Lamb’s Breath Incense by Aluwwah

When I think of lambs I think of sweet, gentle, soft, unhurried animals with fleecy white coats, kind, dark eyes and moist, glistening noses. They are small yet sturdy, soft and tractable, fluffy yet compact and very content and sociable. Aluwwah’s Lamb’s Breath incense has many of the same traits. It’s sweet and warm and makes me want to bury my nose in it’s deep, floeuve-y fuzziness. It exudes a moist thickness that feels very embracing and cuddly, and a strong ambery goldeness makes it smell as though it glows. The thing that gets me most, though, is that it’s an unusual blend- I’ve never smelled anything quite like it. It’s sweet without being cloying, resinous without being sticky and spicy without being sharp. It’s a balanced blend of florals, woods, earth and spices- one in which each note retains it’s unique identity yet the blend is far more than a sum of its ingredients.
Smelling this comfy blend makes me feel very relaxed so I’m going to guess it contains a high grade of sandalwood; vanilla may account for a portion of its sweetness; a downy, powdery fluffiness could be musk, and a sweet, dry spiciness, (patchouli?), makes the herbal aspect seem alive and vital. I smell an almost mineral, metallic zinginess that’s so shimmery it’s fizzy. A rich moistness and licorice-y succulence make me think of toffee-colored tobacco leaves that are juicy and squeezable, and an elusive floral delicacy brings to mind a newly-formed blossom opening its first, pristine petals . The earthy scent of henna completes the composition and a cedar-like dryness prevents it from ever becoming overpowering or heavy.
Aluwaah’s Lamb’s Breath would be a lovely compliment to a bowl filled with pomanders, or an arrangement of pine boughs and bayberries. Grab a glass of mulled wine, flock around the hearth and light up some Lamb’s Breath to usher in the New Year! May each of you have a Happy and Dream-fulfilling 2012, replete with much joy, love, beauty, hope and, of course, many intoxicating moments adrift in your favorite incenses and perfumes!

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Shroff Channabasappa / Dry Masala / Bakhoor, Basil Amber, Cedar, Chypre, Kapoor Kacheri

Shroff Channabasappa Part 1
Shroff Channabasappa Part 2
Shroff Channabasappa Part 3
Shroff Channabasappa Part 4
Shroff Channabasappa Part 5
Shroff Channabasappa Part 6
Shroff Channabasappa Part 7
Shroff Channabasappa Part 8
Shroff Channabasappa Part 9
Shroff Channabasappa Part 10
Shroff Channabasappa Part 11
Shroff Channabasappa Part 12
Shroff Channabasappa Part 13

It can’t be a secret how much I love the incense from Shroff Channabasappa, but it was in this batch (which will cover the next three installments) where the company has made some serious missteps in what they’ve been deciding to import (they’ve of course made up for this in the last two waves of wet and semidry masalas). In fact many of the larger packages of these incenses have already been cut to move and there’s good reason for it.

I find the sorting schematic for Shroff to generally be problematic, because even though all of these are listed under dry masalas, Bakhoor is a charcoal and most of the rest of this group aren’t nearly as perfumed or intense as most of the other incenses in the same grouping. Bakhoor means well but doesn’t perform well at all, almost entirely due to the charcoal base, which seems to be more offputting than usual for the style. It’s slightly thicker than these sticks usually are and as such it puts out an almost suffocating level of smoke, a level where it would be difficult for any aroma to fight over. You would think Shroff’s perfuming skills would help matters, but unfortunately this ends up being more reminiscent of synthetic perfume oils on cheap bakhoors (although to be fair there are a lot of true bakhoors like this) than deep oud woods or amber. Some of the elements here might have worked better with some adjustment but without an aggressive base, the charcoal ends up taking its place, something you don’t want. The results ring hollow, a sort of pseudo-bakhoor scent with weird citrus subnotes around the edges.

The basil (or tulsi) oil in the Basil Amber is quite nice, it brings out its vivacious green qualities, but the overall incense is a stranger fit. The base stick is sort of vaguely reminiscent of one of the other Shroff ambers, but only their least desirable qualities come out underneath the basil oil onslaught. There’s a bit of sandalwood or benzoin that gives the middle a weakness since it doesn’t seem to merge with the perfume. It’s almost worth owning if you really need a basil in your mix, but as an incense it’s mediocre.

