A few incense notes

It has been a really long time since I posted anything, so I figured I’d drop in and say hello. Life has kinda moved me away from blogging and writing in the past year or two and although I’ve had some sample review inquiries, not much has shown up and with a few exceptions I haven’t had a chance to try a lot of new things, but I figured I’d do a ramble and see what I remember.

First of all, it’s difficult to write about good incenses at all without mentioning Mermade Magickal Arts. Among Katlyn Breene’s many talents, one in particular always stands out to me and that’s the way she can bring evergreens and forest scents out in her incenses, absolutely nobody does it better. As someone whose very first incense experiences as a teenager were pine incense sticks from Cost Plus incense, the scent of woods and fresh evergreen resins are always a huge draw for me, so to sample Mermade’s incense pastilles, especially right around the holidays, was a real treat.

These pastilles look like the little candies they were named after and it seems to me that all three have a wonderfully foresty and frankincense-heavy base that is slightly modified by the title scent. With the Labdanum Incense Pastilles, there are three frankincenses in the mix and a touch of benzoin to go along with the labdanum scent. Just like if you were to open a little tin of citrus pastille candies, the smell from these pastilles is full of the gorgeous lemon and orange hints you get from great frankincense, at time’s the scent is as strong as fruit juice. The Spruce Incense Pastilles are a similar scent but the effects here are less like candy or fruit juice, with the spruce moving the whole thing to a less sweeter place. I would have guessed that this would have been strongly evergreen but in the end it’s really a note, it drifts to being a bit more earthy as it melts on a heater. The Sweet Myrrh Incense Pastilles seem to have a stronger presence with the “title” note and is the most complex of the three. The myrrh, as it always does, balances and modifies the frankincense scents that also moves it away from the citrus notes. Myrrh has always struck me as being a bit “thicker” than frankincense and thus it works to excellent contrast here. As always with Mermade’s work there is a real clarity to the scents and subscents that portray years of experience in creating fine incense and it just always seems that new offerings from Mermade get better and better. I also tried a sample of Mermade’s Majoun Encens which just makes my ability to keep describing these new fantastic blends more and more difficult – I don’t think there’s ever been anything quite like it on the market, a bewildering mix of a base kyphi incense with all sorts of new and mysterious ingredients that just pop with energy, like a mix of spices, cola, various food hints and something just a bit more subversive. It’s an absolute essential purchase in my opinion. And of course if you haven’t checked out Mermade’s heaters yet, you simply must.

I’ve revisited some Shroff incenses of late and I’ve found that the initial semi-dry masala series that came in the yellow boxes has slightly changed. I’ve heard reports of big changes with Jungle Prince. Pearl is definitely a lot coarser and less subtle than it used to be while essentially pitching the same aroma, and Little Woods has changed but fortunately is still excellent. However, the group that came with Sugandha Mantri seems to be holding strong, in fact this group is still one of my favorites. With Dhuni gone, many Shroff incenses are about the best on the market right now.

I tried several of the Nandita scents. These incenses are all essentially perfume based, but they’re all blends that don’t go instantly reminding you of other incenses. Mantra Meditation, Wood Spice, Dehn Al Oudh, and Royal Attar all show up as decent variations on a given thing, but many of these aren’t easy to describe due to the fairly complex oils at work. They’re all extremely affordable but I’d be hesitant to pick one or two of these as a favorite as they’re all pretty close.

Anyway that’s about it. Feel free to use the comments section and let us know what your current favorites are!

Mermade Magical / Classical Kyphi by Nathaniel, Deep Earth Premium

Howdy! Its been a while since I have written a review, but I managed to scrape some funds together to snag an order of Mermade Magical Arts’ Classical Kyphi by Nathaniel Musselman.
The wonderful people over at Mermade Magical also were kind enough to throw in a few samples with my order, including Deep Earth Premium 2013, so I will be doing a double review today!

Classical Kyphi has a scent that upon first whiff ,smells reminiscent of fresh raisin bread and frankincense. After a bit the cinnamon starts to come through, with a touch of anise. Heated gently on charcoal or an electric heater, this will surely please anyone who enjoys sweet, spicy scents.

