Interview with Lindsey Zenker from Funky Buddha

Lindsey Zenker from Funky Buddha shared some fascinating insights into the importance of yeast in brewing and all the surprising flavors it can impart to beer. She also talked to us about the role of yeast monitoring in a brewery with no shortage of ideas and innovation.

Oculyze: Can you please tell us a few things about yourself and your role with Funky Buddha?

Lindsey Zenker: My name is Lindsey Zenker and my title is “laboratory analyst” here, at Funky Buddha. I started this job about four months ago after pivoting – prior to this I was doing research and development in the cannabis industry. I was doing a lot of product development, food formulations, emulsions, stuff like that, and I decided to make the pivot to beer because the culture at my previous company was just not the right culture for me. So, here, at Funky Buddha, I do everything science related, everything lab related, I am in charge of the lab, I plan out the day-to-day testing as well as actually going in there and conducting the testing. I’m currently a one-person team, so all of our brewers and cellarmen come in and they will also do some testing in the lab, but as of right now the only approved quality lab person is me.

Oculyze: “Funky Buddha” – one has to ask: what’s that about and what’s the story behind the name?

Lindsey Zenker: My manager, Ryan, he’s the founder of Funky Buddha so he could definitely speak more to that, but from what I understand, he’s kind of always loved that way of life that comes with the Buddha and just how meditation and Buddhism and all those things play together to make a very relaxing environment, a very spiritual environment. So back in 2010 is when they started serving their beer, but back in 2007 they opened the original Lounge, which was Funky Buddha Lounge and that was actually a lounge in a hookah bar.

So people could go there, they could have some really cool interesting new flavors of beers and then also enjoy smoking hookah with their friends. We’ve since moved to this much larger facility in Oakland Park, the lounge was in Boca Raton, so we’re now in a massive warehouse with our processing facility, our lab, tap room, retail, marketing offices, HR offices… So we’re definitely a lot bigger today than the original Funky Buddha Lounge was.

Oculyze: We’re fascinated by the range of flavors you’ve managed to create. Tell us about the ingredients your brewers like to play with and where yeast stands amongst them.

Lindsey Zenker: Yeah, so yeast is actually an interesting portion of that flavor development so that’s kind of where the baseline of the flavor development starts; so, with certain yeast you get certain flavors, sometimes they’re called off flavors, but we’re actually looking for those off flavors.

So a lot of times we’ll target specific esters to give a specific aromatic compound with those, you know, individual yeast strains. So that’s kind of where we’ll start for certain beers like, for example, our Floridian, which is our number one core beer, the number one best-selling beer, for which we use a very specific yeast from which we are trying to get these clove and banana esters. So, in that case, that is primarily the yeast doing the work there that is giving the very specific flavor that we’re looking for.

There’s a lot of very unique flavors that we do, like coffee, when we do our maple bacon coffee porter, and we have the Oyster Saison, so we’ll do a lot of very funky unique brews and with that it’s actually all added, almost like adjuncts, so we’re adding it after the beer has fermented, prior to filtering and putting it in the bright tank. We also like to do a lot of dried spices, we do a lot of just playing around with flavors. We’ll do some small batches, maybe we’ll do a barrel before we scale up to maybe seven barrels, which is our pilot size.

But there’s definitely no shortage of innovation going on here. We’re constantly looking for new ways to do things or interesting flavors to introduce and things like that.

Oculyze: Even with the craziest of flavors, customers still expect product consistency. How do you manage to obtain it and what role does yeast monitoring play in this process?

Lindsey Zenker: Because a lot of our beers, especially our core beers, are hinging on the yeast that we’re using and all the flavors that that’s imparting, the yeast viability is a really important measurement for us. So we have a yeast for our Floridian and if, let’s say, it is 50% viable, we’re certainly not going to expect that we would get the same amount of aromatic esters and compounds that we would be expecting from a fully, you know, 95% viable yeast. So yeast monitoring is very important for us especially when we’re talking about those core beers because, again, there are no other flavors in there that would cover it up or that can add back those flavors.

It’s truly just relying on that yeast and trying to make sure that we are pitching it at a correct viability so that we are getting adequate ester development.

Oculyze: Is there a difference, in that sense, between beer and seltzer? Is the latter less “needy”?

Lindsey Zenker: I would say that there’s definitely a difference. Unfortunately, as of now we don’t do any of the canning or production of our seltzers, it’s all done by our counterpart that’s in Daleville Virginia. It’s definitely different. I wouldn’t say that the seltzer is less needy, though. I would say that there is less room for error when it comes to flavor just because a lot of times with those yeast strains that you’re using to ferment or, you know, use in a seltzer you’re not looking for specific flavor compounds that are going to be developed by those yeasts. So it’s a lot easier in terms of flavoring because all you have to do is add flavor. So the consistency, I would say, is easier from that standpoint.

I would say, though, that you have a higher chance of certain microbial growth in seltzers than you do in beer, especially depending on ABV. And, of course, when you talk about non-alcoholic then that’s a whole different ball game there with a bunch of other different concerns.

Oculyze: Speaking of consistency and yeast taming, what, would you say, has been the impact of integrating Oculyze into your quality control program?

Lindsey Zenker: I have the benefit of actually having come in (I guess benefit and also consequence of starting the job at the time that I did)… I did not have any experience using any other methods for yeast viability and concentration. So I came in and we were already using the Oculyze system, so for me it was very easy to learn and very easy to implement. So I drafted up basically one sheet, not front and back, only one-sided that has all of the instructions. I know you guys had sent something similar with it, I tweaked it a little bit (we have some yeast that’s more clumpy than the other yeast so we have different procedures for preparation of those), but I was able to put everything into one sheet, laminate it and keep it with our Oculyze system. So when the cellar guys come in to run viability and concentration they have no excuse if they mess up; it’s all written right there in front of them, step by step, so it’s very, very easy to follow.

Again, I don’t have the experience of using what we were using prior, so I can only speak to the Oculyze system, but it is extremely easy to use. Extremely easy to use, extremely easy to interpret and then the fact that you can also calculate the pitch rate off of that is a huge benefit.

Oculyze: And your personal favorite Funky Buddha beer is…

Lindsey Zenker: There’s two that I would have a tie between and one is our Hazy Mango IPA. That one is really, really good, it’s a nice balance of hoppiness with the strong IPA characteristics, but with that little hint sweetness of mango that kind of brightens up the whole beer and which I really like.

And then the other one I like, which is more of like a dessert beer, is our Rum Barrel-Aged Bananas Foster. This one is phenomenal. You really get all the rum flavoring that’s from the actual rum barrel that we’re aging it in and then just combining that with the banana and the caramel malts… It’s a very, very unique beer, it has a lot of ground notes to it, a lot of caramelization notes to it and I’d say, overall, it’s definitely one of my favorites.

Many thanks, Lindsey Zenker and Funky Buddha!

If you’re interested in finding out how you can use our technology to control fermentation and monitor your yeast, save work hours and improve the cost-efficiency of your business, drop us a line at info@oculyze.net or check out our product page: Oculyze BB 2.0 (Better Brewing) Yeast Cell Counter App + Hardware

Also, you can now get access to a fully functional demo account to test your yeast via our Web App. Completely free of charge and with no commitment to purchase.

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