Althought it’s hard to get excited about another Cedar incense, at least with this version we’re getting a new take. The qualities here are high altitude and evergreen, rather than the sweet Madhavadas style masalas. This brings it a bit closer in style to something Tibetan. Its slightly pungent in the end and feels perhaps as authentic as you’d hope, but it’s inevitable campfire associations will be evoked.

Of this batch, the Chypre is probably the most successful, possibly because it’s more akin to the original Shroff releases in terms of perfume intensity. In fact the closest previous Shroff to this style is the Parrot Green Durbar, sweet, sour and citrus, with a nice bit of breadth to it. I’ve found a lot of the sticks faulty in my batch, however, many of them going out at least once in the first inch and some going out later. But it’s essentially a unique enough aroma (it’s much more balanced then the PGD) to be worth checking out, however, it seems pretty obvious this is new enough that not everyone will like it.

The Kapoor Kacheri is a perfect example of how I feel like much of this batch was Shroff getting rid of cheap materials. It’s an extremely dull masala with a very basic campfire/wood scent that does little to distinguish itself from, say, natural masalas. It smells a lot like leaves burning and seems hastily thrown together.

The thrashing continues next installment…

Nitiraj / Color Aromatherapy Nag Champas / Black, Blue, Green, Gold, Orange, Purple, Red

This line up of Nitirag nag champa incenses seems to be one of the few remaining sublines in their catalog. There are seven aromas, undoubtedly to match up with the chakras, and they’re all created to represent a color in scent (there are no artificial colors on the incenses themselves). The entire line is more or less saddled with a lack of distinction in the same way so much of the Shrinivas line is, lots of aromas that only change  things to slight degrees.

Nitiraj’s Black Nag Champa for meditation lists sandalwood, vanilla and floral oils, which unfortunately doesn’t tell you much. And why would it? Everything is slightly tweaked here from the generic Nag Champa scent, especially the spicy middle and floral top notes, all of which are just gently different. The variation is quite nice, not up to the Shroff and Dhuni quality you’re seeing these days, but not poor either. It actually reminds me a little of the base that is part of the Nikhil flavored champas.

The Blue Nag Champa is for relaxation and contains rose, jasmine and sandalwood, making this somewhat similar to the Shrinivas “Valley of the Roses” incense. Like that incense the floral oils have an almost chemical-like scent and there’s no hint of true rose and very little jasmine. Unfortunately most floral champas don’t work out too well due to the avoidance of expensive ingredients and this is little different. There’s too much of a furniture polish thing going on here.

The Green Nag Champa is about balance and includes citrus oils with garden flowers and sandalwood. It’s quite nice, sandalwood heavy, with the citrus and flowers mixing in nicely and giving the entire incense an uplifting feel. The citrus oils in particular enhance the sense of freshness, strangely, in a way the Blue totally failed to accomplish. And most importantly, everything feels real with no off notes.

Wisdom is the theme of the Gold Nag Champa and the incense includes amber, jasmine and sandalwood. This champa is nice and hevay in the amber department, which gives the whole champa scent a totally different feel. The amber champas found in other lines are similar in style, but the jasmine really pops nicely in the mix (although a better jasmine oil might have made this a classic). Definitely one of this line’s best incenses, no surprise it gets the gold spot.

The Orange Nag Champa aims to evoke happiness and includes sweet woods and spices. It’s another semi-sweet champa, not terribly far from the Green if it had no citrus oils. Because of the lack of flashy ingredients, this also is still within the more specific nag champa aroma. It’s gentle, which is nice, but it doesn’t really have much in the way of a personality. There are Mother’s incenses that do this kind of thing much better, let alone Shroff’s Little Woods.

The Purple Nag Champa has a prayer theme and includes forest herbs and flowers. Another extraordinarily foofy, sweet nag champa, this one is mildly evocative of the sweetness of Honey Dust or Vanilla. Like with some of the other incenses in this line, it lacks a certain personality, althought it does seem to capture its color in a way the others don’t so much. Then again it doesn’t strike me as foresty in any way. Not much more to say, it reminds me of a forgettable Shrinivas offering.

