Kyarazen Enterprises: Holy Lotus and Blue Lotus

I have gotten to sample both of these incenses recently; the Holy Lotus is available now at Kyarazen’s Etsy sit.

The listed ingredients are “Himalayan juniper, Mysore sandalwood, borneol, etc” and I am sure after about 10 sticks of each that there are quite a few other ingredients in both of them They are done in such a way that it becomes very hard to discern any individual notes. On occasion one can say “oh yes Juniper or Sandalwood” but it really seems to depend on the state of ones nose at that moment. Neither of these two are “florals” except in an allegorical sense. These are based on original, very old Chinese formulas when floral additives were not too common. These incenses are part of the Hall of the Peaceful Heart series, made by Dr Li Fupeng of Kyarazen Enterprises.

The Holy Lotus is a bit “sweeter” or rounded, while the Blue Lotus a touch dryer or perhaps astringent (but still very softly so). Both of these would lend themselves very well to meditation, as they are great for concentration and centering.

The scent does tell you that as in everything I have had the chance to use from Kyarazen the materials used are truly remarkable as is the amount of effort that goes into the production. His ingredients remind me a lot of the materials on Mandy Aftels perfume organ. Everything on it is sourced through much effort and sometimes years of tracking down, and then used in such a manner as to present a flawless work of scented art. This seems to be true for both of them.

On another note, if given the chance to get a hold of the Cyro Mysore sticks, don’t think, just go for it. There is nothing better in a Sandalwood, really, they are astounding. When I figure out where I managed to store a video clip of the grinding process I will post it. Don’t know of anyone else willing  to use liquid nitrogen in order to not loose any of the sandalwood oils! -Ross

Found the clip….don’t try this at home!!!

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.

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.

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!

 

 

Kyarazen’s Artisinal Incense: Enko, Old Sage and Zen Moon

Kyarazen has spent the last two months creating a trio of luxury incenses. Each embodies a unique character and personality and creates a different mood and atmosphere. That an artist can compose olfactory poetry, using nature’s raw materials, is truly amazing and inspirational! Thank you, Kyarazen, for sharing your painstakingly crafted reflections. I feel very privileged to have had the opportunity to try them.

ENKO

Kyarazen’s Enko is a larger than life scent- one that unabashedly fills a room with its hypnotic presence. It immediately reminds me of the interior of a traditional Chinese medicine shop where the mysterious scents of roots, barks, herbs and fungus, seashells and mineral extracts, and animal and insect components, are compounded into remedies that have been used for over 2000 years.

Enko has a rustic vigor that settles on my shoulders and burrows into my clothes with confident persistence. It is primarily a bitter scent, whose liveliness and energy are enhanced by warm herbs (turmeric, spikenard), woods (sandalwood), spices (pepper?) and salty mineral notes (shells).

Rather than unfolding note by note, the elements fuse to create a very dynamic and dense scent. This combination of vibrant buoyancy and weighty substance is unexpected and intriguing. I find myself inhaling it’s unfamiliar, medicinal aroma more and more deeply, and feeling invigorated by its penetrating presence.

To me it is very much an earth toned scent- russets, ochers and ambers; the scent of rugged escarpments and expansive plains. Although it is a quintessentially Chinese scent, Copeland’s Fanfare For the Common Man celebrates the same strength and openness that Enko, more humbly but not any less passionately, encapsulates.

OLD SAGE

Old Sage is an exceptional sandalwood incense that continues to perfume the air with the sweet scent of Santalum album long after it has finished burning.

Held breaths of silence punctuate this milky, opalescent fragrance that wraps its user in a haze of tranquility and mellowness. The fragrance is so intoxicating that I long for its reappearance during those vacant, scentless intervals.

Old Sage is more restrained than Kogado’s Hoshinohayashi, and its creamy notes are tempered with a hint of dry bitterness and salty mineral odorants. Inhaling the smoke has a strong physical effect: lured into a complacent daze, I’m happy to drift away, my chin nodding to my chest, my shoulders limp, my mind a puddle of blurred and melting images. Perhaps this smooth, undulating incense has already become an addiction? If so, it is one I willingly and wholly embrace.

Mutton jade; an anniversary pearl; a carnelian snuff bottle with sloped shoulders. Massenet’s “Meditation” from Thais. Golden mercury.

ZEN MOON

Zen Moon is delicately transparent. It is luminous, ethereal and elegant yet it radiates dignity and calm. The scent drifts in and out of my consciousness, dry and aloofly bitter, a cool, crescent moon sickling crystal waters. Intermittent surges of resinous sweetness, wavy lines of lactones and wisps of earthy herbs add complexity, dimension and depth to the scent, but the composition is, above all, a reverent homage to the stately and austere woody scent of agarwood.

