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.
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.
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.
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.