The Rising Phoenix Perfumery / Musk Rose Bakhoor, Resin Bakhoor, Ambergris Souked Sandalwood Powder

I’ve been really looking forward to writing about Rising Phoenix since I started corresponding with JK DeLapp some months back. It may not be known to all readers but there’s really an amazing community of incense artisans in the United States now and often even when it looks like I’m posting about a new company with new incenses, I’m actually posting about veteran work in the field. We’re talking about high quality incenses on the level of Katlyn Breene and Ross Urrere but with a distinctly individual direction and focus that is expressly JK’s. Two of three of these incenses are intended to be in the middle-eastern Bakhoor style and yet while they carry forward the qualities of this style of incense, they avoid all of the trappings of the cheaper stuff and instead move closer to what might be considered mid to high end Japanese incense quality. The other incense, while not a bakhoor, has a similar level of quality. All three are fabulous incenses made with numerous high quality aromatic ingredients covering multiple levels of activity whether one heats or uses them in charcoal and those who have enjoyed the work of other artisans we have featured here should immediately line up at Rising Phoenix Perfumery’s Etsy store before the incenses are gone.

The first of these incenses is called Musk Rose Bakhoor. Like all three incenses, this one comes in a 3.5g sized glass jar wrapped in Japanese Washi paper. The incense is a fine earthy powder that is immediately redolent of the finer materials in incense. I remember a day when you couldn’t buy a good rose incense, but even fresh from the jar you know you’re onto a good thing here. The ingredient list is impressive with the wood base combining sandalwood and four different kinds and origins of aloeswood. On top of this blend we have a mix of Russian Centifolia Rose (an attar I assume), Champa and an all natural and extremely fine Hina Musk. You would think almost any one of these top ingredients could suffice for a great incense, but all three of them together make for an exceedingly complex and heavenly blend of scents that deliver an aromatic epiphany over and over again. These are the types of fine scents whose descriptions couldn’t possibly live up to the billing, the kind of subtlety lost in cheap floral incenses. There is one caveat here though, this is the kind of aloeswood heavy incense that the Golden Lotus incense most of us use from Mermade Magickal Arts isn’t quite hot enough for even at maximum and so in order to fully experience the whole scent, I had to experiment with the blend on charcoal as well (good news though, I believe there will be new methods of heating on the way in the near future from MMA that should allow the woods to come out more). It is truly hard to encapsulate how much goodness is going on with this blend. The rose hits you first as any good rose scent does, but the finer ones have personalities that transcend the usual experience of walking through a rose garden and this one is a scent you could just fall into. The champa will bring back memories from the years when champa-based incenses were at their best, I had multiple hits of deja-vu with every use of this incense, I’m not sure any other word could describe it better than awesome. One wonders just how much the champa and musk ingredients modify the overall scent as I also seem to pick up more of it a bit later in the heat when the sandalwood starts to come out. I’ve always found it interesting as well how Sandalwood can work so cleverly in an aloeswood heavy mix, although this may have been the way it works with a low heat. Needless to say there’s so much going on this incense that it will take many uses to really explore all the directions its going. It’s quite simply a masterpiece.

Rising Phoenix’s Resin Bakhoor is something of a high-end take on frankincense and myrrh resin mixes.  I was charmed to learn that this incense actually started as an Abramelin incense because you can actually sense that this is the origin, particularly from the way aloeswood and frankincense are mixed. This has a similar type of base to the Musk Rose Bakhoor, although in this case even if the aloeswood mutes a bit at low heat it doesn’t affect the scent quite as much as the previous incense, simply because the resins here are really arresting. There’s a real melding of scents here to create something quite new and special, a real eye to how each ingredient modifies another. Frankincense and myrrh are kind of the peanut butter and chocolate of the incense world anyway, but I really like the way the limier aspects of the green frankincense meld with the good quality Ethiopian myrrh here, it’s as if they were one resin with multiple faces. Some of this is due to the benzoin and labdanum in the mix, both of which seem to intensify the overall fruitiness going on at the top. And what a fruitiness it is, not just the typical lemon or lime qualities you usually get with resin mixes, but a sense of age and subtlety as well, which is a nice trick that is enhanced when the method of burning or heating makes sure to bring out the deeper qualities of the aloeswood and sandalwood. It’s actually somewhat rare to see a resin blend formulated with such a wide array of fine materials and even rarer to find one where every ingredient counts in the mix.

