Gadsden’s Back Forty Brewing Company has a mission: to encourage beer lovers to pair its brews with Alabama Gulf Seafood and other fine local foods. You probably pop open a cold can to go with your boiled shrimp already, but Back Forty wants to take pairing to the next level. They’re partnering with Alabama Gulf Seafood at public events around the region to spread the word, and I’m here to help.
I had the good fortune to sit down not long ago to talk beer and seafood with Jason Wilson, founder and President of Back Forty, and Chris Blankenship, Director of the Marine Resources Division at the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources. They’re united in a quest to see more Alabamians eat and drink “local” and to demand more local products from our favorite bars and restaurants.
I’m going to violate the rule that I don’t write about food just long enough to pose this question: Do you think to ask your servers where the seafood they’re serving comes from?
Personally, I admit I haven’t. I’ve tended to assume the seafood on my plate was caught locally, but Blankenship wanted this columnist and my readers to know we should not assume.
The shrimp in your tacos might’ve logged more flight miles than you’d like to count. Were they farmed in the Far East, frozen and shipped? Quite possibly, and if we care about supporting local industry we need to ask.
Wilson, for his part, wants to brew what he calls “entry-level craft beers with a culinary focus.”
He and the folks at Back Forty are brewing their own interpretations of classic beer styles and giving them a local flair, both in their names and flavors. He hopes to encourage folks who might otherwise reach for a macro-brew to give craft beer a whirl, safe in the knowledge that he won’t take them in over their heads just yet.
Freckle Belly IPA is just one example of the local flair Jason aims for. It’s named after a trout native to the Cahaba River. I fell head-over-hops in love with this full-bodied brew at the Dauphin Street Beer Fest two summers ago. It’s got a rich, golden color and a vibrant citrus-pine aroma practically jumping out of the glass. But while it’s hoppy and dry — incorporating five hop varieties for Pete’s sake — it won’t knock you over and it tastes great with almost anything you’d lay on a grill.
Back Forty’s Truck Stop Honey Brown Ale continues the Alabama theme by using honey sourced only from local apiaries in the brew. Can you imagine buying honey by the barrel? Well, Back Forty can and does — buying Alabama wildflower honey gathered by busy bees around Hokes Bluff, east of Gadsden.
Fence Post is Back Forty’s new session ale, introduced earlier this year with an ABV of only 4.5 percent. Wilson says he chose the name because he saw fences as long-ago gathering points, where neighbors might stop their work, lean on their elbows and have a chat.
Brewed with four malt varieties and one type of hops, its taste will appeal to those liking a smoother, less bitter beer. (For you statistics junkies, it scores 23 International Bitterness Units — while Freckle Belly rings the bell at 65. ‘Nuff said.)
Later this year Back Forty will release a new Double IPA called Hog Choker, named after another native-Alabama fish, one bigger and feistier than the Freckle Belly.
For dark-beer lovers, Back Forty offers Kudzu Porter, with no kudzu in the brew, sadly, but dark-roasted grain imparting chocolate-coffee bitterness and aromas. Back Forty’s brewers make an accurate, if corny, point when they say, “it may grow on you.”
Even the name “Back Forty” is a metaphor for Alabama. Wilson told me it was inspired by the term farmers used to refer to the 40 acres of land situated farthest from the barn — typically challenging land to maintain and therefore often neglected.
But because of neglect, ironically, the soil in those 40 acres was actually extremely fertile and capable of amazing yields. Likewise, Alabama has often been seen as a wasteland for American craft beer — Back Forty was one of only two breweries in the state when Jason founded it in early 2009.
He had determined, though, that the prospect for craft beer culture in the deep South was fertile and if cultivated properly, would produce a hefty harvest.
Now if you’re wondering whether you can buy Back Forty locally, the answer is absolutely yes. It’s available on tap all around the Mobile Bay area, in bottles at many package stores and wine shops and it even began appearing in cans back in March.
Wilson said he’s excited about can technology, which extends the shelf-life of unpasteurized beers and helps ensure he can avoid adding the name “skunk” anywhere in his future crafty lineup.
If you’d rather visit the Back Forty Beer Company’s taproom, though, there is only one —at 200 North 6th St. in Gadsden. It’s open for a couple of hours Wednesday and Thursday evenings and for a few more hours on Friday and Saturday. Wilson said the taproom is not meant to be a huge money generator, it’s there more for community outreach and can be rented for charity events. I plan to drop by, the next time I’m in Upper Alabama, and I’ll let you know what I find.
In the meantime, check out Back Forty’s website for the most beer-pairing recipes I’ve ever seen on a brewer’s site, including peach beignets featuring Paw Paw’s Peach wheat beer.
While you’re online, surf over to eatalabamaseafood.com for some outstanding Alabama Gulf Seafood recipes to pair with your beer. I’m thinking the Famous Alabama Deep Sea Fishing Rodeo Gumbo Pizza would go great with a Freckle Belly IPA. If you create a pairing you’re proud of, give me a shout and I’ll include it in a future column.