Hot Sauce Tasting: Hurts So Good

A quick visit to a hot sauce store in Berlin turns into an unplanned three-hour hot sauce sampling that made us feel like we just dropped acid.

Have you ever planned a hot sauce tasting? Ever even imagined one? Well, maybe you should.

Hot Sauce Tasting Mosaic, Berlin
A few hot sauce favorites from a tasting at Pfefferhaus, Berlin

In Berlin, we’d experienced wine tastings, brandy tastings, beer tastings, even a whiskey tasting. And through them all we noticed something about the power of progression and comparison. It’s along a flavor and experience continuum that you can see, taste and feel subtle differences. When you do that, you can really begin to appreciate and understand.

And when you do that, you’ve arrived.

Hot Sauce Tasting in Berlin

Our afternoon hot sauce tasting episode in Berlin fell into the category of the completely unplanned. We had no idea such a thing existed. After scanning the selection of hot sauces at Pfefferhaus, our group was headed toward the door when we heard: “Do you want to do a tasting?

A hot sauce tasting? Well, why not? What’s there to be afraid of?

Within minutes, Emil — our hot sauce sommelier — brought out small bowls and tasting spoons. Then, one by one, he dealt up hot sauce bottles from behind the counter and from a refrigerated tasting stash in the back. He walked us across an oral firestorm, from mild mango-infused chili sauces to pepper extracts so hot it was only possible to take them in toothpick-tipped doses.

Along the way, he would ask our opinions, plumbing our preferences for citrus or sweet, smoky or sour.

Like only a sommelier could, he’d modify our path — straighten it a little here, kink it a little there — ducking back into the refrigerator room to pull a few more bottles to custom-tailor the experience.

Hot Sauce Tasting in Berlin
Getting into the hot sauce tasting…

A half dozen bottles into the tasting, however, we began to reach a chili saturation. But we also wanted more.

What’s the best drink to go with hot sauce?” we asked.

Emil’s without-a-beat response: “Beer, of course.

Following his expert advice, a few of us shuffled off to a nearby grocery store, the fire of chipotle barbecue sauce still searing the ends of throat nerves and glands we never before knew existed.

Minutes later, we were equipped to continue — Emil, too — with beers in hand, a tray of palate soothing crackers at the ready.

Has anyone ever brought beer to drink with the hot sauce tasting?” somebody asked.

No, you are the first ones. But this is Berlin. This is what happens.

Heat Up, Endorphins Up

As if the chipotle sauce wasn’t hot enough, we moved on to jolokia sauce. The thermostat seemed to increase in an already warm Indian summer-bathed showroom. Hot sauce to cry for became hot sauce to die for; toothpicks replaced tasting spoons as the delivery utensil of choice. We were into the serious stuff now — sauces whose Scoville ratings topped off at 750,000 (as comparison, habanero chilies are usually at 200,000).

The endorphins kicked in. And if you’d have overheard us, you might just think we’d just dropped acid.

I’ve never felt this way.

Oh my god, can you feel that?

What’s happening to me. I feel like I’m melting.”

I think I need help.”

Some of us had to retire to a nearby bench to settle down. This hot sauce tasting was an experience of the entire body.

The hot sauce discussion between us continued later on Twitter:

We keep using the orange mango hot sauce on everything, so the buzz has been perpetual. Is this how addiction begins? – (@SarahEverts)

…keeps seeing pretty colors – worried about after-effects (+ ‘orange mango’ totally sounds like a kind of LSD) – (@Benno)

None of us will ever look at hot sauce in the same way again.

Hot Sauce Tasting at Pfefferhaus - Berlin
A hot sauce lineup.

Our Favorite Hot Sauces

1. Cajohns Killer Chipotle
This seemed to be the hot sauce that took just about everyone to the next level.

Surprising, long heat. A slow burn that at first feels like a caboose, then rages like a locomotive. While the heat and delivery were both memorable, it’s the smoky chipotle taste flavor that sets it apart. Quite possibly addictive, certainly best of show.

2. Blind Betty, Blind in the Rind
A hot sauce from the Virgin Islands that combines a light, fresh citrus flavor with a spicy kick. Imagine this as a great dipping sauce or topping on any chicken preparation.

3. Stinger Suicide Sauce
Jolokia. To some, the hottest pepper in the world. Also known as the ghost pepper or ghost chili. Eating one whole will turn you into a ghost. Combining the pepper with honey garlic yields a fiery, red flecked hot sauce to be wielded with care.

4. Eckart Mango Sauce
Our first taste of the day. Not a lot of heat; more a mango sweet and sour flavor with tiny kick. Great as a dipping sauce or to spice up a chicken or pork dish.

Fiery Sauces, Toothpicks Only

1. 357 Mad Dog
When a bottle of hot sauce has a “Use it at your own risk” warning label and tips the Scoville scale at 750,000, it’s time to take note. Just a toothpick tip into this darkness, a touch to the tongue, a few seconds, some smoke, some heat, it hits the back of the throat, then run for the border.

2. Blair’s Beyond Death
Like a traditional hot sauce that you might put on a chicken burger. Hints of cayenne and smoke.

3. Holy Shit Habanero
Hot smoke. The label rightly notes it’s like a “blast furnace.” Not sure if that means on the way in…or on the way out.

Remaining Hot Sauce Review

1. Hottest Ride in Town
Loved the tagline on this one: “Burns faster and hotter from tongue to tailpipe.”

Like a barbecue sauce, but raging.

