DRAFT PICKS: Cranker's success good for all of Michigan

BIG RAPIDS —  A couple week’s back, Cranker’s Brewery head brewer Adam Mills went to the World Expo of Beer in Frankenmuth with a load of beer and came home with a fistful of medals.

That’s good news not only for Mills, but also for the brewery and, in fact, the middle Michigan brewing community.

There is a lot of competition at the World Expo. To log significant wins in four different categories is an impressive feat — especially for a brewery that is barely one year up and running.

The World Expo is an international competition sponsored by the Frankenmuth Jaycees. The event hosts hundreds of brewers from around the state, nation and globe with entries from Belgium, Germany as well as around the country.

The competitive judging is hosted a few weeks prior to the public Expo of Beer festival to be held May 17-18.

During the competition, beers entered in some 23 categories were judged. There is an extensive range of sub-categories in the beer judging world, but at the Beer Expo judges focus on the main 23 headline styles.

The Cranker’s team brought home honors with:

● A Silver Medal for their Honey Kolsch (Light Hybrid)

● A Silver Medal for Crankenstein (Amber Lager)

● A Bronze Medal The Professor IPA (IPA)

● A Bronze Medal for Fifth Voyage Coconut Porter (Spiced Beer)

“We are very happy with the results,” said an obviously pleased Mills. “These competitions are important to brewers. Winning a medal is important, but getting our name out there as a serious brewery producing quality beer for our customers is just as important to me.

“Winning a medal really lets us know our work is well within the range of what is considered good, or better than good, by people who really appreciate the  intricacies of beer.

“It’s also good to see what other breweries are doing, and share information with other brewers.”

The Best In Show beer at the Expo of Beer was Saugatuck Brewing Company’s Bonfire Brown.

“There were certainly a lot of entries in all 23 of the categories,” reported Mills. “Competition was stiff. “I believe the most aggressively entered categories included the stouts and India Pale Ales.”

Mills said there were 571 competitive with 57 participants in the IPA category alone.

“This surely reflects the demand for IPAs from the consumer,” noted Mills. “In both pub serving and packaged/distributed beers, IPAs are always a style in demand.

“I think the general trend in brewing right now — spreading from the west coast, gradually east — demonstrates there are a lot of hop-forward beers being demanded by the public.

“I think beer drinkers in the U.S. are experiencing something of a “palate shift” and are learning to appreciate the more hoppy beers sooner as they experience a wider variety of beers.

“Learning to like hop beers or the more malt-forward brews is a very individual thing.

“Once people taste a wider range of beers they can more easily narrow down their likes and filter out their dislikes.”

The Cranker’s team are now preparing for the World Expo of Beer festival to be held May 17-18 in Frankenmuth.

In July they will be entering beers in the Summerfest in Ypsilanti.

“It’s really great to have owners who are supportive in our competitive efforts,” said Mills referring to Cranker’s owners Jim and Betsy Crank. “Competitions are a great way to get our name out and really promote ourselves.”

Bonfire Brown

Saugatuck Brewing Company


Bonfire Brown was a winner in the Expo of Beer. A BIG winner.

The Best in Show.

This smooth American Brown Ale pours a rich, warm dark brown color and produces a respectable velvety tan head of foam when enthusiastically poured. The head disappears relatively quickly, so if you use it to pick up on hidden aromas, use it well ... and fast.

I love the creamy scent smacking of caramel malts and coffee toning. There is a distinct roasted grain aroma and the maltiness is well supported by the background elements.

First wash offers up a dry brew — not too sweet at all, and not unlike the scent elements. There is a sense of drinking a good, well planned coffee-based drink with just a hint of caramely sweetness in the mix. This brew offers up a complexity of very subtle tastes which sounds like something of a contradiction but really only emphasizes the excellent grain list and well considered balance of all the elements.

The chocolate highlights really make this ale that much more delightful.

At a moderately chilled temperature, this is a wonderful refreshing beer, and for those who are sensitive to the alcohol “heat” in some ales, there is little or none in this brew, (5.5 percent ABV.)

Bonfire has just enough fizz keep the palate alert and fresh, not too much to conflict with the more delicate tones. It is crisp and clear with each new sip.

This is a very, very highly recommended beer. Chock full of taste, (although if you don’t like coffee this may be a bit overpowering.)

Look. The name on the bottle is Bonfire Brown.

I can’t beat that description for a great place to drink such a wonderfully concocted brew — with good friends around a gently flickering fire.

Sigh. It’s my  happy place!


Russian River Brewing Company

Santa Rosa, Calif.

Full disclosure and apology of sorts: Damnation is not generally available in Michigan. Russian River is a California-based brewery with a very limited distribution, but a very, very big name in the brewing world.

I received four bottles of Russian River beer from my best buddy in the world. After sampling these fine ales, he will certainly remain my best buddy!

Limited distribution is not helpful in obtaining Russian River brews, but it can help in making you more creative. Everybody know somebody out west!

Damnation pours a somewhat hazy gently light copper color. I poured a demonstrative head of foam, (impressive for this style of beer — a Belgian Strong Pale Ale.) The head creates an impressive amount of lacing that lasts well after you have finished the beer. The foam is a clear, crisp almost linen white. There is definitely a firm aroma of wheat and a lot of the more floral and fruitiness (esters), highlights. It’s pretty easy, by your second or third whiff, to pick out the citrus tones lurking around in the background. I was told by friends out west that they thought there wasn’t a lot of aroma to Damnation. I must disagree, and attribute their weak aromatic investigation to allergies!

I loved the gentle “scentiness” that is offered up in this brew.

A first wash, you should be prepared for was pleasant surprise. This is where Russian River earns all the honors and accolades that have been bestowed on this brew team.

Damnation is smooth, velvety, even creamy — and it’s a strong pale ale at the end of the day! In tasting I again picked up quickly on the light yet pronounced wheat/yeast notes. There was a light fruitiness — light as in light fruits such as pears, apricots, maybe even a touch of a banana quality. There is a little bit of muted spiciness. Nothing overwhelming. This is a brew that sits well in the mouth and certainly not one to be gulped down. It is wonderfully pleasant. The aftertaste strongly follows the taste and there are no unpleasant surprises. The alcohol offers no bite and, in fact, at there is less feeling of ”heat” than one might expect from a strong ale. Damnation is an exciting brew. It has everything you could want for a session of civilized sipping. Flavorful and full bodied without being aggressive in the least.

Try to get some.