Take the Heat: Seven Days Staffers Sample Five Local Hot Sauces | Food + Drink Features | Seven Days | Vermont's Independent Voice

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Take the Heat: Seven Days Staffers Sample Five Local Hot Sauces

By

MARGARET GRAYSON
  • Margaret Grayson

Hot peppers may not be the first crop associated with Vermont's northern climate, but many varieties grow well here, and at least half a dozen companies have sprung up to produce an array of hot sauces using local ingredients. On an informational page for vendors, Burlington's City Market, Onion River Co-op lists hot sauce as a "saturated category" of Vermont product — as if to say, "Please don't try to sell us any more of this."

With all those local hot sauces available, how do you choose the right one for your nacho, stir-fry or scrambled-egg needs? Writers from the Seven Days food and culture teams gathered to taste five hot sauces made in Vermont, armed with a bowl of chips and a tub of sour cream for palate cleansing.

What follows is a far-from-comprehensive roster of hot sauces. By the time we reached the last one, we had trouble saying anything insightful, given that our mouths were on fire.

MARGARET GRAYSON (freelance writer): The first thing I would like to know from you all is your relationship to hot sauce.

MELISSA PASANEN (food writer): I like hot sauce. I don't like things that are super, super spicy. I really want other things to be going on. I like some heat, but I like some other flavor situation happening.

JORDAN ADAMS (staff writer): Frank's [RedHot] and Cholula [Hot Sauce] — that's where I go for hot sauce, because I'm kind of a wimp. I have had some major issues with spice in the past. That said, I find hot sauce very interesting.

JORDAN BARRY (food writer): Intellectually, I understand hot sauce very deeply. In practice, I'm also a wimp, and I only eat it on breakfast sandwiches.

MG: I put hot sauce on everything. There was a point where I was worried I'd ruined my sense of taste, because I would eat spaghetti and be like, "Oh, this is boring; it needs hot sauce." I do sometimes get spicy food hiccups, so everyone prepare yourself for that.

MARGARET GRAYSON
  • Margaret Grayson

Benito's Hot Sauce Original Naranja Carrot Habanero

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JB: The texture is very carrot.

MG: It's definitely carrot-forward. I didn't expect to taste the carrot.

MP: It's like if baby food were reinvented as hot sauce.

JB: But the good baby food.

MP: Yeah, yeah, of course. That goes without saying — the stuff you make yourself. You grow the carrot, you peel it, mash it by hand in a mortar and pestle.

JA: I like that the heat was a slow spread and that you start out with this almost citrusy flavor.

MP: I like this more than I thought I was going to. What do you think it would be best on?

JB: Right on my breakfast sandwich. Sausage, egg, arugula on an English muffin.

JA: You know what would be really good? One more ingredient in this: maple syrup.

MG: Well, I think that means we have to move on to the maple sriracha.

MARGARET GRAYSON
  • Margaret Grayson

Sugar Bob's Vermont Maple Sriracha Hot Sauce

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MG: I'm biased because I almost always have this in my fridge. I feel like this is the dessert of hot sauces.

JA: First taste is all sweetness.

MP: A fruity sweetness, not just a sugary sweetness. I think this tricks you. On the very front, you get the sweet and, for me, fruitiness, and then you get the heat. Whereas the carrot one, to me, was more even.

JA: I could see really putting this on some stir-fried vegetables — or a grilled chicken or a fried chicken sandwich.

MG: I make a lot of generic stir-fry sauces, and I like when they have some kind of sweet element in them. This would be a nice addition.

MP: I may be being influenced because I know this brand and they've been around for a while, but it feels like a very well-crafted hot sauce to me, like they've thought a lot about it.

MARGARET GRAYSON
  • Margaret Grayson

Butterfly Bakery of Vermont Heady Topper Craft Beer Hot Sauce

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MG: This is interesting, because it's just jalapeños, white vinegar and Heady Topper. No garlic, no nothing. The beer and the peppers are the entire flavor.

JA: It tastes like nothing to me. I hope that's not because I've eaten too much hot sauce already and my taste buds have been destroyed.

MP: No, I think you're kind of right. I like it because it's really tangy, and I love tang. But I'm not sure I can taste the Heady, which kind of surprises me.

JB: When the heat first hits, it feels like the bite you get after a sip of a really hoppy, boozy double IPA. It's more of a mouthfeel thing for me than a flavor.

MG: This one is just so different from the first two that we ate. It's much more bitter.

MP: Well, the bitter would be the hops. And I'm really getting the vinegary-ness. It's pretty spicy once it builds.

MG: So can we think of any purposes [for which] we'd want a more bitter hot sauce?

JA: Some weird fruit salad?

JB: Oh! Or just on watermelon. There's this watermelon mustard trend happening right now where you're supposed to squeeze yellow mustard on your watermelon. I would rather do this sauce.

MP: I would like it on a lot of things. I would like it on a burger. I feel like Sam-I-Am. I would like it in the rain; I would like it in Spain.

JB: I think it would be very useful, especially making something like a stir-fry sauce. If you accidentally go too sweet with something, it would really be effective in balancing it out. So I would probably use it more as a cooking ingredient than on its own.

MARGARET GRAYSON
  • Margaret Grayson

Vermont Pepper Works Chocolate Chipotle Pepper Sauce

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MG: I love chipotles and put them in many things and use them a lot in my cooking, so I really like this, but I don't think it even exists in the same category as the other ones.

JB: I think it's a marinade.

MP: Or a spread. Chocolate and chipotle is a good idea. I mean, it's pretty classic, right?

JA: The first thing I wrote down was "smoky smoky smoky."

MP: I could see spreading this on a sandwich or stirring it into chili. I already put chipotles and I sometimes put cocoa in my chili, so it's basically that. As a hot sauce alone, I feel like it needs salt. But if you're having it with chips, that doesn't really matter.

JA: I almost feel like this will be good as a base on some sort of play on a pizza. It doesn't seem like something I want to put on top.

MG: Right. It's not an accessory. You need to plan your meal around it.

JB: I want it to be the eighth layer of a seven-layer dip.

MP: I was totally thinking that! Or put it in a quesadilla with beans and cheese.

MG: I think my main critique is, I think they should package it in a mason jar [instead of a bottle], so you can get in there with a knife.

JA: Or just a huge chip.

MG: This is definitely the most edible with a chip, though. You could eat this at volume.

JB: Well, we've all gone back for more.

MARGARET GRAYSON
  • Margaret Grayson

Angry Goat Pepper Co. Purple Hippo Hot Sauce

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MP: Jordan took a bite of this last one, and his eyes kind of bugged. And so we handed him the sour cream immediately. And then maybe he'll be able to speak in a few minutes.

MG: I might get the hiccups from this.

JA: I just tried to talk, and it didn't work.

JB: It's making my nose run before I've eaten it, just from the smell.

JA: At first, the heat and the sweetness were fighting it out. And then the heat just sucker punched the fruitiness.

MP: That's exactly what I just experienced in my mouth.

JA: And the heat was like, "I'm in charge. You submit to me." How are you doing over there?

JB: [squeakily] Not great. But I love the flavor.

JA: Oh! I breathed in too fast and something happened. The vapor is going into my lungs.

JB: That's a difference, too. It's got so much heat that's coming in the vapor and in the air.

MG: So that must be the scorpion pepper powder. I'm literally crying. That was really a crescendo.

The original print version of this article was headlined "Take the Heat | Seven Days staffers sample five local hot sauces"