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!

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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.

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.

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.

Sanbodhi / Incense Coils: Cold-Dissipation, Heat-Dispelling, Mind Soothing, Spirit Stimulation, Yoga

I have been trying to find other providers of this incense other than Amazon but Amazon seems to be the one bringing this Chinese/Tibetan company to the West. I have known of Sanbodhi for several years, as I keep trying to find more quality Chinese incense makers to showcase and discuss. Initially, I only had access to the Cold-Dispelling coils, which are among some of my favorite Tibetan Style smells. Currently, only a handful of these are left on Amazon but they tend to restock all five flavors so if you don’t see one, definitely check back. If I find a better source that keeps them in stock, I’ll edit this post. Also, as I find more information or even a website for them, I’ll update this post, but for now, Amazon lists them as operating out of China.

The can for Cold-Dissipation (no link due to out of stock) changes color as the first one was blue and the second was red. The incense inside has been the same. This is a formula I’ve encountered in different incense producers, and it often shows up as ‘Medicine Buddha’ or ‘Healing Incense’. It has a salty, woody front that reminds me a bit of a cheap aloeswood or a lower resin content aloeswood. There is a bitter-sweet follow-up of something medicinal, a smell that I recognize from multiple Tibetans, and I have always associated this scent with the ‘Medicine Nectars’ that Bosen lists in their ingredients. The marketing copy suggests that his is good for winter time, reducing the amount of dampness that cold causes (runny noses and phlegm). However that works out, I have always found this a nice cool temperature incense in that it tends to smell better when the temperature is cooler and more ashy and smoky when it’s warmer. As a result, I haven’t burned this as much in Hawaii but I used to burn it year-round in SF.

Heat-Dispelling seems very similar in scent to the Cold-Dissipation coil, but it seems saltier, less sweet with a slight juniper note. This claims to be good for dissipating the heat from summer, for preventing heat stroke and similar overheating types of conditions. As such, I imagined it was better to burn this when it was hot in the middle of the afternoon rather than a cool evening or morning. While I can’t speak much to the medicinal aspect, the smoke does seem ‘cooling’ in the same way mint or menthol can give off that cooling/refreshing feeling. This doesn’t have the same bitter-sweet center and instead it is more woody, reminding me of cedar/juniper blends.

I decided to hold off on reviewing Mind Soothing (no link due to out of stock) because I wanted to try it when things were getting rough. Well, it’s Monday afternoon and this was a particularly rough day with a lot of things breaking. So here I am lighting up the Mind Soothing coil and noting it’s a lot milder than the first two. It has a much more bitter presence, like more of the evergreen/juniper than the previous two and less of whatever the sweeter cedar wood used for the first two. I will say that it is kind of calming, just listening to the coil. I’m not sure if this is a cure-all for the worst day of your life but definitely more like a beer after work. As the wood scent builds up after it is about 20% into it, there is a note that wasn’t there at the start, and it is sort of like a breakfast cereal note. This is more like the smell of the inside of a box of breakfast cereal after you’ve removed the packaging. It’s part cardboard, part something sweet. It isn’t unpleasant, it’s just the closest parallel I could draw to what I’m getting off this note. While this isn’t going to be a strong room-scenting coil, it is definitely a relaxing companion and makes my recommendation list.

I decided to try Spirit Stimulation as a “first cup of the day”, before I have my normal tea. I wanted to see if it indeed stimulated me and got me going. I’m normally a morning person so perhaps this isn’t the best test but I do feel alert and focused. How does it smell? Well, I would say this scent is even milder than the Mind Soothing, so mild that I kept having to leave the room and come back in to really notice the difference because it’s subtle enough to just sort of ‘creep up on you’ and you don’t notice the smell as much because you’re in it. It is less salty and has more of a subtle wooden note with a few herbs. Almost like someone took a piece of pine and set a few aromatics on top of the pine and then it got set next to a old-fashioned steam radiator and the aromatics and wood smell subtly increase. Now I say pine but it is a kind of generic ‘warm wood’ smell as it smells like a sheet of plywood that is sitting in the sun, it doesn’t smell like combusting wood even though it is burning.

