To Hunahpu’s Day and Back
Cigar City Brewing’s Hunahpu’s Day took place on Saturday, March 11th, 2017 at Cotanchobee Fort Brooke Park in Tampa, Florida. This internationally attended craft beer festival is 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. Hunahpu’s enjoys a top rating of 100 on both beeradvocate.com and ratebeer.com. The festival pulls in people and breweries from around the world. The day made for one hell of a party with an estimated 4,000 festival goers, brewery representatives, and volunteers, 146 breweries, and 386 different beers, meads, and ciders.
The second Saturday in March has come and gone and in the craft beer world, that means you have either enjoyed the hell out of Hunahpu’s Day or you sat home wishing you hadn’t made the decision to skip it. Personally, I was lucky enough to attend for my fourth year in a row. Every year I tell myself I’ll head to Tampa for more than just Hunahpu’s Day and every year I do more or less the same thing. In a parallel universe, there’s a single version of me crashing at a buddies house. Waking up hours before first light to start the day by sitting at Cycle Brewing for their daily bottle release. Hopefully, the alternate me is smart enough to grab breakfast and take a nap before hitting the next release, tap takeover, ticketed event, or bottle share. I can see his (or is it my?) shit eating grin now as he’s sitting in line after line all week. Building up an arsenal of bottles just for that one big beer haul pic to post on Instagram. Let the trade offers pour in, he’s thinking. Back over on my side of the parallel I do everything I can to stay away for the shortest amount of time possible from my wife and two and a half-year-old son, but I think next year I’ll expand my trip by at least a day so I can experience an early morning line and Cycle Brewing’s BA Day.
Unlike last year, I decided to leave the night before the festival so I could get a decent nights sleep instead of facing a three-hour drive at five in the morning. After getting an overly rambunctious kiddo to sleep, kissing the wife goodbye, and double checking that I had everything, I headed out the door around 10:30 pm. I’ve been rather lucky on these cross-state trips when it comes to traffic and was once again given clear roads. I pulled into Jason’s driveway around 1:20 am and unloaded. I spent about an hour unwinding from the drive by playing Mobile Strike on my phone. Damn is that game addicting! We woke up at 7:00 am, had a quick breakfast, and shot the shit for a bit before getting on the road. We parked at IKEA and took Uber to the general vicinity of the festival. A walk of a minute or two brought us to Cotanchobee Fort Brooke Park, where we quickly saw the major difference in the festival set up from last year. The park wasn’t fenced in this year like it was the year before. This was done so food trucks could be brought in and lined up on the road running alongside the park. Also, the four sets of tents were in a single line with Cigar City, mixed throughout, instead of having its own tent at the far end of the park. I think it was a great change as it spread people out a bit more and there wasn’t a mass of people in a tangle of lines all in one area for what Cigar City had to offer.
After a quick walk through the park, we started to search for the end of the line. The arena where the Tampa Bay Lightning play was ground zero and across the street from the park. We kind of wandered aimlessly for a bit looking for any indication of a line. After a few minutes, we discovered where we needed to be and at about 8:30 we were officially in line. The line itself moved surprisingly fast and soon enough we had our souvenir snifter in hand and were headed through Thunder Alley. Once through, we joined the rest of the line as a single mass of people. We were herded like cattle into a somewhat enclosed area to await the oncoming storm of nectar. After a phone call, I located the rest of the crew and headed their way. Like last year they had a plan worked out to hit all of the must-have breweries and meet back at a designated place. Unfortunately, I was nursing a back injury and decided running through the park with everyone else wasn’t the best plan of attack for me. To be honest, I hadn’t really set a plan of attack for myself knowing I wasn’t going to be overly quick on my feet.
The line holding the hordes of craft beer loving animals, who had come from near and far, was finally cut and the stampede commenced. I heard calls of “man down”, but couldn’t see the poor soul who had eaten dirt all in the name of craft beer. Since I had no plan, I more or less followed the crowd walking past Tent C and the massive line for 3 Sons Brewing. No, they are not just Florida hype folks! Tent D held the likes of the Voodoo Brewery, Mazurt Brewing, Garagiste Meadery, Bottle Logic Brewing, and J. Wakefield Brewing, which meant it was hit hard. The line for both Voodoo and Mazurt, who were side by side, were extremely long, so my first beer of the day was Westbrook Brewing’s ‘Willet Barrel Aged Mexican Cake’. They were right next to Mazurt and had absolutely no line. I decided then and there that my plan of attack was to not wait in a single line all day. The next few beers were good, but nothing really blew me away. They were Deciduous Brewing’s ‘Lambent’ Berliner Weiss with raspberries and passionfruit, Southern Brewing’s ‘Southeastern Berliner’, and Highland Park’s ‘Griffith J. Griffith’ Coffee Imperial Stout.
Somewhere around this point, I met up with my buddy Michael from North Carolina. He pointed out ‘Buckley’ Imperial Breakfast Stout from Transient Artisinal Ales and said I should try it and I’m extremely glad I did! I also tried Foeder #2 with De Chaunac Grapes from them as well. Both were damn good! Pinellas Ale Works and their 1888 Russian Imperial Stout aged on coconut was next. It was the first beer I have had from them and it showed me why Jason had mentioned, a few months back, that I should review them sooner rather than later.
