If any celebrity should have had his own spirit before now, it’s Jon Taffer — the executive producer and star of “Bar Rescue” on Paramount Network, a bestselling author (including “Raise the Bar”), the creator of Taffer’s Taverns, a member of the Nightclub Hall of Fame, and a fellow who, over a 40-year career, has also been everything from a bartender, manager and owner to a nightlife app developer to a hospitality consultant for thousands of bars, restaurants and companies.
Taffer knows from booze.
At the same time, he understands that for every success like Casamigos Tequila (George Clooney, Rande Gerber), there have been a host of short pour fails for spirits associated with famous folks.
“Celebrity brands have not always done well,” said Taffer, a Las Vegas resident.
And so when a flavor epiphany suggested to Taffer that browned butter and bourbon might fruitfully consort — and when that epiphany led him to create an actual browned butter bourbon — Taffer still didn’t want to put his name on the spirit.
“I never wanted to call it Taffer’s,” he said. “I paid a marketing agency $50,000 to find me a name that would convey fun in the product. I resisted to the end,” only relenting because of the obvious marketing power and connections his name offered. “That wouldn’t have happened if it was Joe’s bourbon.”
Taffer’s Browned Butter Bourbon launched this spring in Las Vegas and Boston. S0, what’s in a name? A seemingly offbeat union of ingredients aimed at confirmed bourbon enthusiasts and newcomers open to new ways of sipping the brown.
Unlikely marriage succeeds
It’s November 2020. The kitchen of Taffer’s Tavern in Georgia. Jon Taffer walks in. He’s thinking of the continuous need to create cocktail recipes for “Bar Rescue” while also smelling butter being browned for a dish. Serendipity begets epiphany: Browned butter could make a great cocktail ingredient.
“I was in a creative mood,” Taffer said. “It hit me between the eyes. I can’t say I planned it.”
He sous vides the butter, filters it, then blends it into a bourbon with a high rye content. Extensive testing occurs. Taffer asks experts to try the product — “whiskey snobs that typically wouldn’t love a flavored product,” he said — and he challenges his mixologists to come up with cocktails featuring the blend.
“We didn’t want it to be sweet. We wanted to start with the whiskey and finish with the whiskey. We wanted to create a product that wasn’t trendy. We wanted to create a product that would last.”
It turns out the bourbon’s caramel, toffee and vanilla notes — and the richness and lush mouthfeel lent by the browned butter — work for sipping, in spirit-forward sours and old-fashioneds, in piña coladas, with soda and a twist of lemon, and more. This versatility (at 80 proof for better mixing), a quality leading to broader appeal, was just what Taffer had hoped for, he said.
“I think we’re finding this reaches outside the normal whiskey drinker, certainly with women for sure.”
Taffer’s Browned Butter Bourbon was born, in part, in a kitchen, and because of this culinary component, Taffer said he asked some of his chef friends to harness the spirit. Michael Mina, for one, marinated steaks in it, and Todd English has tasted it in a browned butter lobster.
Taffer’s belongs to one of the hottest segments of the market: premium brown spirits that are flavored, something previous generations of drinkers would have considered heresy.
“The premium category has embraced flavors,” Taffer said. “They’re moving upward in the consumer demographic and psychographic.”
The Taffer’s website lists the bars, restaurants and retailers where the browned butter bourbon can be found. One upcoming spot is worth special note: Taffer’s Tavern is coming soon to Vegas.