Monday, June 4, 2012

Cranker's Brewery

As the Michigan craft beer market expands and accelerates, one notices that there are hubs of activity where the growth seems faster. Detroit has always had a deep and prosperous brewing community; even with the unfortunate closing of Webberville’s Michigan Brewing Company, every map of Michigan breweries has to have a breakout section because of the densely packed breweries around the Motor City.  Grand Rapids, Traverse City, and the southwest corner of the state all represent hubs, each area teeming with personality, variety, and flair as the market booms. The center of the state, however, has been light on local breweries, with only one place in Mount Pleasant offering product and a café in Big Rapids focusing more on food than beer. (this statement will probably be out of date before this even gets posted. –ed.) The students of Ferris State University -- as well as the citizens of Big Rapids -- needed a watering hole with locally made beer! Enter Cranker’s Brewery, a brand new and ambitious project offering something completely new to the craft brew market.

From left: Laura, Betsy, Jim, Adam, Seth. James, and Tony

The Crank family – Jim and Betsy, as well as sons James and Tony – are a delightful family and owners of the Cranker’s Coney Island in Big Rapids.  Jim saw great potential in the craft brewing industry: “I want to have a place for the people who live in big Rapids where they can drink fresh, expertly crafted beer that’s locally made,” he said to us.  Construction of the new brewery – which has capacity to produce more than 5,000 barrels annually, showing that Cranker’s was thinking ahead when it came to production – recently finished, and the “addition” to the Coney Island opened in early May. In case you missed the connection, let me be explicit; Cranker’s Brewery is a brewery that is in the same building as a 24 hour diner. When the beer stops flowing and you need a Detroit style coney dog before walking home, Cranker’s has you covered. The idea is so elegant, so brilliant, it’s a little dumbfounding that it took until 2012 for it to happen.

Despite being physically connected, Cranker’s has a completely different personality from the diner; a huge, open space filled with sunlight and family style seating gives a great hall style feel to the place, slightly reminiscent of the chapel area in Brewery Vivant. The artistry and décor keep to a sparse, industrial feel, with the metal work coming directly from members of Ferris State University and artwork created out of engine parts and other industrial elements. The bar has a modern yet old school feel, a glossy concrete top inset with gears, flywheels, and other industrial items. There are televisions present, but they are unobtrusive, so the Tigers fans can watch the game without it being the center of attention. Featured in one corner is the stage area, and the acoustically primed ceiling makes Cranker’s a concert venue in par with Founder’s.

Atmosphere is one thing, however. The beer has to match. Adam Mills, the head brewer for Cranker’s, is one of the most genuine and passionate gentlemen I’ve ever met in the Michigan brewing industry. A former Grand Rapids schoolteacher and Big Rapids native, Mills has been an avid home brewer for years, and his recipes are well known and decorated among many homebrew competitions. For Cranker’s Brewery, Mills focuses on a niche I've never seen done in Michigan: west coast style ales and lagers. His attention to detail and passion for the craft comes out in every beer we tried. “The biggest compliment anyone can give me,” he said over a pint of his Professor IPA, “is to order a second pint after finishing the first.”

Rest assured, we did; the IPA was an absolute gem, with sharp Cascade notes blending with herbal and piney Summit hops yielding a flavor that was bold and strong yet did not leave the mouth feeling bitter after swallowing. We paired the IPA with two items from the Cranker’s brewery menu (which is completely different from the diner menu, more upscale with a decidedly Greek flair to it), and each dish brought out completely different and equally pleasing flavors in the beer. The saganaki -- kasseri cheese set on fire with brandy and extinguished with lemon juice -- played higher on the palate, encouraging the apricot and citrus flavors of the hops show through, while the sweet steamed mussels
reminded you that the Professor IPA still has a complex malt profile. Side note: I am not sure there is anything cooler than saganaki. It’s flaming cheese that pairs perfectly with beer.  I cannot recommend it highly enough.

We also sampled the Torchlight -- a crisp, delicate Munich Blonde ale that brings a great, refreshing beer in harmony with complex flavor. The Strong Arm Stout is another very solid mainstay, blending hints of espresso with a slight creaminess into a low (5.6%) alcohol sweet stout that is neither heavy nor bitter. Their best seller, the Bulldog Irish Red and personal favorite of many of the patrons, was unfortunately sold out when we arrived, but as we all know, that’s normal for a brewery that hasn’t even been open a month yet – and of course that just gives us another reason to visit.

It’s about time the center of the state began getting some more delicious, local craft beer. With expertly crafted beer from a passionate, dedicated, and extremely intelligent brewer, to a delicious and reasonably priced menu, all with the advantage of a 24 hour Coney Island literally through a gate, this place is the full package. Cranker’s Brewery, located just off 131, isn’t simply a stop on the way up to Traverse City; it’s a destination all its own.

For more pictures, please visit our Facebook page!


Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

The head brewer only gets cuter after drinking his fabolus beer. I wonder if he's married.

Seth said...

Six Gun Canyon -- we heard it was a great show! Congratulations! And anon -- yes, Adam has been taken off the market, he is married.

Anonymous said...

We needed a "fun" spot to have a great beer and good friends to drink it with!! Looking forward to the future and new brews and new friends..............MC#2

Anonymous said...

Crankers... \

I wouldn't trust my credit card to the workers there... Nor would I let their cooks boil me water. Check it out and ask yourself if you have that type of trust.

I saw the quality of workers there and quickly packed my crap up and headed to Burger King.... Where at least I know if I get sick, I can have some legal recourse.

Just saying.

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