It has been nearly three years since I first tried Cigar City’s Hunahpu. Since then, the Mayan-influenced Imperial Stout has taken on a status nearly as legendary as the hero for whom it is named, and much has been written about this beer.
Hunahpu’s Imperial Stout was rated one of the best beers in not only the country, but the entire world by Ratebeer.com reviewers, and maintains a rating of 100 on Ratebeer.com and an A+ rating on Beeradvocate.com. The release party in March has become one of the most highly anticipated beer events in Florida, and people come from near and far just to get their hands on their allotment of bottles. The hype over this beer has grown each year as well, as the crowds increase and the release day gets bigger and bigger. It is natural for someone to wonder “Is it really that good?”
The answer is a resounding “Hell yeah.”
The story of Hunahpu is fascinating. In Mayan mythology, Hun-Hunahpu was the father of the Mayan hero twins Hunahpu and Xbalanque. Hun-Hunahpu — along with his brother Vucub-Hunahpu — was tricked by the Dark Lords of the underworld and slain. Hun-Hunahpu’s corpse morphed into a cacao tree, his head becoming a cacao pod, which in typically awesome mythology fashion, spit upon the hand of a young maiden named Xiquic who promptly became pregnant with the hero twins. The twins would ultimately grow up to avenge their father and uncle, defeat the Dark Lords and ascend to the heavens to become the moon and sun. In this way, Hunahpu is credited with bringing cacao — and thus chocolate — to the people.
But what is Hunahpu’s Imperial Stout? What makes it so special? This is a beer with something extra: It begins as a ‘normal’ Imperial Stout, and then is aged on Peruvian cacao nibs, ancho and pasilla chiles, cinnamon, and Madagascar vanilla beans. The effect is truly amazing.
Starting with the pour, which is like motor oil: thick and viscous and just daring you to tell it to hurry up. When the head begins to form it’s the color of milk chocolate and looks like mousse. It’s very opaque —there is no light to be seen through the glass. When you lean in to inhale the aroma, the richness envelops your senses with lush chocolate, coffee, vanilla, spices, and roasted malt. Some serious booziness too, which is well over 11-percent ABV. You could probably serve this stout as a dessert all by itself.
When you finally are ready to taste this dark, sumptuous-looking offering, it coats the mouth with a thick, heavy roasted flavor, and an array of chocolate, coffee, and vanilla essences. Spices play about on your tongue to tantalize and keep you guessing. The alcohol is present, but not overpowering; it’s just enough to warm and complements the complexity of the flavors. The delicious sweetness and dark bitterness vie for attention. You are left with a creamy coating in your mouth which just begs for more. I recommend giving in, totally and completely.
If you are lucky enough to have friends who have been “in the know” for a few years, you may get the chance to try a “vertical” tasting, sampling the releases from 2010, 2011, 2012, and this year’s batch. Hunahpu ages very well, with new flavors emerging and subtle changes bringing even more complexity.
I am not given to absolutes, but this is easily the best Imperial Stout I’ve ever had.