July Top Ten

So really I burn a lot more then just these but ya got ta draw the line somewhere 🙂

Yamadamatsu Kouboku Senshu Sandalwood: This is straight up high-grade sandalwood and not much else. I think it is one of the very best sandalwood scents one can get, assuming, of course, that you are not interested in a sandalwood blend. Japanincense.com sells this, sometimes it comes in a box by itself and sometimes they stock it in a three-way combo pack with an aloeswood as well as a kyara blend. To me the other two are a bit much, but I know many people who would be very happy with them.

Baieido Byakudan (Sandalwood) Kobunboku: Recently got a new box of this and was very happy with it. I think it is one of the best sandalwood “woody blend” style sticks around, along with Shunkohdo’s. They are both relying on the wood and not oils, which makes for a very different experience.

Seijudo Kyara Seiran: All of the three kyara blends from Seijudo are very good and really it probably comes down to which day as to which one I like the most. These are loaded with the scents of kyara, musk and a number of other “secret ingredients” that make for  real show stoppers. I can think of at least three to four times where I have lit one of these for someone and literally watched them lock up in amazement, me being one of them.

Shunkohdo Ranjatai: Shunkohdo tends to make pretty traditional scents, when I light a stick of this I always get a sense of going back to a different era, it is sort of like instant time travel to Old Japan. It is very elegant and at the same time primeval with the scent of the musk wrapped around a very good aloeswood. As an added attraction there are a lot of sticks in the box. This is on many of our Top 10’s with good reason.

Daihatsu Chips or Slices: So if you really want to smell sandalwood and you have some sort of incense heater or even good quality Japanese coals, this is it. It does not get any better that I have found. I like the slices, if for no other reason that they look cool. Shunkohdo also makes these and they are very similar in scent.  Given the increase in sandalwood prices as well as it continuing decline in availability these are a great thing to have and hold onto.

Kunmeido Kyara Tenpyo: This is a beautiful kyara blend that is ultra refined and more or less the top of Kunmeido’s line. The woods really stand out with just a faint hint of the Reiryo Koh scent in the backround. It is very uplifting and refreshing and also makes for an interesting choice for meditation, especially during Summer. Not as expensive as the Seijudo’s and also probably not as much kyara.

Kunlha’s Lotus Pema & Loong Po: One of our readers wrote in about these (thanks IO) and I ordered a bunch recently. So far I have found myself using the Loong Po and Lotus Pema quite a lot. The sticks are much thinner then the standard Tibetan style and there are around 20 per box. They seem to be made without any animal ingredients (not 100% sure about this) but do use what seems to be very good quality materials. They may also be formulated with a more “Western” audience in mind. The Lotus Pema has a very nice clean juniper scent to it and is quite uplifting. The Loong Po has a subtle green herbal scent with a very light but noticeable clean floral/perfume-ish top note riding over the whole thing. This is a pretty unique combination (at least to me) and one that works for my nose. Both of these sticks have enough complexity to keep them interesting although they are lacking in the funk factor.

Mermade Magickal Frankincense: Mermade has a great line up of frankincense’s at the moment, and they are all different smelling. I am particularly fond of the Superior Hougary and the Black Frankincense, their lemon lime and orange smells are truly wonderful . At Christmas we burn frankincense for the 24 hours before Midnight Mass, I really am looking forward to this one.

Fred Soll’s Honey Amber: I do not know of another stick quite like this one. It is a great blend of scents that just work well together with a very deep and almost hypnotic scent quality that does a great job at scenting a room.  Great stuff at a good price.

Baieido Sawayka Kobunboku: I love cinnamon and this has lots. This is really good in the morning when getting up and getting it together enough to make it out the door to work. It also gives an interesting scent to ones clothing and/or hair. I got both this and the Koh at the same time and at this point am not to sure if they are the same thing, I am leaning towards two different mix’s but could be wrong. Maybe David Oller will chime in with some insight 🙂

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Top Ten, July 2011

I put these together based on what I have been most drawn to during the month, which tends to change to some degree as we progress through the year. I am really liking the incenses made by the smaller makers more and more. They can make small batches and take some chances that the larger companies will not. So you can find some really interesting offerings from them, plus many of them use “non-traditional” mixes or materials that produce some real winners. I am hoping to produce a listing of the “niche” or smaller makers, if you know of any that are not mentioned here at ORS, please let us know.

Baieido’s Kyara Kokoh: I actually hide the box of this from myself, so it will last longer 🙂

On a lot of different levels this is incense as art; it is also a masterpiece of its kind. You can see our reviews on it within the blog. It really is amazing. If you get the chance, just go for it. It is not going to get any cheaper. I do wonder why Baieido does not offer a sampler.

Tennendo”s Tensei: This is a really nice and also reasonably priced aloeswood blend. It is nicely balanced with a distinctive overall scent that somehow goes from a little spicy to smooth from moment to moment. I have been burning this a lot lately because, yes, it’s a great deal and also a wonderful backround scent in a room that can set up a nice focused environment.

Kyukyodo’s  Mukusa no Takimono: This is a set of five different mini sticks that mimic the scent of the classic five  kneaded incenses. They are distinctive, rich and very good. There is also some pretty serious Aloeswoods in these. Many people use them for the tea ceremony. I have heard that Kyukyodo is not making this set anymore and I do not see it in the current catalog, which means that this will be quite a limited time offering. Think of it as a real treat.

