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Local News

July 17, 2013

Brewery visitor tells tale of beer, hope and autism

MIDDLEFIELD — When Lance Rice reads a beer label or reads books about the history of particular breweries, he doesn’t forget any of the details — the color of the label, the designs on the packaging, the saga of the brewmasters or the response from the consuming public.

The data is all retained in the encyclopedic mind of this 55-year-old autistic man from the Cleveland suburb of Vermilion.

Lance Rice, you see, has a photographic memory. And the topic that most interests him, he said Tuesday, is the history of beer brewing in the United States.

During a stop at Brewery Ommegang on Tuesday, his formidable ability to recall with precision so many details about hundreds of varieties of beers was on full display, as a film crew focused on him for a documentary about his effort to produce a book on the history of the beer industry.

The documentary, a project which is being overseen by Rice’s nephew, Aaron Rice, will examine the hands-on research Lance Rice is undertaking: visiting more than 60 breweries across the nation, including Brewery Ommegang, just south of Cooperstown.

Here, on a sun-splashed afternoon, they met with Simon Thorpe, Ommegang’s president and chief executive officer, who enjoyed a glass of fine craft beer with Lance Rice on a outdoor patio just outside Cafe Ommegang.

“His courage and tenacity are something that we as a brewery should be inspired by,” Thorpe said as he toasted the guest of honor at a reception for him. “And as human beings, his story is something we should take into our hearts.”

Thorpe said Ommegang is planning to brew a special blend of beer that will be dedicated to Lance Rice’s autism awareness efforts.

Until recently, Lance Rice had been working at a glove factory in Ohio. He was laid off, however, and began volunteering at a local library. Enter Aaron Rice, who decided now was the time he would assist his uncle in fulfilling his dream of writing a book about the saga of beer production in America.

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