Have you ever had that moment when you smell the perfume or cologne of a long-lost love and you smile, just a little bit, to yourself as long-buried memories bubble to the surface?
I think we’ve all experienced something like that because it’s a powerful thing is smell. Not only is it a primal link to our inner Neanderthal to warn us if something is OK to eat or drink, it’s the strongest memory trigger of all our senses, so I’d like to encourage you to use it just a little more.
I say this because, not so long ago, I had a powerful reminder that taking the time to smell the beer (or the roses, for that matter) shouldn’t only be about letting you know it’s free of faults and drinkable. It should also help you capture moments that you’re enjoying with friends and loved ones.
I say this with conviction because I experienced “smell recall” recently when the mere act of opening a little wooden box led to the unearthing of a memory that was so joyous, so visceral, that it brought tears to my eyes and a huge smile to my lips.
It was a memory of my granddad, Alf Cole, who was a man I loved dearly. In fact, I’d go as far to say idolized. He died when I was 12, and, to this day, I find it heart-breaking he didn’t live to see me grow up. I hope he would have been proud of me, but, if nothing else, he would have enjoyed more than his share of free beer, that’s for sure!
But what was it that unleashed this tidal wave of emotions? It was actually the mundane action of opening a little box where I keep little mementos like concert or cricket match stubs, a rosary my grandmother gave me and a few other bits and bobs.
So, despite having opened it hundreds of times, when I lifted the lid and the box wafted its muted sandalwood scent at me, powerful memories were unleashed. I was transported back at least 30 years to a bright summer’s day in the Barley Mow pub garden on idyllic Englefield Green in Surrey, where my granddad was holding his pint glass to my lips for me to take an illicit sip, which I’m pretty sure is my earliest beer-related memory. But it’s so much more than that.
With that aroma came a host of other remembered scents—over the pungent nuttiness of the beer, I could smell the smoke on his fingers, the Brylcreem in his hair and, throughout, the woody note from the Old Spice shaving cream that he used, whisking it to a lather in its branded china pot with a badger hair brush.
I then remembered how I would find him in the morning, carefully shaving in a mirror at the kitchen sink because it had the best light, wearing just his vest and trousers, with his braces flapping around the backs of his legs; how he’d pretend I wasn’t there as he carefully finished, then wiping any excess foam away before giving me a good morning kiss and making me my breakfast, which was always a bowl of cornflakes followed by blackcurrant jam on toast—the latter of which I still love to this day.
I am so pleased to have these precious memories gifted back to me for the rest of my life, by the simple act of opening a wooden box, that I just want to suggest a way you can do the same.
Stop for just a second, when you’re out enjoying yourself with friends or loved ones, to just quietly inhale the aroma of your beer. Just a few moments of committing that smell to memory and perhaps, one day, you’ll be drinking that same beer and you will be back transported back to that exact moment in time of joy and companionship—and I hope it brings a smile to your lips as you take a salutary sip.
This column appears in the July issue of All About Beer Magazine. Click here for a free trial of our next issue.
Melissa Cole is a British beer writer, sommALEier and international beer judge. She is also the author of Let Me Tell You About Beer, available from Amazon and independent book stores.