Cranker’s Brewery wins recognition at Great American Beer Festival

Cranker’s Brewery head brewer James Crank (left) and assistant brewer Corey Bitler toast the brewery’s silver medal at the Great American Beer Festival for its chocolate style beer, Aphrodisiac Chocolate Pomegranate Imperial Stout. The festival is the largest commercial beer competition in the world. (Pioneer photo/Brandon Fountain)

BIG RAPIDS — A local brewery’s Valentine’s Day stout recently earned special recognition at the country’s largest commercial beer competition.

Big Rapids’ Cranker’s Brewery earned a silver medal at the 2017 Great American Beer Festival competition in Denver, Colo., for its chocolate beer style: Aphrodisiac chocolate pomegranate imperial stout.

Head brewer James Crank said earning a silver medal at the GABF is like winning an Olympic medal.

“It’s the biggest competition in the world,” he said. “It’s like the Olympics for breweries, and something to really be proud of. Some brewers go a lifetime without ever winning.”

Crank said he found out about the silver medal on Saturday while playing a round of golf with his friends.

“My buddies were looking at the live Facebook announcement,” he said. “When it happened, we were high-fiving and hugging — really celebrating. We didn’t really care too much about playing golf after that. It’s the kind of moment where you will never forget where you were when it happened.”

The competition at the GABF is judged by the festival’s professional judge panel, according to its website. The panel awards gold, silver and bronze medals recognized around the world as symbols of brewing excellence. This year’s competition included 7,923 entries for 98 different categories, including ales, lagers and more.

With about a year under his belt as the head brewer, Crank said the aphrodisiac beer entered into the competition began after talking with his cousin, who lives in Kansas City, Mo.

“He was talking about a brewery there and how everyone on Valentine’s Day lined up around the door to get their chocolate beer,” he said.

When Crank tried the beer, it was not what he expected.

“I wanted to brew a chocolate beer that actually tasted like chocolate,” he said.

An original version of an aphrodisiac chocolate beer was created by the breweries’ first brewer, Crank said.

“It was a good beer,” he said. “I wanted to make it a great beer.”

Crank said he sought feedback from West Michigan Craft Beer Enthusiasts’ Facebook page.

“I took two things away from that,” he said. “They wanted more carbonation and a thicker mouth feel.”

Crank also credits assistant brewer Corey Bitler with being able to complete the entry brew. When Bitler was hired, Crank said, he felt as though he was barely able to keep his head above water.

“It was a lot of learning as we go,” he said. “On (Bitler’s) first day, I told he was going to be doing a lot of the dirty work, cleaning the tanks and kegs. It provided me time to focus on the beer.”

When it came time to enter the beer in the GABF competition, Crank said some missed emails had them registering late.

“We had only a couple days to register, as the Michigan Brewers Guild has a refrigerated truck to deliver the beer to Denver,” he said. “I was super confident about the beer. The first version was good, and then I blended in those suggestions, and as soon as I tasted it, I knew it was a special beer.”

Crank said he hopes winning the silver medal will continue to grow the craft brewing industry in Michigan.

“When we began in 2012, the state had about 115 brewers,” he said. “Now, it’s over 200, probably closer to 300.

“(Winning the medal) is big for something from a small brewery from a small town making a name for itself,” he said. “I’ve already gotten phone calls from Wisconsin, Canada, Illinois and Indiana, from people wanting to know more about the beer and the brewery.”

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Posted by Brandon Fountain

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