Mermade Magickal Arts / Kyphis, Incense Cakes; Espirit de la Nature / Giroflee Ordorante

It seems like with the new kyphi mechanism in play that there’s been a substantial creative outburst at Mermade in the winter months. Combine that with ORS being in something of a downtime, it can be really hard to keep up and deeply go into some of these new and wonderful scents that Katlyn has been whipping up in winter months, so I thought I’d do my best to try and do some sort of overview to catch up on some things. As I’ve mentioned before, the catalog window for a lot of Mermade goodies is short and often ORS reviews can shorten them a bit more, and even when I start a review page in draft, I have to keep tabs on what is still live or not by the time I’m ready to publish something. And this too, of course, goes for the Espirit de la Nature incenses that show up. It’s often like watching a car zip by.

So let’s start with the Mermade kyphis. I covered Kyphi #2, Goddess Temple, here. I believe the #3 was the green Emerald Temple variant and the #4 was the Amber Kyphi (pictured left), all of which are now gone, at least for the present. If you read the #2 review then you will realize these are largely intriguing variants of the same sort of kyphi base with a new front. All of them are wonderfully etched in detail and I’m just generally of the opinion that if you see a Mermade kyphi go up for a sale then it’s a good idea to start planning an order. The amber variant did not last long at all and it is a really wonderful incense, with the back half connected through this kyphi lineage and the front a wonderfully perfect amber scent, distinct and almost definitive. And I think the #5 variant here (coming soon, will link when live) will be Goddess Temple with Oud (pictured right). I just have a few early samples of this one from Katlyn’s last package but I might have to separate this one from the “usually special and magnificent” to the “particularly special and magnificent” category. I love the way the oud in this one sort of tinges and modifies the kyphi lineage of all these previous incenses. It does so in a way that might create the most significant change of this line of incense. It feels less like it has a new top note and more like the oud has just deeply infused itself into all aspects of the scent. When you think of kyphi as this sort of aged melange of ingredients that all add up to something like an aromatic vintage, the #5 seems to be a really cool leap sideways that might make you feel like you’re trying kyphi all over again.

Another project Katlyn is working on is “incense cakes.” There are three different ones that are all very recent, Cakes for the Queen of Heaven, Rose of Isis and Dionysos. These are all essentially a mix of resins, woods, herbs and spices that are all formulated into small little discs with a stamp applied and mostly mixed in with another natural ingredient. The first blend is subtitled a Mesopotamian incense and includes cedar wood and essential oil; Suhul and Yemeni myrrh; Iranian galbanum; styrax – liquidambar; labdanum resin and absolute; black frankincense; and juniper herb and berries. Not sure if my botany is up to this guess and it’s not in the ingredients, but the cakes look mixed in with eucalyptus leaves or something visually similar. You can actually really suss out the specific ingredients in this mix and one thing I like about it is that a lot of these are not as common in available incenses so you really feel like the styrax and labdanum are quite forward here and the evergreens give it all a more herbal quality than a green one. It all adds up to a nicely mysterious mix that reveals a cool creative take on a regional scent.

Rose of Isis is a bit more straight forward a blend, with the rose and sandalwood mix out in front. The rose comes from three different absolutes, and the sandalwood is the quality Mysore, but in addition there’s Sahul myrrh, Saigon cinnamon, Hougary frankincense, and benzoin; the mix dusted with agarwood powder. I’ve long understood Katlyn to have a really deep connection with Isis energy and have experienced a number of her crafts in this vein both on and off the market to know she is a vessel for it. The rose here is lovely and powerful, redolent even in the fresh tin, in the way that a friendly rose absolute can lead to it being a bit like valentine’s day candy. But there’s not just that element, but a really genuine scent of the actual rose flower that is paired with that. As the heat continues the rose note will tend to fade into the background more, with the myrrh and cinnamon comng in louder towards the late heat. The sandalwood seems a bit milder than you might expect, mostly due to the powerful rose front, but it tends to tie everything together in the background.

