“Everything always works out.”
That’s the mantra for Islamorada resident and mother of twins Cheryl McBay, who puts it into practice daily with her brewmaster husband, Craig McBay, as they power through the latest growth spurt of their locally crafted Florida Keys Brewing Co. The vibrant microbrewery is tucked away in the island village’s arts and cultural district at Morada Way.
Born and raised in Islamorada, Cheryl is a self-proclaimed “total boat junkie” who grew up spear fishing, fishing and playing on a locally popular sandbar. She traveled around a lot after high school and spent stints in Hawaii, Tennessee and overseas.
“I would take two months off and go backpack. Call it island fever, cabin fever, whatever — I had to travel,” said Cheryl, who recently explored Newfoundland with her only sister.
Cheryl spent 15 years bartending and waiting tables, learning the business end of serving the drinking public. She met Craig McBay in the Hog Heaven bar eight years ago while she was enjoying a girls’ night out. Craig, a Toronto native who was working as an engineer in West Palm Beach, was on a fishing trip to the Florida Keys.
After they were married, Craig’s job allowed them both to establish permanent roots in Islamorada. A home-brew kit that Cheryl’s mom gave Craig as a birthday present started him down the beer-making path.
“We became craft beer junkies — going to breweries, getting specialty bottles, becoming members of clubs — and just really got into it,” Cheryl said.
Craig started brewing more and larger batches that the couple ended up giving away as samples, at events or to their friends. In 2012 they took the leap to open Florida Keys Brewing Co.
“We brew our beer in Islamorada and sell it inside the Keys,” Cheryl said. “It’s a destination beer. If you want to drink local, it’s Florida Keys Brewing Co.”
The McBays keep their brewery experience community-minded, organic, fun and funky for residents and visitors alike. The emporium features live music weekly along with monthly art and other eclectic events.
“Our whole vibe is an island vibe … this is definitely us,” Cheryl explained.
Recently three of the couple’s craft drafts — Hogfish Amber, Sunsessional IPA and Iguana Bait, a very light German-style honey and hibiscus kolsch — became available at bars and restaurants Keyswide.
Cheryl said they took the hardest route, brewing and marketing their product themselves according to their own standards and consistency, but it’s all for the pure love of beer.
“It boils down to how good your product is,” Cheryl said. “Craig is the A-type perfectionist personality. There is no way he would let anyone else brew his beer.”
Cheryl handles all the company’s advertising, marketing and bookkeeping. Her enthusiasm is palpable, as is a healthy sense of humor.
With their mountain of individual responsibilities, the two have precious little downtime, but focus on raising their twin toddlers, Rose and Arlo. Cheryl calls the boy-and-girl twins her “de-stressor” and enjoys going to the park with them after work to wash away the pressures of her busy days.
“I am going to tattoo ‘Beer and Babies’ on myself somewhere, I swear,” she quipped, “because that’s my life.”