Scott Roberts figures he’s tasted close to 3,000 hot sauces.
“At any given point, I have about 100 in my review queue,” says Roberts, 39, a Fenton resident who blogs about hot sauces and other spicy foods at ScottRobertsWeb.com.
Meanwhile, every other Sunday at the VFW Hall in Ballwin, you’ll find Chris Bintz brewing up 500 bottles of his Wicked Cactus sauces. Bintz started Wicked Cactus in 2010 with Mike Isenberg, a co-worker at their day job at a St. Louis-area call center. Wicked Cactus now distributes nine liquid hot sauces and recently added a Mexican-style salsa to its line.
Roberts and Bintz are both chile heads, a term hot-sauce fans like to give themselves, but they follow that passion from different starting points.
Roberts freely admits that he’s not much of a cook.
“I tried to make my own hot sauces, but I failed miserably,” he says with a laugh. “I do make some pretty good barbecue sauces and salsas, though.”
“When I review, it’s much more than just the heat, it’s the flavor profile,” he says. “Most chile heads ignore the flavor for the first year or so and just go for as hot as possible. I did search for the hottest taste for a while, but then I hit a ceiling and started focusing a lot more on the whole flavor profile.”
Roberts’ reviews begin with his general impressions of a sauce, then include rankings on a scale of one to five of aroma, appearance and texture, “straight up” taste, taste with food and heat.
He also ranks the label.
“It’s going to be competing with hundreds of different products, so I evaluate it on how it’s going to stand out on the shelf,” Roberts says.
Bintz, 36, has been a sous chef at Yia Yia’s, Cuisine d’Art and other restaurants and cooks on weekends at Country Club Bar and Grill in Town and Country. “I’d been making sauces for a few months before we formed the company,” he says.
Drawing on his restaurant background, Bintz determines the flavor profile he wants to achieve and builds the sauce accordingly.
“For example, I was working on the sauce we call Wrath of the Tiger,” Bintz says. “I first started thinking about what Asian flavors would go together, then about what peppers to add for heat and flavor.” He ended up using ginger, horseradish, coriander, garlic and dried Thai chiles.
Bintz adds that vinegar is a minimal player in his sauces.
“Just enough to get the pH down and make it shelf stable,” he says.
After he started marketing his sauces, Bintz did a web search to try to find people to do reviews. One of his first hits was ScottRobertsWeb.com.
“And when I looked to see where to send stuff, I said, ‘Wow, this guy is just right down in Fenton.’ ”
Roberts says his hot-sauce epiphany occurred in 2004 on a visit to Union Station, when he came upon a shop called Pepper Pete’s.
“I tasted a sauce called Blair’s Mega Death,” Roberts says. “My face got red and my eyes watered, and it didn’t wear off until about 10 minutes later.”
Like Bintz, Roberts has various jobs in addition to his hot-sauce activities, including web developer and voice-over artist. The flexible schedule allows him to travel almost monthly to spicy-food-focused exhibitions, such as Louisiana’s Cajun Hot Sauce Festival, the New Mexico Chile Conference and the annual ZestFest in the Dallas-Fort Worth area.
In addition, after catching the eye of chile expert Dave DeWitt, Roberts has been at work on a revision of DeWitt’s out-of-print 1996 book “The Hot Sauce Bible” along with DeWitt and his original co-author, Chuck Evans.
“It’s not going to be a review of a lot of hot sauces,” Roberts says. “It’s more a history of the fiery foods industry — how it started about 150 years ago, the whole process of how something goes from someone’s mind to someone’s dinner table.”
Pepper Pete’s is long gone, but Roberts now shops for hot sauce at Figuero’s, a shop on South Main Street in St. Charles that carries more than 2,300 different hot sauces — and is one of only two places in Missouri where you can buy Wicked Cactus Sauces. (The other? Foundry Art Centre, just down the street in St. Charles.)