Gyokushodo’s new Nerikoh – Kusa no To, Hanafuna, Shiun

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Its been a while since I wrote a review! I have been trying to reign in my budget a bit by going through my existing stockpiles before purchasing anything new, but I had the opportunity to try Gyokushodo’s new line up of nerikoh offerings earlier today thanks to Kotaro-san from Japan Incense.

On first analysis all three blends contain the typical Ume-gaka style ingredients, including camphor, clove, cassia and agar wood. They each start off with a blast of camphor and clove, and then settle down into a sour plum fragrance, and eventually wrapping up with a nice woody agarwood aroma. The difference in the three though is the concentration of ingredients. Whereas Kusa no To is the lowest price point of the three, it is obvious it has less of the key ingredients than the next two up the line, and does not project as much. Hanafuna ups the game a bit, and Shiun does that but also seems to have extra agar wood added to it.

Kyarazen’s Artisinal Incense: Song of Rain and Sea of Clouds

Sea of Clouds

The unlit sticks of Sea of Clouds smell dry, bitter and woody with a hint of borneol that adds its customary energetic uplift. I think I smell a sprinkle of dry white pepper and a hefty amount of sandalwood. The burning stick initially smells vanillic sweet. Then creamy sandalwood waltzes in, smooth and wavy and very light on its feet, smelling of mellow woods and coconut. It’s so strange that I can’t smell the camphor at all. I imagine it’s the invisible charioteer, content to drive the gently drifting and weightless wood skyward without contributing a scent of its own.

When I smell sweet agarwood incense I’m always charmed and feel as though I’ve rediscovered something very wonderful, however the bitter sticks are the ones I come back to again and again and again. Sea of Cloud’s bitterness is tempered by age-earned ease and gossamer grace, a welcome, unburdened bitterness that makes me feel determined and secure as I enjoy it’s meditative flight.

Sea of Clouds is an agarwood kiss, a breath of wood spirit, a floating puff of sylvan stillness. It takes me away, not on a wild adventure or a child’s fanciful daydream, but on an intent, silent pilgrimage made in earnest joy.

 

Song of Rain

As soon as I removed Song of Rain from its plastic sleeve I was really surprised! I wasn’t expecting to smell such strong, thick, sweet spiciness! The unlit sticks smell very ambery- lots of caramel (is that benzoin?) – accompanied by cumin, turmeric and cassia. A bittersweet chocolate makes me wonder if patchouli is the source of the herbal element. Before it’s lit, Song of Rain reminds me of a gourmand-smelling zukoh, but while it’s burning the sweet and spicy notes recede and woody and subtly animalic notes become much more prominent.

This is not the song of a suburban Spring shower. I smell the rainforest after a stampeding downpour, the sweet loaminess of sodden earth, the sour bitterness of fungus-laden bark and the damp thickness of heavy air. It’s easy to imagine green crested lizards scurrying beneath sinking rocks, birds of paradise seeking shelter under the spreading canopy and the drenched gray coats of squirrel monkeys glistening silver with sun-warmed droplets. While many amber incenses are way too sweet for my personal taste, Song of Rain balances sweet spiciness with herbal, earthy and plum skin agarwood notes. It’s a rain I’d happily sing in and a song I’d happily sing!

 

 

Mermade Magickal Arts / Naga’s Nest, Wild Wood, Scentuality, Kamiwaza, Ensense Antique

Receiving a new Mermade batch is one of my favorite parts of running Olfactory Rescue Service, in fact I can’t really think of too many other companies where I would be hard pressed to come up with a blend they created that I didn’t love. The whole spirit of the operation from the incense to the artwork to Katlyn Breene’s generosity and support makes reviewing the incenses a total joy and as the years go by, the sheer art and experimentation involved, now stretching into actual Japanese and Tibetan style incenses, never fails to elate. If you read this site and have not had the pleasure of checking the Mermade operation out, I’d consider it one of the first stops an incense lover should make. Everything created here is managed to the last detail and the ingredients used are top quality, only to be worked into something of even higher quality. Every chance I get to dish out the hyperbole I relish it greatly and with no reservation. And to see the line incorporate newer incense creators like Gregg King or our very own Ross Urrere only underlines the spirit behind the incense underground. Once I thought that high quality incense could only be found on the other side of the planet, now I know it’s made here too.