Rising Phoenix also offer various types of aloeswood and sandalwood, and offer as an option with their Indian Sandalwood Powder, An Ambergris Souked Sandalwood Powder (scroll down). Those who have had the pleasure of trying Ross Urrere’s take on this theme will recognize the style, where the crystalline, high-end scent of fine, fresh sandalwood is modified by the salty and sublime scent of ambergris. However, Rising Phoenix’s version of this uses (Golden) Irish Ambergris, rather than the more common New Zealand sourced material, which makes me want to eventually compare the two. I find this style of incense to be simple in terms of getting a two-scent, highly clear aroma, which is a good thing as the materials being matched here contain enough complexity in their own right that they would be drowned out in a more complicated blend (ambergris in particular does not shout, it sings). And of course if you’re only familiar with sandalwood in stick incenses, then experiencing what fine powder is like is a must as its better qualities are always revealed in a heat. In fact I would even think this would work quite at well at lower temperatures as a little goes a long way.

It is good news to see these incenses on the market and better news to know that even more styles are planned! Those of us who await every new Mermade blend with that sense of pre-Christmas anticipation will likely start finding themselves doing the same thing with Rising Phoenix. But this company doesn’t just have us awaiting the next blend, it encourages people to learn about and create their own aromatic products. You can find informative videos at this link. To see more than the introductory video, all you have to do is sign up with your name and e-mail address. And with new methods of heating and burning on the way, there should be more informative videos to share with you all in the near future.

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Mermade Magickal Arts / Dionysos, Icaro +

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

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

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

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

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

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

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/Gaia Tree

When I first started getting into blended incense, I was fascinated with church and forest blends, in fact over the years I’ve gathered more of them than I know what to do with. Many who have spent some time in Catholic churches know the basic scent of frankincense and some of these blends could be quite fine, having that amazing citrus scent as a base. The forest blends often went deeper than this and I’ve run across several whose fruitiness tends towards the scent of green apple mixed with pine, spruce, fir and other evergreen scents. In fact while around here we talk a lot about the wonders of aloeswood and sandalwood, I’ve always really prized the much cheaper and easily accessible forest blends, they’re a great way to scent your space.

Katlyn Breen is turning out to be a master of the art of earthy, foresty scents, in fact I’d probably have to do a bit of research to create a list of all the wonderful blends that have come out of Mermade over the last decade in this vein. And these blends are in many ways much more carefully crafter and deep than the average forest resin blend and many of them go in all sorts of neat and interesting directions. Gaia Tree is one of her newest, listing black frankincense, storax benzoin, arbor vitae, green cedar tips, black spruce, green myrtle, fir, and benzoin and tolu balsam essential oils as ingredients. This is a very rich and powerful forest scent, starting with the citrus of the frankincense base, moving towards the evergreen and apple mix I mentioned earlier, adding a touch of spice that is reminiscent of Mermade’s amazing Mahjoun incense, an almost confectionary level of sweetness and a really strong touch of amber that comes from the essential oils, in fact it’s one of the most wonderful amber notes I’ve experienced in an incense. This is all well rounded with a distinct greenness that comes from the spruce and fir tips, highlighting the name of the incense itself. While so many forest blends tend to scent fairly clean, there is a rich, creaminess to this one that gives it a wonderfully decadent note.

As always if you haven’t made your way over to Mermade, it should be one of your top incense stops. The Golden Lotus incense heater is an absolute must for blended incense and Gaia Tree couldn’t work more beautifully on it.

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

Ali’s Roadside Lozenges

Gregg’s* sable-colored lozenges are packed in a warm, golden-ochre powder smelling of vanilla, orris, labdanum and benzoin Siam. The scent of the powder reminds me of sweet Indian amber attars- thick and caramelized. However Ali’s Lozenges themselves are far more intriguing and complex than any amber blend I’ve tried. They are a mixture of spices, herbs and resins that unveil themselves slowly and seductively. Every time I think I know what I’m smelling another facet appears and draws me farther into the tapestry. Gregg recommends a setting of 5-8 on an electric burner. I started at 5, thinking the more volatile components would slowly vaporize, after which the slightly higher setting would show off the woods to their best advantage.

