Everyone has that go-to friend who is always down to grab a beer. Mine happens to keep kosher, so when I asked him to join me at the Maple Bacon Coffee Porter Festival, put on each year by Funky Buddha Brewing, he was rightfully hesitant. Funky Buddha is very secretive about the ingredients they use, especially given this particular beer’s popularity. While I assured him that there would be plenty of non-bacon-flavored drinks present at this celebration of breakfast beer, I just couldn’t close the deal.
It’s a shame to miss the Maple Bacon Coffee Porter Festival. It takes place in January, one of the few months where you can be outside in South Florida without shvitzing through a shirt or two. It celebrates Maple Bacon Coffee Porter, the beer that put Funky Buddha on the map and embodies so much about their brewery. The brewery is all about making beers in a culinary style, often with ingredients that do not seem like they belong in a beer at first. When they first brewed MBCP in 2011, they were one of the first to make a beer based on bacon.
While Funky Buddha is notoriously secretive about the adjuncts they use—I’m sure there is a message board on reddit posting conspiracy theories about whether or not there is actually bacon in Maple Bacon Coffee Porter—they swear by only using natural flavors. Other culinary-inspired offerings include a peanut butter and jelly brown ale, a Mexican coffee-based stout and a saison brewed with fresh oysters.
“What separates our brewery from the rest is that we get bold flavors out of natural ingredients,” said John Linn, brand director at Funky Buddha. “Our beers are more than the sum of their parts. Maple Bacon Coffee Porter is like drinking a roadside breakfast in a glass. This is one of those beers that bring up nostalgia, memories that transport you to another place.”
Whether you have a Maple Bacon Coffee Porter on draft or from the bottle, the aroma is the first thing that hits you. The warming smell of maple syrup invites you to take a drink. The beer is opaque black, as one would expect of a porter. The first sip reinforces the syrup flavors one picks up on, but then the coffee rounds out the taste. The sweetness of the syrup and the roasted, slightly bitter coffee balance each other out wonderfully. The one problem I have had with Maple Bacon Coffee Porter is that the bacon is present in some of the vintages, but nonexistent in others. I can clearly recall my first glass and that smoky flavor the bacon imparted, but, in recent years, I often wonder if the bacon is there or not. Which is a shame, because the bacon adds a richness to the porter and helps set the beer apart.
Clocking in at 6.4% ABV, Maple Bacon Coffee Porter is a beer that relies on its inherent flavors, and not a big wallop of booziness, to shine. It was recently named the top porter in the US in a blind taste test and took home a gold medal in the Specialty Beer category at the 2016 World Beer Cup. Brooklyn Brewery’s Garrett Oliver gave it a backhanded, but fair, compliment when he called Maple Bacon Coffee Porter “a one-trick pony, but it’s a really neat trick.” If it leaves you wanting something even stronger, Funky Buddha also makes an imperial version called Wide Awake It’s Morning as well as Morning Wood, the decadent result of aging the aforementioned imperial porter in bourbon barrels.
All this zen goodness and accolades are even more impressive when you consider this beer’s origin story. Funky Buddha was created by two brothers, KC and Ryan Sentz. Ryan was a home brewer when the brothers opened a lounge in Boca Raton in 2010, which is still open today, where they sold hookahs alongside with their first forays into brewing. When they outgrew the lounge, they opened up a production brewery in Oakland Park, just north of downtown Fort Lauderdale. An entire culinary district has since grown up around it, complete with a local coffee roasters, a farmer’s market and a 80’s video game themed craft beer bar.
The Sentz brothers first developed Maple Bacon Coffee Porter in the original lounge and word soon spread about the unique brew. They knew they had a hit on their hands when they saw beer geeks from as far away as Denmark requesting Maple Bacon Coffee Porter in trades. They held the first Maple Bacon Coffee Porter Festival in 2014 and the brewery has continued to grow ever since. Funky Buddha is in the midst of expanding distribution to cover the entire south Atlantic coast from Washington, D.C. to Florida.
This expansion comes at an interesting time for Funky Buddha. They are now the second Florida brewery, after Cigar City, to expand distribution to multiple states. Perhaps Funky Buddha has lost some of it’s appeal to craft purists, dismayed over their purchase by Constellation Brands. Nevertheless, the brewery plans to capitalize on this acquisition, even pushing to meet the demand of these new states by brewing some of their beers at Ballast Point Brewing Company’s (another member of the Constellation group) facility in the mountains of western Virginia.
I thought about all this over my latest bottle of Maple Bacon Coffee Porter, around the same time Funky Buddha announced plans for their fifth anniversary party. The first two Maple Bacon Coffee Porter Festivals were very crowded affairs, with long lines aplenty. In more recent years, however, it seems like the crowds have thinned out a bit. Have craft beer drinkers moved on from the heavier, sweeter breakfast beers towards the ever-emerging New England IPAs? Has Funky Buddha become overlooked now that smaller boutique breweries are popping up? Or perhaps the once-revolutionary Maple Bacon Coffee Porter has become somewhat passé, with so beer geeks too busy looking for the next must-have bottle.
I just know that I have the next Maple Bacon Coffee Porter Festival circled on my calendar. Maybe I won’t have to face huge crowds of people there—and maybe I’ll never convince my kosher friend to come with me—but I do know that enlightenment comes in many forms. A glass full of bacon, coffee and syrup sounds like nirvana to me.