Early Saturday afternoon I was in Ottawa attending a surprise birthday party for one of the MASH homebrew club members. It just so happened that the celebration was held at the newly opened Tangled Roots Brewery located smack dab in downtown Ottawa.
This afforded me two options for a review beer for Saturday evening. I could either return home with a growler of a beer that I liked or, if that fell through, I could pop into Herman’s Package store and pick a beer from the shelf. Herman’s is almost always mentioned at homebrew meetings and is THE place for craft beer for those who live west.
The brewery had 8 beers on tap and the hostess of the party was picking up the tab. I was handed a full glassful of their Irish Red and quickly found out it was too early in day for my beer palate. That ruled out the growler option.
I stayed at the party for about an hour and headed out. I aimed my truck towards Herman’s. It didn’t take long for me to spot an excellent candidate there. It was from North Coast Brewing. The beer was Le Merle Saison. Right up my alley. The name was a point of interest to me.
Once home and back at the Mac, I started a bit of Googling. Le Merle had nothing to do Merle Haggard, the Okie from Muskogee. La Merle is French meaning blackbird. North Coast’s website offered just a tad bit of info (no reference to the GoT three-eyed raven:)
For all she has contributed since the brewery’s founding, North Coast Brewing is pleased to honor our Merle, Brewmaster Mark Ruedrich’s wife, with Le Merle (the Blackbird.)
It was getting pretty thirsty this evening. Let’s have some beer.
The beer poured with a beautiful yellow-orange color and was perfectly clear in the glass. On closer inspection, I could make out very tiny white yeast particles being churned about by the carbonation. A huge white billowy foam head of about two inches plus sat on top. Time to wait a bit. Carbonation was sparse but a nice stream of bubbles rose up from the nucleation point at the bottom of the glass. The aroma was slight and held the traditional saison smell of yellow lemons.
The first sip was absolutely delicious. The beer had a medium mouthfeel and a zesty rasp at the swallow. The only other beer that I can compare it to in recent memory is Ommegang’s Hennepin, one of my go-to beers. While Hennepin and Le Merle have similar tastes, the former is a little sharper and perhaps more tart. Le Merle, on the other hand, is more rounded in the middle with less of a zip.
There’s also Boulevard’s Tank 7 and Goose Island’s Sofie but I’ll put Sofie on the back burner due to GI’s affiliation with AB-InBev. See the BA list of saison beers here.
The more I sipped this beer, the more I fell in love with it. True to style with differences and similarities to what I’m used to tasting. Nice and crisp tasting and a slight sweet presence all the way through.
My own thoughts centered around why I haven’t had this beer sooner. My nearby bottle shop stocks many of North Coast’s beers. Old Rasputin, Old Stock Ale, Brother Thelonious and maybe more. It’s quite possible that I just haven’t been paying attention. All the beers just mentioned are super delicious but would definitely kick my ass if drunk in quantity. I’d find myself waking up on the floor.
I have a renewed respect for North Coast. Old Rasputin has been the beer for when I’m feeling stout-y, Thelonious for the in-your-face quadrupel and Old Stock if I wish to go to the brink of malty flavors and look over the edge. Now I see Pranqster is also a saison style from NC. That may be next.
In this day with the popularity of outrageous IPAs starting to dwindle slightly and the rising favoritism of sour Brett beers (salad dressing beers,) it’s a pleasant taste relief knowing that you could always rely on a summer quencher with the unique taste of a farmhouse ale. Le Merle is world class in the saison category.
Style: Saison/Farmhouse Ale
Taste: Delicious, slightly sweet with a lemony tartness.
Smoothness: Easy going from the second sip onward.
Drinkability: Personally, this 4-pack will be gone before bedtime.
Bang for the buck: Nicely priced right in the craft beer neighborhood.
Amount paid: $9.99 per four-pack of 12-ounce bottles.
Get it again? Yes, absolutely.
Wife’s all-encompassing opinion: Yellow. Yeah. (sniff) Kinda fruity. (sip) There’s definite citrus there. (sip) Not lemon, more of a tangerine. (sip) A bit drying. (sip) It’s not bad. But it’d be better if it was super-cold. (I think she liked it.)
The Story of North Coast Brewing Company [3:33]