Homebrewing 101 at the Funky Buddha

In little over a year's time, Boca Raton beer spot and hookah bar the Funky Buddha Lounge and Brewery has made a name for itself by pumping out stellar, small-batch, in-house releases. Last year's Maple Bacon Porter and "No Crusts" Peanut Butter and Jelly Ale raised eyebrows not only within local beer-snob communities but within microbrewing followers worldwide (seriously, it landed at number 32 in this's list of best brewpubs around the world.). Not too shabby. 

With that kind of pedigree, a homebrewing class from within Funky Buddha's confines is of great significance to any barley-and-malts-aspiring novice. After all, the joint's proprietor, Ryan Sentz, began his career as a homebrewer himself.

Conducted in its 6-month-old homebrew supply store wing adjacent to the brewpub, beer-making classes take place on Thursdays at 7 p.m. and Sundays at 11 a.m. They cost $20 with an extra $13 for a sampling of Funky Buddha's finest microcrafts. Thanks to deal-of-the-day website Groupon, that price was knocked down significantly ($30 for two people and $15 for one, with two beers each!) for all of last night's beer-school attendees.

Before the beginning of the class, Sentz confides to us that his business took a bit of a hit with the markdown offered on Groupon, but "it definitely has brought in the people," he shrugs. All seven people attending this evening's beer class came in with their own trusty, printed, online savings offer.
Tony Kirkish, Funky Buddha's knowledgeable homebrewing instructor, takes roll call by collecting everyone's coupon. Kirkish, a Marine stationed in Miami during the day, is a somewhat reserved individual with a profound familiarity of the chemistry involved in the yeast and malt process. He has been homebrewing for more than ten years. Despite his military background, Kirkish is not rigid on the agenda for the evening.

He offers us a blank slate when it comes to what specific type of brew the class wants to concoct. "What we make tonight is entirely up to you?" offers Kirkish. A rather loaded question in this roomful of disparate beer connoisseurs.

To our right sits a sprightly blond, Nicole Bailey, who is attending the class with her new husband, Jim Bailey, a medical supplies salesman, and her chef brother John Hill and his girlfriend, Alexandra Mullinaux. She asks Kirkish what the difference is between ales and lagers. He explains to us that it lies in the brewing process (hot for ales, cold for lagers) and the type of hops used.

The attendees discuss this among themselves for a while and decide the easy-drinking German wheat varietal Hefeweizen is the top choice. Kirkish explains that "Hefe" in German translates to yeast, while "wizen" means wheat.

To our left, 29-year-old Danny Morin sagely nods to Kirkish's every word. Morin is a homebrewer himself, working on a oatmeal stout in his Weston home. He had no idea the Funky Buddha even existed until his wife bestowed him a beer-school Groupon as a gift. Although he admits that he thought the class was going to get into more specifics, he is nonetheless content with his wife's bounty.

The instructor passes a few malts for us to sniff. One kind, with a distinct chocolate smell, receives a reaction from our class, "Wait, can we snort these?" Our hops and barley classmates let out a huge guffaw. The wisecracks don't end there (it is a beer class, after all). When Kirkish is dipping the chosen malt in our brew barrel, 40-something software developer Jeff Waters asks, "Is that your wife's panties?" to what Kirkish calls his malt sack. Funny enough, Kirkish looks at Waters and says, deadpan, "Actually you could use pantyhose to steed malt."

Then we move on to the hops selection. Kirkish chooses a German kind called Hallertau and passes it around. "This looks like rabbit food," smirks Nicole Bailey. 

Our instructor points out that there will be a considerable amount of downtime in a class like ours, with all the ingredients settling and everything needing to reach its boiling point. So, the eight of us choose to spark up a hookah loaded with vanilla-flavored shishna to pass the time (yes, in this class, smoking from a hookah is actually encouraged).

After about an hour's wait, while everything is sweltering in the gallon kettle, Kirkish invites us to go outside and smell our brew. It's a delightful aroma, akin to fresh limes and oranges. "This is one serious adult barbecue," we think to ourselves as our soon-to-be frothy beverage sits on top of a gas-burning cooker.

After the boiling process, one must chill the brew before adding in the yeast. Kirkish brings out a yellow, thick murky Hefeweizen yeast. "It's sperm from the prize cattle," jokes Jeff Waters of the peculiar nebulous liquid contained in a test tube. Nicole volunteers to add our critical final element to our ale. And that's a wrap. We need only to wait about ten days to drink up our, hopefully, savory homebrew.

At the end of the day, you might ask yourself, "So why brew at home?" Kirkish breaks it down for us: With ingredients and all, it can cost $40 to $60 for 48 bottles of beers. That could work out being less than one dollar per beer, if you play your cards right, for a nicely crafted beer done the way you like it. Additionally, you can legally brew 100 gallons at your house. Any beer aficionado knows you don't go through the painstaking process of homebrewing for the value. It's all for the love of malt, barley, and hops.

Besides a decent buzz obtained by hookah shisna and Funky Buddha microbrews, every single one of us left the brewpub this evening with a newfound respect for the inebriating beverage. Most of us take it for granted while getting wasted at keggers. Making beer is truly an art form that inspires passion and dedication. Miller Lite lovers need not apply.    


KEEP NEW TIMES BROWARD-PALM BEACH FREE... Since we started New Times Broward-Palm Beach, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of South Florida, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Alex Rendon