I love the scenery in Oxford this time of year, although I'm not sure that they like the look of Memphis at the moment. Which is the thing about the kickoff of the football season — every year we all brim with the optimism of any new venture that we haven't yet managed to screw up entirely. For half the football fans out there, however, that lofty confidence will crash and burn by the end of opening day. It's enough to drive you to drink.
Still, as they say at Ole Miss, "We may lose the game, but we never lose the party." Yeah, it's kind of stupid, but they (we) have a point. Really, is it any worse than the University of Memphis' unofficial war cry: "Actshulllly, we beat UT that time. Remember? Really. Google it."
It was in this air of fashionable defeat that I found myself in Ajax's Diner on Oxford's idyllic square, ordering what promised to be a great morning-after beer for the team whose unsullied optimism of opening week had just been, well, sullied. It was Southern Prohibition's Devil's Harvest Breakfast IPA. It's the "breakfast" part that made me think of someone suffering through the hangover of something untoward: a night that really went your way — or a gameday that really didn't.
In my experience, Southern Prohibition Brewing out of Hattiesburg, Mississippi, knows what it's doing: They retired their Jack the Sipper ESB, one of the few really good ESBs I've had on this side of the Atlantic. It's a great warm-weather drinker. High Cotton makes a pretty good one as well.
Devil's Harvest Breakfast IPA is a clean and refreshing ale. I've been all over the beer map this summer, and I'd forgotten how much I like IPAs, although this version isn't entirely true to the traditional style. Here, the hops have more of a grapefruit zig than a heady floral pop. For all that, Devil's Harvest has a great IPA aroma to it, and they've cut down on the bitterness. I'm assuming here that the "breakfast" part has more to do with the relatively light 4.9 percent ABV rather than the tart grapefruit finish. This is not the ale for drowning your sorrows the morning after. Although I can definitely see settling down after finals to show a couple of pints who's boss, it would be a mistake to call this the mimosa of beer.
The end result is an IPA that stands up on its own for a pint or two and pairs well with big flavors of heavier fare. I hadn't planned on getting the red beans and rice at Ajax, but it's hard to resist. It's fantastic and comes with a wedge of cornbread, too, so if you find yourself facing a sudden and unplanned carbo-load, this IPA is a pretty good choice. The pour is cloudy, and it has a good collar on it, but the truth is that Devil's Harvest is light on the palate. I'll leave it to you to make the call on breakfast.
Something vexed me though. Crossing the square, I noted a dozen or so young men in blaze-orange jumpsuits and shackles. I realize that quick defeat makes a team rethink its season strategy, but kidnapping the UT football team and chaining them up didn't seem entirely sporting. Sort of like a late hit — except with multiple felony counts.
But I digress.
I was having lunch with a friend who has a real job, so he was drinking water. Devil's Harvest was a hell of a lot more interesting than that, although he pointed out that the big building in the center of the square was the courthouse and those handcuffed fellas were prisoners, not the UT line after all.
I suppose it really is important to be a good sport.