I realize just how widely “sommelier” has been thrown around when I visit a hot sauce sommelier at a hot sauce boutique called Heatonist in, perhaps predictably, Brooklyn. I don’t know what a hot sauce sommelier is supposed to look like, but Noah Chaimberg, with fiery red hair and a red beard, seems to fill the bill. I meet him at the tasting bar of Heatonist, where we sample a dozen or so of the more than 100 hot sauces he stocks. Chaimberg says he’s likely tasted 200 hot sauces for every one on his shelves. Apparently lots of people have jumped into the “craft hot sauce movement,” and he receives at least a dozen new products each day. “It’s a lot like craft beer was in the 1980s,” he says. “People start tinkering at home. Then they end up selling at farmers markets, fancy food shows, and hoping to quit their day jobs.”
After that, we move hotter. A yellow one from Scotch bonnet peppers that’s about a six, a delicious Barbados-style pepper sauce made with mustard and having a molasses-like taste, a barbecue-style sauce from San Antonio made with ancho and morita peppers, a spicy peanut butter made from a traditional Haitian recipe, and a floral, fruity habanero sauce from Japan made with Citra hops and a bit of mango. After a half-dozen sauces, my palate becomes pretty fatigued. “If you push yourself past your comfort level, your brain’s not going to care about the taste,” Chaimberg says.