My name is Michael Crane and I have been brewing for about 3 years, but the odd thing is, I have never been much of a beer drinker. When our sons were in college they started drinking craft beers. When I saw how much they were spending on craft beer I thought they were crazy and it could never cost that much to just make beer. After all, it is just some kind of grains and yeast and stuff, right? While shopping at Target during the holiday season about 3 years ago my wife and I saw a Mr. Beer kit on close out for $15.00. We figured that would be a great gift for the kids. It may be fun to do this together and if it made something drinkable that would be the icing on the cake. Well, I had more fun making the beer than the kids did and it was drinkable. After that I started reading everything I could get my hands on about homebrewing and it did not take long before I became obsessed; obsessed with brewing, not drinking. I always liked building and designing things. (in real life I design and manufacture school furniture and store fixtures) So it was not long before I designed a single tier HERMS system.
I live in Leawood, KS and belong to Kansas City Bier Meisters. As a crazy homebrewer who does not drink much beer, my friends in the club have offered to drink my beer and offer suggestions on the best categories to enter into competitions. (That is one of the best things about being in a homebrew club. We are very lucky in Kansas City as we have many BJCP Judges in our club always willing to lend advice.) In February 2012 I entered my first competition and took first place with a Saison. That is all it took to get hooked on brewing more and entering competitions. I started brewing almost every weekend and entering competitions all over the country. With just a few exceptions I have won something in every competition. About one and a half years ago I joined my younger son at a Sour Beer Festival in Minneapolis. I was not familiar with sour beers before, but I did find it very interesting. So I started brewing Lambics and Flanders and Berliner Weisse. Currently I have about 20 sour beers aging in addition to a 60 gallon wine barrel filled with a Lambic and lots of good bugs.
I have had my share of disasters in brewing but the most memorable one was early on brewing Oatmeal Ale. I have been researching cereal mashes and for some reason decided to do a cereal mash with the Oatmeal. This beer turned out to be the consistency of buttermilk. This was before I was a member of KCBM so I requested the advise of Northern Brewer. They suggested adding amylase enzyme to the wort and within about a week, it was thinned down and after all turned out to be a very tasty beer; tasty, yes, award winning, no.
By far the most interesting beer I have ever made was my Borscht Beet Beer. One day I asked my son who lives in MN what he was having for dinner. He is a vegetarian so I always find it intriguing to hear what he is eating. He said he was having beets and beet greens. He then said, “hey, why don’t you put beets in beer”. At the time I had a 15 gallons of cream ale in my fermenter about ready to put into a secondary. I often brew 10 or 15-gallon batches and do different things in secondary. So with 5 gallons from this batch I sliced and boiled about a pound of fresh beets. I added the beets and liquid to a bucket and racked the cream ale on top. Fermentation started up again and after 2 more weeks I bottled it. I told my son what I had done and he thought I was crazy and he was just kidding about beets in beer. This beer has been the most fun to enter into competitions. Many people say that it is undrinkable and others love it. I have won multiple competitions with this beer. The comments from judges have been great. One judge said that if he could give it 10 points for appearance he would, but that it was still un-drinkable. Another judge gave it very high scores in each category, but in the end he said, “PS, I had beets” But I did take 2nd place with it. Another fun comment was, “This beer should be served on the Starship Enterprise”
I love building homebrew gadgets. Something that I use all the time is a counter pressure bottler filler device. For some styles of beer I like to keg and then fill bottles from the keg as I get sparkling clear beers this way. I had been using a store bought CPBF, but I hated to just stand there for the 15 to 20 seconds while the bottle filled slowly. I built a pneumatic controlled filler powered with Co2. Now when I fill bottles from kegs I just flip the lever up and the CPBF raised up over the bottle. I flip the valve down and it lowers into the bottle. I then proceed with the normal operations of the CPBF but the Co2 pressure in the cylinder holds the unit in place so it is hands free. I can get my next bottle ready and cap the previously filled bottle. The other gadget I use all the time is my pneumatic bottle capper. Since I do not drink much beer I bottle almost everything to give to friends and to ship to competitions. I was getting bad tendonitis in my wrist from capping hundreds of bottles at a time so I designed and built a capper that used a 2” air cylinder with a 1” stroke.
I like to come up with fun names for beers and make funny labels. One of my favorite is “Drunken Cow Cream Ale, Udderly Refreshing” One beer that I am getting ready to bottle was made just after Passover with left over Matzah. For some reason my wife always buys a huge case of Matzah and we always have a lot left over. So I decided to make a Matzah Weitzen. I made 10 gallons and with half of it I made somewhat traditional Hefe Weitzen. With the other half I pitched a huge starter from the SCOBY from a bottle of Kombucha. I had built up this over a period of 6 months. After just a few months it is very tart and delicious. The name of this beer is “Hippy Moses, Red Sea Matzah Tonic”. I don’t think it will fit into any category except maybe 23.
In the past 2 years I have won 27 medals and ribbons in competitions. But I have never won best of show. But I did just get a 2nd in Best of Show in a sour beer competition in Tamp, FL. One of the most exciting score sheets I have ever received was for a first place in Belgian Specialty at the Mississippi Mashout and Gordon Strong gave me a 42. The other judges comment was, “Gordon Strong loves this beer”
My favorite style of beer to brew is sours and Saisons. Last Thanksgiving I did my first turbid mash and in two batches filled a 60 gallon wine barrel with Lambic. I am planning on doing a Solera project with it. In our club, Kansas City Bier Meisters I am really an anomaly as I basicly don’t drink beer. I do like to taste a little just to see what it is like, but most of all I like to share my beer with my friends and enter competitions. My greatest dilemma is when I only have a few bottles left and have to decide if I should let my friends drink it or send it to a competition.