Empirical x Doritos Nacho Cheese Spirit, $65 (available for pre-ordering online starting Dec. 13 and otherwise sold through select New York and California retailers)
The back story
Yes, you can now drink your Doritos.
The popular tortilla-chip brand, part of the Frito-Lay family (which, in turn, is part of PepsiCo
), is indeed rolling out a boozy version of the snack food in collaboration with Empirical, a cutting-edge flavor company that specializes in one-of-a-kind spirits. Specifically, it’s a liquid version of the classic Nacho Cheese Doritos.
But this wasn’t a marketing stunt dreamed up by the Doritos folks. In fact, the idea originated as a kind of playful in-house experiment by Empirical, dating almost all the way back to the company’s roots in the Danish city of Copenhagen six years ago. As Empirical co-founder Lars Williams explains it, he and his team were toying with what kind of sips they could make with their newly acquired equipment when he spotted a bag of Doritos that one employee had lying around. “I said, ‘I’m going to take your Doritos and distill them,’” Williams recalled in a recent interview with MarketWatch.
Well, it was a little trickier than just throwing those chips into the mix with some malted barley and a fermenting agent. Williams talks about a rather detailed recipe that involves finding the right “cuts” — meaning portions of the liquid at various stages in the distillation process — and then combining them so that the Doritos taste and smell are fully replicated. But again, this was an experiment — the spirit was never intended for release to the general public. “It was this fun thing,” Williams said.
Still, word traveled to the Doritos team. And as Empirical prepared to move its headquarters to New York City — where it’s opening a place in Brooklyn next year — the thought occurred that maybe now was the time to release a Doritos-flavored booze to the world.
Fortunately for Empirical, the execs at Doritos were eager to make the partnership — and the bottle — a reality. After all, Doritos has long been dipping into the brand-extension game, going back to its collaboration with Taco Bell on the Doritos Loco Taco in 2012. Plus, the larger team at Frito-Lay had already done some work in the spirits space, having released a Lay’s potato chip-inspired vodka in 2021 in partnership with Eastside Distilling, a Portland, Ore., company. It’s all about capitalizing on what Dorito’s senior marketing director Courtney Larson calls consumer “brand love,” and unlocking a whole new way for Doritos fans to embrace the flavor.
Right now, the Empirical bottle is being released as a limited-edition offering, but Larson said “you never know if this might come back.” Meanwhile, Williams doesn’t completely rule out some more Doritos experimentation. In fact, he’s already toyed with another spirit based on the Cool Ranch variety — but it’s not quite ready for prime time yet. “It’s going to take a little more testing,” he said.
What we think about it
I’m often cynical about these collaborations between food and spirits brands, because they can be marketing stunts. But this one works, which is perhaps not so surprising given Empirical’s reputation in the spirits world for doing some very bold but also very tasty things. (I once wrote about its Beethoven-inspired spirit.)
The key thing here is that the booze really does remind you of Doritos — the smell is unmistakable when you open the bottle. And the taste, with honest-to-goodness corn and just a hint of cheesy flavor, comes through on the palate, though it’s a bit more subtle. I also like the fact this spirit isn’t so easily categorizable, but that’s part and parcel of Empirical’s “free-form” ethos. Which is to say: This isn’t a Doritos-flavored “vodka,” but a fully original type of flavored spirit. (In terms of required government labeling, it’s simply identified as a grain-based spirit with natural flavoring.)
Does that mean I’d suggest rushing out and buying this? (Keep in mind the product is likely to sell out, much like other quirky limited-edition offerings.) I’d say it all depends on how much of a Doritos fan you are. This is not a spirit that I’d characterize as an everyday sipper, but something for those who are obsessed with the brand of tortilla chips — or with boozy experimentation.
How to enjoy it
You must first sip this neat to gain an appreciation for how closely the Doritos essence comes through. But from there, it can work well in a number of cocktails — especially a Bloody Mary. Williams said the spirit also makes a nice highball-style cocktail with some Dr Pepper soda and lime juice.