Some Like It Hot
A visit to Berkeley’s hot-sauce hub.
I’ll admit it. I’m a little scared.
I am at the Heat Hot Sauce Shop in Berkeley. Lining the shelves are 230 varieties, bearing names like Ultimate Insanity and Death Rain—and with labels featuring an assortment of things I try not to put in my mouth, from fire-breathing skulls to nuclear bombs.
“What’s Pure Evil?” I ask, nervously.
“It’s basically liquid pepper spray,” Dylan Keenen, one of the shop’s young owners, tells me. “I tried it once, just a drop in a bottle of limeade, and I felt like my throat was going to swell shut.”
“I better pass on that one,” I say.
“Don’t worry,” Keenen assures me. “We leave that for the crazies.”
Keenen and co-owner Becky Gibbons start me off mildly: Lucky Dog’s Fire Roasted Pepper Sauce, which has a nice garlic flavor, and Pretty Dog’s Mole Style, a sweet-and-spicy sauce made by a little company in Oakland.
But with each sample, Keenen and Gibbons raise the temperature, and by the fourth tasting, beads of sweat are forming on my brow. Gibbons hands me a tissue.
We move onto hotter sauces: fruity Secret Aardvark’s Habanero, sweet Heartbreaking Dawn’s Jalapeño Pineapple, and smoky Melinda’s Chipotle.
My tongue is burning, but there is still one sauce to go—the one I fear most. The 1498 Cauterizer is made with the Trinidad scorpion pepper, which has been deemed the world’s hottest by chile experts.
I hesitate, then pop a tortilla chip with a few drops of sauce on it into my mouth. I taste blueberry before a wave of heat spreads from my head to my toes. Keenen hands me a cup of water.
“What would you put that on?” I ask. “Pretty much everything,” he says.
1992-B Martin Luther King Jr. Way, Berkeley, (510) 849-1048, heathotsauce.com.