Of course we were excited to get Ron Raike," says Cask & Larder's marketing manager, Erin Allport.
Allport is framed by several stainless steel fermenters in the glass-paneled room where Raike – Cask & Larder's brewmaster – will soon begin work on a hoppy American red ale, the Southern public house's first beer. Raike, a 2012 Best Florida Beer Championship "best of show" winner and a certified cicerone (similar to a wine sommelier, but for beer), is the former brewmaster for Shipyard Brewing Co. In March, James and Julie Petrakis, owners of well-loved Winter Park gastropub the Ravenous Pig, named Raike – a local celeb on the craft-beer circuit – brewmaster of their latest endeavor, which brings locally sourced dining and brewing under the same roof.
"Our objective with Cask & Larder is to hire and work local, and we always planned on brewing in-house," Allport says as she walks me past the brew room and toward a dark, wooden back bar. "But once Ron Raike came onboard, it went to another level."
Though the fermenters are visible from every part of the dining room, like a museum exhibit, they don't detract attention from the white wood paneling, frosted lights or the swoon of weathered brick and seafoam colors that give Cask & Larder a classic old-Florida feel. They stand at attention, present and integral but demure, while the front of the house dazzles – kind of like the man who's preparing to put them to work.
Raike worked for Shipyard, a Portland, Maine-based microbrewery, for 15 years. When Shipyard opened a Winter Park location in 2011, he set to work making the microbrew ubiquitous in the craft beer scene in Central Florida.
"My big thing is trying to raise the bar in Orlando," he says. "Hopefully we can turn the tide a little bit and get people into drinking craft and knowing a little bit about it – know what IPA is, where it came from and the history behind it, and knowing what they're going to order before they look at the menu."
But if you're lucky, you get to know Ron Raike. His talents as a brewer, coupled with his immense likability, have anointed him a reluctant cultural star in Orlando. Despite his success, he constantly abdicates any praise from the city whose beer cachet he's helped evolve. "I hate to be the guy that's like, 'That's me,'" Raike says. "I'd rather be the monkey in the cage, doing it right and making it work, as opposed to being the flag-waver for it. I can point my finger to other people that showed me that that's the way it should be done."
Since the announcement that he was hired by Cask & Larder, his stock continues to climb. In August, Raike teamed with Tampa's Cigar City Brewing to concoct Flameout Pale Ale, a super dry-hopped pale ale. Joint projects with Gainesville's Swamp Head Brewery and Jacksonville's Green Room Brewing are forthcoming, as well.
"I feel like we are going through a renaissance now, with beer and dining," Allport says. "This generation is saying, 'No, we really like great food and drinks.' New restaurants are opening here, making a go at it."
In the last year alone, an upswell of craft-beer establishments has emerged in Orlando, beginning with Oblivion Taproom, which opened on East Colonial Drive last fall. Downtown Orlando welcomed Tap and Grind, a small craft beer-and-coffee joint on West Central Avenue, in February, and Barley's Tap House followed shortly after on Fairbanks Avenue. Longwood has its own brewpub, the Hourglass Brewery, which opened this year on South Ronald Reagan Boulevard. Old stalwart Redlight Redlight Beer Parlour is getting ready to move into a new, more spacious abode on Corrine Drive, proving that Orlandoans have indeed acquired the taste for craft beer.
And Cask & Larder wants to help the region take the next big step, marrying the finest in local dining with locally brewed craft beer.
"There's so many other regions that have beer culture, and Florida has always been at the bottom of the list," Raike says. "But now we're on that cusp."
opens Wednesday, Sept. 5
565 W. Fairbanks Ave., Winter Park
$ $ $
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