If you’re reading this in Key West or you’ve ever been to Key West or your brother’s best friend’s girlfriend’s cousin once came here on Spring Break a decade ago, you probably don’t need me to tell you that this town is almost excessively proud of its reputation as a drinker’s paradise. On Duval Street alone, there are at least 50 establishments in which you can stop and grab a drink, from $2 PBRs and shots of Jameson at Irish Kevin’s to high-end craft cocktails a la The Other Side and Orchid Bar. And although we’ve been drinking away happily, blissfully ignorant of the boozy bounty available outside our inebriated comfort zone, we finally have our very own Southernmost Spirits Festival to formally glorify all the alcohol we’ve been chugging so unceremoniously all these years — and to maybe introduce us to a whole new world beyond picklebacks and shots of Fireball.
Now, you might be thinking to yourself, “Self, in a town where any given Wednesday is a good enough reason to do a daytime Duval Crawl or go out on a sunset cocktail cruise, why in the world would there be a need for a festival dedicated to spirits? How much more booze can these miscreants possibly imbibe?!”
Enter Mark Certonio, one of the creative spitfires behind the Key West Food & Wine Festival and the devilish mastermind behind Dolce Events, the company in charge of the Spirits Festival. “There was a need to create a spirits festival because, during the food and wine fest, we always have a lot of inquiries to show these products,” he explains. “Honestly, we had too much spirits at the wine festival! So that was the initial inspiration behind the Spirits Festival. And because there isn’t a spirits festival here, it’s a great showcase for the Southernmost City.”
In their own words, the Southernmost Spirits Festival is a “Cocktail, Culinary and Cultural extravaganza.” Considering how many different brands of liquor the festival anticipates showcasing, extravaganza is the perfect word. “We’ve been very successful at getting over 20 importers with approximately five brands each on average, so we’re anticipating over 100 spirits at this first festival, which is kind of cool,” Mark says. “We’re also featuring local spirits companies as well, including Key West Distilling and Key West Legal Rum, which we’re really excited about. In addition, we’re debuting a new ultra-premium rum called Chai Rum that isn’t distributed anywhere in Key West, which will be delicious.”
The Southernmost Spirits Festival has been in the works since early this summer. “We started putting the festival together before Hurricane Irma and because of the impact the hurricane had on the Keys, we’ve decided to donate a portion of this first year’s proceeds to the Sister Season Fund.” The organizers of the festival are also really keen on exposing visitors to some of the less trafficked establishments in Key West. “We’re having a great time working with our partners at The Marker Resort, 24 North, and The Gates and Rum Row to host off-the-beaten-path events,” Mark explains. “We’ve partnered with a lot of fantastic businesses both in Key West and from out of town and we really look forward to the Southernmost Spirits Festival becoming one of the premier events of the year in Key West.”
This three-day festival features eight events which run the gamut from informal tastings to cocktail competitions to formal sit-down dinners complete with drink pairings (naturally). The Tasting, Friday evening’s kickoff event, will take place from 5 to 8 p.m. at the Marker Waterfront Resort. The Tasting is an (you guessed it) in-depth exploration of over 50 spirits, from small-batch tequilas to premium scotch and other unique whiskeys from around the world. There will be delicious food pairings on offer (Liquor Drinking Maxim No. 1: Always build a base), live entertainment, and a cocktail competition to occupy your time between tastings. Tickets for The Tasting can be purchased at www.showclix.com/event/tasting. (For your liver’s sake, and for the sake of the people around you, please do not try to taste all 50 spirits. The pools at the Marker are lovely, but drunk swimming is highly discouraged. Plus, you have an entire Saturday’s worth of events to attend. This is a marathon, not a sprint. Tipple accordingly.)
Another flagship event, the Double Pool Rum Party at the 24 North Hotel (3820 N. Roosevelt Blvd.) at 3 p.m. on Saturday will be the first ever Southernmost Spirits Fest Rum Tasting. Let me get this straight — I can sit by a pool, listen to live music, and drink as much rum as I want for three whole hours? If they could only promise me a winning lottery ticket and a super tan cabana boy who looks like Chris Hemsworth, I’d swear I had died and gone to Valhalla. Tickets for the Double Pool Rum Party can be purchased at www.showclix.com/event/double pool-rum-party.
