GRAND RAPIDS — James Crank’s mission to spread his beer across Michigan is working.
His company, Big Rapids-based Cranker’s Brewery, recently was honored by MLive.com as one of the top 10 breweries in Michigan.
Moving beyond Big Rapids, his beer is now available at his Crankers location south of Grand Rapids, with plans to expand to his Mount Pleasant location as well.
But the true test to his growth strategy — customer feedback — was confirmed Thursday night at the sixth annual Grand Rapids Wine, Beer and Food Festival where he showcased four beers. Crank chatted with a steady crowd of visitors throughout the night while his pouring assistant tried to keep up.
“I love your coconut porter!” said Jane Lovett of Grand Rapids as she ran up to greet Crank. “Grand Rapids cannot have too many breweries.”
Crank joined about 40 other breweries in the Brewer’s Loft, a new third floor feature at the festival. The three-day event is expected to attract 17,000 visitors to the DeVos Place in downtown Grand Rapids.
In addition to tastings, the festival features beer seminars and how beer pairs with food seminars, according to organizers.
A notable beer at Cranker’s booth was Crankenstein (6.5% ABV), an amber lager made with German malts and German hops to offer the perfect blend of sweetness and spice.
Bay City-based Tri-City Brewing Company featured Giant Slayer (8.5 % ABV), a dark Russian Imperial Stout with strong flavor and a barrel-aged sibling in the works. Zachary Schultz, a sales representative for Tri-City, said word-of-mouth has helped push demand for the beer.
“This beer is exploding right now,” he said.
Finally, over at Grand Rapids-based Hideout Brewing Company was the most unique beer of the night: Mango Guava Pale Ale (6.5 % ABV). It started out with a sweet, smooth mango taste and finished with a light, hoppy flavor.
The festival also featured the new Michigan Blue Cider House, a dedicated space that featured more than a dozen cider producers.
Ada-based Sietsema Orchards showcased Orange Label (6.9% ABV), an American cider aged in an oak bourbon barrel that is easy to drink because it isn’t too dry or too sweet.
Bob Reusch of Grand Rapids was excited about the expanded hard cider section because he is learning more about how cider is made. He planned to attend a Cider 101 session that night.
“It’s a nice alternative,” he said.
The Grand Rapids Wine, Beer and Food Festival continues 4 to 10 p.m. Friday and 12 to 9 p.m. on Saturday. Tickets are $20 at the door.