Mermade’s Naga’s Nest is a true original. One of the things you’ll notice about Tibetan incenses, particularly the ones sourced from Nepal or India, is that so many of the aromas you’ll find are embedded in very inexpensive woods, often the kind that smell like burning tires and make your eyes water. So imagine if you were to take a Tibetan rhododendron or lawudo incense, strip away all of the cheaper ingredients so that all is left is the aroma itself, and mix those ingredients with good resins and sandalwood adding just the right foresty touch so that the rhododendron ingredient isn’t suffocating anymore. What you have left is a gentle and unique scent floating like a mirage on the top of a good base. The scent is then recognizable from Tibetan incenses but allowed to flourish, and that it does in this blend, which lasted for hours when I put it on the heater. There really is no other incense like this in any market, in fact even the occasional powder incenses don’t sing like this one does. One only hopes Mermade will try their hand at some of the other Tibetan ingredients in a similar fashion.

Wild Wood, on the other hand, is another in the long lineage of Mermade’s forest blends. It’s probably no secret by now that I’m a huge fan of Katlyn’s work in this area, she knows how to craft them in a way where the aroma always tends to be perfectly green, just like you’d smell if you were walking in a forest. This art of using evergreen ingredients and using resins to intensify the scent always makes these a rare treat, and an incense style that might even crossover to friends that can’t abide by strong Indian incenses or heavy woods. Wild Wood is something of an evergreen mix with amber floating in the background, but like all of Mermade’s forest incenses, the green is still up to 11 on this one, with lots of fruity citrus from the combination of two frankincenses, the copal blanco and the pinon resin. The amber subscent acts to give what could be similar to a lot of resin blends a nice richness, and I’m assuming some of this comes from the two balsams in play. Naturally this also comes highly recommended and if you have never tried one of Mermade’s wild nature blends, there’s no better place to start.

The last three incenses here turn over to Japanese styles, with one slight exception. All three of these incenses start with a base of high quality sandalwood and agarwood, but the third element sends all of these to unique destinations. Readers may remember Gregg King’s fantastic Ali’s Roadside Lozenges. The newest variation of it is Ali’s Rare Incense Powder. I have not had the chance to try the latest blend on its own, but recognize its scent from the lozenges, it is an incense created from a staggering number of high quality materials.

Katlyn has managed to take some of this powder and create a meta-incense with it by combining it with the aforementioned base as Scentuality. This blend takes a while to get going on a heater, but when it does, it gets more impressive as it goes and lasts several hours. The mix of ingredients doesn’t tilt in any particular direction, which to my nose creates a kind of bewitching merging, particularly where the spicy and deep qualities of the agarwood intertwine with the complexity of the Ali’s. This creates a lot of rich and wonderful subscents that remind me of the kind of sweet, quasi-kyara candy scents you can find in some of the good Shoyeido wood and pressed incenses. The early scent is powdery and gentle before the agarwood really kicks in. Overall, it’s a fairly mellow incense, more akin to where a Baieido incense might sit and it’s a tribute to both Mermade and King that they’ve created a Japanese style incense of very high quality and complexity with all of the similar grace and subtlety you’d expect. It’s an excellent example of how incense circles and collaborations are improving the work year after year. And for just under $20 it’s quite price conscious and better than a lot of Japanese incenses in that range.

Kamiwaza is an incense in the same family as Scentuality, starting with the same or similar base but using clove, cinnamon, patchouli and borneol from Japanese sources as the “third element” in the incense. These ingredients have deeper aromatic qualities than you would normally find if you were to source them elsewhere and they merge with the base in a rich and spicy way that is a complete delight. The agarwood really pops in this blend, balancing all of the multiple sweetness and spiceness with a solid resin note. If you have ever tried any of Shoyeido’s speciality incenses whether wood chip mixes or pressed incenses you will recognize notes like a fresh roll of Sweet Tarts or a spice tea mix. But like with Scentuality this will likely be at a much more affordable price point and it all works without the use of perfumes and oils. One tip, however, the balance of the scents is probably best achieved by turning the heater a bit lower so the aromatics don’t volatize too quickly, particularly as the woods will go for quite a while.

