Happy New Year (including Gokula and notes on Mermade Magickal Arts)!

I just posted the last two articles for my Gokula series today as Gokula is running a 20% off sale through 1/8, so I figured if you hadn’t checked the line out yet now is a perfect time! There are some definite goodies in their gigantic line and there’s actually a whole back half I didn’t review that are Mahavadhas sourced, so if you come across any of those that are good, do let us know in one of the Gokula post threads! Anyway, this takes us nearly to the end of the reviews stored up from last year, there may be a couple more to trickle in. More on this in a sec…

As I’ve been taking it easy over the holidays, I haven’t had too much of a chance to review or evaluate anything, but I did want to mention a few more Mermade Magickal Arts goodies. These aren’t intense reviews as I basically love all Mermade incenses which definitely all deserve deeper dives, but Katlyn tends to always be really busy during the holiday season and releases quite a few new vintages and I wanted to get in my thoughts before they’re gone. It was really nice to see Baccy Claus again, it’s at least the second vintage but I would guess the batch I had previously was before we started ORS up again. This one seems an improvement, never a surprise with Katlyn’s work, almost as if the middle had been brought up to match that peppery herbal note that makes this a scent unique in her catalog (think a mix of tobacco and herbal with the greener evergreen notes cradling this top scent). This one even has some unique elements in the mix with a touch of Amanita and Sativa, I’ve had the pleasure of an incense or two in the long past where Kat will mix something like this in and the results are always special and a bit different from the normal catalog. So certainly this is one to add to your cart right away.

Also checked out was her latest vintage of the Classic Kyphi, as I have long stated on these pages the Mermade kyphis are always well worth checking out, although I have been really unable to plumb the depths of this one quite yet. It’s really impossible to evaluate something this complex after just a sitting, but this will certainly be out right next to the heater over the next month. Some of the most recent kyphis strike me almost like drier wines compared to the sweeter ones, if you need an overall take. Forest Honey seems like a new experimental merging of two of her lines (say Sweet Medicine and Wild Wood for example) and is quite a bit different from Kat’s usual green holiday mix and a welcome variation. As always you get that great balance that allows you to experience both sides of the scent. But once again, I still need to dig out the time to really sit with it. Similarly with the Jasmine Dreams. I spend a lot of time both reviewing and evaluating and largely getting really fatigued by jasmine incenses over the last year, so it was great to get back to one that really highlights how good it can be. Perhaps part of the reason is this has a lot of green frankincense and repeat customers generally know how high quality this frankincense can be from Mermade. But this has a real nice peach note (resin seems to help bring this out) that you can often get out of the better jasmines and it seems like a perfect match with the better frankincense. So overall and as usual, it’s impossible not to recommend all these new treats, not to mention that it looks like Mermade has several Esprit de la Nature goodies in as well which always go really fast. I haven’t tried any of these but they’re always great as well. I would bet Bonnie probably has more at her site!

So with that said while there are probably a few more reviews in the wing to go, we’re reaching the end of the current “season.” This year is unique particularly in that there’s also very little in the current queue to review as well. I think we’ve debating internally that there are things like Satya incenses that I’ve sort of had on the table, but with less time to really review things of late it can be difficult to force yourself to take a look at incenses better worth avoiding. There’s a Review Information link at the top left if you’d like us to review your incenses, just let us know. Happy New Year everyone!

Advertisement

Gokula Incense / Flora Fluxo, Floral Bouquet, Gold Sandal, Jasmine & Lotus, Jasmine & Nag Champa, Lotus & Kewra

Agarwood & Musk, Agar Sandal, Aloeswood & Jasmine, Amber & Frankincense, Celestial Fruits, Chocolate & Vanilla

This is the second of four in a series of Gokula Incense reviews, please see the first installment for an introduction to the company.

My general impression of flora/fluxo incenses is they usually come with an orange dipped stick (either full or just the end). And Gokula’s variant (one of them really) is actually called Flora Fluxo. I have reviewed or burned so many of these types of incenses in the last couple months that they probably feel more redundant to me than they actually are, but if you’re not familiar with the style then usually the standard version (kind of like how blue box Nag Champa is – or maybe used to be – the standard for those incenses) is the red package Sai Flora and it’s a reasonable baseline although it is heavily perfumed and often stronger than those I have reviewed lately. Gokula’s version is somewhat muted and not quite as bright and brassy as Sai Flora. Most floras and fluxos have earthier levels in them but they’re usually much more buried than they are here, which tends to give me an August, almost Dionysian vibe like prunes or grapes. I am not sure the balance maybe quite works for me on this stick, but I would not take that as gospel because most are just minor tweaks from one to the other and if you like the style, you’re likely going to search for the one that works for you. This is certainly a reasonable quality take.

