TBBW 2015: A truly happy Hunahpu's Day

Festgoers still packed the house at Cigar City's annual Hunahpu's Day, but the changes were felt.

click to enlarge The Hunahpu’s crowd was quick to form a line for Iowa's Toppling Goliath. - Ryan Ballogg
Ryan Ballogg
The Hunahpu’s crowd was quick to form a line for Iowa's Toppling Goliath.

After a debacle last year that almost spelled the end of Hunahpu’s Day forever, Cigar City Brewing returned triumphant Saturday afternoon with a seamless festival that put the emphasis back on craft beer.

Guests at the sixth annual Hunahpu’s Day observed a carefully revised structure.

Entry to the sold-out event was limited to 2,000 and tickets were priced at $200, which came with a free tasting glass, food, unlimited samples and four bottles of the prized Hunahpu’s Imperial Stout upon leaving. It all added up to a more exclusive but more enjoyable experience.

At the brewery’s entrance on West Spruce Street, staff organized the eager crowd into a quick-moving line around 10:45 a.m., ensuring IDs matched the folks coming in the gate. Attendees were given one sampling glass and meal ticket, plus a snappy notebook that contained the beer list for the day and plenty of space to keep track of what they tried.

Inside, around 70 different beer stations were divided down the sides of the beer yard, forming a giant gauntlet of taps for the incoming crowd. Breweries came from as far away as Iowa, Illinois, Arizona and California to participate.

After about 45 minutes, lines for the sought-after beers were long and a little mixed up, including those for Funky Buddha Brewery, Toppling Goliath Brewing Co. and MAZURT Brewing Company, but the patient were rewarded with heavenly tastes of the breweries' wares. That is, until they ran out.

MAZURT’s coconut-aged Vanilla Russian Imperial Stout picked up a quick reputation and was gone in a little over an hour, and Funky Buddha was one of the first breweries to run out of beer.

While some attendants were miffed at how quickly the taps drained, most were content to move on over to the next line and try something else. Kate and Mike Slentz, a couple from Mount Dora who attended last year’s fest, said the event was significantly improved and better organized.

Throughout the day, craft beer connoisseurs mingled around tables set up down the center of the beer yard, swapping recommendations and brews, and laughing at each other’s increasingly wild beer shirts and slurred intonations. An eclectic lineup of bands performing rock and bluegrass could be found at the back end of the lot.

Cigar City founder Joey Redner and head brewer Wayne Wambles were satisfied with how the fest was going as they took a short break in their offices about midway through.

“A lot of people have commented to me that they are very happy,” Wambles said.

He said removing the ability to purchase bottles of Hunahpu’s and enforcing the strict cap on entry were the biggest changes they made to the event’s structure.

“We picked a (crowd) number that was full but not impossible,” Redner said, noting the event’s $200 price tag did receive some blowback, but that most were happy to pay more if it meant a better and less congested experience.

On the future of Hunahpu’s Day, Redner said, “As long as it’s organized like this, it will be fine.” Although, after walking through the crowd, he said he’s considering dropping the entry limit by a few hundred next year.

The festival is about more than the release of a single beer, according to Wambles. For him, it represents Cigar City’s philosophy from the beginning, which is to be fearless in pursuing the beers it wants to create.

click to enlarge Cigar City head brewer Wayne Wambles and founder-CEO Joey Redner. - Ryan Ballogg
Ryan Ballogg
Cigar City head brewer Wayne Wambles and founder-CEO Joey Redner.
“We’re not thinking about tourism or the weather when we decide what we’re going to brew. Some of the things we do are outlandish,” he said. “And we prefer not to brew based on popular demand.”

Wambles, who brewed the first batch of Hunahpu's in his 15-gallon home-brew system in 2009, said he hopes Cigar City has encouraged other breweries, including the ones at the fest, to be fearless in their pursuit of craft beer.

Another new addition to this year’s event was the transformation of Cigar City’s taproom into a hospitality area for brewers and special guests. The hard-worked brewers got a moment’s rest inside, as well as a chance to trade bottles and stories with their peers.

Later, the much-anticipated bottle pickup went smoothly. Patrons were directed to a special exit gate when they were ready to leave and claim their bottles. There was no re-entry.

Despite close quarters and extreme heat worthy of a day in mid-July, festgoers seemed fuddled up and happy all-around. Many felt the ticket price was worth it, and others said they would pay more for a more exclusive event.

Crowd favorites:
Due South Brewing Co. - Category 5 IPA
Proof Brewing Co. - Thai Chili Mango Wit
Anderson Valley Brewing Company - Brother David’s Triple
MAZURT Brewing Company - Vanilla Russian Imperial Stout aged in coconuts
Cigar City Brewing - Blueberry Pancake Brown Ale
J. Wakefield Brewing - STUSH Berliner Weisse

My favorites:
Arizona Wilderness Brewing Co. - New Brood Braggot aged in a Superstition mead barrel
This carried the sweetness of mead without the syrupiness and resulting sugar coma.

Cigar City Brewing - Hunahpu’s Imperial Stout
It lived up to its reputation, with a thick chocolatey flavor followed by the lingering zing of chili pepper.

B. Nektar Meadery - There Will Be Blood Orange
Beyond the great name, this mead had an amazing and intense citrus flavor and it was the only thing I finished a whole glass of.

Night Shift Brewing - Whirpool
Light, fragrant and thirst-quenching on such a hot, hot day.

Coppertail Brewing Co. - Sabotage Russian Imperial Stout with coffee aged in bourbon barrels
A stout with tang. 

Editor's note: This post has been updated since its original publication.

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