Thursday, August 11, 2011

Battle of Wheats: Bell’s Oberon vs. Arcadia’s Whitsun

Bell’s Oberon, in many respects, is the gold standard of Michigan beer. Oberon has the widest reach and the most mass appeal, and the release of Oberon in the spring has become a holiday in Michigan. But as the big kid on the block, Oberon, justifiably or not, is often criticized. No sooner had I discovered Oberon as an undergrad at WMU than Kalamazoo beer enthusiasts started selling me on Arcadia's Whitsun as a superior alternative.

While Oberon needs little introduction, Whitsun, a “full-flavored” summer brew, flew largely under the radar until recently when Arcadia stared selling it in cans. I’ve enjoyed both beers, but the debate about which is Michigan’s best summer beer rages on. Recently—by accident—I just happened to have a six-pack of both in my refrigerator, so I decided to sample them together to see which of the two I actually preferred.

The differences begin at bottles-cans and keep going from there. Whitsun is dark orange in color, almost brownish, whereas Oberon is light orange, almost yellow. Whitsun is much cloudier than Oberon, and has a larger, thicker head. The feel and taste of the two beers is worlds apart. Whitsun is all spice and orange—tingly, with a tart finish that stays on the tongue. Oberon on the other hand is subdued with a creamy flavor that is distinctly wheat as opposed to the more fruit-flavored Whitsun. Oberon is smooth, where Whitsun is surprising and lively.

In the right setting I can enjoy either—beers are situational. But since the post is titled “battle of wheats” I’ll force myself to pick a winner. As a summer beer, brewed to be refreshing, Oberon is a bit smoother and easier to drink. If I’m sitting on a porch with a cooler full of beer, I’ll give the edge to Oberon, but I sure wouldn’t turn down a Whitsun.


Sven Gustafson said...

Been a long time since I tried a Whitsun and I was unaware that they've started offering them in a can. Do you think this affected the beer's flavor in any way?

Tim Chilcote said...

I didn't notice a difference in flavor between cans and bottles, but that would be another fun taste test.

CW said...

I'm going to have to cry foul and ask that you re-do this test.

And this time, there needs to be some blinding and controls.

I'll gladly contribute my time in this re-test.

Tim Chilcote said...

I believe you're right, a re-do is in order.

Big Dog Dad said...

Send me beer........I'll be the west coast judge.

Unknown said...

You must have been drinking a different Whitsun than I just tried the other day. (And I mean that literally -- it's been almost a year, and I wouldn't be surprised if their formulation has changed as they've scaled up production. Everyone I know who's been drinking Oberon for years complains that it's not the same beer any more than they fell in love with.)

Anyway, the Whitsun I tried for the first time was really almost closer to a pilsner than a wheat beer, honestly. It was perfectly nice, but it was clear, crisp, light yellow, with very little wheatiness or orange-coriander flavor to it. My buddy and I both thought that if you had served it to us in a glass, we just would've assumed it was a nice pilsner.

Now, it's no mean feat to brew an ale that's as crisp and clean as a lager, and it tasted great, but as a spiced-wheat beer, we were kind of underwhelmed.

Unknown said...

(I don't know why it posted my last comment as "Unknown" -- this is Laurent.)