Floral Bouquet actually does what it says it’s going to do and presents a floral mix that’s very pink and sweet. It’s a bit of a masala although still fairly firm but it’s worth noting because it doesn’t feel like it’s battling charcoal but is more of a blend with a bit of woodiness. I’ve gone on record many times the pitfalls of presenting general florals, but this one has no bitterness or off notes and it’s probably friendly enough to be kind even to incense muggles. It actually reminds me a little of some of the old Dhuni incenses, perhaps in a more manageable form than that, but approaching that kind of pleasantness (I keep being reminded by the sadly lamented Dhuni Frangipani for some reason). It feels like it has something like pink Valentine’s candy at heart, but the structure of it seems to balance it out in a good way.

Gold Sandal seems to be a cousin to the Agar Sandal we reviewed last time, but like a lot of midline Indian sandalwood incenses, they really don’t smell a lot like sandalwood. There is some inherent woodiness to the incense but there are bitter/sour off notes as well as some really strangely placed fruity notes like peach or apricot in the middle. One wonders if this was an attempt to build a sandalwood out of a different set of ingredients. The Agar Sandal actually felt a bit closer to me in getting to that note or at least it ended up being more genuinely woody than this one. Certainly, the overall bouquet of the Agar Sandal is much more coherent, so I’d suggested starting there before heading to this one.

Even though I am going in alphabetical order, the next three incenses share quite a few of the same ingredients and operate very closely in style. The Jasmine and Lotus (and according to the description juhi, kewra and parijata) is an interesting blend for sure in that you’d expect that to be tilted way over into jasmine when the noticeable lead aroma seems to be something similar to the blue lotus that’s part of the Madhavadas catalog. It’s a very pretty, powdery sort of scent where if you can imagine it, the jasmine kind of faintly provides a background color to give a bit of complexity to the lotus scent. And honestly I think that is where jasmine is at its best. So after introducing some incenses Gokula imports that may be wobbly, this is one that I think has a rather distinct sort of mix I haven’t turned up in other catalogs and that is indeed what one often looks for in an incense.

And better yet, the Jasmine & Nag Champa may be one of Gokula’s best. While I’m not sure either aroma is dead on, they are both close and the juhi and lotus they meld with work well together. Whatever one has in mind for a mix like this, it’s going to be a bit different than you expect. While the champa perfume isn’t the classic style you get on something like the AB or TOI Gold Nagchampa, it does have a much more powdery bottom to it that evinces maybe a bit of halmaddi in the masala. The top note is very pretty and while you can kind of sense jasmine in there somewhere it’s not unlike the previous incense where it seems to mostly come out in some aspects of the bouquet as part of a merger. And overall, it leans over into pink florals a bit.

Finally the Lotus & Kewra is a very interesting experiment. This stick is a lightly dusted charcoal, but even moving back from a more masala like approach this still seems to have the same sort of warm and gentle powdery qualities of the last two incenses, which I like very much. The charcoal does spike a little through it as is always the case with floral charcoals but the perfume mix is quite nice nonetheless with what seems like either a balsamic or vanilla like quality in the middle. And yes there is even a distinct kewra note through the middle! Screwpine is definitely an aroma I’d like to see more often as it’s such a distinct and different scent to anything else. While the lotus isn’t quite as distinct as it is in the incense above where it’s paired with jasmine, and this may be because of the kewra, the resulting merge is certainly worth it. The incense description also describes the blend “in a sandalwood base with swirling notes of champa and marigold.” The powdery quality is certainly champa-esque and the marigold can be faintly ascertained but to my nose I don’t get any sandalwood and nor would I think you’d need to. Whatever the case this is definitely a Gokula winner.

