Chimi Poe Jorkhang / Kaar Sur-Poe, Maar Sur-Poe

So after so many Bhutanese incense reviews of red/purple incenses it feels like a bit of a relief to get incenses that are tan colored. Honestly I wondered right away if Kaar Sur-Poe and Maar Sur-Poe were the same incense because only the K/M and the white/pink wrappers were really different. They appear to be the same shade of tan as well, but I had to move them around a bunch in the light to confirm that. In a previous review I was also comparing an incense to a deleted one from long ago and it feels like I need to do that again. Kaar Sur-Poe is described as containing “a special blend of fruits, cereals and medicinal plants with an aroma both woody and spicy and not at all overpowering.” Maar Sur-Poe is described a bit more in detail as containing “an important blend of fruits, cereals, edible medicinal plants, milk, butter, honey,  juice, alcohol and animal fats.” Both blends remind me a lot of the long deleted or unavailable Lung Ta line. The use of food ingredients in these blends give these incenses a rather unique sort of sour and thick scent that I can sense in these incenses as well. So with that said, these are actually quite a bit different than most Bhutanese traditional incenses.

However I started writing this with the possibility they may just be the same incense. And they are indeed so close you really only need one and perhaps so close that the variation I am sensing is tough to assign to either a different incense or just a variation. But I think we have to assume the different list of ingredients sets them apart. But they’re so close I’m going to review them as one and just try and explain how they’re different, As the tan color might imply, both incenses are heavy on the woods, more so than the pink and purple styles. However where the contrasting spice mix in the reds/and purples actually often draw out a distinct sandalwood note, you really don’t get that much in either one of these. The Kaar Sur-Poe seems to be the woodier of the two with some elements that reminds me a bit of cooking spice. The Maar-Sur seems to be a bit more spicy in the whole cinnamon/clove sense you tend to get in so many incenses. And so the latter seems to be a bit tangier, maybe a bit more full bodied of a mix where the former is woodier with perhaps a bit of campfire or reediness in the actual burn. Otherwise they seem to share a great deal more in common, with a base woodiness that leans to the kind of freshly cut smell you get in a woodshop, maybe a bit of a nutty flavor to them, as well as feeling a lot of the woody elements come from trees other than the sandalwood. Neither are perhaps the kind of incense I’d reach for, as they seem perhaps a bit closer to low end Nepalese styles, but they aren’t ultimately unpleasant, just perhaps somewhat unremarkable overall.

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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.

Lopen Tandin Dorji Poizo Khang / Tara Puja Incense

I might have this a bit off but in Bhutan a Poizo Khang/Poi Zokhang translates to something like a house of incense. Nado Poizokhang appears to be the largest of these incense houses, but there’s quite a few small ones as well and most seem to include the creators in their name (Mr. Nado is considered the father of Bhutan’s commercial incense industry), in this case one Lopen Tandin Dorji. While you will see what looks like two incenses in the pictures, about the only thing that seems different to me from the two packages is the color. The ingredients listed on both wrappers include red and white sandalwoods, juniper, species of fragrant plant, camphor, the resin of the Sal Tree, saffron, three sweets of sugar, honey and molasses, and three with milk, curd and butter. You may be happy to know there is no meat, alcohol or onion in this incense. Tara incenses relate to the meditation deity Tara in Vajrayana Buddhism and the colors relate to different forms of Tara, so it is assumed the incenses are intended for the specific forms. However, for Western noses, both of these incenses (green and yellow wrapper) seem aromatically identical and if there are any differences in recipe they are beyond my threshold to be able to tell. I lit both sequentially and at the same time to compare.

Tara Puja is actually a very friendly incense overall and the ingredients all seem high quality. I find that it reminds me a little of the long disappeared Lung Ta line which also claimed to list foods like honey or milk in the ingredients and however they formulate these (because imagine burning either on their own), they impart a bit of their own richness to the mix. But outside of these you’re essentially getting something of a woody and spicy blend. They actually seem a bit more akin to Nepalese incenses more than say the red/purple or Jaju styles normally found in Bhutanese incense houses, but there are still some similarities. The sandalwoods, juniper and the saffron seem well up in the mix, and the spice accentuates the sort of high altitude, evergreen feel without leaning into campfire directions. Whichever wrapper you choose, this isn’t a bad choice for an entry point into Bhutanese incense, and if you are stocked up on the traditionals you may still find this to be a different take, not to mention nice and friendly.

