Beer Town: Waiting for the Great Pumpkin

Like Linus in the Charlie Brown television special, some beer geeks are waiting for the Great Pumpkin that may never materialize.
Starting as early as August and running through October, pumpkin beers are among the top-selling seasonal offerings craft breweries bring to market.
Right now, the online beer rating site, Beer Advocate, has reviews for more than 650 pumpkin beers. And this year, the Great American Beer Festival will give pumpkin beers a separate judging category.
Here in Georgia, Terrapin Pumpkinfest, a hybrid pumpkin and Oktoberfest beer, has been a perennial favorite. But the Athens brewery has created quite a stir with the debut of its limited edition Imperial Pumpkin Pie Porter.
It’s the latest in a reserve series that has featured Chocolate Moo-Hoo and Cinnamon Roll’d Wake-n-Bake. Both were updated takes on Terrapin seasonal favorites. And both caused consternation among beer geeks who missed out on grabbing one of the 22-ounce, large format bottles.
Even before its early September release, Imperial Pumpkin Pie Porter was the subject of bitter debate among some Atlanta beer geeks, who caught wind of the beer’s earlier, and possibly greater, availability in other markets, including New Jersey.
One angry commentator on the Atlanta Beer Talk discussion group wrote of Terrapin: “They don’t appear to care about being a Georgia brewery and maybe we should stop caring about them.”
Harsh stuff, perhaps. But it illustrates the attitude of a certain number of craft brewing aficionados who collect, trade and sometimes sell rare beer with a fierce dedication once reserved for fine wine.
One blogger website, Beer Served Rare, posts the motto: “Investigating the uncommon, unusual and rare within the craft beer community.” To that end, it features a rare and seasonal beer release calendar.
Recently, when I took a look at the calendar, the release of the 2014 vintage of Foothills Bourbon Barrel-Aged Sexual Chocolate was coming up at the Winston-Salem, N.C., brewpub.
I’ve had that imperial stout aged in Pappy Van Winkle barrels and it was sublime. But I wouldn’t do what diehards do to get it — camp out overnight on the sidewalk, obtain a numbered wristband, then wait until bottle sales commence at 10 a.m.
Curious, I flipped back to March on the Served Rare release calendar. Sure enough, Cigar City Hunahpu’s Day was there, highlighted in blue, like every other entry.
But, of course, Hunahpu’s Day, Saturday, March 8, 2014, is a day that will live in red in craft beer infamy.
Depending on who you believe, there was more-or-less a riot at the Tampa brewery, as a crowd with counterfeit tickets overwhelmed those there to buy Hunahpu’s — a rare, high gravity imperial stout aged on cacao nibs, Madagascar vanilla beans, ancho and pasilla chiles and cinnamon.
Alas, that was the end of the Hunahpu’s Day release, forever.
A March 10 story in the Tampa Bay Times recounted the chaos, when Cigar City founder Joey Redner “was flanked by police officers as the crowd took up anti-Cigar City chants.”
“This whole thing makes me physically ill,” Redner told the paper. “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.”
And the kicker from Redner: “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.”

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