What is Hunahpu day?
It started as a small free event for a beer release and is now a $200 to $400 ticketed event. Cigar City, one of the premiere Craft Breweries in the country , if not the world, hosts the release and festival the 3rd Saturday in March annually. The beer itself is an Imperial Stout Aged on Cacao Nibs, Madagascar Vanilla Beans, Ancho Chilis, Pasilla Chilis and Cinnamon. it is ranked 100 with over 4000 ratings on Beer Advocate. Do I I have your attention now?
It began in 2010 with a “few hundred” people in the tasting room according to news on the event. Then the beer started to get noticed, winning a Gold Medal in the U.S. Beer Championship that year. 2011 became a bit bigger with guest taps and the parking lot opened up to the festival. The next year in 2012 people reportedly began camping out overnight to be the first in the door and the bottle limit ($20 per bottle) was lowered to 2 to from 3 and in 2013 over 9,000 people showed up to the Brewery!
Then 2014 happened. It was announced the festival and release would be ticketed for the first time , would cost $50 for a ticket and be limited to 3,500 tickets. Each ticket holder was guaranteed to be able to buy 3 bottles at $20 each and there would be unlimited tastings of other beers.Tickets originally sold out in under 2 hours (tickets were sold through eventbright) The Tampa Bay Times reported that counterfeit tickets to the event were rampant with people selling them on craigslist and even outside the event.Chaos ensued as the brewery ran out of the coveted stout. At the time it looked like this festival was over.
Fortunately for all, in 2015, Cigar City revamped the event and announced it would indeed be back. Tickets were announced to be limited to 2,000, at $200 each. With the 1,500 members of the brewery’s membership-only El Catador Club having the first shot at them. The ticket would have the buyer’s name on it, and each attendee would need an ID to match it. No exceptions were allowed to this rule. Each ticket holder would receive 4 750-ml bottles of Hunahpu’s, food, a tasting glass and a branded carry bag.
Hunahpu was back, and critics raved about the event, and the beer. 2016 was considered the best Hunahpu’s Day to date with people attending from all over the country and even from other countries around the world.
Fast Forward to this Year’s Hunahpu’s Day. In 2017 the Festival is far bigger and far better than the free Tap Room event it started out as. It is no longer held at the Brewery , but instead at Cotanchobee Fort Brook Park about 5 miles away in Downtown Tampa. 4000 were expected to attend with ticket priced between $200 – $400 per person, limit 2 tickets. Tickets can not be resold and your name must match the name on the ticket (or the credit card used to purchase)
Not having sprung for a ticket to this years event, I was pleasantly surprised to get an e-mail with the subject:
“Volunteer to Help Make Hunahpu’s Day 2017 Our Best One to Date”
I jumped at the chance, of course. Prior to this year’s Tampa Bay Beer Week Festival, I had never even had the beer touch my lips as it is so difficult to obtain. After signing up I wasn’t sure that I would even be chosen to volunteer.
Ten days later the e-mail arrived:
Congratulations! You have been selected as an event volunteer for Hunahpu’s Day 2017.
A meeting followed a few weeks later for orientation . The dozens of volunteers showed up and each was checked off a list.I was given a volunteer shirt and an envelope with both a wrist band and an assignment for the festival. To my delight I had been chosen to pour for one of the guest Breweries and it was Avery out of Colorado. I was quite happy about this. The orientation lasted about an hour and all volunteers were given training and assignments for their respective tasks.
It was a totally different experience actually being on the other side of the Taps for a change, being there gave me new appreciation for those who are. I arrived early to huge crowds as there was also a 5 k run and a music festival in Downtown Tampa on the same day. Parking was provided by CCB so that was not a problem. The scores of volunteers were all checking in to go to their assigned tasks.I was checked off a list, given a tasting glass and told to have fun.
I looked on the map as the venue is somewhat expansive and there were tents covering the stations.. Finding the Avery Brewing area and no one there yet, I surveyed the rest of the festival which would be soon filled with throngs of thirsty Craft Beer Drinkers.