August Schell Brewing brought two Berliner’s. ‘Tidal Disruption’, which was aged on blackberries and ‘Electrik Empress’, which was aged on plums. Pipeworks Brewing brought their barrel aged Milk Stout, ‘The Jones Dog’, which was one of my favorite beers of the day. A friend of mine was volunteering in the brewer’s tent and offered to grab me a pour of ‘ManBearPig’ from Voodoo Brewing. Since there was no way I was going to wait in Voodoo’s insane line I happily accepted. That’s a beer with a lot of hype behind it and I think it lived up to the hype. I tried ‘Citra High’, a Double IPA, and the white wine barrel aged ‘Levanto with Peaches and Lemon Peel’ from Madtree Brewing. Both were great beers and I really enjoyed how the barrel came through in ‘Levanto’. Devour Brewing Co., which is local to me, was next. I was telling Michael about their small brewery setup and how good some of their beers were so he was intrigued. We tried ‘Chocolate Coffee Fear Is NOT An Option’. It’s a Russian Imperial Stout aged with coffee, cocoa nibs, and Madagascar vanilla beans. It was a bit thin but turned out very nice. Surprisingly, I somehow missed almost all of the international breweries. The one I didn’t miss was Beavertown out of the U.K. I tried their Berliner Weiss called ‘Moonshiner’. It was aged for three months in Woodford Reserve Bourbon barrels and infused with lime zest. I don’t tend to see many bourbon barrel aged Berliner’s and this one turned out to be pretty damn tasty. The rest of the breweries I hit, in no particular order, were Sun King Brewing, Lord Hobo Brewing, Max Lagers Wood-fired Grill and Brewery, Modern Times Beer, Firestone Walker Brewing, Edmunds Oast Brew Pub, Jackie O’s Pub and Brewery, Ocelot Brewing, Central 28 Brewing, Melvin Brewing, Stillwater Artisanal Ales, Rapp Brewing, Haw River Farmhouse Ales, 18th Street Brewery, Black Project Spontaneous and Wild Ales, The Answer Brewpub, and Wild Heaven Beer.
The biggest mistake I made was not starting at Põhjala Brewery. They are from the country of Estonia and were my favorite brewery last year. Unfortunately, I missed out on two of their barrel aged beers, which I was excited to try after what they brought last year. Luckily, they had two other beers still on. The first was ‘Must Kuld Colombia’ a delicious chocolate covered raspberry coffee Porter. The second was one of my favorite beers of the day. Scotch Ales are a favorite style of mine, so I was pretty excited to try their barrel aged version. ‘Mel Gibson’ was aged for months in Highlands and Islands Scotch Whisky barrels. It is one of the best barrel aged Scotch Ales I’ve had to date. It was so good I had a couple more pours. Hell, I even started directing people to their tent as they walked past. I had met their Managing Director, Enn, last year, so I was happy to see him again. Unfortunately, their Head Brewer, Chris who happens to be Scottish, wasn’t able to make the trip again. In his place was their Sales and Marketing head, Peeter. I spent the rest of the festival shooting the shit with them. What can I say? I’m a fanboy of the brewery. Next year they will be my first stop without a doubt. I won’t miss another of their offerings again. I’ll also try to plan out the breweries I want to hit because I missed a lot by not venturing to both sides of the tents.
Jason eventually located me at the Põhjala tent and after a bit, we headed to the opposite end of the park to see the awards ceremony for the best breweries and beers of the day, which were voted on by the festival goers. First place for best ‘brewery’ went to Garagiste Meadery (Tampa, Fl) and best ‘beer’ for ‘Goober Vitis’ a peanut butter and jelly mead. Second place went to 3 Sons Brewing (Davie, Fl) and second best beer for ‘Double Barrel Summation’. Third place went to Proof Brewing (Tallahassee, Fl) and third best beer for Bourbon Barrel Aged ‘Grandma’s Goodies’. Typically I don’t miss Proof Brewing at a festival, but this time I did. Once the ceremony was over we headed to the Marriott to pick up our bottles. Just like last year, the process went smoothly. We walked away from the crowded area and ordered a Uber. Once back at Jason’s I took a much-needed nap. Around 7:00 pm we met up with Jerry for a quick in-person trade. Jerry brought bottles down from Canada and in exchange, I unloaded a couple of my Huna bottles to him. We then headed to The Stein and Vine to meet Jason’s good friends and owners of Garagiste Meadery, Chad and Sarah, along with their two kids. It was nice to talk to them about their big win earlier in the day and even nicer to discover how good the food was. I had a Caesar salad and a burger with fries. I’ve heard good things about the place, but now that I have the first-hand experience I know what I heard is true. The burger was about as perfect as a burger could be. After dinner, we headed back to Jason’s house and vegged on the couch for a couple of hours before calling it a night.
The next morning I headed out the door at 8:30 and located the nearest Dunkin Donuts. I ordered an apple fritter and large hot coffee with cream and sugar. I lucked out again on the way home and didn’t hit a single bit of traffic. I pulled into my driveway around 11:30 am and carefully unloaded. Once in the house, I said hi to my wife and patiently waited for my son to come home from his grandma’s house. There’s nothing like a hug from my son in general, but especially after I haven’t seen him in over 24 hours. It’s just one of those things that can’t be understood unless you’ve experienced it.
There it is folks. Another Hunahpu’s Day goes down in history as an absolutely kick-ass time. I’ll most certainly be back next year and maybe, just maybe for a day or two longer.
Did you attend Hunahpu’s Day? What were your favorite breweries and beers?