Forget the equinox. For some Midwesterners, it’s the tapping of kegs from Kalamazoo that signals the start of the spring season.
On March 23, Bell’s Brewery will release its annual batch of Oberon Ale, a seasonal wheat ale that’s become wildly popular across the country, but especially in its home state of Michigan. The beer is typically available from March until Labor Day each year.
“In the Midwest, once winter’s over, we all breathe a sigh of relief,” said Chris Stuck, craft beer consultant at Chalet Party Shoppe. “I think in the beer drinking world, once you see Oberon’s back it’s like, ‘Finally, we’re done with the cold, the snow and the shoveling.’”
According to the Kalamazoo Gazette, the beer was originally marketed under the name Solsun, before the brewery’s owner, Larry Bell, was served with a lawsuit in the mid-’90s over naming rights by Mexican brewers Cerveceria Cuauhtemoc Moctezuma, who had their own El Sol variety of beer.
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The Oberon name was derived from the Fairy King character in Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” a part Bell once played as a sixth-grade thespian. Bell’s love of ballparks and beer influenced his choosing of the release date.
“Larry Bell has always timed the release with baseball season. He’s a huge baseball fan,” said Jung Lee, Indiana Beverage’s representative to Bell’s. “Oberon has a little bit higher alcohol, but not too much. It’s one of those craft beers that’s more approachable by a big majority, as opposed to a Double IPA.”
Stuck believes the beer to be a popular access point for people beginning to explore the heavily saturated craft beer market. Even for unattuned taste buds, Oberon does down easy.
“My wife, she’s not a beer drinker at all, but she’ll have an Oberon,” Stuck said.
While many pubs in Michigan throw special release parties for Oberon, it tends to make a quieter entrance in our area. The exception: Bar Louie in Mishawaka will hold a midnight release of Oberon this Sunday, March 22, until 2 a.m.
Here are a few spots in northern Indiana where Lee said Oberon will be available on release day. Others will likely begin serving it later in the week.