I eventually made it back to my station as everyone anxiously awaited the opening of the gates. CCB employees walked throughout telling everyone that no beer was to be poured prior to the specified time that the Festival opened. Eventually the representative for Avery arrived and we exchanged introductions. We then prepped the station which involved tapping the 2 kegs we had on draft and putting on ice the cans of the other beers we would be pouring for samples.
Avery was pouring:
White Rascal a belgian white ale (5.6%)
El Gose – a german Sour with lime and sea salt (4.5%)
On tap we had
The Maharaja an imperial IPA (10%)
Uncle Jacobs Barrel Aged Stout an annual release which (we had the 2016 release) came in at a stiff 17.1%
The Avery Rep asked if I ever had tried Uncle Jacobs, and I said I had not. He poured some in my tasting glass and I Was impressed, so much so that I went out and bought the 2017 release at a local total wine… which is well worth the $15 price point, even for a 12 oz bottle.
After tasting each of the other beers (of course for the purpose of helping the describing them to the festival attendees) we chatted and awaited the opening of the festival.
I have been to many Beer Festivals, but never have I seen the rush to the “whales” like I did when the patrons were allowed in. It looked like the running of the bulls as a large group ran to be the first to try 2017 Hunahpu and other rare seasonal releases that were available. Immediately a line formed with people asking for Uncle Jacobs, some asking questions , others just thirsty for the Bourbon Barrel aged gem. A few were disappointed that it was not the 2017 release, but the taste of the strong Stout quieted their disappointment quickly.
The day passed quickly as we were poring non stop for hours and talking about the Brewery and Beer with hardly a lull at all. Longer conversations about the beer happened later in the day as people slowed their drinking as the alcohol took effect.
By 2 pm I was hungry and ready for a break to eat ( food vouchers were provided for the volunteers) Many Quality food trucks were available for patrons to choose from with all types of food for every taste.
Coming back from lunch I was asked to take over pouring at Barley Mow Brewing (out of Largo Fl) for a bit which was down to a partial keg of Milk Stout. People didn’t seem to care and I quipped that “ Milk Stout was important for healthy bones”
After the keg had run dry I went back to Avery which quickly went through the remainder of the canned beer we were pouring, the Draft long gone.
Finished with my assignment I was now free to roam the festival and sample the few breweries that had any beer left . I sampled some Hunahpu and a few other standouts including a grilled pineapple mead from Moonlight Meadery out of New Hampshire (which probably has the best Mead I have ever tried and I sampled one at Sierra Nevada Beer Camp when it came to Tampa in 2016)
I will tell everyone who has not worked a Festival before…it is a lot of work and certainly there is lot of behind the scenes work by the organizer. This Festival went off flawlessly with every detail planned meticulously. Armbands were RFID chipped and even could be preloaded with money to purchase food and merchandise. No cash was accepted for food or Merch.
About a week after the Festival, I received an e-mail from Cigar City telling me I could Stop by the Brewery and pick up my prized bottle of Hunahpu I had worked to obtain. The date of the volunteer party was announced and we were told we could purchase 3 additional bottles of Hunahpu at the event.
A few weeks later I went to the Fermentorium at CCB with the scores of other volunteers. There was plenty of food catered as well as a number of beers on tap, many being limited releases from the brewery. The 4 hour party was a small beer festival in itself.
The entire experience was both eye opening and very enjoyable. I had experienced one of the Best Beer Festivals in the country and obtained 4 bottles of Hunahpu! Cigar city sent a follow up “survey” asking all of the volunteers their opinion on how everything went and if they were satisfied. All I can say is first class all of the way!.We (the volunteers) were treated with such respect and were given a wonderful experience to remember. Although I would like to attend as a patron next year, I think I might opt to volunteer again…if they will have me!
One final thought. If you are going to travel for a Beer festival from outside of Florida next year this should be one that is high on your list. If you do manage to get your hands on a ticket and do go you wont be alone, as people travel from around the world for this one. This Festival will not disappoint (even at the hefty but worthy price point), but will most certainly sell out.