Before Funky Buddha became the largest craft brewery in south Florida, it was a tiny brewhouse at a hookah bar and tea lounge where Boca Raton residents went to listen to live music. The brewery’s founder, Ryan Sentz (pictured at left), bought the lounge in 2007, and three years later—after establishing Funky Buddha as a destination spot for specialty craft beer—he decided to bring his own beer into the operation.
“I love craft beer, but if I was surviving on just beer when I opened, I would have gone out of business,” says Sentz, explaining that craft beer wasn’t nearly as sought after in Florida then as it is today. “But then craft beer got more and more attention,” he explains, “and we got more attention as a craft-beer bar. The homebrewer in me thought it would be fun to put in a small brewing system.”
So that’s what he did. Sentz moved to a new space and added a 55-gallon brewhouse on which he started brewing what he calls “culinary-style” beers. These experimental, ingredient-inspired creations included Rum-Soaked Oak-Aged Red Ale, Orange Creamsicle Wheat, and Maple Bacon Coffee Porter. “The small brewhouse allowed us to be experimental, to really go for it with flavors,” he says.
Brewing beer in itself was a leap of faith in Florida at the time, let alone brewing beers as unorthodox as Funky Buddha’s. The Florida craft-beer market was in its infancy, and consumers were still uneducated about its possibilities. “That’s why I have to come back to drinkability every time,” Sentz says. Despite how off-the-wall some of his ingredients may be, all of his beers are easy to drink. Those wild flavors shine through as subtle nuances.
“Our Sweet Potato Casserole is a beer I never thought would be so widely accepted,” says Sentz. “It was my answer to trendy pumpkin beers.” He didn’t want to brew a pumpkin beer, but he wanted to create a spiced vegetable beer that would complement a Thanksgiving feast. His customers loved the rich “sticky” beer, and it became Funky Buddha’s fall seasonal. It has come out again this year, this time in bottles as well as on tap.
“We plan to eventually can our beers, but bottles worked better for us in a young market,” Sentz says. “People in Florida still want [craft] beer in a bottle; they look at a can as an inferior vessel, like the stuff that their grandpa used to drink.”
Floridians soon discovered that beers such as Funky Buddha’s limited release Starfruit Floridian and the summer seasonal Blueberry Cobbler Ale were hardly beers that their grandparents drank. Even some of the brewery’s more traditional, year-round offerings, such as the Crusher Session IPA or the On Top Blonde, defied consumer expectations of what beer could be. They couldn’t get enough of it, and just a few short years after Sentz began brewing professionally he was ready to expand.
In 2013, Ryan’s brother KC Sentz, joined the team at Funky Buddha and helped open the brewery’s second location and production facility in Oakland Park. This facility was the first production brewery in Broward County. It’s a 40,000 square-foot building that features a 3,000 square-foot taproom where thirty draft lines pour Funky Buddha beers as well as selections from other Florida craft breweries.
To date, Funky Buddha is the second largest brewery in Florida, producing 28,000 barrels of beer a year. “We have the capability to brew in one day what we did in a year at the Funky Buddha lounge,” Sentz says in awe. He now uses that 55-gallon system at the lounge as a pilot system, and the venue remains a popular destination for craft beer, hookah pipes, and live music.
Next up for Ryan and KC is incorporating food into their concept. Construction began in May at Funky Buddha’s Oakland Park facility on the Craft Food Counter & Kitchen (CFC), a locally driven kitchen that combines gourmet-caliber plates with a fast-casual “counter” method of service that fits right in to the taproom’s communal atmosphere. Chef Jeff Vincent, a South Carolina native, is creating an upscale pub fare-meets-street-food menu complete with classic Southern deviled eggs, burgers, beer-battered chicken, and biscuit sliders. The menu will focus on shared plates, and, of course, beer pairings.
“I had no master plan when I first bought the lounge,” Sentz says. “I was just a homebrewer who loved beer. I started this business in a place where craft beer isn’t ingrained in the culture yet. There’s a newness about craft beer here, and it’s catching on—now I read about another brewery opening in south Florida every week.”
Despite huge milestones and growth, Sentz has stayed true to his roots—he’s still a homebrewer at heart who continues to focus on culinary-driven beers. “We brew what we like, and we get to turn people on to craft beer who have never experienced it before. We’re lucky; beer tends to attract really passionate people.”