Finally we have energy in the way of the Red Nag Champa which features exotic oils and sweet tropical fruits. At least in Red’s case we have a bit of vigor, probably due to the fruit oil mix (memories of Ajaro or Aastha from the Satya line come up here). But overall, we have the same issues, slightly weak and multiple ingredients combining for mild and unsuggestive aromas. This has sort of a champa mixed with a mild fruitiness that has little definition. It’s not unpleasant, but this just pales next to better incense.

There’s one more Nitiraj line, Masterpiece, although I believe this line may be on the way to deletion. But better than all of these, at least slightly, is Nitiraj’s gigantic Atmosphere brand which as a whole is a little more deluxe than the actual Nitiraj lines. Again, it’s worth keeping in mind that even when I’m positive about the incenses above, this is in no way to indicate these incenses are on the same level as the Mother’s champas, Shroff, Dhuni, Happy Hari etc.

Natural Arogya Dhoop Incense/Bodhisatwo, Karmayogi, Mahadhup, Meditative, Vaidhyaraj

There isn’t a company associated with these five incenses that’s on the wrapper, but each has a full name that goes Natural Arogya-xxx Dhoop Incense, with each of the five specific names going where the xs go. These are fairly common Nepali blends you’ll likely find at most incense outlets, all of them packaged in paper wrappers and like most common Nepali blends, most of these really aren’t worth the cedarwood chips in the base.

One thing I’ve noticed really frequently when it comes to many inexpensive Nepali incenses is just how many ingredients can add up to zero. All of these incenses have long lists of ingredients, but when the full list really only makes up a small spot on the roster next to filler and binder wood, the list starts to feel less than trustworthy. It does me little good to know, for instance, if there’s agarwood or sandalwood in the incense if the quantity is microscopic. It’s almost like someone telling you they’re friends with a famous celebrity only to realize they just waved at them at an airport.

The first of these incenses, Natural Arogya-Bodhisatwo Dhoop Incense, smells of pencil shavings and juniper with a sour or bitter tang in the mix. Naturally, the list of ingredients includes solukhumbu, gosaikund, himla, jimla & mustang along with haro, barro, aguri, krishagur, gokul (one of the few I recognized), cinnamon and others. A teaspoon of sugar in a cup of coffee makes a difference, but that same teaspoon in a swimming pool full of coffee isn’t going to make much of an impression. None of the ingredients in the list do anything to distract you from the cheap, irritating smell. The list, however, does make me curious as to what it would smell like to burn a pencil fire.

Natural Arogya-Karmayogi Dhoop Incense is a resin heavy Tibetan stick in a style you’ll come across in other Nepali lines. I’m assuming from the ingredients most of what I’m smelling is the saldhup embedded in the red and white sandalwood mix. The somewhat marshmallow-like astasugandha is also fairly prominent, helping to give it some herbal depth. This isn’t a rare scent overall, but it’s one I usually like and so I’ve always considered this the best in this group. This is largely because the resins have the presence to make you forget about the binder wood, and not so much a judgment of its quality, which is still relatively low.

Natural Arogya-Mahadhup Incense (see how they did that?) lists sandalwood, gurgum, sunpati, jattamansi, rupkeshar, and dhupi. The jattamansi is fairly noticeable as the soft element in the front, to help make the overall bouquet somewhere between floral and woody, but this is largely because the florals are competing with the cheap woods dominating the whole stick. At least in this case the woods give off a little bit more than pencil shavings with some hints of Himalayan evergreen, but overall the incense still lacks too much personality.

The Natural Arogya-Meditative Dhoop Incense lists sugandhabal, bakchi, kut, ambergris, cloves, and cardomom, all of which seem to promise a rather excellent incense. The intensity of this stick lies somewhere between the Bodhisatwo/Mahadhup and the Karmayogi, in fact it shares a certain swankiness with the latter. It has a nice spiciness in the middle, a combination not very far from Mandala Trading’s Tibetan Monastery incense. This is a good example of where ingredients can transcend the base and not make you feel like you’re burning cheap stuff (relatively speaking). This has a nice clove burn to it and a genuine firey atmosphere I quite like.

