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Bell's Oarsman - Bell's Brewery, Inc.

Not Rated.
Bell's OarsmanBell's Oarsman

Educational use only; do not reuse.

579 Reviews
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Reviews: 579
Hads: 2,022
Avg: 3.54
pDev: 15.82%
Wants: 77
Gots: 236 | FT: 2
Brewed by:
Bell's Brewery, Inc. visit their website
Michigan, United States

Style | ABV
Berliner Weissbier |  4.00% ABV

Availability: Year-round

Notes & Commercial Description:
Beer added by: Thorpe429 on 04-12-2009

Sour mash wheat ale.

"Designed as a flavorful session beer, Oarsman Ale uses a classic German brewing technique to impart a light, refreshing tartness. Oarsman Ale grew out of a desire to explore the tradition of session beers, trading intensity for finesse while still creating a worthwhile experience for the taster. The grain bill includes a healthy portion of wheat, while light hopping lend citrus & herbal notes to the aroma. Fermented with Bell's house ale yeast, Oarsman comes in at 4.0% alcohol by volume. Rather than being the dominant flavor note, the tartness in Oarsman takes on more of a palate-cleansing role, making it perfect with meals or purely on its own."
Beer: Reviews & Ratings
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Reviews: 579 | Hads: 2,022
Photo of Sammy
3/5  rDev -15.3%
look: 3 | smell: 3 | taste: 3 | feel: 3 | overall: 3

Sorry Bell's. I thought this was a lager based on the mouthfeel. I got some lemon and sourness out in front, didn't like it, and went for a perrier with lemon instead. Fresh bottle from Cleveland.So not so drinkable, didn't care for the smell, the mouthfeel. You get the picture.

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Photo of UCLABrewN84
3.82/5  rDev +7.9%
look: 3 | smell: 3.5 | taste: 4 | feel: 4 | overall: 4

Thanks to kzoobrew for sending me this one!

Pours a murky light yellow with a 1/2 inch foamy white head that fades to an oily film. No lacing whatsoever. Smell is of wheat, lemons, and a sour aroma. Taste is of wheat, lemon/citrus, and a slightly sour flavor. A nice tart flavor lingers on the palate after each sip. This beer has a good level of carbonation with a very crisp and clean mouthfeel. Overall, this is a good refreshing beer with a nice pleasant tartness. I am glad I got to try this one.

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Photo of metter98
3.85/5  rDev +8.8%
look: 3.5 | smell: 3.5 | taste: 4 | feel: 4 | overall: 4

A: The beer is hazy light yellow in color and somewhat resembles lemonade. It poured with a quarter finger high white head that quickly died down and left a bit of lacing on the surface and a thin ring of bubbles around the edge of the glass.
S: There are light to moderate aromas of sourness in the nose.
T: Similar to the smell, the taste has a moderate amount of sourness, but that’s about it. The sourness is neither strong nor overpowering (and doesn’t have any funkiness like in a gueuze).
M: It feels light-bodied and a bit tart on the palate with a low to moderate amount of carbonation.
O: This beer really cleanses your palate, similar to what you would expect from a light sorbet between courses at dinner.

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Photo of StonedTrippin
3.5/5  rDev -1.1%
look: 3.5 | smell: 3.5 | taste: 3.5 | feel: 3.5 | overall: 3.5

not a conventional berliner weiss as i understand them. this one pours a bit darker, hazy orange honey color with a small white head that doesnt last long. smells a touch sour, like just a tad of brettanomyces in there, but i dont think there is. tart lemony notes as well with a funky ale yeast. flavor is yeast forward with a really cool wheat malt profile. the sourness comes from the yeast i think, very citrusy. this is a pretty solid summer brew, lots going on, but lighter in body and carbonation. very drinkable, not boring at all. my only disappointment was not in the beer at all, but in the fact that my waitress told me this was a sour beer. it isnt, but it is quite good for what it is. still never had a bells brew i didnt adore.

