Hoots Sauce Co Story written by Bruce Watson-Clyne and interviewed on Craft Hot Sauce Podcast
The Passion for Spice Begins
My first and accidental forays begun really at school eating and stealing noodles from Asian classmates. I was addicted to noodles as a teenager and was accused by one teacher as being “the most efficient calorie burner I’ve ever met”. I didn’t necessarily associate the flavours of Korean, Chinese and Japanese noodles with heat or spice it was mostly the meat or fish flavour I was drawn too. I suppose I didn’t notice spice so must have had some resilience naturally to it.
Moving Towards Hot Sauce
My initial memories and influences of hot sauce and spices in general didn’t really begin until my later teens. I’m a chef with a background in fine dining and worked with 4 guys from Kenya. They introduced me to Chilli, they prepared regularly a dish called Ugali which we would eat with our hands and add a toasted chili too. I travelled to Africa in my 20’s to work and encountered a lovely spicy paste in West Africa in Gabon and Ghana. One called “shito” and the other “piment”.
I made my first batch of hot sauce 8-10 years ago as a friend/supplier gave me 5kg of green chilli which were not fit for sale, I decided after some fermentation experiments and other trials with preserving in a professional kitchen to ferment before turning into a sauce. Initially my sauces were in the region of 75% chilli! Not many people could handle their prowess...
The Name Hoots
Hoots Min is a sort of mythical greeting in my native Scotland. Originally the sauce was called HAWT. This name was already taken, and hoots is quite fun and looks a bit like hot so it seemed to work.
A typical week in the life
I work as a professional chef cooking with native British woods. Cooking over this fire I use whole animals and large primal cuts of meat to prepare food for events and celebrations in the great outdoors. This can involve long days of hard smoky graft. Hoots then takes a bit of second place to this and can involve days off, late nights and a last-minute scramble to cook and bottle my 1000 bottle batches.
Challenges so far
I think the hardest challenge and the most frustrating challenge are two separate situations. The hardest challenge has been kitchen space and securing a professional regular space to scale up the business. The most frustrating has been sourcing both a box to send individual boxes to customers and a bulk box for sending to retailers. It took months!!!
Behind the scenes of the sauce
I make hot sauce as a bit of a break from my normal life. It provides me with continued growth and an ability to learn new skills and to meet new people with a shared interest. It provides extra revenue and a means to save for special things in my life. I think what makes my brand unique to others I’ve encountered compared to others is the smoky flavour is actually achieved by me cooking and smoking the chilli’s over wood. Many others get the flavour artificially or by buying something smoked.
My culture is tied into the brand with a scottish edge to it opposed to the recipe having any cultural identity. In the future sauces I will use the names and ingredients associated to Scotland and or Scottish places/history etc.
Major breakthroughs are on the horizon, but not a stand out so far. Hot sauce is ever changing and it’s an exciting emerging niche area. Some of the ingredients and items are gathered from friends at source. The apple cider vinegar is from a friend failed cider batches, the Applewood is from his apple trees. I get the rest of the ingredients and chilli’s from a great local company of conscious veg and wholesale food supplies.
When not making hoots, I’m doing lots of the behind the scenes details of a small business. Legality, accounts, invoicing, sales, sending samples and meeting prospective retailers. It’s important to realize for those customers who buy our sauces all the work that goes on behind the scenes. In my personal life, I love to play sport including Boxing, Muay Thai and Jiu Jitsu. Hanging out and travelling with my long suffering and amazing partner and our wee dog Haggis.
Most Memorable Moment
I think the most memorable moment is actually when you get your first set of proper labels printed. You put them on and then you see your product on the shelf of a retailer. That really makes it all real. That was the best moment for me. It was inspiring and made all the hard work come into perspective.
Looking to the Future
Hoots could go either way in the coming months and years. It could succeed and enable me to take it on full time, where I’d like to help others manufacture and grow their small business. I’d love to employ less fortunate people with learning challenges, disabilities and personal challenges in order to mentor them and help offer them greater opportunities in their lives. I want to grow as a person and to promote compassion and transparency through my product and example.