From seedling to sauce, the life of a Dragon’s Breath pepper plant Part 2

This is the second in a series of articles that will follow a Dragon’s Breath pepper plant from seedling to bottles of Sorry Sauce’s Award-Winning Cherrynobyl extreme hot sauce. Well, to be more precise, visits to the Garden of Apologies and the Greenhouse of Extreme Regret to view the progress of this pepper plant allow for Sorry Sauce owner Erik Begg to share his triumphs and challenges in crafting new and unusual hot sauces.

The summer heat has arrived, and seedlings have been planted into the soil of the Garden of Apologies.

“I’m expecting to have it start producing some time in July,” he said. “They are both vegetative and flowering at the same time, so you get that confusion where people think it’s like cannabis and it has to go with a certain fertilizer to start with and then when it starts flowering, it goes to a different fertilizer -it’s the same thing all the way through.”

Begg said the pepper plants would keep growing until frost as indeterminate nightshades.

The Dragon’s Breath seedling ready to spread it’s roots in the Garden of Apologies soil. (Contributed Photos)

“I’ve gotten a little out of hand this year because I’m at about 1300 peppers and 1,450 plants, including the various tomatoes and the ground cherries,” he said. “I am doing 94 pepper varieties this year. I don’t know what to do with everything yet, but peppers are cool, and I keep growing more of them.”

Begg doesn’t plant with an end goal in mind; instead, he enjoys the process. The highlight of his gardening season will be when he provides peppers for the Extreme Chilli Challenge Canadian Pepper Eating Championships at the second annual Heating Up the Capital Hot Sauce Expo hosted by Haico’s Hot Sauce in Ottawa.

“The people in the crowd who are watching the champion pepper-eaters will have the opportunity to try out some of the peppers they are eating, so I’ll be providing probably 12 rounds of peppers for it,” he said. “My challenge this year is that the pepper-eaters all eat the same stuff at the expos and contests. Everyone does jalapeno, cayenne, ghost, scorpion, and reaper. What I am trying to do this year is take a bit of a punk rock angle on it and throw a bit of psychology into the contest.”

Instead of the peppers people expect, Begg is looking for lesser-known cultivars with an equivalent heat.

“One I’m excited about this year is an Aribibi Gusano,” he said. “It looks like a little wiggly worm, and I believe it translates to caterpillar or maggot. It’s a little pinkish creamy white caterpillar with sort of a downward curve on it. Almost like Gonzo’s nose on the Muppet Show, and it’s got a habanero level of heat.”

Instead of ghost peppers, he plans to use a Hollow’s Eve peppers.

The plant has a strong root ball just the way Begg likes to see his seedlings.

“I’ve got a bunch of Bubble Gum peppers this year as well,” said Begg. “Bubble Gum peppers are unique in that they are the only pepper as it ripens, the colour extends up the calyx and stem. My favourite is the Chocolate Bubble Gum. You get a full chocolate on it, and then the stub of the pepper goes chocolate, and it goes brown a little bit up the stem.”

Chocolate is just the colour name, and he warns there is no chocolate flavour to it, but he finds it tastes a bit like black cherry.

“It’s absolutely a wonderful pepper,” he said. “I haven’t grown it well the last couple of seasons. Fingers crossed that everything turns out well for me this year.”

Begg has entered the YOW! Awards!!, which are also a part of the Heating up the Capital events.

“Haico Krijgsman and his wife Angela have done a terrific job of branding that,” he said. “YOW is what you might say when eating a hot sauce, and it’s also the airport code for Ottawa.”

Many Sorry Sauces are in the mild, medium, hot, and extreme categories.

“Cherrynobyl is back in for the extreme category,” said Begg. “We’ll see how we do there. I’m still flexing a bit that in 2020 I did win the Heatwave Expo Eternal Flame Award for best extreme sauce, and my sauce is hotter now than it was then, and anecdotally it is still the hottest in Canada.”