Ensense Antique also uses a sandalwood/agarwood base, but the third ingredient here is an oud oil called “Encense Angkor.” As such, I would suggest, like with Kamiwaza, to apply gentle heat to this incense in order to not burn off much of the oud oil too fast. This oud oil is of the rich and spicy variety and it melds quite perfectly with the woods and it often seems like the scent dances somewhere in between them. It reminds me slightly of Ross Urrere’s sandalwood and ambergris or souked aloeswood in that the general aroma is woody dry, while having some very complex top notes resulting from the ingredients being very high quality. In particular the sandalwood comes through nicely on this one. All of these blends, as usual, come with the highest recommendation and it has been so much fun to see how Mermade is working in all sorts of incense world traditions, all of the blends created with such a deft and careful touch. And of course all of them are graced with Katyln’s terrific artwork, spirit and presentation, it never feels like any stone is unturned in reaching the final released work. And good news, there are even more blends in queue for review, including a carefully recreated Abramelin incense, an agar/rose/labdanum mix called Cyprian that absolutely wowed me last night, Mermade’s newest forest blend Dark Forest and a new “earthy blend” called Dark Goddess (I’m excited about this one in particular as the description references the old Mermade blend Hecate, an incense I still miss). Stay tuned!

Shunkohdo: Sarasoju, Zuika koh, Yoshino no haru, Ranjatai

Sarasoju is a nice, pretty straight up sandalwood. I am assuming that besides the wood that there is sandalwood oil as it has a very rich, deep sandalwood scent but you would need to use oil to get it to smell this way. Regardless, I think this is a winner and if you are looking for a sandalwood stick without other spices added into the mix then this could be one of your best bets.

Zuika koh is an agarwood blend that has a large amount of patchouli added in as well as just a hint of Borneol Camphor and probably some benzoin. Of course since people who really know what they are doing produce this, there are probably at least five more ingredients in it that one cannot detect that add to all this 🙂  I think it is pretty much “oil-less” although it is also fairly strong, not by Indian incense standards, but for a Japanese traditional stick. It has a very smooth delivery and can produce a very pleasant aroma. I tend to use this later in the night rather then during the day as it just seems more suited to the late night hours. Then again it would work well in some retail environments to set the mood.

Yoshino no haru, at least in the long format, is a very thick square stick with a nice green color (I always have wondered if the colors actually mean something, some sort of secret incense code). It has the “greenish/herbal” scent of Foenun Graecum plus some Borneol Camphor and other spices mixed into an agarwood base. I think this is one of the masterpieces of their line as it also, somehow, conveys a slight floral note within all of this that is very elegant. In fact I think this, as well as Ranjatai, are pretty unique in the incense world (although for different reasons). I do not use this on a daily bases, more like once a week, but if I am seeking this kind of scent the alternative is something at twice the price from other makers. It does a great job of living up to its name “Smell of Spring”.

Ranjatai has always been a favorite of mine, as well as many of the reviewers here. My vote says it is still one of the greats. There is a noticeable agarwood scent in the background over which the scent of musk and some spices float. It is truly elegant and captivating. It is also very smooth, which only happens via the use of decent materials and a big dose of skill. There are a lot of sticks from many countries that try to use a musk note. They are all pretty much synthetic smelling sweet concoctions that miss the reality of musk. These guys do it right. Other then their Kyara Seikan (which takes the whole concept up a couple of notches) I cannot think of another incense that comes across like this. For what you are getting the price is really good. Not inexpensive, but worth it nonetheless.

