Backwards head distiller talks new American Whiskey- Interview

Head distiller Chad Pollock takes a sample of Backwards’ new bourbon as it is dumped from its oak cask into a vat, February 2018, at Backwards Distilling Company. (Dan Cepeda, Oil City)

Backwards Distilling, a Mills-based company that produces liquor and spirits, as well as operates a popular tasting room, is releasing its new American Whiskey.

The newest member of the Backwards family is scheduled to hit shelves January 9th. The foray into whiskey is a milestone for the craft distillery, which until now has specialized in clear spirits since opening in 2014. Oil City had a brief discussion with head distiller Chad Pollock about the whiskey and its release.

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Chad Pollock: “This is a product that we put away when [Backwards] first opened. It was kind of interesting because, you put something away and then all of a sudden and it’s been four years, and you’re ready to release something. Basically what’s going on is we developed, what we call, an “American whiskey.” The goal with our whiskey, from the beginning, was to make a product that would fall somewhere between a flavor profile of a Canadian whiskey and a bourbon. We wanted to have something that was soft, and sweet, and smooth, and drinkable, but still flavorful and mixable. So what we kind of worked on for a while was finding out how to achieve that, so it’s a mixture of bourbon and wheat whiskey. That together gives it a really nice, soft, approachable palette. It’s flavorful, but very gentle and super smooth. I’m very happy with where it turned out. We’ve been working on the whiskey pretty much from when we started, one of the [whiskey] barrels was the third thing we ever made here on site.”

Oil City: This has been a long time coming?

Pollock: “It has been. We’re really excited to have our first barrel-aged product come out. It seems like it was just yesterday that we put it away, but it’s crazy how fast the time moves.”

OC: Just for logistics sake, what are we looking at for availability, how much does it cost?

Pollock: “We’re going to have around 1400 bottles available for this first release. It’s going to be coming out kind of sporadically across the state as people order it. We will have it here, at the distillery, for sure. I believe the range in price is going to be between, like, $40 and $44, depending on the retailer, per bottle.”

OC: After all this time, how are you personally feeling, what is this like for you?

Pollock: “This was one of the most terrifying product launches, ever. Just because it’s a very important product, people definitely have strong feelings about whiskey, probably more so than they do about vodka and stuff like that. It’s also a big learning process; because this was our first experience with picking barrels, harvesting barrels, working on the correct mixture to make it taste right. So it was a big learning experience, but I’ve been going to classes and working to learn it, and I think it turned out perfect, in my mind- it actually ended up being better than I had hoped for. We achieved what we set out to do with it, so I’m very happy. I’m relieved that it’s finally launching. I’ve been working on the labels for it, for about eight months, so that’s been a process in itself. But, I’m super thrilled and very happy with how it turned out. I can’t wait for people to try it.”

OC: “Distilling, liquor production, brewing really seems to have come into its own in the state in the past few years, what do you think sets your whiskey apart?”

Pollock: “One of the things we always pride ourselves on, at Backwards, is that we make sure we do things in the traditional way. We use full-sized barrels, we make sure we get the highest quality cooperage we can. I say that we have three pillars at Backwards: quality ingredients, quality education, and quality equipment- we focus on those things being aligned. The other thing is, we don’t release things just to release them. This whiskey was picked at it’s prime, exactly when we wanted, so it’s not just something we’re putting out there. This whiskey, compared to others in the state, will be a lot more like a Canadian. A lot of the other whiskeys in the state are bourbons, or some variety of that. So I think ours will be a little bit more on the soft side. More like a Crown Royal or Pendleton side of things than the bourbon side of things. It’ll be interesting to see what people think of it. I think there are some good products in the state, so I’m hoping that we can hang in there and hopefully people appreciate what we’ve done.”

OC: What is the official name of the whiskey?

Pollock: “It’s just called ‘Backwards American Whiskey.'”

OC: “No sword-swallower or ring-leader, anything like that?”

Pollock: “No character on this one. A lot of our aged products are just going to be the ‘Backwards Bourbon,’ ‘Backwards American Whiskey,’ ‘Backwards Rum,’ as opposed to the characters. We’re keeping that for our other product line.”

OC: Do we have any big events in store for the whiskey release?

Pollock: “We do! We have a special menu just for the whiskey, so we have a few cool whiskey cocktails Amber [Pollock] came up with. On our facebook we have a whole list of different events that we’re doing. We have a ‘Meet the Maker’ event which is kind of a fireside chat with me, where we talk all things whiskey. We also have a cool class, this is the first time we’ve done anything like this, it’s called ‘The Ultimate Whiskey Experience,’ and it’s a day-long class where people come in and go through every step of the process. We’re going to do a mash, we’re going to do a distillation, we’re going to barrel fill, we’re going to talk about whiskey history, we’re going to talk about everything you’d want to know about whiskey in a hands-on workshop. We’ve got other events coming up, special classes surrounding the whiskey itself.”

OC: People were really looking forward to this. Looking down the road, what are some other things that you have in store that people can get excited about?

Pollock: “We’re going to be launching other whiskeys as well. The American Whiskey is going to be our baseline whiskey that we’re going to try to have available as much as possible- we don’t have a ton of barrels yet, so it’s going to be as they come out. But, in 2020 or 2021, we’re going to be launching our bourbon; it’s going to be five or six years old by the time it’s done. We don’t know when exactly, yet- we’re tasting as it goes. So, that’s exciting. We also have our absynthe, as well, is going to be coming out this year. We are hoping, next year, to be launching our amber rum, and that’ll be cool. Then we have 25 different recipes of bourbon that we put away since we’ve started. All those are turning four, coming up here in February, so those start to kind of come up for the date to see if they’re ready or not. It’ll probably push to five or six year, as well. We’ll kind of see how they go. We’ll also have some cool single releases going on, some one-offs that we’ll never make again. Here in the next few years, we’ll have quite a few different barrel-aged products that are coming into maturity.”

Backwards’ new whiskey is dumped into a vat after aging for three years. (Dan Cepeda, Oil City)