Dear Will Gordon,
I’m not here to skewer you for calling one of the best wheat beers I’ve ever enjoyed “overrated.” You taste more beer in a month than I do in a year and may have something of a point on quality.
I am here to tell you your understanding of the love Michiganders, Midwesterners and people in the know have for Bell’s Brewery’s Oberon seasonal wheat is deeply flawed. You make brief mention in your Drunkspin column of understanding ritual and nostalgia, but you don’t get either.
Oberon, like literally every other beer in creation, needs to be enjoyed in context. Bud heavy isn’t so shitty when you’re drinking it (ice cold) with your favorite uncle on Christmas. The world’s best oatmeal stout will taste like donkey vomit on a 90-degree day.
Oberon is best enjoyed after a long, dark, depressing, grinding, freezing winter with a stretch of 27 straight days sans sunlight. Just a slate grey sky every. Single. Day.
The kind of winter where the dry, frigid air sneaks in under your jacket and between the seams of your jeans as you walk the 40 feet from your car to the gym. The kind of winter where your fingers can’t type for the first 10 minutes of work or class because they move in chunky unison rather than with independent dexterity.
These winters only really happen in the upper Midwest and are pulled off with a special panache in the hometown Bell’s and I share—Kalamazoo, Michigan.
The seeds of its winter ugliness are sown in its spring and summer beauty—the same maples and oaks that give it a spectacularly green, leafy look in the summer sun during the warm days are denuded come winter, making the whole landscape look barren under an endless, dark sky on short days.
That’s why the release of Oberon in late March each year is marked with such a celebration. It’s a sign that life is returning to the frozen tundra.
The lakes thaw, the grass starts growing, kids are playing baseball and the Tigers aren’t far behind. It heralds—if not immediately—the advent of barbecue season and music festivals and backyard volleyball and street fairs and all the million things that make living with the 9,000 lb gorilla that is an Upper Midwest winter worth it.
So, Will, imagine all of that streaming toward your lips along with Oberon’s light citrus notes and almost imperceptible hops. Calling Oberon America’s Most Overrated Beer is tantamount to calling summer America’s most overrated season.
To a certain part of the country, one signals the other.
Oh, and finally, Will, Oberon is a damn good beer. There are plenty of overpriced, mass-produced monstrosities more deserving of your “most overrated” title.