The Western Michigan/Central Michigan rivalry game kicks off at 7:30 Saturday night in Mount Pleasant. For Crankers Brewery, the festivities begin at noon with the release of "Antonio," a special-release smoked brown ale.

"Antonio brown ale" sounds familiar? It should if you're a football fan. Antonio Brown is an NFL-leading wide receiver with the Pittsburgh Steelers who played his college days at Central Michigan University, where Crankers Brewing owner James Crank attended college.

"He was one of the stars of the team. To watch him and (quarterback) Dan LeFevour, they were one of the most exciting combinations in college football during that time," Crank said. "They really put Central Michigan football on the map."

Crank said the Big Rapids-based brewer, with pubs in Big Rapids, Mount Pleasant and Grand Rapids, was looking to do some sort of special fall release, and had an eye on doing a smoked beer. Known for IPAs like "The Professor," and their signature coconut porter "Fifth Voyage," it's the first time they've produced a smoked ale.

The beer would use chocolate malt for color and the chocolate undertones associated with brown ales. But brewer Adam Mills suggested adding smoked malt, made with smoked beechwood, to increase the smoky flavors and aromas. The idea was to evoke a feeling of fall, and to create a beer that would pair well with one of the pubs' menu items, in this case, chicken wings.

The name came to Crank while he was going over his fantasy football lineup after a day of discussing the new brew with Mills and others. "I was looking at my team later that night, and I thought 'I'm looking right at it.' "

He quickly checked beer site Untappd and found that there were no other beers named "Antonio." At that moment, the special fall release became a special beer tribute to Crank's favorite football player. The beer is not officially affiliated with or endorsed by Brown, the Steelers, CMU, or the NFL. It's just Crank's homage.

For now, Antonio is pub only. It will be released at the Mount Pleasant pub, at 1207 E. Pickard Rd., at noon on Saturday and will be available in growlers for those wishing to take it to a tailgate. There will be follow-up releases on Monday at the Big Rapids and Grand Rapids pubs. If the feedback is good, Crank said, they will likely brew it again next year for release in 12-ounce 4-packs in time for the annual fall tilt with the Broncos, who have a beer of their own, "Bronco" brown ale by Paw Paw Brewing.

Now, about that game?

"I think Central is going to win. Some people might call me biased. I just call it how I see it," Crank said. He admits WMU, 4-0, is a good team, but likes the resilience and team chemistry of his 3-1 Chippewas. "It's going to come down to home field advantage. I think Central's got this."

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