Reviewed: Arizona Wilderness Melon Camp
Product description: Collaboration with LIC Project. Farmhouse table beer with Watermelon (Hauser Farm), Galia melon, Armenian cucumber and Charentais melons (Steadfast Farm) fermented and conditioned with Brettanomyces, Saison and Belgian yeasts. 4.5% ABV.
Arizona Wilderness Brewing – Arizona Wilderness / LIC Project Melon Camp – 750 ml. bottle poured into a tulip. 4.5% abv.
Arizona Wilderness is a cult favorite brewery that I’ve visited a couple of times. I’ve always enjoyed their beers, but I’ve never had anything bottled or canned from them. So, this will be a first.
Sampled from a 750ml bottle released last year, Melon Camp is glowing, hazy pale straw in color with weaker foam that settles down to a minimal layer of white bubbles. In the nose, you get mild cucumber and watermelon rind with hints of smoked meat. It’s an odd mix, but the whole aroma is delicate and doesn’t go overboard. Think prosciutto wrapped melon hors d’oeuvres. Though the beer has a special mix of yeast, they don’t make a big impression in the aroma over the adjuncts.
With the first few sips, this beer is immediately impressive. The carbonation level is higher giving it a champagne-like effervescence while the mouthfeel is ultra-light. In fact, this is about as light-bodied as I have experienced with any beer. It feels like 1% ABV – placing this squarely in the table beer category (a revived style of a lighter Belgian pale ale drank with meals). Flavor-wise, the crudest description would be cucumber melon La Croix, but you get just the slightest bit of white bread and sweet cream to hint that there is a malt component. Mild acidity on top of that gives it a sparkling lemonade character with an acid level of 3 out of 10 intensity-wise. Sweetness and bitterness are both an impressive 0 out of 10. Though the beer is thin-bodied, the acidity and effervescence give it a wonderful quenching quality.
As it warms up, I appreciate the mild smoked component more which blends nicely with a waxing presence of white peach. Others who sampled this with me thought it was closer to a peach or nectarine sour at this point. Perhaps because the beer doesn’t have a sugar component but does have some acidity, the exotic melon additions don’t pop for me leaving behind what we have interpreted to be stonefruit. Likewise, the cucumber and watermelon flavors are drowned out at this point.
Still, what I like about this beer is that it has a million things going on, but the integration is stellar. Some of my favorite saisons are like this where the aromas and flavors are complex and give the beer an ethereal quality. Without having read the description of this beer ahead of time, it’s unclear what I would be able to pick out besides maybe the cucumber/watermelon rind green character in the nose. Everything coalesces into one perfect experience.
For me at least, this is a ground-breaking beer from AZW. What I’ve had from them in the past were big American styles with massive bitterness and heavy bodies. This is understated, delicate, thirst-quenching, and does justice to this underappreciated and rarely attempted style. Melon Camp is one of the most unique beers I’ve tried and really captures the refreshing, summer quenching character that eludes all but the best farmhouse beers.