Kyukyodo’s Akikaze: This comes in a large wooden box, nestled inside is a stunning silk wrapped tube, done up like a scroll. This is sort of along the lines of Sho Ran Koh, but it is a lot more refined with the wood notes riding across the perfumes and a subtle musk note mixed in. Kyukyodo produces what are probably the best perfumed incenses going. There never seem to be any of the synthetic notes that most others have, which is most likely one of the reasons that they have a great reputation and are not inexpensive, but they are also worth it. Japan Incense might have a box or two of this and the Mukusa no Takimono above. But they go fast.

Kunmeido Reiryo koh (Aloeswood): The Aloeswood blend is a completely different animal from the Sandalwood take on this. It is a very rich woody scent with the distinctive greenish notes of fenugreek mixed in. There is a nice balance between the different layers going on and is great for meditation, it’s also nice to use at bedtime. A real winner at a good price.

Kunmeido Kyara Tenpyo or Asuka: These two are the Reiryo Koh style taken to the height of complexity and nuance. There is a real art in the mix of woods and spices and herbs that compose these two sticks.. The Kyara Tenpyo pulls out all the stops and every stick reveals new aspects, the Asuka is very similar, it might come down to personal preference and how much you like this style, not to mention your bank account J

Baieido’s Kokonoe koh (Jinkoya Sakubei Series): This is a very dry and rich Sandalwood blend done in a style from the eighteenth century. It is very different from any other sandalwood I can think of and is a nice change of pace. It has a lot of presence and at the same time can really set the mood. It is great for meditation or quite moments.

Mermade’s Sanctuary Loose Blend:  Hougary Frankincense and white Sage make for a wonderful Spring/Summer mix. It’s clean and does a great job of cleaning out a space on so many levels. A one ounce jar that can last for a while with all the best ingredients.

Fred Soll’s Amber Honey:  Fred Solls makes some great incense at a great price. I really like his Amber Honey; it has a wonderful balance to it where all the notes are in harmony with each other. It’s also not too sweet or cloying. It is one of the very few incenses anywhere to use ambergris. I noticed that Solls has cut his line back somewhat because of the halmaddi shortage, which in one way is kind of reassuring, he is holding true to a high quality standard. We can only hope that a new source makes it to his doors soon. He really is so very good at blending.

Blue Star Incense’s Lavender:  These are very inexpensive and they rock! The Lavender scent is beautiful, fresh, very much like breathing in a large gathering of fresh lavender flowers. The sticks are thick (think Tibetan) and really you don’t need to use an entire one (however, don’t let me hold you back). Also the Rose is very nice to. Good, real floral note incense, that uses real essential oils, is not easy to make; nor is it inexpensive to produce. William does an amazing job, don’t miss these.

I notce in my internet searches that both Aloeswood and Sandalwood(in Japan) prices just went up somewhere between 20% to at least 30%. This, coupled with the decline of the dollar, means that incense prices are going to be going up, real soon. Sooo,  if there is something that you have been eyeballing for awhile you might want to go for it now, before the prices gets way worse or, heavens forbid we get formula changes to offset materials availability. That is the other thing going on, the woods are getting harder to source which also drives the prices up.

