Thursday, 4 November 2010
Properly Proustian - A Brooklyn Flashback
The usefulness of the experiential descriptor "Proustian" rests on the reader knowing that it refers to Marcel Proust's retelling of an experience of smelling and eating tea-soaked madeleine cakes, and the memories that this evoked. It tends to be viewed as a bit pretentious, largely, I think, because it sounds (and indeed is) French, something that the entire non-French world dislikes intensely.
I had an unexpectedly Proustian moment the other evening with a bottle of Brooklyn East India Pale Ale. I was absent-mindedly putting the beer to my lips, and vaguely thinking about having visited the brewery in 2007. Garrett himself showed me round, and coincidentally, EIPA was in one of the kettles that day. As I breathed in, pre-sip, the big burst of floral and toffee aroma snapped me instantly back a couple of decades, to my first ever trip to New York. It was probably 1989, a time when New York was still the sleazy and dangerous city of filmic lore. I was visiting an American guy I had met while he was travelling in the UK. The precise scene evoked by this inhalation of aroma was a party at his apartment on Hoyt Street in Brooklyn. I'd been drinking black and tan for the duration of my visit, and like most Brits abroad, complained loudly about how crappy the beer was. In an attempt to shut me up someone handed me a bottle of the brand new Brooklyn Lager. I wearily, sneerily took the bottle, had a gulp, and was dumbfounded.
It was like the first time I ever tasted whisky. Laphroaig was my malt of choice back then, and what I liked about it was that the flavours were so different, so unfamiliar (and remember, I was only 19) that rather than being dispensed from a bottle, they may as well have been beamed directly onto my cerebral cortex from an alien craft orbiting the planet. That bottle of Brooklyn Lager was the most unexpectedly pungently floral beer I'd ever tried. The way the hops and the slightly toffeeish malt lingered was a revelation. I still moaned about the beer for the rest of my stay - hey, I was an English teenager back then - but I also had a new secret infatuation.
It clearly made a great impression. The beer that evoked those memories wasn't even the same beer, but maybe there was something about the house style, and the concentation of aromas as I breathed in that set off that little memory circuit in my brain. The whole reverie probably lasted for less than a second, before my conscious brain barged in shouting "WHOAH, DUDE! YOU'RE HAVING A PROPERLY PROUSTIAN MOMENT!". Stupid brain.
I've always been sceptical of this sort of thing, largely taking beer-related Proustian experiences with a pinch of salt - sure, I remember drinking this beer on holiday, but that's it. But this was so vivid that, like the bottle of Brooklyn Lager over two decades ago, it almost took my breath away. This wasn't reminiscing over a beer, it was more like a sensory hiccup, a deja vu projected 20 years in the wrong direction. Has anyone else ever had this, or am I special? [NOTE: these are not mutually exclusive]