Sure, folks in the Fort Lauderdale area drank beer. And beer certainly fueled its famous Spring Break.
But as the rest of the nation fell in love with interesting, original craft beers, if you loved beer, South Florida was not the best place to be.
Until this summer, that is, when the Funky Buddha Brewery opened its production brewery and taproom in Oakland Park, a community next to Fort Lauderdale.
Now, beer geeks from around the country are making pilgrimages to the Funky Buddha to taste beers unlike anything they’ve had: “No Crusts,” which has all the flavors of a peanut butter and jelly sandwich; “Last Snow,” with touches of chocolate and coconut, and the beer that put Funky Buddha on the beer map: “Maple Bacon Coffee Porter.”
The Funky Buddha Brewery is attracting a large and diverse crowd to its new location – families on weekend afternoons, baby boomers in the early evening, tattooed hipsters later at night and beer geeks from open to close, according to its Brand Director John Linn.
The taproom, located in a former Sears warehouse, has a bright, industrial loft feel with high ceilings and a wall of windows. The shiny brewery tanks are visible from the taproom and tours are given Saturdays and Sundays. (Tours are $5 and include generous beer samples and take-home Funky Buddha pint glasses.) An area is set up as a game room with bocce and giant Jenga games. No food is served at the taproom, but there’s a food truck out front every night.
The Funky Buddha started brewing only three years ago. Before that, founder Ryan Sentz brewed beer at home and operated the Funky Buddha lounge, a craft beer and hookah bar in Boca Raton for several years. (Sentz continues to operate it.)
A few months after Sentz began brewing at the Boca Raton bar, he created Maple Bacon Coffee Porter and bottled a small batch. (Funky Buddha does not now bottle any of its beers; they’re available only on tap, right now in about 70 bars and restaurants only in South Florida.)
Maple Bacon Coffee Porter has “the sweetness of syrup, the smokiness of bacon, the roasted quality of coffee,” Linn said.
Beer lovers went crazy. Bottles were traded all over the nation, even internationally, and obscure little Funky Buddha suddenly had the No. 1 porter in the world on the prestigious Beer Advocate website, Linn said.
Maple Bacon Coffee Porter got Funky Buddha invited to the top beer festivals and brewmaster Ryan Sentz and his brother K.C. Sentz realized this was it: The perfect time to “do something bigger,” Linn said.
Two years later, the Sentz brothers opened the Funky Buddha Brewery. On opening day, the brewery drew a slightly overwhelming 3,000 visitors. “We’re lucky it rained,” K.C. Sentz jokes. Since then, business has surpassed expectations.
About half the people who take the weekend brewery tours are from outside the area, according to tour guide Sean Curran, whose day job is teaching English at nearby Fort Lauderdale High School.
During the tour, visitors sample four varieties of beer and touch and smell beer ingredients – three kinds of barley, two kinds of hops – while learning about the brewing process.
The tour introduces visitors to what makes the Funky Buddha funky – how the used barley, once it has imparted all its flavor and sugar to the beer, is given to a local dairy farmer who feeds it to his cows; how the FDA requires every fermentation tank to be labeled with an identifying name, so Funky Buddha tanks are named after the founder’s “children, dead dogs and grandparents;” how Funky Buddha beer is all about the ingredients, so that when a Raspberry Berliner was brewed recently, it required 600 pounds of fresh raspberries.
The Funky Buddha takes pride in being a little bit different, and its customers are drinking it up.
A visitor from Washington D.C., craft-beer fan Matt Starr, visited the brewery this summer after reading about Maple Bacon Coffee Porter on the Beer Advocate site.
“Everyone wanted it and there wasn't much to go around, so that sends the hype through the roof and everyone starts talking about it,” Starr said.
He didn't visit Fort Lauderdale just because of Funky Buddha, but "it certainly added one more reason to go. It definitely made me more excited about going because you can't get their beer outside of their area."
He liked his brewery visit : "There was a good amount of seating but it didn't have a warehouse-y feel to it. Everyone was very friendly and they had a great bocce court." Above all else, the beers were good.
"Everything else can be good, but if the beer isn't good, it's going to fall short," Starr said.
While you can’t buy bottles of the beer, visitors to the brewery can buy growlers – refillable glass beer bottles – and take the beer home. That’s particularly popular because the most talked about beers are not available all the time; they are produced in a limited quantity as a special release.
Fans follow the brewery on Facebook to learn when new beers are being released. One fellow is such an active follower of Funky Buddha’s activities that he wrote online: “If Funky Buddha Brewery was a woman, I am sure I would be slapped with a restraining order for stalking.”
Since the brewery opened, one of the most popular limited releases was a new beer – Blood Orange IPA. Brand Director Linn said the brewery blew through that beer in eight days, a record time.
But a new record will probably be made: the new Funky Buddha brewery plans to release its first fresh batch of Maple Bacon Coffee Porter in its new location.
The line may already be forming.
If you go:
1201 NE 38th St, Oakland Park, FL 33334
Hours: Noon to midnight daily.