Our guide to craft breweries in the Florida Keys.
Florida’s craft breweries are growing in number and sophistication and the beautiful Florida Keys are no exception to the statewide trend. On our most recent trip to Monroe County we made sure to taste every single locally brewed ale and lager we could get our hands on – even if it meant going to a brewery more than once.
The comments below are based on our personal experiences. As we visit breweries we never disclose that we are not just there to enjoy the beers but also to amateur judge them and take note of everything from cleanliness, staff friendliness, quality of service, location advantages, overall vibe, available food options… the works.
We put together this mini guide to hopefully help you decide which Florida Keys breweries to make your priority in the event that you cannot visit them all.
There are four legit craft breweries in the tropical island chain – two are in the Upper Keys (both in Islamorada) and two are in the Lower Keys (both in Key West).
The most popular beer styles from each of the four are also available on tap at many local restaurants and bars so you can taste them that way as well. But if you, like us, value the experience of drinking local beers at the source, here are our impressions and honest opinions.
Florida Keys Brewing Company, Islamorada
LOCATIONS: Tasting Room & Beer Garden located at 81611 Old Highway, Islamorada (go here) and brewery at 200 Morada Way, Islamorada (very close by).
This is the first microbrewery in the Upper Florida Keys, founded in 2015 with a lot of passion for the craft. The owners are a local couple who love what they do and it shows in many of the details related to how the business is run. The brewery building is the original location and now also houses a canning line. It used to have a small tasting room where we first visited years ago, before the new space opened along with the huge beer garden behind it.
In our opinion Florida Keys Brewing Co. is the best craft brewery in the Florida Keys. If you are to only visit one brewery during your island vacation – go there.
- Theirs is hands down the best locally brewed beer you will find between Miami and Key West. No other brewery comes close to what these guys offer both in terms of style variety and their execution. The beers are the only ones that we feel are at par with some of those brewed by our local favorites here in Fort Collins, Colorado, including our beloved Funkwerks, masters of Belgian styles (on that note we trully enjoyed That’s the Lychee Can Do Saison, a delicious tropical heat combating elixir).
- The tasting room is very welcoming and opens up to a porch and a very, very large beer garden. You can order from within the indoor space or from the outside which is really convenient. There is plenty of seating around the massive outdoor space, complete with sand, palm trees, vibrant tropical color palette (which extends to the beers), lush vegetation and creative decor. A visit is a complete sensory experience.
- Their staff was the most knowledgeable of anyone we talked to during our rounds and super friendly too.
Good to know
- There are multiple quaint, nicely shaded sitting areas throughout the beer garden to relax and enjoy the beer. Be sure to explore a bit further than right in front of the building:) Pstt. we also liked the bold purple color of the new paint job of the lower part of the building (morado=purple in Spanish, the most literal translation of Islamorada is Purple Island.
- The atmosphere outdoors can range from blisfully peaceful (a slow early afternoon spent there is a bliss) to an ecletic euphoria with music and lots of people.
- They offer wine and various cocktails, hard selzer and ciders so if people in your party are sworn enemies of beer they can come along with confidence there will be something they can enjoy.
- You can bring your pet but be courteous and clean up as needed.
- The brewery partners with a locally owned food truck, Tacos Jalisco, which is a destination in and of itself. Conveniently parked next to the tasting room with easy access from the beer garden it serves some of the best tacos al pastor you can eat in the US, traditional drinks like Horchata (so refreshing and great for kids), very fresh and flavorful shrimp ceviche with homemade tortilla chips, classics like torta sandwiches and campechanas, but also burritos, quesadillas and very delicious rice and beans.
There are plenty of flavorful lower ABV thirst quenchers. We trully enjoyed the Iguana Bait Honey Hibiscus Kolsch ABV 5.1% (a Kolsch style ale so tastefully brewed and quaffable, with an admirable imperial version pictured below) and the Sunsessional IPA 5.1%. Their Queen of the South Vanilla Cream Ale ABV 5.1% was another delicious thirst quencher, the mouthfeel was spot on and the notes of vanilla elegant and not at all overpowering.
Once you have arrested your thirst you can indulge in the stonger ales like their DIPA named Death by Purrmaid ABV 8.1%. They seem to brew many seasonal styles so each visit will offer a new experience for the palate in addition to their core brews such as Porter’s Stout ABV 5.5%.
TIP: They can many of their styles which is the perfect way to continue to enjoy their great beer on the beach, boat or by the pool of your hotel or vacation rental home later on. You can continue “livin’ the island life and drinkin’ the local beer” even as you leave the veritable craft beer oasis that is the Florida Keys Brewing Co. tasting room and beer garden.
Islamorada Brewery and Distillery, Islamorada
LOCATION: 82229 Overseas Highway, Islamorada
This brewery is just up the road from Florida Keys Brewing Co. if you are driving North. They are the newcomers in Islamorada and as the name suggests also run a distilling operation. Our first impression was that they are trying to be like Florida Keys Brewing.
Of all the breweries in the Keys we visited Islamorada Brewery had the beer we liked the least. Even though they have a long list of names available to pour, there really wasn’t a single beer that stood out as particularly well brewed or flavorful. All the beers lacked carbonation and tasted somewhat watery. From the perspective of a home brewer we noticed several options that were basically the same base beer with small alterations but not well executed and difficult for the nose and palate to identify (this was not due to the Florida heat).