The Deep Earth 2013 is hands down a new favorite of mine. I will most definitely be keeping a supply of this on hand, once I have the means to. As stated in the previous article by Ross, it comes across very thick, resiny and woody. Upon placing it on my charcoal censer, I was immediately hit with a strong aroma of labdanum, although curiously it does not list labdanum in the ingredients. Alongside the top not of labdanum, I noticed myrrh,  with a scent resembling honey and agar wood in the background. Anyone who is a fan of deep resin and wood scents will definitely love this blend.

Pure Incense / Tuberose, P-Gokula, Pushkar, Pavitra Vastu; Revisits / Connoisseur / Agarwood, Blue Lotus, Parijata, Rosewood

Pure Incense have been kind enough to provide lots of samples for Olfactory Rescue Service review and I recently received a new batch, including four old sticks previously reviewed in order to give a taste of where these classics have been heading as ingredients and recipes change over the years. In my opinion this kind of transparency is to be highly lauded when so many companies just change things completely without notice and I believe it to be a true acknowledgement of the art of incense in that change is inevitable in this field and that your favorites will probably not be around forever. It is good to see that even with changes that new formulas are being added and experimented with and that Pure Incense really do have a way with the perfume notes in their incenses. So let’s start with the new and previously unreviewed formulas.

When it comes to certain floral incenses, a lot of Indian incenses tend to a high level of charcoal in them, after all you can’t really burn rose petals and have the scent smell like roses and so there is a high level of oils in incenses like this. Tuberose is one of these scents and I’m probably not alone in not being a fan of this format of incense. But just like when you compare Pure Incense to their US cousins Primo, the quality level seems to be a lot higher with Pure Incense and I found the base to be, if not pleasant, and least not offputting. I seem to remember Primo’s version being a lot harsher and eyestinging. The oil on the base, of course, is quite nice and while you can still sense a bit of the vanilla floating behind it in the base, the Tuberose is a soft, rounded and cushy floral, somewhat powdery and quite feminine.

The Pavitra Gokula scent, which seems to be a subline of Pure Incense’s Premium collection, appears to be a new riff on their classic Blue Lotus scent. And like anything even remotely similar to the Blue Lotus, this is a very beautiful and bewitching incense, almost like a caramel-tinged floral. It has some similarities to one or two of the Vrindavan incenses elsewhere in the line, and there’s that wonderful hint of sweet and crystal pink that these incenses are topped off by. The Gokula has an almost candy-like middle, giving it a real complexity (especially when you consider how complex the Blue Lotus perfume is on its own). Perhaps its only weakness lies with the base, but its likely most readers will already know if they’re OK with it or not. And if you’re not sure I wouldn’t let it put you off as the base layer actually adds more than detracts from the complexity. It’s really the kind of direction you want to see a company take, experimenting with their formulas for new takes.

The Premium incense Pushkar also riffs on the Blue Lotus incense, this time combining it with the Vrindavan Champa scent. I believe it is with some modesty that Pure Incense hasn’t ranked this with their Connoisseur level, as the crystal pink floral scent mixed with the Blue Lotus oil is really a product of master craftsmanship. The mix has some similarities to the line’s brilliant Rosewood incense as well in that the scent seems to have a bit of woodiness in the middle to give it a nice breadth. It’s almost like a mix of pink florals and evergreen foresty scents. It’s truly well worth checking out, a really fine entry to their line.

The Pavitra Vastu is notable for not having any flower oils in the mix and is instead a mix of herbs. The result is a spicy, tangy herb and wood heavy blend with a hint of citrus in the middle. It’s a very robust and hearty incense that has more than a hint of orange tea in the mix, although it really doesn’t get too spicy. After a couple of sticks, I wasn’t sure about how complex this could be, but it is nicely balanced and has a nice clarifying affect on one’s surroundings.

As could be expected the Connoissuer line has changed in scent in the few years since I reviewed them last. It would still be a good idea to revisit the reviews here and here in order to see where these new reviews get their basis from. I only had a stick of each of the new version to sample and so I can only really approximate the changes, but none of them are particularly severe, which leads me to speculate that the changes are mostly via the ingredients.

