"I remember having to force it down," says Ryan Sentz, now 40. "You're proud you made it, and you're trying to convince yourself it's better than it is, but it was not good."
To be honest, Sentz isn't sure when his brews made the leap from passable to enjoyable. "When you're a homebrewer, anyone who's going to drink your beer is going to be like, 'Oh, that's delicious,'" he says and then laughs.
But a few years into his hobby, he remembers making a pumpkin strong ale he actually "thought was pretty good."
That was young Sentz's first foray into culinary-style flavor combinations. Little did he (or his friends who politely downed those beers) know that his experiment would lead him down the path to become one of South Florida's top brewers, garnering national attention and shining a spotlight on a nascent local beer scene developing in Miami-Dade, Broward, and Palm Beach Counties.
In 2010, Sentz opened Funky Buddha Lounge & Brewery in Boca Raton, where he began selling elusive craft beers along with his own creations, such as mainstays Hop Gun IPA and Floridian Hefeweizen. The response was overwhelming.
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"At that time, there weren't a whole lot of places to get beer made locally," says Sentz, who was born and raised in Coral Springs, "but people really appreciated it."
Sentz and his brother KC began hatching plans for a production brewery. Throughout the process, Sentz was nervous that crowds wouldn't come. Then he released his first batch of Maple Bacon Coffee Porter. Thousands of guests, many of whom traveled from out of state, showed up to snag the specialty beer.
Sentz's success helped pave the way for what is now a thriving local brew scene. When it opened, Funky Buddha was just the second production brewery in Broward and Palm Beach, after Due South Brewing in Boynton Beach. Today there are more than 30 around South Florida, as well as 20-plus brewpubs. Sentz's team, which started with a handful of employees, has since expanded to around 130.
"It's crazy," Sentz says. "I still freak out a little bit. Like, how the hell did that happen?"