Hot Takes

What to drink with the fieriest salsas at the AC Hot Sauce Festival

Mandi Nelson (Photo by John Anderson)

I'll admit it. I've always been a bit jealous of sommeliers, brewmasters, mixologists, and other beverage professionals. They get to taste the world's most exquisite wine, beer, and spirits on a day-to-day basis, while I try my best to avoid the break room Coke machine. So maybe it was with a little bit of sadism when I asked the men and women who determine what Austin drinks to come up with pairings for some of the hottest sauces from our local Hot Sauce Festival vendors. I shouldn't have ever doubted that they would rise to the challenge with a variety of sippers – some light, some heady – but all using the creativity that has come to define our local scene. My sick burn ain't got nothing on their shade.

Jennifer Keyser – Chief of Bar Operations, Geraldine's

Hot Sauce: Yellowbird Serrano

Pairing: Fly High with gin and aloe liqueur

"This drink pairs great with the Yellowbird Serrano hot sauce as the cooling effect of the aloe liqueur calms the punch from the bright serrano. The combination of cucumber in the sauce and cucumber in the drink goes nicely, as does the freshness of the mint. Easy drinking, cooling and summery, this drink is great on the porch with a taco in hand!"


1 oz. Waterloo gin

1 oz. Chareau aloe liqueur

10 mint leaves


Topo Chico

Muddle two slices of cucumber with 10 leaves of mint in a shaker tin. Add 1 oz. of Waterloo gin and 1 oz. of Chareau aloe liqueur and shake with ice until cold. Strain into Collins glass filled with ice and top with Topo Chico mineral water. Garnish with a slice of cucumber and mint sprig.

Jeramy Campbell – Beverage Director, Juliet Ristorante

Hot Sauce: Kala's Kuisine Mirchi-Masala Salsa

Pairing: Verona Cuff with Bourbon and vermouth bianco

"The Verona Cuff is a refreshing Angel's Envy Bourbon-based cocktail – think whiskey in the Caribbean. The Angostura bitters and bourbon give off a beautiful sweet spiced bouquet that transforms into something like a pineapple upside-down cake in your mouth. Fruity, creamy and refreshing. The combination of this cocktail with any hot sauce is going to pair perfectly together, helping to balance out that heat with the bright sweetness, leaving your mouth wanting more!"


1½ oz. bonded Bourbon

¾ oz. Alessio vermouth bianco

½ oz. pineapple gum syrup

¾ oz. lemon

Shake ingredients in a shaker tin with ice until cold. Strain into coupe glass and serve with a lemon-peel garnish.

Chris Melton – Beverage Director, Hai Hospitality

Hot Sauce: Kala's Kuisine Gingery Habanera

Pairing: Joh. Jos. Christoffel Erben's Erdener Treppchen Riesling Kabinett

"I had the opportunity to try Kala's Kuisine's Gingery Habanera hot sauce with homemade larb, a traditional salad of meat (in this case, chicken), fresh Bibb lettuce, nuoc mam, Thai chiles, garlic, cilantro, and lemongrass. The salsa started off with a sharp kick of ginger, followed by a powerfully potent habanero/red bell pepper savory character. There's a particular sweetness to this salsa that took me by surprise! Upon reading the list of ingredients, I found apricots were being added and my mind went straight to Riesling. I paired this product with Joh. Jos. Christoffel Erben's Erdener Treppchen Riesling Kabinett hailing from the Mosel Valley in Germany. A longtime favorite pairing of mine has been spicy Thai food with Mosel Riesling and this rang true when drinking Riesling with the Kala's Gingery Habanera. The high-acid, steely character of the Riesling cleanses the palate, and the residual sugar found in the wine helps to extinguish the fire of this wild-thing salsa!"

Andrew Grenz – Bar Manager, qui

Hot Sauce: Aztexan Habanero Supreme

Pairing: Banana Daiquiri

"This take on a classic daiquiri isn't a total assault of banana and rather a complement to the funky tropical fruit notes already present in the Jamaican rum. Although it isn't made with hot sauce, it'll do a great job cooling your palate down in between bites of those food truck tacos that you just slathered in hot sauce. El Paisa's al pastor tacos have become part of my regular diet after a shift and having this cocktail as a companion is especially relaxing now and then."