October Top 10

  1. Mother’s India Fragrances – Om Nag Champa  I don’t mean to take much attention away from all of the other excellent incenses in the Mother’s series, but there’s something about this one that’s hit a bullseye with me, to the point where I ran out my first 20 stick package of this about a month or so after I received it. However in stocking it deeper in the smaller packages, I noticed the batches were a little different and it’s something I’ve been wondering about in terms of aromatic differences as the Om I started with really is something of a triangular balancing act and the small package scent falls perhaps a little short. But generally speaking this works for me because I love an incense with a perfect cinnamon/cassia note and this one, at least in the big package has that to an almost addictive state.
  2. Shoyeido / Premium / Myo-Ho  I find this to be one of the greatest incenses period, definitely my favorite of the top 3 premiums and I love the effect it has on company when they first get the aroma. The liquerish sweetness and dark kyara and aloeswood notes mesh just about perfectly in this one.
  3. Baieido / Ogurayama Aloeswood  I still find this a natural miracle, it just never ceases to astound me that you can get this much aroma from a small piece of this wood. I mean you can literally get 3-4 hours of it when you get the right temperature and I spend most of it double taking, going yeah it really is that little chip doing that. I might actually slightly prefer the Hakusui in terms of its spiciness but I think the resin might actually be a bit more intense in the Ogurayama. Anyway this is about as close to incense nirvana as it gets for me.
  4. Fred Soll / Red Sandalwood  Like many Solls this does have the penchant to not stay lit, but that’s really its only weakness. Like Shroff’s Red Sandal, this is a spicier take on a sandalwood incense, showing a totally different facet of the wood due to the cinnamon-ish notes. With Soll’s version you get that combination mixed in with that southwestern woodsy/resiny vibe to great effect. It’s also one of the mellower Solls and seems to have less powerful oils than they usually do.
  5. Tennendo / Enkuu  This is always a perennial favorite in my book, in fact long time readers might know that this is one of the most common incenses in the top ten lists here. I think that’s largely because so many of the top end incenses have kyara and are thus very sweet, Enkuu is more at the apex of the drier spicy end, for its kind there are really few better incenses. And even after a year or two since I first tried it, I still find it strikingly original and only find it mildly comparative to other high end aloeswood/spikenard mixes.
  6. Fred Soll / Nag Champa with Amber and Vanilla  I don’t bring out the Soll champas very often as for a couple of years now they’ve shown nothing but delays in terms of restocking these scents, no doubt due to the usual shortages. But when I do I’m always completely bowled over by how great these are, particularly in the realms of the sugary sweet. This one’s about as rich and amazing as you can imagine, perhaps even too much so for a small room, but perfect for these late warm California summers outside where it can penetrate with even a small wind.
  7. Yamadamatsu / Kumoi Koh  Another absolute classic in my book, an oil and woods mix that is rich, spicy and animalistic, so strong that you can get an idea of its scent just from the fresh stick. It’s similar to one or two of the coils that haven’t been imported here yet that clearly use some ingredients you don’t usually find in incenses at this level of strength. Very exotic and heady.
  8. Kyukyodo / (several)  Clearly the top catalog whose entry to US shores seems to be problematic at the very least. Sure you can find Sho-Ran-Koh and Azusa these days, but there are just a good dozen incenses or so that just badly need to be imported that haven’t ever been over here, such as the incredible aloeswood Akikaze or even the stunning and much lower end Benizakura or one of the really great high quality sandalwood based incenses Gyokurankoh. Oh and RIP Shiun and Yumemachi, what a pair to be deleted!
  9. Nippon Kodo / Tokusen Kyara Taikan  Readers may not fully be aware that if you don’t count the regular Kyara Taikan or Kongo, which I don’t, this is actually the lowest incense on a scale that goes up to what seems like the world’s most expensive stick incense, the $2500 Gokujyo Kyara Fugaku. I think you’d only have to pay $120 something for the Tokusen Kyara Taikan, which is actually an excellent stick in that it drops some of the more perfumy sweet aspects of the straight Kyara Taikan for a more elegant result. It’s a shame these are so breakable and thin, but they do pack quite a wallop.
  10. Shroff / Akash Ganga  I’ve always found this an odd scent because it’s one if not the only incenses in the Dry Masala range that shares the yellow boxes with the Semi-Drys, and I can see why as it seems to fall somewhere in the middle. I find this a very unusual variant on the “desert flower” sort of scents in that it doesn’t have the heavy camphorous notes they usually have or the sort of sickly sweet perfumes. And as a result it strikes me as a very mysterious scent with a depth that continues to make me go through my supplies very fast.

As always feel free to share with us what amazed you this month!

Top 10 August 2010

This is, more or less, my top picks for the month. This does not mean that they are really in any kind of order (well OK, the Kyara Kokoh really is the top dog). There are also a lot more then ten incenses that I burn but we try and hold the line for the write up’s. I did find that as it got hotter in the Bay Area  my use of the Electric Incense Heater went up, as did my own blending for things to put on it. Great fun by the way!  -Ross

Kyara Kokoh by Baieido: I burn, maybe,  one plus sticks of this a month, in small “installments”. It is somewhat of an almost religious experience. Baieido says that this one is hand made by the owners using green oil Kyara that had been specially selected and I can believe it. It is pretty much beyond words and just gets better with each “installment”. Not inexpensive, but quite wonderful. Note to Baieido, if any of that green oil kyara is laying around ’cause it did not make the cut, I could find a use for it 🙂

Ogurayama Aloeswood from Baieido: Baieido is all about the woods. This one is from Vietnam and is considered a “sweet” scented Aloeswood. I love to put a small amount on the electric heater and let it gently infuse the room with it’s beautiful and very smooth scent. Trying to describe this is not easy, but basically it is about as pure of an Aloeswoods experience as you can get. If you like Aloeswoods then this is a great way to really start to understand them. Baieido’s Hakusui is another to try, actually any of them would work! At some point (when we get really brave) I think we might be doing some full reviews on the Baieido woods and possibly the Rikkoku (Six Countries) Set.

Saimei Koh from Gyokushodo: This is a wonderful Aloeswood and Sandalwood mix with a nice helping of spices, resins , herbs and  camphor. I do wish it packed a bit more “punch” and often find myself burning two sticks at once. It has a very classic “Old Japan” type scent. There are some similarities to a number of other makers scents but(at the moment) I think this one stands out.

Ranjatai or Kyara Seikan from Shunkohdo: Rajantai is one of my favorite scents; it pretty much has it all. Really good Aloeswoods combined with musk and resins. It’s deep, dark and wonderful, plus you get enough in the bundle to go on a real incense burning binge! Kyara Seikan adds Kyara to the mix and is also much smoother, it also cost more and is worth it (but not so “bingeable”) I ended up using both of these a lot during the Mystery of Musk series just to get a straight up scent logon for musk.

Honey Amber by Fred Soll: This is one of the very few incenses in the world to actually use Ambergris(beach caste). It has a really deep, yet clean amber note to it that the honey aspect adds an even deeper sweet note to. It is pretty strong so one stick can go for quite a few burns and still do up a room quite nicely. I think that Soll’s incenses are one of the best deals in the world and this one is right up there for me.

Copal Negro by Fred Soll: I would have to term this one as “heavy hitter” copal. It is smooth with a touch of sweetness in the background that kind of tempers everything together, but all that is riding on lots of deep dark copal. Wonderful stuff, great for grounding the environment of a room(or a person).

