Saison- Belgian Style Farmhouse Ale
North Coast Brewing Company
As a general rule I try to keep my reviews limited to beers that are no less than $2 (so you know they’re classy) but rarely above $3 — I want to keep these accessible to people who aren’t already into craft beer, and that means making it affordable. At least that’s what I’m going to claim, never mind that it saves me money. At any rate, sometimes you’ve just got to go fancy. I’m writing this in my freshly cleaned and decorated apartment with my Christmas tree aglow, and a good feeling like that just calls for something a cut above average.
The Brewer’s Pitch:
North Coast is no slouch at really good beers, especially ones to savor on a cold night. The nutty roast of Brother Thelonius and the devilishly dark Old Rasputin come to mind. But Le Merle is in a class above. At least, I assume it is — it’s part of their American Artisan series, but I can’t find an explanation as to what that is. We’ll go ahead and say it’s extra-nice beer. Named after the Brewmaster’s wife (Merle), Le Merle (The Blackbird) is a traditionally rustic Belgian-style ale. Pale and homey, North Coast uses the traditional methods and ingredients of Flanders to bring fruity aromas to the nose as well.
Le Merle pours foamy — like, REALLY foamy. Fill-the-pint-glass foamy. When I finally managed to get the dense white head under control, the nose is very faint with a slight hint of apricots. The beer is a bit coarse and fizzy at first, but develops a creamy, slightly slippery mouthfeel at the end. Flavorwise, Le Merle is dominated by a rough undeveloped wheat character. Grainy but light and tinged with sweetness, it’s got notes of clover honey and possibly some faint orange zest. Hints of spice I can’t quite identify close the taste out and leave an earthy slightly peppery aftertaste.
I’m a sucker for cheesy chef competition shows like Chopped and Cutthroat Kitchen, so I know that any time a chef calls something “rustic” it’s code for “it looks kind of like I plated it by throwing it from 5 feet away.” Not as bad as “deconstructed,” but still. That said, when North Coast calls this Rustic they really chose an apt descriptor. The flavors aren’t subtle and the mouthfeel is coarse, like homemade bread. It’s a really good Saison, though- an unappreciated style that brings a lot to the table. Maybe the name “farmhouse ale” is just evocative, but this feels like a fancier version of something a peasant farmer would drink from a wooden mug back in the nebulous past known as “The Old Days.” It really hit the spot to drink it cozied up in my snug abode. Is it enough better than other Saisons to be worth the price difference, though? I’m not so sure.
The Bottom Line:
The label has foil printing on it- if my years playing Magic: The Gathering taught me anything, that means it’s extra-collectible!