Although there is no shortage of boozy events to keep you lubricated well into next week, consider day drinking conservatively on Saturday to ensure you make it to The Spirits Dinner presented by 3 Badge Beverage Corp. at the Perry Hotel at 7 p.m. Saturday night. Matt’s Stock Island Kitchen & Bar, helmed by local celebrity chef and food whisperer Kalen Fortuna, and 3 Badge have united to present a four-course meal and cocktail pairing worthy of any big city Michelin-starred restaurant. (Liquor Drinking Maxim No. 2: Food typically tastes better after you’ve had a drink or five.) Featuring dishes like Ahi Tuna Poke, Pineapple Roasted Local Snapper, and Chocolate Habanero Cake and cocktails with names like Spice Trade Schooner and Oaxacan Toddy, this meal promises to be a highlight in a weekend full of enticing events. Tickets for The Spirits Dinner can be purchased at www.showclix.com/event/badgesdinner. (Liquor Drinking Maxim No. 3: Drink responsibly. There are a dozen cab companies in Key West and we finally got Uber and Lyft this summer. Chauffeurs are your friends. Take advantage of them.)
After all those delicious cocktails, you may wake up on Sunday with a wee bit of a hangover. Who are we to judge? The sensation of a micro-gnome with a pickaxe boring holes into your brain is de rigueur for those of us lucky enough to call this island paradise home. And if we’ve learned anything from our countless headachy Sunday mornings, it’s that nothing makes you feel better than a carb-and-fat-heavy brunch and a little hair of the dog. Mark and his team have anticipated your every need with their Spiritual Stroll, a bike tour of Key West’s hottest cocktail bars. The Stroll will include stops with unique cocktails at five different establishments, including The Roost (508 Fleming St.), where mixologist Tim Rabior will be crafting a one-of-a-kind libation with his single barrel Sagamore Whiskey that he and local wine rep and cocktail connoisseur Shawna Miller Allen went to the distillery and blended. It will be Tim’s first time using his signature blend, which will also be for sale at The Roost during and after the festival.
Because the Stroll highlights the creativity, strengths, and passions of our local bartenders, Mark is particularly proud of this event. “We created this extra special stroll this year to stop at our most famous bars with our most famous bartenders,” he raves. “We’ve got Jules from Agave, which has an incredibly well-respected tequila program, we’re rolling out the new Bloody Mary bar at The Marker, and we’re working with the new team at Mangoe’s and Saint Paul from The Saint Hotel. Strolls are really popular — they sell out every time, so we’re expecting this one to sell out this year as well.” That’s a not-so-subtle hint to buy your ticket as soon as you can at www.showclix.com/event/spiritual-sunday-stroll. The bike parade starts at 11 a.m., which gives you plenty of time to roll out of bed, freshen up, grab a con leche and some pan Cubano from Cuban Coffee Queen, and head to the Marker for a much-needed bloody.
If you get to the Marker and decide you don’t feel like prying your hungover self out of that chaise longue, Black Coral Rum will be on hand from 12:30 to 3 p.m. with free tastings of their delicious small batch rums and $5 Blushing Brides and Spiced Mai Tais. And what goes better with $5 drink specials than $5 tacos and one of Key West’s best DJs, Chaka Chandler, spinning your favorite hits? If Sunday Funday is wrong, I don’t want to be right. Come join me. I’ll be the one hiding behind dark, oversized sunglasses with a Blushing Bride in one hand and the latest issue of Florida Weekly Key West in the other. And, to steal a toast from the brilliant F. Scott Fitzgerald, “Here’s to alcohol, the rose-colored glasses of life.”
For more information about the Southernmost Spirits Festival and for a full lineup of the weekend’s events, visit www.southermostspiritsfest.com. ¦