First Flight Key West brewery
  • Key West's First Flight is among the intriguing breweries and distilleries in the Florida Keys that craft products infused with island flavors and flair.

     

  • By: Laura Myers
  • January 16, 2019

A trail of breweries and distilleries winds throughout the 125-mile-long Florida Keys island chain, offering libations, brews and handcrafted cocktails infused with subtropical flavors such as Key lime or coconut. Sipping one of those locally made concoctions while toasting one of the Keys’ world-renowned sunsets is a favorite activity for visitors, residents and everyone lucky enough to spend time in the enticing islands.

Florida Keys brewer Islamorada

Craig McBay and his wife Cheryl are the creative spirits behind Islamorada’s popular Florida Keys Brewing Co.

Since the free-spirited days of the late 1970s, when “trop rock” trendsetter Jimmy Buffett began singing about margaritas and a laid-back subtropical lifestyle, tasty cold beverages have tapped into new levels of sophistication and creativity. And that’s reflected in the Keys’ breweries and distilleries.

FYI, it’s practically required that newcomers travel the trail of such establishments, discovering each one’s individual vibe and sampling spirits and brews as desired. And it’s great fun to discover parts of the island chain through their varied and vibrant libations.

Start in Key Largo, where Keys’ Meads stands at mile marker 99 — the only meadery in the Keys and one of the few in Florida. The emporium offers tastings and meads infused with honey from local apiaries (otherwise known as beehive collections), and seasonal flavors such as maple, blueberry, Jamaican cherry, starfruit and habanero.

Two breweries in Islamorada, the region popularly known as the Sport Fishing Capital of the World, are gaining a loyal following.

The Islamorada Beer Co., or IBC, is located at mile marker 82.2 with a bright yellow-and-teal-colored tasting room. Products include the legendary Sandbar Sunday beer, calling to mind the Keys’ sun-soaked on-the-water lifestyle. The company also operates Islamorada Distilling, creating on-site spirits branded as Islamorada Distilling gin, vodka and dark barrel-aged and spiced rums. Tastings are featured daily.

Nearby at mile marker 81.6, Florida Keys Brewing Co. has a microbrewery, tap room and outdoor beer garden in the appealing Morada Way Arts and Cultural District. The company infuses Key lime, citrus and local honey into its brews (flavorful indeed!).

Key West, the southernmost city in the continental United States, is known for its local breweries, specialty rums and craft cocktails.

First Flight Island Restaurant & Brewery, whose historic building includes the original office of Pan American World Airways (yes, the aviation giant was born in Key West), brews three beers on tap and bills itself as “the southernmost microbrewery in the U.S.A.” Both the heritage and offerings make the place, located at 301 Whitehead St., well worth a visit.

Keys Meads Key Largo

Key Largo’s Keys Meads, known for its unique honey-infused creations, is the only meadery in the Keys and one of the few in Florida.

The Waterfront Brewery, at 201 William St. in the Key West Historic Seaport, features a rotating selection of beer including its honey blonde Crazy Lady (a name that surely has a fascinating story attached!). A brewery tour entertains and educates, utilizing the ancient Sumerian method of brewing to demonstrate modern concepts.

Rum reigns at Key West First Legal Rum Distillery, located at 105 Simonton St. on the site of a historically significant pre-Prohibition-era bar. A variety of Legal Rum flavored rums are aged in salt-cured barrels. Free rum tastings, tours and classes on how to make “the best mojito north of Havana” are offered. Plus, shelf-stable Key lime rum pies and rum cakes also are sold.

The nearby Hemingway Rum Co. Distillery, an 8,200-square-foot brick distillery and attraction with photo tributes to former Key West resident Ernest Hemingway, features a 350-gallon still capable of producing up to 80 gallons of rum daily from molasses, yeast and water. Standing at 201 Simonton St., it also includes an interactive scent display that enables visitors to smell flavor profiles. The company’s Papa’s Pilar Dark and Blonde rums are blended from varieties in Key West, the Caribbean and Central America.

As this collection of creative spirits spots shows, fans of fine beers, ales, rums and more are virtually guaranteed to enjoy the rich variety brewed and distilled in the Florida Keys. For more insights into the best Keys food and drink, just click here.

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