Drink Like a Local: South Florida Breweries Are Creating a Craft Brew Community
For years, we've been hearing about the benefits of farm-to-table cuisine: Buying locally results in lower carbon emissions, support of the local economy, and stronger, fresher flavors.
George Mercado Funky Buddha Brewery
Same goes for locally brewed beer.
Not long ago, most South Floridians reached for a bottle of Bud before searching out a local brew. Not anymore. A slew of breweries has sprung up in Broward and Palm Beach, and as craft beer has grown in popularity, the drinking populace has become, uh, sophisticated enough to appreciate it.
Today the leaders of our craft beer scene include groundbreakers like Mike Halker of Due South Brewing Co. and Fran Andrewlevich of Tequesta Brewing Co., as well as fresh entrepreneurs now opening their own operations. Altogether, we've become quite the community of craft beer geeks!
We spoke to a few of them.
Ryan Sentz, founder and head brewer at Funky Buddha Brewery in Oakland Park, started developing his love of craft brews in college through a friend. After discovering beers like Sierra Nevada and Leffe, he forayed into homebrewing himself.
He started off with simple kits, first adding flavors like pumpkin, then growing into the crazy concoctions he's known for now. No Crusts is a peanut-butter-and-jelly brown ale, and when he released his highly acclaimed Maple Bacon Coffee Porter in bottles, more than 3,000 attended the event.
Formerly a sales rep for City Link magazine, Sentz found himself a commercial brewer almost by accident. In 2007, he opened Funky Buddha Lounge, a hookah and tea bar at the time. He brought in a selection of craft brews for his own enjoyment.
"I didn't start with the illusions of, like, 'I eventually want to brew beer,' " says Sentz. "I didn't even think it was going to be successful; I just wanted a place I'd like to work."
An entrepreneur from a young age -- Sentz and his brother had carwashing and lawn-cutting businesses growing up -- he found himself yearning to expand. He found another storefront in his strip mall and just for the heck of it started a small operation with a glorified homebrewing system on the premises.
As followers started clamoring for his strange combinations -- the brewery was getting requests from all over the U.S. and even Europe -- his brother K.C. pressed him to expand. He scouted a bigger location for a large-scale operation, and on June 1, 2013, Funky Buddha Brewery in Oakland Park opened its doors to the public.
Although Sentz feels his easygoing approach to growing the business was his formula for success, he thanks the Florida craft beer industry for support.
"Other breweries have been incredibly helpful," says Sentz. "Tequesta and Cigar City -- I don't think there's a Funky Buddha without those guys. I've leaned on them so heavily. It's not competitive in this business, because we're all chomping away at the bigger guys. When I hear about new breweries coming in, I think, 'Great. More people are going to start drinking craft beer.' "