Among the habaneroscenti, a bottle of Cholula hot sauce is a lot like a case of 3.2 beer: By the time the liquor starts to take effect, you've already made twenty sobering trips to the bathroom. Patrick Gilmore is more precise: "Cholula is an OK sauce but doesn't have quite enough kick," says Gilmore, an area hot sauce fanatic. "Falls flat for me unless I use a bunch of it, and by that time it drowns out the flavor of what I'm putting it on."
To right this injustice, Gilmore created Happy Dogs Hot Sauce, a fiery blend of aged red savina habanero peppers, cayenne peppers and fresh garlic. "Fresh garlic is the key to bringing out the flavor of food without overpowering it," Gilmore tells me. "Most sauces out there were too hot, or too bland. I set out to create a sauce that had tons of flavor, with just enough kick as not to bore you."
Did he succeed? And how! I took a swig of Happy Dogs Hot Sauce straight from the bottle after my morning coffee. Let me tell you, the vinegary rush of Gilmore's sauce eradicated any hint of sleep still clinging to my consciousness.
This sauce is no wallflower. It commands your tongue, making it stand at attention, ready for anything. Then your tongue's vigilance is amply rewarded by a second wave of rich and smoky red pepper that blends seamlessly with the vinegar's sharp bite. Earthy garlic rounds out the trifecta, binding vinegar to pepper while its pungent heat enhances both.
You've come a long way, Tabasco.
"As far as Tabasco goes, I grew up in central Missouri farm country, and that's all they had for sauce at that time. I thought it was good, but I think mine has a lot more flavor," says Gilmore, who features his dogs Oscar, Coney and Brigitte on his bottle's label. "I would go up against them any time in a blind taste test made up of hot-sauce lovers. But they were the first. You gotta have respect for that."
Tabasco may be the least of Gilmore's concerns. These days the Godfather of hot sauce seems about as antiquated as a gramophone in a room full of iPods. Witness hotsauceworld.com, an online clearinghouse that boasts: "Over 1,000 items from Mild to Wild." Or how about hotsauceblog.com, where collectors argue about the virtues and shortcomings of sauces that bear names like Santa's Swollen Colon Hot Sauce and Death in the Desert Habanero Hot Sauce.
The big daddy of hot sauces is anything by Blair's Sauces and Snacks. Not only does the 16 Million Reserve hold the 2007 Guinness Book record for the "Hottest Chili Sauce Commercially Available," it is made of pure capsaicin crystal (the active chemical compound that gives chiles their "heat"), and Blair is said to don a protective suit and respirator when mixing up a batch. Many of Blair's sauces are limited editions, and customers must often sign a waiver before purchasing, say, a $1,999.99 bottle (more on eBay) of Caldera, which Blair describes as a blend of rare oils that are 100 times hotter than your garden variety jalapeño.
Nonetheless, Gilmore's Happy Dogs Hot Sauce is a fine addition to this overheated oeuvre. And it hasn't gone unnoticed, having rounded up awards including Best Product in Show at the 2004 and 2005 Houston Hot Sauce Festival.
What's next for Gilmore? Vegetarian Chili. Happy dogs do not live on hot sauce alone.