Cheryl McBay stands in front of the strung-up buoys lining the outdoor stage in the beer garden. During the pandemic, staff repainted most of the taproom and beer garden getting ready to welcome visitors back. TIFFANY DUONG/Keys Weekly

“Craig makes the beer, and I make it look pretty,” Cheryl McBay confessed to the Weekly. “That is my sole job, and I love it. I don’t know much about beer. I don’t step into his realm, and he doesn’t step into mine.”

McBay is a third-generation Conch. Her grandfather moved to the Keys in the ’40s or ’50s, and was one of the first commercial fishermen out of Key Largo Fisheries. 

McBay and her husband Craig opened the Florida Keys Brewing Co (FKBC) in March 2014 at the back of Morada Way. The McBays also had their twin babies, Rose and Arlo, in May 2014. The kids, who are now 6 years old, have grown up in “true Keys style,” according to their mom, in the water 24/7, never with shoes on, and with their baby swings and walkers around the tasting room. In 2015, they opened up their signature storefront along U.S. 1 in Islamorada. The entire place is very family-oriented, with McBay’s mom helping out with the decor and design of the beer garden. 

And with that, McBay’s signature tropical, bright prints and tie-dyed style became a Keys mainstay. 

“People know this is where all the tie-dye happens,” McBay said. “I have enough to dye all of Islamorada.”

Regarding her trademark designs, McBay confessed she has “no background and no computer skills” in terms of designing for the brewery.  

“I design everything in Word, then convert to PDF,” she said. “Sometimes, I’ll even draw designs out by hand.” 

McBay buys images online and arranges them to create the look she wants. “I say I want this flower with this background, and (merchandise manufacturers) will put it together. Sometimes, it’s hard to explain, and I’ll cut pieces out and physically create what I want for them,” she said.

While a little unconventional in the design world, the process has worked to make FKBC’s tropical duds coveted throughout the Keys and with many visitors from all over. Sun shirts, hats and Tervis cups feature everything from mermaids to bonefish to logos from their best-selling beers.

The Weekly sat with McBay to learn more about where she finds her gem-toned, tropical-themed inspirations.

Brewery parrot Jack Jefferson is a frequent tag-a-long with Cheryl McBay when she comes to the brewery. During the pandemic closure, the red parrot in the beer garden was repainted to match Jack’s likeness. TIFFANY DUONG/Keys Weekly

Full Name? Nickname? Cheryl Ann McBay. My nickname was ‘Pigeon’ in high school at Coral Shores ’cause I’m so pigeon-toed. I didn’t mind; I thought it was cute.

Where did you grow up? Islamorada.

Where did you and Craig meet? Oh, this is a good story. Hog Heaven at 2 a.m., completely sh*tfaced. It’s literally the only good thing to come out of Hog Heaven. I never dated locals; he was from Canada, down here fishing on a fishing trip. Now, we’re married with kids and a business.

What’s your favorite beer? We opened with Run Aground Brown. It’s still my favorite. 

What’s a locals-only secret you’re willing to share? Fishing on the patch reefs is better than in the deep. I love the little patch reefs inshore like Three Sisters (off Rodriguez Key); my grandma used to call it ‘The Honey Hole.’

What’s the first thing you do when you wake up? Make coffee. It doesn’t matter what kind. I’ll drink it black, with cream, anything.

You do all the designs. FKBC is known for its mermaids and tie-dyes. What inspires you? It morphed into that. I love mermaids. And tie dye, I’ve been wearing it since high school so that was a given. My hashtag is #tiedyetillidie. I own the .com and I wanna open a tie-dye shop.

What’s your favorite design/product you’ve created? The tap handles. I designed them from scratch and worked with the artist until she came to be. The mermaid tap handles had to be done over three times: bigger boobs, smaller shells. She’s been banned off Facebook quite a few times, but she came out really good. Her name is ‘Flakey’ for Florida Keys. 

What’s your favorite event at the brewery? The 420 party. That is my favorite, since we tie-dye. It’s a full day of tie-dye, and all my best friends help me do it. Last time we did it, we had over 100 stations for tie-dye. And, we have the best music that day. 

What’s the best time of year in the Keys? Summer. I don’t mind the heat. Never have. I love being outside; I actually won’t go in the water until June. When I married Craig, I told him, “You do know we will never live in Canada.”

Most exciting project you’ve got coming up? We are putting a food truck on the property. Tacos Jalisco will be opening a second location.

If you had the chance to take anyone to dinner, who would it be? My grandma. She was badass, a total Keys Kritter. She loved fishing and loved drinking. She was just a really cool lady. She never met my husband. She passed right before we started dating.

Who has the best key lime pie? Mine! I put macadamias and coconut in the crust.

If you had a superpower, what would it be? To make mean people nice.

FINISH THESE SENTENCES

Keys Life is … laid back.

Beer is … Ha! Delicious.

Mermaids are … real! 

Art matters because … life would be boring without it.

Cheryl McBay stands with Jack Jefferson, the brewery parrot, in front of one of the many painted walls at the Islamorada taproom. TIFFANY DUONG/Keys Weekly

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