Hundreds of beer geeks descended on Tampa Sunday evening, as Cigar City Brewing hosted sign ups for the inaugural year of its membership club, El Catador.
The spanish word for “taster,” a catador samples products in a cigar factory to determine their flavor and aroma, Cigar City writes on its blog. While the El Catador members will not be writing the descriptions that grace CCB’s labels, they will be guaranteed five barrel-aged bottles over the course of the year, get discounts in the tasting room, and get a T-shirt. They’ll also get first access to some special releases. Not bad for $120, if you’re the sort of person happy to fork over $20 for a 750 ml bottle of something that’s spent a few months soaking up the flavors of precious, boozy oak.
I am that sort of person.
I had considered the event with some trepidation, fearing a repeat of the 2011 barrel-aged Hunahpu's release, a chaotic scene that I left with no Hunahpu's in hand.
But when Cigar City announced Saturday that they’d be guaranteeing a membership to anyone who showed up between 5 p.m. and 11 p.m., not cutting its fans off after the first 1,000, I decided to give it a shot.
Chalk that 2011 debacle up to growing pains. When I arrived at 6:15 p.m. Sunday, just over an hour after sales had begun, there was a very small line, with forms being handed out and money changing hands plenty efficiently. Maybe 10 minutes after my arrival, I had a membership card (No. 468) and I was on my way to the tasting room, where I ran into several beer-loving friends, made a few new ones, and got to try the three varieties of Gentlemen’s Club, their recently released collaboration with Widmer Bros. (The new oak is the best.)
The tasting room was pretty crowded for a couple of hours, despite its recent expansion, but with the beer flowing and the Wicked ’Wiches food truck slinging tasty grub, everyone seemed to be in good spirits.
When I left at 9:36 p.m., they had reached 777 members, and as of Tuesday
afternoon, they hadn’t quite hit 1,000, though they were getting close. The decision not to limit membership on sign-up day was a great call. Though they didn’t even reach the 1,000 member mark on Sunday, taking the pressure off saved a lot of people from a potential long wait in line in the July heat, and helped the whole day run more smoothly than many attendees had anticipated.
If you’re interested in joining, Cigar City is planning to offer a limited number of online memberships, either through a raffle system or a first-come, first-served approach. As soon as they announce the details, we’ll make sure to share the information on the Beer Geek blog.
And if the advance information we got bears out, this little piece of cardstock, No. 468, means I’ll finally get my hands on a bottle of barrel-aged Hunahpu's.