Review: Doritos x Empirical

I run a spirits blog. Which means that we get a lot of “helpful press releases” from companies wanting to announce their new spirits. Most of the time this is some variation of “we took our existing whiskey and slapped a new label on it” which is incredibly boring… but every so often, something comes into our inbox that is so bonkers and off the wall that we know for an absolute fact that we need to try it, taste buds be damned. Doritos x Empirical is one of those bottles, and today we’re going to try it — so you don’t have to.



Empirical Spirits was founded in Copenhagen, Denmark in 2017 by Lars Williams and Mark Emil Hermansen. The pair had worked for chef René Redzepi in Copenhagen, either directly for his Michelin star rated Noma restaurant or his non-profit MAD, and decided to strike out on their own and create a spirits company focusing on unconventional products — proudly labeling themselves as “uncategorized”. According to the founders, this provided them the blank slate and freedom they desired to try new things and experiment with distillation techniques.

While the vision was grand, the road has been rocky. The company had originally set up shop in Copenhagen, but by 2023 they weren’t turning a profit and went bankrupt. Undeterred, in January of 2024 they announced a new distillery in Brooklyn, New York and aim to continue their journey.


It seems like this is a product that took off at exactly the wrong time for Empirical Spirits. The marketing and production for this spirit hit just as their Copenhagen location was going bankrupt, and they haven’t had time to actually install their new Brooklyn distillery. As a result, this is actually distilled and bottled by Barrel Brothers Brewing Company in Windsor, California. It just has the Empirical brand name on it.

According to company legend, the idea for this spirit originally came when one of their employees came back from lunch late and, for a joke, threw his leftover bag of Doritos into the still. The resulting spirit apparently tasted remarkably like Doritos, and the idea for the collaboration was born.

For the production run, it doesn’t seem like that’s the same way they did it here. Even just from a logistical standpoint, since they are using another company’s still for the production and likely don’t want all their whiskey coming out flavored like nacho cheese, adding the Doritos directly to the still would require some significant scrubbing and cleaning after production and is highly inefficient. The other way they could have done this is by crushing the chips and fermenting them for the source of the spirit, but that has the same problem.

According to how I read the label (because details are scarce), it seems like this started out as either a vodka or a neutral spirit produced the usual way from grains. To that spirit they added “Doritos nacho cheese tortilla chips extract”… which I take to mean that they macerated (basically made a tea) with Doritos chips in a bucket of vodka, strained out the solid chunks, and then added that extract to a larger vat of neutral spirit to impart the flavors.

The head scratcher here is that this claims to be “vacuum distilled”, which is a process where the still itself is kept at a lower pressure and uses lower temperatures to operate — a process intended to allow lighter, more delicate flavors to make it through the process which otherwise would have been stuck in the body of the still. How that factors into this isn’t really explained; it might be that they distilled that Doritos vodka tea before adding it to the larger vat of neutral spirits, which would make sense since you could use a smaller still which wouldn’t contaminate the larger operation and be much easier to clean. But since we don’t have any hard details, we’re left to guess.

Once properly flavored, the spirit is proofed down to 42% ABV and bottled for sale.

Empirical says they price themselves on being “uncategorized”. I think they generally hit that here: this is too low proof to be a vodka, doesn’t have enough sugar to be a liqueur, doesn’t quite fit the category of a gin, and isn’t barreled enough to count as a whiskey. I guess technically this is a “flavored liquor” (not a “liqueur”, which would require sugar), which is a category so broad as to be functionally useless.


Let’s start with the overall bottle shape, because this is similar to other designs we have seen time and again — specifically Identity Tequila, Kentucky 74, and Dark Door. There are slight differences, but the overall idea seems to be the same: a cylindrical body, sharp and flatly angled shoulder, short neck, and capped off with a synthetic cork. It seems to want to evoke the idea of a hip, trendy, chic bottle that doesn’t necessarily fit the mold of a traditional spirit.

For something ostensibly designed in Denmark, it’s about what I would expect a Danish designer to produce. Either something that looks like a Bauhaus dream or a wooden clog (this one definitely being closer to the former).

There are two labels on the bottle, a front and back. The front label is square and Doritos orange, with the Doritos logo and a triangular shape on the front. It looks striking and modern, and I think has just the right vibe that they were aiming to hit. It will definitely stand out next to a bottle of Lagavulin on your shelf, but I think that’s the point.