Dionysos is something of an incense cake version of one of Katlyn’s older incenses with the same name. In fact this review is still probably fairly spot on in many ways and here you can get this almost vintage spirits sort of vibe just over the fresh cakes in the tin. Part of this I believe is the black currant bud absolute. As a kid who grew up in England in the 70s, black currant was almost ubiquitous in sweets and I loved it. Here it’s modified by some of the other ingredients into kyphi-like age, like a fine intoxicating spirit. There’s classic incense resins (undoubtedly part of what carries the currant), agarwood, juniper berries, sweet tobacco absolute, cassis (also black currant), galbanum and a pinch or two of sativa. I sort of roughly classify this kind of incense into Katlyn’s later summer blends, there’s this sort of feeling of heat and harvest at work, ripe berries, hay and herb. One you definitely would want to pull out at a party, an event much richer with the god of wine in attendance.

There were also a couple new Encense du Monde incenses in the Mermade catalog of late but one blew out incredibly fast and the other might be gone by the time I get this incense live (3 left! Going, going..). This last one left (well they both were!), Giroflee Ordorante, is naturally up to Bonnie’s incredible talent, an incense that boasts a very involved ingredients list: “Matthiola longipeta ssp bicornis enfleuraged [night-scented stock] while still on the stem into benzoin, palo santo and tolu balsam resins, propolis, rose extract, palo santo wood, sandalwood, rosewood, cloves, cinnamon, vanilla, patchouli. Bound with reduced organic honey. Powdered with monarde fistulosa- rose variety.” What I immediately notice with this Nerikoh style blend is the mintiness and balsamic qualities combined, but it’s sort of the layer a lot of complexity sits on, a complexity I am not sure I’d even have the time to get into before this very original blend disappears. I’m not even familiar with what appears to be the main note, the night-scented stock, so I can’t place it in the aroma exactly. So in many ways Giroflee Ordorante is certainly unlike any nerikoh style incense I’ve tried in a Japanese catalog, but it stretches the form in quite the innovative way. These little pellets pack both a massive and quiet aromatic punch with that almost trademark creative touch Bonnie has that feels like fractals disappearing into infinity.

And I’d be amiss to not mention that the latest batch of WildWood is in stock, and while I haven’t tried this latest one yet, it’s certainly in a lineage where I have loved every single one and it is something you’d have to consider a Mermade evergreen classic.

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Hither & Yon

[Closing comments on this one. Hither & Yon finally got back to me, I ordered, they shipped right away!]

Does anyone know if this company is in action still? They seem to have updated stock recently, but I have written them three times over the last few months without reply, just trying to be sure they’re operating first. I’m interested in making an order as well as verifying their status as a source for Nepalese incenses, so it’s puzzling. They even have a contact form so you would think queries would not be lost in spam. Any help/ideas appreciated.

https://www.hitherandyon.com/

Temple of Incense vs Absolute Bliss

The following chart has been compiled to demonstrate the similarities between incense sold by Temple of Incense vs Absolute Bliss, in the sense that both, mostly, originate from the same Indian incense manufacturer. As Temple of Incense is in the UK and Absolute Bliss is in the USA it may save a purchaser money to go with who is closer. With that said, there are batch variations between the two although we believe the variance to be no greater than 5-10% for these incenses. We’re not interested so much in an incense where the dusting differs or there is some slight variation. For example, Niyama Sutra struck me as fresher than Dancing Sufi, while Extreme Sandalwood is a slightly superior stick to Natural Mysore Sandal. But the point is all of these are so close that it is essentially splitting hairs to speak of the differences. All incenses here were evaluated by both Stephen and I and discussed for some months before finishing this chart. There are two differences though, I have listed two Temple of Incenses that appear to be Madhavadas sourced and I have kept those in the chart out of interest. These are somewhat easily identifiable incenses usually due to their base and are perhaps the most commonly sourced Indian incense, so much that we do keep finding them in newer lines. For reviews of all of these incenses (including purchasing links), please use the Reviews Index on the left (many of these will be found under Happy Hari).

