Friday, April 20, 2018
Bars & Spirits

Cask and Ale a top-shelf addition to St. Petersburg's cocktail scene

Just shy of 10 years ago, the Independent unofficially kicked off the craft-beer craze in St. Pete by opening a small beer and wine bar that, at the time, was the only one of its kind in the city. Craft beer is so ubiquitous now that it's easy to forget how ahead of the curve this place was.

Years later, on the other side of the block, Mandarin Hide opened, giving St. Petersburgers (is that a phrase?) a glimpse into a hip, new scene that offered a counterpoint to the growing craft beer revolution: craft cocktails. Period clothing, a speakeasy vibe and carefully crafted drinks combining premium spirits and fresh ingredients, from house-made syrups to just-picked produce.

Although craft cocktails — and certainly Mandarin Hide itself — are still very much a thing in downtown St. Pete, it's clear that craft beer has become the big player in the scene, dominating the landscape with breweries, taprooms and beer gardens. At least in this town, the craft cocktail boom ended up as more of an isolated thump.

Would you believe it, then, that a new cocktail bar in a very similar vein has opened downtown, and in the same exact spot formerly occupied by the Independent? The name of the bar ostensibly promises to bring together the past and present under one roof: Cask and Ale.

It's without question a unique entity. Nothing about the interior is recognizable from its Indy days; even the bar has moved from the back of the room to the side — an L-shaped, polished wood top that extends the length of the room. The walls are covered in zigzagging wooden slats stained in alternating shades that create an eye-catching pattern that's nearly a metaphor for the overall vibe: it's slick, modern and cool without trying too hard.

Instead of relying on gimmicks that have been leaned on heavily in the craft cocktail game, Cask and Ale focuses on carrying an impressive selection of high-end spirits — including some that are just outrageous, like a bottle of Michter's Celebration Sour Mash, a whiskey of which only 273 bottles exist in the entire world — and making drinks that are, well, really good.

While the name gives cask and ale equal weight, the cask end is undoubtedly the heavier of the two. There are plenty of great beers on draft and in the bottle, but one look at the cocktail chalkboard will make it clear that's what you should order. Many of the drinks are modern takes on classics, as is the usual custom, but a solid chunk of the list is comprised of purely unique creations.

For example, The Jam, soon available in a cask-aged version, is made from Angel's Envy Bourbon, house-made beer jam (literally jam made with beer), Filthy black cherry garnish, and Bitter Truth orange bitters. It's seriously tasty. Ditto the Ginger Ginger, a tall drink made with Michter's, lemon, ginger syrup, pineapple, mint and Barritt's ginger beer. I'm thirsty just typing that.

Speaking of cask-aged cocktails, that's a theme here. Above the back bar is a line of small oak casks that are not purely for decoration; they hold cocktails, such as a classic ­Bacardi cocktail; a spin on the Manhattan made from Hudson corn whiskey and Lillet Blanc; and a cocktail called The Boot that I am most definitely ordering on my next visit, which I predict will be in another month — that's when the cask-aged cocktails will be ready.

I suspect a lot of people will think of Cask and Ale as just a Mandarin Hide Jr., and this is somewhat understandable, considering that they have a mutual focus. However, I think Cask and Ale has done an excellent job of establishing its own unique aesthetic and vibe. We've got a heck of a lot of great beer bars in the area; it's refreshing to see a new, top-shelf contribution to the cocktail scene. [email protected]

Comments
On 4/20, a Tampa distillery is releasing hemp-infused Touch Vodka

On 4/20, a Tampa distillery is releasing hemp-infused Touch Vodka

TAMPA — Appropriately enough, a local distillery is releasing a hemp vodka on Friday, 4/20.After more than a year of planning and research, Fat Dog Spirits — the parent company of Touch Vodka — is releasing its new Nirvana vodka.Served in 750-millile...
Published: 04/19/18
Graze all day at Armature Works

Graze all day at Armature Works

TAMPA HEIGHTS— Graze 1910 upholds the comfortable and relaxing, yet elegant setting of Armature Works with its "comfort food" offerings and dedication to serving breakfast all day."It’s the way I eat. I graze all day," said owner Raymond "Ray" Menend...
Published: 04/19/18
Bar review: London Heights British Pub in Tampa

Bar review: London Heights British Pub in Tampa

As a person who has no intention of ever going into the bar business, I spend a good amount of time thinking about what makes bar concepts work. I think about themes, branding, menus, location and myriad other factors that ultimately play into a bar’...
Published: 04/19/18
Richard’s Rockin’ Birthday Starfruit Lambic, Ulele

Richard’s Rockin’ Birthday Starfruit Lambic, Ulele

To celebrate the birthday of its owner, Richard Gonzmart, Tampa’s Ulele restaurant tapped its most ambitious brew yet (with a name to match): Richard’s Rockin’ Birthday Starfruit Lambic.Unlike traditional Belgian lambics — sour ales spontaneously fer...
Published: 04/19/18
Tampa’s 60-year-old Housewife Bake Shop may not be closing after all

Tampa’s 60-year-old Housewife Bake Shop may not be closing after all

For nearly 60 years it was breads, cakes and pastries, up before dawn for the Perrone family in Armenia Garden Estates. For a minute it looked like Tampa’s Housewife Bake Shop was going to close, but third-generation owner Tena Perrone said on Wednes...
Published: 04/19/18
Four new restaurants in Tampa Bay: Brazilian steakhouse, Chinese, juice bar and more

Four new restaurants in Tampa Bay: Brazilian steakhouse, Chinese, juice bar and more

TERRA GAUCHATerra Gaucha Brazilian Steakhouse, a classic churrascaria-style Brazilian meatery — you know, where the guys in South American cowboy attire walk around with the swords of meat until you capitulate in a carnivorous haze — has opened a loc...
Published: 04/18/18
We critique the best and worst brands of sparkling water

We critique the best and worst brands of sparkling water

Sparkling water, much like when you shake it before opening, has exploded in the United States the past few years. The fervor for fizzy water has soft echoes of the meteoric rise of bottled water during the early 2000s, just with more pastels perfect...
Published: 04/18/18
How much water do I need? Plus, other H20 facts

How much water do I need? Plus, other H20 facts

Okay, really, how much water do we need? The Mayo Clinic says there’s no one-size-fits-all answer for this because of differences in exercise, environment, overall health and factors like pregnancy or breast-feeding. The National Academies of Science...
Published: 04/18/18
A taste test for drinking water? They can be surprisingly different

A taste test for drinking water? They can be surprisingly different

BROOKSVILLEThey brought it in glass carboys, in jars, in 2-liter bottles. It stacked up at the entrance to the auditorium, some of it just slightly murky but most of it crystal clear.Water. For more than 15 years the members of Region IV Florida Sect...
Published: 04/18/18
Five ideas for travel-friendly snacks

Five ideas for travel-friendly snacks

Whenever I fly, I pay way too much for food. I’ve stumbled jet-lagged into fancy wine booths and nearly bankrupted myself with cheese plates. I’ve purchased granola bars that cost more than my plane ticket (okay, maybe it just felt that way). If you’...
Published: 04/18/18