The ingredients for Natural Aroga-Vajdhyaraj Dhoop Incense include kapur, dhupi, kumkum, saffron, nutmeg, and cinnamon. The black color of the stick makes me wonder if this is an Agar 31 attempt, but again, like with the Karmayogi and Meditative, the herbs are pretty swanky. Here you get that with the wood center, and the reuslts will remind most of tires and campfire wood. This is a good example, I think, of how certain Tibetan herbs aren’t likely to go down as aromatics with most westerners. And after so many sticks, this is one I feel like I can do without. The only ingredient that really comes out for me is the nutmeg.

Overall this is more or less your standard Nepali line, almost typical of what you’d get from a surface overview of the style. Like many inexpensive Tibetan incenses, these are heavy in cheap materials and rarely reach the promise found in their ingredient lists. Both the Karmayogi and Meditative will do in a pinch, but generally speaking you’ll find better incense elsewhere.

Shroff Channabasappa / Wet Masala / Darshan, Drona, Little Woods, Nag Champa

Shroff Channabasappa Part 1
Shroff Channabasappa Part 2
Shroff Channabasappa Part 3
Shroff Channabasappa Part 4
Shroff Channabasappa Part 5
Shroff Channabasappa Part 6
Shroff Channabasappa Part 7
Shroff Channabasappa Part 8
Shroff Channabasappa Part 9
Shroff Channabasappa Part 10
Shroff Channabasappa Part 11

There are probably enough comments on Shroff’s last batch of wet masala incenses in various threads on ORS that reviews at this point are near redundant. This is partially because this batch is easily one of the best to be imported to the United States in years (perhaps only the batch with Pearl, Jungle Prince et al was more celebrated). In terms of quality to cost ratio, you may not find better incense out there.

Previously there were only two wet masalas, French Musk and Saffron. I think the French Musk probably fits better in style with the group represented by Pearl, Jungle Prince et al, which leaves Saffron as the best comparison for the new batch. However these don’t strike me as wet masalas in the same way the old halmaddi-rich champas did, they’re not particularly gooey or easy to pull apart. But they’re all very rich, powerful and high quality scents based on some combinations that you might not have come across before.

Fresh on the stick, Darshan is redolent of candy green spearmint and you’ll need to like that to like this incense. The other ingredient here listed is musk with citrus, but there aren’t any really overt citrus elements that come to my mind, such as lemon or orange. What happens is that the mint and musk end up combining with the sugar and spice base to give off an aroma not far off from baking Christmas cookies. There’s even an unusual caramel note in the mix that helps to increase its sweetness. If you’ve familiar with past spice champas (the one that comes to mind is the long, sadly deleted Blue Pearl Spice Champa) you’ll have the general idea, but the spearmint really makes this a one of a kind stick. I find it particularly impressive because mint oils are often powerful enough to overpower most other notes in an aroma, so the balance struck here is clearly the work of a very impressive recipe. I fell in love with this one instantly and never grow tired of it. I’m likely approaching 100g already burned already.

Drona could be the weakest of this new group of eight, but relatively speaking that still puts it way above the incenses in recent reviews like Nitiraj or Sarathi. The ingredients here are musk, sandalwood and vetivert, however only the musk strikes me as particularly obvious and you can definitely compare this incense in part to Shroff’s French Musk. It ends up being a little on the generic champa side and shares the caramel notes of the Darshan, but other than the slight vetivert teases along the outside, no other element in the incense is any louder. The aroma ends up being kind of light and fluffy, with slight touches of vanilla and cocoa powder, but unfortuantely it doesn’t really have much of a hook or personality to sell itself. One might think of a mild nougat scent, slightly creamy, even certain latte types are reminiscent.

Little Woods is quite simply one of those incenses ORS was created to tell people about, it’s a triumph on every level, simply one of the very best incenses you can buy at its price level. The ingredients here, perhaps confusingly, are listed as fouger, oriental, rose and ambery sandal. The former element appears to be particularly important, and rather than describe it myself, I’ll just send you here. Of course any really classic incense is going to have a blend so perfectly balanced that to break it down would be difficult, and that couldn’t be more true for Little Woods. I find some similarity between this and N Ranga Rao’s woods, particularly the way certain wood subnotes merge with almost citrus-like evergreen touches on the top, but that’s as far as the comparison goes, because the perfume on Little Woods is much richer. But part of why such a strong perfume works is because it’s grounded in a superior base, with a mix of floral notes, leather and spice tea. In fact even well in excess of 100g burned, I still notice new elements of the incense, in fact I’m sitting here now going, yeah I think I get some of that ambery sandal too. Anyway, essential. In caps and boldface.

