La Merle - North Coast Brewing


“What’s that,” you shriek,  “Another saison?”  Yeah, that’s right.  Another Saison, so buckle right the fudge up.  A good thing about Le Merle is that it’s quite a bit more frequently found in fancy beer-sellers than some of the Belgian saisons I’ve had.  North Coast Brewing Co. is at some level of market share, enough at least for some shelf space at Whole Foods.  Now dont get me wrong, I’m not the type to pay seven dollars for a potato that’s had the New York Times read to it.  There was a sale, and I can make a danged Boy Scout commit seppuku in shame with my thriftiness.  If there’s one thing I love more than beer, it’s a value (especially if it’s a beer!).

Last I checked, it was still summer and I still really like saisons.  So I picked up a couple of the more discounted ones and went on my way.  The North Coast was something I was looking forward to, especially having previously reviewed their IPA to my satisfaction.  Their website doesn’t say much on the actual beer as it does, in about three paragraphs, say it is named after the brew-master’s wife.  Named after a blackbird, apparently.  Charming.  There is a food pairing though, an ahi tuna ceviche with mango and avocado.  Well, that sounds good to me!  Of course there wasn’t a sale on raw tuna steaks, so I had to make two trips.
After I untied the top from it’s wire cage and gingerly removed the cork, I poured it into my lovely little chalice.  Pouring to avoid the sediment collected at the bottom, I noticed it’s very hazy straw color and big fluffy head.  The head sticks around, but leaves it’s filmy curtains behind when it finally does leave.  The nose to it was very inviting, all very bright and fresh fruit and tart wine.  I’ve always felt pino noir is a good sign in the nose, makes me think I’m going to get a nice crisp drink.  There is also a bit of a lemon note mingling with the bready yeast.
The taste doesn’t disappoint, really delivering on the white wine and crisp green apple flavors.  There isn’t much of a hop characteristic in this, which I found just a little disappointing.  I’m not a ‘hop-head’ or anything, but I realize there is something lost when the balance between hop and malt just isn’t there.  Oddly enough, it isn’t entirely malty either.  Overall, the main interplay is with the fruit and the yeast.  Not a bad double-header for a saison to have, but it may have not entirely worked to it’s favor.
A couple of tastes in you start to get some white pepper and clove from the strong Belgian yeast.  The tartness doesn’t stay forward for too long, but kind of becomes part of the grassy, dry alfalfa tinge of the brettanomyces.  Low carbonation on this one, good for being able to see through the less obvious flavors.  Overall, it accomplishes what I thought I wanted from a saison: refreshing, light, bright flavors, drinkable.  Not only that, but the 7.9%ABV is a pretty good level for how drinkable this is.  Considering all this, there was just nagging thing I came away with.  I appreciate this saison, but it just doesn’t feel enough like drinking beer.  With what little hops and malt that went into this being overshadowed, I feel it fell a little flat.
However, if you can get past that, it’s still a great beer.  Rather fitting to the food pairing as well!  The strong citrus used to just barely cook the outside of the tuna with acidity pairs well with the bright palate Le Merle has.  I think the best way they match is just the general “summery-ness”.  Both are great matches for warm weather and outdoor eating.  I know I will be looking out for a bottle or two to share for an afternoon chill-out session.