I am planning on reviewing their Kyara line up some time next month (after my bank account has recovered from this months buying spree). -Ross

Gyokushodo: Hana no Sho (Bloom), Mori no Sho (Woodland), Nami no Sho (Wave)

I first got to try these over a year ago, when they were brought to me by a friend in Japan, and like a number of readers that I have noticed in the blog I was very curious about them. This was just before Japan Incense had brought in so many of the other offerings from Gyokushodo. Then, as now, I was impressed with the ingredients  it was also the first time I had even seen ambergris mentioned as an ingredient. These are made with very traditional materials and the ingredient list seems pretty simple, which means the quality of the materials has to be pretty good in order to work. There are six different blends in this series and Part One will look at three with Part Two finishing it off next week sometime. I had a friend translate the ingredient list from their catalog for me and decided to put that in also as it is so very rare to get something like this from any Japanese incense maker. These are available from Japan Incense/Kohshi.

Hana no Sho (Bloom): This one has a very up front sandalwood oil presence to it. It really stands out and comes across very differently from other Japanese sandalwood based sticks. It has a very “full” quality to it as the oil plus the woods really fill out all the corners and produce their own top, middle and base notes. If you like sandalwood it would be hard not to own this. This would also appeal to someone who is used to the Indian style and wants to sample Japanese incense.

[Ingredients] Tabu bark powder, activated carbon powder, Sandalwood, Jinsui Koboku (jinko,) Sandalwood oil,

Mori no Sho (Woodland): Very woody and spicy, a sort of classic Japanese grouping of incense materials. It is also extremely balanced. Just when you think its cinnamon, it might just be clove, but wait, that could be borneol, then there are woods but it is all done so well that they just keep mixing. This would be pretty fun as meditation incense, assuming it didn’t end up making you completely analytical.

[Ingredients] Tabu [Machilus thunbergii] bark powder, activated carbon powder, Jinsui Koboku (jinko,) Cinnamon, Cloves, Benzoin, Borneol,

Nami no Sho (Wave): This particular incense has caused me to spend quite a lot of money on ambergris. I was so taken with the smell, which was just different enough to really catch my attention, that I decided I wanted to use ambergris in my own incense. So I started to and my wallet has been in shock ever since. There is a sort of, but not quite, musky quality to this stick, but there is also a very subtle, very clean, marine background note that goes along with it. Plus ambergris has the somewhat unique ability to increase other scents in the mix(one of the reasons it was and still is so popular in perfume).This is also a really balanced blend with the different players sort of briefly stepping up to the front of the stage and into the lime light. This is a very beautiful, somewhat masculine in nature, scent with woods in the background while the spices and ambergris move through the top notes.

Kunmeido / Reiryo-Koh, Reiryo Koh Aloeswood, Shoryu-Koh

I tend to get a little more inspired writing about high end incenses for the obvious reason that there’s usually more to talk about in terms of complexity and depth. Kunmeido’s one of those rare companies that manages to produce amazing incense at all budget levels, including what is generally considered one of the finest inexpensive incenses, the venerable Reiryo-Koh. It’s one of those scents I’d consider as a building block of a new incense collection as you only have to pay about $7 a roll and it has a complexity and depth that most incenses at the same price range are missing.

Reiryo Koh‘s popularity can generally be seen by the number of different sizes its available in, from small boxes to long sticks. It’s also burned at Eiheiji, one of Soto Zen’s two head temples in Japan. It also appears to be popular at American Zen centers. In a way it’s fame in the US is surprising as it’s a very traditional and potent incense, initially not particularly friendly due to the strength of scent and its highly peppery and spicy intensity. The main ingredients are sandalwood, clove, foenun graecum (reiryo-koh), patchouli, tarmelic/turmetic and borneol camphor, a line up not terribly far from many Korean incenses. It has a lot of herbal qualities such as dill, fennel, cumin and oregano, all of which seem to be byproducts of the reiryo root and the tarmelic. The intensity has a sort of cleansing sort of feel to it at first until the constellation of scents starts to fade and the complexity of the incense starts to become obvious. Behind all the spice is a sublime, occluded sweetness, a quality that comes out more so in the aloeswood variations.