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Photo of Thorpe429
4.1/5  rDev +15.8%
look: 4 | smell: 4 | taste: 4 | feel: 4 | overall: 4.5

On tap at the brewery on April 11, 2009.

A: Pale lemonish color. Slightly cloudy with a decent bone white head.

S: Slightly sweet and a little bit tart.

T: Pale malt with some tartness. A few hops.

M: Very crisp with moderate carbonation.

D: Very drinkable. Great outdoor summer drink.

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Photo of Knapp85
3.08/5  rDev -13%
look: 3 | smell: 2.5 | taste: 3.5 | feel: 3 | overall: 3

Poured from a bottle into a pint glass. The beer is very light looking. Very clean and clear brew with some bubbles rising periodically. The Head wasn't too much of anything really. The smell had something like a funky aroma, not strong like a lambic but very light hint of it in there. That little hint from the nose come over onto the tongue with each sip. It's quite a different beer. I don't recall having something similar to this before. Not a bad brew at all, but not my favorite.

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Photo of brentk56
4.03/5  rDev +13.8%
look: 4 | smell: 3.5 | taste: 4 | feel: 4.5 | overall: 4.5

Appearance: Pours a hazy lemon color with a modest whipped egg white head that fails to leave any lace; I haven't had too much exposure to the Berliner Weisse style but if memory serves, they tend not to produce much of a head, so I am rating this by giving them the benefit of the doubt

Smell: Bready, with a reasonable amount of lemony tartness

Taste: Starts out with a crusty bread character, with the lemony element taking charge by mid-palate; after the swallow, the lemon flavors persist, though the breadiness returns to provide some balance

Mouthfeel: Light body with prickly carbonation

Drinkability: Though it is not a true Berliner Weisse, I think Bell's has stumbled onto something here as I really enjoyed the lightness and tartness; the beer would also pair well with a range of foods; it might not be every BA's cup of tea but it is a beer with potential mass appeal that I wouldn't mind drinking on a range of occasions

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Photo of BEERchitect
3.5/5  rDev -1.1%
look: 3.5 | smell: 3.5 | taste: 3.5 | feel: 3.5 | overall: 3.5

Wheat-heavy and sharply acidic, this American Wheat is estery, phenolic, rich, and crisp- a lot going on for a beer style that catches a lot of criticism.

The beer pours a murky golden color with a froathy-fizzy head that disapoints with it's head retention; reducing to a trace very quickly and struggles to exist for the first quarter of the session.

Aromas of wheat dominate the beer (this beer obviously uses much more wheat than the norm). Spicy rye-like scents combine with lemon and apple esters, almost-smoky phenolics, and an earthy sweetness than hinges on sourdough breads and tobacco.

Flavors are acidic and lemony up front with a bright and crisp start. But the wheaty/spicy notes take the sharp flavors into a more mellow bread and white pepper taste. The bready-sweet flavors intensify towards the finish and stray from the lemony start. Pungent, earthy, and a pleasant graininess persists late in the finish. The beer takes a very German-like maltiness and yeastiness but an English-like hop identity.

Likewise, the beer starts lemony in mouthfeel with a palate-stripping acidic feel. But the beer takes on a more full, malty, bready texture as the beer makes its transition into the finish. Earthy, bitey, and mildly astringent late.

Oarsman seems to take a reverse procession than what beers normally do. The usual transition is from a creamy-sweet start into a dry-acidic finish. This beer starts with the lemony-acidic start into a froathy-bready-earthy finish. Although this beer is characterful, drinkable, and complex it's still an American Wheat Ale that pales in comparison to traditional German Hefeweizens.

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Photo of emerge077
4.4/5  rDev +24.3%
look: 4.5 | smell: 4.5 | taste: 4 | feel: 4.5 | overall: 5

This is a Berliner Weisse/American Wheat hybrid style.

