The origins of Funky Buddha Brewery begin when Ryan Sentz, aspiring homebrewer and entrepreneur, purchased the R & R Tea Bar and Funky Buddha Lounge in 2006. This small and unassuming space would give south Floridians a place to smoke a tobacco hookah, enjoy tea and libations and listen to open mic nights on a very small stage. “The facility was only 700 square feet,” Sentz remembers. “It was enough for a few people and an open mic night.”
Ryan was already inspired by craft beer, and he had been brewing on and off for ten years with homebrew kits. “I loved craft beer,” Ryan admits. “I was the guy whenever I traveled, I had to go to different stores to see what beers we didn’t have in Florida. Back then it was a very different beer scene in Florida.” Ryan’s love of Florida and diverse styles of beer drove him to action.
Ryan had worked with the original owner of R & R Tea Bar to bring in craft beer to the lounge by putting together a small bottle list. In 2007, Ryan decided that he wanted to help the beer scene as a bar owner, so he bought the bar. As the new owner of R & R Tea Bar and Funky Buddha Lounge, Ryan brought in a wider selection of bottles and brought in draft beer. “We quickly got known as the best craft beer bar because we were the only craft beer bar,” Ryan recalls. “When craft beer started getting popular, we would never had survived if we had just been craft beer, because we were in a 700-square foot place. We did hookahs and teas and that paid the bills because there were not a lot of craft beer drinkers.”
This was the birth of Funky Buddha Brewery – and one of Florida’s most recognizable brewery names did not come from the depths of the founders’ minds or their religious affiliations. Instead, the name comes from the name of the business that Ryan bought. He just dropped the name “R & R Tea Bar.” “Basically, the previous owner bought the business and the name came with it. He was lazy and didn’t want to pay to change the sign. But he liked the name ‘Funky Buddha Lounge.’ When I bought it, I was not going to pay for a sign with such a long name – I got rid of the ‘R & R Tea Bar’ and just kept the Funky Buddha Lounge.
Turning heads towards Funky Buddha
It was not long before the tiny lounge needed more space. The move to a bigger space in 2009 would be a fortuitous one – this space had some extra room for brewing. “There was a slightly bigger spot in the plaza,” Ryan remembers. “My business partner at the time thought it would be cool if we put in a small brewing system. We had no thoughts of opening a brewery, it was just something that we liked to do.” In 2010, the new spot opened on Federal Highway in Boca Raton with a tiny brewing system behind the lounge, allowing Sentz to tap and serve Funky Buddha beers to patrons. “That’s when people got really hungry for craft beer in South Florida right around that time, and we were doing a lot of weird stuff that no one else was doing at that time.” The move to the lounge & brewery also coincided with the release of the beer that would bring Funky Buddha international attention: Maple Bacon Coffee Porter. “People would take our beer and trade it all over the country and all over the world,” Says Ryan. “We started getting invites to do festivals outside of Florida. It was weird for us. We were brewing 30 gallons of beer at a time. From there we started doing these festivals, and Maple Bacon Coffee Porter took off.”
Before the Funky Buddha had celebrated their first anniversary, they had made one of the most sought-after beers in the world in Maple Bacon Coffee Porter.
People were amazed by these combinations of flavors and how smokey bacon flavors could be present in a beer, especially since no version of the beer uses actual bacon. “We would go to these festivals out of the state and we would have the longest lines,” Ryan says. “We would pour beers like Maple Bacon Coffee Porter and we also had No Crusts peanut-butter-and-jelly beer, and Bonita Applebaum apple pie beer, and no one had ever heard of us. That happened at Extreme Beer Fest in Boston, Brewvival in Charleston, and The Great American Beer Festival in Denver.” Overwhelmed as he was, Ryan wanted both to expand the brewery and to get someone to help him operate it.
Ryan’s brother, KC Sentz, then stepped into the picture to provide the assistance that Ryan was seeking. “KC and I wanted to open a business together, and I knew that I couldn’t do this on my own. So we started talking, and KC joined on in 2011-2012, and we began working on our larger production brewery in Oakland Park.”
