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Was Cigar City's Hunahpu's Imperial Stout release event worth it?

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Kat Dow fills in for Alan Shaw this week.

I woke early Sept. 24 with one goal: Get a bottle of bourbon barrel-aged Hunahpu's Imperial Stout from Cigar City Brewing in Tampa.

Three barrel-aged versions of Cigar City Hunahpu's Imperial Stout. (Photo provided by Cigar City)

Hunahpu's itself is one of CCB's most sought-after beers, a monster of an imperial stout that incorporates cacao nibs, chiles, vanilla beans and cinnamon. It's a masterpiece. Now, one way to make an amazing beer even more so, especially a big, dark beer, is to stick it in a bourbon barrel for a while. Some of this year's Hunahpu's got this treatment (rum barrel and whiskey barrel versions were also made).

Cigar City said the lines would not begin forming until shortly before the bottle sales started at 1. The brewery opened at 11; I got there shortly after noon. By waiting until sales were about to start to form the lines and by limiting the sales to one bottle per person per trip through the line, CCB was, I believe, hoping to give a fair shot to people who couldn't get there at 6 a.m. or camp out the night before. The intention was good, and that's not lost on me, but the execution was miserable. The line-forming got off to an inauspicious start when it took those of us who couldn't hear the announcements a good five minutes to communicate that the radio in the brewery needed to be turned off. Unfortunately, that helped only slightly. Where I was, we could barely hear anything, despite a megaphone. We did eventually work out that the rum barrel line (red) was leftmost, the bourbon (green) next over, then the whiskey (blue), then the fourth line (black) for other special bottles.

Where I was standing, there wasn't so much a line as a clump. Because I wanted the bourbon barrel line, I aimed for the left side of the middle of the clump.

After standing around in a confused, sweaty mass for some time, my compatriots and I noticed a woman in a CCB shirt handing out green tickets. Some scrambled for them — I, not yet sure what was going on, did not. She appeared to be concentrating on the leftmost bunch of folks; I wasn't yet sure the tickets were color-coded (I never even saw a red or black ticket) and so thought she was ticketing the rum "line." She reappeared some time later, this time to my right, with blue tickets. I stretched my arm out along with all the folks around me. This time, I and some others were bypassed, while hands around ours were blessed with precious tickets. Still ticketless, I left my spot in the clump and walked to the back of the cluster, where I saw people holding both a bottle and a ticket for a second go-round.

I was not alone in my confusion and frustration. Would-be customers around me were venting, and a glance at Cigar City's Facebook page when I got back to Sarasota showed others already airing their grievances. Some subsequent posts indicated this went fairly well for a rare beer release. I suspect that people who were closer to the front at the outset didn't experience what one Facebook commenter described Saturday as "Mass hysteria in the warehouse of hell." One acquaintance I was standing near likened the scene to a riot he was once in.

When the chaos subsided slightly, I got a $20 consolation prize: a bourbon barrel Big Sound scotch ale. I'm sure it will be delicious. It may also be the last $20 I spend on Cigar City for a while.

Will I attend a future release? Maybe. I am awfully forgiving. And CCB does make some of the best beer I've ever tasted. But I'd definitely like to see some assurances on their part that they've planned better crowd control before I brave such a scene again.

Croctoberfest

The Myakka Outpost in Myakka River State Park (13207 State Road 72, 923-1120) is holding a "Croctoberfest" celebration Saturday from 11:30 a.m. to 8 p.m. featuring 25 craft beers, German and fall food, live music and more. Ticket prices were unavailable at press time.

Kat Dow is a copy editor for the Herald-Tribune who prefers bourbon barrel imperial stouts to riots.

Last modified: October 5, 2011
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