Mermade Magickal Arts / Sanctuary, Pan’s Earth (2021) + Esprit de la Nature / Lavender Kyphi (via Mermade) (Discontinued)

Here’s another handful of Mermade offerings including one direct from Esprit de la Nature. One I almost missed and the other two newly arrived…

I bought Sanctuary a little while back so I’m not sure if what I’m reviewing here was the first or second batch as mentioned on the page. Katlyn lists the ingredients for this blend of sacred space as Copal Blanco, Copal Negro, Maydi and Sacra Frankincense, Breu Claro, Greek Sage, Palo Santo, Peru Balsam and Fir Balsam. So I think the one thing that this instantly brings to mind is the idea that this is something of a South American blend with a touch of the outside. Space clearing incenses often to tend to be resin heavy, so this checks the box, plus this has that sort of uplifting feel that copals frequently bring to incense especially when they’re high quality. Sanctuary is also a bit of gentle blend, much more so than resin mixes that are frankincense heavy, in fact the frankincenses here seem to have not so noticeable an impact on the overall bouquet. The Palo Santo is fairly obvious as it always is in a mix, and I very much like the way the balsams weave in here as well. Once again Katlyn’s skill at blending multiple ingredients and getting them all to face out in a noticeable way is quite apparent.

Be en Foret’s Lavender Kyphi (picture is just a sample container but cool enough to include – check out the final artwork at the link) is another one of her intriguing variations on the old Egyptian formula. Check out this amazing ingredient line up: “From the Garden: Salted lavender buds and Dominican Sage leaves from my garden, Spikenard root from the Himalayas, Violet leaf extract from France. Resins: Dark Frankincense, Tolu Balsam, Dark Benzoin, Labdanum, Kua Myrrh, Liquidambar, Peru Balsam. A dash of aged Ambergris in Sandalwood oil ● Bound with organic honey and raisins ● Rolled in Agarwood and Sandalwood powder.”

Gulp. That’s a whole lotta goodness there, as is common with labyrinthine Kyphi preparations. Be sets this at a very low temperature kind of melt so you really gotta get in there to experience how complex this is, but of course the lavender is in front just like the name implies. One thing I love about kyphis is there are multiple ingredients, multiple recipes, everyone does them differently, they’re aged and tend to have vintages even among single “authors” and so vary all over the place while still hitting these notes that remind me of the finest of wines or even ales. The second thing I notice off this incense is the honey and balsam scent, a lovely mix that also tends to highlight the spikenard which is a favorite of mine. I do tend to like my lavender as close to the plant as possible, so I appreciate that it’s the kyphi that tends to be sweet here, which is a really nice contrast. And yes this does have that almost thick, wonderful base of a kyphi, more noticeable as the heat progresses, which I always contribute to the raisins and the way they kind of infuse a bit of wine-like goodness to the mix. Anyway I hope you’re convinced on this one, Be has the kyphi juju down!

And if kyphis are a tradition going back to Egyptian times, Katlyn has made something of a vintage out of Pan’s Earth herself. This is one of Mermade’s perennial classics, an almost definitive pagan earth incense, a mix of divine resins with all sorts of herbal notes that furrow their roots deep into the soil. And like kyphi, repeated vintages of Pan’s Earth always seem to improve and get more deep and impressive, and honestly, this one’s even a bit of a quantum jump in how good it is, easily my favorite of all of the good scents under this name. So what’s in the 2021 version? Black frankincense; breu claro; copal negro; vetiver root; aged patchouli; agarwood chips, powder, and oud; Pan’s Earth Special Blend Oil; Arbor Vitae cedar tips; jatamansi; costus root; kua; and Yemeni myrrh. The first thing that always strikes me about Pan’s Earth, despite all of the high end ingredients is that patchouli and vetiver mix. That green, soil-rich earthiness is just right up my alley and has always been the feature that would draw out this god of satyrs (and to be fair jatamansi and spikenard also have a little of it). If you’re gonna talk about Pan you need something feral and dark, something that makes civilization vanish. However to my nose this is actually a bit more resinous than I remember previous vintages, and it almost feels like the aged depth of it actually highlights and provides a well-roundedness to the incense that reminds you that the mystery of Pan still remains and that matched with all that earth is the sense of the universal as well. Perhaps 100s of years from now, some future archaeologists and anthropologists will be trying to make sense of the complexity of Pan’s Earth. Because this great incense is now becoming a tradition like kyphi, where there’s so much to experience, a review may not be able to do it full justice. One subnote melts into another into another. Definitely don’t miss this!