Bright gold, slight haze once the yeast is poured. Steadfast cap of bone white foam, creating thick sheets of lace as it's sipped. Very attractive bright pastel gold.

Aroma of white grapes, minerals, dusty wheat, signature Berliner Weisse traits.

Mildly sharp lactic acid tartness, with wheaty creaminess settling in after the initial tart snap. Firm wheat flavor, sour crabapple, and mild grape notes, soft and ethereal. Even carbonation, soft feel, not even approaching puckering, rather a mild pleasant tartness. Sublime in it's simplicity, this is something i'd crave on a hot summer day. Ultimately sessionable at 4%, and sadly misunderstood.

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Photo of BuckeyeNation
3.5/5  rDev -1.1%
look: 3.5 | smell: 3.5 | taste: 3.5 | feel: 3.5 | overall: 3.5

"If the wind will not serve, take to the oars."

--Latin proverb

Acid-washed lemon yellow with a two finger crown of cumulus cloud white that is slightly crackly. The foam is still sticky enough, however, to grace the glass with dots and spots of lace... that don't last. Looks like a Berliner weissbier.

The nose is more akin to a classic American pale wheat with a bit more lemony tartness than is typical. The beer smells clean and fresh and inviting. Simplicity is no black eye when style is taken into account.

The brewery's goal was to create a year-round session beer that would be good alone or with food. Mission... pretty much accomplished. The amount of citrus juice tartness puts Oarsman Ale closer to Berliner weissbier than American pale wheat and might cost them repeat sales. Just a hunch. This is pretty good ale, but multiple bottles could become a little bit wearing.

Malt contributes almost nothing in terms of flavor, sweetness or feel. Hops are on the low end as well. The result is a beer that needs some flavor hook other than lemon juice and wheat. There isn't even much untoasted grain, such as is present in a relatively burly American pale lager like Schlitz Gusto.

The mouthfeel can hardly be faulted for being light. Slightly sparkly bubbles should work well, but these are a little too sharp and don't seem to be fading much as the bottom of the bottle approaches.

On the strength of too many offerings to mention here, Bell's is a mainstay in my top-10 American breweries of all-time. The idea behind Oarsman Ale was a good one, but the Berliner weissbier-like sourness might not have been the best way to go.

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Photo of zeff80
3.68/5  rDev +4%
look: 4 | smell: 3.5 | taste: 3.5 | feel: 4 | overall: 4

On tap at Sycamore, Columbia, MO during Bell's beer dinner.

A - Poured a cloudy, golden-yellow color with a white one-finger head of bubbly foam. It left subtle traces of lace.

S - It smelled of wheat, yeast, spices and fruits.

T - Good sweet wheat flavor with a potent sour fruit flavor. A little funky spice and yeastiness makes it seem Belgian-style.

M - It was crisp and very sharp. A light brew that would be very sessionable during the summer months.

D - This is a very nice Berliner Weiss. It's only my second but it was quite delicious.

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Photo of wethorseblanket
3.55/5  rDev +0.3%
look: 3.5 | smell: 3.5 | taste: 3.5 | feel: 4 | overall: 3.5

Thanks to whoever shared this at Benny's tasting.

A: Pours a hazy very pale yellow with a thin white head having little retention and leaving a few spots.

N: Lemony, minerals, grainy wheat and some tartness.

T: Follows nose with some grassy notes.

M: Light body and carbonation. A tiny bit thin on the finish.

O: Refreshing. No notable metallic notes here. Pretty basic Berliner.

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Photo of mikesgroove
3.18/5  rDev -10.2%
look: 3.5 | smell: 3 | taste: 3 | feel: 3.5 | overall: 3.5

On tap at Barleys, I was thrilled to death to be able to try this one. Having been soo hot lately I really was in the mood to start the day with a little something lighter. Served in a pint glass, this one was consumed on 04/17/2010.