Unlike Enko, a sustained note that never vacillates, Zen Moon is a fugue, its shadows and overtones embellished adornments of Aquilaria’s meandering melody.

Silver solitudes, a wooden box embossed with almost forgotten memories, the permanence of impermanence, Bach’s Partita No. 2 in D minor.

Kyarazen wrote “What I had wanted to achieve with Zen Moon is to create a special space, a hollow, omnipresent clear quietness, and the incense presenting itself in that background, weaving through the air, allowing the perceiver to experience wafts of scent like the clouds that drift slowly past the full moon in stainless light.“

He has certainly succeeded.

For more information about these incenses please see:

http://www.kyarazen.com/making-incense-sticks/

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!

A note to Ross: Floral Hearted Night

Hi, Ross,
A friend was kind enough to send me a sample of Floral Hearted Night. It seems like a different direction for you to have gone and, to me, it’s a very successful one 🙂 Although this incense smells unmistakably floral, it doesn’t accost me with out-of-control indoles, as some “big white flower” essential oils do, or suffer from boring flatness, a problem with some mass-produced sticks. I do love the scents of plumeria and tuberose, which share a similar thick and sweet headiness and can sometimes be overwhelming. You manage to imbue them with a delicacy and demureness that I never would have associated with either flower. Honey Abs. adds a subtle, very slightly booze-y twist, and agarwood and sandalwood add creaminess and weight to this true-to-life blend. Civet rounds out and augments the floral notes, and ambergris, though not obvious as stand alone “star”, contributes to the delicacy and intricacy of the scent, while adding its unique, mineral sparkle to the composition. Every once in a while I catch an animalic, musky drift that adds a provocative and slightly carnal twist to the incense. The overall effect is of young, white flowers just beginning to open their translucent petals, set against a backdrop of somewhat woozy woods that are doing their best to hide their more wild, Faun-like natures.

So, now there is a floral incense I can say I unequivocally like and, at last, I can smell summer blooms in winter without lifting a shovel! Your incense may be called Floral Hearted Night, but I know it’s going to brighten many of the cold and gray winter days that lie ahead. Thank you, Ross!

Gyokushodo Jinko Kojurin, Jinko Hoen, Jinko Yozei: Current Stock

All of these have been reviewed some time ago here at ORS but there are a lot of changes going on in the incense world (things like a scarcity of materials as well as huge prices increases in the raw ingredients) so I thought it would be interesting to not so much compare them to the old ones as much as just take a present time look at where some of my favorites are now. I think, in general, that the biggest difference is in the woods and how they are used by many manufactures. But since there is not a lot we can do about that it is a good time to get sample sizes and see what moves you.
Jinko Kojurin: Sort of the start of the agarwoods blends for Gyokushodo it has a somewhat musky base mixed with a light perfume scent. All this floats above the woodnotes. This might be a good place to start if you were very used to Indian style incenses. There is a somewhat sharp or tangy character in the overall scent profile which many will find agreeable.
Jinko Hoen: The classic Japanese incense smell, Agarwood, Sandalwood, Camphor, Cinnamon, Clove. I am sure there are quite a few more things in here but it is so well done that I cannot tell what they are. Just opening the box is a treat in itself. When lit the different materials blend into a very harmonious whole that is much greater than the single parts. This is not a strongly scented stick and I have been known to burn two at once but this seems to be a trait of many of Gyokushodo’s offerings. I think this is a real winner as well as a good buy.
Jinko Yozei:  This is beautiful. Woody, smooth and on the somewhat “sweet” side of agarwood’s scent profiles. Like many of the incenses from this company it is also mild, although a friend(who is Japanese) finds it just right. If you are looking for woody type incense, without too many other additions this would be right up your ally. For sure this and the Jinko Hoen should be in the Hall of Fame, they really are treasures.

Melt Into “COMFORT”

Ross’ Comfort incense, a blend of North American and Asian pulverized barks, leaves, resins and seeds, serves up cozy memories of “Home Sweet Home”.  Maple syrup, root beer floats, caramel chewies, orange-laced chocolate and sweet anise’s confectionary notes precede distinctive whiffs of celery leaves and toasted walnuts, liberal pinches of ambergris and musk and generous helpings of gourmet agarwood and sandalwood powder for dessert!

When winter’s chill creeps beneath the sills I love to douse cushions of French toast with freshly-tapped maple syrup, stick my finger into mountains of vanilla frosting and chomp on wads of toffee gooey enough to glue my teeth together. Comfort indulges me in these olfactory pleasures without my having to worry about my dentist bill or the needle on the bathroom scale 🙂

If you would like Comfort to festoon your holiday season, please visit the “New and Featured Products list” on the  Mermade Magickal Arts website.

