By Caroline J. Beck
Jeff Coon’s 40-year passion for making great beer may have come from family tradition, but his skill at crafting world-class brews is probably heavenly inspiration. As brewmaster of Frankenmuth Brewery, crafting German-style beers is clearly Jeff’s calling. He joined the nation’s second-oldest brewery following a 21-year career as a pastor. And as the creators of “Das Good Bier” celebrate their 150th anniversary in 2012, Coon carries on the traditions of Michigan’s oldest brewery and their dedication to hand-crafting great good beers.
How did you first get into the beer business? I credit my grandfather whose stories about winemaking on his own father’s vineyard in Italy inspired me to try it. I began making wine when I was nine years old — and found my own love of brewing beer when I was 13.
Do you do anything different than the first Frankenmuth brewmaster did in 1862? When I spoke with him in 1885 (just kidding), I discovered that I do almost everything the same except that I use the modern-day invention of refrigeration. The old brewery would cut ice off the Cass River and drag it into the cellars where they would cover it with straw and cool the barrels of beer during fermentation and aging.
What is your favorite place on earth? Visiting the beach on Grand Turk Island with my wife of 33 years, Carol. That is as near to heaven as I will ever get here on earth!
Are there any bits of the brewery’s history that you draw on for inspiration? I love being at the Frankenmuth Brewery, where beer has been crafted on-site for 150 years. Much of our process comes from the tradition of a German brewery in a German town in mid-Michigan. Some of it is automated, but it’s really all about a hands-on approach to the “old school art” of making beer for the love of beer and experiencing the process: the sights, the sounds and the smells of brewing. I love that. I love to chew on leaf hops while I’m brewing.
What quality do you most admire in a person? Honesty.
How many new brews do you create each year? We are always experimenting with crazy ingredients like maple syrup, oranges, lemons, limes, cherries or pumpkin, but they don’t all make it into production. I just brewed a German-style Helles beer with my daughter for her birthday. I called it a “Twisted Helles,” which kind of fits my Julie. We will release this small batch on her birthday at the brewery until it’s gone, but it probably won’t last the day.
What is your favorite food and beer pairing? Munich Dunkel, a traditional dark German lager, and Oreo cookies.
Where do you like to go for a day trip? Frankenmuth was always a favorite destination for a quick getaway until it became home. Now it’s off to Fraser to see my granddaughter.
What is your most satisfying achievement? Being married to the same person for 33 years and having two daughters. For that I am absolutely complete.
What’s the most surprising thing customers learn on the brewery tour? I was a pastor for 21 years.
What’s next on your horizon? Expanding the markets we distribute to and developing a 150th Anniversary Beer! ≈
To learn more, visit frankenmuthbrewery.com. Freelance writer Caroline J. Beck lives in California’s wine country and Lexington, Mich.