Beer Review 0141: Bell’s Oberon Ale

I’m not sure how many of my regular readers pay attention to craft beer news, but as I find myself getting more and more into good beer, I also find myself paying closer attention to the ins and outs of the industry. A story broke today that surprised the hell out of me: Bell’s Brewery might soon be for sale.

Speaking personally, Bell’s is one of my favorite breweries — I’ve never had a bad beer from the Kalamazoo, Michigan company, and I’ve even rated their Hopslam a perfect 100 points. What I like most about Bell’s is their attention to freshness. Nearly all of their beer, especially the Two Hearted Ale (89 points), which is one of my go-to everyday beers, is bottled less than three weeks before it gets to me. Which I think is incredible!

According to today’s news, Larry Bell, president of Bell’s, is attempting to secure the company so he can pass it down to his children. In order to do so, he has to buy out the rest of the shareholders — currently, Mr. Bell holds 56% of the shares, and both his children have shares, too — but some of the shareholders are balking at selling for various reasons.

Until the news broke today, I had no idea that Mr. Bell had recently suffered from cancer. And he sees selling the company as a way out, if a compromise cannot be reached. From the way the article sounds, this issue is taking a toll health-wise on Mr. Bell, and that’s no good. As a concerned beer drinker, after reading the article, I went out this afternoon and secured a six-pack of Bell’s Oberon Ale and have decided to review it this evening. Why? Well, beer is something that is to be enjoyed, and it sounds like Mr. Bell and family aren’t really enjoying it too much these days.

So here’s a glass of Bell’s in honor of this situation working out, not only for the Bell family, but for us lovers of good ale, too. Hey, who ever said beer couldn’t be a healer?

Oberon Ale is a wheat beer, fermented with a proprietary yeast strain and brewed with a variety of spicy hops. Although this is a summer seasonal, this beer is actually available for six months at a time, and rotates on the Bell’s schedule with Best Brown Ale (87 points).

Pouring gave up a vibrant golden yellow beer, topped with an average size head that was frothy and fluffy, with a lasting quality. This beer was quite cloudy and loaded with light sediment, with some of the pieces bordering on large/heavy. The lacing was good right from the first sip, coating the glass with soapy bubbles.

If anything disappointed, it was the aromatics. As expected, there was a big grain/wheat presence up front, with a touch of citrus hop, and hints of orange/orange peel. There’s a yeast component, too, which adds a doughy whiff. But overall, the scent was very mild and subdued. I wrote on my review sheet “almost macro-lager like…” but as the beer warmed, I realized that’s not true. If anything, more orange comes out, and the grain subsides a little.

On the palate, there’s a short but intense bit of citrus/orange, which I completely didn’t expect. It fades fast, and the taste buds are greeted with some wonderful, almost chewy wheat. The mouthfeel was thin and kind of foamy, and just a touch gritty. Carbonation was perfect. The finish transitions into a hit of slightly bitter hops, and when coupled with the remaining orange note, it becomes sort of like the aftertaste of orange juice.

To me, Oberon is a classic beer. Not on my point scale, but on my everyday drinking scale. This isn’t my first go around with it; in fact, this is one of the first craft beers I ever had. Honestly, Bell’s describes this beer perfectly on the back of the bottle: “color and scent of a summer afternoon.” However, they neglect the taste, which reminds me of summer, too. Refreshing and just delightful, could this be the best summer beer out there? I can’t call it for sure, but this would make a run for it…

Here’s to Bell’s and the Bell family — may everything work out for the best!

Bell’s Oberon Ale, 89 points. Price: $9.49 US for a six pack.

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