The Florida Keys are world-renowned for perfect sunsets, a laid-back lifestyle, romantic nights, and sun-filled days of fishing or diving. But a trip to the Keys, especially Islamorada, is also the perfect weekend getaway for Miami beer lovers.
This village in the middle keys consists of a chain of smaller islands. It's also less than a two-hour drive from Miami, making it the perfect place for a quick overnighter — or even a day trip for the ambitious. Considered the sportfishing capital of the world, Islamorada attracts visitors from around the globe looking to catch tarpon or dolphin. Now tourists and locals alike can enjoy new attractions, including two taprooms and a hotel that offers specialty and beer-pairing dinners.
Amara Cay Resort's chef Dario Olivera recently hosted a four-course beer pairing in collaboration with Islamorada Beer Company ($59). The chef said he was inspired by the beers. "Beer is my drink of choice. As much as I enjoy some wine here and there, there is nothing better than a cold beer. "
As he researched the brews, the chef actually changed his menu after trying one that particularly spoke to his palate. "As I tasted the beers, different ideas came to mind, especially for the main course. I was going to do an IPA-braised short rib until I tasted the red ale and fell in love with it. So I sat down and basically wrote down the description of the braciola using a spinalis, or rib-eye cap. I just imagined having that fatty and full-flavored cut of beef while enjoying the red ale."
Islamorada Beer Company's assistant brewmaster, Stephanie Harper, was on hand to explain the brews being paired with the meal. The brewery's bestseller, Sandbar Sunday, an American wheat, worked especially well with a light and tangy conch escabeche. Harper explained that this brew, in particular, is designed for warm-weather drinking, with a hint of spice and citrus notes. While most people don't consider beer with dessert, a chocolate and salted caramel turnover went perfectly with No Wake Zone coconut key lime ale.
Islamorada Beer Company's taproom is just up the road from the resort, at 82229 Overseas Hwy. The neon-yellow storefront is easy to spot. Inside, the place was buzzing with activity on a Saturday afternoon. Expect to be chatted up by people from across the country. A couple from Arizona heard about the taproom and stopped in for a mid-island break before continuing to Key West.
It's not unusual to find Harper doing double duty behind the bar. Between pouring beers, she explains that the brewery, which opened in October 2014, is on the cusp of a major expansion. The brewery is about to open a large facility in Fort Pierce, where the beer will be made. The Islamorada taproom will remain open as Harper's experimental test kitchen for small-batch beers.
Florida Keys Brewing Company (200 Morada Way) is located in the Morada Way Arts & Cultural District, an area where potters and painters have set up walk-in studios. All beers at the brewery, which opened in February 2015, are made in-house by owners Craig and Cheryl McBay.
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For a small brewery, there's quite an interesting selection of beer. Flights are the best bet. Beers range from a floral honey hibiscus kolsch called Iguana Bait to the Rum Smuggler stout, an oatmeal stout aged in rum barrels from Key West Distillery.
Add good beer and good food to world-class fishing and amazing sunsets and sunrises, and you've got one hell of a weekend just a couple of hours away.
Amara Cay Resort hosts several specialty dinners during the year. Call 305-664-0073 for a schedule of upcoming events.