Gangri Thökar Nunnery / Snow Mountain Gathers Incense

So I was just talking about the similarity of certain nunnery incenses and how a few of them have an almost amber-ish/balsamic quality to them when one comes up that isn’t quite like that at all. In fact I had to read the fine print at incense-traditions.ca to realize Snow Mountain Gathers Incense was a nunnery-sourced incense, and it sure is a fine one. And hey how wonderful it is to get a rather large ingredients list to look at: black myrobalan, white sandalwood, red sandalwood, clove, nutmeg, saffron, alpiniae katsumadai seed, fructus amomi and herb of tabasheer. I had to look up what half that stuff is, but some of the less seen ingredients seem to impart a number of really interesting new notes for this nose, herbal qualities that mix the fresh and familiar with some neat differences. One of the things I love about these deep Tibetan picks is the aromatic variation and newness, the hope that the monks and nuns are bringing forth some ancient recipe in all of its wonderful, healing glory. And honestly this is one that will keep your sensory apparati busy, it’s rich, full bodied, has both friendly and funkier notes weaving a dance together, and it has that quintessential freshness that is the hallmark of all the best Tibetans. Make no mistake, if the more dangerous Tibetan sticks aren’t to your style, this one may be a bit challenging, but for me it’s just the right amount of balance of sour/dense to high altitude/invigorating and it has a bit of brown sugar spice and sweetness on top that gives you so many places to sense the interactions. Another Hart-curated wonder scent.

Kunjudo / Kan Ken Koh / Breath, Sleep

Early in 2021 about when I reopened ORS I covered an interesting new incense Japan Incense had gotten in stock called Kan Ken Koh/Healing. This was an interesting charcoal-based mix of oils packaged in these neat little glass test tubes. As it turns out this incense is part of a series from which Japan Incense has turned up two new ones, Sleep and Breath. With a bit more data one can only come to the conclusion that these are really essential oil mixes rather than what you usually see in traditional Japanese sticks, and almost feel like they could have been targeted at a more new age or even co-op sort of audience. As such, they’re quite different than what you’d normally expect.

Breath lists magnolia kobus, eucalyptus oil, artemesia princeps and borneol as ingredients, with the eucalyptus being the focus. You absolutely get that eucalyptus leaf oil scent from this burn, in fact it’s a bit tea-like in a way and I’d assume the artmesia (mugwort) probably helps get it there as well, moving the overall aroma in an herbaceous direction. The borneol content seems rather small in comparison, hanging just onto the edges and the magnolia seems to be used more to ground this in a friendlier direction rather than being a feature on its own. It’s a neat stick overall because of its herbal qualities and quite natural smelling, definitely recommended for those who enjoy eucalyptus. That tree’s sort of slightly bitter and unique scent has really been given justice by this stick.

Sleep lists cedarwood, chamomile, thyme and hops, something of a very unusual mix I would guess; however, the link between chamomile tea and a bit of drowsiness seems fairly common in US herbal tea culture as well. Overall Sleep isn’t terribly different than Breath but where Breath seemed to have some high resolution oils in the mix, Sleep seems a bit more dialed back, perhaps intentionally. Cedarwood would actually not be the kind of aroma I’d imagine would help me sleep and it’s fairly strong here, but the rest of the herbs seem like they’re pulling it all a bit more in the right direction and it feels like that thyme and hops mix gives the edge of the scent a bit of luster it might otherwise be missing. But of the two in the series this feels less individual and realized than the others in the sense that the other two aromas really pop out at you while this one feels a bit more blended.

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.

Mermade Magickal Arts + Esprit de la Nature / The Mothers – Ancient Winter Remembrance, Emerald Temple – Katlyn’s Kyphi “Green”

So right about when we turned to ORS holiday time, Mermade Magickal Arts went all festive on us and released a bunch of really yummy new treats. I love all of Katlyn’s work but I might have particular favorites in the whole axis of evergreen/green/winter seasonal incenses that she does and so it was impossible for me not to make an order, and then when I got everything wonderful in, I’m like oh my god how do I share what I am experiencing and write about these on holiday time when a lot of Mermade blends rocket out the door in a few weeks time (or sometimes before I can even write anything). Well I’ll give at least these first two a shot, and although this might not be up to usual review standards, for sure these incenses are up to the usual high Mermade (and Esprit de la Nature) standards. These are two really wonderful incenses.

But let’s first start with one that a periodical and greatly admired contributor to the Mermade catalog has created. As many may be aware of, Be en Foret of Esprit de La Nature is also one of the great artists of heatable incense out there and her new blend The Mothers – Ancient Winter Remembrance is an absolute triumph of the style, one of the finest conifer incense blends ever made. I am still marveling over the complexity, beauty and triumph of this stunning incense, it is literally not to be missed. Look at these ingredients: balsam fir (Abies balsamea) bark, needles, resin, extract; Amanita muscaria mushroom; juniper (Juniperus virginiana) berries; spruce (Picea rubra) needles; hemlock (Tsuga canadensis) needles and extract; cedar (Thuja occidentalis) tips; mugwort (Artemisia vulgaris) flowering tops; rosemary (Salvia rosmarinus) leaf extract; tree mosses (Psuedoevernia spp and Usnea spp); pinion pine (Pinus edulis) resin; and poplar (Populus tremoides) buds. All of these ingredients are bound with black elderberries (Sambucus nigra) and homemade hydromel (mead) and mixed with the Amanita muscaria mushrooms.

