BY LIZ JOSS
It’s 10:30 a.m. on a Sunday, and Jeff McCabe, co-owner and public face of Big Woods Brewing Company, sits at the bar, yukking it up over Facebook photos of The Big Lebowski Festival the brewery sponsored the night before. He’s wearing a red-and-black plaid shirt with jeans, and looks like he could use a shave and a haircut. He invites me to join him in a “breakfast stout.” Is that a Brown County thing?
Not really. McCabe’s not from around here — or anywhere, he says, because his father was a traveling salesman. McCabe was one of only four English majors in his class at the U.S. Naval Academy (hence the brewery tagline “Quaff On!” which he appropriated from Chaucer). After graduation, he flew helicopters for the Navy, then climbed the corporate ladder for years in Europe, Asia, Texas, and Georgia. Then 9/11 happened and in the aftermath of that cataclysmic event, McCabe decided he wanted to be more “self-directed.”
He and his Hoosier-born wife, September, were already building a home and investing in real estate in Nashville in preparation for their eventual retirement, so they shortened the timeline. McCabe owned a timber-frame company and The Allison House Inn in Nashville.
McCabe’s son-in-law Tim O’Bryan (a Big Woods co-owner), was running The Allison House and brewing a little beer for the guests. Over a few of those beers one day, the trio decided to start a brewery in that restaurant space. They ran out of beer three days after it opened.
That was four years ago. Now they own the original restaurant, plus a pizza parlor and shops in the compound now known as Big Woods Village. They have gotten serious about distributing their beer, dubbed Quaff On! With a current manufacturing capacity of 49 barrels, they can bottle about 16,000 12-ounce beers.
They also are opening a Quaff On! Bloomington location in the former Café Django space on North Grant Street. McCabe says when it opens, it will offer a small-plate menu, 24 craft beers on tap, and live entertainment.
“A quaint microbrewery in a tourist town is one thing. But the Big Woods Village and the manufacturing facility are something different altogether,” McCabe says. His goal is to turn what originated as a small Nashville enterprise into “the number one craft beer brand in Bloomington within 12 months.”
Or maybe that’s just the breakfast stout talking.