Christmas trees and hot dogs be damned. The greatest contribution the Germans ever made to American culture was the weissbier.
Fruity, zesty and soft as pashmina slippers, the wheat beer originated in Bavaria, but one could argue that it reached its peak in the United States as the quintessential springtime beer. Foremost among the style is Bell’s Oberon, a brew so revered that its annual release is celebrated as a holiday in Michigan. When April rolls around, if you don’t have a sunburst can of Oberon in your palm, the change of seasons might as well have never happened.
Plenty of ink has been devoted to the seasonal sensation of Oberon, but the standby evades nealy all critical evaluation for its status as a heritage beer. Twenty-seven years into Oberon’s reign as a harbinger of sunshine, it’s all been said: Oberon is the greatest, Oberon is overrated. But what’s lost in the historical hullabaloo is just how serviceable this beer is.
Oberon’s greatest success is its ability to meld the wheat beer and the pale ale.”
Oberon’s greatest success is its ability to meld the wheat beer and the pale ale. Slight hints of mandarin orange and tangerine interplay with spice, neither overloading the other. German wheat beers typically overdo it on the coriander and bitter orange flavors. American pale ales usually overdo it on the juiciness and reisin. Oberon occupies the center of that Venn diagram, relying on Hersbrucker and Saaz hops and their European-style house yeast to maintain the balance.
At 5.8% ABV, you could question Oberon’s utilitarianism on gravity alone, but this a beer that does not seek repeatability. Its effect is simple and straightforward. If the sun is soaking your patio in spring rays, you only need one 16-oz. can of Oberon to answer its call to action. This is a buzzmaker of the highest order. It may go down like a goblet of dandelion butter, but you’ll pay a reckoning for your overindulgence.
Therein lies Oberon’s key weakness—the fatal flaw that keeps it from being a truly transcendent beer. Despite the fact that there’s no overt booziness in the taste, the aroma is facile and lacking any of the spice or fruit of the body. Yes, the spring is full of enough splendor to compensate, but Oberon lacks the nose appeal to bring about the solstice on its own.
But in the end, when the snowdrifts in your driveway have melted to puddles, Oberon will be there for you, pillowy soft and refreshing. Every sip will taste as satisfying as peeling a marked-up page off a desktop calendar. Thank the Germans, thank whoever, but Oberon is a rightful American tradition.