A brain injury that led to everything smelling “like a tyre factory on fire” almost put paid to Joel Robinson’s plans to make and sell his own mead.
Last year Mr Robinson was getting his meadery Hunter and the Harp up and running.
He had made his meads available through Five Barrel Brewing ahead of opening his own tasting room.
And then the accident happened and everything changed.
“I had a fall at home and ended up in Wollongong Hospital in the neurosurgical ward for a couple of weeks, suffering from a brain injury,” Mr Robinson said.
“With that brain injury it took a little while to realise I’d suffered an olfactory dysfunction.”
That dysfunction is known as parosmia which, in Mr Robinson’s case, makes everything seem to have the same unpleasant smell.
Even his newborn son, Banjo.
“We’d just had Banjo, Banjo was born a week out of hospital,” Mr Robinson said.
“He smells rotten to me, he doesn’t smell nice. Everything smells like that, it’s not just food or drink, it’s everything. It’s driving down through town, going to a restaurant, clean sheets on the bed - everything smells rotten.”
Saying it was a “huge battle” mentally to survive, he’d given up on the meadery – until he saw it could be a way out of both his mental darkness and his olfactory issues.
“There have been the guys at the Illawarra brain clinic that have been really good to me,” he said.
“They’ve helped me re-evaluate my values, where I want to be and what sort of life I want to lead from here on in.”
While there is no cure for parosmia, the regular smell testing he does while making mead can help keep the relevant neural pathways in his brain open – should the sense return.
In the meantime, Robinson has worked hard improving his sense of taste – which is still there despite the parosmia.
He felt that could give his meads a point of difference.
“It means the flavour combinations that I make are pretty different to what someone with a normal olfactory function would make,” he said.
“I’ll be picking up different flavours, so maybe we’re getting some uniqueness out of my condition.”
It may have done exactly that; his often-limited release meads found a very appreciative audience at a recent festival and he’s been busy filling mail orders ever since.
At this stage the meads – which are made in Wollongong’s southern suburbs – are available through mail order and a few restaurants, but Mr Robinson said he’s offering free delivery for orders in the Wollongong area.