Happy Holidays!!!

Shroff Channabasappa / Soft (Semi-Dry) Masalas / Apsara, Exotic Petals, Little Woods (new version), Orange Blossom, Pride, Raja Yoga, Silver Bouquet, Suganda Mantri, Tapasya, Yatra, Yogi Bouquet

Shroff Channabasappa Part 1
Shroff Channabasappa Part 2
Shroff Channabasappa Part 3
Shroff Channabasappa Part 4
Shroff Channabasappa Part 5
Shroff Channabasappa Part 6
Shroff Channabasappa Part 7
Shroff Channabasappa Part 8
Shroff Channabasappa Part 9
Shroff Channabasappa Part 10
Shroff Channabasappa Part 11
Shroff Channabasappa Part 12
Shroff Channabasappa Part 13
Shroff Channabasappa Part 14
Shroff Channabasappa Part 15

Shroff Channabasappa Part 16

I’ve been wanting to write about this group of incenses for a really, really long time now, in fact it should be a measure of my appreciation for them that I’ve restocked every single one once. If there can be one string that ties all of these incenses together is that they’re (almost) all very sublime in terms of their mixtures of notes, the kind of quality that’s like a lure or siren’s song. When I first started to use them, I found it fairly difficult to get a really good impression that I could turn into words and then before I knew it they had sucked me in and I fairly rocketed through all of my initial packages before I could even put words down on paper. So then I ended up restocking them again a few months ago and was a bit more careful and methodical with them. By then there was a new blend called Silver Blossom and some of the original soft masalas were starting to change in recipe. One of these is here, the new version of Shroff’s classic Little Woods.

While Shroff don’t tag these as wet masalas, it’s kind of difficult to really tell what the difference is between the two categories, except, perhaps, that the wets are a bit stronger in terms of perfume content. There’s perfume in these as well but they are much quieter in terms of how much the scent comes out of the boxes when you open them. Think of Darshan or Saffron and how potent they are, these are something of a step down from those. But most of this group is also different than the original group that Little Woods came in, and what they tend to smell like on the burn is quite a bit different from what they smell like in the box. But in all of these incenses’ cases, the more you get to burn them, the more you come to love them and some of these I’d find difficult to do without, especially with all the changes and bad news on the market at the moment. With Dhuni closing up shop, Shroff are now the predominant incense in the Indian export field and the reason why they are is part to do with the subtlety and quality of the last couple of groups.

Apsara lists balsam, jasmine and musk as part of its ingredient list and you’ll see musk pop up at least a couple more times in this group. In particular this is a really crystally perfume musk that really works well with these incenses. With Apsara it’s married to a really sublime and gorgeous floral champa scent with a terrific spicy finish. It’s somewhat reminiscent of pink or even royal amber incenses at times and the mix of what seems like cinnamon (but is probably partially the balsam) and the champa base is perfectly done. As such, it is fleetingly similar to some of the better Japanese florals with a high quality perfume scent at heart. Gentle and seductive, like nearly incense in this liine, this has a subtle quality that always keeps me coming back to it.

With lavender, sandal, and palmarosa in the description, Exotic Petals is a mix of lemon and citrus with a floral and fruity type of center. This is the type of scent I always find reminiscent of air freshener or furniture polish, it’s bright, intense and almost impossible not to get the huge palmarosa hit in front. But don’t let comparisons to these household products scare you off, this is much more well done than a synthetic fragrance, and it has a unique atmosphere that is well worth checking out, particularly for those into “desert flower” type mixes. It has a bit of sandalwood in the mix that grounds it nicely and it has a really cleansing vibe that is good for lifting the atmosphere of your burning area. In fact this one seems quite perfect for summer.

Little Woods has been reviewed here before and has shown up in previous monthly top tens for me, I’ve always stood behind it as one of the best incenses India has to offer. So I was a little tentative to realize that the group it came in has rumored to have changed in scent. The new version is definitely different but the good news in this case is that it’s at least as good as the old version. When I originally reviewed this, I found it slightly reminiscent of the incense known as Woods that started out brilliant and then really took a dive with the recipe changes. However, I’d say the new version might even be closer to that original classic and this seems to be less perfumed in some ways and more evergreen or resinous in scent. As a result it doesn’t feel like we’ve lost another old favorite so much as gained a new one (even if the perfumed version was brilliant). Little Woods is still an evergreen and evocative wonder.

Orange Blossom lists orange and ylang as ingredients. Like an orange cream soda or popsicle, this fruity-citrus champa is one of the best and most unique of its type. It’s not only that it gets its scent right (too many bad memories of off orangey incenses makes me hesitant to approach these), but it does so and manages to be subtle as well. The blossom part, if you will, is nicely defined and gives the scent a lot of sunshine, it’s still distinctively gummy and balsamic at the same time with a touch of the powdery. The combination of elements makes this one perfect overall, but do note these are thicker sticks than the rest of the line and thus the stick count will be a little lower.