Yoga starts out with a much less mild and more spicy scent. I’m reviewing this almost immediately after Spirit Stimulation so compared to the previous, this has far more going for it. There is something like a hint of frankincense like you’d get with a good Lotus Ground. The salty woods are here but they take a back seat to the medicinal-frankincense type note that is in the foreground. The marketing copy on the side of the can says “This incense is prepared according to the Tibetan ancient incense formula to help the concentration in yoga practice. It is also used to relieve fatigue.” I feel like I agree with this statement and that while subtle, it is doing what it is supposed to all while smelling great.

Dimension 5 / Tibet With Love

Somewhere in probably 2007 when I first started writing about incense, I made an order from a company who I won’t name – let’s say I didn’t order from them again – who sent me an unnamed sample or two, one of which my whole brain just leaped on. I never ended up being able to tell if it was a Korean premium or a Baieido incense, but it had a certain woody tang to it that was almost instantly addictive. I feel to some extent that Dimension 5’s Tibet With Love scratches that same itch. [11/17: Oh and here’s the brand new label!]

This little marvel of a stick impressed just on lighting it, I think I probably swore a few times in delight. Where Josh Matthews has created a lot of Japanese-influenced incense sticks, this is the first I’ve tried that is something of a tribute to Tibetan incense, but it turns out to be a whole lot more than that. I find it to be something like an aloeswood-infused hybrid of a mix of styles that reminds me of the Bosen-style Tibetan sticks, Korean incense (particularly this sort of tanginess) and a bit of the Japanese style as well. Josh describes this as “A musky cornucopia of Tibetan-style goodness, exploding off the stick. These sticks are much fatter than my Japanese style incense – but not as fat as many other Tibetan-style incenses.” This is true, the sticks still seem to be thinner than the Bosen style and maybe analagous to some of the Kourindo sticks in thickness (and they’re also a bit longer than the D5 standard at four inches). The ingredients list includes sandalwood, juniper, agarwood, herbs, spices, resins and others. It’s strange for me because where so many of Josh’s sticks are more agarwood heavy and deluxe, this one just scratches so many itches and hits an area where so few have gone before that I think it’s a perfect example of his creativity at work. There are a bazillion things going on it in the sense that you can sense that entire list of ingredients in so many ways, all of the woods are clear (although the agarwood is out in front a bit), the resins nice and fruity and the spices an utterly delight to the senses. I really, really love this one.

It’s worth mentioning that this is on the more affordable side of the D5 incense price spectrum and thus maybe a perfect entry point into checking out the work of this extraordinary artist. You can reach Josh and Dimension 5 Incense for more information as well as the purchase of these and other delectable treats at dimension5incense@gmail.com. More to come as well, thankfully.

Kuengacholing Peozokhang (Gelephu) / Bhutan Incense

It’s funny to me writing up another Bhutanese purple-red stick incense how much I’m starting to warm to these. You kind of want to come from the approach of, well if you know a couple of these you know the style. And you do, there really aren’t a lot of surprises. But it’s such a friendly incense overall, such an accessible one, that variations on it seem to do each example of it favors as well. I’m probably a number of observations from the level of detail where I’ll finally know where I sit in comparison to one another, but not only do I like this style, I particularly like it as a contrast to burning other incenses. Try it after a kyara or an Indian or even another Tibetan.

Anyway I’m not sure exactly what this is called. From the website on the package, the company or monastery (the “peozokhang” if you will) is Kuengacholing, but the large font on here merely says Bhutan Incense. I believe incense-traditions.ca sells this as “Gelephu” (Gelephu is a Nepalese town, so I’m not sure it’s really the name of the incense. It will work for purposes of this review but there may be no actual name.) and this seems the best way to identify it, it just doesn’t particularly stand out on the packaging. Major ingredients include juniper, rhododendron, cinnamon, clove and nutmeg (I’m surprised they didn’t include sandalwood because it’s usually on a list and it’s obviously in this one). That berry-like juniper sweetness is really the incense’s main note, but I like the way the rhododendron weaves its way through a bit like a tobacco note or something, it gives it a slight touch of wildness to it. The spice mix is there too, not particularly loud but blended just right. If Lhawang Driden is one of the deeper Bhutanese incenses, then Gelephu might be something of a lighter, higher mood example of the style. It’s not at all lacking in depth, but the musk in this is probably at its lightest and so it forgoes any density for a bit of an airier scent. It’s quite well-balanced and I find it really uplifting as well. A splendid example of a Butanese incense and very affordable too.