The pour was alright. Lightly clouded golden amber with a small head of white that quickly faded out of the scene. Lots of carbonation coming up from the bottom of the glass. Very light aroma here, hints of bready notes, a touch of light fruit, pears perhaps and a light notes of spice. Not the tartness and richness I would have liked to see in the style. Flavor followed suit the same. Just lacked the pop I would have like to have seen. Really nice grainy notes, touches of light fruit, but nothing drawing me back in. Light on the palate and nicely sessionable, it just lacked that dryness and depth of profile to put me over the top.

Overall a rather average offering from Bell's. I was hoping for a little more I have to admit.

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Photo of womencantsail
3.73/5  rDev +5.4%
look: 3.5 | smell: 3 | taste: 4 | feel: 4 | overall: 4

Thanks for sending this one my way, Derek. Been looking forward to trying it out.

A: The pour is a clouded pale golden straw color with a small white head.

S: It has a big wheat aroma to it, which I expected, with some undertones of a Berliner Weiss. A slight lemony character along with a definite popcorn type aroma. There seems to be an underlying earthy note to the beer as well.

T: The flavor is very reminiscent of a Berliner Weiss. Nicely tart and lactic with lots of wheat flavor. Very bright and clean acidity and tartness rather than the unwanted and unintentional sourness of the usual Pale Wheat Ale.

M: Light in body with a moderate level of carbonation.

O: I have heard such varying opinions on this beer I wasn't sure what I would be getting, but I liked this one. Nice and refreshing.

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Photo of ChainGangGuy
3.8/5  rDev +7.3%
look: 3 | smell: 3 | taste: 4 | feel: 4 | overall: 4.5

12 ounce bottle - $5.00 at Taco Mac in Kennesaw, Georgia.

Appearance: Pours a pale gold body with just the faintest bit of haziness to it and, despite an enthusiastic pour, no more than a slim, white head.

Smell: Aroma smelling of a distant lemon meringue pie, a hint of moistened herbs, and a nudge of nonchalant wheat.

Taste: Soft white wheat, faintly bready, dosed with a dollop of lemon custard garnished with a curl of tart lemon peel. Mild sweetness. No real bitterness felt. Moderate lactic tartness. Proportionately acidic as you near the drying, cleansing finish.

Mouthfeel: Light-bodied. Medium-plus carbonation.

Drinkability: It's alright for a light ale best suited to easy, refreshing drinking outdoors in the warmer months.

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Photo of oline73
2.57/5  rDev -27.4%
look: 3 | smell: 3.5 | taste: 2 | feel: 3.5 | overall: 2

Poured from a bottle into a standard pint glass.

Appearance: Pours a slightly cloudy golden color with a finger of white head. The head fades quickly to a ring around the edge of the glass.

Smell: Light malt and a slight tartness. Smells good, but here is where I started to worry about how much flavor was going to be in this one.

Taste: This beer has a very light flavor. It might be good with the amount of the flavor, but there needs to be a lot more tartness. This is a pretty boring beer.

Mouthfeel: Light body with sharp carbonation and a slightly dry finish.

Overall: I've been into some Berliner Weissbiers of late and have had a few good ones. This is not one of them. Too plain, I wouldn't have another.

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Photo of TMoney2591
3.48/5  rDev -1.7%
look: 3.5 | smell: 3 | taste: 3.5 | feel: 3.5 | overall: 4

Served in a Devil's Backbone willibecher.

My brother bought a sixer o' this and hated it, so I smilingly inherited some free beer. Always welcome. It pours a hazy pale straw, not entirely unlike lemonade, topped by a bit less than a finger of relatively short-lived white micro-foam. The nose is basically a two-pronged attack consisting of lemon zest and some mildly funky wheat and rice. The taste reminds me of a hardy lemonade, with a touch of Squirt for extra citrus flavor and the carbonation. This doesn't really mean I think it's bad, just not great. The body is pretty light, with a light moderate carbonation and a fairly refreshing feel and finish. Overall, it's very drinkable, but I'm just not too enthused about it.

