, nutmeg, myrobalan, frankincense and clove. I’m not even sure you’d notice the frankincense was there except for this list. Once again, this doesn’t resemble either Holy Land in any way, but unlike An Shen this is a bit more of an noticeable aroma with a nice bit of spice and a little tanginess too. While I understand the need to not get too aromatically invigorating with a relaxing incense, I do like that this still has some personality to it. Plus even though it’s a little box, it’s also priced accordingly. Overall a very decent woody Tibetan blend, with a pleasant and friendly aroma that sits as a good example of a traditional.

Kyukyodo / Musashino

There was a lot of talk about Kyukyodo incenses in the (previous) heyday of ORS because they were one of the longest holdouts for importing to the west. We initially used to order Kyukyodo incenses through third party vendors before Japan Incense began carrying them and there’s still a Kyukyodo catalog from that era with translations and links on the left. Looking through those was almost painful, there were still huge sets of incenses I never got to try due to expense (especially those multiple roll sets with scents that didn’t appear on their own). I even bought bulk and sold off partial boxes just to be able to try them (I miss Denpo, an incense that is somewhat analagous to Musashino on a much less expensive level, now discontinued, probably more than any of those others). But then as was inevitable, Japan Incense found a way to add many of the scents, including a lot of their premium incenses, and they became more available in the US. However, like most companies, incenses go in and out of their catalog.

Kyukyodo isn’t really known for doing kyara incenses. I’m not sure a woody kyara incense is really the style for a company who specializes mostly in oil-based incenses. But Musashino is really a one of a kind kyara, it’s unlike any other company’s kyara incenses and really much more in line with their entire aloeswood- and sandalwood-based, higher-end catalog. In fact it shares some similarities to the company’s top line aloeswood, Murasakino. But where that’s just a highly elegant and smooth aloeswood, Musashino is more of a mix of green elements with a touch of really fine kyara oil on the top. There are earthy and sweet hints of patchouli and vetivert, that bit of clay-like smell some incenses that include those ingredients often have, as well as a bit of mint and some fresh sandalwood in the mix. There’s no denser layer of wood like you’d expect at this price point, that doesn’t appear to be the intent of the stick. It’s a much brighter, fresher scent and strangely it’s this that is evocative of really expensive green kyara on a heater. And if you want to take the plunge and give it a shot without risking a larger outlay, Japan Incense sells single sticks for $15.

Traditional Tibetan Medicine Pharmaceutical Factory / TPN Calm, An Shen Tranquility Incense, Nectar (revisit)

In recent articles I’ve brought up the speed and uncertainly of information that travels from the East. When I originally reviewed the Nectar incense I was led to understand that it was created as an incense created by the Tibetan Medical College of Traditional Tibet College that created the fantastic Holy Land incenses and always treated it as perhaps a variation on the grade B of that line, because while it appears to have been created by an entirely different company it’s an incense that is obviously in a similar traditional vein. So I’m happy to correct the record here and back then as well and take another look at that incense even if the elements outside of the difference in company still largely remains the same. But before I do that I wanted to talk about a couple other incenses made by the Traditional Tibetan Medicine Pharmaceutical Factory first. I will also add that I love the little Himalayan logo with the paths to the flame and the plants.

TPN Calm is definitely something of a variation of Nectar, but it just takes similar aspects of that scent, dials back to the intensity and embeds the scent in a much woodier base. I don’t think there’s any question the creators were going for something milder and a bit more polished here, but while the aromatic intensity is dialed back in comparison to Nectar, it still retains quite a bit of aromatic strength and complexity. In many ways it’s like you’re given either option to have it as background or enough in the way of bouquet to pay attention to the aroma. While this still has that element that reminds me a bit of a bowl of salted pistachios, it’s not intensely salty and it allows the background woods of juniper and sandalwood to come through more. The different formula also seems to highlight a bit more of an herby formula as well. I like that there’s an element to it that’s kind of cooling in a way, I think it’s actually somewhat successful in making this work a little bit in its intention. In fact in some ways you might even think of this as a pivot point in the middle of the more woodier incenses common in Tibetan sticks and the more deluxe, aromatic and unique incenses that largely come from monasteries. But overall I would definitely say try the Nectar first because this is still a bit of a step down compared to that wonder of a scent.

Unlike Nectar and Calm, An Shen Tranquility Incense comes in a striking tube with wonderful dragon wallpaper-like art. Unlike those two incenses, An Shen is a bit thicker of a stick and seems to be a much more traditional incense, in fact if you weren’t told or missed the cool little logo on it, you’d never imagine it’s related to Nectar or Calm in any way. It took a few sticks to realize it had a bit of depth to it because there’s so much wood in the mix and it leans towards a bit of that campfire sort of aroma. However, one of the substrata is an almost clay-like richness and there’s a bit of the tangy in there too. Unsurprisingly it has a similar polish to the Calm as well (I’d be interested to know what language differences/subtleties might be between what is translated as “calm” and what is translated as “tranquility”*). The ingredients include sandalwood, agarwood, clove, guangzao and natural Tibetan medicines, and indeed you do get a bit of that inexpensive agarwood aroma that shows up in some Nepali or Tibetan incenses, often called “Agar 31,” but it’s faint and not at all resonant. All in all this may be missing the same sort of vivacity and personality that Nectar has, but if it’s trying to help you sleep a bit, maybe invigorating isn’t the answer. Aromatically it’s a bit static, but certainly not unpleasant. It also reminds me a bit of some of the off-main brand Dzongsar monastery incenses.

