I grew up in a small rural village in the South Island of New Zealand. My parents were trying to live a post hippy, self sufficient life. They grew most of our food and made lots of the things we owned and used in our lives. The food was very plain with the only spices used being in sweet items or the pepper grinder.
At 19 I moved to Melbourne Australia and began an apprenticeship as a chef. During this period I discovered a wide range of ethnic foods and started to love the buzz of eating Spice. It was the early 1990’s so the only hot sauce around was Tabasco.
Most of my adult life I had been keen on making things that you usually just buy. Electric guitars, clothes, skateboards, music, even bacon. A learned trait from my upbringing. I started making hot sauce in 2015. It was the result of several trips down the YouTube rabbit hole on the hunt to find out how Tabasco was made. I loved the idea of it being fermented. I have made bread many times and home brew beer a few times so fermenting something like chillies sounded cool.
With a couple of kilograms of frozen red chillies, an airlock and a large glass bottle I had a bubbling mass of chilli mash fermenting on the kitchen bench. After straining and fiddling about I added vinegar and experimented with xanthan gum. Finally I had a pile of hot sauce. Great. Now what...
In 2016 my wife and I opened a cafe/ burger restaurant and hot sauce went on the back burner for a while. Until I realised that our own house made hot sauce would be great on the tables. After a year of slow progress our first labelled bottles were for sale on the counter in the cafe. Al’s Hot Pepper Sauce was born.
The menu contained a fried chicken burger called The Motherclucker. The sauce we used on that was a spicy honey based sauce using local honey and some of the hot pepper sauce. This too found its way into a retail bottle. Al’s Hot Honey Sauce was also now a thing.
In 2019 we decided it was time to make a serious effort to get the sauce off the cafe counter and into other outlets. We invested in a rebrand and total redesign of the labels. We extended the range to a core range five sauces. The original red pepper hot sauce, a green pepper hot sauce with New Zealand native “pepper tree” leaf called Horopito. A Sriracha sauce with Black garlic and two hot honey sauces.
The main lessons along the way were that making the sauce is the easy part. It’s the thing that motivates you. You give it to people and the love it and that’s the reward.
If you want commercial success, or even just to sell a commercial product, then it takes determination to get over all the barriers.
Barcodes, nutritional information panels, intellectual property, trademarking, food safety programmes, print formats, hot filling, packaging, websites, online stores and alibaba. These terms and many others will haunt your days.
But if you can navigate all that it’s worth it for sure.
We were fortunate enough to own a cafe that was running well. We had income that we could put into solving the sauce scale up issues. We could buy large amounts of ingredients and packaging and bottles etc and we had an outlet with hundreds of people in it each day. The sauces moved slowly but they moved.
With the rebrand and the launch of the website and online store the dream (phase one) has been realised. From here we plan to move the core range into more retail spaces and developed small batch runs of special brews. For this we are developing a growing space to produce our own super hot peppers for sauce production.
In New Zealand most hot sauces are cooked purées. Al’s Laboratory sauces are fermented mash sauces with vinegar added to stabilise. This adds a flavour profile we have not found in unfermented sauces. The hot honey sauces showcase the local honey flavours as well as a sweet, sour and hot buzz from the other ingredients.
To anyone thinking of doing this I would say yeah, go for it. Remember though that the journey will not only include the fun bits like making sauce. It will also involve spreadsheets, the health department, failure, at least one “didn’t wash my hands well enough” toilet incident and a host of other challenges you swear you didn’t sign up for. But talking to happy customers who love your sauce makes you forget all that.
Making hot sauce is good for your soul. Get amongst it.
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