Mermade Magickal Arts/Ostara, Sweet Medicine, Sunpati

One of the difficulties of maintaining a site like Olfactory Rescue Service is covering the boutique/independent incense creators. However, one of the great things about these creators is that once they get some steam underneath them then their products end up selling themselves and the venerable Mermade Magickal Arts is a prime example. I’ve been buying from Mermade (or in the way past from outfits that sold Mermade products) since the late 90s.

Olfactory Rescue Service would probably not even be in existence if it wasn’t for the effect Katlyn Breene’s Shamanic Circle had on me as it really showed that place where the scent departs but the memory continues. My first experience with this incense was literally smelling it hours later after I had departed the area, like it had just dug into my subconscious and became a font of memory-scent. Not long after this I was introduced to great aloeswood incense and it was very similar. Part of the power of incense is its collaboration with the user, with the user’s experience and memories, the partaker’s sense of place and nostalgia. Katlyn’s familiarity with the western magickal tradition was also something I personally resonated with over the next decade and so her brilliant artwork and presentation also enhanced her incenses as well as imparting subtle energies to them that are quite impressive and true to the subject material. Katlyn is also a mentor to a whole new generation of creators and is a tremendous asset to the whole community. Mermade is quite simply an incense institution, perhaps the paragon of American incense.

So now we’re talking about an artist 20 years later who has been at the top of her game for years and whose every new work is a treasure, no matter what it is. When I visit the shop, I just find the newest scents I have that are available. They turn over much faster now and I’m assuming much of that is just due to the quality, the word of mouth, the internet etc. The materials get finer, the recipes more original and creative, the surprises more plentiful and impressive. So this article will be a snapshot in time and is likely to be obsolete shortly and just a memory. It wouldn’t shock me if one of two of these scents are gone by the time you read this. They are worthy of being snapped up. Which of course means that months down the line there will be new incenses or new versions etc.

Ostara is a very balanced blend of mastic, sweet mint, myrtle and jasmine. When I lived at my old place years ago, I had some mint plants in my back yard that literally took over the entire area at one point, creating a smell that overwhelmed anything else close. Mint is a strong, extremely overpowering scent if you’re not careful, which, of course, is why its a mainstay in gums, breath fresheners and so forth. To use it appropriately in an incense takes a fine guiding hand and naturally that’s what you will find in Katlyn’s work. All four of the elements mentioned here are present in the final bouquet without one overpowering the other, which certainly took some skill as it would have been easy for the myrtle to get buried under the mint and jasmine. The myrtle in particular sets the blend apart as its such a gentle, unique smell that isn’t very common in incense. The fact that this has a mastic base rather than one from frankincense or other resin also helps to move this to a unique space as its fruity component seems to hit a bit closer to apples and pears than the lemon and lime you tend to expect from frankincense. There’s also a touch of the wild in this one. I’ve noticed more and more of Mermade’s recent incenses have a bit of a liqueur or aged like subscent to them that give everything an extra level of complexity. This level has almost like a bit of banana peel to it, a reminder of the depth of the wild behind the nature. The Brian Froud-like artwork on the container is the icing on the cake as far as this is concerned.

Sweet Medicine is another new favorite of mine that I’m hoping to see as a perennial classic from Mermade like Wild Wood or Pan’s Earth or Kyphi. It wasn’t terribly long ago I wrote in praise of Tennendo’s Propolis incense, so it’s wonderful to see this amazing aromatic source in another incense, and here it is part of a blend with so much goodness it’s hard not to be exhaustive: sweet grass, black and honey frankincense, benzoin, balsam, myrrh, balsam poplar buds and sweet clover. The overall profile is of course sweet but it’s also complex and wonderfully energetic and it builds in intensity to an aromatic crescendo as it builds in space. The balsamic content and propolis in particular I think grounds the sweetness in a way that’s important in giving it some personality, it lets it hit that spot without becoming too cloying. This means the overall impact is just glorious, with the sweet grass also giving it a touch of airiness. Right now I have two newly planted trees in the front yard that are budding and attracting much of the local bee population so this seems like the right time to break such an incense out. A real A+++ treat, don’t miss it.

