Condiment Craze

Olympia’s Habanero-Heavy Rooster Sauce is Coming North

What happens when a law school student has free time and a hankering for hot sauce.

By Anne Larkin June 13, 2012

The roosters at Olympia’s Art Walk this year. Photo courtesy of their blog, The Cluck.

Around this time last year, while his law school classmates were cramming for finals, John de Mars was tinkering with hot sauce recipes. It’s not that de Mars didn’t like law school, "but it was one of those situations where I found myself having a lot more fun and energy toward the entrepreneurial side of life."

Plus, he was sick of Tabasco. "I wanted something different," he says, "something that I could eat a lot of and feel okay about eating a lot of." With the help of a gang of spice-hound pals, de Mars developed Rooster Sauce, an all-natural hot sauce that he feels filled a heretofore-unnoticed gaping hole in the world of spicy condiments.

The primary ingredient in the sauce is fresh habaneros, which are teamed up with garlic, chili, cayenne, and curry, on top of an olive oil base, which makes for a creamier consistency. Based in Olympia, Rooster Sauce is sold at quite a few grocery stores in the capital city and sits at the ready for dousing eggs and hash browns at many a local brunch joint. Recently Rooster Sauce has come north, to Portage Bay Cafe and a few co-ops and groceries in Seattle.

And how hot is the sauce? "That’s up to you," the Rooster will tell you. It’s definitely hotter than Tabasco, and certainly a smidge hotter than Sriracha. And curry may be the sixth ingredient, but it vies for the primary flavor. It is pretty dang hot, like “tongue burns for fifteen minutes afterwards” hot, but not so hot that you don’t keep reaching for just a little more. "It’s a very hot sauce, but it’s not over the pain threshold; it’s not a face-melter," says de Mars. And he’s right about the Rooster Sauce filling a hole in the hot sauce universe—it’s not smoky like Cholula or other Mexican sauces; it’s not tangy like Tabasco; it’s not brightly chili-centric in the same way as Sriracha (though it does share a mascot with the wildly popular American-made, Asian-esque sauce).

Ingredients are sourced as locally as possible. Due to increased demand, the company recently started bottling at a factory in Gold Bar, Washington, about 50 miles northeast of Seattle. Some of the peppers grow best down in California in the colder months, but de Mars says that they’re talking with local farms and community grow operations to see if they can’t work something out with greenhouses up here. "It’s fundamental to our business," he says of keeping things local and natural. Another fundamental of his business: donning a rubber chicken head and handing out free hot sauce samples.

Rooster Sauce is available at Seattle Central Co-op, Double DD Meats, Hopvine Pub, and the Ballard location of the Portage Bay Cafe; as well as online at hotroostersauce.com.

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