Mermade Magickal Arts/Faunus, Sandalwood Dragon, High Desert Incense

Faunus is what appears to be a variation on Mermade’s classic Wild Wood formula. I have waxed frequently about how much I love Mermade’s forest blends, in fact over the years I tend to have the last 2 or 3 vintages still going in the collection and they are always a treat. This one seems to highlight fir balsam and cedar tips. For my nose, there’s something of a difference when balsam is used as it usually isn’t quite as piquant or strong as resins and so it has created a slightly quieter incense than one might expect from Wild Wood. I very much enjoy these slight variations, not just because the scents have a specific range of variation (since they essentially all belong to an evergreen family) but because new variations highlight specific ingredients and help you learn more about them. For me this just shows greater maturity in the work, which often tends to be just to show how much better the resolution is of the spirit of the plants being used. So you move from just experiencing a forest scent to actually experiencing the scent of each tree as a separate entity before the mix happens. Also, this one is interesting in that it seems to be aimed at a more summery scent, when I tend to personally associate these incenses with the cooler seasons. Needless to say newcomers to Mermade are advised to grab the latest of this type of mix when grabbing a heater.

While Sandalwood Dragon implies its main ingredient in its name, the mixture of frankincense and myrrh resins along with camphor really impart as much of the overall scent as the sandalwood, which really works around the edges and compliments the center more. This has a very lime/citrus aroma to it and is quite invigorating. I’ve loved the scent of camphor since I was a child and it’s in a nicely mellow form here, kind of like the glow on top. As I mentioned in the previous round up that it’s often tough to keep up with a reviews as this one has ticked down to “one left.” So I hope this isn’t the last we see of it, as I really like the way the ingredients compliment and accent the more crystalline elements of sandalwood.

While we don’t usually review raw materials at ORS, I’ll make it known that I usually grab a bit of frankincense or some other gem when shopping at Mermade, as not only does Katlyn provide a number of different kinds of frankincense, with wonderful variants, there are a lot of other neat treats to find as well. Some times she blends these resins and raw materials into more simple mixes, such as the well-named High Desert Incense. I’ll just quote the ingredients: “Pebbles of Copal Blanco, Aleppo Pine, Pinon Pine, and Maydi Frankincense soaked in Essential oils of Cedar, Fir, and Pine and dusted with Red Cedar and Juniper powdered wood.” This mix of materials really gives this one a bit of a southwestern feel, with the frankincense taking a bit of a back seat to the copal and pine. It has been resolved so the woodier smells that coat the resin really come out in the mix, the final adjustment that really provides the evocation of the desert. It seems like a perfect incense for the summer.

Ap Sonam Tashi/Bhutan Jewel Incense: The Lost Fragrance of the Mountain Gods

I wanted to talk about Bhutanese incense for a bit. While of course there’s some overlap with Tibetan incenses due to the monasteries, Bhutanese incense commonly falls into what are essentially pink, red or slightly purple sticks that are all created largely similarly. Most stick incenses from Bhutan fall in this category and I would guess Nado incenses are probably the brand most people are familiar with. I don’t tend to see a huge variation in this theme. These sticks are created for a bit more durability than you see in many Tibetan sticks. They’re much harder to break, have a higher tensile strength, and tend to thickness. They’re also very blended in the sense that individual components are much harder to pick out from the overall scent. To my nose Bhutanese incenses tend to be a bit higher in resinous content than most Tibetan sticks, frankincense in particular seems to be a dominant note. These sticks can not only be fruity but they’re a bit berry like, likely from the juniper content which often tends to be the incense’s top ingredient. There’s certainly a lot of wood, herbs and spices in them but my general feeling is the ingredient list tends to be large enough to mix into a more homogenous whole. The difference between variant Bhutanese sticks then tends to be how deep the aroma is, whether it’s a sort of general theme or whether the more variant notes pop through a little more.

To that end, “The Lost Fragrance of the Mountain Gods” seems to be a pretty solid entry into this field and one that appears to be aimed at the English market. So in this case we can find out the incense also contains giwang (bezoar) (this appears to be something of a medicinal/herbal mix), clove, musk, nutmeg and saffron as well, most of which are also quite common in all Tibetan and Bhutanese incenses. In fact it has been impressed upon me quite frequently of late how much of a player saffron tends to be in these blends, it often seems to be what imparts a floral note to the top end which mixes nicely with the musk note. This incense is probably not quite as resinous as other Bhutanese, but I personally prefer that as it lets the woodiness out a bit. Overall, this is not a bad place to start overall if you want a good example of the style.

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