Shroff’s Nag Champa is interesting because it came out so close to the Dhuni version with so many similarities that they’re worth comparing, however Dhuni’s own brand has actually improved and changed enough that newer versions probably aren’t so comparable. Anyway Shroff’s entry is very traditional, almost definitive in some ways, although like Dhuni it’s a bit thicker than what you’ll find from Satya, Shantimalai etc. In fact the red box is probably a good comparison, but Shroff’s Nag Champa  is not as close to that as Happy Hari’s Gold Nag Champa because it’s so much drier. Shroff’s version also, unsurprisingly, bears the hallmarks of their brilliant perfuming skills, but it’s to the point that you end up thinking most of the aroma is carried by it, and let’s face it, a nag champa entirely succeeds or fails on its base. I do have to admit, I’m actually starting to get worn out by nag champas, largely because outside of Dhuni, I’ve yet to see any that haven’t managed to disguise off base notes or even sometimes the bamboo stick and while Shroff’s version manages to be really clever with the gentle plumeria-like scent on top, you need a much more resonant base to make me forget the formula is still missing something it used to have. On the other hand, I do think the Shroff version gets the scent to affordability ratio down perhaps better than any other version, so if you’re a fan looking to get away from Satya, this will be a good choice.

Next up: Ruby, Shanti, Shran, Super Star…

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

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.

Nitiraj / Classic / Amber, Divine, Frankincense, Musk, Myrrh, Nagchampa, Rajchampa, Sandalwood

NOTE: This line has been discontinued

Nitiraj is an incense company with a very expansive catalog, not only do they have several lines under their own imprint, but they’re also responsible for the large Atmosphere series of incenses. Like Shrinivas Sugandhalaya, Nitiraj isn’t really producing high quality incense, it’s more as if they’re covering the inexpensive, passable midrange of Indian incense. For example if you were to take a number of Nitiraj champas and mixed them in with the Atmosphere range, I think it would be very difficult to tell some of the incenses apart. This is the same issue with Satya incenses, the recipe changes have led to many of their incenses losing distinct personalities. In fact I think it’s instructive to take a Nitiraj or Satya stick and compare them next to something from Shroff or Dhuni.

Nitiraj’s Classic line is akin to something like Triloka’s main range or in some cases Madhavadas/Primo. What you’re basically getting are average examples of all the sort of standard incenses you’ll find in many common Indian incense ranges. Here you get the pink amber style, a flora, several masalas and a couple of champas, but unfortunate most, if not all of these fall under standard quality. I’m not sure if my packages are just too old at this point (it does seem, for instance, that the Atmosphere range is superior), but there’s not really a lot to be impressed with here so keep that in mind if you want to keep reading.

It’s rare to find a bad Amber incense, but Nitiraj have managed one, although in this case it’s because the scent is far more like some horrible synthetic floral than anything remotely resembling an amber. At the light it just smacks you with shallow bitterness and a number of off basal subnotes. In many ways this stick is a picture perfect example of why ORS exists, so you can be pointed to alternatives for this kind of thing (in this case almost anything else with the amber label on it). Your incense should not have to smell like a chem lab accident.

Divine is Nitiraj’s Sai Flora equivalent, but with a bit of glitter in the stick and a much flatter scent. The brassiness you’ll find in Sai Flora overtakes the base too much and very little of the earthy, almost manure-like undertones exist in the Divine, which isn’t actually a good thing in that it leaves the result too generic. Maybe it’s because I’ve been burning better fluxos and floras, but this is way too much of a one-note incense to be comfortable in this thick stick category. Divine isn’t as bad as the Amber, but since Sai Flora, Mystic Temple Golden Champa and many others are so much better, there’s no point in this version. An incense that reminds you of better versions isn’t really what you want.