So the first thing one must look at is that in the overall sense of things we’re usually used to pine scents, perhaps balsamic scents and so forth when we talk about evergreens and conifers. It’s that experience of walking through a forest in cool mountainous air and experiencing the whole unified scent that so many plants combine to create. But there are so many different sorts of plants being used in this one that the aroma becomes so complex it actually starts to become somewhat kyphi-esque in its profile. I mean just sitting here after a second heat and trying to describe everything that goes through my head as I experience this is virtually impossible. First without any listing of something like frankincense, this still has a very resinous scent that one must chalk up to the various tree extracts and materials. The Mothers has a very pleasant, somewhat spicy fruitiness in the mix that is amazingly enjoyable, but this mix isn’t facile, it is deeply complex, aged and beautiful. I smell orange peel and marmalade, caramel, honey and wine, and where Katlyn’s green incenses tend to speak the voice of the Sierra Nevadas with a much greener finish, Be’s has its own unique character that is separate enough that you are likely to find both different species of the same genus. I’m not sure I can speak quite to how something like the amanita speaks through the scent, but the incense does feel like a conglomerate of smaller voices and there is a slightly psychedelic edge on all of this that adds to the choir’s unity. It is that sense of mycorrhizal fungi as a symbiosis of plant and fungi and, as the aroma spreads, human life as well.

Sort of in the reverse (or maybe inverse?) direction of this is Katlyn’s Emerald Temple, a “green” kyphi. One of the reasons I found this fascinating in the description is I sort of imagine kyphis more as brown, purple, or maroon, so I really liked the idea, given Kat’s skill with greeny goodness. The ingredients on this one, always a big list with kyphis, include fir balsam raw resin, green frankincense (Sacra of Oman), copal blanco, fir balsam Absolute, Cedar (Thuja) essential oil, Benzoin Essential oil (molecular distillation), and Chios Mastic. All dusted in green fragrant Arbor vitae (green cedar) powder. I would guess this kyphi is made with the production techniques of the previous kyphi we reviewed. Like some green mixes this also crosses over into lime-like territory, particularly due to the green frankincense and some element of the copal. My grandmother and a few other members of my family used to live in Key Largo for many years and could whip up a great key lime pie, which is what this scent reminds me a lot of with that mix of lime and sweetness. Even something like a lime Jolly Rancher kind of captures that front note. Of course this notable green frankincense note is really just the lead for that typical melange of caramel, wine-like, raisin tinged kyphi base, something that tends to remind me of autumn, except the lime pushes it all into different territory. It’s a nice little divergence from the kyphi norm and a cool little experiment that’s well worth looking into if you like the kyphis that come out of this venerable outfit.

But even as I come to a close here, I really want to remind folks to act fast. I just realized that Katlyn’s stupendously great Lord of the Rings inspired incense Elvish has already gone out of stock, and I can only imagine these two and the wonderful Southern/Central/native American inspired Lucida and the Tibetan inspired Golden Tara are soon to follow. These incenses, as always, show Mermade on the very cutting edge of cross-cultural experimentation with incense scent and culture and I often can not write fast enough to keep up with their demand and in many ways that’s a good thing as it shows their great appeal.

Pure Incense / Bulgarian Rose Masterclass, Saffron & Rose Masterclass, Camphor Masterclass, Connoisseur Laos Agarwood

This (final for now) installment of the most recent Pure Incense 2021 reviews ends up as something of a miscellaneous section, but includes a couple rose incenses.