Pride sticks out of this group quite a bit by moving away from obvious floral scents and using sandal, aloes and musk as its ingredients. It’s probably the driest in the bunch, stick and scentwise and reminds me a little of Shoyeido’s Haku-Un, a woody blend with a nice touch of aloeswood in the mix. It’s quite different for a champa or soft masala, with peppery hot notes mixed in with the woody/spicy blend. At the risk of repetition, it has a great balance like all of this line. The whole scent has a spicy richness that makes this an earthy classic and could easily be used as a temple incense. Don’t expect this to have any sort of whopping Japanese style aloeswood note in it, but you can tell the ingredient is part of the mix nonetheless.

Raj Yoga is an earthy champa of a different type, and lists rosemary, olibanum and oakmoss among its ingredients. It’s very close to what I’d call a patchouli champa variant with a green, herbaceous character (the oakmoss I’m sure) that is reminiscent of vetivert as well. The middle seems sandalwood heavy and there’s a touch of spice/floral to give it some individual character. It’s all extraordinarily fresh and original, and a great example of why these are all such impressive hybrids, incenses that only work because all the moving parts are in their right places. It’s tough to pick a favorite in this group, but for sure this would be in the running.

Silver Bouquet is one of Shroff’s very recent blends and is a really excellent entry that reminds me of the older champa days. It’s not so much that it reminds me of one scent in particular as it evokes a combination of older notes in a newer blend. Hints of Maharaja or Incense from India’s Silver Temple, a touch of Lotus, a bit of Incense from India’s African Violet fill the mix as well as a bit of nuttiness and a thread of spice permeate. It hits the kind of sultry end you want with a “silver,” with the perfume revealing some cool subtleties through the burn. Amazing, like a quality spiced tea.

When I restocked Suganda Mantri, it was the one incense in the group I bought two boxes of. It’s one of this line’s brilliant pieces of art, a rich, sultry Eastern perfume in champa form. The scent is quite woody (musk and sandalwood are listed) and the subtleties are many and difficult to list. There’s a bit of chocolate, some earthiness, some sensuous florals, especially rose. It has a depth to it all the best Indian masalas have, where the plurality of ingredients come together in all sorts of sublime ways. It may be the best of several examples of why this batch of Shroffs is so good. Perhaps a bit similar to desert flower blends but if so the most superior version of that scent on record.

If there’s one incense in this group that I might have slipped a little bit with, it’s the musk, sandalwood and amber blend Tapasya. It’s a bracing, fruity blend with the usual sandal, orange peel and spices, in fact this could be considered something of an alternate version of the old Maharaj scent. The main issue with it is that either the bamboo stick or part of the aroma cuts through with a slightly rough woody scent that gives it some bitterness. It gives an abrasive note to the scent that prevents it from working properly. Like Pride, it’s quite dry, but not in a good way. In fact as I took notes down on this I went through several sticks just to try and capture why it wasn’t working as well for me anymore and mostly it just doesn’t pop like the rest of them.

Yatra, a mix of jasmine, sandal and musk, is an excellent blend of fruity and floral with a really powerful and crystally musk presence, this is really what this line does well, balancing several ingredients in an unusual and clever fusion. The wood and champa base sits in the middle and they seem to ground both the jasmine and musk so that both are distinct in the bouquet. Sometimes jasmine can be overwhelming, but like with Apsara it is placed rather perfectly in the scent. Very nicely done, fresh with a touch of evergreen in the mix.

Finally we have Yogi Bouquet which lists citrus, musk and balsam. Like Yatra, it has a distinct and noticeable musky quality, although where it’s more crystalline and perfume-like in Yatra, it shows up a bit more sultry here, meshing perfectly with the balsam. The citrus is nicely mixed in and doesn’t kill the incense like it often can when the essential oils are over accentuated. There’s a bit of sawdust in the mix as well and it’s perhaps a touch rough, but the combination makes it quite worthwhile.

This article more or less catches up with the Shroff line to date, although after trying the new Little Woods, I’m curious to revisit some of the other incenses in the group that have probably changed. I tried Pearl again but it’s close enough to the old version to be redundant and reports elsewhere on the site evince that Jungle Prince might not be up to the standards it used to have. Another big change is that Shroffs are now being packaged in 50g packages, which seem a good balance between not having enough and having too much. Let us know in the comments section what your current favorites are in this thread and if you’ve noticed any changes, any observations will be highly worthwhile to our readers.

« Older entries