AmberKing of Amber
Bengal BeautyYama Sutra
Benzoin AbsoluteAsana Sutra
Dancing SufiNiyama Sutra
Delhi NightsPranayama Sutra
Dragons BloodRed Blood Dragon
FrankincenseKing Frankincense
Guava GuavaGuava
Jasmine BlossomVintage Jasmine
Kerala FlowerSamadhi Sutra
KrishnaKing of Vrindavan
Lavender SupremeVedic Lavender
Lotus FlowerQueen of Lotus
MyrrhKing Myrrh
Nag Champa GoldNag Champa Gold
OudhOudh Masala
Patchouli WoodsPatchouli Khus
Perky PanditPratyahara Sutra
Purple Rain(Madhavadas)
Rose Absolute(Madhavadas)
Sandalwood Extremesimilar to Natural Mysore Sandal
ShivFloating Lotus Flower

A New Year’s Gift from Padma Store

In our quest to find good incense at ORS, we have been patronizing a little shop in Germany that has a good back catalog of incense from Happy Hari, Shroff and others. Some of the things they carry are not available in North America currently, like Fiore D’Oriente. Ashok, the owner of the store, has offered a 10% ORS discount if you use the code “Shanti”.

I will point out that if you are not in Europe, the shipping can be too expensive to make a small order. If you want your order quickly, the shipping is around 50 euro for DHL. If you don’t mind it taking a longer time, the German post tends to prioritize local mail and international mail can take a long time. You can get away with a much cheaper shipping cost if you’re not in a hurry. Just send a note to Ashok with your order to let him know if you want the expensive shipping or the slow shipping.

In the next few months, I plan on trying to review Fiore D’Oriente and Rasbihari Lal & Sons as well as other manufacturers in the inventory.

Stephen’s 2021 Top 10

The biggest thing to note is I am ranking the 10 favorite incenses I encountered for the first time this year. Many are older than this year but they were tried by me for the first time. This is Indian-style heavy because I spent most of 2021 exploring Indian incense for the first time. Before 2021, I had really only burned a handful of crappy Indian incense and was kind of biased against it until I started getting some incense from Reddit’s /r/IncenseExchange, which turned me onto Absolute Bliss and Happy Hari’s incense as well as Yi-Xin Craft Incense.

