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Booze and Bacon Festival showcases Wyoming brewing, spirits and culinary creativity

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Rob Caputa held a cup made of bacon in one hand and used a spatula to fill it with a scoop of whipped peanut butter filling. The owner of Caputa’s Catering topped his culinary creation with melted chocolate fudge Monday morning to offer a sample of his original bacon peanut butter fudge cup recipe.

The bacon base gave a salty crunch to the smooth and sweet confection.

This week, he’s preparing dozens of batches for Saturday’s Gruner Brothers Booze and Bacon Festival at the Casper Events Center.

The festival offers dishes featuring bacon from local restaurants and food vendors along with samples from distilleries and breweries across Wyoming. Food and drinks are included in the ticket price, as well as a entertainment by emcee DJ Nyke from 104.7 KISS-FM and demonstrations. Attendees can vote for people’s choice awards for their favorite food, liquor and beer. An Uber pick-up and drop-off point will be available, and staff will be on hand to assist in contacting cabs, according to a press release from the Casper Events Center.

Festivals featuring bacon, beer and drinks are especially popular across the country, especially the northwestern U.S., Casper Events Center General Manager Brad Murphy said.

“It’s a first-time event, very unique and bringing something new to Casper,” he said.

The event sponsored by new Casper brewery Gruner Brothers Brewing is a partnership between Spectra Venue Management at the Casper Events Center, Townsquare Media and Backwards Distilling Company, which rounded up breweries and distilleries around the state.

“We just really wanted to keep it about the state of Wyoming,” Murphy said.

Creating with bacon

Caputa’s idea for his bacon peanut butter fudge cups was a combination of knowing how well peanut butter goes with bacon and his experience making peanut butter pies with fudge topping—a dessert inspired by his mother’s Christmastime recipe.

While thinking of a dish for his catering business, he experimented with molding bacon in muffin pans. Sure enough, the meat formed into cups that held their shape when baked.

The cups are an example of food as an art, and one he’ll hone through practice making 2,000 cups for the festival, he said.

“I just think that catering is artistic, and we can actually sit down and create things,” Caputa said.

Another creative dish slated for the festival are bite-sized bacon cheeseburgers from Mouthful, a gourmet burger restaurant inside Moonlight Liquors & Lounge. The miniature burgers will be topped in hickory smoked bacon and a house-made Thousand Island dressing-style sauce.

“It’s about the size of a quarter around, and it’s like an inch and half tall,” Mouthful owner Tyler Wood said. “So it’s really tiny and cute.”

The hardest part was making a bun small enough to provide 2,000 samples, he said. That was important. Each tiny bun will bear the restaurant’s signature “M” brand, he said.

“Whatever we have up there has to be branded,” Wood said. “So we made a small miniature brand for these little tiny buns.”

Lefty’s BBQ & Catering owner Dave Hinton also plans to add to the variety of bacon fare with pork belly smoked with his blend of seasoning and offered with a selection of his homemade barbecue sauces, he said. Pork belly is the same meat as bacon, but it hasn’t been cured and processed.

“It’s the most unctuous piece of meat on the pork, if it’s done properly,” he said.

He’s offered pork belly a couple of times from his barbecue trailer to rave reviews from his customers, he said.

He looks forward to serving the dish to more people at the bacon-themed event.

“I don’t know of anybody who doesn’t like bacon,” he said.

Booze with bacon

Variety and creativity will flow in the booze selections as well during the festival.

“We’re trying to get actual makers of the product there — so it’s not just reps or distributors — which is a little more unique than just a typical tasting,” said Mallory Pollock of Backwards Distilling Company in Mills. “So when you’re there, you can interact and talk to the people that make the stuff.”

As the popularity of locally made beer and liquor grows, the distillery last summer saw its first bump in business from tourism, she said.

“People that were traveling through the state actually wanted to try local spirits and they wanted a taste of Wyoming and they wanted to see what we’re making and doing,” Pollock said. “So it’s great to feature that and let the locals know what other locals are doing.”

Backwards, which hopes to expand into Casper with a satellite tasting room, plans special cocktails to complement bacon as well as a specialty exclusive cocktail in the VIP section.

The Glenrock-based Cowboy State Brewing is among Wyoming breweries in the festival. While most beer festivals take place in the summer, the Booze and Bacon Festival is a chance for the year-old brewery to connect with more people during the slower season, brewery co-owner Jason Knopp said.

Their selection includes a honey grain American pale ale called Powder River Pale Ale, an English blonde called Cowgirl Up, its Cowboy Gold golden ale and the Cowboy Brown, a flavorful brown ale that pairs great with meat, including bacon, Knopp said. The brewers call it their breakfast beer because it’s flavorful enough to start the morning and drink any time of day, he said.

“It’s got a lot of coffee to it with a little bit of a chocolate finish,” Knopp said.

The Cowboy Country Distilling booth will feature its Rooster Rum — made from South American sugar cane that’s squeezed, dried and chipped in-house — and offer samples of the Pinedale distillery’s other liquors, owner Tim Trites said. A hot buttered rum will help beat the cold and wash down the bacon.

The distillery makes the only jalapeno bacon vodka in the country, Trites said, so bringing some to the festival was a given. The distillery began selling its products in February and will feature the Silver Spur Jalapeno Bacon Flavored Vodka in cocktails including bloody marys.

The idea for the vodka came from finding that bloody mary drinks were often not mixed well, Trites said. The vodka simplifies the cocktail so that all you need to pour a perfect bloody mary is tomato juice, olives, salt and pepper, he said. Yes, it’s made with real bacon and jalapenos, Trites said.

“You can add anything you want, but the main thing is you have the base and you have the flavor and jalapeno,” he said. “It’s a western bloody mary, and everything goes well with bacon.”

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Star-Tribune reporter Elysia Conner covers arts, culture and the Casper community.

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