"Lance’s Brewery Tour" Get’s a Second Chance on Kickstarter

Lance is getting a second chance.

Aaron and Lance Rice answer questions about
their upcoming film at Great Lakes Brewing
(Photo from “Lances Brewery Tour”)

Lance Rice has an unusual gift.  He pick out one can among the thousands he’s collected in the past forty years and chances are, he can tell you exact date he found the can and everything about the day he found it.  Mention a brewery, and it’s a good bet Lance can recite its entire history.  Give Lance a beer, and after a few sips, he can tell you what ingredients were used in the beer, and how it was brewed, despite  never took any Beer Judging or Cicerone exams. 

Lance has autism.

Aaron Rice, Lance’s nephew embarked on a Kickstarter campaign to create a film about Lance’s talents and give him the opportunity to visit the breweries he has long talked about.   Aaron calls his yet to be produced film “Lance’s Brewery Tour”.  In his first attempt with Kickstarter, Aaron attempted to raise an audacious sum of $130,000 but fell well short of this goal.  Never the less, his  project got the attention of news outlets as diversion as MAXIM Magazine, The Cleveland Plain Dealer, USA Today,  and Disney’s Babble.com.  Several breweries including Miller Coors, Pabst, Yuengling, Great Lakes Brewing Co, Rogue, Pittsburgh Brewing Co, New Holland, New Belgium, Spoetzl Brewery (Shiner), Schlafly, Boston Beer Company (Sam Adams) invited Lance to visit their breweries.

Maybe “Lance’s Brewery Tour” resonated with so many people is because it viewed Lance’s autism something to be celebrated rather than pitied.  It’s something I’ve come to terms with raising my autistic son Brandon.  At first, autism seemed like some demon to be exorcised from my son’s brain.  While helping Brandon overcome his mental deficits is rewarding, over time I learned loving my son meant loving autism.

Make no mistake, Lance’s autism isn’t a blessing.  Simply talking to someone else is a challenge for Lance.  He’s battled many phobias in his life.  Loud, bustling places like breweries make him extremely uncomfortable.  Autism is thought to disrupt the brains ability to manage sensory information.  Thus, quiet rooms with a few people chatting away are transformed into a chaotic, crowded places full of loud noises and strobe lights in the mind of the autistic.   Lance may find a certain structure and order by focusing focusing on the endless variations within the world of beer to reach a comfort level he rarely finds elsewhere.

Perhaps the most extraordinary development in this film is that Lance is beginning to open up to world that’s become more accepting of him.  As Aaron Rice describes on the project’s website, “Lance has autism and has always struggled with social anxiety. When Lance’s Brewery Tour began people started calling Lance an inspiration, a hero and a genius and something miraculous happened – for the first time in 55 years Lance opened up to world! It’s amazing what can happen when we choose to see people for their beauty and not their limitations.”

Encouraged by the initial response, Aaron relaunched a new Kickstarter effort for his film with the more modest goal of raising $15,000 for the film.   If all goes well, Lance will start visiting the breweries that were mere abstractions in his mind this June 15th.    I’ve pledged my support for Lance’s Brewery Tour and hope you’ll agree that Lance’s story needs to be told and support this project too.

How do you capture autism in a bottle?

Should I brew a beer in honor my autistic son Brandon by brewing a beer with noticeable defects and strange tastes?   Most people would say of course not, but this is not as contrived a dilemma as it might seem.

Consider that we have to take Brandon’s picture a bunch of times to finally get one where he isn’t flapping his hands, looking away from the camera, or scrunching up his face in an earnest attempt to smile.  But aren’t all those other pictures we delete or otherwise hide part of Brandon’s true character?   I’ve learned that loving my son means loving the autism, so there’s a part of me that doesn’t want hide his autistic traits, but celebrate them, as weird and unnatural as they might be.

Brandon with one of his favorite Lego models he built.

 So how to capture this in a beer someone might actually want to drink?

Brandon devours his Saturday morning pancakes that incorporate cinnamon, vanilla and maple syrup in the recipe, so I decided to incorporate these flavors into a beer.  I thought these flavors would go well with the light nutty and roasted character of a good Brown Ale, so I took the Dad’s Brown Ale 1-gallon recipe from the Brooklyn Brew Shop’s Beer Making Book, and added cinnamon, vanilla and maple syrup and called it Brandon’s Brown Ale.

The recipe:

Brandon’s Brown Ale

1.6 pounds Maris Otter Malt
0.1 pounds Caramel 40 Malt
0.1 pounds Caramel 80 Malt
0.1 pounds Chocolate Malt
 0.1 ounce Challenger Hops (60 minutes into the boil)
0.15 ounces  Fuggles Hops (0.1 ounces at 40 minutes, 0.05 ounces at 55 minutes)
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon 40 minutes into the boil
1 teaspoon vanilla extract 55 minutes into the boil
3/4 cup maple syrup at end of boil

English Ale Yeast

The grains were mashed with 2 quarts of water, were sparged with an additional 1 gallon of water, and then the resulting wort was boiled for 60 minutes

As for the taste, well it is different.  Cinnamon, vanilla and maple syrup work great together in pancakes, but some flavors just don’t work well together in a beer, and this one’s a little different.    The maple syrup and vanilla extract gave it a woody character while the cinnamon imparted a savory, aromatic dimension, but the beer seemed to lack the malty character one associates with a Brown Ale.  Next time, I think the maple syrup will be added to the fermenter after the boil to give the brew a more mellow maple flavor and I might use a little less of it to let the malt shine through.  Using a fresh vanilla bean and cinnamon sticks would probably improve upon the flavor as well as the spice character seemed a little muddled.

But those problems aside, the beer had a smooth, slighly creamy character and the spices gave the Brown Ale an unusual dimension that was a little surprising and unconventional, but is easily enjoyed.  I think that captures Brandon pretty well.

A more candid shot of Brandon building the Lego model.   In an unposed shot
when he doesn’t realize we’re taking his picture, he is more natural.