March 14, 2016
Katie Toupin of Houndmouth
Saturday was qualifying day for the St. Pete Grand Prix, but I missed the entire thing because there was just too much other stuff happening in the vicinity that I really wanted to attend, so I took advantage of being in the area to attend a couple of other amazing festivals in downtown Tampa. The first was the seventh annual Hunahpu’s Day, a huge beer festival put on by Cigar City Brewing of Tampa to honor the one day release of their rare and much sought after Hunahpu’s Imperial Stout beer. The other event was just down the riverfront from that festival and was also being held the same day, The Gasparilla Music Festival, yet another new (to me) music festival that would keep me going until late that evening.
I consider myself a fan of craft beer, so seeing the opportunity to attend the release of the rare Hunahpu beer which is one of the 15 rarest beers in the US and is much sought after, I was thrilled that the festival celebrating its release was going to be held the same weekend that I was in the area. This marked the 7th annual Hunahpu Day Festival and the first one that has been held at a location other than at Cigar City Brewery itself. This year the festival was moved to the downtown Tampa location of Fort Cotanchobee Fort Brooke Park where the logistics would be much easier to control.
In some of the past festivals, the crowd overwhelmed the brewery and various problems arose including super long lines, not enough bathrooms, and worst of all running out of the bottled beer that everyone was there to get. It got so bad that it had been announced previously that the entire festival would be discontinued but earlier this year the return of the fest was announced to much joy amongst beer enthusiasts. Cigar City took control by limiting ticket sales and making sure that attendees were able to get exactly their allotment of bottles of Hunahpus and that is it.
First released in 2010, Hunahpu’s is a rich, decadent stout weighing in around 11% alcohol by volume. Described by the brewery as “An Imperial Stout aged on cacao nibs, Madagascar vanilla beans, ancho chilies, pasilla chilies and cinnamon,” the beer garnered Cigar City a gold medal at the 2010 U.S. Open Beer Championship catapulting it to the national beer scene’s attention. That is the main draw of the festival, but even more exciting is the inclusion of many of the best breweries in the US, each bringing samples of their own rare and very limited beers, which means you can sample literally hundreds of the best, most sought after and rarest beer in the US all in one spot.
Though crowded, the festival limited ticket sales (and sold out in less than an hour) meaning that you were able to get around and taste almost anything you wanted without much of a wait at all. It was like beer geek heaven and I must admit that as many beer festivals as I have attended, I have never experienced anything close to this, both in quantity and quality. My favorite brewery in the US, Three Floyd’s from Munster, Indiana was on hand actually serving their two rarest beers, Dark Lord Stout and Zombie Dust and that was just one of the more than 100 brewries from all over the USA that were in attendance.
It was a spectacular event and I tried a lot of yummy and rare beers, it was like being a kid in a grown-up candy store. Cigar City had the largest booth and they were serving about 50 different beers from just their brewery including Hunahpu’s from each of the last five years or so, so that you could actually taste the subtle differences between each year. They also had specialty fruit infused Hunahpu’s as well as just about every other beer in their huge and wonderful arsenal.
Each brewery pulled out the stops and offered up their best and rarest brews as the place was crawling with beer geeks from across the country. It was announced that over 60 percent of ticket sales were to out of state people, meaning a lot of people traveled to attend this special day. Some of my long-time favorite breweries were on hand, such as Jester King from Austin, as well as just about every major Florida brewery in existence including my favorite Funky Buddah from Lauderdale. I also saw my friend Casey, the brew master at Tampa based Coppertail Brewing who was on hand with a selection of yummy beers with his wife and staff.