The more theatrical among us may think of Oberon mostly as a Shakespearian character terrorizing Titania amidst a mid-summer’s dream, but for lovers of fine ales, Oberon is a dream itself that arrives in early spring and makes many a summer’s night replete with flavor and refreshment.
In fact, the mere release of the seasonal beer has become a culinary event. Bars around the state and even other states like Minnesota, North Carolina, and Ohio have taken to throwing spring parties to celebrate Oberon’s return each year.
Produced by Bell's Brewery in Kalamazoo, Oberon is a wheat ale. It’s fermented with Bell's signature house ale yeast, mixing a spicy hop character with mildly fruity aromas. The result is a smooth, classic summer beer, that is much anticipated among craft brew connoisseurs.
This year the seasonal favorite returned on March 26th, and release parties began at midnight with neighboring Shakespeare’s Pub, and continued as crowds visited the Eccentric Café at Bell’s as early as 9AM.
The popularity of Oberon is not the only thing that draws people to the brewery and its Eccentric Café. Tastings of a wide range of brews are offered there, including many small batch beers that are only available on site.
Inside, the pub features an eclectic décor with brick walls bedecked in tapestries, flags, and a host of nods to brewers past and present. Stain glass windows highlight the beauty of Michigan, while a large mural denotes Bell’s history as Kalamazoo Brewing Company.
Larry Bell founded the company in 1983, originally as a home brewing shop, and by 1985 was producing and selling barrels of his own beer. Around 2005, the company’s name officially changed to Bell’s Brewery, as it had been commonly called by many.
Today, the business is a regional craft brewer, employing more than 100 people across an 18 state area, in addition to Puerto Rico and Washington DC, and brewing over 20 beers available for distribution. There is also that fun variety of small batch beers that give the business its character, and which are clearly adding to the state’s rise in culinary tourism.
The specialty brews are what drew Wil Howard and a colleague to the café for lunch on a recent Friday afternoon. Howard owns The Party Store in Hamilton, Indiana, and sells Bell's products. The pair were traveling in Michigan on business and wanted to experience beers that are not available through distribution. Meanwhile back at the store, his crew is awaiting arrival of their first Oberon shipment of the season.
Elsewhere in Eccentric Café, another group of tourists, this time from Cincinnati, is enjoying lunch and lots of laughs. While the pub’s menu features a nice variety of appetizers and sandwiches, the main attraction is undoubtedly the beverage selection that complements the food. Each flight of six samplers is served on a beautiful wooden plank, shaped like the Upper Peninsula to add to the local pride.
With a formula of driving people to a specific location to taste the uncommon, alongside a variety of distributed favorites, Bell's has found a unique way of building brand loyalty...and the increased tourism for our state that results, is a most welcome bi-product.
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