Sampler at Big Woods
A prominent thread in the tapestry of Brown County culture is the locally-produced handmade crafts. Perhaps it goes back to the handmade Bohall Hickory-split baskets the first tourists used to carry Orchard Hill apples back to the city—when fruit and handcrafts were among the few things here to buy.
Now all kinds of things are now made here by Brown County craftspeople: baskets, bowls, birdhouses, blankets, rugs, rustic chairs, clay pots, dishes, shoes, handbags, hats, fudge, socks, jewelry, stained glass, art, musical instruments…. There’s even “Brown County coffee” (was that Juan Valdez I saw up there on “Rattlesnake Ridge”?)—and now, craft-brewed beer.
Big Woods Brewing Company, at 60 Molly’s Lane, is the latest thing in Nashville, a Bavarian-looking timberframe brew house restaurant and bar with five locally-brewed beer styles on tap and weekly food specials ranging from pan-seared Indiana duck to Chef Emily’s “Yumbalaya Jumbalaya.”
Founded by Tim O’Bryan, Ed Ryan, and Jeff McCabe, the start-up micro brewery is already planning for expansion “in a valiant effort to meet demand for our brew.”
I did not go unprepared. From my incomparable staff down here at the Sampler, I brought along my personal Brewmeister, a beer and wine making hobbyist, the current artist-in-residence, my Caribbean Cook/designated driver, along with my always lovely Kitchen Companion, and the Brewmeister’s Able Assistant. We took the big table by the front window and enjoyed a relaxed evening of fun and food together.
Regular readers of these pages will know of my fondness for the dark stout ale, nobler spawn of the ancient and mysterious “Porter” beer, which apparently evolved in Britain in the 1700’s from a blend of “ale,” “beer,” and “twopenny,” also known in combination as “Entire.” The lower-gravity Porters evolved into Mild ales, while the fuller-bodied versions came to be known as Stouts. Earlier reconnaissance had established that “Tim’s Big Woods Stout” would be available that night, and my taste buds were set for an imperial pint or two of the dark, roasted, bitter, full-flavored goodness.
Of course that’s just my own personal affliction. Also available were the “Possum Trot Pale,” and the “Busted Knuckle Red” (which I sampled and found excellent). Also, a “Six Foot Blonde” which I had been warned about (not the first time I’d been warned away from a big blonde), and which allegedly has a cult following whose mission it is to identify the special ingredient involved. An interesting challenge, but I don’t like pale ales. We raised a toast to the brewer’s art and, as the evening progressed, to our health and many other things.
We had come for the beer of course, but the menu was also most attractive for an evening out with friends and family.
I started with some appetizers: the spicy Buffalo wings served with bleu cheese and celery sticks. You can also get sweet and spicy teriyaki. They’re grilled right out back, if you want to amble out and see what kind of a scald they’re getting on your wings.
Then Mrs. Sampler and I split a bowl of hearty, spicy Big Woods Stout Chili with red onions and cheddar cheese—perfect on a cold night.
Meanwhile, my Caribbean cook passed around samples of the spinach artichoke dip served with pita chips, sour cream, and Pico de Gallo.
Having had the foresight to bring along the designated driver, I ordered another pint of stout. My brewmeister acknowledged its quality, pronouncing it “as good as any home-brewed stout I’ve tasted.”
The appetizer selection also included a Rueben dip with corned beef, Swiss cheese, sauerkraut, and Thousand Island dressing, served warm with toasted rye bread; barbecued pulled pork nachos topped with spicy black beans, corn, cheddar cheese, diced tomatoes, onions, fresh cilantro, jalapenos, and a wedge of lime; or a freshly baked pretzel with cheese dip or spicy aioli.
BWBC offers a spinach salad with bacon, cranberries, walnuts, feta, red onions, and croutons and a chicken salad with seedless red grapes, celery, green onions, topped with walnuts and served on a bed of greens.
Sandwiches include the half-pound Angus Big Woods burger, a pulled pork sandwich with spicy horseradish sauce topped with sliced onion, and a grilled Portabella mushroom sandwich topped with mozzarella, roasted red peppers, caramelized onions, sliced tomato, and avocado spread.
We opted for a very tasty pizza, a twelve-inch crispy-thin crusted split-level pie with pineapple and pulled pork on one side and pepperoni, green pepper, red onions, olives, and mushrooms on the other, all topped with cheddar and mozzarella cheese.
It was delicious.
They also had cheesecake and other dessert-y trifles. I was beyond all that.
I ordered another stout and ruminated on the history of the ancient Porter, basked in the simple joy of food and fun around a family table, and wondered about all those Brown County craftsmen who came before, who had a vision, or, at the least, worked with a purpose.
I looked out into the night and sipped my dark beer, watching the reflection of the happy little pub in the now-darkened window, and I must admit, I was profoundly satisfied.