Back Forty Brewing, Gadsden, Alabama
Jason Wilson, Owner/Operator
Jamie Ray, Brew Master
Gadsden Alabama is not known for beer, yet. Located in North East Alabama with a population around 40,000 people, Gadsden is better know for its proximity to Weiss Lake and world famous Crappy fishing, the Coosa River, Noccalula Falls,and Lookout Mountain. It is a blue-collar city where a cold bud/miller/coors is most likely to be the beer of choice. However Jason Wilson and his team at Back Forty Brewing are aiming to change all that. According to Jason, he and his partner Zach Folmar were inspired to come up with a plan for a microbrewery on a trip out west to Colorado, after visiting the local brewpub in Crested Butte. Jason and Zach both attended the University of Auburn with Trip Collins who is the Director of Operations. They were fond of craft beer as they had all been to the local brewpub The Olde Auburn Alehouse and had met Jamie Ray the Olde Auburn Brewmaster.
The timeline for the birth of Back Forty Brewing starts in 2007 after Jason and Zach’s return from Colorado. They contacted Jamie Ray who was at that point not only brewing in Auburn, but also in Montgomery, Alabama at the now closed Montgomery Brewing Company, better known by locals as “The Brew Pub”, where he took home the 2008 GABF Silver medal for English-style Summer Ale, Montgomery Blonde. That followed up a Silver Medal as the brewer for the Olde Auburn Alehouse at the GABF in 2005 for his Catch Her in the Rye. Jamie and his wife had moved to Alabama from south Florida, where Jamie had brewed for several companies including Titanic Brewing, Del Sol Brewing and at Hammerhead Brewing in Key West as well as a stint at the Clevelander Hotel. His wife had been offered a great job opportunity and they felt like leaving South Florida was the best thing to do for the family. The couple moved to a farm outside of Montgomery where they currently raise quarter horses. Jamie went a few years without brewing professionally in Alabama until he landed the job at Olde Auburn Ale House. While at Olde Auburn he honed his skills on the smaller seven barrel system and made great strides into the local brewing communities. For example in 2004 offering anyone that came to the brewery on National Homebrew day and assisted got to take home 5 gallons of Hop Juice IPA wort to ferment! He then secured a job at Montgomery Brewing where he continued to bring the state of Alabama more award winning ales and lagers. At the 2006 Montgomery Beer Can Show hosted by the Bama Cannas Chapter, Jamie held a Pale Ale tasting session and poured beers from Montgomery Brewing.
The offer from Jason at Back Forty was a perfect fit for Jamie. The opportunity to brew at a full time production facility was a great move. Once the Jamie joined the Back Forty team they started on recipe formulation. It took two pilot brews to get the Truck Stop Honey Brown Ale recipe perfect. Jamie had very good results in the past brewing this style, but more on the beers later. In 2009 the team founded the company officially in Birmingham and secured distribution channels throughout the state of Alabama with the Anheuser-Busch network. The Lazy Magnolia Brewing Company in Kiln, Mississippi started as the contract brewer for the company’s first two releases.
The first is Naked Pig Pale Ale 6%ABV brewed with Simcoe and Cascade hops to 34 IBU, with American 2 Row and Munich malts. Beeradvocate . The beer pours a pale golden to orange color, has a nice light head, medium bodied with beady biscut malty notes in the taste. The hops come through as one would expect in an American Pale Ale with floral, grapefruit and citrus notes, and a nice level of bitterness.
The second beer is Truck Stop Honey Brown 6% ABV brewed with Willamette and Magnum hops to a low level of bitterness as is appropriate for the style. The malts in the grist are 2 Row, Honey malt, Crystal and chocolate with late kettle additions of Alabama Wildflower honey for sweetness. Beeradvocate . The beer pours a brilliant light copper to chestnut brown, has a pleasing sweet aroma with slight nuttiness from the sparing use of chocolate malt. The beer is very clean and easy drinking, not too heavy nor too light. This one is a great beer to share with friends that are new to the craft beer scene and should do well for Back Forty Brewing in Alabama and all over the Southeast. Not surprising Truck Stop Honey Brown also brought home the brewery its first GABF medal with a Silver in 2010 in the Specialty Honey Beer category. Next up will be releases of Frecklebelly IPA and Kudzo Porter once the facility is fully operational.
So with beer flowing from the brewery in Mississippi and the distribution network secured Jason and his team set out to not only strengthen these relationships with the wholesalers and retailer, but also to get a full production brewery built and operational in his hometown of Gadsden, Alabama. Jason and the team toured many breweries around the county before deciding on a 30 barrel system from ABT Allied Beverage Tanks. The system has a capacity to do 3,000 barrels per year with five 30 barrel fermenters and one 30 barrel bright tank for packaging. These were delivered in late August of 2011 to the facility in Gadsden. Plans are to add more capacity in the Spring of 2012 with two 60 barrel fermenter and one 60 barrel bright tank. Production has ramped up from 800 barrels in 2010 to an expected 1,500 in 2011. All of this has been draft and bottle sales through out the entire state of Alabama, and in fact Jason will point out that Back Forty is the only craft beer brewed in Alabama that is distributed throughout the entire state.
The building that Back Forty is located was formally a Sears repair center for the entire Southeast. If your appliance broke down and needed repair work that was more than the local repairman could fix, it got shipped to this location. It is located just a few blocks off the main street in downtown Gadsden, and a quick walk across the parking lot and a street puts you at the back enterance of Jefferson’s Restaurant where you can enjoy a pint or pitcher of one of the brews! The building is made of brick, has loading docks on either end of the facility, and plenty of space for all of the operations needed at a brewery.
Jason and Jamie have planned out the space so that it utilizes process work-flow that makes sense. The coolers have been designed to make for ease of inventory turn, first in/first out, and to aide in product movement through the packaging process with entry doors near the packaging area and exits by the loading docks. Back Forty will have a Tasting Room at the front of the building as Alabama has recently changed the laws in the state to allow for tastings after tours. However they will not be able to sell you a growler or a 6-pack “to go.” In fact current Alabama law does not allow for beer to be sold in a container size over 16 oz., nor does it allow for home brewing. Plans are to have a barrel room added do to barrel aging and bottle conditioning (think Sierra Nevada, a great example of bottle conditioned beer).
Back Forty has already established its name and its brands in the state of Alabama, and now that it is adding its own production facility headed by an excellent brewer in Jamie Ray they are well on their way to a store near you as they look to expand distribution in the Southeast
We tried the beers in Gadsden after the great tour we were given and loved them – great job!