Hunahpu’s Day 2015 started early for some.
Not necessarily the 2,000 ticketholders, who started lining up roadside across from Cigar City Brewing in Tampa, FL, a couple of hours before the gates opened that March Saturday at 11 a.m.
In the 15-barrel Brewhouse 1, the brewery’s first commercial kettles, a steady line of brewers started contributing hours earlier to what undoubtedly would be the largest collaboration brew ever. Nearly 70 breweries were being set up under tents in the parking lot during the morning, and most of them had at least one brewer on site. No one closely tracked who did what, said Cigar City head brewer Wayne Wambles as he kept watch nearby, but every attending brewery was invited to participate. Sixty did.
Joel Kodner, a brewer from Due South Brewery in Southeast Florida’s Boynton Beach, was there for the early morning mash-in. Though he had arrived with his crew the day before after a long drive across the state and partook in some of the celebrations of a winding-down Tampa Bay Beer Week the night before, Kodner arrived on time.
“Six a.m. is my usual brew schedule, anyway,” he said.
Among the other early risers was Bob Sylvester, brewer at Saint Somewhere Brewing Co. in nearby Tarpon Springs. As with the rest of the crew, he was set to pour some rare brews later in the day after the festival part started.
But, he said, “I’m an idiot. I forgot all my equipment.” Still, he returned as quickly as possible to rejoin the effort.
The line of contributors included many from breweries that make beer traditionally topping lists as among the best in the world: Toppling Goliath, 3 Floyds, Founders and The Alchemist.
Some wielded mash paddles, others dropped in hops or added yeast, or in some cases, just flipped a valve or turned a switch. The requirements to be considered a contributor were as stringent as most on such informal brewery occasions.
“Pretty much as long as they were present,” Wambles said.
This behind-the-scenes mega-collaboration proved to be only one of the surprises of Hunahpu’s Day, which was declared dead in 2014 after a slew of counterfeit tickets led to an early sellout of the namesake imperial stout, available for purchase only once a year, frustrating legitimate ticket holders and leading brewery founder Joey Redner to cancel future festivals.
Pleas from confidantes and supporters led him to resurrect the event for this year, but with much stricter rules for attendees, ticket sales limited to 2,000 and a $200 entry cost that included four 750-mL bottles of the coveted ale. To justify this, Redner concluded, the festival needed to ensure attendees felt it was worth the money.
Among the first-time extras:
Upon entry, each ticketholder was handed a glossy 76-page, spiral-bound tasting guide, with a page devoted to each attending brewery and what it was pouring. On the inside cover, a QR code linked to a website for live voting to name the three best beers and three best breweries being sampled that day.
Four 9-liter bottles of Hunahpu’s were filled, capped and waxed before the festival. The nonprofit Florida Brewers Guild received one for its fundraising raffle that day. The winner, Brad Stanley, paid a grand total of $20 for raffle tickets. He does not plan on selling or trading it. Instead, he said as he stood next to his prize while others took their picture with the massive bottle, “I’m going to have a house party.”
The other three will be raffled or auctioned later to raise seed money for a new Tampa Bay Brewers Guild, said Chris Lovett, the Cigar City Brewing staffer trusted with overseeing the nuts and bolts of running the event.
Shirts at the merchandise booth bore a design carefully kept under wraps until the gates opened. On the back, the Hunahpu’s Day 2015 logo. On the front, the brewery logo, crossed out with red lines and the word “Sucks!” underneath in graffiti style, a tongue-in-cheek nod to a few troublemakers who tried to start a “Cigar City Sucks” chant after the bottles ran out in 2014.
And when festivalgoers filed out to pick up their custom branded tote bags with four bottles of Hunahpu’s, another surprise awaited—a 12-ounce can of a specially brewed double IPA called You Never Know tucked into an outside pocket.
The bonuses continued even after Hunahpu’s Day. The following day, Cigar City announced on its Facebook page that cases of Heady Topper, the brew from The Alchemist that some call the best in the world, remained. The 16-ounce cans, normally unavailable in Florida, would go on sale for consumption in the tasting room only for $5 each, with the money going toward the Pediatric Cancer Foundation. Then on Tuesday, St. Patrick’s Day, another announcement: Kegs left over from the breweries attending the festival would go on tap in the tasting room, to be followed by a proverbial pot of gold—a keg of Hunahpu’s—after they kicked. As of April 3, that pot had not yet been tapped, but tasting room manager Neil Callaghan said it was “inches away.”
Unexpectedly, hundreds of bottles remained unsold, and to get rid of them, a notice went out to the brewery’s El Catador club. Members would be allowed to buy limited numbers of the bottles at the brewery on Sunday, a week and a day after the festival. There were nearly enough bottles. Those at the end of the line who missed out instead found another surprise—a chance to purchase vintage Hunahpu’s bottles from the brewery’s cellar.
There were few public complaints about the festival. Most were related to the length of lines to enter and leave the festival (there was no re-entry allowed after bottles were picked up). Issues, Lovett said, that will be addressed next year. Some of the most popular and rarer beers were gone two to three hours after gates opened, but there were still plenty of other breweries pouring.
Instead of the heated criticism leveled via social media the year before, though, comments almost universally lauded the event. Redner, who has said that he was physically sickened last year because of the problems, said he’s “happy enough.”
“I wasn’t miserable the day after, and that counts as happy,” he said. “It mostly went according to plan. Had a few behind-the-scenes challenges, but generally our guys worked the plan as drawn up.”
Hunahpu’s Day appears to be back on track.
As far as the collaboration brewing, which wrapped up around 12:30 p.m., not counting final cleanup, the end result is a double IPA. It was brewed with four types of specialty citrus, seven hop varieties and locally sourced orange-blossom honey and, “the kicker,” Wambles said, fermented with Trappist yeast.
The beer, estimated to have a final ABV of just under 10%, will likely be harder to obtain than the limited Hunahpu’s imperial stout. Each participating brewery will receive a case of bomber bottles for the enjoyment of its staff.
Hamp Covington, head brewer at Atlanta’s MAZURT Brewing Co., said he appreciated the chance to contribute to the brew.
“It’s a fantastic idea to get so much talent in one place, in one beer,” he said. “It’s historic.”
Gerard Walen is a freelance beer writer, founder and editor of BeerinFlorida.com, and author of Florida Breweries.