  1. Absolute Bliss/Natural Beauty – This made the top of my list because I asked myself which stick I burned the most this year and this is it, in fact, the top 4 are in order of most burned for the year. 5-10 are more favorites that didn’t get as much ‘air time’ but definitely were worth mentioning. Natural Beauty is a masterpiece of cedar/oud/halmaddi and this scent profile has popped up in incenses that are no longer available.
  2. Temple of Incense/Ganesha – This fat pink stick won over the hearts of everyone in my household. My husband is a devotee of Ganesha and we have statues of the elephant-headed god all over the home. This incense gets burned regularly on the altar and scents the house with a sweet halmaddi scent.
  3. Absolute Bliss/Devansh – When I was looking for a ‘Super Hit’ that wasn’t synthetic and headache-inducing, I came upon Devansh. It is kinda like Super Hit only with a rose note on top of the creme brulee scent. I fell in love and have been burning this on high rotation ever since.
  4. Absolute Bliss/Forbidden Fruit – This fell into my lap and didn’t become an instant love. No, it took several burns before I realized this had almost the same smell as my favorite hand soap – Everyday Shea Spiced Lavender. While I don’t think there is lavender in this smell or the soap smell, it is a wonderful sweet spicy scent that seems to share a common thread in it’s floral/fruitiness with sticks like Queen of Roses and Bengal Jungle Beauty.
  5. Yi-Xin Craft Incense/Into the Agar Woods – While we tend not to review ’15 minute incense drop’ incense producers mainly because they don’t need our help to sell out in 15 minutes and because we want people to visit this site and be able to purchase the things they read about. However, since this is a top 10, I selected one of Ken’s creations that has been on High Rotation on his monthly incense drops(I have seen it in his monthly collection at least 5 times this year). Ken is a student of KyaraZen and his ideas and techniques are next level. Highly recommend subscribing to his newsletter so you get notified of his monthly drops. Since there isn’t a store, link is to the front page of the artists’s website.
  6. Mother’s/Guna Nag Champa – In my vast sampling of 2021, where I think I sampled close to 300 new incenses, this one stuck out as really unique. It is the only coffee incense I’ve tried so far. I know less reputable companies make incense with artificial coffee smells, this one has a sweet and bewitching scent of being in one of those specialty stores like Gloria Jean’s Coffee Beans or similar shop where there are coffee roasters mixing in with the smells of the additives for the flavors, which normally smell like sweet, nutty candy to me.
  7. Dr. Incense/Cinnabar – Another 15 minute incense drop producer. This Taiwanese incense artist is doing the research into the ancient techniques. His blog is a treasure trove of legends around incense. Cinnabar caught my attention because of it’s TCM value but also because this is one of the first times I’ve seen a mineral used in incense. Since the store is a once-a-month etsy drop, I am linking to his blog.
  8. Happy Hari/Oudh Masala – This stick actually sent me on a quest into the Oud Oil world. In a podcast, Happy Hari himself claimed that this Oudh Masala came from the Assam region. So I bought several different distillations from that region from different vendors at different price points and quality. I couldn’t find the smell in these sticks until one day I doused my mask with a few drops of an Assam Oud and went out. After a day of wearing it, I put it in the wash. After going through the wash it came out and HAD THE EXACT SMELL OF HAPPY HARI’S OUDH MASALA!! So it just goes to show that the sticks probably have less than a drop of the oil to get the smell profile.
  9. Kin/Pear Chamber – I encountered this when I decided to try out a sampler from Kin Objects, a Chinese incense manufacturer that ships to the US. This is an ancient recipe where a pear is hollowed out and filled with sandalwood and aloeswood and then steamed. The resulting steamed pear is mashed into a dough and turned into incense. This bewitched me on the first stick and I was reaching for more immediately.
  10. Absolute Bliss/Emperor Amber – A 2 hour slow burn of a wonderful interpretation of amber. One of the first Indian ‘fatties’ I’ve tried, these quickly became a favorite in the house to burn after a stick of Ganesha.

Dimension 5 / Terra Collection / Terra Teleportica, Terra Profunda, Terra Esoterica

We now turn to the back “half” of Dimension 5’s Terra Collection. The previous two incenses were originally planned for review when I was expecting the Terra Collection to include four incenses, but Josh Matthews managed to get a new entry in under the wire, one which actually fits in pricewise between the two previously reviewed.

Terra Teleportica is simply unearthly. I am sort of reminded by how one would place microphones or speakers in a room for recording or listening to music and how the placement can so quickly alter perception or the sound of music. It is the “placement” of the ingredients in the Dimension 5 incenses which is often one of the most impressive things about them because while the mix of elements does describe a combination, I like how often and how easy it is to really get the separate elements of the ingredients in Josh’s incense. This has a really marvelous oud oil in the mix with agarwood, sandalwood, resins and other ingredients. Although spice is not listed I do get some feeling of that, probably through the oud, and you can definitely feel the resins at the bottom of the mix. I didn’t get it until the second or third stick, but the resins here also seem to help create something of an apricot or fruit note, although here they blend nicely into the spice. The sandalwood feels a bit more lightly placed than in some of the other Dimension 5 incenses but not to where it disappears and more towards where it connects everything together. But beyond all this is just a feeling that what is speaking the loudest is the complexity of the fantastic ingredients, the depth of the woods and the oils from the woods. When I first got into agarwood incenses and experienced some early ones I felt like I had a sort of vision of this ancient grandfather tree where the whorls and knots of the wood were so infinitely complex that you could follow them like a labyrinth. That’s the sort of experience you will find in an incense like Terra Teleportica, it is literally an aromatic feast that that will tickle one’s subconscious and memory functions. Incredibly well done, and a tribute to Josh’s own skills improving more and more as his creativity produces new treats.

