The 30th Anniversary of the Austin Chronicle Hot Sauce Festival Goes Virtual

Hot sauce and silver linings

At this point, referencing the effects of the ongoing global pandemic just feels like repetitive gut punches, but I'm happy to report that this time I'm here to share something positive that's resulted from so much heartache. After a tremendous amount of head-scratching, brainstorming, and countless Zoom calls, your friendly neighborhood alt-weekly created a way to completely reconfigure our fan-favorite festival into a super fun virtual event and really celebrate this 30th anniversary with fresh upgrades like cooking demos and tasting kits. And of course, the whole shebang still benefits the Central Texas Food Bank, which needs community support more than ever.

Last year alone we raised over 95,000 meals, which adds up to over 975,000 meals in the nearly three decade history. This year our goal is to blow way past the 1 million meal mark.

Without further ado, let's talk about this one-of-a-kind extravaganza. The 30th annual Austin Chronicle Hot Sauce Festival – which began in 1990 and has evolved into the largest competition of its kind and one of Austin's largest and best-known annual food events with as many as 10,000 spectators and over 350 hot sauce competitors each year – will be held as a virtual livestream event on Sunday, August 30 via Facebook. It's still open to the public with a donation to the Central Texas Food Bank (which also makes you eligible to win perks from local businesses). Last year alone we raised over 95,000 meals, which adds up to over 975,000 meals in the nearly three decade history. This year our goal is to blow way past the 1 million meal mark. ONE MILLION MEALS.

Although the new limited edition tasting kits are now sold out, you can still get in on the action by acquiring your own bottles from participating bottlers and chowing down with us during the livestream. As with the kits, a portion of proceeds from our Hot Sauce Fest merch also benefits the Food Bank, and that includes a new commemorative T-shirt, the official 2020 Psychedillo Hot Sauce T-shirt, embroidered patches, bandanna, and more. Our official emcee this year is the Horn's Trey Elling, and we've got exclusive music sets from Go Fever, Como Las Movies, Mike Melinoe, and Nemegata. We'll also have the pleasure of watching special cooking demos created by three lovely foodies especially for this fest: Camila Alves McConaughey (yes, McConaughey) will teach you how to infuse whiskey with smoke; Chron contributor and author of The Body Double Emily Beyda offers a refreshing citrus spritz with options for booze or no booze; and Joel Fried, co-owner of Eldorado Cafe with wife Joanna Fried, shares their house recipe for salsa fresca (and shouts out the beloved late Tamale House on Airport Boulevard).

We're also announcing the winners of the hot sauce competition, and I know you're curious about how in the hellfire we managed to wrangle a bajillion pepperheads, gallons of unmarked pepper concoctions, and subject our palates to pain, all in the name of finding the best spicy liquid to pour onto breakfast tacos. For the first time in the fest's history we're pulling back the curtain to give an insider peek into the judging panel proceedings. Historically, the competition is also open to restaurants and individuals, but given the nature of this COVID-19 business, we had to restrict it to only commercial bottlers. This year 53 proud pepperheads entered their secret recipes into red, green, pepper, and special variety categories. Our judging panel was reduced to six local hot sauce lovers (we miss our many dedicated judges!) but we still tasted every single one of them together on a Sunday afternoon Zoom call, discussing the pros/cons of each sauce's heat, aroma, appearance, flavor, and originality and rating them on a scale of 1-10. You'll have to watch the livestream to hear the details, but I'll tell you what: The conversation between myself and the Chron's own Emily Burns, with Alejandra Rodriguez of La Flaca Urban, Nahika of Kreyol Korner, Kristin Collins of Fluff Meringues & More, and Lenny Dewi of local Asian food Insta guide @eats_n_noods, was brimming with wild-eyed sweaty chatter about women supporting each other, pandemic pivots, and hilarious vocal outbursts due to intense capsaicin responses. (Spoiler alert: Carolina Reapers are classified as neurotoxins, and we found out why!) It was not only a blast, but an honor to hang out with such spicy ladies while blasting my mouth with my No. 1 desert island snack: chips and hot sauce.

So while you prep for the fest by refreshing your personal hot sauce collection, buying extra chips, and sharing the Central Texas Food Bank donation page with everyone you've ever met, check out this 30th annual Hot Sauce Issue for stories including band bios, how to market hot sauce, the Mexico City-inspired street tacos at local food truck Cuantos Tacos, and the lacto-fermented hot sauce at Nixta Taqueria. We're all excited to log on, party, and sweat together from afar.

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