Cedar Rustic Inn will become Big Cat Brewing Company

By Jacob Wheeler
Sun editor

Sometime within the next few months, Cedar Rustic Inn will officially adopt the name Big Cat Brewing Company, as owners Aaron and Nikki Ackley transition their cozy, popular restaurant just north of Cedar into a brewpub. The metamorphosis has been five years in the making, as chef Aaron became more interested in microbrews and decided he wanted to broaden the restaurant’s appeal to also include the millennials and young professionals who have grown more visible in the Traverse City region.

“The inspiration was my continuing appreciation of craft brews and my ever improving abilities as a home brewer,” said Aaron. “We also wanted a new and interesting challenge. We had been doing the same thing here for almost 10 years and really needed to make things more interesting for ourselves and our guests. … Brewing has also made me get more excited about our food and to try some new things in the kitchen.”

Like ripples in a pond, Northern Michigan’s microbrewery scene is spreading from Traverse City into the surrounding rural counties. Stormcloud Brewing Company opened in 2013 in Frankfort, Northport Brewing came in 2014, Hop Lot opened this past May in Suttons Bay, and Lake Ann Brewing Company followed suit in June.

From Traverse City to Benzie to Leelanau, cheers!

“We feel very excited to be part of the mainstreaming of brewing out here in the county,” said Aaron. “What we bring to the beer market here is a destination for both craft brews and full service dining.”

Here’s what won’t change about the Ackleys’ restaurant: the food. They are adamant about that. Big Cat will remain a full service restaurant but one that produces and serves its own beer. “After nearly 26 years in kitchens (including nearly a decade at Cedar Rustic Inn), cooking is so deeply ingrained into my being that I could never give it up,” said Aaron.

The menu will undergo slight changes, in addition to those already made last spring. The Ackleys contracted the full entrée offerings by two items and expanded the small plate and shareable offerings by three items — perfect sized portions to accompany a pint. Devoted clientele in and around Cedar will be happy to know that lunch will remain pretty much the same as it has been, and Big Cat will continue to serve breakfast on weekends during the off-season months.

Big Cat Brewing Company will carry six varieties of beer, and Aaron hopes to increase the list to 10 by next spring. Already on tap are “The Crowd Pleaser” blonde ale, “Mine, mine, mine!” a Citra hopped pale ale, “Greyfriar’s Bobby” a Scottish wee heavy ale, “Cloudy with a Chance of Berries” a blackberry/blueberry ale, and “Lord Mutton Chops” a British extra special bitter.

Aaron’s preference is toward classic British and American brews, but he’s not afraid to play around with adding fruits to his beers. An apricot kolsch and fig brown may appear on the menu. Hops for his brew comes from the Empire Hops Farm on M-72. He will also brew with well water, without the need for any purification or brewing additives. Their well is 74 feet deep and draws from a local aquifer.

“We love being able to get so many high quality hops from our peninsula and take pride in being able to make local beers with local hops. Now we just need a local maltster!”

“As I practice the art of brewing in the months and years to come, I would love to play around with more experimental beers,” Aaron added.

Those who prefer the Cedar Rustic Inn’s cozy tables and cozy meals need not fret. The restaurant’s interior won’t get a radical makeover. Last spring the Ackleys added a partition to separate the front pub from the more formal dining room. This winter the pub area may add more bar stools, a dartboard, different lighting and perhaps another television. Eventually, the pub section might feature live music in the evenings. The dining room and outdoor seating area won’t change.

Big Cat Brewing Company (which as of yet is still called the Cedar Rustic Inn) will continue to serve breakfast at 9 a.m. on the weekends and open at 11 a.m. during the week, except for being closed on Mondays and Tuesdays through the winter.