A Different Account of Hunahpu’s Day

This is a follow-up to a previous post I wrote about beer hype. I based my account of the Hunahpa’s Day experience on what I read in the Tampa Bay Times. I didn’t try to hide that fact. Nor did I try to imply that I had any firsthand knowledge of what when down at the event. To be clear, I didn’t mean to call-out anyone in particular and accuse them of being a beer jerk. My point is that beer hype can turn people into beer jerks.

The account below comes from someone who was actually there. Of course, this is just one perspective. At least it is firsthand. This story may leave you blaming Cigar City Brewing. Maybe not. I don’t know. Maybe nobody is to blame. Maybe everyone is to blame. To me, everything still points to the same problem: sometimes people get too worked up over beer. It’s all beer hype and I think it’s a shame. With that, I leave you to read the following account of last Saturday’s Hunahpu’s Day event.

Hunahpu’s Day, a beer geek’s perspective
by Ben Gonzalez

Let me lead this off by saying I don’t in any way condone the behavior of some at Cigar City Brewing’s Hunahpu’s Day on Saturday. Some people did behave like jerks. That said, it seems like the account making the rounds of the “near riot” at the festival is getting blown more and more out of proportion, as well as shifting a lot of the blame for Saturday’s mess to the people who attended. As someone who was there and was at the very front of the line when the “near riot” occurred I feel like I should offer a beer geek’s impression of Hunahpu’s Day 2014.

Any account of what happened at 4pm when bottles of Hunahpu sold out is incomplete without placing it in its proper context. Firstly, Cigar City specifically asked us to not show up early to avoid complaints from their neighbors about the lines. As a result we waited until 11am to show up, assuming that we would be able to get into the festival quickly. When we arrived we were instead greeted with one of the longest lines I’ve ever seen for a beer event. The line moved at a snail’s pace and we did not actually get into the festival until around 12:30pm. By this time a lot of us were already frustrated, particularly as this was a pre-ticketed event and the line should have moved much faster. When we got in we were told that those who ignored Cigar City’s request to not show up early had been rewarded with case sales of Double-Barrel Hunahpu, one of the breweries most sought after beers. In addition, as a result of counterfeit tickets and relatively lax security around the perimeter of the festival there were thousands already inside and draft lines were ridiculously long. It took roughly 30 minutes for me to get my first pour after being admitted.

The number of people in the space provided was staggering. It was hard to move and the lines for draft were in reality just blobs of people. It was hard to tell what line was for what brewery or even where the end was. We went to one of the tables where friends had set up a bottle share and basically skipped all the drafts, aside from a few small sips of beers that other folks brought back. I love bottle shares but for someone who had traveled all the way from Seattle just for this festival, I had really wanted to try more of the draft beers but the wait, combined with the fact that most of the special beers were blowing in minutes, made this just not worth it.

When we entered we had been given a silver wristband that we were told guaranteed us 3 bottles of Hunahpu until 4pm, at which time they would begin selling cases to whoever wanted them. We went to get in line for my bottles at 3pm and quickly realized that those waiting for cases to go on sale and those waiting to buy their three “guaranteed” bottles were all stuck in a handful of “lines”, which in reality was just one giant mass of people with little actual order to it. After about 30 minutes of the line barely moving, people started getting frustrated. Then 4pm rolled around and those of us in the line waiting for our 3 bottles got to watch people who had lined up for cases walk off with them before we had received the 3 bottles we had been guaranteed.

We made it to the very front right after they anounced they were sold out. I was livid, I wanted an explanation. We had spent close to 3 hours either standing in line to get in or in line for bottles and now we were being told that we had basically wasted the last hour to hour and a half. The employees didn’t address the people asking for an explanation and many of them didn’t even acknowledge us. This led to the anger boilling over. Yeah, I yelled. I didn’t shout obscenities at the employees or threaten anyone but I wanted, and felt I was due, an explanation or at least an apology for the wasted time and broken promises. I don’t feel that makes me entitled or a “beer jerk”. Eventually someone did come out and offer a quick apology but it was too little, too late by that point. A few people chanted “Cigar City sucks” as they closed the doors and some, myself included, whacked the metal doors out of frustration.

This wasn’t a near riot. People were frustrated and fed up but I didn’t see anything that implied a riot was imminent or that the employees were in danger. Of course, I can’t say some folks didn’t threaten people but I personally saw no threats made. Even the chanting was limited to a handful of people and not as dramatic as it’s being made out to be. Most of the crowd just wandered off and when the police told people to move on, everyone I saw did so with little fuss other than a shaking of their head and perhaps a few epithets aimed at no one in particular.

Long story short, were there people looking to profit from the release by getting a case and reselling it? Sure. Were there people who entered, knowingly and unknowingly, illegally? Definitely. However, the majority of the people I interacted with there were pleasant and the same as any of the other hundreds of people I’ve briefly spoken to at beer festivals. Even with the frustrations of the day, most people just moved on. No one should threaten staff over beer. It’s just beer and that is completely inexcuable. However, I  feel the negative light that is being shined on the fans of Cigar City, many of whom traveled hundreds, and in some cases thousands, of miles just for this festival is a gross misrepresentation of what I saw at the event itself. There were jerks to be sure, but there are at every event.

Cigar City dropped the ball here. They sold cases when they knew they likely didn’t have enough Hunahpu to even meet the guaranteed bottles. They told us to come late and then rewarded those who showed up early. They knew there would be thousands of people at this event and didn’t take the proper steps to prevent people from just walking in or using counterfeit tickets. And when things really went to hell at the end, they didn’t address the crowd until it was far too late.

Ticket sales were done online via Eventbrite but there were no names associated with the tickets. Initially Cigar City had planned on non-transferable tickets but there were complaints about this so this was not entirely their fault. As a result of this though, when people started showing up with duplicate tickets they had no way of proving which ticket was the one actually purchased and a lot of people got in on duplicates. This was what led to many of the problems at the event, from the long lines to the issues with bottle sales.

Yet despite all of that I am still a fan of Cigar City and will continue to support them. Was I frustrated? Sure, but mistakes happen and I know this wasn’t deliberate on their part. I hope they revive Hunahpu’s Day in some fashion down the road and maybe, after they work out the kinks, I would even consider going again. This was a mess but the people who showed up don’t deserve the negativity that is being directed their way as a result of a short video that gives almost no context to the event, or the attendees, as a whole. We were fans of Cigar City’s beer, we were angry and frustrated…and then we went home and moved on.

Craft beer is not what it was a few years ago. Events now draw thousands and breweries have to work together and reach out more to find out what works and doesn’t work for festivals like this. Giant events draw scalpers and jerks, that is the nature of people looking to make an extra buck on peoples’ passions.Most of us are just beer geeks though, or at least that was my experience on Saturday.

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