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Cranker's new hop deal means new beers, changes to standards

Tom Gromak
The Detroit News

James Crank finally has the hops he wanted. And he’s celebrating.

The owner of Big Rapids-based Cranker’s Brewery is planning a statewide tour, coming soon to southeast Michigan, to show off their beers after signing a new contract that ensures a steady supply of the hops varieties he wants to use in the brewer’s beers. First up: Changing up Professor IPA, a flagship beer that’s never been made exactly the way Crank wanted it made.

“If you go to the secondary market, you’re paying two, three, four times as much for hops as you do with a contract with the suppliers,” Crank said. “We couldn’t do that because we’re a small brewer. We couldn’t charge what was required and still compete in the market price-wise.”

“If a Cranker’s beer was on the shelf next to a Founders’ Sleeper Cell, would you pay extra for it?”

Such is the complexity of being a small brewer. That’s about to change. Professor IPA will soon be brewed with the El Dorado hops Crank said were originally desired for that beer. He thinks it will deliver a better, more complex flavor to one of the brewery’s signature ales. The contract also means more projects like Ill Connect, a delicious double IPA made with six varieties of hops: mosaic, simcoe, El dorado, Cascade, Chinook, and Amarillo. The result is a spectacularly layered double with notes of citrus and tropical fruits, maybe a little bubble gum, that was shown Saturday at the Michigan Brewer’s Guild Craft Beer Festival at Riverside Park in Ypsilanti.

Crankers' James Crank appears with "Hop Man" at the Michigan Brewers' Guild Summer Beer Festival.

We tried it. And we were impressed. Now we can’t wait for August, when the beer will be made available in state-wide distribution in 22-ounce bombers.

About that tour: Crank said the brewer will be hitting all the biggest beer bars in Michigan, bringing along all its biggest beers, and maybe a few surprises, including Crankenstein Octoberfest, a gold medal winner, and a peanut butter porter variation on the beer that ordinarily becomes their delicious coconut porter. This follows a Hippity Happily tour, which will showcase the brewer’s IPAs, including Big in Japan Session IPA (on tap at the festival, the reformulated Professor IPA, as well as Professor Max, a grad-school version of the signature ale with El Dorado hops delivering notes of orange, clementines and tangerine. It will be brewed using a CO2-extraction process that uses hop oils instead of the hop plants themselves. Crank said that means less absorption and flavor loss to the plant material, and more flavor retention for the beer.

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