In fact the Reiryo Koh Aloeswood incense is so different that it’s hard to believe the difference came from switching the base wood. Where the regular/sandalwood version is intense and spicy, the aloeswood version is mellow and subtle. It’s basically the most inexpensive incense in Kunmeido’s line up that introduces an aromatic quality that follows the line all the way up to Asuka (perhaps the only one missing it is Onkun Koh aka Jinko Ranjatai). It’s a sweet, spicy and tangy aroma that is not only pleasant at first but starts to become addictive after a while due to its increasing refinement up the scale (the note becomes intensely incredible in Asuka). This concentration on the quiet and subtle compared to the loud intensity of the original is an interesting yin/yang comparison, as initially it doesn’t seem the aloeswood version has a similar depth. But it doesn’t lose its poignancy, implying the incense’s depths are more interactive between incense and appreciator.

At least in the US, Shoryu-Koh, which moves the price range well into the 20s, seems to be sort of the middle ground incense, implying the heights of Heian Koh and Asuka, without the pungent green herbal qualities those bring with them. In fact Shoryu-Koh could easily be seen as the higher reflection of the Reiryo Koh aloeswood, with a lot of similar qualities and a greater degree of refinement. The sweet, herbal and grassy oil or top note on this incense becomes increasingly pleasant with experience, reaching for a very sublime place with a dark and sultry atmosphere. There’s quite a bit of spice in this one as well, hints of cinnamon and clove help to bolster the scent’s essential tanginess. If ever there was a sleeper hit coming out of incense, it could be this one. I’ve had a box for about a year now and it always surprises me. Perhaps it trades a visceral impact for more ineffable and deeper qualities, which makes it less obvious right out of the box.

Any incense appreciator who finds an affinity with Japanese traditional scents is encouraged to take a look at the whole Kunmeido line, which evinces a very powerful lineage of incense making. That their most inexpensive incenses would have qualities that make them competitive with scents 10 times their cost is a real tribute to the skill involve here. It might not be long until all three of these take their place in our hall of fame; certainly one’s exploration is incomplete without checking out the classic Reiryo-Koh.

Shoyeido Aesthetic Series: Kasumi, Oboro, Shino-nome, Miyako-gusa (by Nancy)

[As of 7/31/09, Shino-nome and Miyako-gusa have been discontinued. Kasumi and Oboro are still available. – Mike]

This series from Shoyeido was designed to produce 70% less smoke than their traditional incenses and definitely succeeds in doing so without sacrificing any olfactory enjoyment. Burning incense usually produces a lot of airborne particles which can irritate the respiratory system and eyes, making this series perfect for those with allergies or other sensitivities. Another unfortunate side effect of regular incense burning is the copious amounts of dust that is produced. Because this series burns cleaner, it also produces less dust by default. In general, the scents in this series not only burn lighter, but have more delicate aromas as well, almost ambient in quality. They tend toward the sweet and floral side of the spectrum more than the woodsy or spicy side. This line is very affordable for the quality making it a great introduction into the world of Japanese incense and each box of 40 sticks comes with it’s own ceramic burner tucked into a compartment under the top flap.

So far I have sampled four of the five selections offered in this line, including Gossamer, Illusions, First Light, and Botanica. Kasumi (Gossamer) is sweet like vanilla bean with a slight hint of cinnamon. Patchouli is also listed as an ingredient but I do not detect any of this herb’s distinct muskiness in the mix at all so it‘s probably more of a minor player. Described by Shoyeido as being “For any setting or occasion with a spirited and balanced nuance of fragrances,“ it is overall very enjoyable!  Oboro (Illusions) is the most resinous of all, with a definite aloeswood edge that lends an acrid or sour quality. It has a sweet note too, probably from the benzoin resin, and a high, almost imperceptible note of camphor. Compared to Kasumi, this blend is more complex, better for contemplation than atmosphere and perfect if you‘re in a more meditative state.

It is in Shino-Nome (First Light) that the sandalwood base common to all the blends in this series really comes out. Blended with cinnamon and benzoin, this incense has been one of my top ten picks for the past year. I even invested in the 10-bundle gift box! I burn this one at my acupuncture practice and everyone who walks through the door comments that they love it.  The scent is rich and uplifting and universally loved, making it a favorite of mine for gift giving. Recently, however, Miyako-gusa (Botanica) has eclipsed them all! Contrary to what you’d think based on the name, this blend is not strictly floral. It is by far the most complex of the four that I’ve sampled from this line, with distinct base, middle and top notes. There is a floral quality, but there is so much more! I also detect aloes wood, cloves and maybe even a citrus scent (orange peel?). This makes for a very unique and thoroughly enjoyable mix! Overall, a great series of incense, each blend distinct and light enough to be burned on a regular basis.

