Hunahpu's Day 2014: When Bad Things Happen to Good Festivals

Categories: Beer Beer Beer

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Doug Fairall
Filled with this year's Hunahpu's Imperial Stout, of course.

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."

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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.

See also: In the Tasting Room: Jai Alai IPA From Cigar City Brewing

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.

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Doug Fairall

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.

"Hunahpu's Day is about craft beer altruism," said Bing. "Everyone [in the craft community] is out to help each other."


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