Hunahpu's Day 2014: When Bad Things Happen to Good Festivals
UPDATE: It appears that this will be the last Hunahpu's Day. Cigar City's founder Joey Redner told the Full Pint, "I am acknowledging defeat. That was the last Hunahpu Day. The beer will go into distribution next year and hopefully spread out among many accounts; it will get to consumers more fairly."
This past weekend saw the annual March tradition of Hunahpu's Day, a beer festival to celebrate the release of Cigar City Brewing's Hunahpu's Imperial Stout, that perfectly scoring imperial stout aged on cacao nibs, Madagascar vanilla beans, ancho and pasilla chilis, with cinnamon. For this day, thousands upon thousands of people descended on Cigar City in Tampa, spending the day in the sunshine with some of the beer world's most sought-after brews.
It was the perfect day for an outdoor beer festival: no clouds, a high temperature of 67 degrees, and a slight breeze that graced Tampa for the entire day. For beer geeks, Hunahpu's Day is like a pilgrimage to Mecca. It is one of the South's biggest collections of rare and small-batch, barrel-aged and soured, whales and seasonals. (Yes, think Moby Dick and the fanatic search by Ahab.)
This year's festival was a bit different, however, and, as was just announced, will be its last.
With a change to a ticketed event that included unlimited pouring from hundreds of kegs and a reduction in attendance, the goal was to provide for a better beer experience. What came out of it was a mixed bag and, depending on who you talked to, it was a successful event with a few headaches or a complete and utter "shit-show" rife with failure.
Ahead of the event, Cigar City Brewing aimed to prevent some of the issues that it began to face in previous years from both the City of Tampa and its retail and industrial neighbors as a result of the big crowds.
The brewery urged people not to show up early and stand around waiting to get in. Arriving a bit early myself -- due to both paranoia about traffic, the ever-constant construction on 275, and assuming parking would be a nightmare -- I found the brewery already filling up with a line to get in and most nearby parking taken.
Making my way inside, even before the pouring began (at 11 a.m. sharp), lines had already formed at some of the more sought-after brewers. The highly rated Iowa brewery Toppling Goliath was especially long. As soon as the go-ahead was given, the lines in front of the brewers' tents moved fairly swiftly, a system of marked pitchers allowing the yellow-shirted staff to pour at a brisk pace.
The event was full of familiar faces: Due South Brewing, Funky Buddha, Gravity Brewlab, and J. Wakefield were among the South Florida participants this year. Other parts of the Sunshine State were also well-represented; 7venth Sun from Dunedin, Barley Mow from Largo, Green Bench out of St. Petersburg, Saint Somewhere from Tarpon Springs.
Alden Bing is owner and brewer of Orchid Island Brewery, an up-and-coming facility in the Vero Beach area. Bing, like most brewers, started out small, "in my garage," he says, "using citrus trees in my backyard for some of the beers." Having brewed for the past six years, he is looking to come online in the next couple of months with a three-barrel system.
With everything on offer, there were a few standouts for me. Danish "gyspy" brewer Mikkeller brought some amazingly funky Betelgueze, a complex and sour gueze that really got me going. Another funky sour was New Belgium's Loves Leopold, its La Folie aged in Blackberry flavored Whiskey barrels.
And, of course, this year's Hunahpu's Imperial Stout was a must-have, especially when it's offered from draft. It wins every time. Speaking of beers you would not expect to find on draft in Florida, Three Floyds Zombie Dust was killer as well.
The list could go on, but there were a couple of beers that even gave these previously mentioned standouts a run for their money, and that's the magic that came out of 3 Sons Brewing from Davie.
Whatever time of the day you might have passed their booth, the line was long. Brewer Corey Artanis was putting out some flavorful beers, all in decadent form: a bourbon-barrel-aged imperial vanilla coffee stout called Summation (which indeed became the delicious sum of its parts), Double Scoop Neapolitan ice cream stout (did someone leave a gallon of ice cream in the keg?), and an imperial peanut butter chocolate stout among others. All of them proved highly appropriate to be poured at Hunahpu's Day.