The tasting room is a bit dark and most of the space appeared to be allocated to displays of brewery themed merchandise, canned beer and liquor bottles, which the staff does not hesitate to encourage guests to buy, before they have even had a taste of the beer or spirits. While we happily purchase brewery merch when we really, really like the beer (first and foremost) and the items themselves are of good quality this was not the case with Islamorada Brewery. However there didn’t seem to be a lack of tourists opening their wallets, which arguably supports the pushy marketing strategy.
The beer garden located at the back of the tasting room makes up for all the shortcomings of the tasting room. It is an inviting space, well maintained, with clean tables and with lots of shade. They have a bar where they can pour beer and mix drinks outside. Being a distillery they do offer quite a few cocktails so if your party is not mainly comprised of beer lovers others can definitely find something to try.
Our recommendation is to head straight for the beer garden unless you think you might enjoy being convinced that you need an overpriced sun protection shirt with their logo before you have had a chance to taste the beer.
Food is available from two food trucks (on alternating days, one owned by the brewery) and the combined menus cover a wide range of pub grub favorites with seafood options and Brazillian style barbecue (churrasco).
Overall, if you have a relaxed attitude towards the quality of the beer an hour or two spent in the beer garden can be quite enjoyable.
The Waterfront Brewery, Key West
LOCATION: 201 William Street, Key West
This is a wonderfully situated brewery – it sits right on the famous Harbor Walk of the Historic Sea Port, overlooking the docked boats and Key West bight. The entire harbor facing side of the building is equipped with fold up windows which allow patrons to enjoy the beer right on the water. The views alone make the experience of visiting the brewery a memorable one.
Waterfront is a huge space with ample seating but do not be fooled if it appears nearly empty when you first walk in – it can get packed in the blink of an eye (especially around lunch and dinner or when the famous Florida rains suddenly begin to pour – everyone strolling along the Key West Harbor Walk finds their way inside the brewery.
Waterfront is also a full service restaurant, a fish market and has a fully stocked bar. It completely lacks the warm atmosphere of a local craft brewery and the customer facing staff had limited to no knowledge of their beer besides the names, they were also extremely sales focused and pushy. Overall you get the feeling of a large chain commercial food service operation which happens to brew beer. And have a million dollar view.
The beer selection is complementary to the tropical location with offerings such as 35A IPA ABV 6%, a hazy IPA with delicious notes of mango, pineapple and citrus and a tongue-coating creaminess.
Their flagship ale, Crazy Lady Honey Blonde Ale ABV 5.5% is a middle of the road American blonde ale, the honey was not easily detectable, but on a hot day you will not think twice. We prefered their witbier, Bigger Boat White ABV 5.5% and thought it was much better executed with great carbonation, soft mouthfeel from the added oats and the yeast esters complemented by faint notes of orange peel and corriander – just as one would expect from a witbier. Very food friendly too.
At the Waterfront Brewery they routinely brew seasonal styles. We enjoyed an aromatic lusciously malty double IPA, Truman ABV 9% (their strongest offering) and an English mild called Waterfront Pallina with super low ABV at 3.5% but high on flavor with caramel and toffee on the tongue and subtle roasty notes on the tail of each sip.
The Waterfront Brewery has an extensive menu of traditional pub grub but also delicious healthier options such as smoked fish dip with veggies and chips, Asian style lettuce wraps with shrimp and tuna tartar.
First Flight Brewery, Key West (aka The Southernmost Microbrewery)
LOCATION: 301 Whitehead St., Key West
First Flight is housed in a historic building in Old Town at the intersection of Whitehead street and Caroline street, just a block away from the main drag, Duval Street. The place was the original headquarters of Pan American World Airways – the very first PanAm tickets were sold there in 1927. Later on it was bought by actress Kelly McGillis and converted into a restaurant. The craft brewery operation was added last by the current owners.
You really should stop there for a beer even if only to enjoy the unique aviation decor and memorabilia (the spaces have an eclectic museum vibe), beautiful tree canopy shaded courtyard and tasty food on the menu (a lot of seafood and beer friendly options, prepared with class).
First Flight brewery also has the devious distinction of being the Southernmost microbrewery in the entire US – location, location, location! (In Key West there seems to be a veritable obscession with being able to state that you are the Southernmost something – bar, hotel, beach, restaurant, you name it.)
In our opinion First Flight Brewery is the better choice on Key West as far as the quality of the beer is concerned, but also for the very friendly service and the enchanting ambience.
The three main beers they brew year round are all easy to drink and well executed, especially their citrus wheat ale, Main Squeeze ABV 4.1%, a classic Ameican style wheat ale with Florida citrus peel added. Their amber ale, Havana Red ABV5% tasted much better than the equivalent at Waterfront, with the toasty malt notes confidently present and the bite of the hops in the end firm and fragrant. The trio is completed by a balanced American pale ale, Maverick IPA ABV 6.1%. Even though we don’t see any of these beers winning a medal for their respective category at the Great American Beer Festival they were well crafted and we enjoyed them all.
(Side note: they offer bottled craft beer too, including Cigar City’s Maduro Brown Ale which did win GABF gold in 2019 in its category. We cannot easily find it in Colorado so we happily indulged).
At the time of our visit there were also five seasonal Southernmost brews avaialble. The one we liked the best was Flying Rooster White IPA ABV 6.1%, very fragrant and refreshing, textbook wheat pale ale.
The rest of the options were a strawberry-mango wheat ale, a watermelon IPA, a peanut butter nuanced amber ale and a pineapple and passionfruit IPA – none of them had flaws.