Under the moderate shade of the live oak trees on Waller Creek, thousands of Austinintes came together at Waterloo park for the 15th Annual Austin Chronicle Hot Sauce Festival. Now that the extremely cumbersome name is out of the way, from henceforth we will call it Hot Sauce Fest.
And why would so many people willingly choose to brave the humid, 100+ degree heat to stand in line for a single tortilla chip smeared with a dollup of some orange-red goo? The simple answer: pain. And to do it over and over again.
At Hot Sauce Fest, the true spirit of the city of Austin comes shining through. A city known for it’s laid back and relaxed attitude, it’s vibrant music scene, and a quirky resident who is running for Governor of Texas, does not dissappoint in the weirdness category at this annual festival of all things spicy and hot. For I have never seen a longer line to get a taste of salsa than to get barbeque, nor have I seen more people lay down in the grass with no shade to watch a band play than people standing in line for beer.
Not that drinking beer would be a good thing when trying to quench the fire brough on by bottled whupass. In fact, drinking beer at an event like this just seemed wrong, out of place. This writer did not partake of the beer as I know what can happen to a person who drinks too much in the heat. And I consider it a big “screw you” to the unscrupulous beer vendors for charging $4.00 per 8 oz. cup of Bud Light.
I did manage to try the HOT CRAP! (as shown at top) Great name, terrible hot sauce. People were standing IN LINE for this red swill that tasted like the business end of a hog. Yeah, it had a kick, as did almost everything here, but the flavor was kind of skunky.
One of the most popular booths was the Cactus Lace Jellies, Jams, and Salsa stand. Granted, it was the most popular because it had stuff that wouldn’t singe your nosehairs. I tried the tropical habanero jelly. A wonderful flavor of pineapple came on strong followed by a blast of habanero at the back of the throat. I could definitely put some of that on my toast in the morning. Sure, Cactus Lace had a few salsas, but that was trivial compared to the large selection of jams.
One of my personal favorites (and I did purchase a bottle) was the 5-time pepper sauce champion, Aztexan. These guys have one product only, a habanero supreme pepper sauce. I never had to wait in line at the Aztexan booth to get a chip. Most people steered clear of them, as the habanero supreme packed a major wallop. Though the booth wasn’t popular, their pepper sauce was because they took home the first place trophy for best pepper sauce.
Oh and let’s not forget the most attractive display in the entire festival. 10 dollars a bunch was the price for what were probably the hottest thing on the park grounds. Not much for a show. Just a bunch of Mexicans standing there.
One of the most unique vendors was Spiceburst Gourmet Spices. I regret not getting a picture of their wares, but the web site is pretty good. You should check it out. They make custom spiced salts in attractive corked glass jars. The owner was handing out small pieces of cucumber* dipped in the chipotle salt. It was pretty good … for a cucumber. By far, their best product was their much-balleyhooed Rocket Sauce.This is a wonderfully hot blend of scotch bonnet peppers, onions, lime juice, and spices.
The entertainment of the day was from The Gourds and South Austin Jug Band. That’s typical of an Austin Event these days. But the piece de resistance was the sampling tent and balloting. You could wait in line for an hour just to walk underneath a giant tent and sample all the local and individual salsas. Then the voting computers were just beyond that. Me? Well, I didn’t take the time to sample and vote because I like the skin of my neck to be white .. not red and crispy.
Personally, I would have voted Aztexan number one. And it looks as though that would have been the popular opinion, too. The list of winners can be found here.
* After all the salsa and pepper sauce I consumed, it was the cucumber that I kept burping up the rest of the day.