UPDATE – See our follow up post for a different perspective of what happened at the event.
What happened at Cigar City Brewing in Tampa, Florida last Saturday is disgusting. What organizers intended to be a celebration of a great brewery and a great beer turned into something that the local newspaper describes as “a near-riot” that left a crowd of 6,000 upset, with some people pounding on the door and chanting “Cigar City Sucks.”
Cigar City Brewing did nothing wrong.
Even though its beer is not available in Washington, many local beer geeks have at least heard of Cigar City Brewing. Based in Tampa, Florida, Cigar City is especially beloved for Hunahpu’s Imperial Stout. Bottles of Hunahpu’s Imperial Stout have sold on the black market for as much as $250. I suppose you could say that Hunahpu’s is the Pliny the Younger of the stout world.
Last Saturday was Hunahpu’s Day at Cigar City, an annual release party for the ballyhooed beer. It is one of the most notable events during Tampa Bay Beer Week. In 2013, a crowd of 9,000 showed up for the admission-free event. An unmanageable crowd. People left empty-handed and disappointed.
In an attempt to contain the mayhem, Cigar City Brewing decided to sell tickets in advance for the 2014 event. With a ticket, you could come to the brewery and purchase a limited number of bottles of Hunahpu’s ($20 for a 22-ounce bottle).
Cigar City sold 3,500 tickets online for $50 each. The sell-out, which took just two hours, was expected. The counterfeiting was not. Tickets soon showed up on Craigslist. Someone was even selling counterfeit tickets to people in line outside the brewery on the day of the event. More than 6,000 people showed up with some kind of ticket in hand. That’s when the trouble started.
In the end, the whole thing got ugly, as the video below shows. The police were there as the brewery shut its doors and the crowd began chanting angrily. Joey Redner, the owner of Cigar City Brewing, walked away from his brewery with a police escort and vowed that there will not be another Hunahpu’s release party.
Really. I’m not making this up.
Not Hyping the Hype
I don’t want to add more hype to the hype. Nobody got hurt. Still, it’s pretty ugly. Let’s just consider this a commentary on beer hype and not so much a report on a beer riot.
For the sake of accuracy, someone who was at the event told me this via twitter: “They screwed up the event big time. People were upset. A handful chanted “Cigar City sucks” for about a minute then everyone left. It wasn’t a “riot” or even close to that. This is getting blown more and more out of proportion.” via @_B_F_G. You can read his entire account of what happened here.
I’m not trying to hype the hype so much as I am commenting on the hype. Maybe they screwed up the event, I don’t know, and maybe it’s getting blown out of proportion, but the most discouraging thing is the taste it left in Joey Redner’s mouth.
Redner told the Tampa Bay Times, “This whole thing makes me physically ill. I got into this business because I’m passionate about craft beer. It’s a culture that’s 99 percent jerk free, but I may have to revisit that percentage. I’m not doing (Hunahpu’s Day) with a bottle-release component ever again.”
It’s not his fault that people love his brewery’s beer. Following Saturday’s debacle, he wanted to make things right. In the end, Redner refunded the legitimate ticket holders’ money. A total of $175,000. On Sunday, he opened the brewery’s tasting room and gave away $9,000 worth of beer. (Dollar figures according to Tampa Bay Times.)
Apparently Redner hasn’t lost his faith in Cigar City fans. He is considering replacing the bottle release event with a beer festival. Read about that here.
Beer Hype Hurts
Saturday’s Hunahpu’s hoopla was caused by more than a desire to drink Hunahpu’s Imperial Stout. Redner told the Tampa Bay Times, “There are a lot of people out there looking at beer as a commodity and not something you’re buying for your own personal consumption.”
But don’t blame the unscrupulous profiteers looking to sell the beer on Ebay. It is OUR irrational exuberance that drives the prices. WE are the reason bottles of Hunahpu’s sell for $250. We the Sheeple are responsible for the hype.
I have consumed Hunahpu’s Imperial Stout. Sorry, but I don’t remember who gave it to me or where I was when I drank it. I remember that it was a damn good beer. No disrespect, but it did not change my life. It is not “riot worthy.” Drinking Hunahpu’s did not make me cooler, more sophisticated, or in any way better than anyone else.
I appreciate the beer but I hate the hype.
We all want to support our favorite brewery, but at some point our affection does more harm than good.
We all want to feel included and involved in the craft beer culture, but at some point our love of beer threatens to turn us into hooligans.
There is a very fine line between being a beer geek and being a beer jerk.
Don’t be that person.
Read the Tampa Bay Times story here.