Sunpati is subtitled a Quiet Mind incense and it certain is a much quieter incense than those that are generally based on woods or resins. It is made from Rhododendron Anthopogon leaves and flowers, an ingredient that tends to find its way into many a Tibetan incense, Linden leaves, flowers and essential oils, an ingredient you don’t find in incense much at all, and a nunnery-sourced Lawudo blend from Nepal. As the description at the page reveals, this is something of a grassy, tobacco tinged, sweet, late summer to early autumnal sort of blend whose ingredients usually don’t find their way to this level of resolution. If you have been using stronger incenses before this they’re likely to overwhelm the finer aspects of this incense which are gentle and very unique, in the same way you might find piles of leaves that have fallen of trees or a mix of bushes and plants on a walk. It has an almost wistful, nostalgic vibe to it. I love these sorts of experiments as they introduce me to scents I haven’t experienced before and show that our practiced incense creators continue to stretch out into new terrain.

More Mermade scents, just around the corner, I have a few more to go (they’re all in the top picture)….

Mermade Magickal Arts / Dionysos, Icaro +

One of the things I’ve been noticing of late is that I can often have a Mermade incense in queue to review (the latest two are the fantastic Heart of the Sun and Honey (Amber Champa) incenses) and then they’re already gone by the time I make a move to writing about them. So it should be said that in general Mermade vintages are going out to higher demand, so it behooves oneself to move quick on these things, perhaps even quicker than waiting for our reviews as unfortunately we can’t get to everything in time as much as we’d like to. Olfactory Rescue Service is of course well pleased that more and more people are experiencing Mermade and Katlyn’s bountiful creations as I can’t imagine a time where we wouldn’t have good things to say about them. The latest creations could be gone by the time I get this posted and it would be a shame as both of these are comparatively unique to the roster and well worth checking out.

Another thing I’ve been noticing is how Mermade’s linking of myth and magick to the incenses give them a sort of power in their own right. Dionysos is one of these and the label immediately puts in mind the feral Greek wine God and his intoxicated entourage. When the first notes of the incense arise from the heater, the scent is grape, berry and wine all of some mysterious vintage. But woven through this central note is the wildness you’d associate with this God, an evergreen, balsamic and grassy mélange that speaks of remote pagan locations. Two of the incense’s notes are Greek Aleppo pine resin and Bay laurel leaves, both of which work with frankincense, myrrh and labdanum to give this scent a noticeably different feel to it. It’s a brave creation and has that touch of the weird to it that helps to get these images rolling.

Icaro moves across an ocean from frankincense and pine to copal blanco, elemi and Breu Claro, from European forests to the rainforests of Brazil. The comparison between these two incenses shows how different scents can be. It is something of a hot, dry incense especially in comparison to the liquid resin-like qualities of Dionysos but it’s also defined by an intense cactus-green scent that likely comes from the ground ayahuasca that is buried in the copal-heavy mix of ingredients. This combination speaks to the shamanic myths of the area and strangely enough I’m also reminded of how close to the word Icaro (defined at the Mermade link), the Greek figure Icaros sounds, and how both speak of long voyages and journeys. Once again, we’re seeing new directions being assayed by Mermade and this is a heady combination that has an impact similar to the Dream Snake of many years ago.

I was sent other current samples of Mermade works, including two variations of a stick version of Pan’s Earth, one an aloeswood version thereof. I had enough to know these were beautiful and heady blends that speak of how strong Mermade’s stick incense has been getting with new variations (and this goes for the Honey/Amber champa sticks to which I’m looking forward to more of after I rocketed through my tube of the amazing things). Mermade is also selling Styrax Benzoin, which comes looking like a fragile geode of dark crystals sparkling in part due to the added tincture/essential oils. This nurturing of the natural brings out a very gentle amber-benzoin scent on a heater, mild and unassuming and avoiding some of the harsher qualities of cheaper benzoin.

