Off of North Federal Highway in Boca Raton, Fla., Ryan Sentz has carved out his personal nirvana for craft beer. You probably wouldn’t realize it from the outside. Located in a small strip mall, only a blue neon sign that reads Funky Buddha Lounge catches your eye. But once customers walk through the door, the Funky Buddha Lounge and Brewery transports visitors to a little slice of craft beer paradise, where patrons smoke hookahs, listen to local bands, enjoy excellent eats and imbibe in great craft beers, including some of the best porters around.
“When I decided to open the Funky Buddha, I wanted a place where I would enjoy going and be comfortable,” said Sentz. “Lots of couches and over-sized chairs with minimal TVs or other outside distractions. I wanted a place where you can actually have a conversation with the people you were with. We brew a lot of porters because I love the style. It is a great food beer and the base is perfect for a lot of other ingredients like chocolate, coconut and raspberries.”
Sentz said the Funky Buddha’s flagship porter is its Piiti Porter (pronounce Pee-Tee), but it’s probably not its most popular lately. Its Maple Bacon Coffee Porter, Last Snow Porter and Nib Smuggler have been making bigger waves around the country (and they don’t even bottle these beers yet).
“We only sell our beers on premise, but some have gotten pretty popular due to outside festivals and word of mouth,” said Sentz. “We are currently brewing on a small 1.5-barrel system, but we’ll be expanding to a 30-barrel system in April, so we can brew our porters quite often, but in small batches.”
The Piiti Porter Beer has a dark brown-black pour, with a thin ring of off-white bubbles that leave a little lacing on the glass. It tastes of vanilla, roasted malt, milk chocolate, burnt caramel and a bit of anise. The Maple Bacon Coffee Porter starts off with plenty of intense maple syrup sweetness slowly giving way to hints of coffee, chocolate and some smoky malt. The bacon isn’t terribly noticeable initially, but it grows stronger throughout the drinking experience.
The Last Snow Porter has a huge coffee smell and taste, with a small piney hop scent and sweet caramel malt flavors. Last Snow also has strong taste of coconut. “Many people describe it as Almond Joy in a glass,” said Sentz. The Nib Smuggler relies on a strong chocolate syrup taste with flavors of cocoa powder, burnt sugar and a bit of a Crème brûlée. Funky Buddha brews so many styles of porter it’s hard to keep track.
“We also do a Milk Porter with a healthy amount of lactose,” said Sentz. “Those other specialty porters are brewed with coffee, maple syrup, cocoa nibs, vanilla beans, coconut and many other ingredients.”
Funky Buddha hasn’t entered any competitions other than their first crack at Great American Beer Festival this past year (so no major awards — yet), but its porters come highly rated and are growing a substantial cult following (its Nib Smuggler has a Beer Advocate score of 94, which is considered exceptional). Sentz is still experimenting with recipes and trying to figure out his next steps for distributing his beer to a bigger audience, but he has a little advice to impart for up-and-coming breweries.
“Brew what you like and stay true,” said Sentz. “Don’t skimp on expensive ingredients if those are the flavors you like. It all comes down to the liquid. We don’t market our beer ourselves. We just brew the beer that we like and hope others will as well. It definitely helped to have a beer with bacon in the name, but at the end of the day, if people didn’t think it tasted good it wouldn’t matter.”