Last Updated on March 18, 2023
Notes from the 2nd annual New York Hot Sauce Expo
THE TOP FIVE
As promised, here’s my run-down of my five favourite hot sauce stands at the Expo. That’s not to say the other forty or so folk doing their thing don’t merit mention: so many good people, good ideas, and ultimately, good sauces. But too many to list. So thanks to everyone doing their bit to keep it spicy!
And without further ado, the Top Five:
Puckerbutt: My first stop on the proverbial Hot Sauce Expo train. The company lays claim to creating the Smokin’ Ed’s Carolina Reaper, 2013’s hottest chili. Wonderful South Carolina folk who knew their stuff and were keen to recommend a sauce for any taste or occasion. I plumped for a bottle of their Purgatory sauce, a searing hot number (though definitely not their hottest) with a deep, smoky, flavour and a heat that takes over the mouth and lingers, in a way that borders on the unpleasant but manages to remain satisfying.
Torchbearer: Wow. A veritable plethora of sauces. The sauce samples on their stand were lined up in heat order: from the very mildest upwards. Each one packed with flavour. The sky was indeed the limit for these guys, too. Every single one was delicious in its own way, from the self explanatory Oh My Garlic! to the outrageous The Rapture, which claims to be the hottest natural sauce in the world. I have no problem believing that. My choice, the Zombie Apocalypse, was a step down from this: full of Bhut Jolokia peppers and insanely hot, but irresistibly tasty. The fact they only sold this in bottles half the size of regular ones tells you all you need to know.
Whitehouse Station: This might just be the pick of the bunch for me. Straight-up, simple habanero hot sauce. Sweet, tangy, with all that delicious habanero flavour. It’s hot, but not intimidating, or even overbearing. It leaves a lovely tingle on the palate without ever taking over. All about the flavour: none of that “my sauce is hotter than yours” willy-waving (which, on balance, has its place, but isn’t the be-all-and-end-all). What I really like about these guys is that they don’t mess around: they make just the one product and they’ve really worked on making this as good as it could be. I could tell by talking to the owner that this sauce was a true labour of love. I suppose if you’re going to live or die on the power of a single product then it needs to be! Top marks.
High River Sauces: Now this was interesting. The owner had melded a career in the music industry with a passion for the culinary arts, publishing a recipe anthology entitled “Mosh Potatoes”, charting favourite recipes from the biggest bands in hard rock and heavy metal. He was showcasing a hot sauce, called the Grapes of Wrath, created by some bloke from a band called Trans-Siberian Orchestra who, shamefully, I had never heard of. The sauce was good though. As were the rest. My take-home was a bottle of Foo Foo Mama Choo, another Smokin’ Ed’s Carolina Reaper-heavy recipe. Not nearly as hot as the Purgatory, although it still has a serious kick; the burn creeps up and takes over the mouth in much the same way. What really sets this sauce apart from the rest is the fresh ginger, which gives it a delicious, clean, fresh flavour that adds real zip up front but goes as deep as the heat.
Defcon: Strictly speaking, not a hot sauce, but the chap behind these delightful wing sauces and horseradishes certainly takes his spicy seriously. Dressed as what I might describe as some kind of post-Mad Max dystopian cyber villain (replete with those weird contact lenses that make your eyes all white except for the black dot in the middle), he gave us the lowdown on his selection in his own inimitable way. The Habby Horse horseradish was satisfyingly sinus scorching as well as having that inimitable habanero kick; the Defcon #1 Buffalo wing sauce kicked the crap out of anything I’ve ever had in the bars of New York. And as a man with a nigh-on crippling addiction to Buffalo wings, that’s high praise indeed. It had a depth of flavour that went way beyond the usual synthetic and salty Frank’s Red Hot sauce that you’ll find most wings doused in (I realise this might be lost on many of you unfamiliar with the US. If you ever make it to NY, I’d be more than happy to show you the Way of the Wing). That unmistakable tangy flavour has its place, and isn’t altogether unpleasant, but I wouldn’t be upset if Defcon’s blends became just as ubiquitous as Frank’s. Far from it.