How a former music teacher turned a love of flavorful cocktails, like milk can moonshine, into an award-winning independent distillery
Music used to be the main focus of Amber Pollock’s life.
She had been playing the violin daily for more than twenty-five years. She even worked as an elementary school music teacher.
But now, her focus is elsewhere.
Her focus is on Backwards Distilling Company, where she serves as the Co-Owner, and their band of colorful characters and Milk Can Moonshine.
In 2014, she founded the award-winning independent Wyoming distillery with her brother, Chad, and parents, Bill and Kathy in the picturesque town of Mills.
“I haven’t been able to play as much since opening the distillery,” she pines.
But that’s okay, because it’s another one of Amber’s passions that led them to Backwards Distilling Company in the first place.
“My love of cocktails and flavors were the main inspiration for being interested in the craft spirits business.”
“I am super passionate about food and beverage, so getting people to taste new things and be a little adventurous is one of the best parts of my job.”
Amber loves the process of experimentation. She remarks that her favorite cocktail is a “classic daiquiri,” but adds that she loves riffing on classic recipes even more.
“Really anything with lots of citrus is right up my alley.”
Amber had the passion for the industry.
She had a devoted team of family members.
They had even settled on a theme for their distillery.
Now, all they needed was a name.
“We had our travelling sideshow circus theme picked out,” Amber explains.
For the name, “We knew we wanted something with ‘BACK’ in it because our names are Bill, Amber, Chad and Kathy.”
The family that works together, stays together. The entire Pollock family works behind the scenes at Backwards Distilling Company.
During a brainstorming session, “We came to Backwards and knew we had hit one that worked with our theme too.”
Before long, the Pollock’s travelling sideshow circus would start garnering swaths of awards.
Milk can moonshine and so much more
Amber knows exactly what sets Backwards Distilling Company apart from the rest of the pack.
Without hesitation, she says, “Our commitment to doing everything from scratch, and our insistence on bold and colorful flavors.”
To create all of their bold flavors, Amber notes, “We tend to use very flavorful ingredients and try to maximize their presence in our final products.”
Backwards Distilling Company’s beautiful collection of botanicals waits to be turned into something delicious.
While she fully believes in the importance of independent distillery’s effect on local communities, Amber admits, “I wouldn’t say our spirits draw their uniqueness from our local area.”.
She says the flavors coming out of their Wyoming distillery are one-of-a-kind because they’re “inspired by our travels, by cocktails we’ve enjoyed and by the characters they’re named after.”
Years of world travel and sampling delicious cocktails has led to some unforgettable flavors finding their way into Backwards Distilling Company’s bottles.
After a moment of pondering, Amber lands on what she sees as Backwards Distilling Company’s most unique ingredient.
“I would say the most unique ingredient we use is the peppercorn in our gin.”
They use pink peppercorns from Brazil as one of the eleven botanicals that flavors their Strongman Navy Strength Gin. “It gives it a really cool spicy and savory vibe that I like a lot!”
Amber interjects with an aside, pointing to the Strongman Navy Strength Gin as her personal favorite among Backwards Distilling Company’s award-winning repertoire.
Amber elaborates on the distilling process, saying, “We tend to focus on the basics.”
At Backwards Distilling Company that means “high quality ingredients, high quality equipment and high quality education.”
It’s once that high quality process is completed that Backwards Distilling Company unleashes its band of colorful characters.
A travelling circus and a Wyoming distillery’s milk can moonshine
Let’s meet the cast of Backwards Distilling Company’s travelling circus, shall we?
Come one! Come all!
The players in Backwards Distilling Company’s travelling circus.
The Backwards Distilling Company Circus is led by Ringleader Vodka. His smooth hints of sweet cream and butterscotch take center stage in this big tent performance.
First to the stage is Contortionist Gin. It’s dazzling display carefully balances regionally sourced ingredients and exotic botanicals from around the world.
Next up, Sword Swallower Rum takes the attention at the center of the ring. A brief rest in used tequila barrels softens the award-winning rum with undertones of vanilla and butterscotch.
Last up this evening at The Backwards Distilling Company’s Circus is Strongman Navy Strength Gin. The Best in Category winning Navy Strength Gin has a powerful pine aroma that takes you out of the circus and into a log cabin.
After those four performances, that’s curtains on the Backwards Distilling Company circus.
But their line of craft spirits doesn’t stop there.
Milk Can Moonshine is Backwards Distilling Company’s nod to Wyoming moonshiners.
Backwards Distilling Company salutes Wyoming’s Prohibition moonshiners and bootleggers with their Milk Can Moonshine.
The Milk Can Moonshine name is a salute to the moonshiners that would ladle out their illicit liquors into milk cans from the back of dairy wagons to avoid detection.
Both flavors of Backwards Distilling Company’s Milk Can Moonshine, the Original Milk Can Moonshine and Cinnamon Milk Can Moonshine, are packaged in bottles to resemble the milk cans of yesteryear.
A Wyoming distillery’s impact on the spirit of a community
“Our local community has been supportive of our project from the beginning,” Amber says proudly.
Before the days of Backwards Distilling Company's downtown Mills tasting room, Amber smiles thinking about how customers and friends would always find their way to their production facility.
She recalls, “They used to trek out to our production facility which is in a pretty industrial area and definitely off the beaten path.”
“Rain or shine.”
Now that Backwards Distilling Company is downtown, the community support continues. Amber and the rest of her family happily embrace them.
“Our customers and staff are the best, and I love spending time with them.”
“The most rewarding part for me,” Amber smiles, “Is building interest in cocktails in our area.”
Tasting delicious cocktails from around the world inspired Backwards Distilling Company.
The people of Mills have been supportive of all of Backwards Distilling Company’s endeavors.
Not only do they love the Wyoming distillery’s Milk Can Moonshine and eclectic band of circus performers, but they’ve supported a number of one-off products that Backwards Distilling Company has created, and used as fundraisers for a range of charitable organizations.
And for Amber, that’s one one of the most important things about owning an independent Wyoming distillery.
“They’re important because they bring vibrancy to their hometowns and strengthen their local communities.”
Amber adds that she wants others to enjoy what Wyoming has to offer, just as she and her family have.
“I spend a lot of time working to help Wyoming retain and attract young people by developing opportunities and communities here that appeal to them.”
The positive impact of great craft spirits from this Wyoming distillery
According to Amber, independent distilleries have a special role in creating a positive impact.
“Independent distilleries are important because they are amazing drivers of creativity.”
Amber continues, “They expand our horizons and selections on shelves with the constant creation of new and interesting products.”
But Amber recognizes the difficulties of starting and maintaining a successful independent distillery.
“It is really hard to get customers to try new products. And if they do want to try new products, it is really hard to get them to choose yours over another.”
On top of that, Amber elaborates, even if you’ve garnered the customer’s interest, “Many restrictions stand in the way of getting product to the customers.”
For newcomers to the distilling business, Amber wants to lend some expertise.
“Find a niche and set realistic expectations for distribution.” She warns, “It is really tough to get into a new market. Know that distribution will not come easy.”
But Amber and the Pollock family have done that heavy lifting.
Making delicious craft spirits is a family affair at Wyoming’s Backwards Distilling Company.
So Amber reflects on the legacy of Backwards Distilling Company.
“I want our distillery’s legacy to be one of positive impact.”
She wants that positive impact to reach “our community, our state and the distilling industry as a whole.”
That’s a tall order.
But rain or shine, Amber is going to make it happen.