Drezang Kuenchap, Nado Poizokhang Zimpoe Grade A, Lhundup

From the looks of this group it would seem that I’ve already reviewed 2 out of 3 of these incenses before, but as it turns out, I actually haven’t reviewed any of them before, for reasons that will be made a little clearer in the respective paragraphs. All three of these, as with the Tsenden incenses reviewed last week, were provided as samples from Sensia, whose owner had recently received all these new incenses after a trip to Bhutan.

The first of these could be my favorite of the entire group. Drezang Kuenchap comes in both long and short sticks and is as robust, tangy and hearty a Bhutanese incense as you’ll find anywhere. I tend to evaluate any stick on whether its aroma exudes a greater or lesser percentage of fine ingredients as opposed to cheaper woods and in this case you’re definitely getting a stick that asserts its own character. In fact this is an incense that seems more Nepali than Bhutani in scent and strength. It’s difficult to pick out any specific elements since the whole thing seems a perfectly balanced mosaic, for instance the woodiness seems to be match perfectly with a certain sweetness in that the woods never verge too much in the campfire direction and the sweetness never overpowers. My guess is some of the elements of this will likely be familiar but it’s hard to criticise how this one was put together. To say I went through the sample fast would be an understatement and I’ll end up having to buy a pack at some point in the near future.

Nado Poizokhang incense seems to provoke intense reactions from its users, as the comments to my previous review of the top three grades demonstrates. What’s clear is that the company does indeed tweak their recipes severely as what I received from Sensia is an entirely different incense from the Grade A I reviewed years ago. Fortunately, I suppose, I’d never formed an intense attachment with the formula I previously reviewed and I think this current version is also an excellent incense, a well rounded, sweet, woody and herbal blend that most will enjoy. However I think it’s possible that due to costs there’s a greater level of juniper in this new version, however one not so high as to do anything but impart a round berryish scent to the mix. And the big change between the old and new is that this seems to be more Nepali in style and less like the snappy, plastic like stick style found in previous years. It all makes for a lot of confusion where Nado is concerned as noone seems to be sure what they’re getting, but at least for now, this well balanced stick is the new Grade A and it would likely only disappoint those expecting the old style.

I did some sampler notes on the Lhundup Grade A a while back, however what I received as a sample is the Lhundup in the regular pink paper package. I didn’t have samples to compare side by side, but by memory, this particular version seems to be a little less stronger than the grade A but roughly similar in style. I’d have compared this to the Nado Poizokhang Grade B of a couple years back, as its almost classic Bhutani in style, with a plastic-like tensile strength and that mysterious mix of spices that makes it difficult to differentiate specific ingredients. I don’t remember the Grade A having the sorts of mild characteristics this one does and as such this seems to be rather reluctant to assert a personality, certainly pleasant enough, but compared to the previous two incenses, this doesn’t really reach out and grab you. But essentially, given its price and now that Nado seems to have changed its style, this might not be a bad place to start to get a “ground zero” Bhutani blend as a base.

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SAMPLER NOTES: Nippon Kodo, Men-Tsee-Khang, Lhundup

Nippon Kodo were apparently started in New York, or at least I read that on Wikipedia once, so I suppose a grain of salt is in order, but I take such a statement as part of a rationalization that helps me separate the company from the big group of other Japanese incense companies. But to be fair the major separation here is that Nippon Kodo are more of an incense company for the masses, creating many of their lines so that they’re modern in tone and cheap in price, meaning that there are obviously a lot of synthetic perfumes at work in these, a fact we can infer from a couple of their lines being marketed as pure or all-natural. So it has been difficult from my end to really sing the praises of Nippon Kodo’s incenses, although to be sure in some cases they really do succeed.

For one thing, Nippon Kodo, like most Japanese companies have a line of aloeswood incenses that could have the widest range in the world, starting down in the cheaper categories covered here a while back with Kangetsu. Shuin and others and apparently moving all the way to kyara sticks in the 5 digit range, well beyond the standards of all but the truly wealthy. In the US, we’ve seen as high as the $420 box Tokusen Kyara Kayou. More common (and covered by Ross a while back) are the next two in the series, the Tokusen Kyara Taikan and the Gokuhin Kyara Taikan at $146 and $250, both of which are excellent incenses if, perhaps, overpriced compared to what you might find from a different company in the same range. After these scents, the Nippon Kodo aloeswoods drop to the Kyara Taikan and Kyara Kongo, two incenses that seem to mimic a certain type of stylized kyara scent that may be considered too perfumed from a traditional perspective.