I also received a sample of small disc-like lozenges of Deep Earth, but when I opened the little package, I lost one of them as it shot out of the package into that same dimension lost socks go. The other landed on my heater where its familiar but variant scent reminded me of how much I love the lineage of this incense, I believe I still have samples going back at least five vintages.

In summary, it’s just always a joy to go through Katlyn’s latest work and share it, but don’t forget these incenses are getting more and more fleeting as people learn about this venerable company, so it doesn’t hurt to grab a vial or two right away. Also, next review I should have some incenses from a new entry into the nicely growing US field of incense artists, a “newer” company I have really been looking forward to talking about…

A note to Ross: Floral Hearted Night

Hi, Ross,
A friend was kind enough to send me a sample of Floral Hearted Night. It seems like a different direction for you to have gone and, to me, it’s a very successful one 🙂 Although this incense smells unmistakably floral, it doesn’t accost me with out-of-control indoles, as some “big white flower” essential oils do, or suffer from boring flatness, a problem with some mass-produced sticks. I do love the scents of plumeria and tuberose, which share a similar thick and sweet headiness and can sometimes be overwhelming. You manage to imbue them with a delicacy and demureness that I never would have associated with either flower. Honey Abs. adds a subtle, very slightly booze-y twist, and agarwood and sandalwood add creaminess and weight to this true-to-life blend. Civet rounds out and augments the floral notes, and ambergris, though not obvious as stand alone “star”, contributes to the delicacy and intricacy of the scent, while adding its unique, mineral sparkle to the composition. Every once in a while I catch an animalic, musky drift that adds a provocative and slightly carnal twist to the incense. The overall effect is of young, white flowers just beginning to open their translucent petals, set against a backdrop of somewhat woozy woods that are doing their best to hide their more wild, Faun-like natures.

So, now there is a floral incense I can say I unequivocally like and, at last, I can smell summer blooms in winter without lifting a shovel! Your incense may be called Floral Hearted Night, but I know it’s going to brighten many of the cold and gray winter days that lie ahead. Thank you, Ross!

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.

Sarathi Perfumery Works / Sri Govinda / Gopala, Keshava, Krishna, Madhava, Mukunda (Discontinued)

NOTE: This line has been discontinued

Sarathi Perfumery Works is responsible for Tulasi incense as well as this small, five incense Sri Govinda range. These five incenses all pair two different aromas in a champa style. While the link will take you to a page where you can purchase all five incenses, the incenses also come in larger boxes, although in my experience you’ll find each store varies in terms of what size and aromas they stock. Quality wise I’d say these are probably right above the Satya and Nitiraj ranges while still significantly below today’s premiums.

Gopala combines patchouli and vanilla, two ingredients fairly common in champa variants. In this case I’m far more reminded of Mystic Temple’s Vanilla Amber Champa than I am any patchouli champas, it’s almost as if the patchouli is something of a faint note in the incense. Overall the Gopala is quite dry as a result with the combination accentuating the sandalwood notes. It’s a bit one dimensional in the end but it does it nicely.

Keshava combines Rose and Geranium but as most incense veterans might guess, this is a lot more geranium than rose, although I’d even go as far to say that the geranium is actually kind of fuzzy, leaving the stick with a generic floral scent that doesn’t work particularly well with the sweet base. Overall it seems a bit too bitter or coarsely perfumed. It’s as if you’re burning two clashing incenses at once.

Sarathi’s Krishna mixes up honey and jasmine, two aromas that seem natural together, however like in the previous two incenses, one ingredient dominates and in this case it’s a jasmine scent somewhat reminiscent of Triloka’s. You can detect the honey but it sits below the jasmine as a subnote, probably as it marries with the base more. The combination doesn’t clash like the Keshava, but it’s not perfect, with a scent that strikes me as a little cloying due to a slight touch of soapiness.

Madhava is probably the most balanced of the three floral mixes in this group, combining violet and amber, which is a mix you don’t see very often if at all. At least in this case the oils don’t clash with the base like the Keshava did, and the violet sits on top of a gentle and sweet base. The amber merges into this, gently powdery and the combination gels, even if not in a particularly memorable way.

