Local hot sauce scientist Zac Perkins describes his bottled products in the same way he describes himself: “weirdly unique” and “oddly complex.”
This weird and odd odyssey began three years ago when he worked in the kitchen at Tucson’s Food Conspiracy Co-Op. He came across some habanero extract one day which he subsequently attempted to mimic, and this commenced a research and development process that had him experimenting with a host of ingredients and testing different—and some would say odd—flavor profiles. His early success inspired him to set out on his own and he ended up hopping into the hot sauce business full time.
“Today we’re a fully-functional, 100 percent hand-crafted hot sauce company that sources ingredients as local as we can,” said Perkins, founder of High Desert Sauce Company. “We think we’re a good fit for Tucson with what we do and how we do it.”
Operating from a commissary kitchen on North Stone Avenue, Perkins produces nearly 10 distinct varieties of scratch-made hot sauces. Each bottle enjoys its own expression of his proprietary weirdness and oddity with labels designed by local artist and bartender Donovan White.
On the relatively mild side of the sauces currently in production, the Wine Drunk Pear boasts a blend of tomatillos, pears, white wine, honey, lime juice, serrano peppers and other goodies. He calls this one “mild to wild-ish,” suggesting a sweet, tangy, and slightly spicy experience, and says it’s a must for your Thanksgiving table.
Moving deeper into the heat, his Reaper’s Fuzzy Navel brings together Carolina Reaper and other fire-roasted peppers, along with peaches, carrots, orange zest and agave nectar. He says a “healthy fear is recommended” for this selection.
The first sauce that he ever made, bottled and sold was the “warm and earthy” ToMango Habanero which remains in production to this day. It’s a lively mix of Roma tomatoes, mangoes, habanero peppers and other seasonings which he says is the best of both the weirdly unique and oddly complex worlds.
“Who in their right mind puts mangoes and tomatoes together?” he joked.
After I spent some time with Perkins, it became clear that service and community are his guiding principles. One manifestation of this is his new Black Label project, a limited-edition set of three brand new and one-off sauces representing different global flavors and traditions. Each of the 150 sets he made sells for $60, and he’ll be setting aside $16.85 from each set sold to donate to the National Kidney Foundation.
The inspiration for the gifts came from Brian Ambs, a popular YouTuber and Instagrammer who Perkins calls “a really big chili head” who recently lost his father to kidney disease.
“His dad’s obituary asked for donations to the National Kidney Foundation in lieu of flowers, and this was our way of saying yes, let’s do it,” Perkins said.
The set includes one bottle each of Tikk-HOT Masala, Muerte Por Molé and FIRE! Roasted Pain, and each set is hand-signed and numbered.
Perkins also recently partnered with Tucson’s Bawker Bawker Cider House on a new hard cider called Hot Pants, made with his roasted carrots, ginger, and habanero peppers, with a percentage of sales being donated to the Rialto Theatre Foundation.
High Desert Sauce Company’s products can be found online at www.hdsauceco.com, as well as at the Food Conspiracy Co-Op, both locations of Tucson Tamale Company and a handful of Ace Hardware stores across town.
Whether you’re odd, weird or simply someone who fancies adventure, give Zac Perkins’ sauces a shot.
Contact Matt Russell, whose day job is CEO of Russell Public Communications, at email@example.com. Russell is also the publisher of OnTheMenuLive.com as well as the host of the Friday Weekend Watch segment on the “Buckmaster Show” on KVOI 1030 AM.