Although the first day of spring is March 19, a Michigan brewery is celebrating the unofficial start of summer on March 25.

Now owned by the Australian beverage company Lion, the Kalamazoo, Mich.-based Bell’s Brewery was started by Larry Bell in 1983. One of its most popular brews is Oberon Ale, an American wheat ale, which was first brewed in 1992.

In Michigan — and much of the Midwest — the citrusy ale signifies the sunnier days ahead. Oberon Day has become an official state holiday in Michigan.

Ahead of Oberon Day on March 25, the brewery hosted a group of media members for a sneak peek of what’s to come on the big day. Like last year, I found myself fan-girling over the opportunity.

We started with an in-depth tour of the Comstock brewing facility, which sits on a 32-acre site and serves as the main brewing location. Tour guides Ray Bristol and Levi Funk, along with Senior Brewer and Head Tour Guide Kevin Stuchell and Brew Master Andy Farrell, led the tour.

Naturally, the tour began with samples of Bell’s beers. Media members had their choice of four brews, and I opted for Bell’s Amber Ale, the beer that helped build the brewery.

Throughout the duration of the tour, we were led around the state-of-the-art brew houses and barrels and barrels of beer. Farrell noted that the company brews more than 20 beers year-round, while the downtown Kalamazoo location at the Eccentric Café brews the more experimental, exclusive beers.

We got to see the two canning lines, which fill 500 12-ounce cans a minute, as well as the bottling system that fills 750 bottles a minute. We also saw where the Bell’s kegs are cleaned and refilled — all 175,000 of them, which are specially labeled as to keep track of them.

At the conclusion of the tour, we heard more of the Bell’s story from Executive Vice President Carrie Yunker and Senior Brand Manager for Two Hearted and Oberon Carly Davis, and received a tasting of four beers from Farrell.

The media group was among the first to taste Oberon for the 2024 season. We also received a taste of Lager for the Lakes, Hazy Hearted IPA and a juicy IPA.

Yunker described Oberon Day as a celebration of hard work. She also noted that Oberon is the beer the brewery gets to play around with the most. There have been many variations of the wheat ale, and there are seemingly endless possibilities with it, Yunker added.

Last year’s varietals at Oberon Day included flavors like Creamsicle, Fruit Punch and Raspberry Hibiscus. The café recently posted a list of Oberon Ale varietals that will be available at this year's Oberon Day. The list includes Starberries & Cream, Yuzu Ginger, Peach Jalapeno, Orange Vanilla and Oberon slushies.   

Yunker confirmed that the traditional ale will be joined by a new lineup of an Oberon shandy called Oberon Sunshine, which will be available at the Eccentric Café on Oberon Day.

Oberon Sunshine is to set to be released later this year in 12-packs, with three different varieties: Cherry Limeade Shandy, Lemonade Shandy and Tropical Shandy.

I learned that, on Oberon Day last year, the Eccentric Café went through 91 kegs. Additionally, Oberon makes up about 30% of the brewery’s business. During its season, the wheat ale outsells Two Hearted, the brewery’s iconic American IPA. 

After the tour, we were treated to a special Oberon pairing dinner at the Eccentric Café. The five-course meal was specially curated by the chef at Bell’s to complement the citrus taste of the wheat beer. We were, of course, served more Oberon Ale to go with our meals.

Oberon Day has become a whole-town affair for the city of Kalamazoo, with thousands flocking to the Eccentric Café to partake in the day-long festivities. Davis suspects that, throughout the day, there have been up to 10,000 total visitors who show up to partake in the fun and enjoy Oberon.