If you're a beer fan in South Florida, unless you were tied down with some previous engagement -- and I mean physically tied down with either chains or nylon rope -- chances are you made the pilgrimage Saturday to downtown Oakland Park to the Funky Buddha Brewery's Maple Bacon Coffee Porter bottle-release festival.
The brewery celebrated the first true public bottle release of Maple Bacon Coffee Porter, its now-signature beer and the brew that initially put it on the map three years ago. It's a fitting first release.
If you were there before the opening bell at 11 a.m., you might have seen a lineup that resembled the most wickedly awesome Black Friday deal line ever.
Through planning and foresight on the part of Funky Buddha, unless you really wanted to stand in a long line, the task was mostly unneeded. Some Clean Plate Charlie contributors, including me, arrived about 11:20 a.m. and were able to snake through the line and grab our bottle-securing wrist bands in under five minutes. With more than a half-dozen separate lines, the Buddha crew was prepared for probably double the amount of people who came out.
"We wanted to overprepare for today," said Funky Buddha's brand manager and overall nice guy John Linn. "It was to make sure that everything was overplanned, and we had more resources available just in case."
With food trucks and live music, it was a festival that rivaled and sometimes surpassed the opening-day ceremony of six months ago. Everything was just running smoother, and people were more used to some of the more interesting beer offerings on the table.
For me? I could knock down my Untappd list, but that might seem shallow and pedantic. Instead, a few of the highlights were: the ever-popular Maple Bacon Coffee Porter, with this batch pushing more on the maple and coffee/dark chocolate flavors; Don't Tell Reece, a peanut-butter- and chocolate-flavored beer that could be described as a "bag o' nuts" in the best way possible; and Polish Hammer, an imperial lager made in a collaboration with Tequesta Brewing, where all of the best aspects of a craft lager were made doubly so, with that lager yeast character coming to the forefront and some sweetness from the extra malts.
Even the guest taps were amazing. Cycle Brewing from Gulfport (and now St. Petersburg as well) keeps putting out some of the most amazing beers, and their Chocolate Bourbon barrel aged Batch 300 was no exception. Great chocolate flavors and a little bit of tart and fizz made it stand out. So far, I haven't been disappointed with an offering from Doug Dozark and the team out there on the west coast. Even Cigar City Brewing, Dogfish Head, and 7venth Sun were out in force.
The weather turned out great, though a bit warm at times, and definitely helped (coupled with the copious amounts of beer) to keep everyone in high spirits.
The most palpable atmosphere was during the odd-numbered-hour beer releases. Crowded around the bar, with one minute to go, each individual seeking one of the few rare or uncommon offerings to be tapped, crept closer to the bar, bartenders smiling in anticipation. Ten, nine, eight... the crowd raising their arms and beginning the New Year's countdown chants, until finally, three, two, one... a rousing cheer and the beginning of the most courteous session of the Chicago Mercantile Exchange in existence had begun. Tickets thrust outwards; it was a bidding war for the attention of whoever could bring you the beer you sought, else in less than 20 minutes the kegs were kicked and you missed out.
Though beer was the main event, socialization is a major aspect of these types of beer festivals. Running into an old acquaintance or meeting someone new is what keeps the craft beer community alive and well. We are a surprisingly kind and sharing folk, with the propensity to strike up a conversation or offer up one's small six- to ten-ounce pour to those we've recently befriended for a taste. Sharing is the name of the game, and it's not just for preschoolers anymore. There is a sense of "we're all in this together," with the waiting and lines and crowds and all of the rest. Something that makes you proud to be a part of. Something different from the bucket specials and the keg stands. Something different from the overly fancy wine dinners or the complex cocktails.
"Funky Buddha embraces the celebration of craft beer as a community," Neil Reiman, a fellow festivalgoer, told us. "It's one of the many reasons, besides the beers, that they're great."
So what's next from the Funky Buddha Brewery? Besides an ever-changing lineup of culinary inspired beers, South Florida Beer Week begins this Saturday, with a disc golf classic at Easterlin Park, followed by a week of amazing beer events featuring the Buddha and every other brewery in the South Florida area. Beyond that? John Linn was excited to say that once the proper bottling line gets installed this summer, they're "hoping to do bottle releases every month," though probably not with a festival like this. I think that would burn out everyone, staff and beer drinker alike.
Doug Fairall is a craft beer blogger that focuses on Florida beers and has been a homebrewer since 2010. For beer things in your Twitter feed, follow me @DougFairall and find the latest beer pics on Clean Plate's Instagram.
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