I learned a new word while I was over at the Great American Beer Festival. Or rather, I learned a new usage of a word I hadn’t really heard for ages.
When I was a kid, we used to buy this really cheap washing up liquid called Sunlight. I can’t find a picture now of how it used to look – there’s no reason why I should be able to. It was one of those cylindrical white plastic tubes that you willed empty so you could glue Airfix model parts onto and spraypaint silver to make a rocket like they showed you on Blue Peter. Or maybe that was just me.
It had a really cheap artificial lemon smell, and from the pack above I’m guessing that hasn’t changed. And we used to have a thick, heavy dishcloth that never got washed or replaced (our house was superficially spotless but some of the detail was well dodgy). This dishcloth was used to wipe down surfaces and clean plates, and after the cleaning was done it was never hung over the tap to dry out; it was just left in a bundle in the bottom of the bowl. And so it acquired a kind of damp smell, but the artificial lemon aroma was so powerful it override the damp smell, and the smell of grease.
This lemon-wet-damp-cloth-grease smell sounds disgusting. But I liked it. I don’t know why, I just did. And it’s a smell, or a sense memory of one, that I get from some ultra-hoppy IPAs. Just as runny French cheese might be described as ‘sweaty socks’, or certain aged beers as ‘farmyard’, divorced from its context – or perhaps even because of it if we’re driven by bravado – it’s a negative association used to describe an appealing smell. If you’ve ever heard me describe a beer as smelling of ‘wet dishcloth’, this is a more detailed description of what I mean.
Over at GABF last week, I heard people describing hop character as ‘dank’ – this was a new one on me. I wasn’t even sure if it was a descriptor or a new hop variety I hadn’t heard of. According to my OED, dank means ‘unpleasantly damp and cold’, and is of Middle English origin, probably from the Swedish word for ‘marshy spot’. And the ever-helpful Stan Hieronymous explained to me that it was being used here to describe a full-on West Coast hoppy character, big on citrus – big on everything – and best exemplified by Simcoe hops.
When I sniffed a proffered example, there it was: my old mum’s damp, artificial lemon dishcloth smell.
It’s probably more than coincidence that US hop freaks have chosen a word that means ‘damp’ to describe an extreme hop aroma that I associate with an eternally damp, lemon-impregnated dishcloth.
I’m feeling ambivalent about extreme hops at the moment – which I’ll write more about in due course – but I’m glad I now have a word to describe one of my favourite extreme hop aromas. I love it – it’s a good word, slightly dangerous and a little alienating, and therefore perfect.