Oxford Growl: Celebrating an Anniversary South of the (TN) Border 

The lighting at the City Grocery down in Oxford is mercifully low. There I was with the charming Mrs. M, squinting through a romantic gloom that made even me look good, as we got into our second bottle of wine. Well, the second bottle we had there, at any rate. Earlier we'd been on the rooftop bar of the Graduate Hotel eating charcuterie — which if you don't know is like cold cuts but more high-minded and priced like antibiotics. Was it worth it? Well yes. It was our anniversary.

I'd booked us into the Graduate Hotel — The Growler Package to be clear — which was cheaper than the regular rate and included a growler and a discount at a local taproom. Normally a husband needs to be careful about combining tax write-offs with anniversary outings, but we've all got to take risks these days. The plan was to drop into The Growler on our walk to the square, and that is, I'm pretty sure, what happened.

click to enlarge brews_unnamed.jpg

There is nothing remarkable about The Growler. It's a reasonably well-lit taproom and has the pleasant vibe of your parents' finished-out basement. The crowd seemed to be mostly grad students and their dogs. You can talk; its nice. The Blind Pig down the block is the packed basement bar lit in beer-sign neon — what old married people remember as a "college bar." Next time you're in town, choose accordingly. Everyone at The Growler seemed to have an unwritten psychology paper due on Monday. At least I hope they did; it was Saturday night for God's sake. You children are our future!

I ordered a Yazoo Brewing Company Saison De Bois because I like saisons, and Yazoo rarely gets it wrong. Rarely. The real issue was that it didn't taste like a saison. Part of it may have been my expectations, like when my mother told me that carob was "like chocolate." I've hated it ever since.

Saison De Bois is aged for six months in French oak puncheons (a type of barrel or a short stave used to keep tunnels from burying miners alive, depending on who you ask), which explains why it had the oakiness of fundraiser Chardonnay. The issue went deeper than that, though. Only later did I find out it is part of Yazoo's aptly named "Embrace the Funk" series, launched around the time I was warning you to steer clear of those sour beers. The end effect was that the clean finish of a great saison was blurred by a tartness that just shouldn't have been there.

In defense of sour beers, I've had one or two since my initial warning that have been pretty good — and as refreshing as claimed. And in defense of Yazoo, the Saison De Bois was the first I'd call a misfire. If you need a second opinion, the beer has won the odd prize. Like my judgement, however, you need to take these honors with a healthy grain of salt. In a lot of trade awards, like political primaries, it's hard to avoid a backroom fix.

It was fitting, then, that I'd discovered this misbranded attempt at random in Oxford, home of the Ole Miss Rebels ... wait, no ... wait, it'll come to me ... What the hell is their mascot these days? The whole ZIP code seems to be going through an identity crisis down there.

A few hours later, after the lamb and the second bottle of wine, the landshark fins had started to circle in the Côtes du Rhône. I was feeling expansive; I'm setting a speed record for a book I'm writing and have a reasonably successful marriage. At the risk of derailing both, as well as this column, I ordered a Scotch for dessert. The plan was to drown the circling fins before they could get started, but I miscalculated. It seemed to actually encourage the little devils.

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