In a town not known for its craft beer scene, the Waterfront Brewery is an island within an island — and a welcome respite from the margaritas, rum-based cocktails and macro drafts that make up the drink list in most of Key West’s watering holes.
At the southern tip of the Florida Keys, the four-by-two-mile island is closer to Cuba (90 miles) than Miami. Spend a few days in this subtropical paradise and you’ll quickly grow accustomed to its quirky island vibe, its colorful characters and misfits, and the refreshing absence of chain restaurants and retail hubs.
Charming eccentricities aside, it’s worth noting that compared to the mainland, Key West’s craft beer scene hasn’t yet matured much past its infancy. Waterfront Brewery appears to be hastening the process.
The Conch Republic is my favorite vacation destination, and the waterfront “seaport” district is my favorite part of town. The semi-recent addition of a giant brewery to the scenic oceanside boardwalk has only added fuel to my affinity for the area.
After giving ourselves the full tour (the place is huge), I actually said out loud, “this should serve as a model for a lot of breweries up north.”
It checks nearly every box, including a restaurant area with a view of the water, two bars with tons of seating, an excellent food menu, and a ridiculous merch shop. The rear half of the building opens into a massive game room that would’ve caused my 16-year-old self to hyperventilate: two pool tables, two pop-a-shot machines, air hockey, skee-ball, virtual bowling, a claw machine, a Jurassic Park arcade booth, and, most importantly for us, a shuffleboard table.
Its rooftop beer garden offers a phenomenal view, but is apparently only available for private events (a major lost opportunity).
Atmosphere and Staff
Shout out to the bartender who served us during both of our two visits to the brewery that evening — you were outstanding.
After hopping around town, we returned for a late-night dinner about 45 minutes before kitchen close, and she was as cheerful at 11:00 p.m. as she had been during happy hour six hours earlier — and remembered our beer orders! As the crowd dwindled, she entertained us with tales of her nomadic upbringing at sea and her current life in Key West. Stories from the locals rarely fail to fascinate.
Given the space’s welcoming environment and amusing amenities, the lackluster crowd was a bit surprising. Then again, I guess the dozens of nearby bars offering half-price happy hours with outdoor seating and live music make for fierce competition.
Styles Available: A little bit of everything, geared toward the lighter styles that jive with a tropical locale. A honey blonde, an IPA and a lager make up their signature brews.
For the Hop Heads: Aptly named after former President Harry Truman (who spent a good chunk of his presidency on the island), the TruMan comes in at over 9%, dripping with a boozy combination of hop varieties.
For the Dark Beer Folks: The S’mores Stout is your best option here, a relatively low-ABV stout brewed to taste like a marshmallows, chocolate and graham crackers.
For the Serious Snobs: You can’t go on a tropical trip without indulging in a fruit beer, right? The Watermelon Kiwi Berliner Weisse is sour, flavorful and pungent.
For the People Who Are Going to Ask “What Tastes the Most like Bud Light?”: Considering the beer preference of the locals, something tells me the Island Life Lager brings in some good business.
My Favorite: I wanted to love the Märzen, but the Lazy Way IPA was our top choice.
During a Chicago winter, beer ranks near the bottom of the totem pole of priorities as you plan an escape to paradise. But that just makes an establishment like Waterfront Brewery a welcome perk.
Next time we voyage south, a visit to First Flight (the island’s only other brewery) will be a must as well.
- Some nice pictures of the view, the space and the food on this post from Only in Florida.
- A Florida Rambler post gives you an inside look at Waterfront and some of the other breweries that call the Keys home.