Cigar City Brewing owner Joey Redner felt sick over the Hunahpu’s Day debacle.
“It made me physically ill,’’ said Redner.
Hunahpu’s Day was supposed to be the joyous capstone of Tampa Bay Beer Week and a way for Cigar City Brewing to celebrate its 5th anniversary.
Instead, it turned out out to be the worst day in the short history of Florida’s most highly regarded brewery.
A two-hour wait to get in. Long lines for beers that kicked early. Sardine-can crowds. Another two-hour wait to buy $20 bottles of the beer everyone was there for, Hunahpu’s Imperial Stout. Anyone who bought a $50 ticket was guaranteed up to three bottles, but hundreds left empty-handed when the the last of the 16,200 bottles was distributed.
When the door slammed shut, the crowd turned ugly, booing and chanting “Cigar City Sucks, Cigar City Sucks.” Police moved in to calm things down and Redner started taking steps to make amends, beginning with a mea culpa posted on the CCB Facebook page:
We're completely sorry for all issues that happened today. It really sucked. We completely understand how much it sucked and hate how much it sucked. We don't want it to suck ever again. We will do what we can to make it right.
The 3,500 attendance limit that was supposed to bring order to the chaos of last year’s annual release — when some 9,000 people showed up — didn’t work.
Redner said duplicate tickets were the main problem. “We figured out that was happening” pretty quickly, Redner said, because his staff was scanning bar codes on the tickets people had printed out. “We were sure we had a lot of duplicate tickets,” Redner said. “There’s going to be some scamming but how many could there be? It turned out there was a lot.”
So many people caught with duplicate tickets were claiming their tickets were original that eventually Redner’s people stopped scanning and just collected tickets to avoid ugly confrontations and to move things along. But that meant a lot more people were let into the tight confines of the brewery. How many? No one really knows, but Redner said all 6,000 glasses were gone by day’s end. So there were at least that many people.
Redner quickly decided to offer free beer all day Sunday at the brewery’s tasting room — which turned out to be a good move, Redner said, without any ugliness or mob scenes. Then he decided to refund everyone’s money, at a cost of $175,000 to CCB. (The brewery still raked in $324,000 in sales.)
And then he decided never to do Hunahpu’s Day again. Next year the brewery’s most highly coveted beer will simply be released into distribution like all of its other seasonal beers.
“I just don’t want to deal with it,’’ Redner said. And it’s not really necessary any more, since Cigar City has built a national reputation for quality craft beer and doesn't need to rely on the higher profit margins a beer release day brings.
The biggest issue that concerns Redner is the ugliness that emerged during the past couple of years. “We used to say we liked the craft beer scene because it was 99 percent asshole-free, but I don’t think you can say that anymore,” he said. “I had never seen the ugliness I’ve seen in the last couple of years.”
Part of it may stem from the scarcity, which led to people selling bottles online for five times or more the face value of the beer. Some people even showed up at the brewery on Sunday trying to sell bottles of Hunahpu’s at prices well above the $20 they paid for it the day before. The brewery staff ran them off.
CCB had never run out of bottles of Hunahpu on Hunahpu’s Day — until this year.
Redner has decided to make another batch of Hunahpu’s to compensate those who left empty-handed. It will take a month or more before the batch can be bottled. “We know we’re going to be rewarding a lot of people who participated in the asshole behavior,’’ he said. But it’s the only way he can make up for Saturday’s debacle.
It’s a shame the way things turned out because this fifth batch of Hunahpu’s may have been the best yet — rich, complex, balanced, with a distinct flavor of cinnamon. Head brewer Wayne Wambles said he thought it was the best yet.
This was the first year Cigar City capped attendance and charged a flat fee to get in, allowing participants to sample top-flight beers from around Florida and the country — perhaps the best tap list ever put on by a craft beer festival around Tampa Bay.
One of the longest lines of the day was for Toppling Goliath, a small, highly regarded Iowa brewery making its Florida debut. “I was so honored and awed” at the reaction to their beers, said Toppling Goliath owner Clark Lewey. “We knew we had a lot of fans in Florida but I couldn't believe how many.’’ So many people were in line before they began to pour that Lewey went down the line thanking people. “They were lined up an hour early,’’ he said. “That made it worth it to come to Florida.”