So although this isn’t really a full review, I wanted to circle around again really quickly to the original Nectar. I have this pile of about 10 or 15 incenses I keep around where I sleep that I burn as I wind down and read late night and my only definition for these is that they’re ones I always think of to reach for. Nectar is kind of borderline in that category because it scratches a similar itch to Holy Land while being a bit more red and floral. It’s easily a hall of fame Tibetan stick and something of a classic on its own because it has that real density all of the best Tibetans have. It is the flagship of this factory and rightly so. The list of ingredients (I can’t remember if I knew this before) includes musk, sandalwood, borneol and other precious herbs. These three main qualities are definitely all in noticeable quantities here. It also feels there’s a lot of saffron and some hard to define floral elements that add a level to this that really set it apart from most incenses. Definitely an absolute must on Tibetan purchase list and quite affordable still too.

*Thanks to Hart at incense-traditions.ca for sending along the answer to this question: ‘An Shen’ in Chinese is intended for “calming down mental processes” and ‘TPN Calm’ refers to “calming of the heart” – as in helping achieve balance and serenity.

Yamadamatsu / Hojo – Kyara “Firebird” / Green Label, Red Label, White Label

Japan Incense started importing Yamadamatsu incenses a year or two before ORS closed for a while. Prior to that I had received boxes through different channels. But I think that sort of trickle and then flow meant that our reviews on their products were a bit more haphazard and not as organized as some of the other Japanese companies and that many of our comments probably showed up in previous top ten lists around the time. (Also, I believe the write ups for the red and white label Hojos at Japan Incense were written by Ross as well, so they’re worth checking into from the product links given below). A similar situation is probably true for our Kyukyodo reviews and so part of the new ORS plans is to visit/revisit a lot of these incenses and of course at the same time look at what is currently being offered under these most revered of companies. Personally I don’t notice huge changes in this particular line (Hojo); however, in the more lower end boxes with all the colors it did seem that some of the incenses had changed a lot.

The Hojo or Firebird line is an incredibly well-priced line for its quality. The Green and White labels are about the same in cost while the Red label is a step up in price. These are very different kyaras from a lot of the incenses we’ve reviewed here. The Hojo series has a bit of what I’d call like a lacquer or turpentine sort of vibe to their overall bouquet. They seem to both combine elements of dry woodiness as well as a thick sweetness in the mix. I think I only had a sample of the Green label kyara a long time ago but these are my second boxes of the Red and White. They took me a while to appreciate, but part of that is because Yamadamatsu is so good at the aloeswood incense that there can be a really long learning curve to start to appreciate what is going on with these. Honestly except for the White label I’m not sure there is a super strong kyara note in these, it’s more mixed in with what I’d guess is other prize aloeswoods, but I think in deference to the skill of the creators what they’ve done to highlight or mix in the note on these is really impressive. If you’re an aloeswood appreciator and want to skip the fluff, these should be right down your alley.

My (current, subject to change) favorite of these, perhaps because it’s a bit newer to me, is the Hojo Green label. It’s actually quite cool that you can get a least a little genuine presence of this fine wood at a $140 price point as this is a tremendously good incense at this range. One thing I love about this one is it has a forest-like presence to it, it’s a bit more cooling than the other two. I’m not sure if this just my association with the green or if there’s an intention to it, but this seems to be strong in presenting the kyara with a nice helping of borneol, musk, some intriguing green notes and a bit of saltiness in the mix. When I first tried this in a sampler I was impressed, but then the box really warmed me to what a tremendously great incense this is (it will certainly end up in the new hall of fame). The kyara note seems to diffuse through the bouquet rather that sit as a note itself and because of it having such a nice mix of elements, it really gives one’s attention a lot of reward, as you sit back and let the complexity of it gather in the air around you. This is actually one of my very favorite incenses, a straight 10 out of 10 and I highly recommend it if you are new to high-end woods and want to splurge for the first time.

