ON AN AVERAGE DAY, LIFE IN KEY West is like one of those halcyon Corona ads. Frosty drinks, crystal-clear water and the sound of palm fronds rustling in the breeze are never more than a few footsteps away. What the ads don’t adequately convey, however, is that, at the end of August, the Key West sun is so scorching it’s barely tolerable. The gentle breeze isn’t enough to staunch the flow of sweat from your brow, the ocean is so warm it feels like nature’s bathtub and it often seems like all the water (or beer) in the world couldn’t possibly quench your thirst.
And just when you think you couldn’t possibly be any more parched, a woman with thick blonde pigtails wearing a traditional German dirndl hands you a tall, foamy-headed golden pilsner and you think to yourself, “Wait … have I died and gone to hoppy heaven? Does everyone get a free drink ticket at the pearly gates?!”
No, friend, you haven’t ascended to the great beer hall in the sky and this is definitely not a dream; you’ve just happened to find yourself at Key West BrewFest, an alcoholic oasis among the melting frozen drinks and the heat waves coming off of the steaming pavement.
Think of BrewFest as Key West’s interpretation of Oktoberfest … in September (don’t ask questions; we do what we want down here). As though it’s any surprise for a reputedly hard-drinking town, Key West BrewFest — now in its tenth year — has become a hugely successful event over the course of its lifetime. What started as a small-town gathering for beer enthusiasts has ballooned to a five-day, 20-plus event festival featuring over 200 beers, thanks to a generous collaboration between the Southernmost Hotel Collection and the Key West Sunrise Rotary of the Conch Republic, with proceeds to benefit the Rotary Club’s extensive charitable efforts.
Spread out across Labor Day weekend, this year’s BrewFest offers something to please even the most snobbish of beer consumers. There are intimate beer-paired cooking classes, raucous pool parties, sunset beer cruises, hangover brunches, late-night meet-ups and even a New Orleans marching band that will boogie you down to the Green Parrot after you’ve finished tasting every brew under the sun while relaxing on the white sand of Key West’s South Beach, which is located at the southern end of Duval Street at the Southernmost
Beach Resort and is far less of a half-naked scene than the same-named Miami destination.
The festival has been painstakingly put together for all manner of consumer, from beer aficionados to casual consumers to total newcomers to the beer world: there will be ales, lagers, Weiss biers, stouts, microbrews, special brews, throwback brews and brews served in plastic buckets. Brews with no gluten, extra gluten and just the right amount of gluten. Brews with unpronounceable German names, classic favorites and limited release drafts. There will be representatives from breweries across the nation waiting eagerly to chat you up over a frosty draft. There will be tacos. There will be epic rounds of beer pong played in a sparkling hotel pool.
You’re guaranteed to hear the word “mouthfeel” at least once per hour.
And yes, there will be pigtails and dirndls.
Here’s the rundown of events…
Thursday, Aug. 29
¦ All day event: Drink like a local with Florida beer on most taps at General Horseplay (423 Caroline St.); Cigar City takes over Mary Ellen’s Bar (420 Appelrouth Lane); Funky Buddha takes over Tiki House (430 Greene St.)
¦ 5 p.m.: Start your BrewFest right at the opening kick-off party at Rum Row at The Gates Hotel (3824 N. Roosevelt Blvd.).
¦ 5-7 p.m.: Tampa Bay Brewing Happy Hour at Hog’s Breath Saloon (400 Front St.)
¦ 7 p.m.: Duvel Moortgat Brewery and Boulevard Brewing Company Beer Dinner at Bagatelle (115 Duval St.), featuring fresh creations by Executive Chef David Zingg. Tickets are $99 per person plus tax and gratuity and include a five-course dinner and unique beer pairings. (Book Thursday’s dinner at Bagatelle and Friday’s dinner at First Flight and receive $20 off.)
¦ All night: Tap takeover with Shipyard at the Green Parrot Bar (601 Whitehead St.)
Friday, Aug. 30
¦ All day event: Drink like a local with Florida beer on most taps at General Horseplay; Cigar City takes over Mary Ellen’s Bar; Funky Buddha takes over Tiki House
¦ 11 a.m.-2 p.m.: Have a FLING with Boulevard Brewing Company at the Boulevard Fling Beach Bash at Lagerheads (0 Simonton St.), where you can taste their new line of canned craft cocktails.
