Drink this for months to come
It’s not yet summer, and I’m certainly not finished drinking the wonderful ambers, pale ales and bocks of spring. However, yesterday the temperature slipped gently past the 80-degree mark and there was not a cloud in the sky. Oberon had just hit town, it was time for wheat.
The classic wheat beer is Germany’s standard hefeweizen. Franziskaner, Weihenstephaner, Schneider Weisse, and Paulaner all brew great examples of the south German wheat beer. There are sub-styles of the German wheat, from the less hazy and easy kristalweizen, to the strong and boozy weizenbock.
I was not always a lover of wheat beers, and several issues seemed to be of concern. The traditional offerings did not travel well, and the local attempts had little to offer. While I now love most wheat beers, it was not the typical hefe that won me over, it was a truly American move that sold me on wheat beers, and that was hops!
The beer that changed my view was Oberon Ale. Brewed by Bell’s Brewery out of Kalamazoo, Michigan, Oberon is spectacular, and such a great leap above other wheat beers that I can’t believe more breweries don’t follow suit. And, while there are other related beers from a few different microbreweries, it’s Oberon that for me is the real winner.
The key to Oberon’s awesomeness is, of course something that American brewers love, hops. Oberon is basically a hoppy wheat beer. Such a small shift is not a huge leap of thinking and I cannot believe every brewery does not make a similar style. Oberon is an American breed of wheat beer, very distinct from the yeasty, clove and banana, orange and coriander ales of Germany and Belgium.
Oberon is classified as an American pale wheat ale, which is basically our ‘easier-going’ version of a German hefeweizen. Given our craft beer beginnings likely followed with the success of APA (American Pale Ale), I’ve always felt that this style of beer should have been given the title WPA (wheat pale ale). But, maybe a new category should be made for this and a small collection of similar beers. Hop-wheat ale?
The title pale wheat ale, nearly all wheat beers being of the ale family, gives the notion of a thin, watery, weak wheat beer, of which Oberon is certainly not. Nor is this Bell’s Brewery beauty one of the new trend of wheat IPA beers such as Boulevard Brewing’s Reboot White IPA or Deschutes Chainbreaker White IPA; first and foremost IPA’s, with a gentle hint of wheat added to the malt bill to smooth out the beer.
No, Oberon Ale, and similar beers such as Lagunitas A Little Sumpin’ Sumpin’, and even Sam Adams Summer Ale are wheat beers by nature, with hops playing a supporting role.
Oberon and its brethren are first cousins of standard wheat beer, so you should expect some level of yeast and smoothness of mouthfeel from them. Golden colors to not quite orange are expected as well. However, the next closest relative is American pale ale, so a balance of malt and hops will also exist, much like you find in the better examples of our delicious APAs.
Oberon pours up a severely hazy shade of grapefruit skin with a huge head of stark white foam. Lace covers the sides of the glass, and a nice layer of foam remains as the beer drains. Citrus and spice scents emanate from the glass. Summer malts and toasted notes blend with pear and citrus flavors, all the while a spicy bitter note runs just underneath.
Bell’s uses Saaz hops, which give a spicy bitterness to this wheat and fruity ale. Certainly more savory and tasty than any wheat beer I’ve ever had. The mouthfeel is wonderful, and even with this much flavor, it’s an easy drinker and extremely refreshing.
If you’re not quite ready for the summer wheat invasion, but need a little zing to your spring, give American pale wheat ales a try. Enjoy the brews … Cheers.