As warmer days peek around the corner of spring, and we here at FYA HQ start stretching for YA Summer Showdown 2016, let us look back one last time at Showdown 2015. You saw the puzzles and the challenges and the photos (oh man, did you see the PHOTOS). You definitely saw the cocktail recipes (and, we hope, enjoyed at least one of them yourselves!).
What you may not have seen was a last-minute sponsor for our Grand Prize: Backwards Distilling of Mills, WY, who donated a bottle of their award-winning Milk Can Moonshine for our winning team (hey, ATLFYA!), and whose cocktail mistress used The Girl Who Soared Over Fairyland And Cut The Moon In Two as inspiration for a cocktail made especially for us here at FYA.
I'm excited for more reasons than just FANCY FYA COCKTAIL to have won Backwards as a grand prize sponsor last summer. For one, HAPPY HOUR YOGA. Is that not one of the most FYA-relevant events ever devised? I challenge you to top it. For two, WYOMING REPRESENT. We are more than just horses and epic disasters on a time bomb. For three, Prohibition-Era Traveling Circus.
The biggest reason I am excited about this team-up, though, is that one of Backwards Distilling's founders is someone I've known for more than a decade, an old friend who would feature heavily in a YA book about my own high school years (although as you will see shortly, hers is the life that is best suited to a literary adaptation). I am so blown away by everything Amber and her family have done (they all QUIT THEIR JOBS to build this business together!) and so proud to call her my friend.
On top of all the creative genius she put into creating our bespoke beverage, Amber graciously agreed to an interview with FYA, which has been edited and condensed. And if you want something to sip at while you read, the recipe for The Backwards Moonkin is at the bottom of the post!
How did the whole family distillery idea come about?
The distillery idea started as one of those "lightbulb moments". My family had always been excited by great food and when everyone finally turned 21, seeking out great cocktails to go along with was a natural development. So we were constantly seeking out the best food and cocktails whenever we travelled. In addition, my brother was very into Absinthe at the time and had developed quite the collection. He was complaining one night over dinner about the lack of new types of Absinthe to try and my mom asked "Why don't you make some?" We all paused and started discussing whether or not a person could actually do such a thing. After much googling we found that it can be done and that actually craft distilling is exploding around the country. We pretty much knew right away that we were going to go for it because it just seemed like the perfect fit for each of us.
The whole business of what your family undertook to start Backwards feels so much like the plot of a book (maybe not a YA because duh, absinthe was the inciting detail, but at least New Adult). Do you feel like you're living in a book sometimes?
It definitely feels that way sometimes. This certainly wasn't what I imagined I would be doing a few years ago so that makes it feel a little surreal at times. I often wonder how I got here and am still surprised from time to time that this idea that we all imagined is actually a real place now.
There have been a couple times that we have gone back to the Tasting Room after we close and open it up just for ourselves. We make a couple cocktails and enjoy the atmosphere. Those are the times that I have been the most in awe of the fact that we created something from nothing and realize that this whole place, where people come to socialize and decompress would not exist if it hadn't first been an idea.
What has the learning curve for mixology been like?
We all started with no personal experience with the jobs we are now doing. I had always been interested in making drinks, even before I was interested in cooking, which is one of my favorite things to do now. I find that I can soak up everything about the beverage industry very easily and I seek out information from books, videos, and seminars run by the best in the industry so I think I have made good progress in a short amount of time. I think the main learning curve has to do with interacting with people. Making drinks is often the easy part. Reading guests, figuring out how to interact with them in just the right way to give them an amazing experience at my place is hard. It is extremely important to my brand that every person that comes in the door has a great experience so making sure that happens is really the crux of everything. That's not to say that figuring out how to put together drinks was easy. It took a lot of research, a lot of time, and a lot of trial and error. I am still working on making better drinks every day.
After all, I've only been at this three years now. That means I have a lot to learn. I think it goes back to creativity though. I have found that I function my best at the intersection between art and science and I think making cocktails is very well situated there.
