The Tastemaker

With his un­canny abil­ity to iden­tify and cre­ate fa­vors, David Dafoe’s Fla­vor­man and Moon­shine Univer­sity are rid­ing the boom in craft dis­til­leries.

Forbes - - Entrepreneurs - By Susan adams

Back in 2010 a Miami en­tre­pre­neur ap­proached David Dafoe for help cre­at­ing a drink called Rab­bit Hab­bit, to be made with horny goat weed, a foul-tast­ing herb pur­ported to act like a nat­u­ral Vi­a­gra. It was a fa­mil­iar chal­lenge for Dafoe’s com­pany, Fla­vor­man: Mask the weed with pleas­ant fruity fa­vors. He and his lab tech­ni­cians worked their magic, and the client was thrilled.

A ro­tund man with a gray goa­tee and an easy laugh, Dafoe, 53, has turned a freak­ish abil­ity to iden­tify fa­vors into a busi­ness on track to pro­duce $14 mil­lion in rev­enue this year, re­cently proft­ing from the pub­lic’s taste for craft-dis­tilled spir­its like moon­shine, which, ab­sent fa­vor­ing, can taste like rub­bing al­co­hol. Along the way he has sur­vived sev­eral trau­matic re­ver­sals, in­clud­ing a fawed busi­ness model, the exit of a too-big-to-lose client and a dev­as­tat­ing ill­ness.

Dafoe dis­cov­ered his un­likely gift in 1985 when he ap­plied on a whim at a Cincin­nati fa­vor house then known as Fries & Fries. He cor­rectly iden­ti­fed the fa­vors in fve soufé cups flled with clear liq­uid, in­clud­ing one he was al­most too em­bar­rassed to men­tion: “I re­mem­ber think­ing, ‘Holy crap, I can’t say pork chop be­cause that seems so ridicu­lous.’ ” He said it any­way and got the job.

He spent fve years at Brown-for­man, maker of megabrands like Jack Daniel’s, while earn­ing an M.B.A. When Chiq­uita Brands tried to re­cruit him, he got the idea to start a con­sult­ing busi­ness with Chiq­uita as an an­chor client. At frst he charged just for the recipes, us­ing free sam­ples he cadged from big fa­vor com­pa­nies like In­ter­na­tional Fla­vors & Fragrances, but when a

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