Subtle animalic notes of musk and ambergris are the first to greet me. These are two of my favorite notes in incense. Their primal rawness and power is provocative and wild. I’ve always lived in a very urban area; when I smell these lusty notes I access something elemental that isn’t normally a part of my ever day experience- something that makes my heart beat just a little faster. The scent of henna adds overtones of sweet tobacco and moist plums and spikenard rounds out the subtle earthy nuances . I’m sure that every so often I catch a whiff of chili- a spicy twist that’s as surprising as it is exciting! Soon gothic frankincense starts to sing- images of swinging censers and Omani souks come to mind. As my imagination starts to climb to the belfry warm notes of vanilla and bittersweet cocoa pull me back to earth. And what is more comforting than a mug of cinnamon-laced hot cocoa or a too big slice of vanilla poundcake? At this stage the incense is sweet and delectable- creamy, smooth and caramelized. Sandalwood and agarwood complete the picture adding a rich groundedness and wavy hum. Now all the notes seem to have fused together and I’m feeling very relaxed and calm. I’m not sure if the adventure has ended or just begun but it doesn’t really matter. I feel good and the incense continues to unfold. It’s time to stop analyzing it and to just enjoy the sweet languor. Mine’s been burning for 4 hours and shows no sign of quitting!

The finest ingredients have been used in the composition of this incense, including vintage Burmese agarwood from 1998, a Mysore sandalwood oil that is more than 10 years old, antique clove oil, cinnamon from Saigon , top flight Tahitian Vanilla and more.

* (yes! “our” Gregg)

The incense will be available soon exclusively at
Mermade Magikal Arts http://www.mermadearts.com/

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.

Ramakrishnanda / Bala Krishna, Govardhana, Madhurya Rasa, Shringara

Ramakrishnanda Part 1
Ramakrishnanda Part 2
Ramakrishnanda Part 3
Ramakrishnanda Part 4

My relationship with Ramakrishnanda incense has kind of hopped all over the place. I first encountered their line when it first came out in a local new age shop and was immediately impressed by the quality of scents based on how the incenses had almost permeated the whole store. But I found out quickly via the sampler packs that there were some incenses that were almost atrociously bad as well, and I also found out that much of the amazing aromatic qualities of the incenses had largely faded after six months (which is fairly typical of most Indian incenses). So in a year I went from thinking they were one of the better incenses lines on the market to somewhere in the middle.

There was also a small batch released about a year ago (covered in the Part 4 link above) that I found somewhat average, especially to what Shroff and Mothers were starting to release at the time and this sort of cemented my opinion that Rama were not quite as good as the new premium incenses coming out, but they were certainly better than the Satyas and Nitirajs. And with this new group of four incenses, I think the brand has brought the quality up a little, especially on (at least) two of these which are well worth checking out.

Ramakrishnanda’s Bala Krishna is not really a new incense as much as an old one in a new package. Sublabeled as saffron and frankincense, Bala Krishna is the classic dry saffron sandalwood masala (Mystic Temple has a version for example), the thin yellow stick with a mix of sandalwood and camphorous qualities with a nice saffron spice on top. Personally I find it pretty hard to even locate where frankincense might be in this one, as it’s never come to mind with this aroma, but I’ve always liked this one as it has a sort of “chandan” sandalwood type of scent to it that merges nicely with the saffron. It’s not really a surprise this one keeps popping up, it’s quite dependable and varies little from company to company.

As traditional as the Bala Krishna is, the Govardhana is nice little innovation in the world of champas with loban and coconut featured as the two main ingredients. I can’t even think of another incense that’s tried this combination before and I usually find coconut incenses to be almost disastrous, especially when they evoke cheap suntan lotions. The results here are impressively complex and inexpressibly beautiful. The loban isn’t anything like the gravelly benzoin scent you get in other sticks or resins, here it’s nice and cooling, even a  touch fruity without being overbearing. Well worth checking out this one, the subnotes even create some nice vetivert and/or patchouli associations.

Where Govardhana was a complete success, the combination of the khus and almond in the Madhurya Rasa blend doesn’t work at all. There’s something in the perfume that kills an essential part of the khus aroma and a part of the base that adds too much biutterness to the mix. This is very typical of the other incenses in the Ramakrishnanda line that don’t work, there’s an obvious clash at work. Even the almond isn’t particularly identifiable, which is quite disappointing, especially when you do think a combination like this could work.

