Mermade Magickal Arts – Dia de Los Muertos, Pachamama, Sweet Earth, Sandalwood Oud Antique, Ali’s Rare Incense Powder 2015, Kyphi 2016, Oud Kyphi

As mentioned in my New Year’s post, Mermade Magickal Arts incense goes fast these days, although many of their incenses come back as vintages. This, of course, is a credit to the venerable Nevada institution who never fail to keep improving their art form. In recent years we have seen all sorts of new directions from them, including a line of central/southern/meso-American incenses, forays into Japanese style oud and sandalwood mixes, hybrids of these with resin and oud ingredients, and even a successful jump into Tibetan incense. Personally this continual high level of excellence and creativity has me watching the site fairly often, which means that the reviews here can come from samples or purchases. Sometimes I can’t get to reviews fast enough before certain scents rocket out of the inventory. So it’s worth keeping an eye out whether at the site or especially on Facebook for the next creation. Anyway I hope to tackle some recent new incenses here. The last time I looked all of these were available for purchase but it’s worth acting fast these days. The two new Kyphi vintages just went up after the New Year!

The first two incenses on this list fall roughly in the central/southern/meso-American category and are somewhat superficially similar in that both are blends of white copal, black copal and palo santo. In Dia de Los Muertos (Day of the Dead), the emphasis is on the two copals with the palo santo wood being a slight, although noticeable touch. Copal has been called the frankincense of the west for good reason, but when it comes to the really quality forms of it, copal really has a strong and powerful personality all of its own, a much denser, earthy undertone to it that only the darkest frankincense resins and myrrhs touch on. Mixing the white (blanco) and black (negro) copals tends to be a perfect match, just like frankincense and myrrh, chocolate and peanut butter, salt and pepper etc. It gives the overall aroma the bright, lemony-piney notes of the white copal with the more subdued and mysterious elements of the black copal. I really love how in the middle it’s all so foresty but in such a different, more temperate way than how we describe it when we think of something green. It’s worth noting that lower temperatures on a heater won’t volatize the copal quite so quickly and allows the scent to dreamily work its way to your attention.

Pachamama incense uses a similar list of ingredients but I believe the locations from where the copals come may be different and there is a much higher ratio of Palo Santo in the mix. The ingredients list Palo Santo resin and wood from a recent shipment of really extraordinary Palo Santo which almost revolutionized my opinion of the wood. This is a really powerful and aromatic, with some minty overtones I had never noticed from previous samples, and is certainly worth grabbing on its own. It has an immense presence in this mix and the results end up being quite a bit different from Dia de Los Muertos as a result. The copals here really share the scent rather than dominate and strangely enough, I’d say that this actually seems more resinous and less woody than the previous incense, with a really impressive amount of complexity given the short list. Pachamama whispers of shamanic ceremonies in deep rainforests, rays of sunlight through leaves and the rich fertilized earth of an unspoiled nature.

Sweet Earth seems to touch on a lot of the same aspects of Pachamama but with a totally different palette. While Palo Santo remains in the ingredients list, we’re back in the more familiar territory and base of a (honey) frankincense and myrrh mix. The incense is a marvel in terms of how the incense reflects the name, how the whole scent profile comes from such an earthy base, that sort of freshly tilled, post-harvest scent of leavened soil, loam and clay. There aren’t really the notes of more citrusy frankincenses which allows the mellower honey scent to merge with the liquidambar storax and create the sweetness of the name. The poplar buds/Balm of Gilead is a scent I’m not particularly aware of on its own, so there was a complexity in the incense I found to be quite evocative and fresh. In some ways this incense is about half familiar (I was reminded of the previous Dionysos in part) and half completely new and unique, yet it’s overall quite inventive and original, and most importantly quite addictive.

Moving across the Pacific, we have Mermade’s latest Japanese-Oud hybrid incense Sandalwood Oud Antique, perhaps a follow up to the previous Ensense Antique. These incenses fall in the premium category due to the list of rare and high level ingredients being used, in fact there seems to be quite a high level of agarwood going on here from several sources, always a treat. This underlies the high quality sandalwood in the mix which is mostly dominant but the real twist here is the use of two oud oils. These oils as a mix strike me as being rich, spicy yet not overpowering, a merger that is aimed to create an equality with the finer wood qualities. Like with previous styles, there’s a really nice Japanese, almost candy-like mix that reminds me of certain work from, say, Shoyeido. Towards the end of the heat, things get quite spicy. Overall it’s a very classy blend, very stately.

