Drink Like a Local: South Florida Breweries Are Creating a Craft Brew Community

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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.

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.' "

Justin Miles, head brewer at Mack House in Davie, got his start experimenting with flavors while working as a manager at a Starbucks. Miles began playing with creative coffee drinks, then moved his attention to adult beverages. He started homebrewing two and a half years ago.

When Davie's Mack House opened its doors in November 2012, Miles found himself frequenting the craft beer haven; there he struck up a relationship with the nanobrewery's head brewer, Bobby Gordash.

With Gordash as a mentor, Miles found himself creating interesting culinary-style beers of his own. After Gordash left the brewery in June 2013, Mack House owner Larry Hatfield asked Miles to brew a batch. He mixed up a honey lime summer ale, and he's been putting together weekly brews ever since.

Known for his original intense flavors -- a lot of hopscentric ones and some recent Belgian brews like the popular curry saison -- Miles is all about incorporating his love of cooking into his passion for beer.

"We're trying to have a good line of beer," says Miles, "some traditional and some with a new twist. Some sound strange, but people take a few sips and say, 'This is actually really good. I really like this.' "

He's currently working on a spring line with refreshing brews, such as the Spring Wheat IPA, a hefeweizen, and a blond ale that will be infused with different fruits every week.

"I like to be creative and do things that haven't been done before," says Miles. "It's all about playing around with it."

Dustin Jeffers and Bo Eaten are two brewers on the five-man team at Saltwater Brewery in Delray Beach.

Opened in December 2013, South Florida's newest brewery came to fruition through an equation of friendship, family ties, and chance. It all started with a group of childhood friends: Eaton, Chris Gove, and Peter Agardy went to kindergarten together. Ten years ago, they met Jeffers, the cousin of Agardy's then-girlfriend/now-wife, Lauren.

All four were craft beer enthusiasts and big homebrewers for years.

Gove began looking into options for opening a commercial brewery of his own but eventually dropped the idea and moved to San Diego.

Little did he know his plans would fall into place anyway.

Gove's father, Delray Beach real estate developer Leigh Gove, visited Agardy, an artist and graphic designer, asking him to design a "for lease" sign for an old barn just off I-95 and Atlantic Avenue. When Leigh arrived at the house, Agardy and Jeffers were in the middle of brewing a batch of beer.

Considering the homebrew session, Chris' desire to open a brewery, and having lucked into finding the space itself, the group decided to turn the property into a brewery of their own.

"Starting a brewery seems like a far-fetched dream," says Eaton. "For us, it was all about being in the right place at the right time and being able to go for it."

Chris packed up his life in San Diego and relocated back to Delray Beach, Jeffers finished his master's in speech pathology, Eaton left his beer-distribution position, and Agardy transferred his design skills to the brewery. Saltwater became their full-time job.

Bill Taylor came on after a serendipitous meeting with Agardy.

While on a fishing trip in Montana, Agardy was poking around local breweries for the sake of research; he was pointed in the direction of Taylor, owner and operator of Neptune's Brewery. After trying Taylor's brew, Agardy was impressed; they struck up a conversation, hit it off, and Taylor agreed to serve as a consultant for Saltwater.

After many trips back and forth -- and after "falling in love with each other," says Eaton -- Taylor packed up his life in Montana to become Saltwater's head brewer.

Together, Taylor and the group focus on interpreting classic styles.

"Funky Buddha does crazy culinary styles, and they do it perfectly," says Jeffers. "We don't have to do it. We want to be beer-forward; if we add raspberry or chocolate notes, it's in the background."

Like Sentz, the team at Saltwater is immensely grateful for the encouragement from the industry.

"We're glad to be open," says Eaton. "It's been a very humbling experience with the support we've received from the brewing community. It's pretty cool."

Follow Sara Ventiera on Twitter, @saraventiera.

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