Friday, March 27, 2015

General Update Q1 2K15



2015 has started off a bit rougher than in previous years, with January featuring a couple of the worst sauces I’ve had the misfortune of tasting, both of them so bad, the bottles were immediately ejected. It takes realistically around a  score of 6 or so for me to consider a sauce a repeat buy, with very few deviations, so when reading this blog, that’s a good criteria to judge whether or not to pick up a bottle. This year, so far, it has taken into March to hit a 6 overall and to get even some of the criteria elements as high as a 9. The current highest scoring sauce this year so far is a 7. If this trend continues, it will make me very nervous about picking a sauce of the year. In point of fact, it actually already is making me somewhat anxious. On the other hand, maybe I was just extremely fortunate in years previous.

As noted, I’ve been back, or rather was back until a fairly nasty cold that involved sore throat agony hit for almost all of February, on a sauce tear (had to clean out very few bottles from the fridge without consuming them first), doing a nice job of driving my capsaicin tolerance, reasonably high to begin with apparently, back up. This is a trend I can only hope continues as I really missed that part of things. I’ve, again, moved into another dietary phase (or was, rather, prior to that bout of illness – I have it in mind to resume after a business trip in early April), in an attempt to be more healthy, as my earlier plan of resuming my former somewhat hardcore gym rat lifestyle appears to not be in the cards as I’d hoped. That plan was to resume once my son could join me in workouts, but I don’t think I can wait that long nor really go at it with the same approach. My goals, indeed, are not the same as what they were and rather than shooting at the bodybuilder and/or modified strongman type of workouts and general lifestyle (which I had trouble focusing on, even then, given my penchant for so many other interests), I’m now shooting for a much rounder life-extentionist sort of vibe, as I haven’t ever really tried that one on for size.

To be a bit more specific, I eat out a lot, as in daily or more. My diet would never fit into anyone’s definition of “good”, though I try to do the best I can with what choices I’m making. Part of what I was doing was not only eating entirely vegetarian, NOT vegan, but also raw after getting home from work. It was working remarkably well until whatever virus hit and struck me down and I will resume that once things settle down somewhat at my work with a position shift undertaken by yours truly. To accommodate family life and my interests and not take too hardline of a stance, which would not be ultimately sustainable, I’m restricting this to weekdays only and leaving weekends mostly wide open, though I’m also trying to keep a handle on that as best I can.

Part of all of this journey, into hot sauce, into wines, into various restaurants, into lifestyle changes, is really a trek of knowledge, to understand oneself better, to recognize various loves and interests when they appear and to be able to not only share those with the world, such as I do here, but to be free enough, unhampered and unencumbered enough to explore those to the heart’s content. In doing these things, we hopefully find ourselves becoming happier in the process, but even if not, information is a valuable end as well.

I said in the last sort of update that I wondered if I was going to hit 100 hot sauce reviews and now, with the first quarter tally here in, it seems a foregone conclusion that I will this year, probably well before the end of it (I’m at 88 as of this writing). To celebrate that milestone, perhaps I will go back and re-add all those hot sauce bottle pictures that have not been present…or at least as many as I can find. I will say definitely that there will be no other pictures other than those, though, which are still most definitely a maybe. Do you need to see sauce that comes in a clear bottle in a spoon or on food? There is a complete glut of food porn online already without me contributing to it and those pictures add nothing, in my estimation. How about a critique of the bottle labeling? Does that matter to any of you and in what way? Graphics and advertising either work or don’t, in all cases almost immediately, but it’s entirely subjective. Does my opinion (or anyone else’s) on the paper stuck to the glue stuck to the bottle matter?

Not for me, it doesn’t, which is why you’ll rarely see me discuss it, aside from some of the actual advertising copy and/or claims on the bottle and typically only when they’re notably contradictory to my actual findings. If someone devotes space to it in their own hot sauce writing, I generally don’t bother with it, as I find that line of subject entirely useless. When I come across pictures of sauce on food elsewhere, that’s the first thing I skip past. 

I'm interested in suggestions and if you have any or commentary on what you may want to see, drop me a line. I’m still pretty open, minus the boring and/or pointless parts I just mentioned.