Nitiraj’s Frankincense is as strange and offputting as the amber, as far from the Madhavadas frankincense style as it is from real frankincense. It seems to have a more “resin blend” smell, rather than resembling pure frankincense and as such it seems like there’s enough benzoin in the mix to make it church blend like. But despite it’s individuality, Nitiraj Frankincense just doesn’t measure up to any other Indian frankincense I can think of.

Nitiraj’s Musk is a reasonable herbal masala musk, obviously trying to imitate the French musk scent and at least creating the imitation without any overt unpleasantness. But we’re also so far from the real thing that it suffers from the comparison. It actually reminds me a little of the NK aloeswood sticks, but with sandalwood mixed in instead.

The Myrrh is a brutally bad, sour and perfumed incense that doesn’t smell as much like myrrh as it does some sort of industrial gravel mix. This is the type of incense that gives the whole paradigm a bad name, I’d be surprised to hear anyone find this even remotely pleasant. It’s hard to imagine the quality department signing off on this.

Nitiraj’s Nagchampa will remind you pretty quickly of what the blue box Satya version turned into over the last decade and is very typical of what the modern scent was like until some of the newer premium outfits started restoring the incense’s reputation. Without halmaddi (or with very little of it) the bouquet has to be largely carried by the base. However, this isn’t particularly terrible, but only if you don’t compare it to the versions on the market now, which show this up for its lack of authenticity.

The Rajchampa doesn’t resemble most champas of any kind, it’s a masala with a tatty kind of perfume oil, a mix of Chandan sandalwood and an odd floral/orange-ish mix. It blares its message a bit loud and doesn’t do it with any sort of real quality, so its bouquet seems kind of cheap. It’s not on the bottom rung like the Myrrh, but it’s not one you’d run out for either.

Like the amber and frankincense, Nitiraj Sandalwood is both totally and not so totally reminiscent of the Madhavadas family version. What I mean by this is it seems the construction of the incense is similar (such as the base), but the directions they go are very different. Like the Madhavadas sandalwoods, this is a highly perfumed masala, but it doesn’t share the same vanilla and buttery sandalwood overtones (which is actually a good thing in my book). Stickwise it seems to be a bit loud and the overall bouquet belies the complexity of the wood, but essentially it’s a passable version.

Fortunately at this point, I can at least say I’ve covered Nitiraj’s least impressive line and while there’s no drastic improvement in the other ranges, at least in nearly all cases everything left over is champa style. The next batch will be Nitiraj’s line of color/aromatherapy scents. Essence of the Ages has confirmed for me that this range has been discontinued, but it seems most of these incenses are still available if you look around (including a few at discount prices at Essence).

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

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!

