When the 2008 financial crisis hit, Jason Wilson ‘05 was a chain operations manager. Needing a career change, he decided to pursue his dream of starting a craft beer brewery — Back Forty Beer Company was born.
Being a fifth-generation Alabamian, Wilson rooted Back Forty in his hometown of Gadsden where he had a humble upbringing. “I grew up in a very happy, what I believed to be an upper-middle class family,” he said. “It wasn’t until I got to Auburn that I realized how close to the poverty line I actually was.”
“I latched onto the Auburn Creed — ‘I believe that this is a practical world and I can count only on what I earn’ and therefore ‘I believe in work, hard work.’ That resonated with me because I realized that I was going to have to work really hard to overcome some of those socioeconomic challenges and Auburn gave me the tools and the environment to do that.”
The product of his hard work is evident today: Back Forty became the first craft brewery in the state of Alabama, employing 29 workers — 13 of whom are Auburn graduates.
“Back Forty is an old agricultural term that refers to the 40 acres furthest from the barn, hardest to maintain, hardest to irrigate, and where the tractors go to die,” he said. “Most farmers don’t bother cultivating it.”
“That’s the way so many saw Alabama in the craft beer world 10 years ago.” If the land is tilled, however, a tremendous harvest is reaped. Wilson opened the door for himself and the 34 licensed breweries now operating in the state. In 2015, the College of Business named Wilson Young Entrepreneur of the Year and gave Back Forty the title of Top Tiger Business.
This year, Wilson was the first recipient of the Business Council of Alabama’s “Small Business Game Changer” award. This gives the brewery an ad in every Auburn Football game program, radio time, and a hospitality area outside of Jordan-Hare Stadium.
Responsibility to community and grit in work ethic is the embodiment of the Deep South, which is also the heart of Wilson and his brewery.
“If you don’t accept any excuse, you’ll achieve great things. Patience is a virtue and hard, sustainable work pays off,” he said. “You’ll wake up one day two years from now and look back to see how far you’ve come.”