That aside,  I still haven’t quite decided what I ultimately want to do with this or the other blog (that one will never get pictures, due to the facet of wine being so predominated by year listings on the label), other than keep them going, I guess, until they run their natural course. I think they will do well, even without active contribution, as archives, which was sort of the spirit of intent anyway. We’re still a ways off, probably at least a year for the wine blog and likely longer for this one, from that discussion being either appropriate or necessary, of course…

One exciting thing, to me, is the proliferation of hot sauces available on a local level. There are easily 3 or 4 times the amount there was when I started this blog, in a much wider range of heat, in a much wider range of retailers. Sometimes, however, this will manifest itself in discolored stock, if proper rotation is not observed, but for the most part, this is a very welcome and happy change and one that I take advantage of as often as I can…which may, at least partially, explain the increase in reviews.

Spicy food is unquestionably taking over the mainstream and sauce is leading the charge. When Taco Bell, which had their own “hot” sauce for quite a while, delves into those stupid red Frito-Lay snack foods as part of their garbage offerings and then further dives headfirst into the Sriracha pool, things begin to approach critical mass. I don’t view this direction or trend, if you like, as either good or bad, as much as something that just is. Given that most people consider Frank’s an actual hot sauce, instead of the shit it is or the fact that Tabasco and if you’re really lucky, Cholula, are about as far as most restaurants get with bottle sauces and given also that most people are woefully inadequate to a heat escalation war, hopefully we just get this as a way to enhance flavor rather than as a gimmick, perhaps some more interesting menu items. I don’t see this leading to a proliferation of actual chileheads (but probably tons of posers) or it diluting the market and quite possibly, if it persists, there may be some real benefit as sometimes happens once something both gains steam and gets some money behind it. Time will tell, I guess…as it tends to do.

Friday, March 20, 2015

O' Brother Chipotle-Habanero Hot Sauce Review

O' Brother That's Hot! Chipotle-Habanero Hot Sauce

I guess this is supposed to be a play maybe on the "O' Brother Where Art Thou?" movie from a while ago? Hard to tell, but this is kind of a dumb name, even worse because the claim of the sauce name is patently false. I do kind of like the label, though, with a jackass on the front breathing a dried chile (guessing that's supposed to be the Chipotle) and a regular red Habanero, which have flaming stems. The copy on the label goes on to lead with "We're not kidding", which calls to my mind strong questions about their heat tolerance...not something you probably want in your consumer's minds if you're a hot sauce maker...

The idea here was, since the rousing success of the Adobe Milling Chipotle-Habanero sauce, to find something similarly wonderful and even at the slightly high price for this type of sauce at $3/bottle, it was better than the $10 I could find for the other. I might just throw in on a quart of that sauce, actually, down the line, but for now, I've got an entire shelf to get through, so it won't be today...maybe not even this year.

That aside, this is what I call a "bright" sauce, in that it's very lively (and bright red). The Chipotle is downplayed somewhat, compared to the Adobe Milling and this fails as a duplicate sauce. It is much more on the vinegary side of things and pulls in a lot more of the Jalapeno and Habanero than the Chipotle. It's not a bad tasting sauce, just more astringent than I was really after. Because it tends more to that side, I find it much more capable where I would use a Louisiana-style rather than I would a Mexican sauce or the all-around nature of the Adobe Milling.

Bottom line: It's worth picking a bottle up to try, but this is not an acceptable substitute for the glory of that Adobe Milling and would do better if the ratios were adjusted a bit more.

Breakdown:

            Heat level: 3
            Flavor: 6
            Flexibility: 6
            Enjoyment to dollar factor: 5

Overall: 5

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Hellfire Elixir Hot Sauce Review

Hellfire The Elixir Hot Sauce

This is a flask sauce and I can say, without much question, that this is probably the hottest flask sauce I've ever had. With Scorpions and 7 Pots figuring into the mix, it seems likely that would be the case, but usually sauce this warm doesn't wind up in a flask. I also like the idea of a flask, with the built-in societal connotations to either sneaking liquor (there is Caribbean spiced rum in the mix, incidentally) or more aptly here, as a sort of curative, "good for what ails ya" sort of thing. I've spent a lot of time talking about the container and unfortunately, the flask is by far the best part about this sauce.

This is another of the so-called "garbage" sauces. When I say "garbage", I refer to this in the sense of pizza, where every topping under the sun is thrown on top. Another way to say it would be "kitchen sink", I suppose. I mention this for context, not because I think the sauce is actual refuse. It is a very curious sauce, though and with all of the various baking spices in it (allspice, vanilla extract, etc.),  it gets really confusing. The taste itself is far too busy and frankly, the peppers clash with each other and the spices, which tends to be invariably distracting.