¦ 1 p.m.: Come party with the Islamorada Brewing Company Crew at Southernmost Beach Resort’s Pineapple Pool (1319 Duval St.). There will be an Islamorada Brewing Company tap takeover, DJ, games and giveaways all afternoon long.
¦ 1 p.m.: Estrella Galicia Pool Party at The Marker Waterfront Resort (200 William St.). Enjoy live tunes, giveaways from Estrella Galicia, tapas and beer specials all afternoon.
¦ 2 p.m.: Bring your team of four paddle boarding warriors to the third annual Paddle Battle at Mellow Ventures Café (1605 N. Roosevelt Blvd.). Compete alongside your favorite breweries in this relay-style race.
¦ 6 p.m.: Enjoy unlimited grilled cheese sandwiches and beer at the Brews, Beats & Cheese grilled cheese pairing at Sunset Green Event Lawn at The Keys Collection (3820 N. Roosevelt Blvd.).
¦ 7 p.m.: Kona Brewing Company Beach Party at the Southernmost Beach Café (1405 Duval St.) overlooking the Atlantic Ocean featuring five live action food stations paired with Kona Beer — including a live sushi station and a few very rare beers coming all the way from Hawaii. There will be a DJ spinning, Polynesian dancers and surfboard and longboard giveaways. Tickets are $60 per person, plus tax and gratuity.
¦ 7 p.m.: First Flight and the Southernmost Brewery Beer Dinner at First Flight Island Restaurant & Brewery (301 Whitehead St.), featuring First Flight micro brews paired with fresh local cuisine by Chef Ben Schneller. Tickets are $99 per person plus tax and gratuity and include a five-course dinner and unique beer pairings. (Book Thursday’s dinner at Bagatelle and Friday’s dinner at First Flight and receive $20 off.)
¦ 7 p.m.: Florida Whalez Party at GlitchCraft Café and Gameroom (126 Simonton St.). Check out some of the rare and hard-to-find beers from some of your favorite breweries in Florida and beyond.
¦ All night: Lagunitas Pint Night at the Green Parrot Bar. Buy a pint and keep the mason jar.
¦ Late night: Party with Florida Keys Brewing Company and the Waterfront Brewery at The Abbey (429 Caroline St.).
Saturday, Aug. 31
¦ 3 to 5 p.m.: VIP admission at the Key West BrewFest Signature Tasting Festival on South Beach (1405 Duval St.). Tickets are $90 per person, must be purchased in advance and are limited, so act fast. Includes passed appetizers from the Southernmost Beach Café and a 10th annual BrewFest totebag.
¦ 5 to 8 p.m.: The Signature Tasting Festival on South Beach. Tickets are $40 in advance; $45 day of or at the door.
¦ 8 p.m.: The Second Line March led by New Orleans band Water Seed, sponsored by New Belgium Brewery, leaves South Beach at end of the Signature Tasting Festival. Get your dancing shoes on to march your way from the festival at South Beach to the Green Parrot Bar via Duval Street. Keep the night alive with the live brass band leading you to the next party!
¦ 8:30 p.m.: Join Water Seed as they head on stage at the Green Parrot Bar for the after party.
Sunday, Sept. 1
¦ 10:30 a.m. until the party ends: Hangover Brunch and Pool Party at Matt’s Stock Island Kitchen & Bar at The Perry Hotel (7001 Shrimp Road, Stock Island). Reserve your table for brunch at Matt’s, where you can enjoy three buffets, unlimited small plates, unlimited bloody mary’s and mimosas and live music. Brunch is $55 for adults and $20 for children.
¦ Noon: Florida Keys Brewing Pool Party at the Southernmost Beach Resort Pineapple Pool. Cool off and ease into the evening at the Pineapple Pool as the sun sets on Key West BrewFest 2019. Enjoy cold beers, live music and fresh eats.
¦ 1 p.m.: Kona Pool Party at Dante’s Pool Bar & Restaurant (955 Caroline St.), with a belly flop contest and much more.
¦ 6-9 p.m.: Estrella Galicia End of Summer block party at Azur (425 Grinnell St.). A $20 wristband gets you unlimited food, as well as beer, wine and sangria specials.
Monday, Sept. 2
¦ 7 p.m.: Bingo at the Green Parrot Bar.
To book tickets to any of the above events or for more information, visit www.keywestbrewfest.com. ¦