March 2011 Top 10

  1. Shroff Channabasappa/Wet Masala/Little Woods – Quite  simply this is one of the best Indian incenses you can buy. I think I’ve lost count how many sticks I’ve gone through at this point, there have been times where I’ll just burn one after the other. In fact I’ve been meaning to get to this latest and finest batch from Shroff, but haven’t found the time yet, but this one is described as containing fouger, rose, ambery sandal and oriental scents. It strikes a balance I can barely describe, but has an oil mix that’s extremely addictive.
  2. Shroff Channabasappa/Wet Masala/Darshan – This spearmint fronted work of magic could be interchangeable with Little Woods, as I’ve burned nearly as many sticks of this. This is an Indian incense I think almost everyone will like, it’s redolent of minty, spice cookies and very friendly.
  3. Kyukyodo/Musashino – Kyukyodo have a kyara and it’s a lot different from the dark and resinous kyaras you’ll find in, say, Shoyeido’s stable. In fact the first time I tried a stick it was difficult to describe because it has a lot of similarities with other Kyukyodo green sticks (Denpo for example) in that it’s kind of light and foresty. But once you get used to it and the green kyara note comes through, it becomes breathtaking. Like most kyaras it’s an expensive buy (given other Kyukyodo prices, my guess this would run $350 or so at 20 sticks if it was imported here) but in this case there’s really no other kyara like it.
  4. Meena Supreme – There’s an up and coming new company in Britain who’s set forth trying to import some incenses not generally seen outside of India and Meena Supreme was the first one (a more indepth review is forthcoming) I received. This was described to me with a hail of superlatives and has managed to live up to most of them. It’s a fluxo style incense, very thick and smokey with some earthiness in the background making it somewhat akin to Sai Flora. Quite frankly I’d have trouble describing the aroma even after going through two boxes of it, except to say it’s extremely addictive.
  5. Dhuni/Kashi (new version) – I’m not sure what’s going on in the Dhuni labs of late, but their latest care package was absolutely astounding despite there only being one true new scent. What else arrived was improved versions of three of their incenses. The new Kashi seems to increase the thickness and richness of the sticks. If you’ve ever tried Honey Dust or Vanilla or Satya Natural then you’ll know this scent, but I guarantee you’ve never smelled it at this level of luxuriousness. For me, it rejuvenated a scent I think I’d grown rather tired of.
  6. Dhuni/Special Amber (new) – The one stick sample of this I received is possibly the largest stick of Indian incense I’ve ever encountered, in fact I wondered if I could use it to defend myself. And bigger is better is definitely the case with this new version which seems to increase the content of the fine amber resins being used because at times this stick is like burning a fine resin mix, very sublime and much more balanced and measured than the original version (which was pretty great in its own right as it was). This is definitely one I’ll want to restock.
  7. Kyukyodo/Murasakino – It’s difficult to tell for sure, but other than the Musashino above, I’d probably put Murasakino at the top of the premium Kyukyodo aloeswood list. It comes in a variety of different boxes and packages but the silk roll in pawlonia box is probably the standard version. This is a potent, green aloeswood with that wonderful sharp acridity good wood always brings. And unlike Haru-no-yama, this is different enough from the Sho-Ran-Ko to make it feel not too duplicative.
  8. Dhuni/Khus – Much thanks to the Dhuni group for stocking me up on this utterly fine and fantastic vetivert champa. I had left a stick of this burning upstairs last night and remember just how incredible the aroma it left. Vetivert is often described as cooling, which isn’t something I always pick up in incenses it contains, but this one has absolutely nailed that vibe. This one’s an essential.
  9. Shroff Channabasappa/Ruby – I’m a little slower burning this one because I haven’t nabbed a 100g box yet and it took me a few sticks, but when it comes to the red colored, floral/rose type of champa, this one is the supreme version by a long way with a perfume intensity that’s unusual for this style. Very well rounded and gorgeous.
  10. Tibetan Medical College/Holy Land – What can I say that I already haven’t on this one. Still a staple around here and just polished off another box (third maybe?). In a class of its own.

Dhuni / Citronella, Hari Om, Kashi, Khus, Lotus Flower, Moksha, Nag Champa, Special Amber

New incense company Dhuni came to our attention a while back thanks to our friend Hamid and then not long after the owner Piers dropped by Olfactory Rescue Service and kindly sent some samples along. What was immediately clear is that this series of incenses is one of the few lines in Indian incense one might consider connoisseur or gourmet. Like with the Mother’s India Fragrances line we recently covered, most of the Dhuni incenses have a distinct halmaddi presence, although I don’t detect so much the honey pairing as not all of these scents are sweet.

The sticks are generally a bit larger than your usual champa or durbar style and both Kashi and especially the Special Amber are almost what I’d call flora style and even evince some of the wonderful aromatic attributes of those incenses. These are all extremely rich and quality scents and I have the distinct wish, like I did when Mother’s used to only have five fragrances, that there are plans to expand this line. Like that venerable company, Dhuni’s incenses are virtually at the apex of quality Indian incenses and are essential for those who love good champas.

Citronella could almost be classified as a lemongrass champa, with the citronella oil content combining about equally with the halmaddi and base. It’s a very cooling incense with few surprises, after all citronella oil tends to have a very linear profile. What’s immediately noticeable is there’s enough halmaddi in the mix to feature a very strong balsamic back note. I’ll admit, I’m not personally huge for citronella incenses, but my experiences have almost all been with oil based charcoals and Dhuni’s version is far superior to any of these with a much better balance of base and oils. In the end it might be the finest citronella incense you can buy.

