On Saturday, March 12, 2016, 3500 people formed a line outside Contanchobee Fort Brooke Park in Tampa, Florida. What could possibly draw such a crowd to Riverwalk on such a bright, hot spring day? Why, one of the most infamous, annual beerfests in the United States and Florida’s crowning joy: Hunahpu’s Day, thrown by Cigar City Brewing to celebrate the release of their imperial stout of the same name.
This beer, rated 100 on BeerAdvocate, is an 11% ABV imperial stout aged on cacao nibs, Madagascar vanilla beans, ancho chilis, pasilla chilis,and cinnamon. This holy grail of a beer is named after the god who gifted the Mayans with cocoa and is a beer that is brewed once a year and released to attendees at the end of the festival.
This year marks a derivation by the brewery in its choice of locale. Previous years saw the beerfest held in the modest parking lot outside the brewery. This year the festival sprawled across the beautiful Cotanchobee Park and had room to stretch its legs enough to host more than 150 breweries and their 400+ different beers, as well as multiple food vendors. Attendees received four meal tickets for tapas-sized food portions from popular eateries as well as an acrylic sample glass with the trademark Hunahpu symbol.At the end of the beerfest, attendees filed into the Marriott Waterside Hotel where their special electronic bracelets designated how many bottles their tickets allowed them to pick up, along with a Hunahpu’s Day bottle tote bag. Attendees who paid $200 received four bottles, attendees who purchased the $300 ticket received eight bottles, and members of Cigar City’s special El Catador had the choice to purchase 12 bottles. While ticket prices seem high, they sell out almost instantly.
This year saw an additional change: the Hunahpu’s Day app, which allowed attendees to view a detailed list of breweries, where they were located in the beerfest, and when new beers were tapped. It also introduced a new interactive element: the People’s Choice Awards, which gave attendees the power to vote for their favorite brewery and beer. The winner of the Best Brewery award, 3 Sons Brewing Co., also took home the Best Beer award for their beer called Kopi Summation. Not only did this give breweries and their fans a chance to connect, it gave attendees the opportunity to affect something in real time.
The app, as well as the new locale, made for the smoothest Hunahpu’s Day yet. Past years haven’t seen such success; in 2014, attendees rioted after fake tickets caused the brewery to prematurely run out of bottles. The addition of the electronic bracelets also helped to secure a triumphant day for attendees, volunteers and visiting breweries.
Makenzie Ladd, Beer Consultant – Sarasota
Follow me on Twitter @abcbeermakenzie