The other day at the supermarket, I was able to make a six-pack of summer ales. I have been slowly trying them out, posting my take on Twitter, and building a better knowledge about seasonal beers. This review is going to focus on a single beer, the Oberon ale from Bell’s Brewery. Interestingly enough, I have had this beer once before though all I truly remember is that I had drank it at a restaurant in the dead of a winter blizzard. A summer ale being served during winter? It must have been a technique to get everybody’s mind off of the miserable weather outside. The other question I would have is if the restaurant was keeping summer beers in stock for a reason, because Oberon is not distributed during the winter months. Regardless, I seem to remember being impressed with the Oberon and wanted to become reacquainted with this selection as I progressed through the typical summer craft brews.
An American wheat ale brewed with Saaz hops. Spicy and fruity, Oberon is the color and scent of a sunny afternoon.
Coming in at 5.8% alcohol by volume, the Oberon actually has a slightly higher alcohol content than your typical American wheat ale, according to the BJCP guidelines. Hovering around 6% is not too strong, and an obvious departure from “winter warmer” beers that can range all the up to 8% ABV. The goal of a summer ale I feel is to present a light, refreshing beverage that will bring flavor and finish clean without many distracting characteristics. This could very well be why many of the summer beers use wheat ales as a base, as I tend to find wheat ales to be bland and in need of a good flavor kick. Meanwhile, a high alcoholic content could distract your nose and tongue and disrupt what might otherwise be a revitalizing beverage.
Appearance Swirling the Oberon around in a tall glass reveals some lacing on the sides and a sustained white head across the top. Lots of tiny bubbles rush to the top of the glass, no doubt intended to produce a crisp feeling in the mouth. The Oberon is a clear, pale yellow – a characteristic that I have found to be quite common across most summer beers.
Aroma When I poured the Oberon, I thought: graham crackers. A tinge of grain with a mixture of sweetness. I can’t sense any hops aromas, nor any banana-like scents – a characteristic I have come to love in summer beers like Schell’s Heffeweizen.
Taste A few days ago I tried the Michelob Honey Lager. The Oberon shares many of the same characteristics as the Michelob. Light and carbonated. Sweet smelling and sweet tasting. A focus on quick refreshing taste, and not a lingering floral aroma. The maltiness resides on the back of your tongue for you to savor, but it’s not overpowering. The beer feels creamy and medium-bodied. The high carbonation moves beyond crisp and into fluffy. Despite the higher alcoholic content, there’s no residual flavors. This is good.
Overall Evaluation In terms of providing a light but flavorful summer beer, the Bell’s Oberon is a strong contender. The aroma and taste are both sweet, and you won’t be finding much of any hops characteristics in this beer. The first few wheat ales I had ever tried were again, bland, but these past few weeks have taught me more about the style. I find wheat ales to be a blank slate on which the brewer can build a palette of flavors. Wheat ales are a good base, but you need to add something. Sea Dog Brewing amazed me with their Wild Blueberry Wheat Ale, and Bell’s has built an admirably refreshing beer for the summer by adding a malted/sweet characteristic. I can’t help but draw some parallels to Michelob beers in this case, as I believe Oberon is sort of what a summer version of the Jack’s Pumpkin Spice would be. Considering the style, I feel the Oberon would rank above a 4. What’s great is that Bell’s seems to be a popular craft choice in midwest restaurants, meaning you can look for great ales when going out to eat this summer. Cheers!