‘Bar Rescue’ Star Jon Taffer on Taffer’s Browned Butter Bourbon’s Journey From a Kitchen Experiment to to Store Shelves
While perusing your local liquor store, you can scarcely turn your head without encountering a celebrity spirits brand. The cat has long been out of the bag: Booze is a great money-maker, and everyone wants a piece of the pie. From George Clooney to Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson to Peyton Manning to LeBron James to Bruno Mars to Bob Dylan to Ryan Reynolds, every celebrity and their mother has seemingly launched a whiskey, tequila, gin or rum with their name attached to it.
Jon Taffer, an entrepreneur and star of the popular Paramount show “Bar Rescue,” wants to be different with his new brand, Taffer’s Browned Butter Bourbon, which launched last month.
“This is not a celebrity brand,” Taffer told Whiskey Raiders during a phone interview. “I didn’t want to name it after myself.”
Taffer hoped to give the brand a name disparate from his own, but his team and partners at Diageo, which produces the flavored whiskey, shot that idea down, eager to put his name on it. Despite losing that battle, Taffer’s focus is on marketing the flavored whiskey not using his fame, but by showing the public that this product is one that can stand up to its competition based on quality alone.
The Inception of Taffer’s Browned Butter Bourbon
Thanks to his role on “Bar Rescue,” which sees him transform struggling bars into successful establishments, Taffer is accustomed to toying with various cocktail recipes and developing new drink ideas. Over the course of filming the show’s 245-and-counting episodes, Taffer and his team have experimented with making cocktails, developing flavored bitters, smoking whiskeys and plenty of other creative booze experiments.
The idea for a browned butter-flavored bourbon, however, struck Taffer not while filming his show, but in November 2021 in the kitchen of Taffer’s Tavern in Alpharetta, Georgia, one of his restaurant’s three locations.
“I got this idea to play with browned butter, which I’d never done before with whiskey,” Taffer said.
So, Taffer used what he had on hand: sous vide products. Sous vide is a French cooking technique in which a chef vacuum-seals food in a bag and cooks it to an extremely precise temperature by submerging the bag in water.
Taffer poured Canadian rye whiskey and browned butter into a sous vide bag, sealed it and left the bag in a sous vide water oven at about 150 degrees for hours.
When he took the bag out of the oven, he found that the butter had coagulated on top. Continuing to work with what he had in the kitchen, he scraped off the coagulated butter and poured the concoction through coffee filters.
“When I was finished, it was a little cloudy, but man, it was unbelievably delicious — smooth and still whiskey-forward,” Taffer said. “You got the whiskey first and you got the whiskey at the end, and the finish was amazing. It had these tones of vanilla and toffee, and I never thought it would be so delicious.”
As expected of the star of a show with “Bar” in its name, Taffer’s next step was developing a cocktail recipe built around his new creation: “The Campfire,” a mix of browned butter whiskey, simple syrup and bitters.
The Campfire quickly became one of the restaurant’s most popular cocktails.
“When I first tasted it in the restaurant, when we were doing the sous vide version, I thought it was delicious,” Taffer said. “I thought the cocktail was great. I thought it was the best whiskey I’d ever tasted. But still, I never thought of producing until months into it, when we were sous-vide cooking whiskey all day just to keep up with the cocktail sales.”
The enthusiasm patrons of the restaurant had for the cocktail is what inspired Taffer to turn this homemade mixture into a marketable product.
“Had I not sold 1,000 cocktails a month of this — and had it not made me say, ‘Wow, look at how people reacted to this’ — I probably wouldn’t have brought it to market,” Taffer said. “So, this was all customer-driven.”
From Kitchen to Store Shelves
Taffer’s Browned Butter Bourbon’s beginnings in a restaurant kitchen were atypical for a spirits brand. That origin made the product its distinctive self, but it also came with disadvantages.
“It was very culinary the way we went about it; it was all chefs who were sous vide cooking and made the butter,” Taffer said. “It was created by a team of chefs in a kitchen. It was a unique experience. Whiskeys are not made with culinary teams, typically. But this one was.”
If Taffer wanted to make this a real product sold beyond the walls of the restaurant, he knew the sous vide method wouldn’t be sustainable. For one thing, Taffer’s Tavern’s chefs were swamped making enough of the stuff to satisfy the needs of all of the diners who wanted the popular cocktail. For another, the browned butter whiskey contained real butter — dairy — and thus wasn’t shelf-stable, only staying good for about 14 days.
So, Taffer turned to an established company that knew the ins and outs of the spirits business: Diageo, the world’s third-largest alcohol company by market capitalization. Diageo owns more than 200 alcohol brands, including many of the world’s most prominent ones: Johnnie Walker, Guinness, Tanqueray, Smirnoff, Baileys, Captain Morgan and Crown Royal.
Taffer had the Diageo team taste the original, homemade browned butter whiskey, and they worked to replicate the browned butter flavoring.
The first formula Diageo came up with was too sweet for Taffer’s liking, so the team kept working.
“We actually landed on the third recipe, which is pretty darn good,” Taffer said. “I’m told many people get to 20 or 30 recipes before they’re done. But on the third recipe, we loved it, so that’s what we stuck with.”
Once the browned butter flavoring was perfected, the next step was selecting a whiskey to be the base. While the first batches in the restaurant used Canadian rye whiskey, Taffer said the recipe switched to bourbon “for a more flavorful base.”
The bourbon that Diageo and Taffer landed on is a blend of two bourbons, one with a high-rye mashbill and the other with a low-rye mashbill. The flavors infused into the bourbon are all natural and contain “very, very little sugar,” according to Taffer, who wanted to make sure it wasn’t too sweet.
“When we put the two bourbons together, along with our flavoring, I really thought we came out with a great base in flavor,” Taffer said.
Taffer’s Browned Butter Bourbon launched in April in two markets: Las Vegas, where Taffer lives, and Boston, one of three markets to host a Taffer’s Tavern. It sells for a suggested retail price of $34.99.
Tasting Taffer’s Browned Butter Bourbon
We tasted Taffer’s Browned Butter Bourbon. Here’s what we thought.
Nose: Bursting with butterscotch, as well as caramel and vanilla. You definitely get the butter, but the sweeter profile makes it more of a butterscotch aroma.
Taste: Syrupy mouthfeel. It’s still sweet on the palate but certainly not as much as it was on the nose. The palate is where the browned butter really comes through. It definitely nails that buttery flavor, albeit with a bit more sweetness than browned butter would have. The browned butter flavor is joined by notes of warm, buttered bread, butterscotch and walnuts.
Finish: Medium in length, with notes of graham cracker, brown sugar and vanilla.
Overall: This is quite good for a flavored whiskey — a category we aren’t typically huge fans of. It’s sweet, but nowhere near as sweet as a majority of its flavored counterparts.
Taffer’s Browned Butter Bourbon is tasty, distinctive and reasonably complex.
The Future for Taffer’s Browned Butter Bourbon
After the launches to Boston and Las Vegas — which Taffer calls “test markets” — the brand plans to continue expanding its retail presence until it’s available nationwide.
Other products under the Taffer’s name may be in the cards, as well. Taffer revealed that he’s “looking right now” at the idea of a browned butter rum.
Taffer hasn’t really given future products much serious thought, however. Most of his focus remains on the browned butter bourbon — his non-celebrity contribution to the celebrity booze space.
“You’ll notice my face and imaging is nowhere on the product anywhere,” Taffer said. “This was never about me. This was always about the product and this unique flavor that we’ve come up with. So, I’m working hard not to make it a celebrity brand but to have the product stand on its own.”
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