It’s that time of year for revival meetings, and the Back Forty Beer Company will be right in the middle of action.
Located at 200 North 6th Street in Gadsden, the area’s only local microbrewery is hosting the inaugural Front Porch Revival Festival on Saturday, March 31.
According to sales director Brad Wilson, he and his colleagues wanted to put together a day of food, drink and music indigenous to the state of Alabama.
“This is by far the biggest thing we’ve done since we’ve been here. It’s kind of our coming-out party here in Gadsden. We kind of want to shine a spotlight on what we have to offer here. We just put on our concert promoter hats and threw ourselves into it.”
The event will feature locally-sourced, sustainable “slow-food” dishes presented by David Bancroft, the executive chef at Auburn’s Amsterdam Café; Tasia Malakasiss of the Belle Chevre creamery in Elkmont; Rob McDaniel, executive chef at the Springhouse Restaurant in Alexander City; and Graham Hage.
Bancroft will prepare a pork taco bar, while chef Maurelli will use a “Chinese Hot Box” to cook Cuban-style pork.
McDaniel will whip up some mudbugs, crawfish, homemade chicken sausage and corn and potatoes cooked in a traditional “low-country” boil. Malakasiss will unveil her internationally renowned goat cheese.
In addition, the Wickles family will present farm-fresh relishes and pickles.
Also available will be Back Forty’s own fresh hand-crafted Southern Ales brewed on site, including the company’s signature products in Naked Pig Pale Ale, Truck Stop Honey Brown Ale, Freckle Belly India Pale Ale and Kudzu Porter. There also will be a two-hour beer tasting event hosted in Back Forty’s taproom.
Doors open at 12:30 p.m., with the festival scheduled from 1 to 4 p.m. Admission is $20 per person in advance and $25 dollars at the door. Ticket price includes a one-year membership in The Front Porch Revival and a cold pint of the Back Forty beer of your choice.
Festival attendees will be granted free admission to a concert featuring Jason Isbell and The 400 Unit at 7:30 p.m. on the Back Forty Beer Company’s Garden Stage. Ben Sutton and Sam Lewis will open the show. Doors for the concert show will open at 4:30 p.m.Separate concert-only tickets will be available for $12 a person on day of the show.
Wilson indicated that the festival will be a family-friendly environment.
“You’re not coming to a bar. We won’t have much in the way of kids attractions but they’ll be plenty of food and there’s no smoking allowed.”
Wilson noted that the word ‘revival’ holds important significance in the Southeast, both in the spiritual and cultural sense.
“It’s in our DNA here in the Bible Belt, and the idea of a Sunday Supper is a big tradition. We’re kind of at a crossroads with our culture in the south, especially in Alabama, where old traditions are either going to be revived or lost. We want our generation not to forget where we came from and not let our culture get gobbled up in the globalization of the marketplace.”
The idea for Front Porch Re-vival was conceived shortly fo-llowing a benefit in Auburn for victims of the April 27 tornado outbreak.
“We already had dine a couple of beer dinners with Chef Leo, and he put together a relief effort called ‘Chefs to the Rescue,” said Wilson. “Some of the best chefs around were there, not just from the Southeast but from around the country.”
At the post-event receptions, Wilson found himself at a table with Bancroft, Malakasiss, McDaniel and Hot Fish Club of Birmingham executive chef Chris Hastings. Hastings recently won the reality cooking show “Iron Chef America.”
“We all agreed that we needed to make a group of just Alabama artisans,” said Wilson. “That was kind of the nebulous for what started it. We’ve has some informal dinners since then, and every time we met we were able to push the idea of this [festival] a little bit forward.
“The whole thing is based on all of us having the same values and wanting to keep Alabamians together. It basically was an alignment of people with like-minded values.”
Wilson pointed to the basic tenant of the “slow food/slow beer” movement – if it takes a significant amount of time and effort to cook a dish or create an ale, so be it.
“I think it indicates a paradigm shift, particularly in the Southeast, from these big macro beers into beers that are produced with care and with a focus on local ingredients. I think everyone that you’ll see at the Front Porch Revival Festival is proud of where they came from and are doing something to preserve it.”
According to the group’s facebook page, Front Porch Revival is “devoted to the promotion of those who craft unique food, drink, art and literature with a clear Alabama identity.”