The Connoisseur Agarwood has, unsurprisingly, changed the most, which is what you’d expect. Of course it’s important to note again that Indian agarwoods differ a lot from the Japanese, but the Pure Incense version from a few years ago was easily the best of the Indian agarwoods, with a wonderful deep and resonant foresty camphor like note that gave it a huge amount of dimension. This new version (marked Autumn 2013) doesn’t strike me as being quite as woody and I wasn’t sure with just one stick if that note was as strong as it used to be, but the incense really hasn’t lost the agarwood scent at the center. It just seems maybe a little more concentrated, and it isn’t overshadowing the vanilla note in the base like it used to. But I think if I was coming fresh to this I’d still enjoy it a lot, there is really no other Indian agarwood on the market with this kind of scent. It doesn’t have a perfume based scent like other Indian agarwoods, and so it’s still quite dry and stately.

The new (Sept-Dec 2013) Connoisseur Blue Lotus is quite close to what you might remember from my original review and in a way is a lot more difficult to describe since essentially what has changed is the perfume oil(s). None of the subtle notes have disappeared so much as changed in just the way you’d expect from the flora the oils were distilled from. The overall scent still has the soft and floral notes the original did and honestly I don’t think this has changed for the worst, it’s at least as good as the stick I previously reviewed. And this is really a special incense, there’s no other like it on the market.

The Connoisseur Parijata seems to be a much milder incense this time around and seems to lack a bit of the punch and personality of its predecessor. Keep in mind again I’m only evaluating one stick and the nose has the ability to close up on some occasions. But this one strikes me as light and airy and so the base comes through quite a bit and seems to render it a bit more generic than I had remembered it (I still need to dig out the old stick as I’m going mostly on memory here). It’s a bit powdery, woody and sweet but ultimately I found the burn a bit too mellow to get my attention.

On the other hand the Connoisseur Rosewood was an improvement to an already excellent incense and I found this new version to be absolutely superb in every way. It’s hugely rich, floral and fruity, having those fine wine-like qualities all good perfume oils have. And like all good oils, the scent has lots of subnotes, all of them red or pink. It’s hard to quantify why this is much better than most Indian rose incenses, maybe the hint of wood or spice in the background helps to make up for the bitter notes often found in these sticks. Nonetheless this is superb and the biggest upgrade in an already fine group.

It’s good to see Pure Incense still going in what has been something of a difficult market of late and nice to see they still have a commitment to quality and connoisseur level scents.

A few admin notes

Reviews have been a little thin of late, I’m afraid I have a lot of balls up in the air at the moment. This is sort of an unusual situation, because I have notes written up for a couple dozen reviews but I’ve not been able to get the conditions needed to get them typed up. What this means is that until I get these typed up, I won’t be looking at requests for reviews outside of what I get sent samples of. If things seem so slow that you want to try your hand at reviewing incenses, contact me at the e-mail on the About page and we’ll discuss.

I do want to also mention that I become more and more pleased with the latest batch of Shroff semi-dry masalas (the loner dry, Holy, is worth skipping). I still don’t know if I could even remotely describe most of them as they all have very subtle and individual personalities, but I think this is the first time I’ve been excited about a batch rather than individual incenses. I think part of this is they seem very high quality, while I don’t think there’s real musk in these, whatever they’re using is about as close to the real thing as I’ve tried. It’s really a cool line.

