Aussie mates beer culture and science at New Holland Brewing
In the middle of January, a tall, young Australian man stepped off a plane into drastically different weather from the Southern Hemisphere’s hot summer.
Michigan or bust
A few weeks later, as the snow continued to fall, Dayton Coffey was standing with 6,000 craft beer fanatics at the Michigan Brewers Guild Winter Beer Festival at Fifth Third Ballpark.
Experiences such as the beer festival are the reason Coffey came to Michigan.
He came to America to work in craft beer, and now he’s a quality manager at New Holland Brewing Co.
“I was looking to come to the U.S. in general, just for the beer scene,” he said. “Michigan ticked a lot of the right boxes for me. It seemed like a nice place to live, and it has a crazy beer scene.”
Although he came ill-prepared for the winter — without a jacket and boots — he knew the beer scene was right for him.
In Australia, Coffey worked for Kirin, a Japanese beer company that owns more than 50 percent of the breweries in Australia.
Although a majority of his time was spent in big production breweries, he did work in the company’s craft department, which is when he found he loved the quality of craft beer.
“After making beer I liked drinking, it’s hard to go back to making beer you don’t like,” he said. “I used to home brew before I worked at any brewery and that’s always a good lead into craft beer, because you find out there’s huge possibilities that aren’t at your local pub.”
Although the Australian craft beer industry is tame in terms of types — mostly light pilsners — the job allowed Coffey to learn about the America’s thriving industry.
He said the Australian industry is at least 10 years behind and lacks the variety seen in the states.
New Holland’s most popular beer, a bourbon-barrel-aged imperial stout called Dragon’s Milk, would never fly Down Under.
“The brewery I worked for wouldn’t let us make something like that,” he said. “They’d be lucky if they could sell it. There’s just not enough people who would be interested in buying it.”
The beer industry is one based on cleanliness and needs people, such as Coffey, with science backgrounds.
Out of university, Coffey worked in skincare and eventually found his way into food technology.
From there, a job with the Australian Barley Board working on molecular plant breeding — specifically for beer — is how Coffey found his way to the job with a brewery.
He was a quality control supervisor and eventually worked into brewing at the craft department.
At New Holland, Coffey is back in the quality control department.
“It’s kind of lab-nerd stuff,” he said. “We look at all the micro-testing, and we do a lot of analysis of alcohol, bitterness and color. We make sure the beer tastes the same no matter where you buy it.”
His jobs might be similar, but it all comes down to the difference in beer culture.
Coffey would rather have access to the 26 styles New Holland makes and be surrounded by a population that wants to try the massive amounts of beer, and he’ll do anything to make it happen — like stand in freezing weather.
“America has a very high reputation when it comes to craft beer,” he said. “The fact is people love it. It’s a lot of fun here.”