The Hojo Red Label I’m a lot more familiar with and it’s the high end of the three here. It is the most powerful and lacquer-like of the three and less complex extra ingredients-wise than the Green label. This is definitely an all out high-end wood assault and because it doesn’t feel like this has as many additions, the complexity of the wood itself is more noticeable. The thing about Yamadamatsu is when it comes to aloeswoods they’re very much not afraid to give you the wood itself in all its pungency and sheer strength, including any of the actual wood notes that a lot of other incenses tend to balance out with other things. But this is simply the way you want it sometimes. The kyara is really starting to peak through, although it has to to cut through all of this boldness. Overall it comes over strongly patriarchal, regal, meditative, and daring you to flinch. And if you don’t, you realize that the overall carrier wave is really delivering on the kyara front and as the wood burns you’re delivered the simple complexity and depth of the wood in a way that only an incense like this can. I would guess this wouldn’t go over quite as well to a newcomer given its utterly unforgiving density, but if you can lock into the overall powerful note akin to something like caramel, butterscotch or toffee (which isn’t unlike Shoyeido’s Muro-machi without falling more into the sweeter, more approachable realms) then you might be able to work with the less forgiving aspects that come with purer wood, whatever the type. Unsurprisingly another classic just like the Green label, just a masterclass in aloeswood skill. This is the apex of a wood incense.

And finally the Hojo White label. In some ways this is like a more affordable Red label. There isn’t as much of the caramel-like note but it’s there farther back in the mix. It’s a touch spicier and there’s a bit of chocolate in the mix and the lacquer like scent isn’t dialed all the way up. Feels like this one’s a bit muskier than the other two labels as well even if it feels they all have it in some way. It distinguishes itself from the other two mostly because it is mellower with a bit of a powdery touch. I think of the three this kyara note is perhaps the least noticeable in this one. It feels like there might be a touch of citrus it is making its present felt in, but this is a very faint subnote. Overall while I might like the White and Green a little more, it’s a bit hairsplitting to say so because again, this is Yamadamatsu and their aloeswood incenses are always unique, thoughtful, well crafted, and innovative. In fact this might even be the friendliest of the three (old brain is telling me I liked this one the most of the white and red for a long time).

Anyway not much more to say. It’s kind of crazy when you think the new Shoyeido is going for $500 and you can get the top end of the Hojos for $260. If it wasn’t on sale (at $600) you could get all three of these for less than one box of Myo-kaku. There’s just no contest what is the better incense even if they were even. And overall these aloeswoods are without comparison. Even Yamadamatsu’s Shu Ju range and most of the color range are different. One or two of the high end coils have some similarities but those are as likely down to the other ingredients as the woods. I just have to stop myself now before I discover new aspects of these great incenses and feel the need to edit. A+++

Overview of Incense Countries

So there’s a new page at ORS here. This is sort of a rough draft attempt at presenting the positives and negatives of incenses from the three main Eastern countries and areas (I may end up adding to this later, but for the most part, outside of these three areas, it becomes a more single entity by single entity comparison). I have opened this page up to commenting and encourage anyone to weigh in, whether it’s something I missed, something that needs correction, thoughts etc. But please be constructive if you do. The page is meant to present balanced information (even if it may or may not be quite there yet), to present reasoning that is at least somewhat based in objectivity, and not to be a place to argue which country has better incense. Also please be sure to weigh in on the page’s comments and not here. Thanks!

Tun-Da Village Master Incense, Drepung Monastery Incense

These two incenses have been paired together, as Tun-Da Master Tsering Dorje is said to have produced them both. Both of these rolls come in skinny long stick bundles with similar labels and not much in the way of outer protections, with the village incense having a darker brown color.

Tun-Da Village Master Incense is a nicely salty affair and akin in its way to Dirapuk Monastery’s incense. It’s also roughly in the Holy Land area and builds up a similar musk and pistachio aroma as the smoke collects, very much to my liking. I should probably explain with this that I mean it reminds me of what a bowl of salted pistachios smelled like when I was much younger and most tended to have a red dye added to them. Without the dye the aroma isn’t quite as strong or exact but it is still kind of close. This incense is a lot woodier than Holy Land and has an unknown herbal content in the mix, but mostly seems to stay away from any spice or floral content. Reviews at incense-traditions.ca point at agarwood and cypress in the mix, both of which seem present to my nose as part of the blend. While Dirapuk Monastery is also in this range there are no noticeable borneol notes to this incense and nor is the cypress resinous like you would experience in say Bosen Pythoncidere. The results are really to form a wood substrate that doesn’t get too harsh, mostly allowing the musk scent to blend in with the saltiness. There’s no question this is a very nice stick and one that unveils a little more with each burning.

Drepung Monastery Incense is also very much a similar incense to both Dirapuk and the Tun-Da Village Master incense, although I might argue that this isn’t quite as aromatic as either one of those. The musk is definitely there although it’s a bit different in aroma to the Tun-Da. The saltiness is also a bit milder than either incense, but the benefit of that is that the musk seems to be a bit more to the foreground.

Overall though, if you discuss these two and Dirapuk together you are discussing incenses that are all very close in the same range as one another. It’s not a bad idea to see if you like the style first and with that in mind Dirapuk might be the best stop because it has the least amount of incense and the lowest price point. Purely from a scent perspective I would put the Dirapuk first as well, although the village incense is an extremely close second. But then again I think all of these are solidly within my taste range. If you tried Holy Land and didn’t warm up to it then these may not be quite to your taste, but they’re also a bit friendlier and milder as well, so it’s worth taking that into account.

« Older entries