The OGs of Craft Beer | Bell’s Brewery Oberon Ale
Once upon a time, I was a young person who only drank Bud Light. You couldn’t get me in the same room with a craft beer. My (now) husband could not stand it, but he mostly just gave me a little hell while he drank his microbrews. However, his frustration got the better of him one day and he proclaimed, “That’s it! We need to find you something that isn’t Bud Light. Anything.”
I hesitantly agreed and he went to his fridge, coming back with a beer he had already picked specifically for me. I drank it. I didn’t just like it, I loved it. Little did I know that this beer would lead me to a career and to a passion that I would hold for the rest of my life. That beer was Oberon Ale from Bell’s Brewery.
From Sun to Shakespeare
Oberon started its life as SolSun, back when Larry Bell still ran The Kalamazoo Brewing Company, a homebrew supply shop that had, in 1985, started to brew and sell beer. This homebrew shop, and those beers, would eventually grow to become Bell’s Brewery. The shop introduced SolSun in 1992 and it quickly became their flagship summer beer. It was an absolute hit.
Possibly because of its popularity, the name SolSun caught the attention of Mexican brewing company Cerveceria Cuauhtemoc Moctezuma; they didn’t appreciate the similarity of the name to one of their own: El Sol. They pursued legal action against Bell’s and, in 1997, the brewery changed the wheat beer’s name to Oberon.
“Oberon is a six-letter word, it’s kind of fun to say, it kind of has a summer connotation through William Shakespeare. Oberon is the king of the fairies in Shakespeare’s ‘A Midsomer Night’s Dream,’ which is all about mischief and star-crossed lovers and I played the part in our sixth-grade version of the play,” Larry Bell said with a smile in a Bell’s Brewery video.
Oberon is Summer
About the time the name change took place, appreciation for craft beer began to rise. In those days, many people came to Oberon through word-of-mouth, or as I did (having it shoved into my hands), but it did not take long to become a phenomenon.
“Sometimes I guess we can’t explain or figure out what happens culturally that the public takes to a certain product. That’s kind of what happened to Oberon. Oberon took on a life of its own,” said Bell in the same video.
In fact, the release of Oberon in late March is an unofficial holiday in Michigan each year. With plenty of Oberon Day parties, it marks the beginning of summer and a major sales boon for Bell’s.
“Oberon is definitely the flagship, not only for the wheat beer category at Bell’s, but also for Bell’s in general. We sell more Oberon during Oberon season than we do any other year-round beer. That’s being closely challenged by Two-Hearted [IPA], but it’s still the most popular beer we sell,” Laura Bell, Bell’s CEO, told Craft Brewing Business.
What Makes it an OG
That a little brewery from west Michigan could make a beer so influential that people throughout the U.S. literally mark their calendars for its release each year is unreal. That this has been happening for 25 years is wilder still. Oberon secured its place as King of Wheat Beers and continues to reign strong.
We at Porchdrinking.com thoroughly enjoy covering craft beer trends and showcasing the newest beers. But, before terms like Brut, Milkshake, New England and even BBA entered the brewing-industry lexicon, beer fans were thrilled to taste Ambers, Pale Ales and some mysterious beer that may or may not have arrived from India. So, for one month, we are going to take time to remember some of those OGs of Craft Beer — the brews that made it all possible. While we can’t cover all the OGs of Craft Beer, we want to take this time in August to pay homage to several of them. If your favorite “classic” isn’t on the list; don’t fret. Let us know what you loved back in the day (or still do), and bring attention in the comments section below or via our social media channels.