There are places in this world that possess an indistinct allure, not granting people the opportunity to pinpoint exactly what aspects draw them in, and instead leaving them with a certain je ne sais quoi that we try to mold and shape into some intriguing story to tell our friends; an invitation in the form of a memory. The Florida Keys is not that type of place. There is no magical, unidentifiable quality to it, or something indescribable that draws you in time and time again. It is purely what it seems; it delivers on the promises featured on the front of every postcard and is its own greatest advertisement.
The Keys come with beautiful sunrises, unparalleled sunsets, endless sandy beaches laden with resorts and restaurants, and some southernmost fun at a magnitude you can’t find anywhere else in the States, in my opinion. It is 125 miles of paradise with so much to do that you might never want to leave. Nothing goes better with the Florida sun than good beer and good people and you’ll find that both are equally as present as are the iguanas that act as the unofficial mascots of the island, and a tireless sun has found its greatest stage above the crystal clear waters.
And what brings beer and people together better than breweries?
The Florida Keys might not have a lot of breweries just yet, but here are 5 companies paving the way for the future as beer enthusiasts ride the wave of the growing craft beer movement all the way to the southern tip of Florida.
Since “first” is in its name and it comes first alphabetically, I figured I’d start things off with this restaurant and brewery owned by Top Gun actor Kelly McGillis. The southernmost brewery in the continental U.S. (beating out Waterfront Brewing by a couple of blocks), First Flight produces 3 of its own brews amongst some very creative beer cocktails and an assortment of cinema-themed adult beverages.
But coupled with an excellent food menu, it’s actually the location and the atmosphere that take the cake in this quaint restaurant and brewery housed (as true to Key West as any other establishment) in a colonial style building that was actually once the birthplace of Pan-Am Airways—making it a natural fit for its Top Gun themes. The brewing company sports its famous Crash Bar, aptly named for the plane that is found bursting through the ceiling and has an aluminum wing as a bar counter. With a beautiful outdoor patio with lush greenery, First Flight is also an excellent wedding venue.
With the first brewing company to open in the upper keys, Florida Keys Brewing is craft beer done right and in an excellent environment. They’ve set up their mammoth outdoor beer garden to resemble the beach that is never too far away, with colorful adirondack chairs staked in the sand and ample open space to play games and have a laugh.
And more than the right design, they’ve meticulously crafted a beer menu that fits perfectly with the mentality required when visiting these southern islands. Island mentality is loose and laid back and never lacking sunshine and Florida Keys Brewing has a vast list of crisp, clean, summery beers that always go down easy. They do, however, run the gamut as far as beer styles go, so don’t be afraid to push the boat out and try a refreshing sour or a decadent stout while you’re at it.
Islamorada Beer Company is another that has really grasped the island mentality and with some great early success has opened a second location in Fort Pierce. The tiny whole-in-the-wall that is its Islamorada location is drenched with personality (not just during the rainy summer months) and a great place in which to call yourself a regular.
The brewery sports a predominantly ale-focused menu, but within that spectrum has served up some very creative inventions such as their No Wake Zone Key Lime Coconut or their Island Tea Earl Grey Tea Ale, or for those interested in darker beers, their Mermaid Kisses Chocolate Raspberry Stout. Most of their beers are very inventive, and with a wider range of distribution than some other brewing companies in the Keys, the crowd seems to be more than satisfied with their products.
The self-proclaimed smallest microbrewery in the country, Heartbreakers Brewhouse is home to its own one-of-a-kind beer as well as a great place to get a sampling of many different Florida craft brews from all over the state. Heartbreakers is redefining the neighborhood bar with a vibe that makes you quite literally feel at home, with the added value of hosting some of the best local musical artists on a consistent basis.
Although Heartbreakers only brews one beer from its own label, they really know their stuff when it comes to craft beer and always find a way to bring the state’s best to their taps and bottles. Some of their guest taps are most frequently occupied by their fellow Key companies found on this list.
Back to Key West we go to one of the larger brewing companies on this list, The Waterfront Brewing Company. With scenery that is true to its name, and a newly opened rooftop bar, it is one of the best places in Key West to sit and have a beer while watching the boats come and go like waves crashing against the shore. And if the sun is shining too bright, enjoy their large indoor seating area with bar with arcade games and a huge wrap-around bar.
And in conjunction with an excellent setting, they are constantly producing new, highly acclaimed brews with delightful twists of individuality that perfectly compliment their food menu that is as meticulously curated as are their beers. Some of their most unique beers include Wrecked Rooster Imperial Red Ale and Pink Lemonade Shandy, two beers that are unlike anything you can find for miles around.
So if it's sun you're looking for, and a cool, refreshing brew to help waste the day away, then you’ve come to the right place in the Florida Keys. I’m sure there will be more brewing companies making their way south in the coming years, but for now, these are our trailblazers.
As a Florida native, I’ve been to the Keys several times, and although I don’t make the 7-hour drive from Orlando very often, I’m pleased to know that these inspiring companies are representing the craft beer industry in premium form.