Saturday, June 27, 2015

General Update Q2K 2015

After starting the year off to a blazing (*ahem*) start, the following months tapered off significantly, down to about a 1/3 of the review total for the prior period. Partially this had to do with work trips, partially to illness, partially to a desire to use up more of the open sauces, partially to a diet change and partially to vacation. It’s still possible to hit 100 reviews by the end of the year, as the total now stands at 91 and I have many more than 9 on deck. I also went through a full fridge purge prior to leaving for vacation, so the open sauces have been cut down significantly. 

Of perhaps more concern is that I haven't really hit on one that is much of a contender for Sauce Of The Year, which is looking like a very light competition this year. At the half year point, I basically candidates. 

Even once I do hit 100, it will be a far cry from Scott Robert’s total, which I think he pegs somewhere at 3,000 various hot items. My own total is well over 1,000, but I don’t include things in reviews like snacks (chips, nuts, etc.) or wing sauce or BBQ sauce or dry spices or restaurant items. This is not a knock on him at all and he definitely takes his place of prominence in the halls of spicy promoters. It’s likely he means more to that movement than I ever will…definitely in terms of draw. It’s more a description of our respective reviewing styles.

Speaking of restaurant items, I’ve tried several of the spiciest that various restaurants have to offer (I will do this if I have the time and nothing pressing - mostly because of the possibility of gastric distress from elements other than the ones intended to add piquancy. Though it has never happened, I don’t chance it if I can’t afford for there to be a first time) and fired through a few challenges. I don’t generally find much of interest in the challenges as they are invariably either ingesting mass quantities (these I don’t pursue at all as I need to generally eat less, not more) or are on the high heat end of things, which means usually a decided lack of flavor or bad flavor with cheats, such as extract. I don’t really have anything to prove and when I go out to eat am infinitely more interested in the food tasting good. 

One of these days I might go through the restaurants in the area and try to find a spicy challenge or menu item I’ve missed, but for many, if not most of these, I have spicier sauces in my fridge and definitely on my shelf. For many, many of these, the hottest they will get is Chipotle seasoning. For some, it’s only up to Jalapeno, maybe a Serrano, unless they use extract. That is very difficult to mask well or easily and even though I’ve choked through a few of those, I don’t repeat them and if it comes with regular food, I sometimes will stop, but will always make note never to have again. Ghost pepper is gaining some prominence, but it is sriracha that is really going nuts lately and I’m passingly, if at all, interested in that. I’m at the point of life where if it’s not worth consuming, I won’t finish for the sake of finishing.  This gets borderline on some of the sauces, but much less so with restaurants and is one of the more useful attributes for Yelping.

Speaking of that, I’ve hit a few benchmarks, but nothing too notable there. As always, if you want to add me as a friend, I’ll add you right back.

Friday, May 15, 2015

Zombie Gut Garnish Hot Sauce Review

Zombie Gut Garnish Habanero Hot Sauce

I happened upon this and a few other zombie-themed sauces the other day and despite the somewhat joking nature of this, picked up a bottle, figuring it was sort of like some of the other themed-bottles from Ass Kickin', whereupon most of the novelty would be in the label, but for all that, would still be a pretty decent sauce. This one, however, packs a pretty solid wallop.

Looking at the label, you've got what is ostensibly a fairly standard Habanero-carrot sauce, which, by and large, tend to be tasty but also fairly tame. This one, while decent-tasting, also has a notable amount of heat. Now, it's certainly not up there with the big boys or anything but for being a Habanero sauce, does do quite well and it's one of the hotter Habaneros I've had in recent memory, doing a very good job of utilizing the backburn of that pepper. It is probably a poor example of what a Habanero-carrot sauces if capable of, however.

It's not a particularly well-rounded or especially tasty sauce, though, the makers very clearly going more for the impact of the heat than any great flavoring. As such, it's not awful, but far from smooth and definitely in the lower tier of what I have open in the refrigerator right now. It's still a fairly pleasant surprise from a bottle I expected little from and for $3, not a half bad deal.

Bottom line: The more you enjoy abrasive sauces, the more you will enjoy this one. While not as caustic as a vinegar sauce and not as scorching as one of the higher SHU sauces, this one does a fairly respectable job of making you take notice, though the taste is not so wonderful. Best use is as what the intent appears, which is sort of a novelty/gag gift sauce.


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

Overall: 4

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Irazu Cayenne Hot Sauce Review

Irazu Volcanic Cayenne Pepper Sauce

I've got to say that I'm really becoming an admirer of Irazu. I think they make some very high quality and quite tasty sauces in a variety of categories. The devil's in the details, so the saying goes and Irazu seems to make some very clever twists to differentiate their offerings from the norm in those categories. Take this one, for instance.

Now, it's no secret that a good Lousiana-style sauce is one of my very favorites and there are a few things that they need if they really want to win me over. The first one is to use Cayenne as a base. Cayenne, as a pepper, has long been one of my most favored and possibly my very favorite overall and if any other pepper is used as a base for this sauce, other than Cayenne, I inevitably wind up thinking that it would have been better if Cayenne were used or how much I missed the Cayenne in it. Choosing a vinegar requires some care, for if it's too harsh, it will tend to run the food. Heat tends to be a bit minor on these sauces, because spiking them tends to ruin the flavor or the balance.

