BREWERY OF THE MONTH: CRANKER'S CONEY ISLAND
After the success of the original Cranker's Coney Island in Big Rapids, Jim Crank Sr. pursued a second location in Mt. Pleasant. He called on his son, Jim Crank Jr., to return to Big Rapids from Massachusetts, where he was playing Hockey for Umass, to take up the family business.
He did, and the success of Cranker's soon brought a third location on 68th Street in Grand Rapids.
Beer didn't enter the Cranker's story until the economy took a hit and restaurants all over the U.S. were losing customers and business.
“We decided that we wanted to build revenue internally, and we thought the best way to do that was through a brewing license,” Jim Jr. said. “We wanted to do a small 3bbl system, and make a few beers to go along with the full liquor license.”
When the liquor license fell through, they decided to upscale their brewing plans from 3bbls to 15bbls and aim for distribution. The brewer was the final piece, and Crank had designed a unique challenge for applicants.
“We had 17 applicants, all professionals except for one, and asked them to bring in one beer for five styles,” Jim Jr. said. “We brought in people from all over the industry [to judge them], looked at the final numbers, and the one homebrewer, Adam Mills, took first or second in every category, from every judge."
Crank said no other applicant rivaled his consistently high marks, and they quickly sat down with Mills and asked him if he was willing to do 'whatever it took' to learn to make his beer on their industrial 15bbl system.
“We talked beer, food and family,” Mills said. “The next thing you know, that was the last year I was a teacher.”
There were only minor guidelines for the beer. One was that the beer had to pair well with food. After all, they were primarily a restaurant since 2004, and the food would soon be only half of the experience.
“It was practically a blank slate when I started,” Mills said. “Jim wanted an amber or a red of some sort, for the Ferris Bulldogs – beyond that, it was a blank slate, and remains so today, which is quite honestly one of the most appealing things about the position. They trust me enough to guide the beer vision, which is every brewer's dream.”
Mills calls himself a “style brewer” who focuses on producing stylistically accurate beer and explains it was his time at Cranker's that has encouraged his growth as a brewer.
“When I started, I wanted to make beer just the way it should be,” Mills said. “I think I'm a bit more realistic now. I'm growing into massaging the outer edge of the styles.”
Cranker's has three beers on the market in six pack bottles: Professor IPA, a fantastically dry and hoppy flavored American IPA, Bulldog Irish Red, and a very well-balanced 5th Voyage Coconut Porter. Other beers on at the time of my visit included Black Wing Stout with vanilla beans, Sustainer Rye Belgian Dubbel, an 8% ABV Wheatwine, their Michigan Honey Ambrosia Kolsch, and a new session IPA. Production has already increased by more than 50 percent since the start of this year, and the future is looking up.
“You don't just want to have one or two beers that are good, you want that diversity, the whole showing being impressive,” Mills said. “[One of our beers] may not be their style, but it was clean and balanced. That's my constant pursuit.”
BEER OF THE MONTH - Oddside Ales Simco Sensation Session IPA – 4.5% ABV
Simco Sensation Session IPA offers all the flavor of a great IPA without the huge ABV to get you through your day. This beer pours clear gold with a bright off-white head that smells of bright hops and some sweet floral tones. The body is light with a prominent hop bitterness alongside a mellow backbone, so the hops shine, even though the ABV is so low.
Aug. 1-9 is the Ypsilanti/Ann Arbor Beer Week. The festivities include plenty of tap takeovers, beer dinners and events galore. Go to visitypsinow.com/yabw for more information.
The Traverse City Summer Microbrew & Music Festival takes place Aug. 22 and 23. Stop by one of the 40+ vendors and sample more than 200 beers, meads, wines and ciders alongside two full days of music. Visit traversecity.comfor more information.
Celebrate Suds on the Shore in Ludington on Aug. 16. Enjoy Michigan beer and wine on the beautiful shores of Lake Michigan. Stop by sudsontheshore.com for more information.