2 oz. Jamaican navy strength rum (Smith & Cross)

¼ oz. Giffard Banane du Brésil

¾ oz. fresh lime juice

½ oz. *rich turbinado syrup (recipe below)

Combine all of the ingredients into a cocktail shaker, add ice, and shake well. Double strain into a chilled coupe or cocktail glass, then cut a slit in the lime wheel and attach it to the glass.

*Rich Turbinado Syrup

2 parts turbinado sugar

1 part water

Combine in a pot and heat on medium heat until the sugar dissolves. Stir often and don't bring it to a boil.

Pairing: Michelada

"Here's a more authentic rendition of a michelada for the next time you're planning a brunch at home or for any other possible reason. The balance of spice, refreshing acidity, and Maggi's umami factor contribute to the beer pleasantly. Have fun with trying different beers; my preferences are Carta Blanca for a lighter version and Ocho Reales for a darker."


¾ oz. *michelada mix

½ oz. fresh lime luice

3 dashes Maggi Liquid Seasoning

Aztexan Habanero Supreme (optional but strongly recommended)

12 oz. Mexican beer

Chile lime salted rim and a lime wedge

Rim a pint glass with a chile lime salt. Combine the michelada mix and Maggi Liquid Seasoning, Aztexan Habanero Supreme to taste, add ice, slowly top with the beer, and garnish with the lime wedge.

*Michelada Mix

2 cups dried guajillo peppers (remove the stems and seeds)

6 oz. hot water

2 tbsp. Aztexan Habanero Supreme

Combine the guajillo peppers and hot water in wide mixing bowl and cover with a plate so that the peppers are completely submerged in the water. Cover with plastic wrap and allow them to sit for 6-8 hours or until the peppers have re-hydrated. Then add the peppers and water into a blender and blend on high until smooth. Strain using a chinois or mesh strainer and push the liquid through with a spatula. Add the Aztexan Habanero Supreme and store in a sealed container in the fridge. This should keep for two weeks.

Pairing: Agave Service

"At qui, we have the Agave Service as an option that gives guests a chance to try two different agave spirits side by side with a side of our sangrita (palate cleanser) and orange slices sprinkled with sal de gusano (agave worm salt). This is an easy alternative to try out any new agave spirit or just sip your reliable favorites. The spice of the hot sauce is a bit subdued with the orange and goes well with just about any tequila, mezcal, or sotol. In my personal opinion, a lot of agave spirits are made in such a rustic and traditional way that they each carry their own story with every sip. Drinking them neat is the best way to get to know them before using them in a cocktail."


Agave spirit poured neat

Orange slices (half wheel)

1-2 dashes Aztexan Habanero Supreme

Simply pour an agave spirit (tequila, mezcal, sotol, etc.) of your choice into a small glass and dash the hot sauce over the half-wheels of orange. Sip and bite or bite and sip, it's all up to you.

Mandi Nelson – Certified Sommelier and Beverage Director, New Waterloo

Hot Sauce: Crenshaw's C6 Salsa Ghost Chili

Pairing: No Tengo Miedo with reposado and horchata

"The Crenshaw ghost pepper salsa is a fantastic, intense salsa with many layers of fresh flavors followed by a nice kick from the ghost pepper. With the heat of the ghost pepper, there is only one beverage that can handle that intensity: the No Tengo Miedo ("I am not scared") from La Condesa. This is a horchata and reposado tequila-based cocktail. The rice milk and grilled pineapple soothes the palate after the heat hits from the ghost pepper, and the citrus from the calamansi complements the fresh lime in the salsa. The house-made coconut salt rim also prepares your mouth for another delicious bite of the salsa."


