They say that the sense most strongly associated with memory is smell. And I have experienced this – standing on the escalator at Parliament Station with the scent of burning train brake-pads in my nostrils, I had my consciousness slammed twenty years back into the previously murky recesses of my 6 year old self, standing on the platform of a Tube station in London. I had no conscious associations with either location, but that acrid tang of poorly maintained mass-transit system in my nostrils cut through every single boundary that had grown up in between me and that moment over time and continents, and folded space like a wormhole. A relative lifetime of experiences and any distinctions, any number of walls between me ‘now’ and that insignificant moment, decades ago and thousands of kilometres away simply fell away and ceased to exist.
That’s not to say that the only sense that can blindside you is smell. Another big one is hearing, in the form of music. Full disclosure: it took a surprisingly long time for music to matter to me. I remember the specific car trip I took at 13 years old where I realised that music was powerful. Sure, there were songs I enjoyed, tapes I hated less than others when forced to listen to them in the car, and styles that elicited some response from me, but I remember bugging my friends at school by asking “why? What is it about music that you like?”
It took a long road trip from Melbourne, Victoria to Renmark, South Australia to really make me go “oh, I get it now!” It wasn’t listening to the newest hits that resonated with me, or even anything that was of particular weight in my past, but rather, the tipping point – very late on a long list of songs – was Gloria Gaynor’s “I Will Survive” – a song I’d already heard a thousand times before, but without any context for understanding, as a proto-teen with no concept of an abusive relationship, or a bad breakup, or even true emancipation. But sitting there in the back seat, with those adults in front of me cranking the volume knob, singing along and just generally vibing with everything about the situation made me, on a fundamental level, understand that there was something more to this music thing than I’d previously realised. It transformed the space in that car; made me realise that, more than simply hearing something agreeable in the beat and pulse, there could be invisible ribbons connecting you to the music.
And the person I am now looks back on that person who didn’t get music with a mixture of surprise, shock and something like pity, because I now think of music as one of those things that is most valuable to me in the world. There are songs that instantly transplant me back into parties in year 10, songs that remind me of travelling the world and pluck me easily from wherever I may be standing, and deposit me in Morocco, Paris, Dubrovnik. There are artists that, when I hear them, I instantly feel the permeating sense of time and place, and the people that made those things significant.
Very recently, however, it was another sense entirely that had this similarly incredible effect on me. And that sense was taste. Perhaps the sense most intrinsically linked to smell, this taste was broad-spectrum and immediate. Basically, I went to the IGA near me to pick up something to drink, and that particular IGA had a *very* limited selection. The best option available to me was Little Creatures. Now don’t get me wrong – put down the pitchforks and hear me out; I don’t look down on Little Creatures as a brew – it’s just been a long, long time since I last had one. My head is too easily turned by all the bright young things of the exciting beer world of today and the drive to try new and interesting brews has left a lot of old favourites in the dust. Also, I feel that a lot of people will immediately throw their arms up and exclaim ‘but Little Creatures is the best!’ and on some level that resonates with me. Little Creatures was one of the beers that first planted the seed of turning me from the macro-scale breweries to the concept of craft and microbrews, somewhere around two decades ago. But, truth be known, I also haven’t drunk Little Creatures for years. I never had any negative experience with it, I just… stopped drinking it one day. There were always other options – something new to try, something a little better. Something a little more exciting.
Little Creatures is one of those almost religious beers, for me and (some of) mine – it was the beer I was drinking when I first kissed my partner of 11 years. It was a go-to beer of my wild years; I drank it with my colleagues and my closest friends, and those people with whom I forged the purest memories of my twenties. Half-price 500ml tallboys after a long shift at the Royston in Richmond, later smashed at a decrepit sharehouse in Hosie Street with solid human beings. 6-packs bought cheap at an IGA in South Melbourne, later shared with some of the best housemates you could ask for.
And yet, somehow, like a childhood crush, my infatuation with it just… sort of faded away somewhere along the line. Other beers came, and turned my head. New styles snatched my attention. Peaty smoked liquors held my gaze a little too long, and somehow, Little Creatures simply faded away. That is, until we got reacquainted over a few drinks, listening to some old tunes, and fell back into that old familiar dance. All those memories came flooding back, tipped out of the neck of a brown bottle with with a beer-proffering cherub on an unassuming beige label. It’s fascinating, what may be found locked up tightly in your subconscious, just waiting to spill out at the slightest provocation. So go on; open up a Little. See what misfiled memories you can find in the jumbled treasure hoard of your mind.