November 26, 2014

Elyria
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BIG PLANS BREWING

VERMILION — Fifty-five year old Lance Rice is referred by some as the “Rain Man of Beer” and for those who have spoken with the man, it’s not hard to see how he earned the moniker.

Rice rattled off facts about breweries and his vast collection of beer cans — he has thousands — Saturday afternoon at his Vermilion home. He knew where each can came from and the history of the beer.

Although Rice has autism, a neural development disorder that is characterized by impaired social interaction and repetitive behavior, he had no problem discussing his love of breweriana and showing off his collection that he keeps on shelves around the home.

Rice, who has a photographic memory, remembers the day he got his first beer can — Sunday, July 14, 1974. On that day, Rice picked up a can that he found in the garbage and since then, his collection has grown to include cans from Germany, Australia and Canada, among other countries.

Rice’s nephew, Aaron Rice, said he has always been fascinated by his uncle, who he called a genius with a unique mind.

Lance’s unique gift gave Aaron an idea, and recently, Aaron has launched a campaign called “Beer.Autism.Hope” in the hopes of raising money for a documentary about Lance.

“The idea about this essentially came about asking my uncle what his New Year’s resolution was, and every year, he’s said he wanted to get married and he wanted to write a book,” he said.

Aaron decided he could help Lance fulfill one of his dreams — to write a book about breweries and his knowledge of beer.

And so, the two will embark on a 1,500-mile journey across the U.S., visiting breweries along the way. During the trip, a camera crew will be in tow.

Aaron, who graduated from Vermilion High School in 1999, said he has been surprised about the support he’s received locally and across the U.S.

Anheuser-Busch has already reached out to him, asking that Lance make a stop at the brewery. Local breweries, like Fatheads in North Olmsted, have supported the project as well.

“(Lance is) more popular in six days than I’ve been in my entire life — 15 years of trying to be famous,” Aaron joked to a crowd at German’s Villa.

Vermilion residents and business owners gathered at German’s Villa on Saturday to hear about Aaron’s project. Lance was in attendance, too, and he excitedly spoke about the trip.

“The MillerCoors brewery in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, we’re going to visit and the Goose Island brewery in Chicago and the Latrobe in Latrobe, Pennsylvania, which is Pittsburgh Brewing Company,” he said. “I really haven’t visited as many breweries in a long, long time. With this, I’m looking forward to it.”

Lance visited his first brewery in 1972 at the age of 14 — the Anheuser-Busch Brewery in Tampa, Fla., but it wasn’t in operation at the time. He remembered looking in the windows during the visit.

Aaron said Lance has “never been more excited in his life” for the brewery tour, which he said will help Lance write his book.

Aaron, who studied jazz, now lives in California, where he is pursuing a career in writing, acting and film. Aaron said he’s written for TV and film, generally comedies, but this is the first documentary he’s worked on.

“What we’re looking to do is give a real, honest, beautiful portrayal of life as an autistic man,” he said.

Because Lance is very aware of cameras, Aaron said the film crew is trying a unique method of filming using a remote camera from a distance so Lance will feel like he is alone with Aaron.

For Aaron, who counts Lance as his best friend, the project is close to his heart.

“It’s much more than a film. I would really like Lance to have a legacy,” he said. “It’s a project like this that I would stake my life on.”

To make the project come to fruition, however, Aaron needs to raise $130,000. He estimated the money will help cover film costs, the cost of the trip and also to get Lance’s book published — the main goal.

Aaron has already started a Kickstarter page, and on Saturday, he raised approximately $6,000. He asked those at German’s Villa on Saturday to help in any way that they could and to spread the word about the project.

Aaron recommended that anyone who wants to donate, or anyone who wants to receive more information on the project to visit www.lancesbrewerytour.com.

“We’re just asking the community to spread the word about this project,” he said. “If (Lance’s) life shines brighter than mine, then I did my job right … I won’t sleep until this gets done.”

Contact Chelsea Miller at 329-7123 or cmiller@chroniclet.com.