Funky Buddha Lounge opened its doors in 2006. The title “and Brewery” was added three years later. From opening the doors of Funky Buddha Lounge and Brewery to opening the doors of the current Funky Buddha Brewery was another three years. In total, six years passed between the opening of the tiny Funky Buddha Lounge to opening the current Funky Buddha Brewery.
Funky Buddha Brewery in Oakland Park opened in 2013. One of the interior’s most notable features was the mural on the wall quoting fictional flavor king Willy Wonka, an appropriate allusion to the wonderful beers that propelled Funky Buddha Brewery to their acclaimed status. From their production facility, Sentz and his funky team were able to make beers in 30-barrel (945 gallon) batches – a massive increase from the 1-barrel (31.5 gallon) batches that they produced at the Funky Buddha Lounge & Brewery.
Where do they get such wonderful toys?
Where did the idea for a peanut-butter-and-jelly beer come from? “I hate to say it,” says Ryan. “But it seemed obvious to me. There were flavors that we liked and would have liked to see in beer. There were a few other breweries that were doing similar flavors – there was a chocolate beer that tasted like chocolates and other culinary-inspired beers, and I gravitated towards that.” Ryan says that he gravitated towards culinary-inspired beers and worked to make beers that did the same. “Even though .0005% of the breweries were doing stuff like that – that’s what I liked.” Ryan just brewed the beers that he wanted to drink and the drinking public seemed to like them, too. “So, I brewed not necessarily thinking that this was going to be the master plan, to blow up and people would pay attention, but I brewed the beers that I was running to the festivals for. This is what I wanted to try.” His preference toward culinary beers led him to the dessert menu, but there were not many other beers that had these flavors, Ryan says. “I could try a million IPAs, but no one was doing an apple pie beer.”
The timelessness of Funky Buddha’s beers continues today. “The same beers that were popular at the lounge are the ones that are popular today,” Ryan says. “Maple Bacon Coffee Porter is still hugely popular. Our Nib Smuggler Chocolate Porter is a great one for us.
Bob’s Backyard is still a great beer for us.” The beer is named for a Funky Buddha customer, Bob, who had mangoes in his backyard. He brought them to the brewery for beer-making and the beer named itself. Ryan continues, “In the beginning we weren’t going too crazy with IPAs and lagers, we got known for our porters and imperial stouts and did lots of crazy stuff with those.”
With such a myriad of flavors, what could possibly come next for this funky bunch? Ryan says that he draws inspiration from unlikely sources like grocery stores, cooking shows, and cocktails. Ryan admits, “I love making cocktails at home – my wife’s Brazillian, so I was looking up Brazillian cocktails and I had one with cachaça – Brazillian rum. It had passion fruit, coconut, and milk.” His mind went to work translating this into beer. “I immediately thought ‘I have an imperial cream ale in rum barrels! I’m going to add passionfruit and flaked coconut to this. It was one of my favorite beers we’ve done in a while.”
When asked what beer challenges him the most, Ryan doesn’t hesitate: No Crusts. “I couldn’t figure out how to get the peanut flavor just right without destroying the head or having infection issues.” Playing alchemist to all of the flavors and nuances of the beer took time and Ryan was trying to make other beers, too. “Many of the beers like Maple Bacon Coffee Porter might have been right the first time that we made them. No Crusts definitely took a while.” As Ryan figured out the formula for his peanut-butter-and-jelly beer, the beer made sporadic appearances, developing a cult following that always wanted to know when the beer would be available.
The question of the beer’s availability drove people crazy, Ryan remembers. The secret to making the beer is simpler than everyone thought, Ryan confesses: “We’d make No Crusts whenever Publix had a sale on peanuts.” While the beer’s fans were busy trying to figure out the rhyme and reason of its production, the real reason was simply a pragmatic one. “I would go and send all of my employees to different Publix stores and have them buy a cart full of peanuts. My wife would have a cart full of them, and all of our employees would have carts full of them, and we know that when Publix does a buy-one-get-one-free sale on peanuts, it was everywhere, so we would just get everyone and go shopping. We’d say ‘We’re doing No Crusts!’ And our employees would know what to do. There was no calendar, it would just happen when peanuts would go on sale.”
