While “working” at the Oklahoma Restaurant Convention and Expo this summer, my pal Amanda introduced me to Tulsa-based Dillon “Baby D” Hargrave and his line of hot sauces.
His little corner of the expo floor seemed perpetually busy as people came by to test their mettle against his all-natural, fermented hot sauces.
The ingredients list on each bottle is dreamily short — a blend of peppers mashed together with apple cider vinegar, onions, garlic and salt. Pretty straightforward, right?
I’d been tasting a few of Baby D’s Bee Sting sauces on my own, adding them to chili and rice bowls and the like and enjoying them quite a bit. But after the response I got from the Lay’s Taste Test of America post, I decided to re-enlist my coworkers’ taste buds in what the courts will no doubt rule is a gross misuse of authority. (Note: I don’t actually have any authority.)
So here, for your reading pleasure, are my coworkers’ thoughts on Baby D’s Bee Sting hot sauces, followed as always by my much more relevant opinion.
Them: This “gateway” sauce is a blend of blue agave syrup, honey and habanero powder and it was a near-universal favorite. Literally only one person was non-plussed and she wrote, “Too sweet, not spicy.” Others were more effusive in their praise with, “Really like this one” and examples of places to use it: yogurt, oatmeal, etc. One person just drew a heart.
Me: The spice is mellow, but I think it’s a great little sauce and one I’m likely to add to all sorts of dishes. As winter approaches, the chances of a Baby D’s Sweet Stang hot toddy are almost a lock.
Them: Though it definitely packs more heat, the green jalahellno sauce (made with a blend of jalapeno and serrano peppers) was the sauce everyone agreed on. The honey hater said she “like-liked” the sauce, while the most spice-averse in the group said it was “more tingly than painful” with “good jalapeno flavor.” Everyone agreed that, from bean burritos to eggs, this could be a daily use sauce.
Me: I like Jalahellno for what it is: a mild green sauce that focuses more on flavor than heat. My ideal sauce is a balance between the two, creating a heat that singes but with a flavor so good you can’t stop eating it.
Them: The vinegar overwhelmed the pepper flavors in Yellow Jacket for much of the group. The Jamaican scotch bonnet and orange habanero were outmatched by the apple cider vinegar, gaining several “do not like” votes.
Me: Maybe I’m weird for liking vinegar, but I like vinegar and I like this sauce. The heat level increases and the vinegar adds a brightness that I like. Still, it wasn’t my favorite.
Them: When it came to the spicier end of the spectrum, the tasters were split between Okie Sunset and Original for which they preferred, but it was miles ahead of Yellow Jacket. One judge deemed it “too hot for me,” but still noted the good flavor. Some called its burn “nasally” with a “lingering heat” and others enjoyed the kicked up habanero flavor. One still called it “too vinegary.”
Me: One thing I didn’t tell them was that Okie Sunset is a blended sauce; 80% Yellow Jacket and 20% Original, which is where it gets that gorgeous orange color. I think it’s complex and delightful, with one of the longer lasting burns of the group.
Them: With a mixture of habanero and Carolina reaper peppers, Original is probably the closest to a “traditional” hot sauce, with its bright red color and darker, more earthy pepper flavors. “Yuk, just hot to be hot” said one taster, while another deemed it “2 hot 2 handle (in my mouth).”
Me: Of all the sauces, this is the one I would be most likely to keep on hand during a meal. The balance of peppers makes for a serious pop of heat, but the flavors are bright and enjoyable.
Them: “Dear God will it ever leave me alone?!?” was at one end of the spectrum. On the other end, “Favorite so far,” “Hot AF” and “Like, Like, Like.”
Me: I’m not 100% on this, but I think Death Sauce flipped the ratio of habs to reapers and turned out a thicker sauce, which I’m in favor of. I could definitely see using this to amp up a bowl of chili or possibly survive hypothermia.
I signed up for Baby D’s Hive Mind, as well, which means I’m getting some smaller batch sauces every couple of months. I’m ready to keep burning my tongue for the coming year.