Brewer of the Week: Michael Crane
Name: Michael Crane
Hometown: Leawood, KS
Brewing Since: 2010
When did you start brewing/What got you brewing?
I started brewing about three and a half years ago when my wife and I saw a Mr. Beer kit on sale. We thought it would be fun for the kids to try. We figured that if it made something drinkable it would be the "icing on the cake."
When did you know this was no ordinary hobby, it was an obsession?
After a few batches with Mr. Beer, I started looking at everything I could find on the Internet about brewing. I purchased an extract kit at a local homebrew store along with a few pieces of equipment and began extract brewing. As I continued researching online, I realized that all grain would be more interesting. I soon built a three-tier system using an existing cooler as a mash tun.
I have always liked tinkering, plumbing and electrical work, so I eventually built a single tier system with a 225 BTU natural gas burner and ran a gas line and a quick disconnect hose to the brew stand. I also ran electrical and water hookups outside my walk out basement. My system has a single marsh pump, a heat exchanger coil in the HLT, and an electronic temperature controller that cycles the pump off and on to maintain mash temps.
Last year I started entering competitions and winning. Last summer I purchased a used 60-gallon wine barrel that we filled with a lambic on the Friday and Saturday after Thanksgiving. I think that's when my brewing officially became an obsession.
When did you join the AHA?
I joined last summer when I found out I was the seventh highest-ranking brewer in the High Plains Circuit at a Kansas City Bier Meister
What is your "white whale" beer (the beer you'd hunt to the ends of the earth for, and possibly die trying to obtain)?
What, you mean that you can buy beer already made?
What are your favorite craft breweries?
I really don't have a favorite brewery, as I do not drink much beer.
Do you have a homebrewing disaster you'd like to share?
At one point I had been reading about doing a cereal mash. For some reason I thought I should do a cereal mash with some flaked oats. The beer turned out to be about as thick as buttermilk and not very tasty. With the advice of Northern Brewer support, I added amylase enzyme which did a great job converting the un-fermentable dextrins into fermentable sugars, and the beer turned out pretty darn good.
Do you have a special homebrew related project that you'd like to share?
As a crazy homebrewer who does not drink, I bottle almost all the beer I brew. Even when I keg beer, the main purpose is to force carbonate it so I can bottle it later. There are two items that I designed and built that are very handy for bottling. The first is a counter pressure bottle filler that is pneumatically controlled by CO2. There is an air cylinder that will raise the filler so a bottle fits under the tube. When I press the valve down, the filler lowers onto the bottle. I then use the filler as it is designed, but I don't have to stand there and hold the filler in place. It is held by CO2 pressure. The other device I made is a pneumatic capper. When I am filling lots of bottles this comes in handy and is very fast.
What is your favorite style(s) to brew?
My favorite styles to brew are saisons and sour beers. I have about 20 carboys filled with sours and other Brett beers at various ages. I also have my 60-gallon wine barrel filled with a lambic.
What style(s) will you never brew?
Since I brew mostly for competitions and to give beer away, I am doing my best to brew and master every BJCP category.
Have you ever had a homebrew mistake that turned out great?
One day I asked my son (who is a vegetarian) what he was eating for dinner that night. He said he was eating beets and beet greens. He then said, "Hey, why don't you put beets in beer?" At the time, I had a cream ale that was ready to be put in secondary, so I picked up some fresh beets, roasted them and put them in with the cream ale. About two weeks later I told my son what I did and he said, "What, why did you do that...I was just kidding."
Well, I bottled it and it turned out to be the most interesting beer I have ever made. It is the most beautiful magenta color and I must say, tastes like dirt, but of course that is what beets taste like. I have entered this beer in many competitions and won several awards in Spice/Herb/Vegetable category, as well as category 23 (specialty beer). The judge's comments have been pretty awesome too. One judge said it should be served on the Starship Enterprise. Another judge said that if he could give it 10 points for appearance he would, but it is still undrinkable. Another judge gave me great, positive comments and high scores but at the end said, "P.S., I hate beets." I think that judge should get a gold medal for honestly judging a beer based on BJCP guidelines and not personal opinion.
Describe your brew system:
It is a single tier with one burner, one pump and a plate chiller. I use a copper coil in the HLT as a heat exchanger. Wort flows out of the mash tun into the pump. The wort goes through the copper coil in the HLT and drops onto the grain bed. At the outlet of the mash tun the wort flows past a temperature sensor that cycles the pump off and on to control the mash temp.
How frequently do you brew (times per month or year)?
I brew almost every Saturday and most Sundays.
What is your favorite malt? Why?
My favorite style malt is Pilsner because it is great for cream ales, saisons, lambics, and Berliner weisse.
What is your favorite hop? Why?
It is really a toss-up between Amarillo and Citra because...well, because a lot of my friends like the beers I have made when I have used those hops!
Do you have a favorite or house yeast? What qualities do you like about that yeast?
My favorite yeast is White Labs 565 Belgian Saison. I have brewed with it many times and made many award-winning beers with it.
Do you belong to a homebrew club? Do you have a good homebrew club story you'd like to share?
I have been a member of Kansas City Bier Meisters for about two years. I remember being very intimidated at the first few meetings, as it seemed like everyone had so much more experience than I did, but it is a really great group. Our members have amazing knowledge of beer and brewing and are willing to offer help and share their skills to help everyone brew better beer. More than that, these folks are great friends with a common interest in fermented beverages.
Is there any advice you would like to give to new homebrewers?
If someone is interested in learning to brew better beer and expand their knowledge of brewing, I strongly recommend joining a homebrew club. We are very lucky in Kansas City to have so many BJCP judges in our club who are always willing to lend a hand or give helpful advice, and especially help drinking all the beer I brew but don't drink.