Like many other sweet-hot sauces, it really almost something fried to accompany. After burning through a quarter of a bottle, though, I have yet to find anything it meshes well with. I have tried this at varying levels, just a small amount seems to do best, but the last few times have just been for testing purposes only, not for enjoyment and that's the point where the experiment ends. It might be like the seasonal offering from High River, the Grapes Of Wrath (reviewed elsewhere in this blog) and just work strictly on basically roasted meats the best, but that's one avenue I didn't get to trying. Honestly, though, the taste always tends to be jarring and is simply not good enough for me to think it would work well there, either. Even the smell itself is very bracing, not a good thing here.

Bottom line: While this is a well-packaged misfire, it is a misfire nonetheless. This doesn't work well with food and tends to be a distraction. While it doesn't taste outright bad, it's not particularly good, either, rather just unique. Cutting about half of the ingredients out would be a good start for a start that conceptually is interesting, but is just too busy, conflicting and in need of a re-tool.

Breakdown:

            Heat level: 7
            Flavor: 2
            Flexibility: 0
            Enjoyment to dollar factor: 3

Overall: 3

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Adobe Milling Chipotle Habanero Hot Sauce Review

Adobe Milling Chipotle Habanero Hot Sauce

 Every once in a while, one comes across this, something unexpected and entirely wonderful. What we have here is a fairly simple blend: Habanero, Jalapeno, vinegar, salt, Chipotle, water, but they have it all in exactly the right proportions and it is dynamite. The Chipotle adds a nice smokiness, the Jalapeno contributes a good portion flavoring, tempering the Habaneros, which themselves provide a very nice back end heat. It's not extreme, by any means, but it does provide enough boost to take notice, which is all this really winds up needing.

This is one of the most delicious sauces I've come across and truth be told, I'm hard pressed to think of where it wouldn't work, as that delightful bit of astringency that the vinegar adds brings in a flawless grace note. I probably wouldn't like it on Mexican food, as I don't like any overt vinegar tones in that type of cuisine, given how typically highly spiced it already is. I don't think the vinegar accompanies it nicely, but that's sort of my thing. As to everything else, it complements very nicely, while still adding its own contribution, an aspect that can frequently be a rare thing in the sauce world.

Bottom line: This very simple sauce is also remarkably inexpensive. It's not the kind I would ordinarily seek out but by random chance, I came across it in a restaurant and immediately fell in love and put it on everything there, then got another bottle for further testing. Just fantastically well-done.

Breakdown:

            Heat level: 3
            Flavor: 9
            Flexibility: 9
            Enjoyment to dollar factor: 7

Overall: 7


Friday, March 6, 2015

Tennessee Sunshine Hot Sauce Review

TryMe Tennessee Sunshine Hot Pepper Sauce

While for me, Tabasco probably was, like nearly everyone else, the first hot sauce I tried, though it might also have been something from El Paso (didn't grow up in a hotbed of spice growing up, truth be told, though I like to think I've more than made up for that deficiency), TryMe Tiger sauce was the first hot sauce I tried that I actually liked and it continued to be a staple for quite a few years until the marketplace caught up with and surpassed it and I wound up shelving it in favor of better entries. It seems like I tried some of their other sauces, to much less favorable results, though I don't recall hitting this one...until I ran across it one day in a grocery store. Though TryMe is not really a brand I look to any longer, the day I'm not interested in a good Louisiana-style sauce is the day they're packing the cold dark dirt over my head.

So, here we have Cayenne peppers, vinegar, water and salt, which is the same basis for another old favorite, Red Devil. In this case, vegetable gum is also added, but it's unlikely that would make much of a flavor difference, being mostly an emulsifier and viscosity agent. While I wouldn't go so far as to say this is a clone of Red Devil, it is more similar than not, which means it tastes quite good (not as good, but not too far away, either). It does have slightly more heat than Red Devil and is definitely a lot less watery (thanks to the vegetable gum).

I am admittedly somewhat confused as to why an obviously Lousiana-styled sauce is named after Tennessee, especially with no presence of whiskey in the sauce, but I imagine this is to differentiate it from TryMe's Cajun sauce, which is maybe supposed to be more true or something. Like most of TryMe's line, it's a bit on the pricier side of sauces, given what it is, but it's still overall a fine sauce.