Japanese Musk from Koh Shi (Daihatsu): I am pretty sure that this does not use real musk, that being said it does really convey the idea of musk. It is  strong and has a nice, not too sweet, quality to it. It produces a wonderful scent to a room that also feels quite clean.

Swallows in Flight by Les Encens du Monde(Kunjudo): I had not used this a while and then “rediscovered” it last month. It is very complex, uses very good quality woods, resins, spices and maybe oils. Sometimes it almost seems a bit over the top in how much is going on here (another long learning curve)but having never been adverse to excessive excess, I just light another stick and go with it.

Deep Earth Premium – 2010 from Mermade Magical: This is something for the heater, to be gently warmed over a period of time. It has many musk like elements to it as well as resins and spices, It is a very deep, complex and meditative scent that really shows off Katlyn’s skills as well as the use of very high quality materials. It also takes quite awhile to make with a lot of ageing involved, which is reflected in the complexity of the scent. Beautiful.

Healing  from Mermade Magical: One of Mermades incense triangles, which is along the lines of a cone. This has a very clean and clear scent to it, I find it refreshing and uplifting; it seems especially good during the summer months. There is a great play between the resins and woods Somewhat unique and very nice.

Top Ten Incenses for July 2010

I have the pleasure of writing up the Top Ten Incenses for the month. Below are my top ten for July 2010. In the review process, I’ve re-acquainted myself with forgotten favorites, and have had to revise an opinion of an incense which at first I didn’t particularly care for all that much. That’s one of the bonuses of writing top ten reviews – old favorites resurface and remind you why their favorites and other incenses get additional chances to impress.

Well, without further ado, here’s my July Top Ten for 2010:

Pure Incense Blue Lotus: Absence makes the heart grow fonder, and indeed, that’s what I’ve found with this incense. It’s been a while since I’ve burnt some Blue Lotus incense, and I only recently returned to it, but I’m glad that I did.  I’ve been critical in the past about Pure Incense, citing their base blend of charcoal, vanilla, and sandalwood creates a generic shared aroma to all their incenses.  I still think that is the case, but that shouldn’t detract from the fact that they make very good incenses. This Blue Lotus is floral and perfumey, and sweet, and really all around lovely.

Shroff Patcholie (Patchouli): Earthy and perfumey, with just a touch of sweetness, this is a wonderful patchouli scent. It’s got a good scent throw, and one stick will scent a large room easily, leaving a lingering patchouli scent that is sure to please. One of the best patchouli incenses out there, with an authentic aroma, very affordable, and lasts a good long time. If you like patchouli, you owe it to yourself to try Shroff’s Patcholie.

Fred Soll’s Desert Patchouli: Different from Shroff’s patcholie in that there’s Soll’s signature blend of pinon resin present in this incense. This is a really nice patchouli pinon combination, with the pinon adding a nice resiny finish to the stick. Unlike Shroff’s version, the patchouli scent doesn’t have that sweet note in it, either.  This is a lighter and drier patchouli scent and worth trying as well.

Hougary Frankincense: This is the King, nay, the Emperor of all franks, and if you like frankincense, then you really must sample Hougary.  Resiny rich, with the balsamic base note and the wonderful citrusy lemon and/or orange top note, Hougary, which comes only from Oman, is in a class all by itself. Hougary is more expensive than other frankincenses, but you get what you pay for, and here you’ll get top notch quality. Even unlit, these resins perfume the air with their unique rich resin scent.

Al Haramain Bait Al Arab Cambodi Oudh Bakhoor: Baby, it’s bakhoor, and what a bakhoor! If you are unfamiliar with bakhoor, it is a type of incense from the Middle East.  Bakhoor can come in tablets, pellets, and/or chunks of woodchips. Bakhoors generally contain oudh (aloeswood) scent and are usually very aromatic and/or perfumey. Seriously, virtually every bakhoor that I’ve ever tried has packed a serious scent wallop. A little goes a very, very, very long way with these incenses. Al Haramain’s version of Bait Al Arab shouldn’t be confused with Swiss Arabian’s Bait al Arab (which was previously reviewed here on the ORS).  Firstly, Al Haramain’s Bait al Arab comes in perfume drenched wood chunks or chips, and not dry tablets like the Swiss Arabian version. Secondly, these woodchips are just permeated with one of the loveliest mélange of scents. A lot is going on here; the overall scent is a complex blend of oudh, amber, floral essences, and resins.  It’s very rich – and err, so is the price tag for this bakhoor.  Available at ParadisePerfumes.com, this retails for $39 CDN for 100 grams. However, since it is such a potent bakhoor, a little does go a long way and therefore this will last a long time. So in the end, you will get quality and your money’s worth. This is just my personal preference, but if I had to choose between Swiss Arabian’s version or Al Haramain’s version, I’d go with Al Haramain’s Bait Al Arab.  Incidentally, note that you will need charcoal tablets and/or an electric incense burner for this bakhoor. This type of incense cannot be burnt by itself, and needs a heating element like a hot coal or an electric incense burner.

