Alabama Brewery Tour: Back Forty Beer Company – Gadsden
Over the past few years the demand for craft beer has increased tremendously and with that, the number of breweries has steadily increased and Alabama is staking their claim.
According to the Brewer’s Association, the number of craft brewers has risen from 8 in 1980, to 537 in 1994, and finally, over 2300 in 2012. The Association also states, “As of June1, 2013 there are more than 1,500 breweries in development in the US. Craft brewers operate in 344 congressional districts and the majority of Americans live within 10 miles of a brewery.”
As a consumer and home brewer, I’ve noticed this increase when buying beer these days just by the increase in selection which has doubled and, in some case, even tripled in some stores. A few retailers have even expanded to a “build your own six pack” section for those of us who relish the thought of sampling new brews. Brilliant news for me!
The current number of active breweries in the state of Alabama is around 17. They first saw a jolt in popularity in our state in the mid to late 90s with companies mainly based out of Birmingham and Auburn. Now the locations spread the length of the state from Fairhope to Huntsville.
Many breweries rent out space and equipment to other start-up companies in an effort to help out their fellow man and to continue the beer growth in their state. Back Forty is one of the brewers that received a helping hand for a few years from neighboring Lazy Magnolia Brewery in Kiln, Mississippi until finally settling in a historic building in downtown Gadsden, where they continue to operate today.
To give you some background here, on June 9, 2013, Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley signed the Brewery Modernization Act which allows breweries to sell on-premises like a brewpub, or to wholesalers, or to both. There is also no requirement for a brewery to operate a restaurant in order to sell beer on-premises.
I’d like to thank Tripp Collins, Director of Operations, for taking time out of his Saturday to show us around their facility. He took us from grain to glass. He even let us sample the chocolate malt that goes into making their Truckstop Honey and indulged our senses in a bucket of Cascade hops used in making my personal favorite, Freckle Belly.
We entered through their brewpub and started our tour with a few pints. From there, we went to the malt room where we’re shown a mill. A small green machine sitting solo in the middle of a gigantic white walled room.
The light fixtures and outlets, we found out, are bombproof. The reason for this is that many materials which are commonly known to oxidize can generate a dust explosion. Grain as it is being poured and ground can generate a dangerous dust cloud. There was a long length of PVC pipe running from the grinder to a hole at the top of the inner wall.
We then moved on to the warehouse and made our way through the fermentation vessels, serving tanks and bright tank. Learning along the way the process in which beer is made.
For home brewers like me, it’s basically the same thing we do at home, just on a massive scale and with more high tech equipment!
The tour then took us through a mountain of empty bottles only to end up in my favorite part, the keg cooler! We each got to raid the label room as well and grab a few before they were stuck to a bottle.
I was pleasantly surprised to find out that an outfit with such a large distribution was still internally a small company, employing around 20 people from all over the country. They still empty each 50lb. bag of malt into the malt grinder and run each bottle individually through the labeler.
Back Forty Beer Company is now the oldest brewery in the state and show no signs of throwing in the keg anytime soon. I’m a supporter of anything grown or made in this beautiful land of ours and am a proud fan of Back Forty and what they’re doing and what they will do to move the beer revolution forward as the represent Alabama.
We also got to eye spy a secret “home brew” batch Rye Saison while in the cooler!
I implore you to stop by their taproom the next time you’re in Gadsden or stop by tonight and grab an ice cold Back Forty!
Their four mainstays are:
Naked Pig – a medium bodied American Pale Ale
Truckstop Honey – a medium bodied English brown ale brewed with Wildflower Honey
Freckle Belly – a full-bodied India Pale Ale (IPA)
Kudzu Porter – a medium bodied porter brewed with a unique blend of roasted malts and fresh hops
Check out these others as well:
Fence Post – another fine tasting Session Ale
Truck Stop Honey Wildflower – available for a limited time
Michael’s Rice & Cane Ale – available only in the Back Forty taproom
You might also see one of their seasonal brews:
Seasonal Peach – Spring
Biere De Garde – Summer
Harvest Ale – Fall
Scotch Ale – Winter