Jimmy Buffett songs and pop culture suggest that when you visit the Florida Keys, you should drink a margarita.
But anybody who has spent a salty, sun-soaked day in the Keys knows that the real beverage for the Keys is a thirst-quenching beer.
No surprise, then, that the Keys have sprouted a few craft beer breweries and tasting rooms.
None of the beers from Keys breweries has cracked the top 100 beers for the state on Beer Advocate. Several of the breweries are new and there is not a great volume of reviews or ratings online for beers from Florida Keys breweries.
On our recent trip through the Keys, however, we didn’t care.
It was fun to sample a few beers in these four atmospheric breweries, each of which offered an ambiance that captures the Keys experience.
At this writing, there are four operating craft breweries – two in Islamorada mere blocks apart – and two breweries in Key West, each in a unique location.
Florida Keys Brewing Company
81611 Old Highway, Islamorada.
The oldest of the two Islamorada breweries first opened in a warehouse a few blocks off the Overseas Highway. With popularity and success, it moved its tasting room in Spring 2018 to a new location on the Overseas Highway, where it will snag more drive-by visitors.
The new space features one of my favorite things about the Florida Keys Brewing Company – décor created by making mosaics out of thousands of beer bottle caps.
One advantage to the new location is the backyard beer garden, a lush inviting space that is child-friendly. When we visited, kids and adults were trying out the hula hoops. The tasting room has a wide choice of games and the atmosphere is friendly and fun.
This brewery has cultivated the patronage of locals and one sign of that is the busy schedule of events that take place here, from a book club to yoga classes. Live music is performed two or three times a week.
Oh yeah, and they serve beer – a large selection with whimsical names and pretty good reviews. Lots of visitors tout Iguana Bait, made with local hibiscus (Iguana’s favorite food) and Keys honey. In Untappd, the highest rating goes to Porter’s Stout, named after Porter, a black lab.
Islamorada Beer Company,
82229 Overseas Highway, Islamorada.
The second craft brewer to open in Islamorada, this place devotes about half its space to displaying T-shirts and logo merchandise and for a sand-pit and boat where kids have a blast.
That leaves room for a half dozen tables and a bar in the tasting room, where we saw friendly tourists and locals chatting about places to go in the Keys.
In an adjoining space in the same building, you’ll find Islamorada Distilling, which makes rums, gin and vodka, sure to become a popular Keys souvenir.
Among their highest rated beers is Channel Marker IPA and Sandbar Sunday, which you will find on tap in many Keys locations.
Key West breweries
301 Whitehead St., Key West.
This brewery and restaurant occupies a lovingly restored historic building that was home to Pan American Airways when it began service in 1927 with its first flight to Havana.
For aviation buffs, there is much to love about this place – Pan Am memorabilia decorating the space, ceiling fans in the shape of an airplane’s radial engines, the illusion that a Sikorsky seaplane has plunged through the ceiling.
The original owner of the place was movie star Kelly McGillis, who opened Kelly’s Caribbean Bar Grill and Brewery. The restaurant has changed hands and been renamed First Flight, but it continues brewing and serving three beers in its classy bar and outdoor beer garden.
This was the first craft brewery in the Florida Keys and ranks as the southernmost micro-brewery in America. But beer lovers do gripe about the limited choice of beers – it’s pretty rare for a brewery to have only three choices. The Havana Red Amber Ale gets a slightly higher rating than the others, though they all end up in the mid-range on beer-rating sites.
The food gets good reviews, but what we loved about the place was its budget-friendly happy hour. From 4 to 6 p.m. every day, house beers are $3.50 a pint, wine is $5 a glass and there is a menu of $5 appetizers. We each ordered a couple appetizers and ended up calling it dinner. We recommend the Beef Brisket Mac and Cheese and the trio of hummus dips.
At their Sunday brunch, a server dressed in a throwback Pan Am uniform offers Bloody Marys and Mimosas from an old-fashioned airline-style drink cart.
201 William St., Key West.
What a great location for a brewery.
Located in a large building overlooking the Historic Key West Sea Harbor, Waterfront Brewery offers splendid views of water, sky and boats in the harbor.
Waterfront is also a restaurant with a full menu, full bar, and, for Key West, reasonable prices. (Example: A good Cuban sandwich with fries for $12.)
The place is huge, and offers entertainment in the form of a large game room with pool tables and video games. The restaurant occupies two levels.
When we visited, there were 10 house-brewed beer choices. Two that get higher marks on beer rating sites are Lazy Way American IPA and TruMan Double IPA.
Resources for planning a Florida Keys vacation:
Florida Keys wildlife: Places to see animals
Tiki bars: Soak up the Keys atmosphere