How was this brewery able to make the transition from keg-only producer to twelve ounce bottle slinging brewhouse? With the use of an enormous Italian-made bottling line.
Hidden away behind the floor to ceiling fermenters, brite tanks, and cold storage rooms lies another massive wing of the Oakland Park brewery. On one side of this space are stacked pallets of empty brown bottles; on the other is stacked cases upon cases of Funky Buddha's Floridian, ready to be shipped out to market. In between these two piles is the hundreds-foot long industrial behemoth that labels, fills, caps, and cleans dozens of beer bottles in seconds.
"Our line was built in Italy by CFT," John Linn, Funky Buddha Brewery's brand director told us while walking down the line. "It's a 16 head filler, with a 100 bottle a minute max."
What this means is a large rotating cylinder can continuously fill 16 bottles at a time as they rotate around. The speed and sharpness of the process makes any homebrewer who has ever hand bottled cry just a little.
The bottles start out being hand placed on a conveyor belt that brings each vessel into the labeling area, where a number of different substrates and materials can be used to create a bottle's label. For now, the brewery is going with an angular design for their labels. "We wanted to have something that didn't look just square, we wanted it to be a little more eye catching... something memorable."
Then, each bottle moves towards a sanitized rinsing shower and into the all important filler. There, as each bottle rotates around the large filler head, they become full of their chosen beer and move on down the line.
"Usually when they come off, they have a nice little neck full of foam, and the idea there is to push out any oxygen," Linn explains. There's even a small agitator to make sure that there is no dead space before the cap is crimped on. The bottles then head into an exterior rinse, making their way to their final destination.
"It travels via conveyor," he motions, following the dozen foot long path to the packaging area. "We literally pack it in by hand. Right now we are building all of these cases by hand, open up all of these six packs and stuffing them by hand."
For a brewery just starting out, the size of this project is immense.
"The idea was to get a bottling line that would be able to keep us [going] without having to upgrade this thing for the life of the brewery. Our goal in here is to hit about 45k barrels of capacity. Making that much beer annually, we needed a line that would be able to sustain that amount of growth and not be a bottleneck so to speak. We think we're going to be able to take 8 to 10 hour shifts ... to be able to do a 120 barrel [3,720 US gallons] batch of Floridan or Hop Gun in that time frame... it's a sizable amount, about 1600 cases to market."
"Our goal this year, is to do 350k case equivalents. It's pretty aggressive, we have to grow a lot, but we figure once these debut next week, we will instantly be doubling what we've done so far."
Beer drinkers can expect a lot of growth to come for the brewery. With Draft Magazine naming Maple Bacon Coffee Porter as one of The 25 Best Beers of 2014, there's sure to be even more popularity brewing for these guys. "It's pretty unreal to be even listed. These guys know how to time things... they wrote a big story about us right before GABF, and then earlier in the year they had written something about us being a brewery to watch and that was right before Extreme [Beerfest]... for them to enjoy it that much, it's unbelievable."
To placate the masses, and to join the ranks of brewers that release packaged seasonals, Funky Buddha will be entering the field with a bevvy of choices in the near future.
"Our first four pack release will be Last Snow... that's going to be a highly anticipated beer, considering we've never released it in a bottle before... [we want to] get it into more hands. That should be late January when that hits."
"We'll also be releasing four packs of our seasonal brands, which will be Nib Smuggler in the winter, More Moro Blood Orange IPA in the spring, Blueberry Cobbler in the summer and Sweet Potato Casserole in the fall. And one that we would like to be able to do at least semi-annually is No Crusts."
This next week, on December 10th, the Enlightenment hits the fan. As for the price of these newly release six packs, expect to pay $9.99 for six packs of Floridian and $10.99 a six pack for Hop Gun.
Doug Fairall is a craft beer blogger who focuses on Florida beers, and has been a homebrewer since 2010. For beer things in your Twitter feed, follow him @DougFairall and find the latest beer pics on Clean Plate's Instagram.
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