For those of us who like spice, hot sauce can be an indispensable condiment for certain meals. And for avid spice fans, it can be a lifechanging event to find a sauce that stimulates our heat registers just right. Callahan’s Black Pepper Chipotle from Mike’s Fine Brines of Seattle is not the spiciest hot sauce on the market, but its smoldering, sweet heat is sure to tickle the taste buds of even the most particular hot sauce connoisseurs.
Mike Callahan is a hot sauce fan. So much so, he started creating his own hot sauces for himself and his friends, and in 2015, he opened the doors of Mike’s Fine Brines in order to share his love for hot sauce with the wider world. The flagship offerings from Mike’s Fine Brines include Callahan’s Habanero Hot Sauce, Callahan’s Poblano Green, and Callahan’s Black Pepper Chipotle. Also available is Mr. Callahan’s Worcestershire.
While the ingredients in Mike’s fine brines appear simple, the results are not. One need taste no further than Callahan’s Black Pepper Chipotle to appreciate the intricacies of a simply designed but stellarly executed hot sauce. Callahan’s Black Pepper Chipotle is the perfect combination of sweet, smoky, and spicy. While the initial sweetness draws you in, the smokiness and vinegar tanginess build around the edges, and the spice sneaks in for the finish. All these qualities build evenly to a point without ever becoming overpowering.
Chipotle being a very popular flavor and even more recognizable term thrown around (or appropriated) by fast food chains, chipotle peppers themselves are, perhaps, not widely understood. Chipotles are actually jalapenos allowed to ripen to maturity then harvested, dried, and smoked. Chipotles are more spicy on average than jalapenos, though both representations of the same pepper are capable of similar levels of heat. There are several different types of chipotles, but the two most prevalent are morita and mecco. Morita is the more common pepper in the United States.
And dried morita chipotle pepper is exactly the pepper Mike uses in Callahan’s Black Pepper Chipotle, along with black pepper corns for an added bite and dried guajillo pepper for added sweetness and smokiness to compliment the chipotle pepper itself. Guajillos are smoked mirasol peppers and are often an ingredient in Mexican mole sauces.
A definite strength of Callahan’s Black Pepper Chipotle is its sweetness. Some die-hard heat seekers might roll their eyes, but before jumping to judgement, consider barbecue sauce. Barbecue sauce is typically sweet and tangy, but there are often spicy manifestations, sometimes spicy enough to rival some of the spiciest hot sauces. And its barbecuesque sweetness and smokiness lends Callahan’s Black Pepper Chipotle to dishes for which we might not typically reach for our go-to hot sauce—pork ribs, baked chicken, our favorite cut of steak—as well as fare for which a dash or glut of hot sauce is simply the last step before digging in.
Another strength of Callahan’s Black Pepper Chipotle is, as mentioned above, it does not overpower or overbear. Its balance of flavors is such that, as the heat and tanginess build, at no point does the sauce begin to mask the underlying flavors of the food item or dish. Like a good wing-person, Callahan’s Black Pepper Chipotle supports and enhances without, so to speak, stealing the show—but also like a good wing-person, you might find the night might not have been as flavorful without it.
In the end, one critique for Callahan’s Black Pepper Chipotle might have to be the five-ounce bottle size: the sauce is delicious enough, such packaging means one might go through half a bottle while, say, enjoying a favorite burrito from a favorite local establishment. But nothing is perfect.
From one hot sauce fan to many others, Mike Callahan of Mike’s Fine Brines seems to have our bases covered in spicy offerings. Callahan’s Habanero Hot Sauce is there for the heat seekers, Callahan’s Poblano Green is there for the milder-pepper fans among us, or simply for those milder days and dishes, and Callahan’s Black Pepper Chipotle rides the perfect balance of sweetness and spice that can make the right dishes extra nice. And all three of these sauces are available now at Seven Roasters Market & Café in the Ravenna neighborhood near the University District.
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