Cigar City Brewing’s Hunahpu’s Day is a craft beer festival held on the 2nd Saturday of March and built around the once a year release of Hunahpu’s Imperial Stout. The beer itself has an 11% abv (alcohol by volume) and is aged on cacao nibs, Madagascar vanilla beans, ancho chiles, pasilla chiles, and cinnamon while enjoying a top rating of 100 on both beeradvocate.com and ratebeer.com. Cigar City upped their game this year allowing for three different ticket options. There was the choice of a four bottle option for $200, an eight bottle option for $300, and strictly for El Catador members, a twelve bottle option for $400. A few weeks before the festival bracelets containing RFID chips were received. Each bracelet bearing the number of bottles that were purchased. The festival pulls in people and breweries from around the world. 3500 festival goers, 166 breweries, and 500+ different beers sound like one hell of a party.
When preparing for a 36 hour round trip to one of Florida’s biggest craft beer events, and definitely biggest bottle release, there are preparations that need to be made. I had to stop at my new favorite brewery, Civil Society, to pick up a few crowlers to share in whatever beer share I ended up at after the festival. God forbid I just pick up the crowlers and leave. That would be silly, so, of course, I had a beer while I waited the 5 minutes it takes to fill the crowlers which turned my time into a half hour. Once home, I ran down my mental list. Do I have the beer and water set aside that I’ll be throwing in the cooler in the morning? Do I have the Hunahpu’s bracelet? Clothes and other essentials?
Starting the trip at 5:15 a.m., Saturday morning, wasn’t so bad. Dunkin Donuts were my first stop because there was no way I was going to make the drive across the state on adrenaline alone. Large hot dark roast with an espresso shot, please! Damn it! I forgot the water that was sitting right next to the beer. So much for my mental list. The drive was uneventful and I pulled up to my buddies at 8:15 a.m. A quick omelet, more coffee, some bullshitting, and we were on our way. It turns out that not only was Tampa hosting Hunahpu’s Day, but they were also hosting the Gasparilla Music Festival so finding a parking spot took some time. Something came up out of nowhere and my buddy had to haul ass. That left me and my GPS a quarter of a mile walk which is nothing when the end point is a beer mecca.
This year, unlike years past, Hunahpu’s Day was held at Cotanchobee Fort Brooke Park in beautiful Downtown Tampa, Florida instead of the parking lot at the Cigar City Brewery. I wasn’t very surprised to find that a line had already formed even though festival goers were told over and over not to line up until 10:00 am. I found my spot in line next to a few buddies from home. The gates weren’t scheduled to open until 11:00 so there was some time to kill. I took a few pictures and a plan of attack was slowly hatched out. There were four of us and we were close enough to the front of the line that we could knock out a few of the must haves before the lines bulged with the 3,500 attendees. We agreed that two of us would hit Side Project for Derivation Blend #5 and Smooth, one would hit Bottle Logic for Fundamental Observation, and one would hit MAZURT Brewing for their barrel aged coconut stout that is actually served out of a coconut. Yeah I know, badass! Then we would meet in front of the 3 Sons Brewing tent.
After a quick tasting of everyone’s offering, 3 Sons was the next whale producer to slay. It only took five or so minutes before two of our friends disappeared, leaving two of us to plot out the next must-haves. After trying two of 3 Sons offerings, Apple Brandy Kona Summation and Dank Ness Monster, we more or less hit a number of places that didn’t have insanely long lines. I like to target places that you typically won’t see again and there were a number of breweries that fit that bill from outside of the U.S. We had the pleasure of trying Odyssey 005 (a blend of dark beers aged in a combination of scotch whiskey and bourbon barrels) from Siren Craft Brew, a brewery out of the U.K. Vanilj (a vanilla bean sour) and Hallon (a raspberry sour) from Brekeriet, a brewery out of Sweden. Feel the Beat (a Berliner Weisse made with beets) which had an absolutely amazing, almost neon reddish-purple color and a Bourbon Barrel Blueberry White Chocolate Berliner Weiss from Sahtipaja, another brewery out of Sweden. Finally, a brewery from Estonia named Põhjala that brought a black IPA called Pesakond, an imperial Baltic porter called Öö, a sherry barrel aged imperial stout called Pime Öö PX and a cognac barrel aged spiced imperial stout called Taanilinn Cognac BA. There were a number of breweries from the states spread amongst the international group as well, including Against the Grain, Angry Chair, Casa Agria, Fonta Flora, Fullsteam, Oskar Blues, Terrapin, Three Floyds, and Yazoo.
