A typical brew day starts at 6:30 a.m. for Andrew Thomas, founder of Starving Artist Brewing Co. in Ludington. A short commute across his lawn brings him to a small red barn, the home of his unconventional brewhouse. For the next six to eight hours he brews his beer, operating the tubes and tanks mainly on his own, producing up to 500 gallons a week. A single room holds the hot liquor tank, mash tun, boil kettle and fermenter tanks—a warm, steamy cloud hanging near the ceiling whenever a new batch is in the works.
Starving Artist opened in June 2015 and has grown immensely in popularity despite its small three-barrel brewing system. Though the location of the brewery is kept somewhat mysterious with little advertising and signage, enough people have discovered it to keep the tasting room busy, so book a tour ahead of time (open Friday and Saturday from 12–5 p.m.).
Before the creation of Starving Artist, Andrew ran A.M. Galleries in downtown Ludington for over a decade. Eventually, he decided he needed a change, and followed his passion for craft beer, a journey that started at Jamesport Brewing Company. Mentored by Tom Buchanan, known to many locals as the “beer father,” Andrew fell in love with the brewing community, a group of people who collaborate rather than compete.
Andrew started making his own beer right in his home basement about 10 years ago. It started as a huge mess, and the beer was unpalatable; however, “It was science. I made it, and it was awesome,” he says. His drive to improve never ceased, and today his beer is distributed all across the western side of Michigan’s lower peninsula. Andrew’s wife came up with the brewery idea, and his brother-in-law came up with the name Starving Artist, telling him, “That’s what you are anyway.” He loved the concept and ran with it.
Andrew started with traditional brewing styles but also experiments with flavors like lavender honey and blood orange—this brewmaster isn’t afraid to try something new. The small scale of the brewery allows him to experiment, a key concept of Starving Artist. “I don’t actively pursue being a large brewery. I dig being small,” he says. Right now, Andrew is focusing on maintaining consistency, which is extremely hard for such a small brewhouse.
Being small also keeps the brewhouse local. Andrew buys the majority of his hops from the farm right across the street, though he enjoys experimenting with hops from different regions. Ninety percent of Starving Artist beer is on draft, but some cans are sold locally in the Mason County area.
One of the more popular sellers is Hop Marley, a double IPA with a “boat load of hops” that drinks like a much smaller IPA. Another is Blood Forge, which was originally created for the band Heartsick out of Lansing, but unexpectedly became a huge success. The secret is the blood orange juice placed in the fermenter to give the beer its special flavor.
Consisting of three main rooms, Starving Artist is definitely compact: a tasting station for visitors, the brewing room and a storage room. With no windows in the barn, Andrew decided to invite some of his artist friends to decorate the walls and make the place feel more alive. “I don’t care what you paint. I want something fun,” he told them. The variety of murals and painting styles add to the good vibes.
Only three men are behind the entire Starving Artist operation. Andrew is the main brewer, day in and day out. Jerry Bromley, a “jack of all trades” helps in crafting new styles of beer and graphic designer Chris Vanwyck created the logos for the company.
Like a true artist, “you have to know the rules to break the rules,” and Andrew lives by this motto. Beer is all about science: the right timing and temperature, the chloride to sulfide ratios, the amount of hops. But Andrew has a “What if we do it this way?” attitude when it comes to beer. Since he knows the rules, he plays around with the recipes. Some of his concoctions have turned out surprisingly delicious. Others, he admits, have been dumped down the drain. He is in constant search of a better product, always looking at how he can make a good beer even better.