The first of these is the Bulgarian Rose Masterclass. One might consider this the most high end upgrade of the Connoisseur Rose, even if it is geography specific, as it still has a lot of similarities. This latter formula is one of the incenses that has maybe traveled the most in scent through the years. In many ways any Pure Incense Rose I’ve sampled is still the conglomerate aroma of the rose oil being used along with the vanilla, charcoal and sandalwood of the base, and it can be fairly difficult to comment on the rose perfume being used without being cognizant of how much this base shifts that. In this case the base provides something of a sweet note that certainly cuts in, but I don’t think it obscures the fine delicacy of the rose oil being used here, which has enough resolution to it that it actually starts to resemble the actual scent of roses and not an approximate pitch at a related floral. Before telecommuting I used to work across from the California State capitol park which has a very sizeable rose garden in it and when this thing is in bloom, walking through it is a veritable lesson on what a lot of roses smell like at once. I will say, first, that it’s something of a confirmation that roses may not be my most personal favorite scent even at its most natural so I’m not always the one to give the right take, but I would say the Bulgarian Rose Masterclass comes as close to any natural rose scent as I’ve seen on an incense and that is highly commendable. For one of the few times I’ve ever said this I actually wonder what this oil might smell like without the ever competing vanilla scent and on a more pure charcoal delivery system because it really seems like a fine absolute. But certainly if you love the scent, you will want to check this one out.

The rose is moved to a bit more of a back note with the Triple Saffron and Rose Masterclass. Here the saffron is in charge and it’s a reasonably resolute saffron note with that sort of tangy, spicy-herbal note you tend to find in most saffron incenses. Saffron is of course the stamen of a crocus sativa flower and so even the raw materials tend to break down a huge supply of these flowers into the cooking spice and then one might have some idea at what it would take to turn even that material to an oil, absolute or otherwise, with the expense of such perhaps raising the question to how much real saffron is in this. The rose becomes less resolute in the face of such saffron heft and, as a result, loses some of its clarity to become a complementary note. I do feel with this one that the intensity of the oil does tend to mask the base more so it’s not cutting through as much and it tends to prevent this mix from getting too sweet. There is, fortunately, some level of interplay to the saffron and rose that makes it interesting nonetheless, but I would guess that whether you like this or not entirely depends on how much you like saffron. High end Pure Incenses can be pretty successful with saffron, for instance I very much enjoyed their Saffron & Musk incense, so again this may also be where I sit with rose as described above.

The scent of the Camphor on the Masterclass stick is actually much stronger on the fresh stick than during the burn, which disappointed me a bit because that note is almost exactly what I’m hoping for (camphor is one of those medicinally-related scents that not everyone likes but I most assuredly do). Alit, the vanilla of the base comes through almost shockingly loud and while you think it might create a conflict, once you get used to it it’s actually surprisingly comfortable. At this point the camphor tends to fade back into roughly the same place that it fills in some of the agarwood or oud sticks. There’s some intriguing dryness to this scent as well, almost as if some level of buttery sandalwood also wanted to be part of the profile. Overall though one thing I do like about camphor wood and it’s even true to some extent on a campfire is that kind of weird cooling vibe that it exhibits (I mostly remember using it for cold sores). So while this stick may be much more than the single note itself, it’s a nice stick nonetheless. And it is certainly different enough to feel more like a genuinely unique incense stick than just a variation.

And finally, perhaps circling around to the Oud group in some way, is the Connoisseur Laos Agarwood. There’s some level of similarity to the camphor on the fresh stick but it’s a bit sweeter here and not as pure a note. This is actually quite an intense agarwood, similar to the general Connoisseur but quite a bit denser in aroma. While it’s labelled as an agarwood and not an oud I have to stretch the imagination a bit to even say what the difference could be as this seems like it could fit in with the oud reviews fairly easily. It’s perhaps not as spicy as some of the others, but generally speaking this sort of wood tends to have that element even at its mellowest. Like the Oud Kathmandu, this has some level of actual wood presence in terms of resolution and definition. In fact based on a recent box of the generic Connoissuer Agarwood I’d easily recommend this one over it, perhaps because the oil seems pretty intense. Like most Pure Incenses there’s still some level of vanilla in the base but the oil mix more than makes up for it. In the end I think if you’ve tried any of the ouds I recommended in that review then it depends on how much you like them in terms of whether you want what are essentially variations on a theme, but then again most of the variations are all the kind of incenses that aloeswood lovers are going to go for.

Tibetan Medicine Company of Traditional Tibet College (Tibetan Medical College) / Holy Land, Holy Land Grade 2

The Tibetan Medical College and the Holy Land incense are some of the first Tibetans I tried that were actually from Tibet. Up until this point, the “Tibetan” incense I bought at places like Whole Foods or similar were not from Tibet, but from the Tibetans who fled Tibet during the illegal Chinese Annexation (which happened around the same time as the illegal annexation of Hawaii, which I always found amusing when I saw well-meaning white people with their “Free Tibet” bumper stickers not realizing Hawaii is the same thing, a kingdom where a bigger power deposed the leader and annexed the nation. But enough about the politics of that region, just putting a bit out there for people who still hold a candle for “Free Tibet” can actually bring that sentiment home since we have our own annexed and exploited kingdom.)

