It’s time for inspiration from another craft hot sauce company. This time, we’re taking a look at Hendersonville hot sauce company Up All Night Gourmet Products in North Carolina. Here’s my chat with chef, farmer, and owner Nick Masotti.
How long have you used hot sauce?
Nick: Since I was a young kid, I have always loved spicing up my plate of food. Chicken wings have long been a favorite of mine, so a buffalo style hot sauce was my early go to. There was a time that my friend and I skipped school and went to a Mediterranean deli in Winter Park, FL. It was my first exposure to not only an authentic lamb gyro, but also Huy Fong sriracha. I was instantly hooked, on both! After that, I made sure we had sriracha around as well and it’s still something I keep around.
What started you down the path of making hot sauce?
Nick: Culinary school really opened my eyes to the world of sauces, in general. I had a Swedish professor that really made gravies, sauces, and salad dressings interesting. I essentially fell in love with condiments! One of the first restaurants I worked with added a high end ice cream machine. Having such a tool available to me got me into mixing and matching various flavors, which is a big part of making hot sauce.
When Covid hit, I was running a catering business. We all know what that did to most caterers. I had to pivot. We were growing a bunch of tomatoes and cucumbers on the family farm, so I decided to plant some peppers and try my hand at making hot sauce.
What was the first sauce you sold?
Nick: As peppers started to grow, I started playing around with pepper blends and the initial recipe for what would become “Super Soft”. With all of our sauces, I usually focus on ingredients that grow well in North Carolina, as we do our best to leverage local farms if we need other ingredients and keep with non-certified, but organic processes for what we grow.
The original version of the hot sauce was a habanero forward sauce that was super spicy. I decided to tame it down some. As I was also using serrano chiles and red bell pepper in the mix, I swapped the amounts of habanero and serrano and came up with something that was much more approachable. As far as the pepper build, I use green (unripe) serrano peppers to be a contrast to the tropical fruitiness and slight sweetness of the habanero and create a play of bittersweet. I also opted to smoke the habaneros with apple wood from trees growing on the farm to add some complexity. For another layer of flavor that goes beyond water, I also decided to use beer to lend mild hoppy characteristics.
In addition to the ripe, red bell pepper, this sauce also includes tomatoes. I’ve used different heirloom varieties before, but we are trying to standardize on one particular strain, the Super Soiux, which tends to have a bit more pulp than other tomatoes, which allows me to add less water to the sauce while I cook it down.
Are your sauces vinegar-based?
Nick: Vinegar is a funny topic in the world of hot sauce. There are plenty of hot sauces on the market that are simply peppers, salt, and vinegar. These sometimes get a bad reputation as having too much vinegar. Keeping this in mind, we will incorporate enough vinegar to get the pH of the bottle down to about 3.2-3.4, but as discussed with Super Soft, we incorporate beer and/or water into several of the sauces to provide some relief.
What are your top 3 favorite peppers and why?
Nick: As a “farm to bottle” hot sauce company, my favorite peppers are ones that I can grow easily with no yield issues. Right now, those include Habanero, Carolina Reaper, and Poblano. You don’t need a lot of Reaper to make a spicy sauce, so they go a long way. I also love the flavor of the Poblano, and am currently working on a new sauce using them that should be coming soon.
What is your favorite non-pepper ingredient to work with?
Nick: Garlic! I grow Russian Red and Spanish Roja on the farm at this time to use in my sauces. Carolina Bee Sting was actually inspired by my love of parmesan garlic chicken wings and the tradition of Eastern Carolina vinegar based BBQ sauce..
How do you approach developing a new recipe?
Nick: Overall, I approach it with patience and trial and error, never rushing the creating process. I like to source ingredients as close to home as possible. I have been able to make a lot of great relationships with other farmers since I started making hot sauce. In some cases, I’m waiting for the chiles to grow before developing a new sauce. In other cases, I’m letting the availability of ingredients dictate the next sauce run. Recently, I forged a relationship with a local strawberry farmer that I will be working with to develop my spiciest hot sauce yet with Moruga scorpion as the main chile for heat that should be out before the end of 2022.