There’s one more success in this new group, the combination of citronella, patchouli and geranium in the Shringara. I burned a stick of this late last night which caused me to bump this review a ways up on the list just to get the word out on this and the Govardhana. This is a big red colored champa that seems to have quite a bit of spice in the mix as well to go with the very interesting combination of three oils. One wonders if the same perfumers who create clashes like with the Madhurya Rasa also create the alchemic wonder of something like this, where the more cloying aspects of citronella are balanced so nicely by the patchouli and geranium. Perhaps the only issue with this stick might be that because the oils are so intense, I can imagine they’re probably going to fade quite a bit at some point. But if a cherry red, loud, brash scent amplified by lemongrass and patchouli sound up your alley, it’s well worth a look.

Anyway even if there’s one failure in this group, I still love the fact Ramakrishnanda are still up for experimenting with formulas and trying new things, because they can add two successes to their list.

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.

Huitong / Cure Disease, Taizhen, Solemn, Golden Light, Plum Blossom, Sky Dragon, Yun Hui Incense Powder

While we do see a lot of incenses coming in from the Tibetan region within the political boundaries of China, Huitong is the first Chinese incense company we’ve been in contact with. In many ways Huitong might be considered the Chinese analog of Baieido in that all of their incenses seem to be made without the use of perfumes and oils, using only ecologically sound ingredients. What this means is that it’s been very difficult to do their incenses justice as to even pick up on their subtleties means you have to approach them like you do with Baieidos and “listen” to them.

This is essentially sort of a hybrid style, using extruded Japanese-like sticks to format what are essentially very Tibetan-like scents. So the most obvious comparison would be to Bosen’s Tibetan traditionals or even some of the Korean incenses, except as already mentioned that Huitong doesn’t use oils as Bosen does and the scents will be friendlier to Western noses than many of the Korean incenses. But one thing most of the scents have in common is they all have multiple ingredients and thus often don’t have the dominant sandalwood or aloeswood notes that tend to make categorizing Japanese incenses a little easier.

Cure Disease is described as a “kind of historic incense, which is mainly used for cure disease and health preserving. It was originated from Song Dynasty (960-1279 A.D.) and recorded in ancient books that burning this incense regularly could help to strengthen us both emotionally and physically.” The ingredients are listen as figwort root, spikenard, cypress seed, rhubarb, aloeswood, storax and clove.  As such, this type of mix reminds me a lot of some of the sweeter TDHF Tibetan ropes with a bit of fruitiness  in a much more refined format. Like with most mainland incenses, the aloeswood is quiet and mixed in but it works quite well to give the incense some heft. The results are quite pleasant, especially as the scent builds, almost like a mix of woods and grape.

Taizhen incense is the second of three Huitong incenses packaged in beautiful cardboard rolls. The incense “originated from Imperial Consort Yang of Tang Dynasty (618-907 A.D.) Consort Yang known briefly by the Taoist nun name Taizhen, was one of the four beauties of ancient China, she was the beloved consort of Emperor Xuanzong for many years. According to legend, Consort Yang treasured this incense very much and named it by her own Taoist nun name. Taizhen Incense is made from various famous and precious Chinese traditional materials according to the ancient spice formula.” The ingredients listed are sandalwood, Chinese eaglewood (aloeswood), saffron, cloves, jave amonum fruit, saussurea involucrata, rue, cogongrass etc. In this case the sandalwood is noticeably up front in a sort of freshly cut wood way. The other ingredients sweeten this base scent up in the same way they do in wood powder heavy Tibetan ropes. The Chinese Eaglewood gives the aroma a bit of roundedness and the front has a fruitiness not dissimilar to the Cure Disease, In some ways it’s like a nice, smooth low wned aloeswood crossed with Tibetan-style spices.

Solemn Incense is one of the previous Buddhist incense. It was originated from Tang Dynasty (618-907 A.D.) when Buddhism was popular in the society. According to legend, when burning this incense, all the gods will pray to Buddha all together. It is usually used for practice Buddhism or reading at the home.” Like the previous two incenses, this is packaged in a cardboard roll. It contains sandalwood, aloeswood, mastiche, galbanum, and saruma henryi among other ingredients. It’s a very light sandalwood and aloeswood blend, with a slight fruitiness akin to the Taizhen (one wonder if this roll series might have some thematic similarities). It’s quite pleasant, again largely due to the fresh wood powder scent at the center. It seems like the galbanum might give the scent the fruity subnote. Like all good meditation incenses, it also has a slight ineffable quality about it. Solemn may not be as rich as the previous two incenses but in a way it’s the most successful.