2. Cajohns Fatali Purée
Another deadly chili, the fatali burns for a long time after an intense in-the-mouth kick.

3. Cajohns Killer Cayenne
Tasted a lot like a hot sauce that would form the basis of buffalo wing sauce. Almost purely cayenne heat.

4. Susie’s Spicyburning Desire
Another entry from the Caribbean, this time from Antigua. A rather straightforward hot sauce that leaves a trademark sour taste.

5. Blair’s Heat Jalapeño Tequila
Straightforward, hot like you’d expect a jalapeno blend to be. Hints of garlic, tomatillo, tequila, and maybe a bit too much vinegar.

6. Marie Sharps Exotic Sauce
Supposedly Roger Ebert likes it. We didn’t especially. Not because it wasn’t good, but perhaps because of the stiff competition. A hint of habanero, but mainly a spice sauce, rather than a hot sauce per se.

Hot Sauce Tasting in Berlin: How To

Pfefferhaus is located at Dircksenstraße Bogen Nr. 94 on the outside ground floor area of Alexanderplatz U/S-bahn station. The tasting table is near the cashier’s desk. Inform Emil (or whoever happens to be working that day) as to your heat tolerance and hot sauce taste preference: smoky, sweet, sour, citrus, etc. Pick up a beer from the grocery store across the street (pair it all with the neutral, unflavored variety of Tuc crackers) and enjoy the ride. Open from 11-19:00 Monday-Saturday.

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Comments

  1. says

    @Andrea: It’s a great place, isn’t it? And such an anomaly considering how spice diverse the city usually is. Next time you return to Berlin you’ll need to do a tasting – so great.

  2. Frank Regan says

    Just checking in with my itinerant heroes…you guys still rock the world and Scranton couldn’t be prouder…funny I should stop by with hot sauces on the home page…my tongue actually watered up while reading (and then realizing it’s time for a return trip to Berlin)… i used to “import” my sauces from Mo Hotta Mo Betta catalog, some fifteen-twenty years ago until some favorites (Sri Racha,Melinda’s, Dave’s) sauces became largely available in grocery chains…will be scouring the net for those you recommended…in any case, still so blown away by your approach and appetite for Life..so grateful for your perspiration and inspiration.. my wife and I were in Cairo in March, a month after the revolution… a life changing experience and affirmation that we are all citizens of one world, connected, more similar than different…we tried to be the good American ambassadors that the both of you are every day….look forward to that beer together next time you are home…frank r from linden street

  3. says

    Sounds like a ton of fun. We have a currywurst place here that has 10 different levels, but I think I like the idea of a tasting session.. with beer of course.

  4. says

    @Vijay: I have a whole new respect for Caribbean and citrus infused hot sauce after this tasting. Delicious!

    @Tyler: Good question. My suggestion is to keep pushing the limits on a regular basis, almost like training your taste buds to take more and more. We notice that when we go a long time without spicy food, our taste buds have a shock when we eat a spicy Thai curry. It takes some time to get back to our old spice tolerance level.

    @IB: That’s why the hot sauce tasting was such an enlightening experience!

    @Abhijit: We were brave and were rewarded :)

    @Frank: Your comment just made our day, both in terms of your kind words about our approach to life and your experiences in Cairo after the revolution. Thank you. We will be in the Scranton area around Thanksgiving, so we’ll be sure to get in touch to have that beer together and continue this conversation.

    @Andrew: The beer was an essential component of the hot sauce tasting – don’t think we would have survived it without the cold brew! 10 different levels at a currywurst stand? That’s pretty impressive – haven’t seen that in Berlin.

    @Henry, Laura and Jordan: Thanks! Glad you enjoyed this!

    @Brian: The somewhat ironic thing about this hot sauce tasting in Berlin is the fact that Berlin is usually very spice-adverse. But, there is a small group of people like us who love it and this keeps this store alive.

  5. says

    Wow! Seeing posts like this makes me wish that I wasn’t such a wuss when it comes to heat. Will need to work on my tolerance so I can pop in if I ever find myself in Berlin :)

  6. says

    This sounds like a very cool place and reminds me of Peppers in Key West. They have a hot sauce tasting bar and encourage patrons to bring their own wings and beer. Now that’s my kind of place!

    In my first attempt I got as far along the tasting menu as a sauce made from the infamous Ghost Pepper. I had to call it quits after that. I think I was still maybe a half dozen or so sauces from the completing the line up. My Everest in Key West – something to tackle the next time I’m in town.

  7. says

    @Brian: Ghost pepper…that’s jolokia, as used in the stinger sauce above. Fiery. One of our friends with us told a story of being at an Indian wedding, seeing a large bowl of beautiful peppers and thought they were for eating. So he ate one. It was a jolokia. Next Indian wedding, he knows better.

    Stay cool.

  8. says

    The hottest hot sauce I’ve ever taste is made by my grandma using some very spicy and evil looking Hungarian peppers. It’s fiery, that’s all I can say. No fancy citrus-y or mango flavors in it, but still delicious.

  9. says

    @Priyank: Very funny. We too are happy that humanity has achieved hot sauce greatness!

    @BA: I wonder what those evil-looking peppers are that your grandma is using. Habanero peppers would be my guess.

  10. Erio Beatz says

    God, I love hot and spicy foods! But can’t seem to find the right hot sauce here at my place, Dusseldorf, wonder if I cant get one of those too here since I’m also new here and don’t really know the area yet.

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