1¾ oz. Herradura reposado

½ oz. calamansi juice

½ oz. grilled pineapple juice

1 oz. La Condesa horchata

½ oz. agave nectar

4 dashes La Condesa nutmeg bitters

La Condesa toasted coconut salt

Orange peel for garnish

Paul Ozbirn – Beverage Director, parkside

Hot Sauce: Kala's Kuisine Curry-Chipotle Salsa

Pairing: Blue Owl Brewing Professor Black Sour Cherry Stout

"Thank you Kala's Kuisine for living up to your Curry-Chipotle Salsa's description of being 'extra hot & spicy.' For once a salsa that brings some heat, and this one's beefed up with Nepalese curry spices and chipotle seasoning for added complexity. There's a lot going on here, but bite after bite reveals all the layers of this super delicious (and balanced) salsa. The nose is laden with curry and carrot, but the palate explodes with acidic tomato and onion. The finish is where the chipotle seasoning shines as all the peppery spices meld with smoky, almost chocolatey, goodness.

"There are plenty of different pairing options for a food such as this, but my gut had me searching for something that would quell the spice while also highlighting the rich chipotle smokiness. Local brewery Blue Owl specializes in sour-mashing all the popular beer styles, and their sour cherry stout Professor Black is the perfect pairing for this salsa. Serve extra cold to beat the heat of Texas while also taming the spice. All the malty richness of the mid-palate really highlights the chipotle, and that just-sour-enough finish seems to distract from what would normally be a persistent (yet pleasant) burn from all the peppers. The salsa also elevates the beer, creating a lightness that isn't normally present. Even better, Professor Black is now in cans so you can take this pairing experience wherever your heart desires (read: to the closest body of water) – enjoy."

Clay Inscoe – Treaty Oak Distilling Co.

Hot Sauce: Stellar Gourmet Foods King Calaverde

Pairing: Tejas Tormenta with rum and Dr Pepper

"I love hot sauces like the King Calaverde that are able to pack a lot of flavor into the sauce without compromising the perfect amount of heat. You get a lot of tang up front, some nice heat in the middle, and a mild burn that carries flavor in the finish. This sauce would be great on barbecue, grilled meat, tacos, and fried foods.

"To balance the acidity and heat I would pair something on the sweeter side that can also complement the herbal and citrus qualities of the serrano chiles and lemon. A typical Dark & Stormy highlights sweet grassy notes of sugarcane through rum and molasses, while balancing with a spicy tang of ginger beer and lime. I wanted to eliminate the spice of the ginger beer so it could be paired with a spicy sauce. I use Dr Pepper as a replacement, which gives sweeter botanical notes and allows the heat of the sauce to take the spicy role of the ginger. Treaty Oak rum is made from pure cane molasses produced here in Texas. The creamy herbal notes from the rum help carry this cocktail and make it a great pairing with the King Calaverde."


2 oz. Treaty Oak rum

½ oz. cane molasses (I like Steen's)

½ oz. fresh lime juice

3 oz. Dr Pepper

2 dashes Salud aromatic bitters

Pour all ingredients into a tall glass and stir well. Fill glass with crushed ice and stir well again. Garnish with a lime wheel and enjoy.

Miguel Lopez – Bar Manager, Isla

Hot Sauce: Kala's Kuisine Curry Cayenne

Pairing: Panama Rum Eggnog with coconut cream

"The reason we chose to pair the eggnog with the hot sauce was because of the deep residual flavors of the hot sauce. Even though it is center of the palate-heavy the hot sauce has a bright flavor that is accented with ginger and earthy spice while finishing with a flavorful (and not overpowering) heat.

"The cocktail was designed to not overplay the great body of the hot sauce but rather to complement the mouthfeel. It's grounded with a full-bodied rum from Panama that has oak, citrus, clove, and Caribbean spice. The coconut cream offers a viscous depth without being as one-dimensional as heavy cream, giving a great taste for the Austin summer. The egg white – as opposed to a whole egg for other eggnogs – does the same: offering a complexity without taking over the power of the hot sauce. Nutmeg on top for olfactory sensation. It can be served up or over crushed ice if more refreshing."


