FLORIDA KEYS BREW BENEFITS ICONIC BEACON OFF ISLAMORADA

A portion of the proceeds from Lighthouse Lager will help fund restoration efforts at Alligator Reef Lighthouse. ANDY NEWMAN/MONROE COUNTY TOURIST DEVELOPMENT COUNCIL

The Florida Keys Brewing Company offers 150 styles of beer, 20 on draft daily, but one pint really tickles the taste buds of lifelong fishing captain Rob Dixon.

“When I tasted it, I was like wow, this beer is really good,” said Capt. Dixon.

Dixon is talking about Lighthouse Lager. It’s more than just a beer; it’s part of a community collaboration to preserve Islamorada’s historic Alligator Reef Lighthouse. The tower sits about 4 miles off the coast and is considered by many to be a local treasure.

“Cheryl said we might be able to brew something up and make a beer for the charity,” said Dixon, recalling a conversation with FKBC owner Cheryl McBay.

On July 3, FKBC launched the charity brew in its beer garden. The can features a picture of the lighthouse and includes a mission statement. There is also a QR code that can be scanned for supporters who would like to make a larger donation. 

“For every six-pack that we sell in the tasting room, $2 goes to Alligator Light. For every draft beer we sell in the tasting room, $1 goes to Alligator Light,” said McBay. “It’s going to cost a lot of money to restore that thing. It’s in dire need of being restored.”

Alligator Reef Lighthouse is named after the USS Alligator, a U.S. Navy schooner that sank on the reef in 1822.

Last September, the U.S. Department of Interior granted the non-profit Friends of the Pool Inc. ownership of the almost 150-year-old lighthouse. The organization is now tasked with restoring the massive cast iron structure. It’s a tall order, expected to cost $5 million to $7 million and take five to six years to complete. 

“I’m just a fisherman. I don’t know anything about restoring this, but who does? Somebody had to take the ball and run with it. So here we go,” said Dixon.

For years, Dixon and Larry “Lighthouse” Herlth have fought to bring attention to the decrepit lighthouse. In 2013, they started the annual 8-mile round-trip swim to Alligator Lighthouse that funds collegiate scholarships. The event has exploded in popularity over the years. It started with 100 swimmers; now roughly 450 athletes take the plunge. The Florida Keys Brewing Co. proudly sponsors the swim every year.

“We always say anything to do with seas or fleas, we’ll help. So anything to do with the oceans or the humane society,” joked McBay.

So far, Lighthouse Lager is a hit with beer drinkers. McBay says many customers want to have it shipped to their homes, but the only place to grab a pint or a six-pack is in the FKBC tasting room located at 81611 on the Old Highway in Islamorada.

It’s a brew with a benefit, helping to save a piece of history for generations to come.

“I want to see it forever. I want my kids to see it forever. I want my kid’s kids to see it forever and I want it to always be there, ” said McBay.

More information about preserving Alligator Lighthouse is at savealligatorlighthouse.org.

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Kellie Butler Farrell is a journalist who calls Islamorada home. Kellie spent two decades in television news and also taught journalism at Barry University in Miami and Zayed University in Abu Dhabi, UAE. She loves being outside, whether spending time on the water or zipping down the Old Highway on her electric bike, Kellie is always soaking up the island lifestyle. Kellie and her husband own an electric bike rental company, Keys Ebikes.