CASPER, Wyo. — Backwards Distilling Company will be hosting their fourth annual “Cocktails and Clay” event on Saturday, but for the first time at their new downtown location.
The event is possible due to collaboration between artists from around the country and Amber Pollock, who comes up with cocktails to be paired with clay vessels created by the artists.
“It’s kind of a two-way collaboration,” Pollock explains. “The artists come up with something that matches the spirit they are assigned and they send it to me and I usually get a little bit of a back story and then try to come up with something that goes with the cup.”
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The idea grew out of conversations with a customer named Peter Jakubowski who is a co-owner of “Clay Arts Vegas.”
People who were downtown over the summer may remember getting “mugged” by some artists with Clay Arts Vegas who were in town for Wyoming State Clay Festival with Art 321 and Casper College.
“Peter was in town doing some work at Casper College [a few years ago],” Pollock explains. “He comes about once a year to do that and he started coming into the distillery. After a few times coming in, we just kind of had been talking about ideas and he said that he did clay work and that he has a clay studio in Vegas called Clay Arts Vegas.”
“He’s one of the owners of that and so he works with artists all over the country and said. ‘Why don’t we do something where we come up with some clay vessels that go with your spirits?'”
Pollock thought it was a great idea and the collaboration was born.
“I met the folks at Backwards about 6 or 7 years ago,” Jakubowski says. “I had been doing theatre design for CC and was in town for a show when a friend told me about the new distillery tasting room.”
“We went and we were greeted by Mallory [Pollock] who was so warm and inviting. She started serving drinks and I was so impressed. I travel a lot for work and this was some of the best tasting spirits I had ever had. Then they were turned into incredible cocktails by Amber. Amber is a fine chef of drinks. I could not believe my favorite cocktail bar in the country was now in Casper, Wyoming.”
Jakubowksi says he loves Wyoming and has helped design lighting at CC for 12 years.
“It is a second home for me and the folks I met at Backwards had a similar mind set to us at Clay Arts Vegas,” he explains. “Clay Arts Vegas is a labor of love. We work 70 plus hours a week, keep our heads a-float and make something magical. The same love for craft, the love of community were a common language between Backwards and Clay Arts Vegas.”
“There is something about good people, family and passion that make you want to celebrate and create. We are very proud of the Cocktails and Clay collaboration.”
Jakubowski helps find artists from across the country who are each assigned one of Backwards spirits to use as a source of inspiration for their clay creations.
One of those artists this year is from Casper. That’s Casper College ceramics instructor Mike Olson who Jakubowski calls “a brother from another mother.”
“So he has Sword Swallower Rum this year,” Pollock explains.
He created a Tiki-inspired mug for which Pollock then crafted a gingerbread-inspired Tiki cocktail.
“It’s got a lot of spice flavors,” she says. “It’s got some nut syrup and its own nuttiness to it and our homemade ginger beer is giving it that ginger flavor.”
“It’s topped with cream which is kind of interesting. That just kind of sinks down into the ice.”
Pollock says that it is interesting to see what new cups are made each year.
“There are all different monsters coming out of these cups because Strongman Gin is kind of a beast of a spirit,” she says as perusing this year’s line-up of clay vessels. “So that was I think the inspiration there.”
“This one is for Contortionist Gin,” Pollock says pointing to another vessel. “So he designed the cups kind of curvy to look like the way a contortionist stands and then at the bottom there is a face. So that’s like the surprise ending where like a contortionist always like pops their head like between their legs or something crazy at the end.”
She calls the cocktail to accompany that cup “Finale.”
“It is like the finale of the act and you see that at the bottom of your cup when you’re done drinking it, which is pretty cool,” Pollock says.
There are seven different vessel-styles this year made by artists in places like Las Vegas or Washington state.
“They just make them wherever at their home studios or at the clay studio in Vegas and then they send them to us,” Pollock says. “As soon as they have a basic idea, then they just kind of trickle into us from wherever they’re being sent.”
At Saturday’s “Cocktails and Clay” event, people can try out the cocktails and they can also consider buying the vessels to take home. Those tend to remain available through the holiday season.
“Usually we create like gift sets where you’ve got a bottle of whatever the corresponding spirit is, a couple of the cups and the recipe that goes with it for that cocktail,” Pollock explains. “When you come you can drink cocktails and if you like any of the clay you can buy the cup and take it home with you.”
“We get a set for the bar so they often show up on our menus in other iterations, you know, menus down the road we can use if we come up with drinks that match those cups.”
There are three drinks on the current menu which utilize cups from past “Cocktails and Clay” events.
Proceeds from the sale of the cups go to the artists.
“A lot of these artists have been here before because Clay Arts Vegas has been partnering with some people locally to put on the clay festival in the summer,” Pollock adds. “And so they usually bring like 15 or 20 or so folks from Vegas for a week in the summer.”
“So a lot of the folks now have been to our place which is a kind of cool and new thing.”
Pollock says the “Cocktails and Clay” events are some her favorites that Backwards puts on.
“I would say the cocktails tend to be some of our most interesting and unusual ones of the year just because you get to take a lot of inspiration from the cups,” she explains.
Backwards Distilling Company’s downtown Tasting Room is located at 214 South Wolcott Street in Casper.