1½ oz. Ron Abuelo anejo

1¼ oz. coconut cream

½ oz. lemon juice

1 egg white

Fresh nutmeg, dusted for garnish

Gary Crowell – CEO, Austin Spirits

Hot Sauce: Winston's Kitchen Coming In Hot

Pairing: Whiskey River with grapefruit and bitters

"The 9 Banded Whiskey River cocktail is a perfect way to cool down your taste buds as you enjoy some sweet and spicy jerk chicken tacos made with Winston's Kitchen's 'Coming In Hot' sauce. Using local ingredients from Texas grapefruit to Austin-made citrus bitters, the light and refreshing Whiskey River is a great drink to help beat the heat."


1½ oz. 9 Banded whiskey

½ oz. lemon juice

½ oz. grapefruit juice

¾ simple syrup

2-3 dashes Salud citrus bitters

Add whiskey, citrus, simple syrup, and bitters into a shaker with ice. Shake vigorously for 15-20 seconds. Strain into Collins glass, add fresh ice, and top with Topo Chico. Garnish with a lemon wheel.

Dustin Courtright – Libationist, W Hotel

Hot Sauce: Mom's Family Kitchen Spicy

Pairing: Brisa Fresca with tequila and cucumber

"The cucumber in this drink will help cool your mouth from the habanero burn in the Mom's Family Kitchen salsa, while pairing well with the vegetal aspects of it from tomato and chiles. The tequila is light, but present enough to play well with the other flavors here. The citrus brightens it a bit, and the texture should be a welcome and refreshing respite."


1½ oz. Z tequila blanco

¾ oz. well-strained cucumber juice

¼ oz. lime

¼ oz. simple syrup

Shake all ingredients and strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with a sprig of cilantro.

Max Saballett – Brewer, Independence Brewing Co.

Hot Sauce: Yellowbird Jalapeño

Pairing: Independence Austin Amber

"It was a close tie between Austin Amber and Liberty Lunch IPA. Ultimately Austin Amber won out because the toasted sweetness of the malts in the beer carried through and really complemented the hot sauce. Also, the balancing hop notes and crisp finish of Austin Amber wash away the burn of the Yellowbird hot sauce."

David Toby – Beverage Manager, Jack Allen's Kitchen

Hot Sauce: Kala's Kuisine Hotvocado

Pairing: Cucumber Jalapeño Margarita

"This tangy, slightly spicy hot sauce would pair perfectly with JAK's Cucumber Jalapeño Rita, as it goes hand in hand with the way this hot sauce was created. Cool avocados with tangy tomatillos and spicy serranos, alongside the Cucumber Jalapeño Rita with its cooling cucumbers, spicy jalapeños, and tart lime. A match made in heaven."


1½ oz Ambhar Reposado tequila (or reposado of choice)

¾ oz. St. Germain

2 fresh jalapeño slices (no seeds, keep them for more heat)

3 fresh cucumber slices (cut center out)

1 oz. fresh squeezed lime juice

1 oz. simple syrup

Cilantro, for garnish

In a mixing glass, add cucumber and simple syrup. Muddle gently. Add a scoop of ice, lime juice, Ambhar Reposado and St. Germain. Shake all ingredients together and pour into a 10-oz. rita glass. Garnish with a sprig of cilantro.

Trevor Nearburg – Head Brewer, Uncle Billy's Brew & Cue

Hot Sauce: Stellar Gourmet Foods Red Headed Step Chile

Pairing: Schutzenfest house-smoked Berlinerweisse

"Red Headed Step Chile is a very mild pepper sauce that lets the capsaicin take a backseat to the flavor of the cured, smoky chiles. While it would pair well with several beers, putting it directly into our house-smoked Berlinerweisse, the Schutzenfest, makes about the best michelada we've ever had. The sauce both complements the smokiness and balances the sourness of the Schutzenfest. Throw in a plate of our pork-belly tacos and you've got one hell of a Tex-Mex brunch!"

JR Mocanu – Beverage Director, VOX Table

Hot Sauce: Crenshaw's C6 Tequila Lime

Pairing: VOX Paloma with mezcal

"The sweetness of the cocktail helps to calm down the heat, while the bubbles and citrus accentuate the flavors in the salsa. The mezcal and tequila accompany the flavors perfectly."


