My first memories of hot sauce were getting my tastebuds burnt off me after testing the very hot sauces we made way back. It was very much trial and error and playing around with different peppers and ingredients. Lots of fun but dangerous as well!
My first batch of hot sauce was for a bit of fun, but I saw no-one else was making really good hot sauce and wanted to see what I could do. Everything in the shops was full of sugar and salt and had no real heat or flavour, so I wanted to make some good stuff.
I began making it in my mother’s kitchen in a very small blender and small pots. Once the recipe was decided upon, I made about 30 bottles for the first farmer’s market. It was exciting and daunting because you don’t know if anyone will buy it.
I made a Red Chilli Sauce with lemongrass and ginger, a take on sweet chilli. I tried to make a sauce that was a bit different and tasted much better than what was available. One of the key points was using less sugar than most sauces and using lovely fresh chillies.
Once we got some feedback and a few customers kept on coming back, I decided to supply some local stores. I also used to travel around to all the food festivals and sell at them and this was great for building a customer base. I could see it working on a small scale so this gave me the confidence to keep making and supply even more people. Shortly then after we won Gold at the Irish Food Awards in 2014 so that was a confidence boost as well!
Early on I learned some lessons quickly. Buying in bulk helped reduce costs, but you can buy too much early on if you don’t have the cash. Speaking of cash, it is vital to a young, small business and critical to allowing growth in the early stages. Building a sales pattern is helpful as well because it gives insight into who buys your products and why. One of the best lessons was to put a structure on the company, but this took a few years to implement!
I make hot sauce because I love hot sauce and think it makes food more enjoyable and fun. I also love creating products and seeing people buying them and enjoying them. I didn’t come from a food background, so I look at the food industry differently and I am extremely honest and passionate, so I will always give my best. We were the first makers in Cork City, but there was one or two in Ireland before us. Now, there are numerous companies in the area which is great for competition.
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Cottage Lane Kitchen was founded by me in 2010, and it isn't only my business name, but also refers to a secret lane in Chapel Hill, NC where our family homestead was built in the 1950s. Four generations of my family have cooked and preserved spicy peppers out of love and tradition in that kitchen.
The last homemade batch of my family's spicy pepper relish was made by my Grandfather in the early 1990s. He grew chilies around the outside of the house and harvested and pickled them during my summer visits. I remember him watering the empty tin cans he buried beside each pepper plant.
Normally the Craft Hot Sauce Podcast interviews hot sauce makers all over the world. This episode is more of a riff from Brian the host about some of the things his hot sauce company Craic Sauce got up this summer.