Hari Om is the first of Dhuni’s classics and the first of several here that remind me of the glory days of halmaddi champa incense. Like several of the blends here there are usually so many ingredients involved that it’s really difficult to get a sense of the single elements involved. With Hari Om the halmaddi and sandalwood are particularly noticeable here and there’s also a nice tough of vanilla in the mix reminiscent of Mystic Temple’s Vanilla Amber Champa. But this vanilla element takes a much different direction due to so many of the herbal elements coming from the oil mix, including what seems like a light touch of patchouli in the mix. In the end this has a scent profile much more complex than a few sticks might be able to imply meaning this should have a long and interesting learning curve.

Kashi is very much a thick stick version of a scent you may be familiar with as Honey Dust (Incense from India), Vanilla (Mystic Temple), Satya Natural or Shanti (Purelands), but this is much more like what the aroma used to smell like before Indian incense went through so many ingredient changes. It’s quite a bit more complex and now it’s pretty easy to see how the halmaddi lifts the whole thing, most likely because the balsamic elements help to make sure this doesn’t get overly cloying. This evergreenish quality, like in the Citronella, helps to make this a cooling sort of incense. It still has the honey and vanilla characteristics typical of the scent but the whole profile feels much more balanced and friendly. If you’ve never tried any of the incenses mentioned as similar, be sure to start with this one and don’t look back.

Vetivert isn’t generally a scent you’ll find in an incense range this small, but Dhuni’s Khus embeds this wonderful scent in a champa for startling effect, in fact this could be my favorite of the whole group. I’ve already mentioned that both Citronella and Kashi are cooling, but the Khus brings that element to an almost arctic level. Naturally this has a green, leafy and calming vetivert note on top that’s really beautiful and it melds absolutely perfectly here with the ubiquitous balsamic halmaddi content. It’s a very grounding incense and truly one of the market’s finest vetiverts, although I suppose half of the battle is won with such a great base. There’s even a very slight note that is reminiscent of forest resin blends.

Lotus Flower is a very different incense and like almost every Lotus incense you can name, this is completely unique. It’s a soft floral-fronted champa incense whose base seems to be fairly similar to the Kashi. In general it’s soft, sweet and friendly and if there’s any criticism to be had it’s that over the burn there’s perhaps too much linearity which leads me to believe it’s a stick best taken in smaller doses. This is a fairly common issue with floral champas, although again, the ingredients here are so quality that it’s probably only an issue of taste.

Moksha isn’t terribly different from the Lotus Flower in that it also has a floral top note that’s simialr, but this incense isn’t quite so linear and is a little more intricate. There’s a touch of citrus in the mix as well as some herbal qualities that are difficult to identify but which help to ensure this has something of a wilder streak in it. The sandalwood content also seems to be a bit stronger here than in the other line’s incenses. It’s perhaps a little too close to Lotus Flower to be in such a small line, but I’d have to pick this one between the two as it’s a lot more interesting.

If I was to recommend one of the many “vanilla” nag champas on the market, it would have to be this one as it’s easily the most authentic Nag Champa I’ve come across in the modern age, even more so than Shantimalai’s red box version, which is perhaps this scent’s closest equivalent. No doubt this is due to the halmaddi content in the mix, which if it isn’t high enough to make this gooey like in the old days is certainly high enough to give the scent the balsalmic backdrop it needs. Overall this is a nag champa that tends to a much drier and less overtly sweet bouquet with a distinct sandalwood strength to help bring out its richness. This one’s essential.

Special Amber is Dhuni’s thickest stick and it packs an incredibly scent wallop like most sticks of its sizes. This is really unlike any amber you’ll ever try and even though a lot of the incense is apparently created from ground up amber resin, the scent also seems to have a powerful perfume oil on top to give it some similar qualities to incenses I used to see referred to as Triple Amber, in that these qualities tend to come from three different angles for something exquisitely deluxe. In fact of all of Dhuni’s scents this could be the most intricate, even after several samples I only felt like I was surveying the surface of what is obviously an incredibly deluxe amber.

The verdict is more or less simple, this is a company that Indian incense shoppers will need to add right next to their Mothers, Shroff, and Pure Incense lists. I really can’t wait to see this company expand the line to more scents as this is an audacious start. And for US customers, you can also now find these at Essence of the Ages.

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