Florida Keys Local Brews
Brewed and Barreled in the Florida Keys
FLORIDA KEYS — Fans of fine beers, ales, rums and more can enjoy libations created in the Florida Keys, many of them for the first time in modern years.
Islamorada is widely called the sport fishing capital of the world or jokingly described as “a drinking town with a fishing problem,” but for local brewers at the Islamorada Beer Company (www.islamoradabeerco.com), it’s home.
At 82229 Overseas Highway at mile marker (MM) 82.9 sits a brightly colored yellow-and-teal–colored tasting room that has served some of the top-selling craft brews in the islands since 2014.
The legendary Sandbar Sunday offering exudes the Keys’ weekend lifestyle of wading in the water with a cold one. Others such as Islamorada Ale and Channel Marker IPA, are available Keyswide at grocery stores, bars and eateries.
IBC also offers some in-brewery-only beers such as the Key lime coconut-infused ale No Wake Zone, Old Road IPA with hints of roasted coffee and Sun Bum Honey IPA, a must-have for a day on the water. The tasting room is open noon to 9 p.m. Monday through Saturday and noon to 6 p.m. Sundays.
Locally owned and operated with brewing done on-site, Florida Keys Brewing Company (www.floridakeysbrewingco.com ) is located at 200 Morada Way at MM 81.6 in the Morada Way Arts and Cultural District. The craft production outfit produces tasty seasonal and barrel-aged beers including light, reds, ambers and browns.
Owners Craig and Cheryl McBay, the latter born and raised in Islamorada, infuse local flavors such as Key lime, citrus and local honey into their brews.
Visitors can sample and purchase beers at the brewery and taproom, which showcases the Florida Keys art scene with Islamorada artists’ murals and taps featuring unique mermaid sculptures.
Some of the most popular brews include FlaKeys, a Belgian-style beer made with Key limes, and Hogfish beer with a note of local citrus flavors.
The taproom is open 1-9 p.m. daily.
Participants in an Historic Upper Keys Walking Tours (www.historicupperkeyswalkingtours.com) can actually end their stroll with a locally crafted beer at the Florida Keys Brewing Company.
Brad Bertelli of Historic Upper Keys Happy Hour History Tours is a historian and curator at the Florida Keys History & Discovery Center, developed the 45-minute stroll that begins at the Florida Keys Hurricane Memorial and follows a route along a historic stretch of Upper Matecumbe Key.
Any number of participants can join, and there are no firmly set times. “No tour is too small,” said Bertelli. For more information, visit www.historicupperkeyswalkingtours.com
The Waterfront Brewery (www.facebook.com/thewaterfrontbrewery), located at 201 William St. in Key West’s Historic Seaport, offers American cuisine, homebrews — including the award-winning Key Lime Witness and Crazy Lady honey blonde ale — and a variety of other drafts from Florida breweries.
The highly recognizable nautical-inspired space features a main bar, restaurant, game room and bar in the brewery and tasting room, as well as an upstairs deck.
Open daily 11 a.m. to late night, with afternoon happy hours and sampler flights, the brewery also can host group events and private parties.
Bone Island Brewing (www.boneislandbrewing.com), 1111 Eaton St., is the creation of brewmaster Jim Brady, a Cicerone-certified beer sommelier, and island city merchant Richard Tallmadge.
The nanobrewery serves different styles of craft beer, from pale ales to Irish stouts — sold only on-site. Visitors can enjoy tours of the operation and beer tastings, including flights of their own handcrafted smooth, drinkable and not “over the top” flavors such as the Calusa Pale Ale.
Bone Island Brewing is the craft beer depot located inside Tallmadge’s Restaurant Store, a landmark Key West emporium that’s also home to Cole’s Peace Artisan Bakery.
Key West First Legal Rum Distillery (www.keywestlegalrum.com) opened in the island city at a former Coca-Cola bottling plant at 105 Simonton St. The site is historically significant as a pre-Prohibition–era bar named Jack’s Saloon.
Guests are invited to tour the plant and enjoy free rum samplings during the distillery hours 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Saturday and 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sunday. While state law prohibits distillers from selling alcoholic beverages, visitors can enjoy complimentary rum and Coke drinks — the signature Legal Vanilla Rum & Coke is recommended — if they purchase one of the cola brand’s classic glass bottles.
Private guided distillery tours and rum-tasting sessions feature quirky stories about Key West’s rum-soaked past, often by distillery founder and local chef Paul Menta.
Currently there are at least a dozen different styles and flavors of the Legal Rum brand, including vanilla brûlée and other white rums flavored with coconut or Key lime. Flagship bottles bear mug shots of former local residents guilty of alcohol contraband to match the distillery’s interior, which is covered in old newspapers and additional jail mug shots. Largely distributed in South Florida and Key West, restaurants can purchase Legal Rum in wooden barrels (each is cured in the seawater surrounding the island), and visitors to the distillery have the option to buy up to two 750-milliliter bottles at a time.
Among other distillery products, Menta purveys sealed jarred foods such as pickles and peppers, and even Key lime pie. The latter is still in its raw form when sold and becomes edible after a night in the fridge. For information, visit www.keywestlegalrum.com.
The products at Key West Distilling (www.kwdistilling.com), located at 524 Southard St. in historic Old Town Key West, include the island’s first distilled vodka and whiskey as well as a variety of rums, all produced entirely in-house.
Brainchild of New York native Jeff Louchhiem, who has dabbled in the process for 12 years, the distillery opened its doors in 2013, creating handmade sprits that showcase Key West’s unique culture and offbeat personality.
Tours and tastings are available 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday. Flagship products include the Rumbunctious brand of Silver, Gold and Spiced rums; Spyglass Vodka; a newly released Horseradish Vodka; and Whiskey Tango Foxtrot, a whiskey aged for 11 months in old rum barrels.
Batches are small — typically five cases for each batch of rum, on average — yet the distillery produces every day. Louchhiem likes to “experiment” with several flavors of vodka and may soon produce a Key West gin.