My name is Ron and I’m proud to be the founder of Fartley Farms, a small-batch hot sauce company based out of Columbus, OH. Being in the same city where CaJohn’s originated gives people a certain level of expectation when it comes to hot sauce, but we feel like we’ve held up pretty well here at the start of our journey. From humble beginnings of putting together a way-too-hot Carolina Reaper sauce to our current lineup of four, the Lady of the Farm (my wife) and I are excited to bring you some more details about us and appreciate Craft Hot Sauce giving us the opportunity to do so.
We mentioned it briefly above, but the first sauce we ever made was awful. We’d gotten some Carolina Reaper seeds and put them in our raised beds to see what would happen and once ripe, we tossed them in a blender with vinegar, a pinch of salt and some carrots. It was awful. The taste was bitter, the heat was too intense to be edible and I clearly remember getting the hiccups immediately, which led to tears and led to me halting the process altogether. There were still a handful of reaper pods so I turned off the stove, did some googling and got back to it. Learning how to even out the ingredients and sorting out ratios turned into a better sauce and over time turned into our now Scorpion Garlic sauce. Simple ingredient list, but shows off the pepper in a way we love. Another lesson we learned the hard way from the first batch is to never cook inside your home. The Lady of the Farm threw me outside for the rest of the test batches and ever since then the first batch of our sauces (5-8 bottles) is made on a tiny Coleman camping stove. From there we work with our co-packers at Madstone USA to bump up the batch size and tweak recipes with them until we’re ready to do a 400+ bottle run.
Since that first horrible batch we’ve scoured the internet, tried other sauces, read books from Dave DeWitt, and straight up thrown random ingredients together to come up with 30+ recipes we enjoyed. Each one will now go through rigorous testing and tweaking to help us determine which ones get to see the light of day and which will end up on our site under hot sauce recipes. The thing we learned with such small batches initially is that you can always pour it out. Experiment as much as possible, determine what other people like and what they pick up on when they try it and polish it from there. We’re of the opinion that there is no “perfect sauce for everyone,” but through feedback we feel like we can get pretty darn close.
I don’t remember the first hot sauce I ever tried, but I remember hot sauce being a staple when I was in the Boy Scouts. The food during camping trips and backpacking trips was always a bit bland and half the time it was burnt, so keeping hot sauce handy became a requirement. The Father of the Farm (my father) and I started bringing new sauces with us, slowly cranking up the heat until we got to Crazy Jerry’s Mustard Gas (Ingredients: Distilled Vinegar, Mustard Seed, Water, Garlic Powder, Onion Powder, Pepper Extract, Turmeric, Mustard Oil, and Natural Spices). It destroyed us and became fun to have other folks try it and see the reactions. Over the years there were spikes of hot sauce usage, but I didn’t really get into a broad variety until I moved to Columbus in 2011. From there we started looking at the hot sauce section of every grocery we entered and are now deeply engrained in the small batch community, trading sauces and still finding new favorites.
There are two that stick out. One from the making side and one from someone eating it side. The first memory where it was like “oh, we may be on to something with our sauces” was in 2019 at the Columbus Fiery Foods Festival. We entered one of our more unique sauces and ended up taking second place in the Amateur sauce-maker competition. Unfortunately we’ve never been able to reproduce the exact flavor profile, which haunts me to this day. It’s one we continually try to replicate when we make our micro batches, but so far it’s never been the same. Some day 😊
The other memory is during a backpacking trip. We had a sauce similar to the El Yucateco XXXtra Hot Sauce and it had gotten a bit crusty at the rim. Unbeknownst to a fellow backpacker, he had gotten some residue on his fingers. He proceeded to wipe some sweat out of his eyes only to trigger the receptors in his eyes to ignite with the pain of a thousand suns. As he rolled around rubbing his eyes and trying to get some water, our worn down group laughed and laughed (while helping obviously, we’re not monsters). That was a day I realized that hot sauce had a special quality that many other foods, condiments, or products just didn’t have. Hot sauce was an experience. Something that everyone had a different reaction to, some intense, some mild. Overall there was a lot of joy that it brought people and that’s something we’ve hung on to.
It’s a bit corny, but from that last story we make sauce to recreate that experience. The intensity of feeling the heat of the peppers mixed with the fun for folks watching. This wasn’t fully cemented until we watched people eat our hotter sauces, their eyes widen and the sweat start to appear on their cheeks, nose, and forehead.
Outside of that, almost no two hot sauces are the same. Within each category or style of sauce, two makers can come at it from two different angles with their own take and have two completely different sauces. That to use was super cool and we felt like we had some unique takes on sauces that folks would like.
What started as a hobby has resulted in 300+ orders, a lot of new friends and associates and we’re just beginning. We’re excited to continue filling out our numbered lineup and plan to have a 0-10 someday with the 0 being something made with habanadas, or heatless jalapenos.
For us it really boils down to a few simple things: just start, stay open to feedback, and trust yourself.
Just start. There’s really no other way to say it. We’ve had lots of people ask “well how do you know if a recipe is any good?” You don’t until you’ve made it. Sure you could have a chemist sit and write out formulas of flavor molecules that go well together, but unless you have easy access to one of those, just take some ingredients, slap them in a blender and try it out. Your own taste buds will give you a good understanding of what is missing. When we first put together a recipe, if we’re not sure what is missing we’ll split it into several smaller bowls and add different spices to see which ends up being our favorite. From there, make it again and have your friends try. Stay open to feedback and if they say “no, it’s great!” ask them what could make it even better. Find the people that have a lot to say about what they don’t like and keep them close. Toss every new sauce to them to see what they think and take notes of how they respond to it. Seriously, being open to feedback is crucial.
The other piece of advice would be to trust yourself. It’s easy to get caught up in listening to everyone and asking groups of people about what you should do next, but at the end of the day only you can decide your next step and if it’s the correct step. Do your research, try to back up gut feelings with information and make the best decision you can with the information you have. Not all of them are going to work, but keep building that muscle until you have a good feel for it.
We love learning more about hot sauce, so if you ever have questions, suggestions or thoughts, let us know! You can find us at https://fartleyfarms.com on Instagram/Facebook/Twitter as fartleyfarms or in the /r/Columbus and /r/spicy subreddits where we post our “Spiciest Dish in Columbus Series” every Friday morning. If you’re interested in how to get started selling hot sauce we’d be happy to give you any additional tips or advice, just hit us up on any of the above communication lines.