“Me and my brother (and Back Forty co-founder and president) Jason often say that we love people who work their whole lives to build and create one thing,” said Wilson. “Here at the brewery we call it ‘From Grains to the Glass.’ Just being able to touch the ingredients all through the process gives us a great sense of satisfaction. We like to call it liquid folk art.”
Back Forty received its liquor permits in late July of 2010 and began production shortly thereafter. Wilson pointed out that the City of Gadsden has been and continues to be extremely accommodating.
“Almost to a man, we’ve had nothing but a welcoming spirit, from the city council to the mayor’s office to the chief of police to the sheriff’s department. It’s really been inspiring to see how everyone’s thanked us for bringing jobs and industry to Gadsden. It’s really been heartwarming to see such and outpouring of support.”
The Wilson brothers and Back Forty Director of Operations Tripp Collins are impressed with the revitalization of the downtown district. A 1997 Southside High graduate, Brad Wilson remembers a time when the downtown area wasn’t so welcoming.
“Jason and I were born and raised in Gadsden, and to see how far it’s come is really amazing. We’ve been overwhelmed by what Kay Moore and Lisa Osborne and DGI have done, and it’s something that we wanted to be a part of.”
Opened in early February, Back Forty’s taproom is open Mondays through Thursdays from 5 – 7 p.m. and Fridays and Saturdays from 3 – 8 p.m.
Until Gov. Robert Bentley signed the Brewery Modernization Act in law last June, a microbrewery was not permitted to operate a taproom on premises.
Wilson stressed that a traditional taproom is a place that fulfilled a need for a community rather than a place to simply imbibe alcohol.
“A taproom is the truest sense of the old public house, which throughout our country’s history was a gathering place for the people in a town to come and discuss the events of the day. It was a place in which the much of business of a city got done, and we’d like to think that we’re fulfilling that niche for Gadsden. More than anything with craft beer, we’re literally selling one beer at a time. It really is a labor of love.”
Wilson said that Back Forty will continue to support such downtown establishments such as Blackstone Pub, Downtown Tavern and Jefferson’s who sold Back Forty products before the taproom was opened.
It’s not just the Gadsden area where the Back Forty brand is recognized, as the company di-stributes its ale in every major city in the state, including Birmingham, Mobile, Florence, Huntsville, Dothan, Montgomery, Dothan, Auburn and Tuscaloosa. Back Forty products may also be found at many Wal-Mart and Publix stores.
“You name a market, and we’re there,” said Wilson. “There are at least 25 to 30 locations around here where you can get our beer. A big part of what we do is giving people the opportunity to meet the people that brew their beer and to support a local business.”
Wilson pointed out that the company turned offers from other cities in the state that would have given Back Forty perks such as bigger tax incentives and rent-free buildings.
“We’re from Gadsden, and this is where we wanted to be,” he said.
Wilson said that brewing is a craft just like any other trade, noting that technique goes a long way in a beer or ale’s ultimate taste. He pointed out that Back Forty’s Jamie Ray is the one of the top brewmasters in the Southeast. Ray is the only Alabama brewer to win three Great American Beer Festival medals.
“Jamie’s honed his skills with over 20 years in the business and has won every medal that you can win at competitions,” said Wilson. “He comes to us with some really amazing recipes, and it’s just amazing to watch him do his thing. I can stand next to Jamie and learn more about brewing in 15 minutes then I knew in my entire life. He’s as good as it gets in the state of Alabama.”
Wilson also had high praise for his brother Jason, who was the driving force behind gathering enough capital to establish the company.
“Seeing Jason walk into a bank and secure the funds to build a million-dollar brewery in the middle of one of the biggest recessions this country’s ever seen was just amazing. You’ve got to be a jack-of-all trades in a start-up business, and Jason does a great job of doing that.”
As the company’s sales director, Brad is constantly out and about either meeting with current customers or drumming up new business.
“We’re one of the few local breweries in Alabama that has an on-the-grounds sales person. Pretty much every day, I’m out there in some market meeting retail customers and letting them know us personally. There isn’t a chain of command setup like there is at some of the bigger beer manufacturers. If any of our retailers has any questions or problems, they call us directly.”
For tickets and festival updates, visit www.backfortybeer.com, The Front Porch Revival page on Facebook and twitter.com/TheFPRevival.Tickets are also on sale at the Back For-ty taproom during business hours.