What are your favorite hot sauces that aren’t your own and why?
Nick: We already talked about Huy Fong Sriracha. I was hooked on that after the first taste. Additionally, I like the flavors of Cholula as an everyday sauce.
What sauce are you most proud of and why?
Nick: Carolina Bee Sting, It is my best seller. It is also a very approachable Hot Sauce and I find it stands out next to other Reaper sauces. I’ve had a spicy food podcaster that eats Carolina Reapers, but openly says he hates the flavor actually like the sauce and do a review of it, which was the first Reaper sauce he did that for. Even though it’s got reaper, there’s enough local North Carolina wildflower honey (about 40%) to tame it down some and give it a great “sweet heat” profile. It took 2nd place for people’s choice at Pinellas Pepper Festival in Florida (March 22), but I think the reason it didn’t win is because it wasn’t hot enough. You can feel the burn, but it’s not out to induce pain.
I really wanted to stick to ingredients from the Carolinas, since that was the name. I had to use the Reaper, being develop by Ed Currie at Puckerbutt Farms in South Carolina. As mentioned, I grow the peppers and garlic on the farm. Hendersonville, where I am based, is the apple capital of North Carolina, so I had to use apple cider vinegar over other types available.
What is your favorite part of the hot sauce business?
Nick: I love meeting new people at the farmers markets and events. It never ceases to amaze me the types of people that end up being your best customers. Hot sauce lovers come in all age groups, which was not something I expected before starting the business. It’s great when people come back and buy multiple bottles or talk about the friends they want to share the sauces with. We really appreciate our customers.
It’s also nice to have a community of young entrepreneurs to be part of. Owning and operating this business puts me in a great position to network locally.
What is the hardest part of the hot sauce business?
Nick: Planning ahead! As a one man show currently, I get stretched very thin. It’s difficult to always available for events/markets, while juggling daily farm requirements and the other facets of running the business.
Is there a story behind your art work / brand image?
Nick: No story really. I was lucky enough to meet a local artist that does great work in the Gonzo style popularized by Ralph Steadman. The artwork is very involved when being created. It sometimes involves spitting sauce, wine, and/or ash on the canvas for color.
What makes your sauce different from others on the market?
Nick: Our sauces are “Farm to Bottle”. While not certified organic, we attempt to use as many organic farming practices as possible. We don’t use any thickeners or additives. We like to use fruit or honey to sweeten the sauces and do our best to let the farm fresh ingredients sing.
Where can people find you?
Nick: I currently work various farmers’ markets in the Hendersonville / Asheville, NC area. Fridays I do the Lake Lure Farmers Market. Saturdays I’m at the Mills River Market (near Hendersonville). Keep an eye on social media for upcoming markets and events, as we are exploring new ones all the time. I’m on Instagram (@upallnightgourmetgoods) and you can order from our web site www.upallnightgourmetgoods.com .
Talking with Nick, you can feel the passion and attention to detail he puts into developing and producing his hot sauce. You don’t see very many sauces with beer in the marketplace, so Super Soft immediately got my attention (as I am a big fan of using alternate liquid bases to tweak flavor profiles). It is fun on the palate, as I initially got the tomato up front, with a warming flash heat from the serranos, and then the trail does a nice flip where you get the apple wood smoke and some linger from the habanero. The use of green serranos here is also a nice touch, as there’s a subtle green note on the bottom, which is great with the tomato.
Tokin’ Swinger is a great entry level hot sauce for people that say they don’t like hot sauce. The smokiness of the morita (triple smoked, ripe jalapeno – think extra smoky chipotle) blends so well with the pineapple and brown sugar for a salty sweet spicy mix that almost eats like a barbecue sauce. It is very crushable and is outstanding on pizza, wings, grilled seafood and pork.
I look forward to seeing the new sauces he rolls out. If you like the idea of farm to bottle, you’ll want to give them a try.