Swiss Arabian’s Kashkha Oodh Muattar: Another bakhoor, this time from Swiss Arabian. This bakhoor smells like a sophisticated aloeswood floral perfume. I’m not kidding, if you like perfumey aloeswood, or just perfumes and colognes in general, you should consider trying this bakhoor.  Kashkha comes in small agarwood (aloeswood) pellets, and even unlit, smells of oudh, musk, and floral essences.  This is because the agarwood has been drenched in concentrated perfume, and thus emits its  oudhy floral goodness into the air. Though bakhoors aren’t generally aimed as for being for one particular gender, I would classify the Kashkha scent as being more feminine. It truly does remind me of a high end women’s perfume. This bakhoor also requires charcoal tablets and/or an electric incense burner to burn it. Note that this bakhoor is available for purchase at: http://www.mukhalat.com/Bakhoor_c2.htm.  I hasten to add that I did not purchase my Kashkha bakhoor from Mukhalat.com, so I have no idea what their customer service is like. However, note that Mukhalat offers free shipping on all products for delivery within the USA.

Gangchen Healing Buddha Incense:  Excellent and affordable incense from Gangchen. The box states that “These Aroma Therapeutic incense is made from very special thirty-one (agar 31) natural ingredients. This incense specially made for Lungny (wind diseases) which we got from nervous and fear, such as heart attack, insomnia, shivering, temporary loss of consciousness, back pain, dryness of the mouth.  This incense can help.  Also it’s very good for massage.”  This is gentle and soothing incense, with a soft woody aroma. The scent is comprised of aloeswood, juniper, and Himalayan herbs.  I personally find it very calming and relaxing, and one good for decompressing and unwinding.

Baieido’s Koh En:  A delicious spicy aloeswood treat that is to be whipped out for those special occasions, or when one is feeling particularly indulgent and/or flush. This is one of Baieido’s more upscale aloeswood incenses, and retails for $120 USD for sixty 6.5 inch sticks (though given how expensive some of the kyara incenses are, this is really more like the mid-tier or low end of the upscale level!).  My budget doesn’t allow for this to be an everyday treat. But when that aloeswood craving needs to be satisfied, this incense is one that will certainly fit the bill (alas, in more ways than one! 😮 ).

Minorien Fu-In Sandalwood: Classic sandalwood scent, using classic “old mountain” sandalwood from India.  If you’re looking for an authentic sandalwood scent that won’t break the bank, then try Minorien Fu. This is excellent sandalwood incense, and one that is not likely to disappoint.

Tibetan Medical College’s Holy Land Grade 2: This is a surprise entry even to me, given that when I first tried Holy Land Grade 2 a few months ago, I was underwhelmed. All the hype and praise heaped upon it had built it up to mythical levels, plus I was still in my perfumey incense phase, and was at the time, taken aback by this incense’s muscular rawness, its combination of musk and floral and spice and dark earthiness.  To give you a point of reference, if you’ve tried Dzogchen Monastery Lotus Incense, think of Holy Land Grade 2 as similar to that, but amplified and expanded upon.  Anyway, as time passed and I fell into a Tibetan incense phase, I started burning the HL Grade 2, and slowly, little by little, I went from being disinterested to liking it, and now to really loving it. In a previous email to an ORS reader, I had stated that once I had used up my HL Grade 2 that I wasn’t going to re-purchase it, opting instead to spend my money on other incenses. But now, as I look at the last few sticks of it in my collection, I’m forced to reconsider that notion…

Well there you have it, my top ten for the month – all incenses that I heartily recommend. What ten incenses are in your top ten for July? Chime in and let us know what you’ve been burning, and why. 🙂

Best,

Anne

Fred Solls Classic Vanilla, Fresh Peaches, Sacred Myrrh, Dragon’s Blood, White Sage & Dragons Blood, & Lemon Grass (Ross)

For the reviews on the Fred Soll’s line already done you can check the listings on the left side of this page. These are very well done incenses at a great price. I love the picture of Fred with Billy E Gibbons on the home page, I find it hard to imagine, say, the head of a major Japanese incense company in a similar shot. 🙂

Classic Vanilla: This is about as strong a vanilla note as I can imagine, there is a slight creaminess to it but overall it is pretty much a full on vanilla scent, somewhat singular in its delivery. I have some of the Nag Champa with Amber & Vanilla sticks on hand which I find to be a more attractive mix just because there seems to be much more going on. However, if you are a vanilla fan this might be right up your ally.

Fresh Peaches: When you pull this out of the package it really does smell like a peach and even when lit the Peach scent note hangs in there over the smoke and even over the base note of the burning stick.. It is pretty sweet and very strong but at the same time a true Peach scent, one which seems to have a very long hang time. It also does not smell artificial to me, something I was not expecting. I have no idea as to how Solls managed to create this scent and make it so true to life but in its own way it is a work of art. I would think that the people who like his Strawberry line will also like this.

Sacred Myrrh: When I think of Myrrh I generally think of something that has a somewhat bitter and very grounded quality to it. It is, I believe, one of the resins associated with the Egyptian god Set, who is not well known for any warm and fuzzy qualities. This particular stick on the other had is very, very sweet with a very faint almost bubble gum note in the background. To me, it is hard to find the Myrrh scent within the sweet notes. Of all the Fred Solls scents I have tried this seems to be the oddest one. Not at all what I was expecting or hoping for, which could be why it did not do it for me.

Dragon’s Blood: I find this quite wonderful; deep, sultry, penetrating, with a slight bitter edge to it. All this drifts over a slightly(very slight) sweet base note that in many ways seems to be the signature scent of the entire line. This is a real winner for those of you who enjoy heavy resin blends. There are some similarities between this and , say, some of the Copal’s but I think that that is just how it is going to be in this neck of the resin world. Not to be missed if you are a Solls fan or you like big resins. This pretty much humbles any other resin blend on a stick.

