Published On: Wed, Dec 13th, 2023

Doritos nacho cheese liquor sounds like a stunt, but it’s actually good

Doritos nacho cheese liquor sounds like a stunt, but it’s actually good
Doritos nacho cheese liquor sounds like a stunt, but it’s actually good


In 2014, I was fortunate to tag along with Noma’s chef de cuisine and head forager into the marshy wetlands around Copenhagen as they gathered and explained some of the native Nordic botanicals that informed the approach to food at the restaurant known as one of the best in the world. Visiting Noma was the first and likely the last time I’ll ever eat reindeer moss.

Two former Noma staff, Lars Williams and Mark Emil Hermansen, went on to launch Empirical — described as a flavor company — in 2017, and they’ve put out genre-breaking spirits, strange beasts like Ayuuk, a wheat and malt spirit flavored with Pasilla chiles, and The Plum, I Suppose, a distillate of plum kernel and marigold kombucha, that fit into no existing mold. When the distillery announced earlier this year that it would be opening locations in the United States — including in Brooklyn, natch, one of the crafty centers of the universe — I was excited to see what they’d make. What native American botanicals would get thrown into their fermentation tanks? Would we see a pawpaw spirit? A fiddlehead fern distillate, accented with jewelweed flowers?

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I did not expect the first new release would be made from ingredients more typically foraged from 7-Eleven: Nacho Cheese Doritos.

According to Williams, chef/distiller and CEO of Empirical, the whole thing started when he pilfered a bag of Doritos from a team member back from lunch in Copenhagen. He was experimenting with distillation and their equipment, testing to see what they could make, and “curiosity led me to turn this snack into a spirit,” he said in an email.

No complex botanical roster here: The spirit is a pilsner malt distillate, but actual Doritos are the only source of flavor, and the distillation is at a lower temperature than traditional, to ensure that “the essence of the Doritos flavor profile is fully captured in the spirit,” Williams said.

“We kept it around as a surprise thing to sometimes serve to friends and family who would come by the tasting room,” he said, giving them a little glass without telling them what was in it. Apparently it made a lot of people start laughing. Eventually they took it to the chief marketing officer of Frito-Lay. It is, I’m relieved to report, Doritos’ first foray into the booze space.

When I heard about this stuff, my first thought was “What the absolute (expletive)?” Honestly, were it not for the credibility Empirical has established as a company run by folks with a serious culinary background and a complex approach to flavor, I would have dismissed it as a pure stunt bottling. And sure, it’s a little stunty. But tell that to Proust’s madeleine: When I lowered my snout into a tasting glass of this stuff, damned if I wasn’t swept into a powerful, sensual memory of inhaling Doritos on a lunch break in my car, back during my divorce in 2004.

Like they say: Your results may vary.

The sound of crunching chips is annoying. Doritos has made a silencer.

This inspired creation, developed organically out of a true spirit of experimentation, makes me pity the poor marketer, so often trying to penetrate the maelstrom of information we’re all being assaulted with. How can you break through? For every Reese’s “your peanut butter got in my chocolate” moment and cotton candy grape, there is an unwanted brand crossover that got launched to consumers who said, “No thanks! We’re good!” (Looking at you, Life Savers Soda. Also, while I’m here: Oreos, we don’t need any more flavors of you, and Mega Stuf is too much Stuf.)

Sure, not everyone will go on a hunt for this limited-edition bottle, which will be sold starting next month at “select markets” in New York and California and at doritos.x.empirical.co, with preorders starting on Wednesday. (It’s not exactly cheap; at $65 for 750 milliliters, it’s akin to the typical retail cost of Chartreuse, and good luck getting your hands on that either.) Good luck to the hunters once Doritos brand loyalists pile on. It certainly represents the wild outer territories of the spirits space.

But for those who crave the savory, and wish that more cocktails showed up salty and funky and with a little umami punch, this bottle is ripe (and I do mean ripe) for playing with. The brand recommends trying it in a margarita, Bloody Mary or Old Fashioned, but if I weren’t hoarding my tiny sample, I’d be leaning into dirty martinis, where it could take the savory, umami-laden riffs people have been creating into new territory.

Doritos is developing lady-friendly chips because you should never hear a woman crunch

If you, like explorer George Mallory, want to try things because they are there, it’s a marvelous time to be alive. You can pair your sip with French’s mustard Skittles and Kraft mac and cheese ice cream, get glammed up for the occasion with an Oscar Mayer bologna face mask and a nice, thick application of the “Chip Dust” shade from your Cool Ranch Doritos eye shadow palette.

I may not go that far, but I’ll be here, drinking my Dorito-rita and hoping Empirical will distill Salt and Vinegar Poppables next.


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