Golden Light moves the packaging format to boxes and presents another tradional Buddhist formula from the Tang Dynasty, its name originating from the Golden Light Sutra. The ingredients are given as sandalwood, frankincense, basil and cypress seed and the incense definitely smells like a variation on a combination of those first two ingredients. As such it’s not terribly far from, say, a less refined Kyukyodo Yumemachi as if it was done as a Tibetan stick. This puts the incense in the general catgeory of the “daily incense” in that the ingredients here have less luster than in the other sticks. For the most part this is a woodshop sort of scent and as such it is also similar to the Incienso de Santa Fe bricks.

I’m about 95% sure the next incense I’m reviewing is Huitong’s Plum Blossom. Although the box wasn’t clearly labelled, the graphics seem to match the story which goes like this. “Plum Blossom Incense was created by Princess Shouyang, the daughter of Emperor Wu in the Nan Dynasty’s Song Era. Princess Shouyang was a plum blossom lover, according to the legend, one day when she slept beneath a tree, a plum blossom fell on her forehead, leaving a floral imprint. With the imprint, she looked much more beautiful. Soon, all the ladies followed her to paste plum blossom shaped ornaments on their foreheads. It was then called Plum Blossom Makeup. Hence, Princess Shouyang was crowned Goddess of Plum Blossom and this incense was also name Plum Blossom incense.” Plum Blossom is a coil incense (the coils are the same shape and size as many mainland aloeswood coils) and is made from spikenard, aloeswood, radix angelicae dahuricae, cortex moutan, clove bark and sandalwood. It’s interesting to see spikenard listed first as I didn’t sense it taking up a lot of the scent. Instead you seem to have the mainland take on something like Baieido Kobunboku done Tibetan style. That is the incense itself is centrally woody but it supports a sort of light floral mix that creates the plum blossom aroma and does so without the off scents one would expect with inexpensive perfume. It’s not spectacular so much as understated and like all the Huitongs, nicely done given the boundaries.

“Sky Dragon is a kind of precious Chinese traditional incense. It was originated from Tang Dynasty (618-907 A.D.) when Buddhism was popular in the society. According to traditional recipes, the incense requires several days of cellaring during production process.” Sky Dragon has a huge list of ingredients: rosewood heartwood, cloves, sandalwood, valeriana jatamansi, cogongrass, rue, frankincense, benzoin, ageratum, galangal root and cypress powder. The rosewood appears to be the central ingredient and the mix gives this stick a very different bent from the previous incenses which all have a substantive sandalwood component. It makes for a nice change, slightly anyway, because the rosewood doesn’t have quite the depth to carry it completely. Even the spices mixed in the other scents are missing here, leaving this one with a sort of campfire scent.

I didn’t receive any information with the last incense here, Yun Hui incense powder. This seems to be the deluxe item in the batch, as the powder has an intense richness that none of the sticks quite approach. Even fresh out of the box the spicy, fruity blend pops out of its small ceramic interior container. And maybe it starts with that container but it makes the whole incense reminiscent of Japanese kneaded incenses mixed in with the woody and powdery elements of Tibetan powders and ropes. This scent seems highest in good aloeswood content with subnotes of tea, caramel and butter on the heater. In order to get this review up in even a remotely reasonable time, I had to forego a sample of it on a charcoal burner but I may come back and add that. Needless to say, this is very good powder, reminiscent to some of the better Tibetan powders and I’m hoping to be able to get to know it better.

We’ll have some more Huitong incenses up for review somewhere down the line. Overall what reviewing these did for me, is really question the idea of what effects perfumes and oils have on an incense’s immediacy, because without them one’s work is a lot more difficult in trying to describe a scent as all of these, with perhaps the exception of the powder, are very quiet and gentle scents which will make you stretch to understand. Which is not at all a bad thing in my book. I’m actually overall very impressed with the sheer class and visual impression of Huitong. However, there’s one disclaimer and that these incenses aren’t easy to get at the moment, at least in the US and as I finish this up I realize I don’t have a URL. So I’m going to first direct you to Frankie’s blog where I assume one can leave a comment if you’re interested in purchasing, and I should be back in a few days with something a bit more direct.

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