White Sage & Dragons Blood: The addition of Sage really changes the scent characteristics of this blend from the Dragons Blood above. This feels like a much more energetic and vibrant offering, which, given its description at the home site “Here we have created the ultimate protection combination..” makes sense. This is a strong, very penetrating scent, not harsh or overbearing but you know it’s there. I personally find it refreshing and it seems to have a certain “bright” lift to it. Excellent for cleansing the atmosphere on a spiritual or physical level.

Lemon Grass: This was quite a surprise to me. It has a distinct citrus/lemony scent when unlit, the surprise is that it follows through when lit. Somehow, I have never put the combination of incense and citrus or lemon together in my head. Somehow this does just that. It really works well and is a great room scent rather then say, a meditative incense. Of course your personal preferences may be completely different. I think this would be great on a Summer or Spring afternoon. It has a very lifting and upbeat quality to it. Probably not for everyone but so unique that it is well worth trying.

Bunch more from Fred Soll’s coming soon, enjoy!

Fred Soll / Part 3 / Cedar & Patchouli, Ceremonial Rain, Desert Patchouli, Frankincense & Patchouli, Patchouli & Dragon’s Blood, Patchouli Rain

Fred Soll Part 1
Fred Soll Part 2

In the large Fred Soll catalog you can roughly break down some of the incenses into groups. There’s a large number of frankincense incenses, quite a few champas and then several with sage, patchouli or cedar as the basic scent. I’ll be covering the patchoulis this round, and I believe Anne will be covering the frankincenses at a later date. The champas have been sadly out of production for at least a year now, so we’ll be waiting if and until they’re released again, the question being whether halmaddi resin will ever be available again. And of course we’ll have a couple more miscellaneous batches to come, one in the near future from Ross. All in all, including the champas, that should be about 7 installments in this series and given the selections are pretty fluid, perhaps more to come in the future.

This part, I’ll be covering the patchoulis and an incense called Ceremonial Rain, which fits into this batch alongside the Patchouli Rain incense to round out the group. The thing is, it’s fairly easy to summarize most of these incenses without going into a lot of detail. Except in the case of Ceremonial Rain, all of these incenses use a very deep and beautiful patchouli oil, one that combines the usual herbal essential oil you’ll often find, with a sweet finish that is often rarer. Combined with the pinon, charcoal and wood base, Soll seem to have found a very nice combination that works most of the time. However, I should mention that in a couple of these cases, the incense has a hard time staying lit, although you can mitigate this issue by burning the incense horizintally as the directions suggest. It isn’t foolproof, but I did experiment and found that at least one of these incenses burned without extinguishing once the stick was horizontal.

This incense was the Cedar & Patchouli, which I found very difficult to keep lit vertically, so this is one you’ll want to burn the other way. And you will want to burn this as it’s once of Soll’s more pleasant scents with the cedar wood and oil wonderfully fragrant along with the usual patchouli. Given i’s smokiness it’s a remarkably mild scent. In many ways it’s an east/west blend, a skill Fred Soll seems very fluent in applying.

Ceremonial Rain is the one incense here that doesn’t (seem to) have patchouli, and acts instead as a cross between a forest resin sort of blend (something that usually has a high level of pine pitch anyway) and a deodorizing, cleansing incense. This tends to reflect quite nicely the quality of the environment after a bit of rain. The resin and gum mix is quite pungent with that apple-like quality resin blends often have, yet one will be left guessing at the rest of the elements, certainly some pine and cedar are in the mix, but one wonders at possible lavender, juniper and dragon’s blood notes that may or may not be present. Overall you tend to get the fruitier resin notes on the top and a more herbal-like oil below. It’s almost like burning five different Soll sticks at once and ends up being one of the line’s most intricate recipes.

Not terribly far off from the Cedar & Patchouli mix is Soll’s Desert Patchouli, perhaps an incense a touch more in the western direction. The patchouli is perhaps a bit heavier here with the pinon element more of a note. The balance provides a dry herbal feel, a touch of spice and perhaps an even fainter touch of sage in the mix. Intense and very smoky at heart this still seems to be mostly a pinon and patchouli mix, so you may want to either buy this or the Cedar & Patchouli as the two are similar enough that one may feel they’re somewhat duplicative. Of course fans of patchouli might like to compare the subtle differences.

Frankincense & Patchouli combine, perhaps, two of Soll’s most common ingredients (along with the ubiquitous pinon). As always the use of frankincense resin, generally of the less expensive and mild kind, tends to quiet this incense down, and as such it’s quite a bit less intense than any of the previous patchouli blends. It’s virtually a cross between the Classic Frankincense stick and the Desert Patchouli and the two ingredients turn out to be quite complimentary, the resin matching the intersection where the patchouli is sweet, no doubt with a little help from the pinon.

Patchouli & Dragon’s Blood is also very similar to the Desert Patchouli blend, with the distinctive Dragon’s Blood resin lessening the sweetness the Pinon usually applies. As a result, this tends to be even more so in the Western direction with a distinct campfire like scent to it, a bit hotter and slightly tangy. I’d add this to the minor differences mentioned between the Desert Patchouli and Cedar & Patchouli, all are different in only minor, slightly adjusted ways. You can perhaps attribute this to the strong personality of the patchouli oil.

