Why he's interesting: The autistic Vermilion resident has been dubbed the "Rain Man of Beer" after overcoming social and emotional challenges to complete a 15,000-mile tour of 60 U.S. breweries. The trip, which began at Great Lakes Brewing Co., provided the information and pictures needed to achieve his dream of writing a book about American breweries and beer history. His nephew Aaron Rice, a Los Angeles-based filmmaker, also documented the journey for a movie. Both projects are slated for completion in late spring.
Blinded by science: Rice's interest in breweriana was piqued in 1974 at the age of 16, while going through a beer can collection his younger brother had amassed in his closet. "I saw a Falstaff Brewing Co. brochure that had a drawing of the Falstaff brewing laboratory. At that time I had an interest in science and in microbiology. I didn't know until that time that breweries had laboratories."
Brother see, brother do: Rice started his own beer can collection that summer. "I didn't think it would last that long. I was just going to take the cans, and then just throw them all away." His attention was sustained by a keen appreciation for distinctive can design and bottle labeling as well as a passion for brewery research. "I've just never grown tired of it."
Quite the collection: Rice hasn't tallied the number of cans, labels or caps in his collection. But it's overtaken his bedroom, a spare room and a shed in the backyard of his mother's home. His photographic memory eliminates the need for cataloguing items. "I pretty much know where I have everything."
Road map: The trip included meeting brewer Bob Cannon, who appears in commercials for Samuel Adams, and Sam Calagione, founder and president of Dogfish Head Craft Brewery. "They're just the most generous, nicest bunch of people that you'd ever want to meet. They just opened their arms up to me and Aaron."
Beer tasting: Rice is surprisingly easy to please when it comes to ordering a cold one. "I pretty much like them all, except for Coors Light and Miller Lite."
Favorite tour stop: Rice would like to go back to the Lemp Mansion Restaurant and Inn, down the street from the now-defunct Lemp Brewery in St. Louis. The mansion is the site of four suicides between 1904 and 1949. "Legend has it that the spirits of the Lemp brewing family roam the mansion."
Philanthropic endeavors: Rice hopes to use proceeds from the book, tentatively titled Lance's Beer Journey, and documentary, Lance's Brewery Tour, to establish Lance's Room, a charity dedicated to promoting autism awareness. "[People] will know much more about it, find out what it is, and give their kids hope."