The Arc of a Hot Sauce Tasting: From Anticipation to Euphoria to Zen

As NYC Foodscape posted yesterday, the Third NYC Hot Sauce Expo takes place on April 25th and 26th at the Brooklyn Expo Center (Get your tickets here).  As part of the events leading up the Expo, the organizers hosted a media event to preview the Expo at D.B.A. Bar in the East Village, including a panel gathered to judge the Expo’s coveted Screaming MiMi awards. In the ultimate taste test of endurance, NYC Foodscape and about 25 other judges sat together and tasted almost 200 blind hot sauce samples in the following categories:

Louisiana Style
Fruit Based
Fruit Based Hot
All Natural
XXX Hot Sauce (Non Extract)
Pepper Blend
Best Hot Sauce Label Artwork
Chicken Wing
Spicy BBQ
Spicy Salsa

Awards in each of these 13 categories, plus a brand new category, Best New Hot Sauce of 2014, will be announced on Saturday, April 25 at the Hot Sauce Expo for three winning contestants — gold, silver and bronze. First place winners in each category get their winning sauces picked up by Peppers, one of the largest hot sauce distributors in the country.

Hot Sauce Tasting A to Z

Sitting down to taste upwards to 200 sauces is not for the faint of heart. A group of hardy souls, including celebrity chefs, bloggers, food critics, journalists and pepper lovers gathered at D.B.A. Bar on First Avenue in the East Village (which graciously offered its back patio for the event after Jimmy’s 43 became a collateral casualty of last Thursday’s East Village explosion and remains closed). The event was both the location for the blind judging and for a press preview of the Expo, with open label samples for non judges (and judges who may not have had enough hot sauce and wanted to try more).

The judges broke into tables and tried multiple categories. For example, NYC Foodscape tried 15+ samples each of Habanero, Fruit-based Hot, Best New in 2014 and the killer category, XXX Hot Sauce. Though in the end, most judges did not try all entries, each averaged about 80-100 tastes of sauces. varying in flavor and heat, from nipping playfully at your tongue, to sneaky and slow-burning, to never-ending, to burning the roof of your mouth right off and praying for salvation. In the end, each judge probably downed the equivalent of a bottle or two of hot sauce in one sitting.

Here are the photos from last night’s tasting, capturing every emotion and dramatic moment from A to Z.

Anticipation and Apprehension 

Steve Seabury gets us excited and nervous as we watch him finish setting up the blind tasting.

Steve Seabury and wife, Lisa, prepping the blind samples

Beautiful Bottles

Hot sauce is so sexy, so alluring, and so very dangerous.

Tastings for the non-judge media of various hot sauces

Capsaicin Comes in All Colors and Flavors

The many ways that hot sauce can vary in appearance, aroma, texture, flavor and FIRE.

Scoring a XXX Category Sauce

Doubt meets Defcon, Damn! 

Just when you thought you might have the mettle, damn!

2014 Best Wing Hot Sauce for media sampling
Damn, indeed!

Euphoria from the Elixir of the Gods

Capsaicin gets you high. There’s no two ways about it.

Adam Poch feeling the pleasure of capsaicin

Friend of the Devil is a Friend of Mine

The labels tell the story of the sauce.

IMG_9669 - Version 2
The label gives a glimpse into the soul of the sauce

Give Me Peppers or Give Me Death (or perhaps, not mutually exclusive?)

The photo, though not from last night’s tasting, is from a recent New York City Community Garden Coalition Rally at City Hall to Save our Gardens. This fellow’s patriotic love of peppers and protest captures our American enterprising spirit that goes into every bottle of artisanal and often locally-made hot sauce.

Rally to Save our Gardens, Feb. 15, 2015

Habaneros and Hallucinations

The capsaicin starts to have an effect, but chocolate habanero sauce helps calm things down.

Habanero chocolate hot sauce
Blurry Photo of Derrick Prince captures the dizzying quality of our minds.

Impresario and Co-Producer of NYC Hot Sauce Expo, Jimmy Carbone

Without him, where would NYC’s local food scene be? He’s a mensch and a treasure!

Jimmy Carbone, of Food Karma Projects and Jimmy’s 43

Judge Not, Lest Ye Be Judged

And we indeed were judged, for what will seem like an eternity, all throughout the night and into the morning, in our own private hells.

Judges conferring
Oh, the arrogance, little do we know what is facing us.

Kool Whip kills the pain

It really does. Milk, preferably organic, hormone-free, is better.

Food meets porn

Lovely Label Art Category Entries

Like record album covers of yore, label art is part of the cult following.

The label art category

Mad Dogs and Irishmen

And hot sauce aficionados.

Hot sauce for non judge media sampling
“Irish” Hot sauce for non judge media sampling

NYC Hot Sauce Expo Rocks!

Don’t forget: April 25 and 26.

Hot sauce poster

On Break of Beer and Brotherhood 

No sign of internal regret yet.


Pretty Peppers 

A heart-shaped harvest of chile peppers from the 2014 Children’s Garden at Campos as a symbol of NYC Foodscape’s love for the world of hot sauce. 

Cold hands, chile heart

Questioning Our Own Sanity

Why, God, why?

Please. make. it. stop.

Rest in Peace, Christo Gonzales

NYC Foodscape says goodbye to long-time fellow Campos Community Garden member, chef, East Village denizen, all-around character and great guy, Christo Gonzales, with a memorial this Saturday at Grace Church. Christo died suddenly in January. His spirit, his humor, his food and his New Mexican peppers will be sorely missed.

R.I.P. Christo

Steve Seabury Cheers Judges Into the XXX Round 

Mr. High River Sauces and Hot Sauce Expo founder.

Steve Seabury, High River Sauces

Team Xtreme! 

The intrepid tasters who made it through all seventeen XXX sauces.

Team Xtreme: including, Eryn Stutts, Adam Poch, Ethan Fedida, Chef Plum, Matt Timms, and NYC Foodscape’s Carolyn Zezima

Under the Wicked Chile’s Spell 

The Devil’s brew is strong and seductive.

There is no escape

Venerable and Daunting Task of Scoring

Tasting notes getting more incomprehensible as the night wears on.

NYC Foodscape’s tasting notes

Which Hot Sauce Will Win? 

Veteran judges working hard.

With Chef Plum, Derrick Prince and Chris Santos

XXX Hot Sauce Tasting Round — Sweet Jesus, What Have I Done?

Seventeen dangerous sauces, straight from the depths of Hell.

17 Ways to Go Very Very Wrong

Yes, We Can!

Halfway through the XXX Category, looking strong.

Halfway through the XXX round…with Chef Plum and NYC Foodie Finder

Zen and Zest of Hot Sauce

When you approach your hot sauce judging like all of life, understanding impermanence is key to transform suffering into enlightenment.

Did I or didn’t I? Hair of the dog with my next morning eggs.








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