“Tabasco? Well, you can put it on your eggs, you can put it on your steak, heck, I put it in banana bread.” – Dr. Shane Bernard, Historian and Curator, Tabasco
Have you ever read anything so emotional in your life?
I’m on Avery Island in Louisiana at the Tabasco factory, learning about this hot condiment and its deep Southern roots. We start our day with a little history lesson about Avery Island and the 150-year legacy Tabasco’s founder, Edmund McIlhenny, left behind. How the hot sauce began as a way to make post-Civil War food less depressing and transformed into a household staple in 195 countries.
That’s all great and important, but I’ll be honest: I’m just here to learn more fun ways to shove Tabasco in my mouth. I mean, banana bread? “It gives it a rich cinnamon flavor,” Bernard explains. “You can also drop a little on vanilla ice cream. It’s delicious. Really, you can put it on anything.” Oh yeah? Tell that to the one time I accidentally mixed up pepper sauce with K-Y.
Our tour continues on, led by the gregarious John Simmons of the McIlhenny family and company, a sixth-generation Tabasco maker. John’s a guy you’d want to get a beer with but who you’d also totally ask to officiate your wedding. The sort of man who seems like he’s got a strong opinion on which Applebee’s has the best pork chop.
He leads us through the pepper sauce journey — from seed in the field to bottled up and ready to ship. We taste the pepper mash straight from its oak barrel, where it’ll sit and soak for up to three years before being transported to the blending facility. They’ll remove the seeds to keep that Scoville scale from getting too hot and overpowering and mix with premium vinegar for about three weeks. Then it’s off to bottling, packaging, and on its way to punching up your eggs.
After the tour, we’re handed off to John’s father, CEO and President of Tabasco, Tony Simmons, a delightful-yet-formal man in his mid-sixties, who guides us through a tasting of the various hot sauces. Now, I’ll be frank: I’m no food expert or culinary goddess. As several erudite food and spirits experts blab on and on about its acute properties, I dump way too much flavored hot sauce onto three crackers and slap ‘em into my mouth.
“Ah yes, I’m tasting some subtle notes of garlic,” one guy muses, theatrically smacking his lips together.
Uh, yeah dude, it’s literally called “Garlic Pepper Hot Sauce.” Put your pinky down, you’re wearing capris.
For the grand finale, we’re offered a taste of Tabasco’s exciting new venture: a pepper sauce infused whisky. The liquor represents a merging of two historic southern brands to create George Dickel Tabasco Barrel Finish. “Hot Dickel” for short. When I saw it in a shot glass, I didn’t know what to expect. Maybe a spicier Fireball? A whiskey-based Bloody Mary? I drink it, regardless.