Twelve seasons of Bar Rescue, more than 245 episodes, and after creating more than 1,200 cocktails, Jon Taffer has quite a tally of bars and lives rescued.
In an interview with The Whiskey Wash, Taffer said his work on Bar Rescue has been the most gratifying of his life, and the bars and lives he helps change for the better is “unbelievable.”
As his own line of whiskey makes its way into the market, Taffer is reflective of the work he’s put into the drinks industry and what’s led him to his new culinary-inspired spirit, the Browned Butter Bourbon.
Way back when, Taffer said he would noticed that his father was a Crown Royal man. “He’d always drink it neat or with ginger ale.” And when he came of age, that’s what he would drink. Then, he discovered The Godfather, what he called the perfect cocktail.
And that flash of mixology would stay with him for life.
As an owner and operator of many spirit ventures, from bars to hotels and everything in between, he’s no longer really a drinker, more of a savant when it comes to innovation and creation. In fact, it’s that creation of cocktails and various other products that “really keeps it fresh to me.”
As a college student at the University of Denver, Taffer was keen on political science and anthropology. To make ends meet, as many do in college, he started tending bar. “That’s where I fell in love with the people. With their stories.”
He worked his way up in that industry, to bar manager, owner, hotel operator, vice president of this company, executive director of that company. “I’m so glad I didn’t stick with politics, can you imagine?” he joked.
And today, he’s atop a successful enterprise of business ventures, all within the spirits world. He’s a tavern owner, an entrepreneur, and now a bourbon tycoon. “And to think, it all started with bartending,” he quipped.
Most notably, Taffer is in your home every day with new and old episodes of his reality TV show Bar Rescue.
On the show, he’s charged with helping desperate bar owners bail out of bad situations through tough love and hard work. “Seeing what they go through, it’s heavy,” he said. “People out of their homes. Broke by their bars. Blowing their retirement, operating a lost cause. It really hurts me when I see people suffer.”
He said these stories have taught him just how easy failure can be in the spirits industry.
To turn it all around is quite simple, Taffer explained. “It’s in the details. Presentation, quality of ingredients, the right training. Bars that take the lead on this, they will see their revenue go up. Things can change.”
And when it all gets on track, and a bar owner on the show rights the ship, it can be quite cathartic. “At the end, often when we go to hug, it covers up the mic. But what nobody hears, it’s the people saying how unbelievably grateful they are and how this saved them. That’s why I say it’s the most gratifying thing I’ve ever done.”
His advice for those seeking success in the spirits industry? “Training is the key. Really, that can go for any industry, but especially in spirits as well as the culinary world. You know, someone mixes drinks for two weeks and they call themselves a mixologist. No, you’re a bartender. You cook for two weeks, you’re not a chef. It speaks to experience. A chef and a cook aren’t the same thing. Certainly a bartender and a mixologist are different.”
Mixology is a department with which Taffer can speak with ease. In 12 seasons, over 240 episodes of Bar Rescue, he’s come up with creative new cocktails at five per episode. “That’s a lot of drinks, man. You have to push that creative bar all the time.”
He looks for inspiration and creativity everywhere when dreaming up new cocktails.
One day, he’s at home in Las Vegas browning butter to make some mushrooms. “I look at it, smell it, and think, hmm, how would this taste in a drink?”
Immediately, he gets to work browning a huge batch of butter. He gathers a large bag and fills it with some Canadian whisky. Pours the brown butter in the bag and seals the whole thing. He lets it simmer in hot water for hours.
Afterwards, Taffer freezes it and skims off the butter solids. The finished product was cloudy whisky “that was about the best damn thing I’ve ever had.” The next day, he finds a cocktail application for it at Taffer’s Tavern, and on the menu the browned butter cocktail goes.
People couldn’t get enough of it. They flocked for this particular cocktail. “I never had people come to the Tavern especially for a cocktail. It was something else.”
He took his concoction to a flavor house to figure out how to completely remove the dairy and bada boom, the Browned Butter Bourbon was born and bottled.
The new whiskey expression launched in Las Vegas, Taffer’s hometown, as well as in Boston. He calls this spirit a “whiskey-forward product,” and balance is the key to its success. “I wanted it to start and finish as a bourbon.”
Chefs across the restaurant studded landscape of Las Vegas are clambering for the new product, as it has a world of culinary application. “I’ve seen it used for browned butter French toast, that was amazing. And recently, I had a chef come up with a Browned Butter Bourbon steak that was perfection.”
That culinary crossover is something Taffer said is making its way throughout the spirits industry. He explained that with the Food Network, and shows like Bar Rescue, Americans have raised the bar in the food and drink industry, finding out just how important it is to have consistency and quality.
“I really love the approach of spirits makers of late, with all the flavors,” he said. “With the cases of flavored whiskey approaching astronomical numbers, I really see that trend continuing. Maybe even flavored Scotch soon?”
What he said he’s learned the most from his time at Bar Rescue, is that people really want to experiment with tastes. “And I think bars really need to create excitement like that. Give those cocktails great names, get great glassware, experiment. The spirits industry has given us all the flavors, seize it!”
Taffer is currently filming another season of Bar Rescue, and has signed on for at least two more. After a boating trip for some island time, he’ll focus on the new Browned Butter Bourbon venture with bar tours and seminars.
The new expression is available across Las Vegas and Boston and will hit liquor store shelves nationwide soon, and you can always check out where to find it and more at www.taffersbrownedbutterbourbon.com.