“People get addicted to spicy foods,” says Noah Chaimberg, founder of the idiosyncratic Brooklyn store that specialises strictly in hot sauces. “On a brain chemistry level, the adrenaline and excitement that come with hot sauce are unique. Once you’ve tasted the best, there is no going back. People feel passionately about it.” Chaimberg included, of course; he is known to take his own hot sauce to restaurants and even put it on oatmeal in the morning.
In 2015 this fiery fervour led to Heatonist, a space in hip Williamsburg where you can find – and sample at the tasting bar – an intriguing array of chilli-based condiments by independent makers. Lining the walls of the minimalist, white-oak-clad space are enticingly labelled bottles by 60 different brands, like Bee Local Hot Honey ($14) and Marshall’s Haute Sauce ($14). All the blends are free from preservatives and additives, using natural ingredients that “you won’t have to Google”. But most importantly, the majority of the sauces are handmade in small batches, with no more than 40 gallons produced at a time. “Many of the makers have full‑time jobs and do this in the evenings or on weekends, simply because they’re obsessed,” Chaimberg explains.
As was the case with Brodie Dawson, a Canadian musician who set up a professional sauce-making outfit in 2013. Dawson collaborated with Heatonist to mark the first anniversary of the store with the limited-edition Sichuan Ghost Pepper Sauce ($18) – made from one of the world’s hottest peppers, the Naga Jolokia “ghost” pepper. “It’s a layered flavour experience, with floral notes up front, followed by citrus and ginger, and finishing with the balanced smokiness of ghost pepper,” says Chaimberg.
Another hobbyist-cum-artisan seller Chaimberg enthuses about is Taku Kondo, whose Mellow Habanero sauces are made on a farm in Hyogo Prefecture, Japan. The brand is a one-man show, from smoking the peppers for three days over Japanese oak to designing and hand‑printing the labels. Kondo has even personally presented his concoctions in Brooklyn, pairing them with tequila cocktails (the mango-infused Heaven Most Hot – $20 – apparently goes well with omelettes and grilled meats too). It was one of the 20 or so events the Heatonist hosts each year with various brands in its large kitchen and garden space.
Heatonist’s fanbase also has an international flavour, with dedicated aficionados from as far afield as Sweden and Moscow picking up Belcastro’s NYC Hot Sauce ($10), made with peppers grown on the city’s largest rooftop farm, or Homeboy’s medium-heat Jalapeño, Habanero and Verde sauces (from $10), created by a chef in Phoenix, Arizona, and chicly bottled. Some of the more unexpected mixes, meanwhile, come from Bravado Spice Co’s infusions of blueberry, pineapple and green apple (all $10) – but it’s Québec-based Sinai Gourmet that really turns up the heat. Its potent Ghost recipe ($40) uses around 25 times as many crushed Naga Jolokia as your typical hot sauce. “It will blow away anything you’ll find in a grocery store,” promises Chaimberg.