New Shroff thread

There’s 10 new Shroff incenses in at Essence of Ages and I’ve finally got my hands on them. I’ve tried three so far and I’d have to say based on these three that this batch is likely to be mostly nag champa variants, in fact a lot of what I’m smelling reminds me of Shrinivas in their better days. I’ve always wondered if there was halmaddi in Shroff incenses, with these it doesn’t seem like there’s any question. The issue, as was often the case with Shrinivas, is that distinctiveness tends to suffer a little bit and none of the three I tried really popped out at me. The three I tried were Yatra (good), Pride (decent) and Yogi Bouquet (best of the three). I don’t think I could describe any of them all that well yet. I’ll post further impressions in comments as I check them out and hope you all do as well…

New Shroffs

Just wanted to put a few words and add a thread for the latest batch of Shroffs to come in through Essence of the Ages. I’m as thrilled with the new scents this time as I was disappointed by the last batch, there’s not a wet masala in this group that isn’t terrific. Darshan is like the most deluxe spice cookie, full of sugar, cinnamon and other sweet things. Drona’s mellower with quite a bit of caramel in the mix, very soft. Little Woods is like a more connoisseur version of the Woods incense we’ve discussed here, quite a bit deeper with a really great mix of wood oils. Their Nag Champa isn’t terribly far off from the Dhuni version recently discussed. The Ruby takes the wet masala format with a nice rosey top oil, one of the most successful versions of a red or pink colored champa I’ve seen. Shanti was absolutely amazing as well, although my memory of it and Sharan are a bit sketchier since it was late. Super Star, at least on the stick and by name, seems like a variant on Satya’s Super Hit, I suspect it will be a lot better. I also gave the Bakoor a small spin, it’s quite unique and seems charcoal based but definitely moves in an unusual bakhoor-like direction for a stick. Any comments or thoughts on these or older Shroffs can be added right here…

Dhuni Incense

Just wanted to mention this company’s remarkable incense, eight champa/flora styles all made with the highest quality ingredients. What particularly impressed me was their nag champa, which is the most authentic version of the (straight) scent I’ve smelled in 15 years or so. I will have reviews of these coming up after the holidays but it would be remiss of me not to mention them now as the packages would make nice holiday gifts. And while a scent or two of these are similar to other incenses, I think these could be the best versions (for instance Kashi is similar to Honey Dust or Satya Natural but better quality). Definitely a line you want right along with your Shroff, Mother’s and Pure Incense offerings.

Tasting Notes: Pocket Aroma Incense from Daihatsu

These are new to the US market and so far the only place I know of that has them is Kohshi in San Francisco. They are geared for scenting a room with a particular scent, in this case floral’s or woods. The sticks burn for around 10-12 minutes and there are about 150 per box, there are also cones. You can them out here.

Lavender  Tanka: This has a spicy back round note intermixed with a sort of powdery scent. The lavender/floral notes ride across all of this. In this particular case it is more spicy floral then lavender. This is a fairly strongly scented incense in keeping with the concept of a “Room Incense”. The scent is also going to last awhile within the room.

Rose  Tanka: Much like the lavender above the are a lot of spicy notes underneath a distinct rose scent. This reminds me of more a wild rose then one that has been overly cultivated. I find this to be refreshing as so many rose scented incenses can be (to me at least) overly done and cloying. Not the case here. Again the scent is strong but the spiciness tends to balance things out. Nicely done and a great way to add a rose scent to a room with out over doing it.

Cypress  Tanka: Similar base notes in this woody scented stick. This does seem to capture the feeling of Cypress trees as well as a forest in general. It is not overly “green” in scent more a mix of woods tempered with a green note. Probably my favorite out of the group, enough so that I bought a box.

Very different then Sandalwoods or Aloeswoods. Again this is a long lasting scent and very good at putting a mellow and relaxing scent through out a room. – Ross

Coming up…

Been busy on the incense front. First of all upcoming is a look at the series of 14 new Nag Champas from Mother’s India Fragrances. Both the home company and their Dutch distribution have been tremendously supportive (and they’ll definitely be in the US eventually as well) on the samples end, which also means there will be a lot more Mother’s scents to go. I’ll do this in two parts, with the first part already nearing completion. Those who loved the original five will find some really fantastic new concoctions, and best of all they all have halmaddi in them and the company has an informative, explanatory document on the champas which has really helped.

I’m also moving closer to completion on the full Shroff line, I’ve got notes written up for all the Masala Base florals and am currently working on the other seven Masala Base incenses that came in in the last batch, so I’m hoping to have these done, at least until any new ones might come in (crossing fingers).

