Kaqyudpa Monastery/Drikung Charitable Society – Red Crystal & Dhundup Wangyal – New Red Crystal

In reviewing Blue Sky a few weeks ago, I’d thought it might be Drikung Charitable Society’s only incense, only to realize that they were responsible for the plentiful and abundant Red Crystal incense, something of a mainstay of your local new age or yoga supply store. I’d take it some of this is the price difference, with a big box of Red Crystal costing you about a third a box of Blue Sky. The other element is there’s been some confusing copyright or claims staking surrounding Red Crystal, giving way to a new and completely different incense formulated by one Dhundup Wangyal called New Red Crystal. And of course there’s the Boudha line, all of which are roughly similar in style and use the same graphics boxes and sometimes even text as Red Crystal and kin.

Red Crystal itself is something of a budget classic among Tibetan style incenses. It’s one of those worth growing into, I remember thinking its tobacco and alkaline hints were quite offputting at first, until I’d gone through about half a box and it got under my skin. For one thing, whatever’s red about this incense is more in name, although the sandalwood colored stick does have a very slight tint in that direction. Sandalwood is the operative ingredient here, and not only does the incense smell of a decent quantity but the quality is quite good as well. It’s a very thick stick, nearly a club, and it has a very subtle and slightly dangerous level of spice in it that ranges from the abovementioned tobacco and sage to light hints of cinnamon. It’s a subscent that really starts to impress after a while, the incense’s cooling qualities and fresh sandalwood winning you over after a while. It’s one Tibetan style incense in the lower ends perhaps worth shelling out for in a shop, although one’s nose will take a bit of time adjusting to it.

New Red Crystal (drop down one item on the above link) isn’t nearly as distinctive and the comparison is fairly unflattering given the stick is obviously more in the evergreen/filler wood direction. Fortunately it goes for a Dhoop Factory/Alpine like scent with it, meaning you do get a bit of harsh wood as a backdrop but also the same woods’ better, high altitude freshness and slight resinous qualities as well. Strangely it also smells a bit like Drikung’s above-mentioned Blue Sky with hints of raisins, berries and a dash of cinnamon. I can imagine liking this one more after getting used to it as well, provided one’s own catalog isn’t full of incenses similar to this.

I’ll likely be referring to these later when I tackle the trio of Boudha incenses, which are all in the same regions as these two, using similar packaging but managing to be their own animal(s) too. Red Crystal’s kind of a classic in its own way, well worth a sample at the least. New isn’t always better, as they say, but lovers of woody and fresh high Himalayans might want to give it a whirl as well.

Kaqyudpa Monastery/Drikung Charitable Society – Blue Sky

Blue Sky may be a common name for Tibetan style incenses but in execution incenses can be wildly different. Kaqyudpa Monastery’s version(incense listed second from last on page),  the home of Ayang Rinpoche, for example, is completely different than the Himalayan Herbs Centre version and generally far more deluxe, with a higher content of quality ingredients.

Where HHI’s Blue Sky met the color requirements, Kaqyudpa’s version is colored a more brick red and while it’s certainly a friendly scent, it’s not quite as airy. The stick’s aroma is rather clean and polished, smooth with a strong tilt to a raisin or prune-like fruity scent, one that tends to the earthier side, almost like a vineyard in late summer.  Like most Tibetan incenses there’s at least a hint of spices in the mix, but only as coloring, both the woods and aforementioned fruity, herbal scents are the two strongest elements here. The woods tend to juniper and other evergreens and there also seems to be a decent amount of red sandalwood in the mix, possibly contributing to the overall mellowness of the burn. As a finish there’s something of a metallic or coppery vibe, which adds a bit of intricacy to what is overall a fairly uncomplex stick.

It’s an interesting incense overall, it seems to tend to high quality ingredients like nearly all incenses at its price range, while manifesting a very airy and light aroma, certainly one that’s not as dangerous as most premium Tibetan sticks. Overall it has quite a late summer/early vibe to it and as such it’s quite a bit warmer than most Tibetans with strong evergreen wood content in them. There’s even a pleasant caramel-like touch in the finish.