If there is sandalwood in the Terra Profunda it would have to fall under “other” category and therefore shifts this a bit over from many of the Dimension 5 incenses where it is named. In fact when I lit this the first thing I thought was mm spices, and then went to look at the ingredients and found these as well as agarwood, oud and resins. Overall there seems to be a bit of a marriage between the resin content and the fruitiness of the oud oil and given that I could compare the actual oil, I noticed that it has been dialed back to be an equal player in this clever little blend. I might say there is actually a bit more woodiness from the actual agarwood, but it doesn’t overwhelm. I had some apple vibes from this, some level of cinnamon, star anise and pepper pizazz in there somewhere and an overall feeling of freshness that I appreciated a lot. It reminded me a little of when you open one of those dry packages of Quaker apple cinnamon oatmeal on a cold day. It allows the resin to perhaps sing a bit more than the other blends it is included in. I would guess there is some level of good frankincense or one of the more piquant gums to allow this. I think the skill here is allowing a higher quality of wood to sing in perhaps slightly less powerful quantities letting it sit nicely next to the other elements rather than dominate. But part of it is that this is a very fine oud in the base, one that has a great deal of complexity on its own and like many of the Dimension 5 incenses, it is maybe that fifth dimension that really gives you so much to appreciate.

The resins are also listed in Terra Esoterica but I don’t smell them quite so much, or rather they seem less of the more citrusy type resins. I’m sort of reminded at the way some Japanese frankincense sticks kind of go in an apricot direction and with the woods, the mix has some level of turpentine. This incense has an actually remarkably different profile to my nose from the rest of the collection, and everything else listed includes agarwood, oud and sandalwood. Some of the woodiness of this one actually brings some different subnotes that I’m not as used to, an almost earthier sort of scent, dry soil, clay, subnotes of peat and so forth. The incense even has something like an oakmoss note, so overall all of these elements kind of come together in an ancient, untouched deep jungle sort of way. The oud that goes into this one is a bit more dangerous than in the previous incenses in that it has some of the sort of animalistic or slightly fecal-like notes a lot of ouds can have, so it’s a bit of a tribute to Josh’s skill that that element does not show up in the incense, just the really fine aspects of the wood, of which there are a multitude. As all of the Latin names go in this collection, this one certainly deserves the appellation of esoteric as it really dives deep into some fairly cool and new territories. Of all the incenses this is one that really feels like it needs time to unfold to speak its treasures.

Overall the Terra Collection may be the finest of Josh’s work although I would guess only until the next collection. These are honestly some of the most complex, deluxe sticks of incenses you can buy and I really feel like I could burn another dozen sticks before really feeling like I’ve listened closely enough because not only are the incenses complex in their compounds but each ingredient is as well, and at times it can be bewildering just to catch everything spiraling out from the smoke. If you are interested in any of these fascinating incenses or any of the previously reviewed sticks (see the Reviews Index for previous entries or click on the Dimension 5 category), please contact Josh at dimension5incense@gmail.com.