Ryan says that despite growing Funky Buddha Brewery to its current size and having distribution in multiple states, one of the biggest challenges is keeping people’s attention in such a diverse beer market. “Our biggest challenge now,” Ryan admits, “is having so many breweries in the market. We have a tough time getting people to stay loyal to a brand. I think that the consumer is getting to the point that they don’t want to drink a million beers, they want to find a good beer and stick to it. The trick is getting the retailers to follow that.” Long gone are the days when one brewery could sustain several cities or an entire county. Ryan says that one of the ways that Funky Buddha Brewery is trying to differentiate itself is by showing the community that they care about their products and about what the community wants. “We are trying to educate the public and show them that we care about what we do,” Ryan asserts. “A lot of money goes back into the lab and testing and reformulating.” Being a great brewery is more than putting out great beer, Ryan has learned. Each area and territory is different and has different wants and needs. “It’s also challenging now that we’re opening up new markets and we’re going out of state and we’re trying to find each market’s needs and wants. Just because Floridian is doing great in Florida, does not mean it’s going to do great in Virginia. So, understanding each market as we expand is a challenge.”
With all that Funky Buddha Brewery has achieved combined with the frenetic pace of the beer industry, it is easy for the crew to lose sight of how far they have come. KC admits that, “A lot of times, we don’t stop and celebrate our victories, we just move onto the next thing because we need to keep up with everything else that’s going on. We’re proud of how far we’ve come so quickly. It’s incredible to think that we’ve been at this for five years and we’re in seven states.” What started as Ryan Sentz tinkering around with culinary beers has transformed into a brewery making 45,000 barrels of beer annually. Then in 2017, Funky Buddha Brewery was acquired by Constellation Brands, owners of Ballast Point Brewing Company and makers of Corona and Modelo brands of beer. KC admits that the brewery staff sometimes forgets how far they have come and the international attention they have attracted. “What we as a team have been able to do in five short years has been nothing short of astounding. Then to be recognized by some of the leaders of the world in the beer industry and for them to ask us to join their team has been pretty cool.” Ryan is confident that the beer will continue to improve because of “better lab equipment and access to resources.” KC is glad that “Ryan can come up with new recipes and improve on what we have. I can confidently say that our beer is better than it’s ever been. That, to me, is a cool feeling and I am confident every time the beer goes out the door, that it’s going to stay good and stay fresh and we just didn’t have that luxury before.”
KC and Ryan both see the resonance that their beer has throughout their distribution area and they attribute that success to the way their beer fits into people’s lives. “I think another reason why we have been so successful is that we don’t do what we do for marketing purposes,” Ryan says. “We’re not going to do beers because they’re the kinds of beers that sell. We do the beers that we liked and ones that we were passionate about, and people responded to it.” KC is very up front about where inspirations come from. “We like music and we like sports,” he says. “You see a lot of our beers draw their inspiration from music and from sports. Throw in a few ‘80s movies in there and you have us,” he laughs. KC points to the brewery’s newest offering, Vibin’ lager as an example. “Vibin’ is about music – we love music, we want to do more music venues, more concerts, more sports venues because that is who we are.”
Ryan says that one of his favorite feelings is drinking his beer at concert and sports venues. “I remember the first time we watched a Dolphins game at the stadium, and I was drinking my own beer – that was cool.”
Through all of the wins and learning opportunities that the brewery has seen, both brothers agree that the one thing that moves Funky Buddha Brewery forward is the people. Ryan says that he and his brother “have been very fortunate to keep a core team of great people. Even through the acquisition, just to have everyone happy and able to keep pushing forward, that is one of our greatest successes.”