The Sun Returns

Mike Grabowski, June 25, 2013

In late March, at the hint of spring, the limbs of Midwesterners start to twitch and shake, and we politely brush off the layers of accumulated frost from another paralyzing winter. We were born in the cold and revel in our ability to withstand it, but after months of scraping our windshields and living in pure darkness, enough is enough.

So when the snow melts and the temperature finally breaks 40, we open our eyes, lift our heads, and take a deep breath like a freed prisoner. We savor the forgotten smells of the thawed earth, while searching for signs that this isn’t another ruse, like that 50 degree week in December.

And like a Midsummer Night’s Dream for a beer appreciator, that sign comes in the form of a bright-blue 12 pack of Bell’s Oberon.

There it is, perched gloriously on a shelf at your local provocateur, the same dusty shelf you scanned for weeks during the winter freeze, hemming and hawing over a six pack of Fat Tire or Ranger IPA. You can’t believe your eyes. Your initial reaction is primitive — you want to wrap it in your sweater and rush it out the door like a secret service agent tending to a wounded president. And that is probably too strong of a reaction, and you should re-think your priorities. Regardless, don’t be ashamed.

Oberon is a seasonal ale. And like all good seasonal beers, they disappear for long stretches of the year. Out of sight, out of mind. But absence makes the heart grow fonder, and after weeks of choking down muddy winter brews, you crave some frivolousness. You want a spark and jolt to rouse you from hibernation. And Oberon is exactly that.

It’s a beer that matures in the sweat of the summer. It has no mouthfeel, and that’s exactly the point – in August, you don’t want a beer that crunches. You want something that glides down your gullet and quenches your desires like you just parasailed off of a cliff. A bright label feels more like a landing point than a marketing gimmick.

Oberon pours a bright, cloudy orange, but quickly settles, and leaves just enough murkiness to let you know you’re ingesting something with thought put into it. It’s not a mass-produced Frankenstein from a beverage conglomerate. It’s crafted in Comstock, Michigan, and quickly distributed within the Great Lakes region with regards to shelf-life.

You have to dig your nose deep into the bottle for a whiff, but when you get there, you’re met with hints of citrus, wheat, and spice. The profile is unassuming overall, but you wouldn’t think twice about offering one to a friend. It’s a sophisticated palate cleanser for a night of good IPAs, or a perfectly acceptable excuse for a July morning hangover.

To fully appreciate Oberon, you have to recognize its limitations. It won’t blow you away with body or flavor. It’s merely a role player on a championship team. It’s undersized and lacks 80 tools, but plays up from positional adjustment when aligned with similar offerings. But it’s a beer worthy of its own tap and worth remembering, though you likely won’t realize it until it’s gone for the year.   

Bell's Oberon Ale

appearance = 3.7/5

Orange. Cloudy. Sunny. Thin white rim.  

smell = 3/5 

Mild yeast. Fruit. Largely unassuming. 

taste = 4/5

Wheat. Citrus. Light and refreshing. 

mouthfeel = 4.3/5 

Ultimate smoothness. Like sipping Summer. Dry lingering. 

overall = 3.8/5

Oberon is a king of a weak class (American Pale Wheat Ale), best enjoyed with tempered expectations and an appreciation for the moment.