Article by Abby Parks
The Coldwater Mountain Brewpub in Anniston has quickly become a favorite place for folks in Calhoun County to enjoy draft beer, great food, entertainment, and more since its doors opened in February of 2022. We caught up with Jason Wilson, the owner, as well as the founder of the Back Forty Beer Company, to chat about current happenings and plans for this local hot spot.
The Craft Beer Legacy & The Deep South
What makes the Coldwater Mountain Brewpub so special is that passionate brewmaster himself, Jason Wilson. He admits to being a history buff, and can expound on the history of beer dating back to the ancient Egyptians. But after his own love of craft beer was born in a local brewpub in Crested Butte, Colorado, Jason’s journey to where he stands today was a long and arduous one. He went from learning to brew beer at home, to orchestrating the ins and outs of building a brand from scratch, to finding distribution, to opening his first brewery, Back Forty Brewing Company in Gadsden. Not to mention multiple franchise locations. Once he’d built his Southern draft beer empire, Jason retired as CEO at the age of 40.
As he reflected on his unique past, Jason said that his early connection, the owner of the Crested Butte Brewery, told him that most people think it’s a cool, hip thing to be a brewer. “But he [the brewer] said, ‘We don’t do it because it’s cool–we do it because the Budweiser truck can’t deliver when there’s 14 feet of snow on the ground. We’ve got to have beer to get through the winter.’ So I really love the utilitarian application of brewing beer. And I was like, man, nobody’s doing this here.”
“Here,” as in, the “Deep South,” as Jason likes to refer to it. In the late 90’s there wasn’t a brewpub existing in the state of Alabama. Being a native of the state, Jason was confident that there was a market for draft beer not only here, but in the greater Southeast. “Being born and raised here, so much of our story is told at the dinner table with food and beverage. So I knew a lot of good-ol-boy farmers that would pay $65 for a bone-in, dry aged ribeye steak–just don’t make them wear a suit and tie to get it. Southerners have a palate for food and beverage. They just don’t have much [patience] for pomp and circumstance.”
Jason bet on the fact that Southerners are “incredibly loyal to local brands” in his pursuit to create his own brand of draft beer. His bet paid off in abundance with the huge acceptance of his unpretentious brand Back Forty Beer.
At the age of 40, Jason stepped down as CEO of Back Forty Beer and retired. But after a year of travel and downtime, he was approached for a second time by Earlin McWhorter, the new owner of the historic Union Depot and Freight House. Mr. McWhorter (a philanthropist and the former president of the Auburn Board of Trustees) wished to bring a brewpub back to Anniston, and saw Jason as a good choice to bring that about. Though they discussed possibly opening an additional Back Forty franchise there, the final agreement was to make this new brewpub unique to the Anniston area. With Earlin McWhorter’s financial backing, Jason and his partner Tommy Stevens set about remodeling parts of the inside and grounds of the Union and Freight House, and opened its doors in February 2022. To demonstrate their commitment to the Anniston community, they branded the new brewery after a local landmark–Coldwater Mountain.
More Than Just a Brewpub
There’s a lot happening at Coldwater Mountain Brewpub beyond the great beer and food. They’ve got something going on almost every day or night of the week. For instance, there’s a family-friendly Trivia Night every Monday at 7pm, with restaurant gift certificates given as prizes. Taco Tuesdays feature $2 street tacos and $5 margaritas all day. On Wednesdays, the brewpub sponsors local charities with Charity Night and donates $1 from each sale to it. They also host the Anniston Farmers Market in the front parking lot every Saturday.
Live music has been a staple of their offerings since opening, with at least one solo artist or group entertaining patrons every weekend. On July 16th, an 80’s/90’s/2000’s local band called FM Revival will take the stage, followed in August by Jupiter Coyote and Natti Lovejoys. Jason expressed that their desire is to mostly focus on local talent. Other performers who’ve played Coldwater Mountain Brewpub include Robby & Marc, Pioneer Chicken Stand, Logan Graves, and Sam Lewis, to name a few.
Their newly-finished Zinn Garden is an oasis for locals to hang and enjoy warm summer nights, complete with deck and ground seating shaded by umbrellas, as well as a firepit and cornhole. Shrubbery has been cleared away to reveal the creek running right next to where the new stretch of the Ladiga Trail will extend. Jason joked, “We have the only waterfront dining experience in the city of Anniston.”
If all this wasn’t enough, they are building a professional wiffle ball field on an open greenspace on the premises, with plans to start a wiffle ball league and hold tournaments throughout future summers.
Menu Additions and the Beer
The current menu offers a variety of modern pub fare choices such as street tacos, burgers and other sandwiches, wings, meat and 2 plates, salads, soups, and some items with a particularly Southern flare: brunswick stew, collard greens, fried catfish, brisket, and whole fried okra. With the new system roll-out, new menu items will be added including paninis and wraps. They’ll also offer some new dinner specials: rosemary roasted duck, crawfish fettuccine, butter-poached grouper, and smoked salmon.
The drink menu showcases popular draft beers from brands like Sierra Nevada, Old Black Bear, Einstock, and Jason Wilson’s own Back Forty beer. He’s created some new featured recipes unique to Coldwater Mountain Brewpub: Trailhead Pale Ale, Bomb Dog IPA, Criterium Kolsch, and the newest, Smokestack Porter.
While Jason has no plans to bottle or market the Coldwater Mountain brews, customers can purchase 64 oz and 32 oz growlers to take home.
When I asked him if he was interested in building another dynamic draft beer brand from scratch like he did with Back Forty, Jason shared, “This is more about me getting back in the brewhouse and enjoying my passion that got me into this industry to begin with. It’s been a long time since I’ve brewed a batch of beer, even though that’s what I started out doing. I turned into a CEO and spent my time on planes, making phone calls, doing accounts…I was never brewing beer. So one of the things that drew me to this project was that I’d actually get to go back to brewing beer.”
New Order and Pay System
Since the brewpub opened, staff offered counter service rather than tableside. Now the management is rolling out a new order and pay system where patrons can place orders directly from their tables. The process will involve scanning a QR code with a smartphone to access the menu (which will include full-color images of each menu item), placing an order, and paying from the table with the same app when ready to close out. Servers will bring food and drinks to customer tables.
On busy Friday and Saturday nights, Coldwater Mountain Brewpub does offer traditional tableside service by reservation only for parties of up to 8 in the Parlor Room. To book a reservation, call (256) 403-2334.
Local support has been strong so far. If you haven’t experienced it yet, don’t delay any longer. Good times are waiting for you at the Coldwater Mountain Brewpub.