Mike’s Top Ten Incenses and Lines of 2021

So this is my first top 10 since ORS restarted and rather than doing a straight ten incenses, which would have been difficult in such a busy review year, I wanted this to be a mix of lines, companies and incenses that truly enchanted me in the last year and gave me the aromatic experiences I was hoping for. As such it isn’t really possible to throw in a photo with everything on this list (some of these companies and lines would fill a screen on their own), so all of the links will go to either reviews that will have specific photos or to the company categories which will be sorted for multiple reviews (with photos). If you’re interested in purchasing any of these either follow the links to the reviews/category searches or use the Reviews Index to find more specific lists from each particular outfit where you will also be able to find links to the sources. Oh and I should mention that Stephen will also be posting a top 10 soon as well! Please feel free to use the comments section here to post your own favorites for the year. Thank you to everyone I have talked to and collaborated with in 2021 and recently, new friends, people who pitched in samples from their own generosity, all who contributed incenses for reviews, everyone who took the time to provide their own reviews and comments of incenses this year, etc etc. Special thanks to new ORS staff writer and good friend Stephen as well! All of this goes to helping ORS become a better resource for the incense fan and you are all very much appreciated.

  1. Wara Monastery Incense. My number one incense of 2021 was literally a runaway. Honestly if I was to do an all-time incense list it would still be hard pressed to beat. I discovered this incense at incensetraditions.ca in 2021 and I am something like 4 sticks away from my fifth roll of this utterly mystifying and unique blend. I burn it nearly every night and it’s almost like an addiction now, I go up to the bedroom to read a bit before I settle down and nearly always light a stick. I am one of those people who are somewhat skeptical about the effects of incenses beyond smelling good, but this one is so vastly under my skin that I do indeed wonder if there’s some sort of secret Tibetan drug in the mix that screams “buuuurn me!!! BUUUUURN MEEEE” every time I sit down. I have been able to listen to it roll after roll and see each one changes slightly, I remember on my third roll wondering if it might have taken a bit of a dive only for the next one to come roaring back. What can I say about it? It’s just Wara really, I don’t even know if it has a subclass except that it has a resinous quality that is somewhat analogous to aloeswoods along with a mix of a million other things that created a wonderful tanginess and spiciness that I find endless fascinating and yes soothing as well. It is a bit of dangerous blend and it may not be to everyone’s tastes but there may be something in the impossibility of classifying it that makes me come back to it constantly.
  2. The Kourindo line. Japan Incense is still the marvelous and extraordinary #1 importer of Japanese incense into the US and one of their latest “gets” is this 11-flavor line of Kourindo’s incenses. In my opinion this line is gorgeous from top to bottom and as of a couple of days ago I finally gave myself the holiday treat of the KourindaiKyara, which may be the finest of kyara incenses along with Baieido’s Kyara Kokoh and not including the Nippon Kodos that noone can afford. I have been having this ongoing conversation with Josh Matthews on this particular line because where in other companies and lines one might immediately find out which ones you like the best, this is a very difficult line to choose from simply because they’re all fantastic. I might start with either of the two middle-high incenses, the Kodaikourin and Jinkourin, because they are startlingly complex in a way that stays at about the same level until you hit the kyara. But then there’s the Jyakourin Musk which is really like no other incense in any other line and one might also want to travel into the rather impressive low end before bouncing back to the near top and going for the spicy, square cut of the Saikourin. They’re all a bit thicker than the normal Japanese style, which seems to give them a little more power, which is always a good thing in my book. In the end, like me, you may want them all.
