This holiday season, bottles of gimmicky hot sauces are gifted, tucked away, then regifted for eternity until they inevitably spice up the local landfill. Chances are, if its name resembles a menu item at the local BDSM dungeon, you’re going to need a safe word prior to consumption. (Ironically, my safe word is Sriracha.)
Nobody wants their prison wallet torched by some novelty weaksauce that’s 1 percent actual pepper and 99 percent pain. But there are a few local, award-winning spice lords harvesting organic peppers, blending recipes and melting your tastebuds with mouth-watering flavor.
Salsa Cosecha: The lineup of approachable habanero-based salsas from this Orange-based label taste as good as they look. Orange, red and green habanero varieties are all available in convenient $5 plastic bottles. The best is the bright-orange one: it has the pure essence of fruity habanero peppers with a touch of heat, but it fades fast enough to add to eggs in the morning, sandwiches for lunch and late-night tacos. My first whiff of the sauce had me salivating enough to swig it straight from the bottle in a Northgate parking lot. It’s the fastest I’ve been through a hot-sauce bottle since Secret Aardvark. salsacosecha.com.
Infinity Sauces: John Kessler has been blending up great flavors in Santa Ana’s 4th Street Market test kitchen since it opened. His sauces have an infinite amount of uses, including spicing up a Bloody Mary. I first discovered his Ghost F**k Yourself sauce lingering in the back of Jav’s Bar-B-Q in Anaheim; the smoked ghost wings are tossed in it before delivery. What you get is a euphoric smell of ghost peppers, smoky chicken and a lip-tingling delight. If you’re not into ghost peppers, the original Infinity Sauce has won Best Hot Sauce at the OC Fair the past five years in a row. infinitysauces.com.
Gringo Bandito: Began as a holiday gift by Offspring front man Dexter Holland, this saucy side venture has grown into a staple of Orange County. The sauce rocker puts out a private reserve annually, and the recent release is ripe with Scotch bonnet and tangy habanero. You can find the regular stuff at your local Wahoo’s Fish Taco and select grocery stores, but you’ll have to order the good stuff via the Gringo Bandito website. gringobandito.com.
Heatseeker Craft Hot Sauce: “We make daily sauces, not novelty sauces,” says owner Daryl Vaughn, who started mixing spices in Santiago, Chile. The flagship variety has a rich, green jalapeño flavor backed by fresh lime and cilantro—it’s good enough to sip from a shotglass while eating ceviche with a crisp Mexican lager. Bottles are available via the company website or at Hollingshead’s Delicatessen in Orange. heatseekersauce.com.
Greg Nagel has been writing about beer since 2011, is an avid homebrewer of wine, cider, and beer, is a certified Cicerone Beer Server, a podcaster with the Four Brewers Show, and runs a yearly beer festival called Firkfest.