Bottom line: At double the price, but with a less tasty flavor, this would not have been much of a consideration in my earlier sauce-buying days, despite a slight heat acceleration. It is, however, a very worthy sauce and a solid choice for a Louisiana-style sauce.

Breakdown:

            Heat level: 1
            Flavor: 8
            Flexibility: 7
            Enjoyment to dollar factor: 7

Overall: 6

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Tabasco Buffalo Hot Sauce Review

Tabasco Buffalo Style Hot Sauce

While I applaud the Tabasco hot sauce company for what they've done for hot sauce in general, loosely and more fervently applaud their attempts at innovation, I sometimes get the feeling they don't know what they're doing and are just resting on their considerable, though dated, laurels.

Case in point, this sauce. Buffalo sauce has been around a long while and while I feel it is mostly derived from the Cayenne-based Lousiana-style sauce, at least when it is best, it is a very well-established style. Those who do it well, do it well and everyone else takes a swinging pass at it, which is sometimes good and sometimes a salvo across the bow that is the exact kind of thing that could result in someone getting knocked out.

This one would be more towards the latter. Tabasco itself, we all know (and if you're me, mostly hate) and them stepping into this arena means a very harsh sort of loose Buffalo-flavored concoction with that sweetness associated with Tabasco peppers. Little to no heat to speak of, but a flavor that is best left unspeakable, actually. If I put a sauce down, such as I did with this, to reach for Original Tabasco, to me, it speaks that something is really wrong and this is a race to the gutter to find something as ill-conceived and delivered as this. Sure, you would be hard-pressed to do it, but could probably find something as dreadful, but this is not why we look to hot sauce. This is the kind of thing we avoid.

Bottom line: Things like this make me wonder if sauce makers are tasting the product they put on shelves and if they are, how they can, in good conscience, sleep after doing so. Certainly not the worst I've ever had, but also not worth consuming.

Breakdown:

            Heat level: 0
            Flavor: 2
            Flexibility: 1
            Enjoyment to dollar factor: 0

Overall: 1

Sunday, February 1, 2015

El Yucateco Caribbean Hot Sauce Review

El Yucateco Caribbean Chile Habanero Sauce

Continuing along with another of the El Yucateco line-up, we have this sort of oddly-named sauce. When we see the name Caribbean, we might think of a sort of Louisiana-styled sauce or we might think of something along the lines of a "jerk" seasoning. This, however, is neither.

In fact, this one is nothing so much as a sort of typical carrot-Habanero sauce and most closely resembles its much tastier big brother, the Green sauce, though it is notably distant from that. The usual El Yucateco coloring weirdness is in full effect. So far, we have the ultra-bright Red, the borderline fluorescent Green, the black-flecked nauseating ashy Private Reserve and now this, baby-diarrhea Light Brown. That their sauces continue to sell so well points to one or maybe a combination of two factors: a dearth in the marketplace or the quality of their sauces. As wild popularity bears little to no relation to actual quality, I'm leaning more towards the former, though, to be fair, their sauces are unique and in the case of at least the Green, fantastic.

This one doesn't quite get up to those lofty heights and in fact, was one that had to grow on me a bit. It is not one I would consider immediately or readily accessible to the palate. It's around the same heat level as the Red, maybe a little less, slight compared to the Green, but the flavoring does not play nicely at all with a wide variety of foods. In fact, if you're not sticking mainly to Mexican, where it does a fair job only, it's better to leave this one on the shelf, as several others fill that niche much better. Given that this one is rare, it might be worthwhile to pick up if you see it, as you're not especially likely to come by it again, but that's probably for the more diehard fans of hot sauce or the manufacturer in general.

Bottom line: It's worth a try if you haven't already had carrot-Habanero, but definitely stick to more Mexican-y foods with it for best results. I probably will not be obtaining a bottle of this again.

Breakdown:

            Heat level: 2
            Flavor: 5
            Flexibility: 3
            Enjoyment to dollar factor: 4

Overall: 4

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Bee Sting Habanero Hot Sauce

Bee Sting Honey n' Habanero Pepper Sauce

Some of you have had some KFC. I've had some, probably everyone has had some. I say this because at KFC, they not too long ago became the subject of a national report on HFCS in which it publicized them spiking their honey packets with that noxious derivative. They were far from alone and several other producers, including grocery store brands, were equally guilty of this addition, which was likely made in the name of price, but has the additional side effect of over-sweetening the product.

