Made in Georgia: Bootlikker Hot Sauce

Come January and February, bowl games and winter weather mean you just might be needing a little hot sauce to heat up your cooking.

How many bottles of hot sauce lurk in your pantry? One? Three? A dozen? The other day I counted 50 varieties of hot sauce available at my local garden variety grocery store.

In my mama’s day, there was one. Tabasco. Now Tabasco comes in seven different varieties and you can buy hot sauce in the style of Louisiana, Texas, Mexico, the Caribbean and points north, west and south. There’s factory-made hot sauce and hot sauce made in small batches by someone with a passion for the product.

Photo credit: Tre Wood

Photo credit: Tre Wood

Tommy Wood of Bootlikker Hot Sauce is one of those artisan hot sauce makers. Based out of Grayson, Wood says he started making hot sauce on a whim. “It was 2002 and I told the members of my band Quarter Inch Jack I was going to make my own hot sauce and I thought tequila would be a good addition. People liked it and for years my wife Stephanie and I would make it 12 bottles at a time or 24 bottles at a time.”

As you would expect, the recipe is top secret. It’s so secret he won’t let anyone come watch him stir up a batch, but acknowledges the sauce contains pickled jalapenos and tequila. “Those are the two flavors that set it apart.”

Creating the recipe involved a bit of trial and error. He started with a recipe that included butter, but that meant the sauce wasn’t shelf stable. “Turns out that butter cuts the heat, so eliminating it from the recipe meant the flavor stayed the same but was sharper. We were adding salt, but that wasn’t adding anything especially since we had other salty ingredients, so we cut that little bit of added salt.”

Recipe set in stone, he printed up custom labels and gave the bottles to friends. And heard, “This stuff’s great! You should market it.”

And so he tried. There were a few failed attempts at the process of “getting legal” to make and sell his hot sauce but in 2015, more than a dozen years after he made his first bottles, the folks at Avondale Estate’s Shared Kitchens helped him get over the obstacles and get Bootlikker Hot Sauce to market.

“We think it’s the perfect balance of flavor and heat. It’s not superhot. We want you to be able to enjoy it.  I think it gives you enough kick without it being a ‘dare’ kind of food.”

As for what’s next, Wood doesn’t see messing with his winning recipe so there won’t be variations on the hot sauce recipe but he can see Bootlikker salsa in his future.

Wood highlights the tequila connection with his flask-shaped bottle. “We like playing up the cowboy Western vibe. I think of it as a product you might see on the shelf at an 1886 Western saloon. You could put the bottle in your cowboy boot and take it to dinner with you.”

Because Bootlikker isn’t killer hot, it doesn’t have to be confined to just adding it a few drops at a time to a favorite recipe. “Our website includes the recipe for my kids’ favorite, the Bootlikker Wrap. You marinate chicken in it, and then add a little more when sauteing the chicken. Or you can do like I do and brush it all over your holiday turkey before roasting. It’s great with your usual suspects like eggs at breakfast. But it was my friends who told me how awesome it was as a marinade for steaks. Something about the jalapeno and tequila works really well with steak.”

Wood is frequently on the road promoting his hot sauce. He enjoys hanging out at local festivals sampling and selling the sauce, but as he says, “You can’t attend every festival out there.” So he goes on the road visiting specialty food outlets and liquor stores (because of the tequila connection) looking for shops ready to add another hot sauce to their offerings. And consumers can buy direct from him at http://bootlikker.com or check out the list of retailers at the website.

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