What’s in a Name
Back Forty Beer Company’s name is inspired by an old agricultural term referring to the 40 acres of land situated furthest from the barn. The back 40 acres are historically the most challenging land to maintain and are often overlooked due to their remote location.
Likewise, Alabama is widely seen as the wasteland for craft beer in America. With mass produced light beer being the drink of choice for many Southerners, the craft beer market here has been largely ignored.
However, if you dig a little deeper into the story of the back 40 you will see that because the soil is rarely used, it’s very fertile and is actually capable of producing a tremendous yield. And just like the farm, the Deep South’s craft beer culture is fertile and primed for harvest.
In 2008 it was illegal to produce or sell a beer in the state of Alabama that exceeded 6% ABV. This eliminated dozens of beer styles that are commonly offered by craft breweries everywhere.
It was also illegal to operate a tasting room at the brewery or sell beer directly to the public. And even worse, it was illegal to package beer in a container larger than 16 ounces….. You guessed it, no bombers!
And to this day, it’s illegal for breweries to offer investment opportunities to anyone owning a restaurant or distributor within the State, which makes it really difficult for a small business to raise the critical funding necessary to grow and expand.
The Start of Something Special
In 2008, after several years in the corporate world and with over 150 brewery tours under his belt, founder Jason Wilson reached out to renowned Brewmaster Jamie Ray and asked for his help in developing the recipes for Back Forty Beer Company.
The goal for the liquid was simple—to expose Southerners to the same craft beer culture that Wilson had been a part of for the last ten years. This meant starting out with classic beer styles and evolving with customers along the way. Jamie agreed and in January of 2009 he would become Back Forty’s first employee.
The next challenge to overcome was raising the money necessary to build a brewery. Resources were limited, and at one point it looked like the project may have to be put on hold due to lack of funding. As a last resort, Wilson reached out to a microbrewery in the neighboring state of Mississippi and asked them if it would be possible to use their space to help get Back Forty’s beers to the market and hopefully build some momentum that would assist in securing the funds needed to build Back Forty’s own facility.
In June of 2009, Back Forty released its first offering, Naked Pig Pale Ale. The beer was only available in the North-Central Alabama home market, but the response was overwhelming, and in March of 2010 the second Back Forty offering hit the shelves, Truck Stop Honey Brown Ale.
Later that year Truck Stop Honey was awarded a Silver Medal at the Great American Beer Festival, and in the weeks following, distribution offers poured in that would allow Back Forty to expand its coverage throughout Alabama.
This was the spark needed to secure a Small Business loan and begin sourcing equipment for Back Forty’s own facility.
If You Build It, They Will Come
From the beginning, the Back Forty team had been amazed by the positive impact that micro breweries have on their communities. And having grown up in a blue collar town that was chewed up and spit out by the industrial revolution, it didn’t take long for Wilson to settle on Gadsden as the permanent home for Back Forty Beer Company.
Back Forty secured a 27,000 Sq. Ft. warehouse that was built in the 1940’s, and Back Forty’s four employees spent eleven months working themselves and with contractors restoring the space and installing equipment. This included working through dozens of regulations and restrictions that have been in place in the Deep South since the repeal of prohibition.
After ten years of countless challenges and the overwhelming support of the Gadsden community, Back Forty brewed its first production batch of beer at its new home in January of 2012. This also marked the release of two new Back Forty offerings, Freckle Belly IPA and Kudzu Porter.
By March of 2012 Back Forty had received distribution offers from as far away as California & New York and demand was exceeding the ability to keep up.
Back Forty Today
Back Forty now employs 20 talented individuals from all over the country. Since January 2012 capacity has tripled at the brewery. And last year (2014) Back Forty donated over $20,000 to local charities while strengthening the network of artists and dreamers who are changing the cultural landscape in The Deep South.