I mention all this because this sauce has, as its first ingredient, HFCS. So, if you've guessed by now that this is an over-sweetened product along those lines, give yourself a cigar. The other elements of this, some onion flavoring, garlic, various peppers, sort of come together to create a rather noxious overtone to this when eaten straight. On food, it does slightly better, but this is not a well-executed sauce. Conceptually, mixing honey with habanero is not a bad idea, but as with everything else food-related, quality of ingredients leads to quality of product and not only using a substandard element, such as HFCS, but leading with it, adds a cheapness to the taste.

Heat here is precious little. One of the suggestions is for ice cream, which evidently is the new trend of sauce makers - to try and wreck everyone's desserts with hot sauce - but this wouldn't be particularly good there. As it stands, it does well with fried foods or wherever else you'd use a dipping sauce, but either registers as too cloying or having a noticeable off-taste on other foods.

Bottom line: While I give this high marks conceptually, the execution is frankly horrid and this is neither a good-tasting nor particularly useful, flavorful or picante sauce.

Breakdown:

            Heat level: 2
            Flavor: 2
            Flexibility: 3
            Enjoyment to dollar factor: 2

Overall: 2

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Pukka Hot Sauce Review

Busha Browne's Pukka Hot Pepper Sauce

I sometimes wonder from what planet the guys who write the copy for hot sauce labels emerge. Take this one, "BE WARNED. IT IS VERY HOT AND NOT FOR THE FAINTHEARTED." From the front, "EXTRA HOT AND FIERY. USE WITH DISCRETION." Evidently whoever wrote it didn't also taste it, as the only way this sauce is actually hot is if you make it physically that way, in a temperature sense. As far as spiciness, this has precious little heat, maybe slightly more than a Tabasco or in that range somewhere.

But...and this is a big one...we all know by now that the only thing which matters is flavor and in that regard, this one delivers in a major way. The Scotch Bonnet, one of my personal favorites, is in full force here and delivers not only major deliciousness, but that slight bit of sweetness along with it as well. Heat, as mentioned, is miniscule, but that can mostly be forgiven. Could I have used more? Certainly, but not enough people are utilizing that pepper these days, so part of me is just glad someone is, though the Bad Brains Burn Babylon (ahhh, the alliteration!) sauce is notably better.

This is a Caribbean sauce, which is similar in many ways to a Louisiana-style sauce, but carries a bit more heat, a lot more spices generally and definitely an undeniable sweetness element to it that sets it apart. Still, practical usage puts these on the same types of foods. Personally, as much as I'm enjoying some of these diversions into the Caribbean, my money is still on the diehard, tried-and-true and often brutal and bracing Louisiana side of things.

Bottom line: This one has been around for a while and with good reason. It is a very flavorful sauce that adds a nice cutting element to foods, though a very minor amount of heat.

Breakdown:

            Heat level: 2
            Flavor: 7
            Flexibility: 6
            Enjoyment to dollar factor: 6

Overall: 5

Friday, January 9, 2015

Slap Ya Mama Hot Sauce Review

Slap Ya Mama Cajun Pepper Sauce

Then there's this, not to be confused with "Slap Yo Momma" or "Slap Your Momma" or any other "Slap-" named hot sauce. This one is calling itself a Cajun sauce, but it is your basic Louisiana-style sauce, albeit an extremely poor one. There's no real way that someone should be able to take the ingredients of aged red pepper mash (I'm guessing Jalapeno, but possibly also Cayenne), vinegar, salt and water and make an actual bad-tasting sauce, but these guys have managed it, possibly due to the "other spices" constituting part of the ingredient list.

I have recently discovered World Market and this is one from there, but it definitely will be the last one. Over-salty, no heat, tends to make food taste not only worse but much worse and poor flavor, this is one of the worst sauces I've encountered, an anomaly in a category where the difficulty level to create something palatable is fairly low.

Bottom line: I would rather eat Tabasco than this and I typically avoid Tabasco like the plague.

Breakdown:

            Heat level: 0
            Flavor: -8
            Flexibility: 0
            Enjoyment to dollar factor:0

Overall: 0 (or -2)