The Homebrewer Who Doesn’t Drink
The first wild yeast he harvested was from under a friend’s pear tree. He’s made multiple batches with yeast taken from blueberries he and June picked at local farm. He used the dregs of Kombucha in a beer called “Hippy Moses,” building the slurry up over the course of six months. It was a hefeweizen with matzah left over after Passover, fermenting it with a traditional yeast and the Kombucha slurry. His homemade labels described it as “Red Sea Matzah Tonic.”
He and Joey, who soon will complete work on his Ph.D. in music composition at the University of Minnesota, talk often about recipe design. “There’s a crossover in the kind of attitude involved in brewing beer I have related to art,” Joey said. “There’s something in the structure of beer that fascinates me in the same way as music.”
His father draws another analogy. He was a terrible student until he was 14 years old and discovered ceramics, which eventually led him to the KC Art Institute. He fell in love with raku, a firing process in which a red-hot piece is smothered with a combustible material. “The results are often unpredictable, but always beautiful,” Crane said. “I guess I like the aspect of letting yeast do its thing.”
Crane joined the Kansas City Bier Meisters (KCBM), one of the oldest homebrew clubs in the country, about a year after he made his first batch. He said its members have been critical in his brewing education. On brew days, holidays and sometimes just random days, he invites KCBM friends over to sample beers. “They will often bring samples of commercial beers of the same styles for me to try,” he said. “Since I don’t drink much beer, but love to taste a small amount, that has really helped me get a handle on what I am trying to achieve with my own beers.”
Earlier this year he realized that might include brewing those beers commercially. The brewery would bear his name, although he is only one of several partners—the project is far enough along they have registered as a “brewery in planning” with the Brewers Association—and he knows there’s plenty he doesn’t know about commercial brewing. “He is that grandma that spends hours cooking a huge meal for the family, only to sit down and eat a small portion, but is satisfied because everyone is together and enjoying themselves,” Chris Meyers, another of the partners, wrote in an email to all involved.
Meyers isn’t talking only about beer. On the first Sunday of each month, June and Michael deliver a barbecue dinner to the parents’ room on the cancer floor at Children’s Mercy Hospital. Crane is avid about making barbecue and owns a commercial smoker, but they are there because 10 years ago Joey had cancer in his jaw, which doctors successfully treated. The Cranes are part of a parent-to-parent group, available to talk to parents of children being treated for cancer. “Some parents don’t want to talk and will just take the food and thank us,” Crane said. “But others will sit for hours talking.”
June calls this a sharing gene. It says as much about Michael Crane as the beers he enjoys watching others drink.
This story appears in the July issue of All About Beer Magazine. Click here for a free trial.
Stan Hieronymus, a contributor to All About Beer Magazine for 20 years, is the author of several books on beer and brewing. The most recent, For the Love of Hops (Brewers Publications), deals with all aspects of one of beer’s essential ingredients.