We’re also seeing vintages of old classics come through, which is always heartening. One of these classics is Gregg King’s Ali’s Rare Incense Powder. I have reviewed this venerable scent once or twice in the past (I seem to remember the first batch of it being a mix of “lozenges” and powder) and have never seen it as anything less than a mandatory incense treat. Be sure to look at the list of ingredients in the link to see just how many fine ingredients are here, what’s always been extraordinary is that not only do they all mix well, but none of them are buried in the overall scent. It makes it once of the deepest and most complex incenses on the market. The sandalwood is perhaps the most noticeable link among all the ingredients in its luxuriant and most resonant guise, but for me I really love the way the vanilla works in this incense. Vanilla in so many cheap incenses is just a headache waiting to happen, in Ali’s Rare Incense Powder it is a delectable treat. Anyway for further impressions on this blend, it might be worth digging for previous reviews as there’s never been a batch of this that didn’t impress and I’ve never felt the quality to waver in any way.

And as it’s the beginning of the year, it is also Kyphi time and the 2016 vintage is as good as you could possibly expect. In fact I think I would need a time machine back to ancient Egypt to find a market kyphi that’s better than this one. The problem on my end is as these vintages improve with every year I’m running out of superlatives to describe it (sifting back through previous Kyphi reviews is also recommended here, I would think all of them still apply). You would need the equivalent of a Wine Spectator expert who could sift through the many subtleties of such a complex incense to really describe this Kyphi, as in many ways it is the fine, aged wine of incense and actually shares the qualities of really good spirits in terms of power and quality. In fact this is an incense where so many ingredients come together and end up merging into one totality where it can be actually difficult to make any differentiation from one ingredient to another. What’s even more impressive is there’s a second blend called Oud Kyphi which is a form of the original with added oud and agarwood before the incense becomes cured. It’s just like when you don’t think the Kyphi could get any more stunning, along comes this upgrade. Surely this could be one of the finest boutique incenses ever devised, it’s certainly not the kind of scent you’d double task to even if you’re able to. It’s a virtual whirlwind of complexity and astonishment, the kind of scent that could only truly be approached by fine poetry.

As I finish this up I also want to mention I’ve really been enjoying the Labdanum resin from Crete. When you think of how many great incenses from Mermade are made from such excellent quality material, it behooves one to occasionally check out some of the material on its own. I’ve tried labdanum before, but some of it can come with some nasty off notes. No worry, there are none of those here, quite to the contrary. So don’t forget to check this out as well as the palo santo wood and some of the many fine frankincenses and copals Mermade carry. There are many treasures to uncover here.

Yamadamatsu Fujitsubo

This will be the first of my reviews of several Yamadamatsu scents I recently picked up from the wonderful people over at Japan Incense. Fujitsubo means (in the way it is written here) jar of wisteria, and comes in two forms, stick and coil. I am basing this review off of my impressions of the coil variant as I write, and I am immediately confronted with a sticky sweet floral reminiscent of a strong perfume. I get top notes of vanilla and lavender, with mid notes of rose and a base note of talcum powder and a slight, slight hint of spice. There is not a strong learning curve to this mix, as all the scents are quite up front and easy to pull out. At the very lowest end of the Yamadamatsu coils, this incense should be a pleasing treat to anyone who loves strong, sweet in-your-face florals without breaking the bank.

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/

Shoyeido’s Horin series Shirakawa

Shoyeido’s Horin series has been a long time favorite of many here at ORS and has some real winners in its line up. Recently Shoyeido brought out a new member of the series called Shirakawa, which apparently is named after the White River Valley in Japan.

If you like Hori-kawa’s (River Path)amber scent then this will  be right up your ally as it also has a big amber based scent, along with the addition of a vanilla and slight coconut note across the top. There is a sweet quality to the over all profile and it reminds me  a bit of a perfume called “Pink Sugar”.

Like Hori-kawa, it is very strong; even a quarter of a stick will pretty well fill up a 12 X 12 room. This incense relies heavily on oils and perfume influences and while I think there might be some sandalwood in the base it is pretty hard to tell. I did notice that this seemed to be better as a first stick of a burning session, although burning anything after this is going to require a wait. This incense would be great for scenting large areas like gallery’s or showrooms. -Ross

myInsens / myJoy, myMantra, mySensuality, mySerenity, mySpark

myInsens is a new company in the US offering natural and premium Indian incense. The owner, Kaivan Dave, contacted me last year about the project and after samples of the incense, I’ve been pretty excited for a while to announce the company’s presence, their web site went live not too long ago.

One of the things you start to notice with Indian incense over time is the distribution structure. It is quite possible to think of several incense companies having separate product, but often certain incense companies in India market incenses outside the country and so, for example, the Madhavadas family provide incenses for Primo, Pure Incense and others.  I mention this because myInsens is definitely providing a new scent profile with their first six incenses, one that will be similar to other Indian incense companies, but with variations that make them well worth checking out on their own. Kaivan has struck me as very careful in the quality and styles he is releasing first and as such all of the incenses in the line have done nothing but open up since I started using them.