My buddy wanted to check out the Cigar City tent so we made the trek across the park to get into one of the many lines leading to the semi-trailer of CCB taps. We finally ran into our other friends again and were lucky enough to be at the front of the line when Apple Brandy Vanilla Marshal Zhukov went on tap. I proceeded to work my way towards the back of the line and offered up a few tastes to folks that were so far back they would never be able to get even a sniff of it. A couple of the other Hunahpu’s treatments I actually remember having were Rum-soaked Oak Coconut and Cherry. Both of which were outstanding with Coconut being a step above Cherry. By now it had to be pushing 4 pm and I hadn’t eaten since the omelet at 8:30 that morning so I wandered off to use my food tickets which were included in the ticket price. I had a couple of BBQ pork sandwiches, a BBQ chicken sandwich, and two helpings of arroz con pollo (chicken & rice), all of which were fantastic.
After a couple more beers it was time to head over to the Marriott and wait in line to pick up my bottles of Hunahpu’s. The line moved relatively fast and in no time I had picked up my case of Hunahpu’s. Being an El Catador Club member I had the option, which of course I took, to buy twelve bottles instead of the other options of four and eight. Miraculously, my first buddy showed back up and we were on our way to the Arco Iris Restaurant, which specializes in a combination of Cuban and Chinese food. I had the carne asada (roasted beef) which was delicious, especially after a day of drinking. Arco is definitely worth checking out if you’re ever looking for a quick meal at a reasonable price. A few texts back and forth led us to the Westin Hotel where we encountered a beer share already in progress. I opened a 2013 Bourbon BA Gonzo from Flying Dog to jump into the fray. I had the pleasure of trying a number of beers I had never had the opportunity to try such as Casey’s The Cut: Peach, Casey’s East Bank, Goose Island Brewpub’s Nutulhu, La Cumbre’s Project Dank, The Ale Apothecary’s Be Still, Tired Hands Milkshake, Night Shift’s Hogarth, and J Wakefield’s Harbinger amongst others. The share was a great way to end a fantastic day of drinking and meet a bunch of great people.
The next day I headed to the Denny’s down the street from Cigar City Brewing for a quick meal before heading over to get into line and pick up my El Catador bottles at 11. After a short wait in line, I had my bottles and the bottles of the two guys I trustee for. I hung out at CCB for an hour or so with some folks from the home front shooting the shit about the previous day. After a few quick goodbyes, I was on my way back home much more awake than I was on the trip over. Thankfully, it was another uneventful 3-hour trip. I walked in my front door to see my wife and 19 month old son for the first time in 36 hours. To me, there isn’t a better greeting than having my beautiful baby boy say “Dada!” and run over to me for a hug.
Hunahpu’s Day is absolutely a festival that should be put on your craft beer bucket list. Hell if you can swing it, go to Tampa for the entire week. Hunahpu’s Day encompasses the second to last day of Tampa Bay Beer Week, which showcases all of the area’s breweries and is closed out by 7venth Sun Brewing’s Hunahpu’s Hangover Day on Sunday. A number of the breweries release bottles during the week or in the case of Cycle Brewing a bottle named for every day of the five-day work week released on those corresponding days. I’m hoping that next year I’ll be able to spend another day or so in the Tampa area so I can get more of the experience that TBBW provides.
A few side notes. The festival goers had the opportunity to vote for their favorite brewery and favorite beer. The results for top breweries from 1st to 3rd were 3 Sons Brewing Co., J. Wakefield Brewing Co., and MAZURT Brewing Co. The top honors for favorite beer from 1st to 3rd went to 3 Sons Brewing’s Apple Brandy Summation, 3 Sons Brewing’s JBM35, and MAZURT Brewing’s Coconut Apple Brandy. Personally, my favorite brewery of the day was Põhjala from Estonia. Their cognac barrel aged spiced imperial stout called Taanilinn Cognac BA was absolutely fantastic. The sherry barrel aged imperial stout called Pime Öö PX was also delicious, but not quite up there with Taanilinn. It’s always nice to find a brewery I’ve never heard of from a place that I had no clue even had a craft beer scene. Throughout the rest of the day, I sent everyone I could to the Põhjala tent. Unfortunately, they don’t currently distribute to the U.S.
Were you at Hunahpu’s Day too? Did you have as good a time as I did? Did I leave anything out or is there something else you would have liked to hear about the festival? Please don’t hesitate to leave me a comment below.