And for a long time here is where I stopped, not realizing that when the range drops to Jinkoh Juzan, it has actually come up with a startingly decent and fairly affordable aloeswood incense. Like with the higher ends, it does retain a certain perfumed characteristic that’s common to all Nippon Kodos, however, the Juzan is not nearly as rich as the two Kyaras above it and somehow a distinct woodiness that is common to most aloeswoods is not lost at all, giving the perfume and oil quite the decent balance. That Nippon Kodo could get away with an aloeswood having this resiny a subscent at this range is quite a surprise in my book. However, the crux of the issue is whether I’m enjoying the sample or would go on to like a full box of Juzan without getting tired of it. Honestly I’m more inclined to thinking it would be quite good, as it has a similar balance to the Tokusen Kyara Taikan, which I do like quite a bit.

On the other hand Nippon Kodo’s Jinko Seiun is perhaps more what you’d expect from a low end Nippon Kodo incense. Despite the $36 asking price, you’re still getting 170 sticks which sort of belies the idea this is a deluxe aloeswood and implies this probably fits better with the low ends. I’ve not, nor plan to try any of the other Seiuns, so I’m not totally sure what the characteristic is of the line across Amore, Violet and Chrysanthemum incenses, but the Jinkoh is certainly floral enough to where its nature as an aloeswood is somewhat trivial. Certainly this seems to have more of an aloeswood approximation than definition and as such it seems like it’s crossing a modern/traditional divide that’s likely going to appeal more to the modern-inclined.

So now over to the continent to the Men-Tsee-Khang medical center that appears to operate in two different countries (Tibet and India), however from the constituency of the incenses (that is, lacking the sorts of animalistic scents found in incenses from the Tibetan Autonomous Region) I think we can assume these scents follow alongside traditional Nepalese and Indian styles. Men-Tsee-Khang produce two stick incenses and two powders. I’ve not tried the powders, but the sticks certainly seem akin to incenses found at the Dhoop Factory and other Nepalese outfits, with heavy Himalayan woods and herbs at the center. The regular Sorig Incense, like many Nepalese or Indian monastery incenses, has a number of ingredients (listed by Latin name at the above link) that impart herbal and berry-ish tones to the scent, but overall is distinguished by a large amount of woods and binder that give the typical campfire smell associated with these types of incenses. While I only had enough of a sample to touch the surface, it did seem that this seemed to be one of the better in the style, with a bit of complexity and an unsual wild note in the mix. While I probably have enough incenses in this style not to immediately pursue a box, I can imagine I might eventually replace something else similar to this in the future.

The Sorig Healing stick is much thicker and resembles Dhoop Factory’s Agar 31/Medicine Buddha line in a couple of ways. It definitely seems to be akin to the common scents in this style, with a mix of woods, herbs and a very slight agarwood tang to it, but most importantly it doesn’t seem to have a great deal of filler to it and few if any off scents. It’s perhaps a bit hard to get lit, but for such a thick stick it doesn’t put out a lot of smoke and seems to have a gentle calming effect.

There are a couple grades to Bhutanese creator Lhundup, however I only received a sampler of the top A grade. Naturally this is sort of the typical Bhutanese style stick, roughly similar to Nado Poizokhang’s incenses or World Peace Grade B or Kuenzang Chodtin, with a pinkish hue and a similar berry-like tang to it. The consistency isn’t quite as snappy or plastic-like as some of these other incenses and there’s a bit deeper of a tone to it. Overall there’s a lot of sandalwood, both white and red, spice, cherry, musk and at times a slight unique gentle floral that sets this apart from other Bhutanese sticks. Quite interesting overall, although it’s difficult to tell whether it earns its $18.50 asking price or not.

Next up in the Sampler Notes series, the bad news, a very rough sample of a few Maroma Indian charcoals and perhaps another incense or two as a late addition…