  3. Absolute Bliss/White Lotus Oudh Saffron. Corey of Absolute Bliss whipped out this variant of their Oudh Saffron incense when I least expected it and I was utterly bewitched by whatever is making up the floral component of it. It started this train in my mind of what happens when you “floralize” a woody stick. There’s something about the mix of this that adds a lot of complementary subnotes, no less this sort of minty vibe that threads its way through the middle like its sewing everything together. It is probably one of the most deluxe Indian sticks currently available at the time and it might be one of the best charcoal-based incenses I’ve ever sampled. As I implied with Wara, my main reasoning for inclusion on this chart is simply just how much I reach for a stick because I need this scent right now.
  4. Absolute Bliss/Natural Beauty. My brother Stephen spoke very highly of this one for quite a while before I got to try it, but in Corey’s first batch back the supplies of this were highly limited, so it wasn’t until his second that I got to stock up fully on this utterly wonderful scent. For one thing, I think this second batch might have used a bit more halmaddi than the first because it struck me as a bit softer. But even with that sweet middle what you come to this one for is the mix of woods that front an almost perfect cedarwood note. It is literally one of the best incenses on the market now, and if you like cedarwood in any way I strongly urge you to check it out. Like everything I discuss here it’s a “reach for it” classic. At any time it could move up a spot or two on this list.
  5. Temple of Incense/Absolute Sandalwood and so many others. While the British importer Temple of Incense opened their doors during ORS’s hibernation, we were not aware of their presence until reader Peter Bartlett alerted us. This sent ORS staff into a buying frenzy over culminating months to try everything in this gigantic stable of incenses (well over 50 I believe), which, in some ways feels like an expansion of the Happy Hari and Absolute Bliss imports. First of all, the Absolute Sandalwood absolutely took my breath away, being markedly the most accurate-to-scent sandalwood incense on the market at the moment, bringing back memories of the old days when it was not an endangered wood, meaning it was either duplicated rather well or someone came across old stores. But it wasn’t just this, but the three super thick stick glories of Shiv, Ganesha, and Shakti; the weird glories of the blue Electric Musk, and the gorgeous beauty of Tulsi among so many others that have made this company one of the best Indian incense importers in the world. And it doesn’t hurt that the service and great energy of the Aydee family make one feel very comfortable supporting such a fine outfit.
  6. Mermade Magickal Arts/Sweet Medicine and so many others. When ORS was in hibernation I often wonder what treasures I must have missed from Katlyn Breene and Mermade when my attention wasn’t turned their way. In a field where so many incense companies and creators come and go, vanishing into the mists of time, I can honestly say that I have been experiencing Mermade creations since some time in the late 90s and have experienced an overwhelming and bewildering array of incredible incenses with something like a 95%+ hit rate. Katlyn has never showed any signs of slowing down, not to mention continuously and steadily improving her sense of craft and prowess. She is now a mentor to so many other nascent incense creators and I am often just amazed at what her creative genius will dream up next. This year she not only found a cool shortcut to being able to increase and vary her kyphi incenses but she has also dipped into South American, Tibetan and other styles of incense, all bearing her creative stamp in all the best ways. Perhaps my favorite of the year and worth listing here because it has become one of her revolving staples, is the propolis and sweetgrass based Sweet Medicine, which is so lovely you might be able to replace candy with it.
  7. Espirit de la Nature/Mother’s – Ancient Winters Remembrance. Another wonderfully skilled magician of scent hails from Canada and often collaborates with Katlyn, selling some of her incenses through Mermade and many others through her own imprint Espirit de la Nature. It is one thing to find incense creators out there who create their own blends, another to find someone with as distinctive a creative stamp as the work of Bonnie (Be) Kerr. Incense from EdlN is not merely an experience of combinations but a presentation of the voices of botanics and fungi, with a quiet resolution encouraged by careful crafting and a number of ingredients that are not often common in incenses. I was first introduced a year or two back to Bonnie’s skill with larch resin, in an incense that had all the depth impact of a great agarwood stick, but this was only the first in a long series of amazing and bewitching scents that I eagerly grab when I have the opportunity (I will only add that at Mermade these fly off the shelves, so you need to get in early). I have two new ones sitting here that I haven’t even had the time to heat up yet but in the previous batch was the astonishing Mother’s incense which was an evergreen incense with a different slant to those you often find from Katlyn’s, all of which show Bonnie’s art as ever improving, becoming more impressive with further new creations. Oh and there was the incense cones, showing another wonderful innovation. I would guess like with Katlyn, Espirit de la Nature would be likely to be on every ORS top 10 from me going forward, she’s that good! Be sure to visit her own site and check in as she has all sorts of incenses I haven’t even been able to try yet, undoubtedly a veritable cornucopia of brilliance.
