Master of the Brewniverse
Alumnus crafts unique flavors for passionate connoisseurs
Most people wouldn’t associate computer engineering with beer, but for Ron Raike, ’91, the two went together like a burger and an IPA.
As he earned his master’s degree at UCF, Raike says the College of Engineering and Computer Science’s core program contributed to many aspects of the mechanics and methods of brewing, as well as the research and formulation required for the process. (His math minor didn’t hurt either.)
“I couldn’t afford what I liked to drink, and got interested in beer history, brewing culture and brewing science,” he explains. “Interest became a passion to figure out what went into beers from around the world, and trying to brew them on a small scale. Then, I realized that I had to get into the beer business.”
After working more than a decade for Shipyard Brewing Company, which focused on flavored beers, Raike decided he wanted to get back into the roots of brewing classic styles and local production to help Central Florida grow a local beer scene. He found that opportunity at Winter Park’s Cask & Larder, where he works as brewmaster and a certified cicerone (the beer equivalent to a wine sommelier).
Raike describes a typical day as: “Get in early, make beer. Make sure everything is working and flowing at the bar. Send kegs to the distributor. Formulate and schedule future beers. Work with Cask & Larder chefs in creating food-friendly products. Enjoy fruits of labor. Repeat!”
Pint of History
Cask & Larder is one of more than 2,800 small and independent craft breweries across the nation, and one of more than 100 in Florida — with many more to come.
According to the Florida Brewers Guild, our state’s brewers comprise only 5 percent of the total beer sold in Florida, yet they provide approximately 85 to 90 percent of all beer-related jobs.
In fact, other UCF alumni brewers are helping to create jobs in the Sunshine State. Tampa’s Cigar City Brewery has more than 50 full-time employees, including its vice president, Justin Clark, ’03, and is currently considering an $8 million expansion. In addition, Oakland Park’s Funky Buddha Brewery employs nearly 30 workers, including co-owner and brewmaster, Ryan Sentz, ’99, and is in the midst of a $3 million expansion.
Both breweries, along with Cask & Larder, regularly appear on “best of” beer lists, which are helping to drive a new kind of tourist to the Sunshine State: craft beer enthusiasts. These passionate connoisseurs specifically plan vacations to states and cities that host their favorite breweries and give them an opportunity to check out new breweries.
Liquid Bread 101
Raike brews and serves up his recipes to plenty of beer tourists and locals alike, but he also shares his knowledge and passion with fellow Knights, as a guest lecturer for HFT 4864 — Seminar in Quality Brewing and Fine Beer in the UCF Rosen College of Hospitality Management. He describes the course as taking students “from stabbing a can with a pencil and shotgunning it, to pinky-out sampling to find the finer, subtle nuances of beer styles and how well each works with food pairings.”
As he inspires future generations of brewers, Raike hasn’t forgotten the influence UCF Professor Robert Ashley had on him when he was a student. He credits Ashley with giving him the motivating push that made him think about what he was focused on and where he was going in his life. And, he’s never looked back.
“It’s a passion for me — not work,” he says. “There are days when the time flies by. Sometimes, I’m busy all day and worked through the day without stopping, and without realizing 10 hours just went by.
“[Then, it’s] time for a beer.”
Q&A ON TAP
Q. Favorite beer you’ve ever brewed?
A. I love peanut butter, so brewing any of the peanut butter beers I’ve released over the years is always a great day.
Q. Favorite craft beer/brewery?
A. Big fan of Odell’s in Fort Collins, Colo. All of their beers are solid, and I appreciate the growth and production model they follow. I always get excited when someone shares one with me. (Hint hint.)
Q. Have you ever brewed a beer that didn’t turn out so well?
A. I’m my worst critic. I’m always critical of my beers and brewing techniques, always looking at ways to improve and make them better next time. There are some beer styles that I’m not a fan of, but I brew them to make sure the customer is always seeing unique and different products.
Q. How do you come up with your recipes?
A. Some are thought out way in advance. Some are spontaneous when something new becomes available or chefs are working on a new dish. I’m always thinking and talking to the chefs to see what they’re thinking and what might work as a pairing or on its own as a potential beer.
Q. If you could eat only one food for the rest of your life, what would it be?
A. I hope a Cuban sandwich qualifies as a food — that would be my choice. And, a side of black beans and rice. I never get tired of this one.
Q. And, with what beer would you pair that food?
A. I’m a fan of the freshest beer available and usually gravitate to the most recently tapped tank here or keg at a bar. Lately, I have been a big fan of hop-forward, session-style pale ales and IPAs. These are lower in alcohol, but bigger in flavor and are quite nice.
Q. What’s the best meal you’ve ever eaten at Cask & Larder?
A. Top picks for me are the Bama Burger paired with the 5 Points India Pale Ale, the Grilled Redfish paired with Larder Lager, Happy Hour Oysters with the Olde Southern Ginger Wit, House-made Ribeye Hot Dog with Red Drum Ale… I could go on.