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Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Cigar City invites Kennesaw's Burnt Hickory to pour at Florida beer festival

Burnt Hickory Brewmaster Scott Hedeen

Every year for the last five years, Tampa's Cigar City Brewing (CCB) has held a daylong party in honor of its Hunahpu's Imperial Stout, a big, boozy, dark beer brewed once a year and sold only at the brewery. The beer is named after Hun Hunahpu, a man who, according to Mayan mythology, was tricked and killed by lords of the underworld, and whose corpse turned into a cacao tree, which eventually impregnated a gal named Xiquic, who then gave birth to the Mayan hero twins, Hunahpu and Xbalanque, who avenged their father's death by killing the aforementioned underworld lords. No big deal.

The beer has earned a perfect 100 score on both beer-obsessive sites of note (BeerAdvocate and RateBeer), and is described by CCB head brewer Wayne Wambles like so: "Pours extremely dark in color with a brown head ... The flavor opens with a big blast of chocolate and moderate espresso with elements of dark toffee and interjecting threads of vanilla with lingering hints of cinnamon and tobacco and chili notes with a mild Scoville heat in the finish."

Translation: It's a complex, highly regarded beer, and nothing about it, from its flavors, to its naming origins, to its release day, is basic.

Aside from simply welcoming a ton of people (more than 9,000 folks attended the 2013 release party) to Tampa for drinking and general beer geekery of the highest order, CCB also invites a handful of other interesting breweries down to hang out and pour their wares. Years past have included the likes of Florida establishments such as 7venth Sun, Dunedin, and Funky Buddha, and not-so-Florida establishments like 21st Amendment, Bell's, and Founders. Before this year, Terrapin was the only Georgia brewery to ever make an appearance.

At the fifth-annual Hunahpu's Day on March 8, Terrapin will be pouring once again, this time barrel-aged versions of Big Hoppy Monster, Monk's Revenge, and Moo Hoo. There will be another Peach State connection via the CCB/Max Lager's collaboration, Black Ash. But the newest Georgia beer maker to participate in Hunahpu's Day is Kennesaw's Burnt Hickory Brewery, which will pour a handful of its beers alongside more than 30 other establishments from all over the country.

CCB marketing director Geiger Powell says his employer has a close friend who is also a close friend of Burnt Hickory. The friend suggested CCB try some BHB, and that was that. "They make good beer," Powell tells me via email. "So it was a pretty easy choice from there."

Burnt Hickory brewmaster and founder Scott Hedeen is stoked.

"It's a great honor to be hand chosen by people at CCB ... They, along with their tastebuds, have acknowledged our beers as some of the best in the state," Hedeen says. "They offered, we gladly accepted. We will be traveling to the event. We are not only representatives of the brewery, but craft beer geeks to the utmost!"

In an effort to make the event a little more reasonable, CCB has turned Hunahpu's Day into a beer festival of sorts, capping the attendance at 3,500. (Tickets are long gone by now, but they were $50 apiece.) Festival attendees will have dibs on purchasing Hunahpu's in bottle form ($20/750ml, 3-bottle limit per person), from 11 a.m.-4 p.m. that day. If there's any of the stuff leftover after the festival, the general public can purchase it at the brewery until it's gone.

Why write about an event no one reading this can attend unless they purchased a ticket more than a month ago? For one thing, it's pretty great that an up-and-coming craft brewery in a neighboring state has found an exciting, annual way to get people talking about, celebrating, and drinking beer. It's also great that CCB opens its arms to the nationwide beer community, carefully plucking brewers from all over the country to join in on the fun.

But the thing that bums me about Hunahpu's Day is that it could never happen here. All those likeminded beer lovers from out of state traveling to Florida to hang out for a day and buy a couple bottles of beer direct from a brewery? That's not allowed in Georgia. And what about the possible economic benefits we're not benefitting from? The $175,000 of revenue from ticket sales not going to a small business in Georgia. The money not spent at local hotels, restaurants, gas stations, and other businesses while everyone's in town?

I look at all these missed opportunities and I wonder, "Why not in Georgia?"

"The tourism side of Hunahpu's Day is fairly large," CCB founder Joey Redner says. "Most of the attendees are from beyond the Tampa Bay area and many are from out of state. Our in-person tickets did not sell out, but the online ones sold out in under and hour and the majority of those purchasers were from out of state or further than three hours from the brewery. It's an important day to us since we get to party with our loyal customers and it absolutely allows us to throw a good chunk of change at what seems to be ceaseless facility improvements. Hunahpu's Day was a major part of our ability to grow in our first 3-4 years and helped us get to the point we are now. We sold out the local hotel and many people have booked stays at other hotels in the area. A lot of meals, events, cabs, attractions, and merchandise will be purchased locally as a direct result of Hunahpu's Day."

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