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Here's a boozy spirit that tastes like a fresh bag of chips

PepsiCo and Copenhagen-based indie distiller Empirical have created a boozy spirit with crispy, cheesy chips

A bottle of the spirit, named Empirical x Doritos Nacho Cheese, along with a cocktail made with it.

By Bloomberg

LAST PUBLISHED 12.12.2023  |  02:06 PM IST

Doritos Nacho Cheese chips partnerships have gone to countless places, from Call of Duty to virtual concerts with the Netflix series Stranger Things

One place Doritos has never gone, at least in a way officially sanctioned by parent company PepsiCo Inc, is into alcohol. But on December 12, the flaming orange chips will get sloshed with the launch of Empirical x Doritos Nacho Cheese. 

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The partnership with Doritos—the most popular savory snack among Gen Z and the 8th-ranked brand overall—is the most commercial offering from Empirical Spirits, a Copenhagen-based distillery. The limited release of the beverage, available at doritos.x.empirical.co and at to-be-announced locations in New York and California, will go for $65 ( 5,420.17) for a 750 milliletre bottle. (The companies did not disclose the number of bottles they’re releasing.)

“We’re doing more disruptive partnerships,"  says Courtney Larson, Dorito’s senior director of marketing. “When one of the most innovative flavor leaders in the world reaches out to you, you take notice." 

Empirical was started by Lars Williams and Mark Emil Hermansen, both veterans of the kitchen at Copenhagen’s Noma restaurant. Williams oversaw the mad-scientist experiments in the restaurant’s Nordic Food Lab.

Its unconventional releases so far have included Symphony 6, a citrusy, light pink distillation of pilsner malt, lemon leaf, figs and coffee. A line of canned cocktails in 2020 used ingredients like toasted birch tea and Douglas fir infusion. The Doritos partnership is a “chance for us to get out in front of a whole new group of people, and showcase what Empirical can do," says Williams.

Though PepsiCo is not paying for the partnership, they are supplying the chips: Williams estimates that they use a standard, 2¾-ounce bag in each bottle of the 42% ABV product. 

So, What Does It Taste Like?

Empirical’s liquid tastes uncannily like a bag of Doritos nacho cheese flavoured tortilla chips. From the first whiff, there’s an instant hit of corn, then the follow-up of nacho-cheese powder.

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Then when you take a sip, any initial skepticism may well dissolve, depending on your tolerance for the flavours of toasted corn, as well as the cheese and onion powder that define so much of that Doritos flavour hit, in liquid form. 

If you don’t want the full unvarnished experience, there are some cocktail recipes included to help maximise the corn and cheese powder kick, including the Double Triangle Margarita and a Bloody Mary incarnation. They were formulated by Iain Griffiths, who has worked at the acclaimed Mr Lyan bars in London.

The Doritos Nacho Cheese flavour has been hanging out in Empirical’s lab for a while, according to Williams. The original version was made around the time the brand started in 2017. It was an “accident"—that came about during preliminary experiments with ingredients such as licorice, parsley and the North African spice mix ras el hanout.

“One production guy went out to lunch and came back with a bag of Doritos," says Williams. “I decided, ‘why not’ and threw it in." The impact of the infusion was shockingly successful. “When I tasted it, it was so much like Doritos, I just started laughing," says Williams. But he ruled it out as an early Empirical flavor in favor of more artisanal blends.

Not long after Empirical launched, however, a handful of PepsiCo executives ate at Noma and then, according to Williams, stopped by the lab. “I was clear with the team, do not give them the Doritos spirit, there’s a 99% chance we’ll get sued," says Williams. Instead, it was applauded. Williams says he recently came across a bottle of the spirit and decided it might be time for a Doritos nacho cheese-flavoured spirit to become reality.

Doritos has no current plans to extend the collaboration once the run is sold out, but there’s a “very strong possibility we will renew," says Larson. The Doritos After Dark platform is encouraging its fans to cook more with the chips, whether throwing them into cookies or crushing them to form a salty rim of a cocktail glass. “We want to be creators in the culinary space." The Empirical release could also be the beginning of a line of Doritos-meets-booze products. “I think there might be more," says Larson.

If production is extended beyond the initial limited release, Williams says the Doritos flavor will be available when Empirical opens a 5,000-square-foot distillery in Brooklyn early next year.

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