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Photo of Kegatron
3.65/5  rDev +3.1%
look: 3.5 | smell: 3.5 | taste: 3.5 | feel: 4 | overall: 4

On tap @ Bell's Eccentric Cafe on 4/23/09. Served in a pint glass.

Pours a hazy pale gold with some thin brite-white lacing around the edges that leaves some light spotty residues back. The aroma isn't overly aggressive but does pop a bit with notes of bread, floral hops, and citrus. Pleasant.

The taste is similar, with a bready sweetness and tart citrus; and a touch of firm hops in the back. The mouthfeel is medium bodied with a bit more presence to it than a sub 5% should have. A pricklier carbonation also gives the body some added depth.

This was decent. Some moderate full flavors and a crisp body made for some good sessionalbility with this. Plus I think that this was their cheapest offering at the Cafe, running around $3 for a 20 oz pint. Good deal!

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Photo of mactrail
3.57/5  rDev +0.8%
look: 3 | smell: 3.5 | taste: 3.5 | feel: 3.5 | overall: 4

Quite tart, of course, at first sip. Gradually mellows with an interesting sour background. Rather coarse foam that settles down but dissipates to a few swirls. Seems like it has quite a yeasty taste, though the beer is perfectly clear. Slight fruity flavor, but quite watery. Like diluted green apple juice.

Quite inoffensive example of the style. The edge mellows off the acidity after a while. Pale color, more white than yellow.

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Photo of kojevergas
3.67/5  rDev +3.7%
look: 3 | smell: 3.5 | taste: 4 | feel: 3.5 | overall: 3.5

Picked this one up at Ramirez Liquors in Los Angeles. I'm always glad to see increased distribution of a brewery with a reputation like Bell's, but I was really disappointed with Expedition Stout. I'm hoping this one changes my mind about Bell's. Bottled 09/07/12. Reviewed live. 4.0% ABV confirmed. 355ml brown glass bottle with standard pressure cap served into a New Belgium stem-goblet in me gaff in low altitude Los Feliz, Los Angeles, California.

Expectations are above average; I've only been disappointed by this brewery but I'm hoping that was a fluke. This style is very hit and miss, though - especially with American breweries. At least there's no candi sugar added post-brewing, so that's a leg up on some German examples of the style.

Served after a period of rest from the refrigerator and allowed to warm over the course of consumption. Side-poured with standard vigor as no carbonation issues are anticipated.

A: Pours a one finger beige colour head of fair cream, decent thickness, and average (~2 minute) retention. Colour is a cloudy pale lemon yellow. No yeast particles are visible. No bubble show. Nontransparent; largely opaque. Suits the style.

Sm: Lactic, even a bit acidic. Some funk; I certainly get the sour mash from the aroma. I'll risk pretention and call it horseblanket. Some lurking sweetness. I find the aroma a bit of a turnoff, actually. There's a lemon citrus ester in there that I like, but the rest seems off. Moderate in strength. Assertive.

T: A bit funky on the finish. Clean pale sour mash malts. Lemon citrus, though diluted. It's best on the finish, where the acidic lemon comes through for a crisp clear moment - a change from the murky build of the body. A bit tart, sure. Very clean throughout. No real yeast comes through. Quite lactic throughout; lactic notes are dominant. Balanced if simple. Actually one of the better examples of the style in recent memory.

Mf: Crisp, clean, smooth, light, and wet. A touch overcarbonated. Good thickness, supporting the flavours adequately. I'd stop short of refreshing, but it flirts with it.

Dr: Very drinkable. Low ABV. One of the better beers I've had in this style. I might try it on draught. A solid effort from Bell's. There's serious promise here.


Would suit an acidic salad magnificently. A good beer for food pairing in general.

