The Story of the Ghost
Higbee Beach: its name conjures images of sunset walks in solitude, near-infinite opportunities for birdwatching, and, for those of us old enough to remember, a much-welcomed ordinance banning nude sunbathing.
However, for years, the woods near the beach have housed something a little more sinister: the ruins of the empty grave of Thomas Higbee.
In the mid-1800s, the Higbee family came into possession of a plantation on the site, complete with tavern and hotel. According to local legend, the inn was frequented by pirates of the time — perhaps the same ones who gave their name to Mooncusser Pilsner. They’d bring their captives there, forcing them up the steep and very narrow stairway to the attic where they were bound and held for ransom.
And you thought Cape May was a sleepy shore town….
The inn and plantation eventually fell into the hands of one Mr. Thomas Higbee. He left the plantation to his niece Etta with the stipulation in his will that he was to be buried on the land.
Cherry trees seem to be synonymous with lies in American history, and whether Thomas was lying to Jeremiah or whether Etta was just a money-grubbing wench we’ll never know. Nonetheless, she moved Tom’s bones the first chance she got, and he’s now interred next to her at Cold Spring Cemetery, a short jaunt up Seashore Road from the brewery.
Despite his bones being elsewhere, the ornate grave still remains. Like a set from a low-budget horror film, a tomb made of stone and mortar with a rusty, creaking fence surrounding it lay waiting in the woods for those willing to brave the greenheads and poison ivy and snakes.
And, apparently, Thomas Higbee is willing to brave the nature, still attempting to return to his not-so-final resting place.
Visitors to the beach report an “old looking” man who looks right through them, as if unaware that they exist. He’s of an odd color, a pale, glowing gray, dressed in tattered pants too short for his frame, a sash for a belt, and a t-shirt that had seen better days — perhaps days when he was still alive.
His apparition is marked by giggling. Children’s laughter. Normally a sound that would put a smile on anyone’s face, without a child to generate the laughter, it’s, like, the creepiest thing in the world.
The ghost glides over the beach, following the laughter into the Bay, through the Bay, under the Bay, disappearing into the water.
That’s not weird at all. At least, not weird in Weird Cape May.
So, to help ease Thomas Higbee’s transition from Cold Spring to Higbee Beach, we’ve brewed a beer in his honor.
“Higbee Beach is a favorite of locals,” explains Social Media and Design Alchemist Courtney Rosenberg, who came up with the name for this brew.
“There’s a lake back there that we used to hang near when we were younger,” she tells us, “and if you drive down to that area at night, you’re driving down a creepy, unlit road that gets even creepier during the winter. We used to go back there when I was a teenager and walk the trails.
“If you take a wrong turn, you never know where you’ll end up.”
You might end up smack in the face with the ghost of Thomas Higbee.
So, we’ve brewed up a Golden Sour for him, sharply acidic with a dry finish, the rustic funk in this iteration of the Barrel Aged Series is matched by a smooth vinous character. Blended to be well-rounded and approachable, beer drinkers can expect a great beer with fruity and acidic notes and undertones of red wine. As you age it for up to two years, the funkiness will move more to the forefront.
Higbee was aged for seventeen months in oaken red wine barrels, though it spent a few months in stainless before that. These barrels were part of our first shipment of barrels back in 2015, the last to be filled, the brew has been aging for almost two years at this point.
Director of Brewing Operations Jimmy Valm loves the vinousness of this brew.
“It’s very dry which really compliments the acidity,” he says, “with some woodsy red wine notes from the long aging in first-use barrels, and at 10.1% ABV drinks much like a wine as well.”
Sour beers don’t really show their full range of funkness directly out of the barrel. The Brett will save some of its funkability for when it’s under pressure — barrels, being made of wood, don’t handle pressure too well. Since it’s relatively restful inside a barrel — at least when compared to the pressure of a bottle — the Brett doesn’t get all that stressed out.
“Despite all of this,” says Head Brewer Brian Hink, “Higbee showed off a fair amount of funk and rusticness still uncarbonated and out of the barrel. I’m really excited to see the funk develop as a complementary component to the acidity.
“Higbee is quite possibly the harshest conditions we’ve put a blend of Brett and bugs through, so there’s a really nice balance of flavors going on here.”
While the brews in our Barrel Aged Series share some likenesses with one another, they’re all so wildly different. Higbee and The Skeg are both referred to as “Golden Sours,” though the similarities end there.
“Their flavor profiles are quite different,” Brian says. “The Skeg played around with hops and heavy Brett funk, while Higbee has an assertive upfront acidity with a more subtle Brett funk.”
Jimmy agrees. “Higbee has just a smidge of Brett. It’s more acidic from the lactic-acid bacteria, and very light on the hops, so you can think of it as The Skeg’s mirrored self from the Bizarro Dimension.”
With an ABV over 10%, the alcohol heat in Higbee surprised Brian.
“There’s definitely a touch of heat to this one!” he says. “I’m slightly surprised because of the extended aging – usually alcohol heat will dissipate over time, but I guess I shouldn’t be surprised seeing as it is over 10% alcohol and has a pretty upfront acidity.”
Nonetheless, Jimmy is sure that Higbee is bound to change the minds of even the most ardent non-beer drinker.
“I find that these kinds of beer really blow people’s minds,” he says. “There are many people out there who say they don’t like beer because they think all beer either tastes like a flavorless light lager or is hopped to death like a Double IPA, and they never knew beer could taste like something like Higbee.
“It could really turn some heads, especially with people who dig wine.”
“Higbee shares a ton of similarities with a sparkling white wine,” Brian says, “and at over 10% ABV it drinks very similar to a wine.”
With its high ABV, the guys agree that this is definitely a bottle you’ll want to share.
“It’s definitely a sipper,” Brian says. “You’ll pour two glasses and, over the course of an hour or so, you and your beer-drinking partner will slowly sip away, noticing the depth of flavors as it warms and the carbonation dissipates.”
“At over 10% abv, this is definitely a beer to share,” Jimmy agrees, “so I’m really looking forward to people breaking this out for Labor Day weekend barbecues or beach parties and really spread the love!”
You’ll be able to spread the love soon. Higbee releases Saturday, August 19th, from the Brewtique. Be sure to stop in!
Maybe you’ll want to grab an extra bottle, head down to Higbee Beach, and leave an offering to help ease the restless soul of Thomas Higbee.
Cover photo courtesy Denise Cashin.