What Irazu did here was a very clever thing. To combat the lack of heat that these sauces frequently run into, they added Naga Jolokia pepper pulp. Not a ton, to be sure, but just enough to give it a little edge, thereby accomplishing both the spiking and leaving the phenomenal flavor that Cayenne is known for and imparts, intact. This, in fact, may be one of the best uses for the ghost pepper I've yet seen. It definitely is the smartest, as it avoids the somewhat noxious taste that ghost peppers can sometimes have.

Bottom line: If this is not the best Louisiana-style sauce out there, it's in the running. This one is very well-designed and though there's not a whole lot of heat, there's noticeably more than usual. Flavor is everything you'd expect from a Louisiana-style sauce.


            Heat level: 3
            Flavor: 8
            Flexibility: 8
            Enjoyment to dollar factor: 8

Overall: 7

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Brick & Mortar Hot Sauce Locations in Salt Lake City, UT (Revised)

Update 04.12.15

Two and a half years removed from the original post of this, so we are well due and we have some changes...

When we last left off, we had basically Grove Market and a place called Chili & Max in a mall downtown slinging the sauce. Grove Market, while probably still having the largest collection of any brick and mortar in the state, in terms of different kinds of sauces at least, had a definite stock rotation issue and several of their sauces were discolored. I, regrettably, have not been back to re-check the store, partly for that issue, but partly also because I had already acquired every single sauce they had that was of interest to me at the time. It is on my agenda to re-visit, at some future point and once I do, I will update this then. Chili & Max is long gone, lost to the whims of declining mall visitors and revenue.

There are a couple new players into this arena, though, that I've discovered lately. One of them is in an area called Cottonwood Heights (basically a suburb to the SE of Salt Lake City) called World Market. This is a fairly large chain and they had a decent selection of hot sauces, of which I took full advantage. Most of them were also pretty fresh, with only one of them even remotely close to the expiration date. The downside to this store is the selection can be really hit or miss, but not to the extent of a Big Lots or normal grocery store.

Speaking of those, nearly all of them have really started to elevate their hot sauce offerings. The heat range there tends to be a fairly mild Habanero sauce, but at least they're making progress, in sheer selection of different types within that heat level, if nothing else.

The other big player is an import shop called Pirate O's. This one comes pretty close to giving Grove a run for its money, in terms of different brands of sauces, with lots of novelty sauces, as well as a very cool idea, which is smaller sized bottles of stuff, so you don't wind up with a 5 oz. bottle you have to chuck if you hate the sauce. The downside to those bottles, of course, is it can be challenging to get the sauce out of those little openings, but this is still a very good way to try a bunch of sauces for relatively cheap. I didn't take advantage of those smaller bottles yet, but I may do that. This store also goes from mild Jalapeno and Tabasco all the way up to several of the absurd extract sauces. Not content to stop there, they also have a full selection of hot BBQ, salsa, wing and other associated sauces, dry rubs and they don't stop there. Snacks ranging from spicy nuts all the way to beef jerky and Death Rain chips are all represented. In many, many ways, this place is a chilehead's dream and several sauces I found here I've seen nowhere else, including online. They could definitely use a few different brands there, such as the Danny Cash stuff, but they do a very, very nice job. It was definitely the most impressive section of this type, including Grove, given how far into the related areas this place has put on the shelf. This is the first - and so far, only - must for chileheads I've found along the I-15 corridor. It also is the furthest south hot sauce place I've yet least in Utah.

Friday, April 3, 2015

Hurtin' Habanero Hot Sauce Review

Dave's Gourmet Hurtin' Habanero Hot Sauce

Ahhh, the alliteration is strong with this one. Like probably everyone else, my familiarity with Dave's is mostly with the infamous Insanity line of sauces. As I've mentioned in the past, we used to keep a bottle of this on hand years ago for drunken party challenges (though I think the industry has moved well beyond that some time ago) but wouldn't use it ourselves as both me and my then-roommate considered it one of the more noxious substances invented. Thus was my initial exposure to both Dave's and the horrors of using chemical extracts in sauces to generate heat.

So, naturally, for years, I didn't give a second look to this line of sauces. Having finally seen it recently on grocery store shelves, I did give some of the bottles a look, but saw either onions or extract, two mega no-nos for me and passed them on by as well. Finally, by chance, I came across this and picked up a bottle it could sit more easily on my shelf after sitting on a grocery store shelf. Once I got past the discolored bit that I didn't notice due to the black plastic seal around the neck, it was much smoother sailing.

I could probably best sum up this sauce by saying it is basically a more amplified version of Cholula. It reminds me of that more than anything else, though it is somewhat hotter, though only moderately so. If you like that style of sauce, you will like this one, but it tastes more like that, which itself seems to rely heavily on Ancho peppers than any sort of Habanero flavoring. I like that style of sauce, though I've eaten so much of it over the years, I can barely stand to look at the wood caps anymore and I find this to ultimately be one of the better-tasting versions of it.

Bottom line: This sauce goes a long way to cement the position of Dave's Gourmet in the industry. Though not hot, it is a very well-crafted and tasty sauce and in my view, a much better and slightly more expensive substitute for the aforementioned Cholula.


            Heat level: 2
            Flavor: 8
            Flexibility: 8
            Enjoyment to dollar factor: 6

Overall: 6

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.


            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.


            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.


            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.


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

Overall: 6