Chicago Bulls legend Scottie Pippen makes a spirited return to the spotlight with the release of his premium new bourbon, Digits.
Scottie Pippen at Savage & Cooke Distillery in California, where his new bourbon, Digits, is produced.
Scottie Pippen is and always will be a Chicago icon—that’s just one of the perks of bringing six NBA championships to the Windy City between ’91 and ’98. No surprise, then, that when it came time for Pippen to launch his next high-profile venture, a bourbon collab with spirits star Dave Phinney called Digits, he chose to launch it right here first. As the duo prepares to expand the 5-year Tennessee bourbon’s reach nationwide, Pippen—who splits his time between L.A., Chicago and Arkansas—spoke with Men’s Book Chicago about the inspiration behind the brand, dished on his favorite Windy City spots and shared what, after all these years, Chicago means to him.
You’ve just released Digits in Chicago. Why bourbon? Why this product?
I’ve been a bourbon drinker for quite a while. My friends know me for drinking more of a Canadian whisky, so I just saw the opportunity to get into [the bourbon] lane. It’s something that I’m passionate about and I thought it was a good fit.
You have teamed up with Dave Phinney, who’s a legend in the field. What was that collaboration like?
Getting to know Dave was very special. We reached out to him, and we were quite shocked that he responded so quickly. We definitely felt that... if we were able to connect, it would be a win-win situation for both of us, and we just hit it off. We were able to speak freely and create a relationship. He came down and visited me in L.A. during the midst of the pandemic, so I felt then that it was something real and if we both worked hard at it, we could do something very special.
Where did the name come from?
The name was created really by Dave; he’s the creative guy, and that’s why I really went with him to make this a real exciting and special project. As you know, he’s a world-renowned winemaker, and just following him we knew that he was getting into the spirit business. So we felt like Dave was a great connection for us and that’s where it all started.
Now that you have released the finished product, what do you think of it? What makes it a standout?
It’s a great bourbon; we give all the credit to the master distiller, Jordan Via. I talked with Jordan as much as I talked with Dave, so Jordan was just able to interview me and figure out what my palate is like. We’ve been to the distillery numerous times, tasting, trying to find the right balance, and I think he did a great job of finding what I was looking for: a very easy-to-drink bourbon, not a lot of sharp edges, but still something that hits your palate very well as a good bourbon.
You launched it exclusively in Chicago, so clearly you still have a lot of affection for the city. After all these years, what does Chicago continue to mean to you?
It’s the world to me. It’s like family here. Anytime I go out on the streets I’m going to be recognized, I’m going to know someone, someone’s going to know me. It’s my extended home; even though I’m from Arkansas and I live in California, I still spend my summers here in Chicago and still have a lot of friends. I come back here to play golf, go out to dinner.
Scottie Pippen takes a closer look at Digits’ coloring.
Has your relationship with the city changed or evolved over the years?
No, it’s always been a solid family thing. Chicago is a sports town, and they love their athletes. They love their sports. And coming here and winning has given me a black card that will never expire. So I feel very comfortable here, and the reason we launched the bourbon here is because we knew that we could get the people out to support it. And now that we’ve gained that support, we’re trying to get a feel for how we go to a national level and really strategically do it right.
You mentioned you still spend a lot of time in Chicago. What are some of your favorite places?
I golf out at Kemper Lakes and Lake Shore Country Club with friends; I play The Glen Club, Rich Harvest Farms, Willow Crest Golf Club—I play everywhere. I enjoy going down to the city. I like going to Joe’s Seafood. I like going to Chicago Cut; I was there last night. I like hanging out on Rush Street and at Gibsons and Tavern on Rush; I like the West Loop—I spend a lot of time at Soho House and a lot of the restaurants in that area. I try to be a normal person as much as I can, which is hard to do here, but it’s fun. It’s why I launched my bourbon here because I knew that’s part of the excitement that I would get.
What is your ultimate goal for Digits?
To be the Crown killer [laughs]. I figure that if me and Dave Phinney can create a nice bourbon here, we can start to attack the Crown Royal market that’s dominating the U.S.
Anything else that you’re focused on right now?
I’m really focusing on taking my bourbon national, but I also have a popcorn brand called Husk that [is available online]. I’ve also got a bourbon tea that me and Dave Phinney are going to be launching with Smith Teamaker; it’s going to be our bourbon Digits as a tea.
Last question: What’s your message to all your Chicago fans out there?
Just what I told you a minute ago: I’ve created a Crown killer, and I want all the Chicagoans to make sure that they have their Digits going into this winter to give them some nice heat to keep them warm.
Relaxing with co-creator and spirits industry legend Dave Phinney.
“[CHICAGO] IS THE WORLD TO ME. IT’S LIKE FAMILY HERE. ANYTIME I GO OUT ON THE STREETS I’M GOING TO BE RECOGNIZED, I’M GOING TO KNOW SOMEONE, SOMEONE’S GOING TO KNOW ME. IT’S MY EXTENDED HOME.”
Photography by: MARGARET PATTILLO