Thousands of hopeful beer enthusiasts lined up in the dark streets of Tampa, FL in the wee hours of the morning Saturday. Some brought chairs to make their wait a little more comfortable; at least one intrepid soul brought a hammock that he strung between two trees. The throngs were gathered at Cigar City Brewing Company, waiting for their chance to purchase the brewery’s annual Hunahpu’s Day to begin. All in line were there in hopes of procuring their allotment of Hunahpu’s Imperial Stout, an annually-released, and much sought after beer that is a mélange of chocolate, vanilla, cinnamon, and chili peppers.
Standing in line for a big release like Hunahpu’s is a uniquely social event. Beer aficionados are a gregarious and generous bunch. While discussing the finer points of other big release brews, it is likely that someone may open up a cooler, reach inside and pull out a bottle that is promptly opened and shared. The sharing often prompts discussion of the flavors evident and the process by which the brewer elicited them from the ingredients. It seemed that everywhere one looked people were laughing, talking, and sharing good beer.
But, even at the most joyous of beer events, things go wrong. Just after dawn, the Tampa police department appeared and announced that the line, which had spilled into the parking lot of a nearby retail parking lot, had to be condensed because the retailer had complained. This prompted the gates the Brewery to be opened sooner than expected. Once inside, more lines formed for tokens that had to be used to purchase beer, and for shirts and glasses.
And then there were the beer lines. At one point, early in the day, lines were more than two hours long. These lines were not the boisterous fun lines that had defined the pre-dawn hours of Hunahpu’s Day, these were unorganized lines marred by inconsiderate cutters who merely walked to the front of the line effectively disrespecting those who were trying to follow the rules and wait patiently. The shame of it is that it could have been avoided with better planning. A few well-placed stanchions and ropes could have cut down on the line cutting and helped things to remain better organized.
Another issue that could have been handled better was the beer servers. Many were inexperienced and slow. Many guests were handed beers that were more than half foam. Others were served beers that were only partially full. But, perhaps the biggest sin of all was understaffing. The beer trailer, were some of the best and most sought after beers were being poured had only three servers and a line that grew to more than two and a half hours long.
But, issues aside, the spirit of the event was festive. Coolers full of beer brought by attendees were enthusiastically poured for others for no other reason than to share. People discussed the finer points of their favorite beers, ate food from one of the ten food trucks on hand, and socialized. Perhaps what makes an event like this so great is the social aspect. Beer, after all, has always been a social beverage. This truth has never been more evident than at an event like Hunahu’s day.
In the end, Cigar City distributed more than 10,000 bottle of the Hunahpu’s Imperial Stout. All of the wristbands they promised to hand out were distributed before the end of the line was reached, but at the end of the day, there were still bottle of the brew left for those who did not have a wristband and waited until after 5:00 p.m. The event, even with issues, was a successful celebration of craft beer that attracted folks from as far away as Sweden. If that is not an indicator of the reach and popularity of craft beer, nothing is.