I love hot sauce. There have been times in my life when I carried a dainty vial of Tabasco sauce in my purse, in case of flavor emergencies. When I heard tell of Austin Chronicle’s Annual Hot Sauce Festival on August 25th, I cleared my calendar. I didn’t have anything on my calendar, because I am semi self-employed and friendless. Hot sauce, help me forget!
Max and I arrived shortly after the gates opened, to find the place already swarming with capsicum fiends. Coleridge describes it best, in his poem Kubla Khan: “A savage place! As holy and enchanted/ As e’er beneath a waning moon was haunted/ By woman wailing for her demon lover!” Here’s a picture of a bunch of people standing around, failing to justify my use of that quote.
We stood in long, sweaty lines. At the end of each line, you either had to indicate to the overworked hot sauce personnel which sauces you wanted, or grab some tortilla chips and start squirting and scooping as efficiently as possible. Hot sauce still making its incendiary journey down our gullets, we hustled over to the next line, spewing chip crumbs in our wake. Once or twice I sought a palliative salsa from one of the less popular booths, to lend us tomatoey succor as we awaited the next furtive dipping marathon.
By far the best vendor experience came from Big Daddy’s Ass Burn. Their booth took on the swarm of samplers one at a time, customizing each person’s hot sauce experience. Realizing the possible stress the company name inflicted, the kindly hot sauce valet told us, “None of our hot sauces are melt-your-face-hot. We’re all about flavor!” Ok, but…
Un-clench yourself and relax! They’re all about flavor! Nevermind the logo they picked themselves.
Swarmed with mediocre tortilla chips and far too many Fahrenheits, we decided to have snow cones for lunch. See if you can spot the short, black, hairy reason I screamed.
AAHHHHH! I turned away, only to spy dragonflies humping on my spoon. What did I do to deserve this?! Beset with abominations on all sides, I still ate the snow cone. “Palettes must be cleansed, no matter what the cost.” -General S. Patton Jr.
Loins girded, we marched through the rows of green and specialty sauces. Panting, we decided red sauces are for commoners. Also, we had been there for 4 hours and I thought I might throw up. We made our final purchases and went home.
Spotted these ugly customers on they way back. Irrelevant? Yes. I used them as an excuse to pause, my limbs swollen with dehydration and chili fever.
Here are our finalists. Now for a lengthy post-game analysis.
With no planning by us whatsoever, somehow we managed to buy sauces that were each a different color and each from a different city in Texas. Delicious felicity!
Yellowbird (Austin): I had read an article before the festival about Yellowbird. It was designed to complete with Sriracha – same bottle, same bird-theme, but with no preservatives or fake sweeteners. As we discovered, it tastes totally different, made from habaneros instead of chilies. It rounds out and balances the spicy peppers with tangerines, carrots, and evaporated cane juice. Pairs best with scrambled eggs on a sunny day.
Frankie V’s Spooky White (Dallas): Another habanero offering. Coconut oil and its weird, fleshy color make it a real stand-out. Vinegary, yet smooth. Punch, packed. We joyously slathered it on chicken.
Big Daddy’s Ass Burn E.H.G. In the Name of Suffering (Houston): EHG stands for Eye Hate God, an influential metal band from New Orleans. I wasn’t aware at the time of the festival, but the drummer, Joey LaCaze, had just passed away the Friday previous. The EHG sauce is made fiery with ghost pepper. GHOST PEPPER. My purchase was influenced by paranormal forces. I’m very sensitive. This hot sauce goes best with potatoes and a creeping sensation you’re not alone.
It’s been 4 days since the festival, and I’m at least one-fifth of the way through the sauces. Next year, God willing, I will bring a larger bag and deeper pockets.