Sunday, January 21, 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
Bar review: Florida spirits and brews at the newest Local Draught House in Tampa

Bar review: Florida spirits and brews at the newest Local Draught House in Tampa

I donít consider myself "old" ó though I have gotten into a bad habit of informing door people insistent on checking my ID that Iím halfway to 70. But Iím frequently made aware of how far removed my lifestyle is from that of my 20s.So when I walked i...
Published: 01/18/18
Local craft beer of the week: Electric Wizard IPA from 7venth Sun Brewery

Local craft beer of the week: Electric Wizard IPA from 7venth Sun Brewery

The past six months have been kind to Dunedinís 7venth Sun Brewery. In August, the breweryís long-awaited Tampa expansion finally happened, with its much larger Seminole Heights facility and tasting room opening in a town eager to try its range of ul...
Published: 01/18/18
Shake Shack, Momofuku and more: Please come to Tampa Bay

Shake Shack, Momofuku and more: Please come to Tampa Bay

Fabio is coming! Not the Fabio on your romance novel, with the billowing hair and large quantities of artificial butter. This Fabio, in all likelihood, uses real butter. And olive oil. Fabio Viviani, the charming Top Chef alum known for appearances...
Published: 01/17/18
Time to carbo load: Three new bakeries include an Australian bakery, second La Segunda

Time to carbo load: Three new bakeries include an Australian bakery, second La Segunda

LA SEGUNDAA Tampa Bay giant has stirred and is on the move. La Segunda Central Bakery, a family-owned Ybor City institution for nearly 103 years (they celebrated that birthday Jan. 15) and the largest producer of Cuban bread in the world, will open a...
Published: 01/17/18
Shake Shack inches closer to Tampa Bay with new Florida restaurant

Shake Shack inches closer to Tampa Bay with new Florida restaurant

Beloved burger restaurant Shake Shack, which once inspired hungry diners to wait in hours-long lines at New York's Madison Square Park before expanding with dozens of locations across the U.S., is inching closer to Tampa Bay. A lease agreement †with...
Published: 01/17/18
Healthful eating is just a one-pan fish dish away

Healthful eating is just a one-pan fish dish away

By Ellie KriegerI recoil at the repentant food chatter that crops up this time of year, dominated by words such as "cleanse" and "detox," which, from what I can tell, are just modern code for "extreme diet." But part of cultivating a healthy, balanc...
Published: 01/17/18
We tried eating the recommended serving of fruit and vegetables for a week, and it was harder than we thought

We tried eating the recommended serving of fruit and vegetables for a week, and it was harder than we thought

I sat at my desk eating chunked pineapple straight out of the can, reading about how much fruit and vegetables we should all be eating every day: 1 1/2 to two cups of fruit, 2 1/2 to three cups of vegetables, at a minimum, per the United States Depar...
Published: 01/17/18
Taste test: pot stickers

Taste test: pot stickers

Whenever I order meals at a Chinese or Japanese restaurant I always look for pot stickers on the menu. The tasty Asian dumplings are filled with pork or chicken and veggies and cooked with a perfect balance of steaming and frying. The reason I order ...
Published: 01/16/18
From the food editor: Recipe for warm, cozy Pita Ribollita soup

From the food editor: Recipe for warm, cozy Pita Ribollita soup

When I first made this soup, Florida was in the grips of a cold weather snap, the likes of which rarely happens in this part of the state. Weíre talking a whole week of lows in the 30s. The 30s! It was everything I ever wanted and more ó the rare win...
Published: 01/16/18
Restaurant review: Byblos Cafe has busted out of its mold with a broader Mediterranean menu, and thatís good

Restaurant review: Byblos Cafe has busted out of its mold with a broader Mediterranean menu, and thatís good

TAMPASeldom have I paid such close attention to a restaurant closure, remodeling and reopening. Byblos Cafe began a major renovation last year, keeping the restaurant open as long as possible during the summer with some nifty temporary walls to shiel...
Published: 01/16/18