Cigar City Brewing's Hunahpu's Imperial Stout has gained astronomically high marks from beer-rating websites, publications and the community at large since its first release five years ago. It's no surprise then, that Hunahpu's Day, its annual bottle-release party, has become almost too big to manage.
Last year, more than 9,000 people attended the event, which is held at the Tampa brewery every March. This year, Cigar City tried something different, making Hunahpu's Day a ticketed event and setting a limit of 3,500 attendees.
I'm sure you can see where this is going.
The first batch of tickets, which went on sale Jan. 13, were available only to members of El Catador, Cigar City's exclusive club for special bottle releases and first picks for ticketed events like this. The next batch, which went on sale to the public a week later, sold out in less than an hour, with estimates putting that figure closer to 30 minutes. Tickets set aside for sale in the tasting room lasted the full three days that they were to be on sale, and there were even some left over, allowing Cigar City to put more for sale online.
But if it took local fans three days to buy most of the tickets available to them, how did the rest sell out online in less than an hour?
A big part of the reason is because Hunahpu's Day is a pretty big deal, and it attracts fans from all over the country. But another more troubling reason is that some view a popular event as just another way to rip off people.
There were rumors of tickets going up on Craigslist and eBay on the same day that the online sale ended for $150, three times the original $50 price.
"I'm not thrilled about it," said Cigar City head honcho Joey Redner. "Scalpers are like those people who will clean out the take-a-penny tray because, 'Hey, free money!' "
Still, he's not too worried about the overall effect of scalpers on this year's Hunahpu's Day.
"I suspect the people who will actually engage in scalping is pretty small," he said. "It's hard to quantify, but my guess is the vast majority of people that really wanted to be at Hunahpu's Day got a ticket without having to pay scalper prices."
Early this week, I did a couple of quick searches and found several Hunahpu's Day tickets for sale by scalpers, both currently and recently sold. A set of two tickets went for $200 on eBay (a generous discount from the going rate of $150!), while another enterprising person is listing a single ticket for the same price.
It's obvious that any heavily attended event that involves ticket sales is guaranteed to be exploited by scalpers. And I'm sure that my annual gripe involving scalping at the Great American Beer Festival is enough for most.
But wouldn't it be nice if these scalpers had to eat the cost of the tickets they bought, either by being forced to sell them to legitimate Cigar City fans at face value, or being unable to use them at all and simply taking a loss?
I'll repeat the solution I offered after the Great American Beer Fest: Stop buying tickets from these guys. Offer to pay face value and refuse to pay a penny above it, or just don't buy them at all.
The number of tickets being sold by scalpers has remained relatively modest, supporting Redner's optimism. But as we approach March, surely many more will start popping up.
If Hunahpu's Day doesn't prove to be a profitable market for scalpers this year, then more tickets will go to the people who deserve them next time, without having to pay a ridiculous markup.