Best Incense – September 2008

[For previous Top 10 lists, please click on the Incense Review Index tab above or the Top Ten Lists category on the left.]

  1. Shoyeido / Premium / Ga-Ho – The price on Shoyeido premiums necessitates some discipline in terms of frequency of burning, but despite all attempts at restraint, I’m closing in on the halfway point of my “silk box” and eyeing the bigger roll and wondering how I can afford one in this sinking economy. I just can’t get enough of what may be my very favorite incense. This one’s dry, unlike any other incense, heavy with high quality aloeswood, and the oil/perfume is stupendous. Just can’t get enough of this one. Extremely exotic and not nearly as immediate as the rest of the line.
  2. Shoyeido / Premium / Nan-Kun – And almost for a different reason, Nan-Kun is nearly as addictive. I think my appreciation for musk is higher of late due to all the Tibetans and while Nan-Kun gets its muskiness likely from the very high quality and heavy use of spikenard, it still itches that same spot while hitting the aloeswood and spice buttons at the same time. This one is very animal and rich, with an almost poignant sweetness to it. Possibly the best buy for money in the Shoyeido Premium line. To my nose, I enjoy Ga-Ho and Nan-Kun as much as the expensive kyaras in the line.
  3. Shunkohdo / Kyara Seikan – Seikan sticks are thin enough to look like they’d break in a strong wind, but their aromatic power for such a size is always startling, even if one does have to quiet down to “hear” it. In many ways this is the kyara incense that really focuses on the wood and while there are obvious ingredients that bolster the aroma, the sweet, sultry smell of the wood is central. A superlatively brilliant incense that I can barely get enough of.
  4. Tibetan Medical College / Holy Land – Down to about 15 sticks left in my box and I practically need disciplined meditation to stay away from it given the wait for a restock (when I go nuts). The very apex of Tibetan incense, a stick that rivals any country’s best work.
  5. Highland Incense – Highland’s the trusty #2 Tibetan brand for me as I wait for more Holy Land, a combination of animal (musk, civet?) and herbal spice that is incredibly comforting and relaxing right before sleep (I often burn about 2 inches of a stick as I drift off). Becoming a standard around here, don’t let this one go out of stock before you try it!
  6. Baieido / Kunsho – My recent musing is wondering whether Kunsho, the third most premium of five in Baieido’s Pawlonia box line, might be equal or better than the fourth, Koh En. As I get to know Baieido incense, more and more do I think you’re getting your best value for money from their products. I could see Kunsho at almost twice the price and still be worth it. Slightly cherry-esque with a very balanced and noble wood to it, this is truly impressive incense.
  7. Shoyeido / Premium / Myo-Ho – Definitely my favorite among the supernal trio heading Shoyeido’s premium line. It still strikes me like an electric muscat, deep, aromatic and sweet with an aloeswood strength that constantly reminds you of the incense’s depth. Another scent that’s painful to watch as your supply dwindles.
  8. Lung Ta / Drib Poi – I am returning to this Tibetan stick fairly often even though in doing so I keep sampling the rest of the line and wonder why I like this one so much more. I think it must be the curry-ish spice to it which seems missing in the others, a green-ish , exotic tinge that brings out the ingredient complexity.
  9. Minorien / Aloeswood – As I cycle through various incenses I often come across this one and am impressed all over again, particularly surprising as the two above it in the Minorien line are more refined and impressive. But there’s something so ancient and hoary about this aloeswood that it tends to scratch that itch I have with aloeswoods that aren’t too sweet. Like Baieido, Minorien’s products have a way of continuing to impress long after one’s initial purchase.
  10. The Direct Help Foundation / The Druid – I’m not sure this incense is still available, it was originally part of the Magic Tantra set and maybe one other, but perhaps it will show up again in the future. It’s actually somewhat similar in its salty herbalness to the Tibetan Medical College incenses, although not at all musky or dense like those. I’m not sure what the active ingredients is here, the mosses or something else, but the results are a very pleasant blend I hope comes back in the future. Because when TDHF get it right like they do here, they’re among the best.