Finally, the Patchouli Rain and as you may have guessed, this is like taking the five Fred Soll sticks you’re burning to make up Ceremonial Rain and adding a Desert Patchouli stick, but without the smoke such a hypothetical situation would entail. This stick I found trouble keeping lit either horizontally or vertically, which is a shame as this is the most intricate incense in this group here, with the wet, cleansing feel of the Ceremonial Rain without as much of a fruity resin blast, thanks to the patchouli evening it out and giving it a better balance. It may even be a bit too multifaceted, at least looking from the angle that often Soll’s work is so good given its simplicity and two or three note scents.

As always only patchouli lovers need apply here, but really those who think of Deadheads and their patchouli oils might be surprised to find a better quality oil at work here, one with less of a cheap oily smell and more of a sweet open ended scent.

Fred Soll’s Part 2: Red Sandalwood with Special Herbs, Spicy Cinnamon Incense, Benzoin, Rosemary and Sage, Amber and Honey, New Mexico Sandalwood (Ross)

This is Part 2 of our Fred Soll’s reviews, there are at least three more coming. In a nutshell these are great incenses, done in his own style and using very good ingredients. The sticks seem to last for a minimum of an hour, sometimes more and are generally very strong so using a smaller amount becomes an option.

Red Sandalwood with Special Herbs: To me this has an almost classic Indian scent to it, the Sandalwood is in the background with an almost camphor and cinnamon and spice foreground. It is mellow, not overwhelming and is simply very pleasant. The perfect scent to have in the background for study or relaxation.

New Mexico Sandalwood: This one has more of a Sandalwood presence up front . However there is also a lot of depth in this stick, more so then just Sandalwood but the other spices and/or herbs involved are difficult to nail down. It is very relaxing and at the same time does a great job of pulling you in as you start to wonder what the other subtle scents really are. Fun!

Spicy Cinnamon Incense: The name really captures the scent profile here. This is way past any of the Japanese Cinnamon blends in strength. I am pretty sure there is ground Cinnamon spice as well as a very large amount of Cinnamon Essential Oil in this one which gives it the spicy aspect. There is also a very light burnt scent in the background, which might be the base or possible the stick. This one really reminds me of Cinnamon toast. If you are a cinnamon fan you should try this one.

Benzoin: This one is really interesting. It uses both the Siam and the Sumatra resins for a really nice effect.They tend to work in harmony here and balance each other.  It is a very rich, deep and smooth blend with what must be an huge amount of resins on the stick. When I first tried this it did not seem that great, however that was also after having gone through a lot of other incenses. When I tried it by itself, then all its really excellent qualities came out. If you like resins do not miss this one. Also this one seems to stand on its own, it is not in the Indian or Japanese or anyone else’s  camp. Think of it as independently wonderful!

Rosemary and Sage: This one is very different the ones above, The Rosemary adds an incredibly cooling and clearing aspect that is really nice, refreshing and when mixed with the Sage just wonderful. Perfect for a summer or spring day, it really reminds me of being out doors near Lake Tahoe. The stick is very sticky so I am assuming there are lots of Essential Oils involved here (you pretty much have to cut the package open to get a stick out). Also the are small bits of (I think) Sage on the outside of the stick for, sort of, flavor blasts. This is so nice its like scent therapy.

Amber and Honey: This uses real Ambergris in the mix as well as honey. I have to tell you up front I love Ambergris so I am not what one would call an impartial judge here. This is a very deep, complex, warm and almost hypnotic scent. I would not call this a day time incense,  it’s much more oriented towards the night. The impression I get from this one is of a very luxurious and perfume worn by a very confident woman. It demands to be noticed and will set the atmosphere in any room it is burned in. Ambergris has almost magical properties in the world of scent and perfumes that are very much sought after. It tends to amplify other scents and at the same time has amazing longevity and staying power in a blend.  In this case the amber note mixes with the honey for a really beautiful incense. The Ambergris is beach caste( meaning collected from beaches).

A note on the cones from Fred Solls:

I got the smaller cones, called Cone Cuties in both the Amber and Honey as well as the Spicy Cinnamon. I personally find them to have a better scent then the stick, less burning stick if you will 🙂  Soll ‘s makes two sizes of cones, The smaller Cone Cuties and the large size Cones. Cones produce a lot of smoke for a short period of time and are designed to scent a space in a hurry, they also travel very well, less breakage. I would love to see these blends done as extruded sticks in the Japanese style. I am sure it would smell quite wonderful, although given the amount of oils and resins involved it might not be possible. Enjoy

-Ross

Fred Soll – Pinon, Copal Negro, Magical Copal, Egyptian Musk, Ginger & Ginseng, Santa Fe Spice

This article will be the first in what should be a long series of exposés on the venerable American incense company Fred Soll who creates one of the finest and most original styles of incense sticks (and in some cases cones) available, a true domestic treasure. There are about 50 different blends available most of which seem to have a base of pinon pine resin and what we’d assume is some sort of charcoal or other method to keep the stick lit, although in nearly every case the type of off smells associated with charcoal or inferior methods of keeping a stick lit are totally missing. In fact for stick incenses these could be among the nicest bases around, usually exuding a sweet and fragrant resin scent that bolsters nearly every top scent for each incense.

