Where: Back Forty Beer C0, 200 North 6th Street, Gadsden, AL, (256) 467-4912.
How to find them: if your GPS gets confused like mine did, head to Blackstone Pub and Eatery on Broad Street, turn right onto 6th St and as you head towards the train tracks you will see Back Forty right in front of you.
Back40, regenerating downtown Gadsden
Their history, while interesting and well worth a read, is not why I visited Back Forty. I came to Gadsden to catch up with the brewery staff on where they are now, and how they are impacting their home town. The answer is “quite considerably”: since Back Forty set up operations at these premises in 2010, Gadsden’s historic business district has seen a renaissance and is now at 93% business occupancy. For a former steel town in a very pretty part of rural Alabama, 93% business occupancy on their Main Street is an achievement worth crowing about. I am not being subjective when I refer to this are as very pretty: the area is contains nationally recognised natural landscape areas including Little River Canyon, Noccalula Falls, and Lookout Mountain.
So, what is this small business that is having such a huge impact on the local economy? At the local level there is tremendous pride in Back40 – they have won the County Small Business of the Year award and helped regenerate the entire downtown area. Not content with this achievement, Back40 was the first Alabama brewery to distribute out of state, sending tasty brews to Mississippi. Don’t worry, Alabama – 90% of their brews are sold in-state, with Birmingham and Mobile being the biggest markets.
The brewery fits the Brewers’ Association definition of a “regional” brewery – annual production between 15,000 and 6mn barrels. Alabama having one regional brewery is a startling achievement, the fact that we have two (Good People in Birmingham) is a tribute to the passion of the brewers, the quality of their product, and the explosive growth in the craft beer market since Free the Hops piloted the ABV change in 2009. The taproom, which no doubt hugely helps the local regeneration, is open 5pm to 7pm Monday to Friday, and 3pm to 8pm on Saturdays. Continuing their theme of local pride, photographs and art from local artists is on prominent display in the taproom. “Will paint for beer” should be on the walls!
There is one indicator in a food or beverage business that shows how they approach things – when you walk in the door of the restroom. The Back40 mens’ restroom is clean, well lit, appropriately decorated, and smells clean. This is a very good state of affairs, and pleased me immensely. Then again, knowing the Back40 folks like I do, this also came as no surprise – they are extremely passionate about what they do, so no detail goes overlooked. If you have the opportunity to speak with Jason Wilson, Trip Collins, Jamie Ray, or really anyone who works here, be prepared to have your ear talked off. The crew here are justifiably proud of what they have done, and you should give them a chance to brag about it 🙂
Now for the serious business: their beer. Back40 have a fantastic line-up of regular, easy drinking beers that lend themselves easily to food pairings. Feel free to ignore what I say here and experiment with your own pairings….
TRUCK STOP HONEY BROWN – 6% ABV
Appearance: a pleasing light golden brown.
Smell: the honey comes through very clearly due to its late addition at the end of the boil – all the honey aromatics are retained.
Taste: The honey sweetness presents on the middle of the tongue with the hop bite on the edge of the tongue.
Food pairings: cookout. Whatever you put on the grill, Truck Stop will work with it.
NAKED PIG PALE ALE – 6% ABV
Appearance: clear golden color.
Smell: bright, piney Cascade hops.
Taste: malt sweetness leads to a broad hop bite.
Aftertaste: clean, crisp bitterness.
Food pairings: barbecue, Mexican, mild curries, mild Cheddar.
KUDZU PORTER – 5.5% ABV
Appearance: mahogany brown.
Smell: chocolate and coffee.
Taste: Chocolate, coffee, restrained bitterness.
Aftertaste: hop bitterness and chocolate.
Food pairings: dessert! Chocolate cake, cheesecake, whatever you would have coffee with.
FRECKLE BELLY IPA – 7.5% ABV
Appearance: like pine wood – an appealing golden color.
Smell: Citrus and tropical fruits from the Cascade and Centennial hops.
Taste: sweet tropical fruit balanced by a broad bitterness.
Aftertaste: very clean, no lingering bitterness.
Food pairings: pull out the heat. Spicy chili, hot curries, Buffalo wings at “volcano” level – bring in the hurt, salve it with the IPA!