Best Incense – August 2008

[For previous Top 10 lists, please click on the Incense Review Index tab above or the Top Ten Lists category on the left.]

  1. Tibetan Medical College / Holy Land – The question du jour: When is Essence going to restock this? Yes, I know I haven’t come close to finishing up the box yet. Yes, it’s probably a waste to burn 50 sticks of this at once, but I won’t know for sure until I try. Anyway, while the answer is certainly ASAP, I hope my (mild) anxiety over this reflects just how totally and completely crushed over Holy Land I am. It’s quite likely to be my favorite incense for quite a while as only…
  2. Highland Incense – …is anywhere close to how I feel about it. In fact Highland here comes pretty darn close as a #2 and as the product of a retired Tibetan Medical College doctor, it’s not difficult to think about these two in the same breath. But where Holy Land gets the step due to its unbelieavable floral middle, which comes out the most when you’re not looking for it, Highland has such a balanced muskiness with a nice sweetness that it also constantly compels me to return to the box.
  3. Baieido / Jinko Kokoh – Every premium series seems to have its own character and style and the kokohs aren’t any different. In fact the defining aspect, at least of the Byukaden and Jinko Kokohs, is more so the ingredients other than the woods. Particularly the borneol and spices which seem to be at about the highest, natural level available in these incenses. They help to make these among the most penetrating incenses available. Would love to see these in long stick form.
  4. Baieido / Kunsho – I think it dawns on anyone using any one of the five Baieido aloeswoods (in Pawlonia boxes) that the series is strong from top to bottom, but it really takes a good half a box to realize just how great they really are. I’d been a little late grabbing a Kunsho box, but so glad I did as every stick is an exercise in reflection. Sweet, deep, classy, refined, this one may be just as good as the next step up Koh En. Or at least I think so this week.
  5. Shunkodo / Kyara Aioi no Matsu – I’m so enamored with Kyara Seikan that it occludes my view on the Aioi no Matsu. The other issue is the AnM suffers pretty hard with aromatic fatigue, given that so much of its majesty is in the very top spice notes. But when you get everything, it’s truly extraordinary with a dozen or so different aspects going on. A tremendously complicated blend.
  6. Samye Monastery / Samathabadra – This would have been a little higher earlier in the month when I was finding it difficult not to burn it a bunch. It’s an unusual incense, more consonant when you’re not paying too much attention but extremely diverse when you are, as you notice all the aspects to it. And there’s really no other incense quite like it, dark, rich, mysterious and ambrosial.
  7. Shoyeido / Premium / Ga-Ho – I just can never get enough of this one, an easy all-time top 5 pick and my favorite Shoyeido premium. It’s dry and spicy/heavily resinated wood one-two attack gets me every time. The day I buy 135 sticks is the day it becomes a #1 pick for a few months.
  8. Encens du Monde / Meditation / Guiding Light – Probably because it’s fairly essential oil heavy, this incense does a fantastic job scenting a larger area over time. I really adore the smell of this one, especially after about half a long stick has burned. Even with all the oils this is at essence a very complex, very woody incense. Just one or two sticks a month tends to push it into my monthly best.
  9. Tennendo / Karafune Kahin-Gold – It took me a while to come around to this series, in fact had I written the review today I’d have compared them to the above-mentioned Baieido aloeswood series as they’re really that difficult to parse. Over time I’ve been noticing just how quality the aloeswood is in this and (in lesser quantity) the Silver. But now these are starting to really grow on me and I’m starting to notice more of the woody qualities. Sleeper hits for sure.
  10. Tibetan Medical College / Nectar – This one has fallen due to the Holy Land, which seems in comparison to be more of a B grade, but this is a B grade better than most A grades. The intensity of the spices isn’t as high and I suspect that’s due to juniper berry. But it’s still one of those incenses you can smell the musk straight off the stick and it only suffers in comparison to Holy Land

