When Fred and Jenn Meier stay at their cottage between Caseville and Port Austin, near Oak Beach, they always stop at Thumb Brewery at some point during their visit. It offers everything they love, including craft beers that rank high on their list of favorites.
As members of the Michigan Brewers Guild, they’re quick to share that “we’re IPA heads,” Fred says. “We like a lot of hops,” Jenn adds. The couple has the current owners, who envisioned that the old place could be overhauled to become a wonderful spot for locals and cottagers alike, to thank for that.
In July of 2020, Lauren Formicola and her brother, Mark Formicola, purchased what was an old 1900 farmhouse that had been turned into Thumb Brewery. Lauren Formicola, who lives in a little cottage behind the brewery, located in Caseville, says she had been looking for a new project.
“Mark found Thumb Brewery while he was out looking at fall colors,” Lauren says. “After a few Kona Coffee Stouts, he noticed a sign that said the brewery was for sale, and he asked about it.”
Mark texted Lauren a picture of the for-sale sign, which had been up since 2015. “At that time, I was thinking of buying a bar in Key West,” says Lauren, who was living in the Pacific Northwest.
“We decided to put together a low-ball offer,” she continues. The owners came very close to their offer, and the rest is brewery history. The siblings financed the purchase, as well as a new production facility they refer to as the “Brewery Barn.” Lauren moved back to Michigan and they broke ground on the beer-lover’s jewel, located in the center of town, in May of 2022.
Today, the “Barn” stands right next to the restaurant, where an old garage once was. “We can now produce more beer and more styles of beer,” Lauren explains. “We now have the capability to do small batches of unique beers in the basement and our signature beers in the larger facility.” Signature beers include West Coast IPA, Pilsner, and Hefeweizen. Smaller batches might include Oatmeal Stout, Kona Coffee Stout, and Pumpkin Spice. “The basement brewery is still there, and we do specialty brews there like Coconut Porter and Lady Lavender,” Lauren says.
Mark, who lives in Shelby, visits the brewery regularly. “Mark is good at helping to keep the place maintained. I have a crew, but I often cook and bar-tend,” Lauren says. The siblings also work the room.
As for food, Lauren says the facility serves friendly, gastro pub-style food such as charbroiled burgers, flatbreads, sandwiches, and salads. “We’re known for our Brussels sprouts and fried pretzels,” she shares, adding that the secret to the sprouts is to flash-cook them and then add a balsamic glaze with fresh shredded parmesan seasoning.
“We put in a charbroiler, a hood, a range, and a fryer. That’s a significant investment. We wanted to get a full kitchen going and we wanted to offer charbroiled burgers,” Lauren explains.
The beer mecca has quite a following these days, and at peak season, some 30 people make up the friendly staff. Not only is there plenty of room indoors, but the brewery also welcomes guests outdoors during spring, summer, and fall. “We can seat about 125 outside and 48 inside,” Lauren says.
Along the way, the Formicolas discovered that the old 1900 farmhouse has a bit of Thumb-area history. It was once known as the Quinn house and, in that family’s honor (there are a lot of Quinns in the area still), the siblings — thanks to the astute skills of brewer Nick Bowlby — offer a signature red ale known as Quinn’s Irish Red. It was the first batch made in the new brewing facility. With 28 taps and 12 styles of their craft beer, great musical entertainment (everything from classic rock to Indie folk), and beefy chargrilled burgers, it’s no wonder the place has a regular following.
For those looking for gluten-free options, there’s always a cider on tap from Blake’s or Vander Mill, as well as wine and other offerings.
The Formicola siblings aim to keep using a lot of Michigan-based ingredients if they can. “We buy Michigan hops from North Kinde Hops nearby, and we make Kinde Hop IPA. We have the best margarita in the Thumb, and our Anteel tequila is produced in the Detroit area.”
A large patio (the largest in the Thumb, Lauren says), brightly colored blue and yellow umbrellas, round tables where large parties can sit, a mural, and other charming elements add to the brewery’s cheery ambience.
Lauren says she’s starting to see a lot of repeat customers. That includes Fred and Jenn Meier.
“My favorite food is the walleye sandwich,” Jenn says. “It’s outstanding, with a blackened taste and with a crispy kind of kale. And we always have the pretzel bites,” Jenn says. “Those are addicting!”
“We want people to know about what some call ‘The Forgotten Coast,’ ” Lauren says. With the fresh brews and great gastro offerings — including those easy-to-get-hooked-on pretzels — it’s a sure bet that this place won’t soon be forgotten.