Mukunda definitely starts in the benzoin department with a decent quality scent (minus the rough and gravelly qualities associated with cheaper benzoin. The myrrh is difficult to pick out (an issue pretty common to myrrh incenses given how widely it can vary in scent) because it doesn’t have the individual qualities of good resin, but it does prevent this from being purely benzoin.In fact I detect a little more on the honey side in this one than I do with the Krishna.

I think in terms of whether you’d want any of these totally depends upon how deep you want your incense collection, as there’s a lot better and a lot worse. I think maybe these are a cut above Satya and Nitiraj because the base is better, in fact I often wondered going through these if some of the oils actually detracted from the base. But perhaps only the Madhava is memorable and even it’s not a perfect incense. The line has since been discontinued, but most of these incenses should still be locatable.

Dhuni / Extra Special Amber, Kashi, Nag Champa (thick versions), Bhakti (Discontinued Line)

I’m encouraged by the efforts of the Dhuni company to tinker with their incense formulas, especially when the results are as spectacular as they are here. It seems possible that they’re in the process of creating a true connoisseur line of Indian incense here as this group of scents is easily top tier.

I’m hoping maybe Piers or someone from the company might drop by and explain if these are actually the new versions of these scents or alternates as it’s difficult to tell from the catalog what’s going on here. All I know is I was already quite impressed with Dhuni’s initial grouping of incenses, but what we’re seeing in the new reformulations is a level of quality that closes in on the decadent.

Take the new version of Extra Special Amber. This is possibly the thickest stick of Indian incense I’ve ever come across, so heavy in weight that if you use an ash holder you’ll need to make sure it’s sunk deep. What seems to have happened is that the larger stick gives the opportunity to use more in the way of the resinous materials. The original Extra Special Amber is quite excellent but it’s also highly perfumed, this new version seems like the perfume or oil contents have either been reduced or spread out among the new materials. The result is tangy, brassy and rich, but largely so because the quality natural ingredients are now carrying more of the bouquet. It makes it so the overall aroma is slightly less intense and more diffuse, letting the amber waves ride out in an airier fashion. In the end both versions are still largely in their own category amberwise and it should also be mentioned that despite the size of the stick, the smoke content is still about normal. This is a stick I’m definitely looking forward to stocking deeply, it’s an incredible work of art.

While Extra Special Amber has made the most visible change, the further refinement of Kashi is possibly this batch’s most impressive move. The sticks are slightly thicker in size and are now thick enough that they don’t resemble at all the style of incense Kashi is in the same family of, the one including Incense from India Honey Dust, Mystic Temple Vanilla, Satya Natural etc. From just eyeing it I would say that the new version has a touch more halmaddi resin in it if not more honey, because it’s even sweeter and more deluxe than it ever was. Now sometimes, this isn’t a good thing but it’s been done in a way where the results aren’t cloying and the sweetness is perfectly balanced by the quality ingredients in the mix. I mentioned it in last month’s top 10, but this is a style I’d grown quite tired of until Dhuni managed to rejuvenate it in the most perfect way here, making it by far the best version of this scent to hit the market.

Dhuni’s newly formulated Nag Champa is probably the mildest adjustment, although the changes are enough to make the new version less traditional than the original, but don’t take that to mean it’s less quality. Like the Kashi the new version is a bit gummier, with a massive halmaddi presence. I like the fact that this increase in sweetness tends to balance out the dryness of the scent, which is an issue I have with a lot of modern Nag Champas, they’ve often lost their finish. While with ESA and Kashi the replacements are definitely final, in terms of the Nag Champa I think both versions have a lot to like about them.

Dhuni also has one new scent, Bhakti. It’s described as a floral spice blend and has some slight similarities to Shroff’s Little Woods in the base. However all of the perfume and oil notes in the incense take the base in a completely different direction. This is a perfume mix that is very difficult to describe because it manages to be both light and complex at the same time. I get everything from unidentifiable florals to a spice content and even a touch of orange tea in the mix, not to mention a strain of wood scent that is less identifiable as a note than an ingredient of depth. Unsurprisingly it’s a triumph in the end and if it’s any indication we’re only seeing the beginning of a powerful run by Dhuni.

Keep tinkering, we’re noticing!

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