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Photo of Slatetank
3.73/5  rDev +5.4%
look: 4 | smell: 3.5 | taste: 4 | feel: 3.5 | overall: 3.5

on draft @ Ron's Original Bar in Exton -served chilled in a tulip pint

A - lemon juice colored w/ gentle hazed appearance and minimal white head

S - A lemony tart odor w/ mild wheat note in the nose

M- The feel is slightly sweet with tart entry , moderate carbonation and dry finish

T - The flavor is mildly acidic w/ lemon peel notes and subtle citrus juiciness w/ nutty wheat taking over the taste mid-way w/ light lemon cream essence making for a dry light finish

D - This is pretty decent overall for drinkability, I don't consider it the best Berliner I have had it is kind of lactic but doesn't hold to the finish

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Photo of RblWthACoz
4.3/5  rDev +21.5%
look: 4 | smell: 4 | taste: 4.5 | feel: 4 | overall: 4.5

Very bready with lemon and citrus tones, but with an excellent mix of characteristics that lets a lot of things show through and lets no one thing hijack the ride. Berliner Weisse characteristics abound. Good feel, very easily drinkable. I could actually go for many of these in one sitting. A really excellent production, imo.

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Photo of russpowell
3.92/5  rDev +10.7%
look: 3 | smell: 3.5 | taste: 4 | feel: 4 | overall: 4.5

Had this on draft at Waldo's Pizza in KC

Pours an effervescent straw color with a finger of pearl white head. Average head retention & lacing

S: Bready & tart lemony smells

T: Grainny, bready with a nice tartness, plus citrussy hops. Tartness & grainyness dominate as this warms. Finishes dry & tart with some lemony hop notes

MF: Light/medium bodied with a nice crispness

Drinks very easy, a pretty accessible but a semi- faithful take on the style. Went great with my Pizza

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Photo of WVbeergeek
3.92/5  rDev +10.7%
look: 3.5 | smell: 4 | taste: 4 | feel: 3.5 | overall: 4

Slightly hazed yellow golden hue with a thin white cap of head. Fine speckled lacing on the sides of my flared pilsner glass. Chunks of yeast suspended in the slightly clouded elixer, alot of sediment ends up in the bottom of my glass. Aroma is mildly tart with a nice bready quality, hints of citrus and mild funk going on. Traditional sour mash methods are described on the label at a beerfest a couple weeks ago I was told this wasn't a Berliner Weiss, however I can't describe it any other way. Body is light with a drying tart finish, carbonation is ample nothing too hard to manage. Drinkability overall is super solid refreshing brew, I'm liking the fact that they made this one a year rounder in six packs. I don't know of many brewers making a tart wheat ale one of their regulars.

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Photo of superspak
3.58/5  rDev +1.1%
look: 4 | smell: 3.5 | taste: 3.5 | feel: 4 | overall: 3.5

12 ounce bottle into signature pint glass, bottled on 4/2/2013. Pours lightly hazy golden straw color with a 1 finger fairly dense white head with decent retention, that reduces to a thin cap that lingers. Slight spotty lacing clings on the glass. Aromas of tart apple, lemon, grape, pear, wheat, hay, grass, pepper, funk, light vinegar, and yeast earthiness. Nice and pleasant aromas with good balance and complexity of yeast and light malt notes; with decent strength. Taste of tart apple, lemon, grape, pear, hay, grass, wheat, funk, light pepper, light vinegar, and yeast earthiness. Light fruity/earthy tartness on the finish; with lingering notes of light fruits, hay, grass, wheat, light pepper, light funk, and yeast earthiness on the finish for a short bit. Nice and pleasant balance and complexity of flavors; with a very dry finish and no cloying flavors as expected. Medium carbonation and light bodied; with a very dry and crisp mouthfeel that is good. Alcohol is well hidden with zero warming present as expected of 4%. Overall this is a very solid Berliner weisse style. Nice balance and complexity of flavors; and very smooth and crisp to drink. An enjoyable offering.

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Bell's Oarsman from Bell's Brewery, Inc.
80 out of 100 based on 579 ratings.