As my first foray into real Tibetans, around seven years ago, the only place to get them was Essence of the Ages (now out of business), where reviews from ORS were posted gushing about how awesome these are.

Well, as someone who has kept this in stock constantly and moved from Essence of the Ages to Incense-Traditions back in 2015, I have tracked the quality of this and Tibetan Medical College seems to be fairly stable. I have heard from other reviews of these that people complain about changes to the recipe, but I haven’t actually sensed this. I still had a couple sticks from a 2015 Holy Land purchase that I could compare these to, and other than the older stick being a little softer and muted due to age (and little specks of white that I imagine are mold), it is the same incense.

Starting with Holy Land, this comes in a small little yellow and green box covered in Tibetan script with only the contact information in Roman characters. This is where it started for me, these bamboo-free reddish-brown sticks are thinner than average for Tibetans, and when lit, produce a wonderful medicinal funk. I have heard “barnyard” used to describe the salty, musky scent coming off it but this is not an average barnyard because, to me, the smell of animal waste isn’t a part of this scent. As someone who has spent plenty of time in a “barnyard” setting, I do not detect any of those scents. I think the “barnyard” term comes from people who have never been to a farm because what I get here is more of an animal musk muted and diluted down to “a comfortable animal smell” sort of like how your cat’s bed smells after a few weeks of the cat laying in it, or a dog house after a dog has been in it for a day. With all the talk of animal lets not forget there are some great herbs and woods in here that balance out the musk and turn it into this bewitching scent, of which it is hard to pick out the individual smells because my guess is one of the steps in making this is to macerate the ingredients for a year or two so they all blend.

Additionally, I think that Holy Land has always been very “present” for me, in that whenever I put this scent on in my office, it’s easier for me to stay present and in the moment as if the very scent grounds me into the present. For the 6-7 years I have been burning this, this has been one of my favorites, as long as I keep it in stock it is in high rotation and tends to get busted out in the mornings and evenings as it has that type of ‘framing the day’ vibe to it.

Holy Land Grade 2 is a big surprise. First, I generally tend to think that if something is listed as ‘2’ it is not as good as ‘1’, but in this case, we are given a much longer, thicker stick. These longer sticks are actually muskier and stronger and basically smell like the same recipe just with more intensity because the stick is thicker and longer.

Doing a close side by side, I feel like my initial take on Holy Land 2 was simplistic, there are some differences and if I had to guess, this is made for temple burning for a specific ritual that takes the time it takes for this to burn because it does seem like this tries to fill a lot more space with smell than the grade 1 and the length seems quite specific. I feel like this has a bit more of a salty presence that might mean that there is more sandalwood or similar ingredients, but otherwise, this is really like an extended remix of Holy Land grade 1.

Bhutan Jewel Incense of Bhutan A Traders/Tara Vegetarian Incense

One may remember some months ago our review of the Drichog Chotrin Incense. I will say it is not always easy to figure out what the company or organization behind a Bhutanese incense is actually called, even looking at box, if there’s no Poizokhang involved. The boxes of both this Tara Vegetarian Incense and the Drichog Chotrin say the incense is distributed by Bhutan Jewel Incense of Bhutan A Traders and so this will suffice for now. It should also be noted that like the Drichog Chotrin, the box is designed completely in English as for import purposes. Tara Vegetarian Incense is also indicated as vegan friendly and there seems to be some marketing application involved here, as it often seems like the very existence of a vegetarian incense seems to imply that some range of unnamed incenses actually isn’t. I am not sure if there is the same cultural level magnifying glass on this issue in Bhutan as there is in the US and the west, but there you have it. The ingredients listed on this one are cinnamon, juniper powder, and white and red sandalwood powder and what is perhaps very clear about it is these ingredients are all indeed the main ones you can glean from a burn of this incense. It’s actually quite simple overall with the spice on woods mix and although it’s woody enough to approach the usual high altitude sort of campfire vibe of the juniper, the sandalwood mellows it out a great deal. So in a lot of ways it’s an almost definitive baseline sort of Tibetan stick without a lot of regional herbs and ingredients to complicate it. However, the resolution of the ingredients that are involved make this just a little better than calling it an average Tibetan incense.

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.

« Older entries