  8. Drigung Monastery / Drigung Fragrant Incense. – So if I was to have a potential follow up to my obsession with Wara Monastery incense it would probably be Drigung Fragrant Incense. This isn’t to say I haven’t tried and reviewed a cavalcade of great Tibetan incenses this year thanks to the wonderful incensetraditions.ca, but this is another in the “reach for it” category that I have tried restocking and storing as well. However, I am not sure of the viability of this stick moving forward, simply in that the sticks have apparently gotten a bit more fragile over the year and are not reaching North America in mostly one piece. So in terms of the availability of this I would definitely get in touch with Hart over at the store. But scent wise I think this a good example of the sort of vegetable imitating animal scent that seems to be the puzzle we often have over some Tibetans these days in that they have musk or civet sorts of tones while purportely not harming and of the animals in the production. I like this one’s overall sort of musk hit, it’s kind of like a tweak on Mindroling grade A incense in a direction I like more.
  9. Dimension 5 Line. I was pleased to watch Josh Matthews high end craft sticks start to reach a market this year. Josh has a creative urgency that combined with a deep aesthetic and understanding of fine woods and oils have begun several lines of incenses that actually DO use fine woods, ouds and other ingredients (rather than including these ingredients in descriptions and leaving us to guess over the provenance). While this undoubtedly puts a higher cost on the sticks, it is commensurate with the prices also put on the ingredients and so in some ways if it’s not something of a first, at least it is a first in terms of having them generally available (rather than being part of an operation that tends to be something of a rush to place an order in a small time frame like a few other really good small companies use as a model). I also have to say that I have learned an incredible amount about fine materials from Josh, which I’m sure will be trickling into my own reviewing as time goes on, and I have enjoyed our ongoing conversations. But I do think Josh and Dimension 5 are well worth keeping an eye on as time moves forward because as with Katlyn and Bonnie, he already has a fine sense of aesthetics that is only likely to keep improving with experience. If you want to try something that is remiscent of Japanese incenses but often just as high end or more, be sure to check his work out. Right now it’s hard to even pitch one as they’re all at the same consistent level and each new one I try is a marvel.
  10. Kida Jinseido/Ikuhokoh. The problem with doing a top 10 of a year is sometimes the front end gets away from you and I was actually confusing Kida Jinseido when trying to find a Kikijudo incense to put on here when I realized I had missed a biggie on my list that I haven’t burned in a little while simply since it’s out of rotation but nearly went through a large roll of it early in the year. This is something of an analog to Shunkohdo’s great Ranjatai a sort of mid to high end aloeswood blend with a lot of fine materials. If I had done this list halfway through the year it could have been a lot higher up the list.

Here are a number of runners up, all of these were mostly new incenses I discovered and really enjoyed or old favorites that are still part of a heavier rotation. Please use the above-linked Reviews Index if you need to find any of these if and until when I find the time to link em up: Kikijudo/Kouboku Ginmi/Sandalwood India; Absolute Bliss – Floating Lotus Flower, Forbidden Fruit, Bholenath, Bengali Jungle Flora; Happy Hari – Oud Masala, Niyama Sutra; Pure Incense – Connoisseur Opium, Connoisseur Blue Lotus & Musk; Baieido – Kyara Kokoh; Kunmeido – Asuka; Kyukyodo – Fuyu No Yoru; Nippon Kodo – Kyara Heian; Seikado – Kyara Koh Hien; Shunkohdo – Kyara Houzan; Tennendo – Propolis; Yamadamatsu – Shuju series, Hojo “Kyara Firebird” line, Kumoyi, Ouju; Aba Prefecture – Agarwood Heart of Shambhala, Gang-Zi Nunnery Incense.