The explosion of hot sauces in the modern era is nothing short of amazing. During the mid-1980s, David Tran introduced the UK, USA and Europe to his Huy Fong ‘Rooster’ Sriracha, a brand that would go on to spawn countless similar-looking, taste-alike sauces. In the 1990s, pioneers such as Blair Lazar and Dave Hirschkop turned up the heat by releasing the first of a wave of extreme sauces such as Blair’s Original Death Sauce and Dave’s Gourmet Insanity Sauce. Peppers such as the habanero and scotch bonnet took centre stage and were revered for their punch and power.
As our palates adjusted to these blazing, fiery beasts, the types of pepper used in modern hot sauces developed and new breeds began to gain fearsome reputations for their incredible heat, as well as their unique flavours.
Pepper-growing legends such as Frank Garcia, Paul Bosland of the Chile Pepper Institute in New Mexico, and later Smokin’ Ed Currie put their devilish minds to work to engineer fruit that would shatter the supposed ceiling of the Scoville heat scale for spiciness, introducing the likes of the red savina, the bhut jolokia (or ghost pepper) the moruga scorpion and the infamous, current Guinness World Record holder, the carolina reaper, to modern day sauces. The touch paper had been well and truly lit and the world of hot sauce went stratospheric!
Today the global hot sauce business has been joined by thousands of new players and flavour explorers, some from culinary backgrounds, others from horticultural ones and others, well… they’re just creating their own sauce identities for the sheer hell of pushing the boundaries of how hot is ‘too hot’!
Producers are experimenting with additional ingredients, such as beer and spirits, with complex blends of different pepper flavours
Elsewhere, other producers are experimenting with additional ingredients, such as beer and spirits, with complex blends of different pepper flavours, while some are considering the wider community and ‘terroir’ aspects of growing peppers for the sauces they make. There’s also a trend towards sweeter, more ‘dessert-led’ sauces, indulging our love of chocolate, cherries and now, pepper-infused ‘hot honey’.
Something tells us the Mayans would be impressed with how far things have come – and a little proud of how the global palate has warmed to their pungent, peppery delights.
Two cocktail recipes where hot sauce is the star of the show
One of the truly great classic cocktails, the Margarita brings together herbaceous notes of silver Tequila and zesty lime juice for the perfect refreshing summer sipper. Add a little fresh chilli – and a couple of dashes of your favourite hot sauce – and this versatile, balanced beauty becomes the devil-in-disguise, ready to poke your taste buds with its forked tail!
Fire Eater’s Sauce Recommendation: Howler Monkey Original or Marie Sharp’s Green Habanero
- 50ml (2oz) silver Tequila (Patrón Silver is ideal)
- 25ml (1oz) lime juice
- 25ml (1oz) triple sec
- 12ml (1⁄2oz) sugar syrup
- 2 dashes of hot sauce (or a third, if you dare…)
- Slice of fresh lime
- 2 small red chillies (bird’s eye or cayenne)
Add all the ingredients (except the lime slice and chillies) into a cocktail shaker with ice and shake for 10–12 seconds, before pouring into an ice-filled tumbler glass.
Garnish with the slice of lime and assemble the chillies as devil horns to complete the look!
Killer Bloody Maria
The Bloody Mary is one of the most iconic cocktails in the world. But if you fancy trying a slightly more savoury version, look no further than the Bloody Maria. Instead of vodka, this brunch classic uses silver or blanco Tequila, which brings a wonderful herbaceous flavour to truly die for.
Fire Eater’s Sauce Recommendation: Cholula
- For the Ultimate Searing Seasoning (you’ll have some leftover)
- 2 tsp ground black pepper 1 tsp cayenne pepper
- 1⁄2 tsp ground allspice
- 2 tsp celery salt
- 1⁄2 tsp garlic powder
- 1 tsp horseradish
- 2 stock (bouillon) cubes
- crumbled (beef or vegetable) 2 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
- 1 tbsp pickle juice (from a jar of cornichons or similar) 1 tbsp fresh lime juice
- 12 good dashes Cholula hot sauce
- For the cocktail
- 50ml (2oz) silver Tequila (such as Altos or 1800)
- 2 tsp sun-dried tomato paste
- 150ml (6oz) quality tomato juice
- Cherry tomatoes, fresh lemon wedge and celery stick, to garnish
Mix the seasoning ingredients well in a small jug (pitcher) and leave for 15 minutes. You can then store the mixture in a small sterilized dropper/ dasher-style bottle and add it to each drink to deliver the ultimate bespoke mix of heat and savoury punch. Kept refrigerated, it should last for up to 2 months.
Add all the cocktail ingredients (except the garnishes) into a shaker and dry-shake (without ice) for 10 seconds to aerate the mixture. Fill a tall glass with ice and strain the drink into the glass. Add 5–10 drops of the seasoning mix to taste, then stir, lifting the flavours together. Garnish with the cherry tomatoes and lemon wedge skewered onto a cocktail stick, and the celery stick.