I used to do a lot of black and white phoptography. For over 15 years, I would soak physical film and photo paper in chemicals and produce negatives and prints. It was monotonous and routine, and at the same time there was excitement and surprise in watching each new image that would appear. The constant thing in the darkroom was always the smell. For most people, the smell was awful, but for me, it was soothing. It meant that I was in a place that made me happy.
Sensory things are able to unlock some incredible memories and emotions. For instance, I’m back in my early 20s when I hear Alright by Supergrass. The Sega splash screen will always bring me back to summer vacations filled with video games. The bready smell of freshly crushed grain is also one of those things. It’s not just the smell of grain, it’s the smell of brew day.
There’s the excitement in preparing for brew day… making sure you’ve got everything ready and clearing your schedule for the afternoon, because no one wants to be interrupted while you’re brewing. There’s moments of intense concentration; getting the mash numbers spot on, adding the right thing at the right time and watching out for that sneaky boil over. There’s moments of relaxation, where you’re just kicking back and enjoying a homebrew while watching water boil for long stretches of time. It’s a mixture of routine and sometimes unexpected surprises. And a constant thing through it all is the smell.
The funny thing about those smells is that you nomally don’t even notice them on brew day. You usually take a minute to smell the grain when you open it up or smell the hops when you add them. For the most part though, it’s just there in the background. The best way to really notice it is to leave the kitchen or garage for a few minutes and come back. The smell is unmistakeable. Your brain never stops receiving those scents of malt and hops, and silently associates them with the awesomeness of brew day.
The next time you pick up your ingredients, take a minute to really smell of the doughiness of the grain, and the citrus and floral scents of the hops. It’s a boquet of scents that non-brewers rarely get to experience, and they mean that you have an awesome brew day ahead of you.