Lady in Room #10
The Hotel Macomber is one of the most evocative structures in Cape May. Overlooking Beach Avenue, this grand shingle-style mansion was built at the turn of the century, and, in a land of Victorian excess, its conservative brown shingles assure that it stands out in a sea of pinks and blues and yellows.
But it’s not just its architecture that makes it noticeable.
It’s also one of the most haunted places in Cape May, the perfect home for the latest in our Barrel Aged Series, Lady in Room #10: a sour brown ale aged in red wine barrels for eighteen months on black currants and plums.
There’s a lot of paranormal activity at the Hotel Macomber, and, ghosts being what they are, it’s not easy to tell them apart. They generally don’t walk up to you and introduce themselves.
Actually… that would make them considerably creepier.
Instead, what they do is leave their stories behind, periodically showing up to scare the bejesus out of the living.
And when it comes to the Hotel Macomber, there are stories upon stories upon stories.
There’s the man in the basement. No one really knows who he is, but they like to refer to him as The Growler.
There’s the story of the former owner, Sarah Davis. After her husband’s death, she allayed the fears of the townspeople that the hotel might close by taking out an ad in the paper, declaring the hotel to be open for business.
Then she went for a final swim, returned, and ended her life.
Then, there’s the “trunk lady,” Irene Wright. She was partial to Room #10, having stayed there numerous summers while her husband was still alive. After he died, she was set to abandon her trips to Cape May but was convinced by family members to continue her vacations.
And, it appears, death hasn’t stopped her.
As many vacationers did, Miss Wright traveled with a large steamer trunk, toting along enough clothing to get her through the summer. A garrulous woman, she was known for wearing large quantities of perfume.
Miss Wright loved Cape May — she stayed in various places around town each summer but loved Room #10 at the Macomber above all.
Our good friend Craig McManus has had some interesting experiences in Room #10. Whether they were all at the hand of Miss Wright it’s impossible to tell, but he reports a banging on his door, swinging it open to find an empty hallway.
He and others discuss noises coming from unoccupied rooms above, from the laundry room next door, from the empty hallway. Doors slamming. Chairs rocking.
There’s definitely something going on in Room #10.
In fact, Craig made a few recordings — you can definitely make out voices. He asks if anyone’s there, and the response comes back….
“We love this bedroom.”
Nope. That’s enough. Game over. If we were there, we’d definitely decide that it was time to wrap it up and go home.
That’s Miss Wright’s bedroom. She just told you so.
How about we brew her a beer and let that be the end of it?
The base of Lady in Room #10 is a sour brown ale with an earthy funk, a malty sweetness, and a sharp acidity. Then we threw a bunch of microflora at it and tossed it into a barrel for eighteen months with some black currants and plums.
“It’s a similar recipe we used to create The Keel,” says Director of Brewing Operations Jimmy Valm, “except this has had some additional time to age, plus the fruit.”
With the prime ingredient in barrel-aging being time, back in 2015, we wanted to make sure we had enough coming up the pipeline to keep our Barrel Aged Series going because it’s not as if we can whip up one of these overnight.
As The Keel progressed, we wanted to have something along those lines coming up the pike.
“As we all know, The Keel was a fantastic beer,” Jimmy says. “It was raved about and got very high ratings, and I know there were many a tear shed when it ran out.
“After the success of The Keel, Brian and I knew we wanted to do a fruited version with some dark fruits to complement the beer, to take it to another level. We discussed our options and were really excited about the prospect of black currants and plums.”
Black currants aren’t particularly common in the States but are most popular in Northern Europe.
“I was first introduced to black currants when I lived in the UK,” Jimmy says, “basically all of the grape-flavored candies and juices here are black currant over there. Black currant juice is particularly popular, and when it’s mixed with hard cider it makes a Cider & Black.”
Apparently, it has a flavor similar to blackberries, but it’s slightly more acidic, which is why we chose it for Lady in Room #10.
“We wanted to bring out the acidic notes of the base beer more,” he says, “but by using a fruity tone to achieve that as opposed to more sourness.”
“They’re extremely tart and juicy,” says Head Brewer Brian Hink, “but do look a lot like black grapes. A lot of people have started referring to black currants as a superfood, as they’re extremely healthy for you — much more so than grapes are, and are quite delicious.”
“Fruiting a sour beer isn’t meant to take over and be the shining star,” Brian says, “but more so play a complementary part and enhance the overall flavor. Before we added the fruit, the beer had an assertive presence, and with enough malt character shining through I knew these fruits wouldn’t overpower the entire profile.”
“These two together have really made a very special beer,” Jimmy says.
While this is a great beer for autumn, the original plan was to release it around the Fourth of July. However, we were concerned that the beer’s low pH was going to affect the yeast’s ability to properly bottle condition the brew. In the sour beer world, we’ve been seeing a trend where the bottle conditioning yeast is going through what’s called “terminal acid shock.”
“Basically, it’s just such a hellish environment that the yeast refuse to work,” Brian explains. “They don’t die off; they basically go on strike.”
A year-and-a-half ago, a research study was conducted at Indiana University to find a way to train the yeast to work under such conditions.
“Our Lab Tech Lauren and I went to work learning about this method of growing yeast and started running some trials,” Brian tells us. “It delayed us from bottling for two or three months, but it was well worth the wait to ensure we’d get the final result we wanted.”
But this is what we love about brewing: while it was a shame to have to delay the release of this beer, we were able to put out exactly the brew we had in our heads when we conceived it.
“This is one of the parts of brewing that I really love,” Jimmy says. “It really is as much a science — possibly more so — as it is an art, and utilizing the available science to improve a recipe or a process gets me all excited.”
We’re glad we waited because the end result is something to be cherished.
“This beer has a depth of flavors so remarkable you could cry,” Brian says. “Maybe, if you’re the sappy type.”
Lady in Room #10 came out so incredibly well-rounded with complexities galore, it may just make you cry.
“You get both fruits up front with this rich jam-like quality,” Brian says. “You get an underlying maltiness due to the base beer, the barrel’s character is present, the sourness is front and center, but it quickly lets the other aspects shine through, this really is a fully painted picture.”
Jimmy’s looking forward to seeing how Lady in Room #10 ages.
“I hope more rustic funk comes to the forefront to liven it up even more,” he says.
Brian expects exactly that to happen.
“As it ages out, the fruits might fall to the background and allow the Brett to start taking lead, but this is a symphony of flavors in complete harmony.”
And harmony sounds like what Miss Wright needs. She’s been slightly discordant in death, and perhaps her immortal soul could use a bottle of the beer that bears her name.
Lady in Room #10 releases Saturday, October 21st, in our Tasting Room, just in time for Halloween.
“Grab a few bottles and see for yourself,” Brian says. “I doubt you’ll be disappointed.”