Casper Start-Up Challenge finalist: Piggyback Cocktail Co. - Casper, WY Oil City News
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Casper Start-Up Challenge finalist: Piggyback Cocktail Co.

Chad and Amber Pollock pose upstairs at the Backwards Distilling Co. downtown tasting room in Casper. The creators of the successful local craft distillery are hoping to use the Start-Up Challenge to enter the growing craft cocktail-in-a-can market with a new concept called Piggyback Cocktail.

Enjoying a beer is as easy as opening a bottle. Mixed drinks, on the other hand, require more effort. A person must assemble distilled spirits and mixers, then know how to blend the ingredients in proper proportion.

Piggyback Cocktail Co. would like to make mixed drinks as easy to enjoy as a beer or wine by offering craft cocktails in a can. The company potentially could provide a variety of drinks.

“The goal of the company is to offer this as a service to other entities who want their own signature cocktails in a can,” said Amber Pollock. In addition to Piggyback Cocktail, Amber and her family also own and operate Backwards Distilling Co.

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Piggyback Cocktail was selected as one of five finalists in this year’s Casper Start-Up Challenge, hosted by the Wyoming Technology Business Center.

Three finalists eventually will each receive $5,000 and will be eligible to receive a share of $50,000 in start-up seed money. They also will receive free office space for a year and professional mentoring.

As envisioned, Piggyback Cocktail would likely obtain its distilled products from outside sources but would mix and can the ingredients to meet demand.

“Ultimately, it wouldn’t be just distilleries who are looking for these canned cocktails,” Amber said. “It could be entities like corporations or stadiums who want their own signature drink in a can.”

Market demand for ready-to-drink cocktails is growing. According to a 2019 Nielsen survey, sales of such spirits-based cocktails increased by 40.7 percent compared to a year earlier. Convenience was cited as the top reason consumers want ready-to-drink cocktails, followed by the fact they are available in grocery stores.

Despite being in the distilling business, Amber said a canned cocktail product would present significant new challenges. 

Chad and Amber Pollock (Dan Cepeda, Oil City News

“This whole process is nothing like what we’ve done before, aside from we know how to produce one of the raw materials,” she said. “There’s a whole different situation about chemical composition, shelf stability, the packaging is fully different, so we need a different system and expertise on canning versus bottling.”

Piggyback Cocktail is in the early stages of development. Many issues, including equipment and regulatory obstacles, will have to be overcome before production begins.

Amber hopes to address some of these issues during the Casper Start-Up Challenge. If Piggyback Cocktail is among this year’s winners, she said the $5,000 prize “would allow us to work on initial formulations.” A share of the seed money could go toward the purchase of equipment needed to start blending and canning products in-house.

As part of the Challenge, Amber attended an entrepreneurial “Boot Camp,” in which experts discussed a host of start-up topics.

“It was a really good program,” she said. “It was beneficial for me to brush up on some things I did feel pretty comfortable with, but I also learned about some things I didn’t know much about.”

The Start-Up Challenge “Pitch Day” will be held on Nov. 7 at the Lyric in downtown Casper. This year’s finalists will be allotted 20 minutes each to sell their business ideas to a panel of judges. Judges will have 10 minutes after each presentation to ask questions. A reception will follow the announcement of this year’s winners. Pitch Day is free and open to the public.

The Casper Start-Up Challenge is sponsored by CAEDA/Forward Casper, Hilltop Bank, First Interstate Bank, the Wyoming Business Council, Oil City News, WIDC Frontier CDC, and the University of Wyoming.