There will be a couple more installments in the Pure Incense Absolute line. I don’t have a few of the most recent incenses yet, but when I do I think we’ll be up to date on those as well. The notes on the next batch featuring mostly the Cedarwood mixes are finished. After that the Sandalwoods and Patchoulis.

In the Tibetan category, there’s a couple from Tengboche, the wooly Tibetan Yak, and a sampling from Stupa, all notes are finished. Shechens, Domas, Luckys, and Arogyas farther down the line.

And Ross and I will be doing some more stuff from the Triloka book as well.

I also plan on going over the Baieido aloeswood playbook, but this is on the slow track as I’m still not  to the point where I habitually use my heater as much as I’d like to. Plus there’s nothing like a heated chip of Hakusui or Ogurayama to make you drop everything you’re doing and go astral.

And I’m still working through the new categories as you may have guessed from the longer side bar on the left, I think I’m well over half way through the 2008 posts.

Musk Scented Incenses-Japan (Ross)

In keeping with the musk theme for the Natural Perfumers Guild “Mystery of Musk” project( and ORS being an incense review site) I was thinking of bring out an all inclusive list of incense with a musk scent in them. Then Mike mentioned “Ross, you might find it an easier to job to list the incenses WITHOUT musk of
some sort in them. 🙂 “ after doing a quick search at Essence of the Ages I realized that he was totally right. So instead I will break this down into at least two, maybe 3 parts.

We are starting our aromatic and musky journey with the Japanese side of things and I am listing incenses that I personally know have a musk scent in them. They are also available in the US. Some might use the real deal, while others have opted to use botanical sources for the musk scent, or possibly an “aroma chemical”.

In the history of Japanese incense it seems to me from what I have read that musk has played a very large role as both a primary scent and also as a scent fixative, much like in perfumes. Musk has a tremendous amount of staying power and can help to anchor other scents as well. In Chinese Medicine it also has many therapeutic properties so it has been popular for ages. I have seen very old receipts for kneaded incense balls where it became obvious that it was more a question of how much musk rather then if it was in there or not. Some companies still make this style (not available in the US through) and the price reflects the scarcity of the ingredients. The use of Kyara, high quality Aloeswoods and musk can really put a dent in ones bank account 🙂 I can only imagine the scent, but given the sophistication and esthetics of those times I am sure it is amazing. Shoyeido does make the kneaded style, but I have not had a chance to try them. I have tried some from Yamada Matsu (Kurogata & Genmyo) and these do have a musky scent to them, mixed in with the woods and spices, quite nice and perfect for those who cannot deal with smoke.

In the world of incense sticks from Japan I am going to talk about the ones I know and think are in the “best of class” category as far as musk scented.

Shoyeido’s Kyara blends (Sho-Kaku, Myo-ho and Go-un) all have that quality to them, besides the great wood notes, it is one of the major aspects that makes them so good. The musk helps round out and sort of lifts the scent up.

Shunkodoh’s Ranjatai and Kyara Seikan are both two of my all time favorites. They are somewhat similar but the addition of the Kyara wood in the Seikan produces a smoother scent. Personally I think Ranjatai is one of the best deals in incense, the initial outlay for a bundle is not cheap but you get a very large amount of incense and if you do like musk scents, it’s here in spades.

Kohshi’s Japanese Musk, which is actually made by Daihatsu is inexpensive yet has a tremendous amount of smooth musk scent. Leaving the box out in the room will fragrance the room all by itself.

Seijudo’s collection of Kyara’s (Kyara Horen, Kyara Seiran and Kyara Enju all have a musk scent bonded with the Kyara aspect, they are all quite good and considered some of the very best in Japan.

Tennendo’s Shingon apparently uses a botanical musk as its scent, it’s nice, not in the same class as Ranjatai, but it also only costs around $6.00

You can check out the reviews in the side bar on the left, every one of these is in there, there is also a list of stores that we have had good experiences with that tend to carry at least some of these.

Many of the more expensive one’s are available in sampler packs. If you have some favorits be sure and write about them. Enjoy –Ross

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