Cigar City's Hunahpu's Day a mess, but so was angry mob's response

Published March 10, 2014

Cigar City Brewing's annual Hunahpu's Day is the culmination of each year's Tampa Bay Beer Week, a day when thousands of beer lovers from around the country converge in the brewery's parking lot to snag bottles of the brewery's infamous Hunahpu's Imperial Stout and celebrate the Bay area's thriving craft beer scene.

As you've no doubt heard, this year's Hunahpu's Day didn't go very well. In an effort to lower the insanity level from last year's festival — when more than 9,000 attendees passed through the gates — Cigar City switched to a ticketed format, limiting the number of attendees to 3,500.

But by most estimates, the number of actual attendees was around twice that number. There was no official count, but 6,000 tasting glasses were made for the event, and there were none left by the end. Lines to get in stretched several blocks down the road, and many beers came with a wait of 10 minutes or more. Worst of all, attendees were promised that they would be able to purchase three bottles of Hunahupu's, but the brewery sold out with several hundred people still in line to buy them.

I was one of the people in "line" — I hesitate to call it that, since it was more like an unorganized, directionless mass of people shoving and cutting in front of each other — when the warehouse shutters came down. While I was extremely disappointed in Cigar City for letting a logistical nightmare like this happen in the first place, I was more disappointed in the crowd's reaction, and, more broadly, the overall vibe of the festival throughout the day.

A man stood on the street corner near Cigar City's entrance, holding a fistful of counterfeited tickets for the price of $10 each. Groups of people hopped fences or snuck through the line without even producing a ticket. Expletive-laden chants echoed from clusters of drunken, sunburned attendees as they waited for the beer they felt entitled to. When the shutters came down, people at the front of the line actually started pounding on them with their fists. Tasting glasses were shattered in the lot, to the cheers of onlookers, and even volunteers for the festival. I wouldn't have been surprised if folks started brandishing torches and pitchforks.

Is this what the craft beer scene has turned into?

I left the event frustrated and disappointed just like everyone else, but the immediate, vitriolic backlash against Cigar City that followed on social media and via word of mouth in the hours and days that followed was incredible. Cigar City was accused of every type of malevolent scheming; some people even demanded refunds for their plane tickets to Tampa.

Within minutes of the event's end, Cigar City emailed its El Catador Club members with an apology, and announced that all beers in the tasting room would be free of charge the following day (though to many, the suggestion that they'd come back even for free beer was taken as a personal insult). And on Monday, the brewery announced it would refund all tickets, and Hunahpu's Day itself has been canceled, with future sales of the beer done through regular distribution.

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Look, Cigar City messed up — big time. I could see the panic and embarrassment in the faces of its employees during the event. Especially egregious was the fact that the brewery sold cases of its coveted Double-Barrel Hunahpu's to early-comers, despite the fact that its El Catador Club members paid more than $100 earlier in the year for the privilege of obtaining just two of these bottles, along with several other special releases throughout the year. The entire event was a catastrophe, front to back.

Still, I think the swift and honest apology issued by Cigar City left no doubt about whether the brewery cares about its fans. I'm no apologist, but the consensus in the community seems to be that Cigar City is 100 percent to blame. I'd say it's more like 40 percent. To me, at least, the fans ruined this event.

I was annoyed having to wait in endless, disorganized lines just to sample beer at a $50-a-ticket festival. But I was even more annoyed by people who made and purchased counterfeit tickets, or who simply snuck into the event, thereby undermining Cigar City's legitimate — albeit näive — attempt to make the day more manageable. I was annoyed that I missed out on a bottle purchase, but I was much more annoyed by the blatant line-cutting and aggressive behavior displayed by the people in line with me. I wasn't annoyed by Cigar City's many efforts to make the situation right after the fact, but I was disheartened at the comments left on its Facebook account in response: You have no idea what a disaster you created ... Boycott CCB ... Stick to strip clubs where the standards are low ... One day of free product doesn't rectify years of over-priced pints of hype-fetish...

I don't know how you guys got into craft beer, but I got into it because it's fun. Tampa Bay Beer Week was a great success, and I thoroughly enjoyed every event that I went to, with this lone exception. Hunahpu's Day didn't feel like fun to me, and very little of that had to do with negligence or incompetence on the part of the Cigar City staff.

It did, however, have a lot to do with the shouting, shoving, shutter-beating, glass-shattering jerks who forgot that craft beer — no matter how sought-after or elite it's considered to be — is supposed to be about enjoying yourself.