1 oz. Altos tequila

1 oz. El Silencio mezcal

½ oz. lime juice

¾ oz. Rio Star grapefruit juice

¾ oz. simple syrup

2 oz. of Topo Chico

Collins glass. Garnish with lime wheel.

Jesse Bernal – Head Bartender and Bar Manager, Whisler's

Hot Sauce: Winston's Kitchen Jamaican Mango

Pairing: Rey Campero Espadín Mezcal

"We chose to pair it with Rey Campero Espadín, a complex espadín that has the beautiful strong smoky notes that finishes with a light bit of fruit on the back end that complements the delicious mango notes and the nuanced Jamaican flavors of the salsa. We suggest in the addition to salsa and mezcal, to enjoy it with a plate of oranges sprinkled with sal de chapulin grasshoppers that have been cooked and ground up with salt, chiles, and spices. Delicious!"

Brandon Garvey – Beverage Director, Freedmen's

Hot Sauce: Aztexan Habanero Supreme

Pairing: The Lucky Rabbit with tequila and lemon

"Using an agave spirit was pretty obvious to me, Suerte in particular has some nice earthy undertones, and the Blanco retains a clean, sharp flavor profile. I really like the heat level of the sauce and the fact the vinegar isn't overpowering, and the serranos complement the flavor without over-doing it. The smoked saline solution really makes all the flavors pop. Spicy margs are pretty in right now; this is pretty much a take on a spicy Tequila Daisy."


1½ oz. Suerte tequila blanco

1 oz. lemon

¾ oz. honey

4 drops smoked saline solution

3 slices serrano pepper

Muddle pepper with all ingredients, shake, and fine strain into a chilled coupe. Garnish with pepper slice.

Chris McClish – Bar Manager, Juniper

Hot Sauce: Stellar Gourmet Foods Smoquito

Pairing: Cantina della Volta Lambrusco or Grotta del Sole Gragnano

"Stellar Gourmet's Smoquito hot sauce has so many layers of flavor that would pair so well with a slightly bubbly chilled red with smoky undertones. Smoquito has a great vinegar backbone along with the warmth of the peppers that would go great with a nice Lambrusco or Gragnano. Both are sparkling or semi-sparkling red wines from Italy that have a refreshing core of fruit and a bit of smokiness reminiscent of drinking by a barbecue. A cooled Lambrusco from Cantina della Volta or a bottle of Grotta del Sole Gragnano should do the trick with grilled meats basted with the hot sauce. I'm hungry and thirsty now."

Jessica Sanders – Co-owner, Backbeat

Hot Sauce: Mom's Family Kitchen Spicy

Pairing: Austin Beerworks Einhorn with raspberry syrup

"This is a pretty straightforward salsa but with a noticeable sweet onion flavor. For a 'spicy' salsa, I found it to be super approachable. There's very little smoke – it's all bright, fresh, and almost fruity. Based on this, the pairing I most enjoyed was a fruity Berlinerweisse beer. The Austin Beerworks Einhorn with the addition of a teaspoon of raspberry syrup was a great complement. The sour beer took the edge off the sweetness of the salsa but the addition of that raspberry syrup helped amplify the heat of the fresh jalapeños and played well off the sweet onion flavor of the salsa."

Les Locke – Brewmaster, Southerleigh Fine Food & Brewery (San Antonio)

Hot Sauce: Yellowbird Habanero

Pairing: Godzilla Go Juice hybrid American blonde ale fermented with saké yeast

"The heat balanced out nicely with the saké yeast, and the carrots had a nice earthy undertone that paired with the beer."

The 26th annual Austin Chronicle Hot Sauce Festival takes place Sunday, Aug. 21, 11am-5pm, at Fiesta Gardens (2101 Jesse E. Segovia St.).

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Les Locke, Southerleigh Fine Food & Brewery, Paul Ozbirn, parkside, Clay Inscoe, Treaty Oak Distilling Co., Mandi Nelson, New Waterloo, La Condesa, Andrew Grenz, qui, Chris McClish, Juniper, David Toby, Jack Allen's Kitchen, Jessica Sanders, Backbeat, Jennifer Keyser, Geraldine's, Jeramy Campbell

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