Nu Essence Resin Mixes Part 1 (Neptune, Pluto, Moon, Uranus)

The Nu Essence Resin Mixes are completely unlike the Japanese loose mixtures I reviewed last week. They are based on a combination of ancient magical formulas as well as great scent combination’s.  I have a feeling many of our readers (not to mention Mike 🙂 ) might know much more then I about the esoteric aspects involved here. It is obvious that a lot of testing and study have gone into these blends. The musk, ambergris and civet are based on high quality synthetics that, unlike most synthetics seem to work well when heated. This could be because they are also pretty much surrounded in essential oils!
These mixes come in small metal tines. About an ounce’s worth of some very powerful scent. I used, at most, 1/8 teaspoons worth in a foil square on my heaters to try them out. Actually the first time I used one I piled it on and was pretty much overwhelmed. Really, these are very potent blends using natural herbs, resins and essential oils. Some of them use so much oil that they seem moist when opening the tin. One tin will last quite a while; it is a very good deal.There are over twenty (at the moment) different blends from this company. For this review I picked four of the planetary mixes. They use a great many different components, many of which I have not experienced before this. This, for me, makes it even more fun and interesting. I will be doing at least two more reviews on this line.
They seem to work best being gently heated, plus they will last longer that way also 🙂

Neptune:
Tonquin musk, benzoin, sandalwood, and rose.
Very deep, sultry rose and musk scent. Everything about this is powerful, almost overpowering. The sandalwood is like a low frequency carrier note way in the back round, the benzoin’s sweetness drifting through to catch your attention and then, once again, you are surrounded by the rose infused musk hues. This is not a light scent; there is almost, at times, a bite to it. This would, to me, be something to scent or flavor a room, as opposed to say taking a deep, close in, breath. It is very potent and takes the rose floral thyme into very sultry depths.

Pluto:
Sandalwood, benzoin, ambergris, amber, and bitter almond.
Upon heating gently one is immediately greeted with the sandalwood, closely followed by the bitter almond. The benzoin/amber/ambergris combination present themselves as a sort of soft yet potent ambery wave to my nose. There is a certain “stone” quality at work here (perhaps the amber is the actual crushed mineral rather then the resin spice blend usually found).
Again, not a light scent, a bit less forceful then the Neptune, but still for doing up an environment, not a Koh ceremony. The bitter almond adds many interesting, and to me, new scent qualities to the mix. The “bitter” aspect playing off the ambers and sandalwood/benzoin mixes. Great fun. I find myself more drawn to this one just because it is a bit more playful.

Moon:
Karaya gum, frankincense, wormwood, sandalwood, camphor, jasmine, and artemisia.
Spicy, camphorus, yet with a light floral (the jasmine) note. I guess uplifting or vibrant would be a good overall description. Not as strong scented as the two above but at the same time it holds its own in a very different manner.. As you heat it up and experience all the camphor tones the jasmine and frankincense keep drifting in. This would be great to set a very uplifting and at the same time, mellow vibe in a room. There almost seem to be many contradictions at play here as it shifts from an almost bitter( but not harsh) to sweet scent with the camphor tones playing through the middle. I am sure the other components play some subtle parts in this but I do not know them and the mix is so well combined that it is hard to separate things out. I could feel my head clearing up when this is going and at the same time a certain inner clearing going on also, which, given the wormwood and Artemisia, makes sense.

Uranus:
Jasmine, juniper, sandalwood, cinnamon, and benzoin.
At first heat the jasmine and cinnamon immediately start to drift up. This is a very interesting combination that somehow works really well. Alchemy in action! Think jasmine with a kick. The woods seem fairly muted at first, while the benzoin adds a little sweetness as a base note. As the upper notes fade into the back round the woods and benzoin come more into play and stay for quite awhile lending a certain grounded quality to the overall mix. I find myself very attracted to this one, probably because the jasmine and cinnamon blend really works for me. This is great to scent a room with just for the upbeat ambiance it gives. Very nice.

These are available at many of the Incense Suppliers we have listed in the side bar to the left.

Enjoy and Happy heating…Ross

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