But not only are the incenses good, the packaging and presentation is particularly notable. The first thing I thought of when I got my first samples and box was simply why hasn’t anyone thought of this before? Because the box the incenses come in is wonderfully crafted for travel, a hinged box with a compartment for an incense holder. Even if you’re the Japanese incense type, I can imagine you’d love a box like this, with just a little bit of arrangement you can load the case for travel and not really have to worry about broken sticks. The only downside to any of this is that $19.99 for 24 sticks of incense and the box might be considered too steep for some, and I might agree if we weren’t dealing with what is essentially a connoisseur level of Indian incense. But I’d still maintain it’s almost worth it for the box alone, it’s that cool.

myJoy is the first of two reddish colored sticks, both essentially florals. I’m often the first person to complain about how poor some Indian florals can be, so I’m also going to rave about them when they’re great. And in many ways what myInsens has done with the floral incense is one of their selling points. myJoy is the type of floral that many companies attempt and few get right, and it is a real credit to myInsens that this is so beautifully balanced, because a hair outside of this balance can really hurt a floral. In the description, we’re given crushed rose petals and olive oil, the latter perhaps being the first time I’ve heard of the ingredient in an incense. The perfume that centers the stick is just incredibly well conceived, with almost real essential oil quality definition. The beauty of walking through a garden is the subtletly of scent, not some sort of perfume drowning session, so it’s so easy to recommend this, its powdery and feminine sweetness has a true delicacy and sense of nature in it. Pure Incense’s Pink Sayli is perhaps roughly in the same style, but I’m not sure anyone’s done it better than this.

The ingredients given for myMantra are ground patchouli leaves and frankincense powder. I also notice a strong sandalwood presence as a base, and the patchouli holding the center. The patchouli tends to the sweet, I’d guess due to the frankincense powder which gives the overall scent a fruitiness you don’t tend to find in most patchouli incenses. Due to so many elements at play the overall bouquet has hints of vanilla and orange in the mix, which remind me of spicier teas as well as certain colognes. But like all the incenses in this line the effects are quite gentle and always subtle and you never forget their are organics at work, all of which wonderfully unfold duing the burn.

While the whole line is good, if there was a standout in it it would have to be the absolutely world class mySensuality. Talk about raising a rose (and, as the description unveils, raspberry) incense to a new bar. How the company managed to get a rosy incense this authentic at a reasonable price is quite frankly almost miraculous territory. Like with myJoy this has floral definition that you usually only see in the high end Japanese lines (like Shoyeido Floral World). While other incenses in the line have a bit more halmaddi, this is still essentially something of a champa style, balanced to the point that criticisms fall away. The rose/raspberry mix is a real triumph for the company, so rich it almost has wine-like notes. Make sure this one’s in your first sample pack.

mySerenity moves back to familiar territory. This is definitely a champa incense, with what seems like a very nice halmaddi and honey mix. We’re given both lavender and vanilla as ingredients, although the former is certainly not very loud, which I generally think is a good move. The style is quite similar in many ways to Satya Natural, Honey Dust and others and thus is perhaps a bit on the generic side as a scent while still nailing the quality end of it. In fact if there’s any criticism to be made, any stick this thick with gum can be slightly problematic on lighting, but once it’s going it should be fine. The ingredients are nice and fresh and this is essentially a vanilla/balsamic mix, quite old school at heart.

mySpark nearly combines the spicyness of myMantra and the ambery subnotes of  myJoy with the champa qualities of mySerenity and indeed the ingredients given are patchouli oil, halmaddi and sandalwood. Like myMantra, this is something of a spicy, somewhat cologne-like masculine scent. Once again the perfume/oils being used in this stick are nicely defined, including a light touch of sweetness, in fact the way the florals and woods mix is lightly reminiscent of a good oud. This is the kind of champa I tend to gravitate to on a personal level and found this stick quite bracing and enjoyable.

When I got to writing notes on myZen, I realized I had gotten some aromatic fatigue, particularly because it is the lightest and airiest incense in the catalog. It was one of those moments where I was struck by how careful the incense making is here. In fact this seems to be almost the perfect meditation incense, not so loud it will distract you. The ingredients are sandalwood, halmaddi champa flower, the sandalwood the most pronounced ingredient in the middle with the champa flower playing lightly around the edges (my first impression was violet). Of all the scents in the catalog, this seems to be the least oil heavy.

Perhaps the best news about myInsens is they’re already looking forward to new scents, in fact I believe I was told there were four more on the way. This is all excellent news, because the combination of quality incense with an intelligent and modern style of packaging is all too rare in the field today. Also it should be mentioned that if you sign up for their newsletter you can get 10% off on your order. I highly recommend any incense lover who likes to share to give a sampler a try, I find it worth it for the box/holder combination alone. That it comes with extremely good incense makes it a perfect package.

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!

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.

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.

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!

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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