Fred Soll sticks are actually something of a sight to behold. They’re quite long for one thing and usually rolled in whatever ingredient the specific incense has with the herbs resins and woods often surrounding the stick in a pleasantly rough fashion. In some cases there are additional natural ingredient applications to enhance the packaging. Often these sticks are semiwet and very sticky and are often so redolent in aroma that the smell will exude just sitting a stick in a holder and letting it sit. It should be mentioned that all these sticks are designed to be burned horizontally, although I will say in most cases you’ll have no trouble with a vertical application either. In a few cases the only downside is keeping a stick lit, in some of the formulas (none in this particular article) this can be problematic at times, which probably indicates a very low amount of material used to keep the incense lit. Generally these are all very natural with a high level of craftsmanship and as such they’re fairly expensive, although this is more so the case in incenses using rarer ingredients, such as the company’s champa scents. But in nearly all cases you’re definitely getting what you pay for.

I wanted to start this series by writing about the company’s Pinon stick as it seemed to me it was the closest in style to Fred’s base stick, which seems to me to always exude a little pine resin. However the Pinon stick is much more than the base itself. Incense lovers speak frequently about resins like frankincense, myrrh, benzoin and such, but I’m always surprised how little Pine pitch comes up given what a gorgeous aroma it is (perhaps it’s so inexpensive to escape notice?) This is the perfect example of why it’s such a brilliant addition to forest resin blends and such, as not only does it exude the classic pine needle fragrance, but the pitch itself moves into both apple- and pear-like territories, enough to make your mouth water. Only pinon resin on charcoal or a heater is richer than this stick, which could be the finest pine incense anywhere and is perfect for freshening up an area. One could do worse than starting here on a journey through the Fred Soll line.

The two copal incenses, Copal Negro and Magical Copal, demonstrate what a terribly sticky resin Copal can be and in stick form this stickiness perhaps doesn’t work so well with the packaging (but then again I can’t imagine what they wouldn’t stick to). All of the sticks adhere to each other and the packaging like glue making them problematic to remove, although you’ll be very glad you did so. In both cases I’ve had to remove the entire batch of sticks from the package (fairly ruined in the process) and separate them all to get a stick and in doing so it’s easy to damage and pull resin globs off the other sticks. But at the same time there’s something very visceral and interesting about the process. I suppose this is why you rarely find copal in stick form, but it’s worth the effort, with the cool, smoky, resin in both forms a delight. In Copal Negro’s case the top notes are somewhat muted leaving the scent vaguely similar to quality benzoin, however the Magical Copal, I would assume, uses Golden Copal or perhaps even Blanco, giving the top end the lime-like notes you tend to associate with great quality resin. Copal in all its forms is one of my all time favorite incense scents so I find both sticks fantastic and the additional pinon base actually enhances them both. There’s really nothing else like these in all of incense and it’s hard to not have impressions of shamanic rituals and ancient Mayan ruins and jungles while experiencing either.

Soll’s Egyptian Musk is one of the finest musk incenses you’ll find outside of those that use the real thing, so for those concerned over ecological issues when it comes to the use of animal products, this will be among the best of the herbal blends. I’ve experienced oil blends in this vein before, slighty vanilla-like, creamy, sultry and mysterious and Soll definitely uses a very fine quality blend to go with the sweet resin base. Again, it’s very different from powerful Tibetan musks but at the same time its difference is its strength and you’re unlikely to find a better musk in perfumes, incenses or anything else. It’s a real gem of this line and highly recommended.

Ginger & Ginseng is something of an unusual blend and one little tried in incense. For one thing, I’ve personally never thought of ginseng as having much of a pleasant aroma, usually one you’ll smell in strength with herbal supplements. On the other hand Ginger can smell quite nice, but it’s often too sharp or powerful, which made me wonder what it would be like in incense. However together the two herbs tend to cancel out the problems with the ginseng tempering the ginger’s stronger qualities and the ginger overwhelming the more negative aspects of the ginseng. With both herbs powdered and rolled on a Soll resin base stick, the herbs are balanced out even further with that sweet pinon-like smell. While I’m not sure I’d call it a success necessarily, which may only indicate my ambivalence to the ingredients, it’s certainly an interesting experiment and those who like the scents should certainly investigate. Perhaps I’m even only a few sticks away from truly appreciating the scent.

The final incense in this batch, Santa Fe Spice, was apparently imagined  while “enjoying hot chocolate and cinnamon cookies,” experiencing “the aroma of Pinon and Cedar as it drifted down the mountains.” This is a spice masterpiece. So often the combinations of cinnamon and clove like spices can fall flat in an incense but here the combination of cinnamon oil, which is very powerful on top, with pinon and cedar is dead perfect. I’m not aware of the origin of the other touches (for instance if there’s chocolate in the mix it’s fairly buried), but there are some unidentifables in smaller quantities. It’s a very powerful stick overall and perhaps best burned in parts as a full stick of this will be very potent. While many Solls are best described as the stated ingredients mixed with a resin base, here the concoction is a bit more complex. But truly, this is brilliant stuff.

We’ve got a lot more of Fred’s work to talk about in the near and not so near future. I’ll be writing about his champas and jasmine incenses in my next article and I believe Ross will also be joining in on this series at some point, so there will be plenty to talk about and rest assured there are a lot of brilliant scents in this line and few if any poor ones. This is a company with a deservedly strong reputation and joins Mermade and Nu Essence as one of the stalwarts of American incense.