So, let's talk about this Fairyland cocktail you invented for us. What was the process like building it?
The process was similar to the approach I take with most of my drinks. I find a flavor that I want to be the backbone of the cocktail, in this case, cherry, and add layers from there working to make sure they balance each other. This one was particularly fun because I had the inspiration from the book to work with as well. I wanted to incorporate as many of the flavors from the passage describing the drink that I could. I considered the color of the cocktail quite a bit in this one as well which I don't always do. I wanted the color to evoke fall, which is partly why cherry juice was my choice. The addition of the cream changed the color dramatically so I had to consider whether or not to go with it. Ultimately I decided the drink still had this rich fall look, and, with the addition of the cream, a rich texture as well.
[NB: I gave Amber the excerpt from the book at the end of the summer, with the aim to post in the fall. She was incredibly on the ball getting me the recipe—it is all on me that this isn't posting until now. Luckily, the creamy rose color and cherry backbone flavor fits cherry blossom season just as well as fall!]
With only curiosity and zero intent to pressure you, are you going to be putting the Fairyland cocktail on the menu?
I am putting a very similar drink on. I based the Fairyland drink on a drink that I had already worked up but changed out several things to better align it with the description of the cocktail in the book. The drink going on the menu will have gin instead of moonshine, will still have the cherry juice, has a vanilla syrup instead of the walnut brown sugar and doesn't have the cream. It is still a gorgeous color and still has the nice cherry, chocolate, and cinnamon notes.
Very cool! Have you made any other cocktails using a specific inspiration? I mean, I know several have been inspired by classic cocktails or cocktail history…
We did a very fun after party for Casper College's production of of Julius Caesar. The drinks we served that night we all inspired by characters from the play. One that I remember off the top of my head was the Portia. It was made with bell pepper and black pepper infused vodka, stirred and served straight up. It had this nice amber color to it. For the garnish I put several small squares of red pepper in the bottom of the glass to represent the coals she swallowed. That was a fun one!
Many of the drinks on our menu are classic cocktails or a variations on a classic. I have many great cocktail books that served as resources for these drinks.
What was the one I had when I was there, that was ALL alcohol? With coconut and jalapeño? It was great.
Chang and Eng Go to Florida!
Straight liquor, that one! And SO GOOD.
And now, at last, the cocktail! Gird yourselves: it's a good one.
THE BACKWARDS MOONKIN
Saturday popped the top off a squat little poster tube and produced a pretty newsprint goblet of fine brown ink. This time, September did not hesitate, but drank deeply. The taste of walnuts and cream and cinnamon and—could it be? Yes! Moonkins! The lovely glowing fruits the Hreinn grew in the Glass Forest, distilled down into a thick brew. A little ribbon of something like the brandy her parents kept for special occasions wriggled through the other flavors. This must be what the Blue Wind meant when she waxed about the cocktails on the Moon! But it did not make September feel dizzy, no matter the ribbon of brandy, only full and strong and awake.
- The Girl Who Soared Over Fairyland And Cut The Moon In Two (p. 136-137)
The Backwards Moonkin
• 1.5 oz Milk Can Moonshine
• 3 oz tart cherry juice (bottled works great)
• 0.75 oz walnut brown sugar syrup
• 0.75 oz heavy whipping cream
• 2 dashes Fee Brother's Aztec Chocolate Bitters
Shake vigorously to incorporate the cream, double strain into a chilled coupe glass, garnish with a cinnamon stick.
Walnut Brown Sugar Syrup
-- Gives a nice nuttiness to the already fairly flavorful syrup.
• 1 cup brown sugar
• 1 cup water
• ⅓ to ½ cup walnuts, chopped
Dissolve brown sugar in water over heat. Add walnuts to the syrup and leave on the heat for about 20 minutes.
Thank you, Amber! We could not have asked for a better donation to our Showdown cause. Find out more on Backwards Distilling here.
Stay tuned for info on #YASummerShowdown 2016 in the upcoming weeks!