The rear label has an orange backing, which refracts through the liquid in the bottle and makes the liquid appear that same shocking orange color (rather than clear). It’s a neat trick, and works well for this specific product. On the back is some production information and some kind of tasting notes (which are hard to decipher).

The bottle comes packaged in a box with some cardboard filler. It’s a nice box, and makes sense for something that is primarily distributed through the mail.



First things first, this is a crystal clear glass of liquid. There are no particles and nothing floating around in here, it looks like any other glass of vodka. But as soon as you take a whiff, you know there’s something strange going on here.

It smells exactly like you popped your head into a bag of nacho cheese flavored Doritos… one where you also accidentally dropped some hand sanitizer into the mix. For me it brings back vivid memories of playing Starcraft against my buddies in the dorm on our local LAN into the wee hours of the morning waiting for the South Korean game streams to start.

To be more precise, I’m getting tortilla chips (roasted corn), melted queso (the cheap kind that melts really well), a dusting of chili powder, a hint of blue cheese, and finally that industrial alcohol aroma at the end.

It smelled interesting, but the taste is legitimately terrible. Imagine taking a corn tortilla chip, loading it up with blue cheese, add sprinkling a bit of salt on top, and finish it with chili powder spice. That’s precisely the flavor profile I’m getting here. I guess technically that’s the flavor profile for a Dorito, but here it tastes like absolute chaos.

Drinking this neat is more of a challenge than an experience, and one I’d really like to never revisit if possible.

On Ice

This tastes much more like I expected. The addition of ice can do wonders to a spirit, toning down the louder components and bringing order to chaos, and I think that’s what we are seeing here.

Instead of a strong blue cheese flavor, that has been toned down to a more manageable chili powder infused queso cheese note. I get the corn chips loud and clear, and the salinity as well. I wouldn’t call it my favorite drink, but this at least tastes like a coherent Doritos chip.

Cocktail (Old Fashioned)

I didn’t think that things could get worse, but obviously I was wrong. I figured I would try this as an old fashioned cocktail just for a laugh, but I am regretting every moment that brought me to this point in my life.

There’s such a loud and raucous clash between the aromatics in the bitters and the nacho cheese flavor (a sentence that has never been said before) that it is nearly impossible to taste anything else in the glass. It’s just a jumble of processed cheese and pain.

Cocktail (Margarita)

It might be that my taste buds are still recovering from the old fashioned, but this actually doesn’t seem all that bad.

Obviously, the aroma of nacho cheese is atypical of your normal margarita, but it’s actually recognizable as a margarita, which I’m taking as a win. There’s also a bit of added salinity to the flavor, and some funky blue cheese notes near the finish. It’s not terrible, but it’s also not very good.

What I think is going on here more than anything is that the Cointreau and the lime juice are doing an amazing job covering up all of the Doritos flavor, and we’re left looking at the top of the iceberg. It’s an improvement (I think)… but not one that I’d necessarily want to serve to other sentient life forms.


Overall Rating

This is a bottle of spirits that does exactly what it says on the tin: it smells and tastes like a bag of Doritos chips. Which, I suppose, is an accomplishment. It’s a thing and it exists… but for the life of me, I can’t figure out what this does better than any other spirit in the world.

Which seems to be the point. The distillery prides itself on being unique in what they do and a bit off-the-wall in their choice of spirits, and this is definitely right up their alley. But in practical terms, I can’t find a use for it. There’s no cocktail or drink I can think of where this flavor profile works (although I’d love to be proven wrong in the comments).

What this seems like is a bottle of spirits perfectly designed for direct to consumer marketing and Instagram stories, but not necessarily one where the actual use of the product was really thought out all that well. So I give it one star for delivering on the promise that the label puts forth, but that’s all I can muster.

Empirical Doritos Nacho Cheese
Produced By: Empirical
Production Location: California, United States
Classification: Other
Aging: No Age Statement (NAS)
Proof: 42% ABV
Price: $65 / 750 ml
Product Website: Product Website
Overall Rating:
All reviews are evaluated within the context of their specific spirit classification as specified above. Click here to check out similar spirits we have reviewed.

Overall Rating: 1/5
In one sense, this is an absolute triumph — the distillery set out to make a spirit that smelled and tasted like a Doritos chip, and they succeeded. But I wonder if anyone ever stopped to consider if that was a good idea.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.