Time passed. Reparations were made. But the whispers grew louder.
“A lot of people said, ‘Don’t let it die because you had a bad year; don’t let it die because things didn’t go right; let’s figure out how to fix it,’” Joey Redner said.
The owner of Tampa’s Cigar City Brewing listened.
Hunahpu’s Day will live again on March 14.
The festival and bottle release of the award-winning Hunahpu’s Imperial Stout was pronounced dead days after the March 8, 2014, celebration devolved into a debacle. Attendees bearing silver wristbands that promised a chance to buy up to three bottles of the oil-black ale watched the inventory sell out while they waited in a disorganized line.
A few angry and frustrated folks banged on the closed overhead doors of the sales spot, trying to start a chant of “Cigar City Sucks,” until off-duty Tampa Police Department officers arrived to send everyone off the property.
Redner was literally sickened.
“I felt shitty for a good month,” he said. “I just didn’t feel good because of the way that it went down.”
The brewery did what it could to make up for it: Ticket prices were refunded, the tasting room gave away beer the next day, and a new batch was brewed for those with wristbands who did not get their allotment.
But Hunahpu’s Day, Redner decided, would not return.
“I am acknowledging defeat. That was the last Hunahpu’s Day,” he said last year in a statement. “The beer will go into distribution next year and hopefully spread out among many accounts, it will get to consumers more fairly.”
During the next few months, pleas fell upon Redner’s ears, coming from Cigar City Brewing staffers, trusted confidantes and the public.
“Then someone started a Facebook ‘Save Hunahpu’s Day’ (page) and kind of laid out a lot of the reasons that we should do it again,” Redner said.
If, and it was a big if, Hunahpu’s Day were to return, how could it work?
“We started spit-balling, ‘What if we did this, what if we did that, what if we did this?’” Redner said. “The idea that we could resurrect it and bring it back started to evolve out of that.”
Key would be crowd control. In 2014, 3,500 tickets were sold to the public at $50 each, the first time the event charged admission. Because of counterfeit tickets and technology issues at the front gate, the crowd swelled to at least twice that number, maybe more.
A stricter ticket policy would be important to combat potential counterfeiting.
The bottle release would need modification to discourage mob mentality and “muling,” the practice of hiring other people to purchase limited-release bottles, which are then hoarded, traded or resold at a profit.
With basic guidelines in place, the details began to form.
The first public clue that the event would return appeared on Sept. 18: A new logo for “Hunahpu’s Day 2015” above the date, March 14, posted on the Cigar City Brewing Facebook page with the comment “It’s back. More details to be announced soon!”
It’s back? Fans of the brewery, the festival and the beer buzzed about it on social media. Would there be a bottle release, or would it be a festival? Will bottles go into distribution, as earlier announced? How will ticket sales go down?
The crew at Cigar City Brewing continued to refine the details, coming up with a battle plan that they hope will lead to a peaceful event. A new ticket seller will be used, Ticketfly, and it will have a support team at the festival.
Tickets will be limited to 2,000, at $200 each. The 1,500 members of the brewery’s membership-only El Catador Club will have first crack, Redner said. If all members opt in, there will be 500 tickets available to the public.
Each ticket will bear the buyer’s name, and each attendee will need an ID to match it. No exceptions.
There will be an allotment of four 750-ml bottles of Hunahpu’s included as part of the ticket price. In previous years, the price has been $20 each.
The all-inclusive ticket will include food, a tasting glass and four bottles of Hunahpu’s in a branded carry bag.
“It’s basically 2,000 VIP tickets,” said Chris Lovett of Cigar City Brewing.
Attendees will receive their bottles as they leave, and will not be allowed back onto the grounds.
“The one thing we’ve learned is … you have to stick to your guns, and set up the parameters very rigidly on the front end, because there are people on the back end that will take advantage of any wiggle room that you allow,” Redner said. “We’re just going to be very rigorous, and we’re going to make sure that people know up front that these are the rules, and if those rules don’t work for you, do not buy a ticket.”
Gerard Walen is a freelance beer writer, founder and editor of BeerinFlorida.com, and author of Florida Breweries. Read his 2014 story, The Death of Hunahpu’s Day.