But as the day went on, something didn't seem right. Behind the food trucks and the massive refrigerated trailer pouring beer was a long line. Was that the line to get in? How could that be; it's 1:30 p.m.?
"How far down does it go?" I asked one of the visibly annoyed but still in good spirits line standers.
"All the way to 275," he said. Looking down, I could not see the end. From the brewery to the highway is almost a half-mile.
That's not ideal, but people are getting in.
By 3 p.m. though, the venue became filled with so many people that it became almost impossible to move about. It soon became MC Escher Day as lines snaked into other lines. The roadblocks of so many folding chairs didn't help matters at all. By this point, most of the super-rare kegs had kicked and I noticed a disturbing trend among my fellow beer aficionados: a lot of them still had their silver wrist bands, meaning they hadn't yet picked up their allotted three bottles of Hunahpu's that they could buy. CCB had signs posted everywhere stating that those wishing to purchase their bottles should do so before 4 p.m., when it would become a veritable free-for-all.
This is possibly the linchpin to the controversy surrounding this year's festival.
As 4 p.m. nears, the line/amoeba surrounding the loading docks where the bottles were being sold began to compact. Cases began to be sold. Realizing the time and what that could mean to their chances of bottles, helpless people with their wristbands still intact attempted to push in vain to the front of the line, but it barely moved.
After almost half an hour of waiting and seeing bottles move overhead by the case, to many, the unthinkable happened.
Shut down. Depleted. Out of stock. Gone.
It was a surprise to many, and a few of the more impaired persons began to make a scene. "Time to get out of here," I heard a couple nearby tell each other, as they and some others realized this could get out of hand quickly. Luckily it didn't. (Even if I did get a nice shove from one of Tampa's finest. I don't think he liked the reporters' notebook).
Cigar City wrote the following on Facebook shortly after.
So, today did not go as expected. We realize that there were a lot of issues with duplicate tickets, way too long waits in lines, and all of that. We can promise 100% that we are going to make it right, whether it be refund, or whether we brew a batch of beer that we will bottle and make completely free to all attendees that had issues today. We're completely sorry for all issues that happened today. It really sucked. We completely understand how much it sucked and hate how much it sucked. We don't want it to suck ever again. We will do what we can to make it right.
Then, another development.
As we figure out how to make up for the nightmare that happened today, we'd line to start with this mea culpa: all draft beer in the tasting room tomorrow [Sunday March 9th] will be FREE. We will not charge a dime for any beers served in the tasting room tomorrow. We are going to try and tap all of the remaining kegs leftover from today, too.
Regarding Hunahpu's Day:
If you purchased a ticket to Hunahpu's Day directly through Eventbrite.com, you will automatically be refunded your money. We will begin these refunds starting tomorrow.
If you paid for your ticket with cash or credit card in person, please email email@example.com and we will directly communicate with you to determine the best way to get your money back.
So there it is.
Is this a learning experience for CCB? I would hope so. As many have already stated in some online message boards like BeerAdvocate and Reddit, flaws in the festival such as a bottleneck at check-in, a relatively small festival ground for the size of the event, and no clear delineation between certain core waiting areas all coalesced into a slow decline in participants' morale.
What's to come next? We'll keep our eyes glued to Cigar City's social network. But it wasn't a total loss. After all, attendees were able to sample some pretty stellar beers and then -- through some unfortunate circumstances -- ended up doing so for free. It's a mad, mad, mad, mad, mad beer world, for sure.
It appears that this will be the last Hunahpu's Day. Cigar City's founder Joey Redner told The Full Pint, "I am acknowledging defeat. That was the last Hunahpu Day. The beer will go into distribution next year and hopefully spread out among many accounts it will get to consumers more fairly."
Doug Fairall is a craft beer blogger who focuses on Florida beers and has been a homebrewer since 2010. For beer things in your Twitter feed, follow him @DougFairall and find the latest beer pics on Clean Plate's Instagram.
Get the Food & Drink Newsletter
Find out about upcoming events and special offers happening in the South Florida dining scene.