When the Funky Buddha Brewery opens Saturday in Oakland Park, it will become the first industrial microbrewery in Broward County, and the largest operation of its kind in South Florida. For fans of craft beer, so called because of the beverages' artisanal qualities, limited availability and attention-grabbing names such as Arrogant Bastard Ale and Mama's Little Yella Pils, the brewery's existence may finally give them something to brag about.
Even though the craft-beer industry has grown steadily since the 1990s, Florida lags behind most of the nation. The state ranks 44th on the Brewers Association's list of breweries per capita. But microbrews from as far away as California have been appearing in local bars and restaurants with increasing frequency in recent years.
"The craft-beer market here is catching up to what we've seen in the rest of the country," says Adam Fine, a South Florida beer distributor with the Virginia-based Brown Distributing. "[We're] finally jumping onto the bandwagon, basically."
Brown Distributing delivers craft beer to Tap 42, the Royal Pig, American Social, the Laser Wolf and other establishments serving microbrews in South Florida. Fine says, "There are places opening every day" that contact his company for beer, even restaurants that don't exclusively focus on craft beer.
These restaurants join Smashburger, a nationwide chain whose South Florida locations serve Fort Lauderdale-based Holy Mackerel brews; Sergio's Cuban restaurants in Miami, which recently added beers by the Miami Brewing Company to one location's menu; and the South Beach Wine and Food Festival, which this year introduced beer-oriented events alongside its wine seminars.
The Funky Buddha, meanwhile, is opening just three years after South Florida got its first industrial craft brewery, the Tequesta Brewing Company, and one year after Due South Brewing opened in Boynton Beach and Schnebly Winery launched the Miami Brewing Company in Homestead. Unlike brewpubs, these breweries can't sell food, but they can provide beer to go, sold in refillable containers known as growlers.
Ryan Sentz, the Funky Buddha's 36-year-old owner, broke ground on the Oakland Park site last November, after running a similarly named bar for seven years in Boca Raton. The Funky Buddha Lounge and Brewery is known in South Florida for its food-flavored beers, and on national craft-beer forums for its Maple Bacon Coffee Porter. It will remain in business after its 20,000-square-foot counterpart opens on Saturday.
The Buddha's new building stands near the junction of North Dixie Highway and Northeast 38th Street, in a warehouse lot next to the railroad tracks. Justin Proffitt, Oakland Park's senior planner, says city officials believe the brewery will invigorate business downtown.
"Markets are showing that [craft] brews are becoming very popular and actually overcoming some of the corporate brands, like Bud Light and Budweiser," Proffitt says.
Microbrews such as Monk in the Trunk and Magic Hat may be a long way from sponsoring a Super Bowl halftime show, but a year-end report from the Brewers Association, a nonprofit organization that lobbies for small breweries nationwide, said craft-beer sales totaled 6.5 percent of the U.S. beer market in 2012, up from 5.7 percent in 2011. Budweiser's parent company, Anheuser-Busch InBev, reported .04 percent growth in North America last year.
Matt Weintraub says he has been eagerly awaiting the Funky Buddha's opening. Weintraub, the 24-year-old Pembroke Pines resident who leads FIU's B.R.E.W. club, is looking forward to sampling the brewery's growlers, and the shorter drive.
"I love the concept of the growler, because, for me, I like to have a couple pints [at a bar], but I like to bring home fresh beer straight from the brewery," he says. "I go to [the Funky Buddha in] Boca every once in a while, but it's a far distance for me."
Weintraub recently returned from a 10-day beer tour of the East Coast, on which he visited breweries in New York, Pennsylvania, Delaware, North Carolina, Georgia and North Florida.
"You definitely get the vibe that you're starting to get down here, with the local craft-beer scene opening up," he says.
Brown Distributing's Fine says the Funky Buddha will earn South Florida national attention from beer enthusiasts who tour the country's microbreweries. The Westin Fort Lauderdale will offer special rates for people coming into town for the brewery's grand opening. Lynn Morris, the hotel's business-travel sales manager, says the discounted rate will be available to Funky Buddha customers year round, and the hotel had reservations for opening weekend at presstime.
The Buddha will open with a 30-barrel brewing system, bigger even than the startup equipment at Tampa Bay's Cigar City Brewing Company, Florida's best-known independent producer of craft beer.
Sentz won't credit his business with revolutionizing Florida's craft-beer scene, but he believes dozens more breweries will appear in South Florida within five years. At least four microbrewers are working to open locations in Miami, but Sentz isn't worried about a saturated market.
"It's a completely different business than others," he says. "We help each other. We don't see each other as competitors. We're all going against the big guys."
Funky Buddha Brewery's opening
When: 6 p.m. Saturday, June 1
Where: 1201 NE 38th St., Oakland Park
Cost: Free entry, $5 beer tickets
Contact: 954-440-0046 or Facebook.com/FunkyBuddhaBrewery