Bringing the Heat
A few stories from 'The Austin Chronicle' Hot Sauce Festival
Commercial Bottlers: Building Festival Success Into Business Success
Throughout the years there have been many noteworthy contestants in the commercial bottled hot sauce category. Some, like Carolyn Bigham of Pepper Creek Farm, began commercially bottling their sauces after winning an award at the Chronicle Hot Sauce Festival. "Our raspberry chipotle won, oh, I think it was in 2002, and we began bottling that year," recalls Bigham. "When we won, we knew that we really had something – something worth bottling! This year we are entering a new salsa, Island Flame, that we make with orange, mango, and habanero."
Others began bottling their sauces first, entering the contest later, like Eddie Sanderson of Texas-Texas. "We had been in business all of two months when we won the Chronicle contest the first time," laughs Sanderson. "We used that win! It sure meant a lot to our business; it really helped us get off the ground." Texas-Texas was the first company to be inducted into the Hall of Flame for winning three years in a row. This year they're entering their Habanero Heaven in the red category and two new sauces, Fresh Roma Roasted and Fire Roasted Serrano, in the special variety category.
Others, like Austin Slow Burn's Jill and Kevin Lewis, began bottling their sauces after failing to win. "Nothing could have spurred me on harder!" laughs Jill. "I had to show those judges how wrong they were!" Austin Slow Burn has gone on to become one of the most successful hot sauce businesses around, scoring an enormous commercial win with its Green Chile con Queso, introduced at the festival in 2006. This year Austin Slow Burn is introducing two new products, both sold from the refrigerator case, like its queso: Creamy Jalapeño and Green Chile Salsa Fresca. The Creamy Jalapeño is a ranch-based sauce made with fresh jalapeños, Hatch green chiles, and tomatillos. The Green Chile Salsa Fresca is a chunky salsa made with tomatoes, tomatillos, green chiles, lime, and cilantro. "These new products will be available for sale at Farm to Market Grocery, Whip In, and Royal Blue Grocery," says Lewis. "Folks keep telling me the Creamy Jalapeño is the best thing we've ever made, so here's hoping we have another winner on our hands."
Sgt. Pepper's is another successful local bottler that, despite continually entering, didn't actually win first place for several years. "I might not have won, but I always sold out of my sauce!" recalls J.P. Hayes, the creator of the Sgt. Pepper's line of hot sauces. "It wasn't until I entered my mango, ginger, and mint salsa fresca that I walked away with first place. That recipe became the basis for Tropical Tears, my flagship hot sauce. This year I'm entering my entire line of El Chipotle salsas, as well as my Smoked Tomato and Roasted Tomatillo."
Brian Rush, proprietor of the landmark Tears of Joy Hot Sauce Shop on Sixth Street, began entering his own sauces in the competition years before he became a hot sauce shopkeeper. Last year his sauces placed in all four of the people's choice bottled categories, winning first place for both his 6th Street Green and Tequila Lime sauces and second place honors for his 6th Street Red and August in Austin sauces.
Kala's Kuisine in turn dominated the judges' commercially bottled category, taking home first place for both her Curry Chipotle Sauce and her Mirchi Masala Salsa, as well as third place for her mango chutney. "I am from a different country: Nepal!" Kala Uprety explains. "I didn't think I stood a chance! Making such a big win was a wonderful surprise."
Big Daddy's Hot Sauces will also be entering again this year, after meriting numerous first-place awards at the Houston Hot Sauce Festival last year. Big Daddy's Amplified Heat Mean Smokin' Green sauce and Ass Burn Red sauce promise to be formidable contenders at this year's contest as well.