He is proud to report that many pepperheads who have tried Cherrynobyl say it tastes like a fresh pod with cherries.

“You can taste the reaper, and I think part of the reason is that I don’t always cook the sauces,” said Begg. “The challenge is that things start to break down a little if you cook it. I like to bring it to temperature so it is hot enough to be food-safe, and I can hot bottle it before I pasteurize it. As soon as I reach temperature, I start filling it into the bottles. So, it’s just fresh ingredients brought to a temperature where it can be bottled safely.”

For Begg, part of the fun of growing peppers has been learning about the chemistry behind them.

This video gives a quick explanation of what hot peppers do to your body and/or mind.

“I’ve learned that the capsaicin alkaloid is specific to each pepper,” he said. “I think the most obvious analogy is cannabis. Where each cannabis strain affects slightly differently, the same thing happens with the capsaicin, where something like a habanero pepper is an immediate upfront heat that flashes fire into the mouth and dissipates quickly or something like a reaper pepper. There is some initial heat here, but it’s a creeper. You get stomach heat from it, then it grows up the esophagus, and you get a back of the neck tingle and a bit of a scalp sweat from it.”

The Dragon’s Breath pepper plant has its place in the Garden of Apologies and barring some unforeseen issues will be producing some extremely hot peppers for bottles of the award-winning Cherrynobyl hot sauce.

Begg likes how six white peppers work together in his sauce Squall, inspired by the album White Pepper by Ween, one of his favourite bands. Those six peppers and a base of ginger, bartlett pears and kohlrabi give an initial sweet and fruity mouth heat from Aji White Fantasy and Sugar Rush Cream peppers, then white Aji Mango and white Biquinho peppers step up the burn. White Ghost and Yucatan White habanero peppers finish the fire for medium heat but deliver a complete capsaicin experience across the mouth, sinus, throat and chest.

“It has a bit of a taste roller coaster,” he said. “It’s called a chemesthetic effect. It’s like menthol, cinnamon, or Szechuan peppercorns, where it’s a chemical reaction with your nerve receptors that fools your body into thinking that something is happening when it isn’t happening.”

The capsaicin gives a chemical reaction that feels like an abrasive burn or a cool numbing feeling, and Begg loves to learn the science of why that happens.

Sorry Sauce has had two recent moments of success he wanted to share.

“When we were at the Heatwave Expo a couple of weeks ago, my Beauty sauce which is by far the mildest sauce I make, placed third in the mild category,” he said. “So, I brought home a bronze medal. That’s a Canadian success story. We’re number three. We’re number three.”

Begg is a member of a charity pepper club, Sons of Fire.

“We were doing online chugs a couple of weeks ago and doing shots of hot sauce raising money for Sick Kids Hospital,” he said. “We’ve raised about $4,000 this year for various charities.”

Begg made a hot soy sauce, along with Krijgsman and Michael Corvese from Purple Tongue Hot Sauce in Ajax. The original recipe came from their friend Farmer J, an American long-haul truck driver with five daughters under ten, who has no time for making hot sauce.

“He shared his recipe, which at its core was pineapple, soya sauce, a bit of green onion, some peppers and some vinegar for PH,” said Begg. “We each took our interpretation of it.”

Corvese’s was thicker, almost like a teriyaki sauce and then extra hot. Krijgsman added some soy and some lentils to his and made it Soylent.

Begg went with traditional soya sauce adding pineapple, mandarin orange, Asian pear, bamboo and vegan dashi of kombu seaweed, and instead of the Benito fish flakes, he used parsnip.

“Then I used a Peurto Rican Yellow Habanero, which is on the mild end of habanero, but it’s got a nice lemon flavour to it,” he said. “So, I infused that for a bit and then filtered it out, and so it’s a mild heat with excellent citrusy sweetness and a bit of that dashi flavour, so it’s got that authentic Japanese flavour to it. I called it Soy Un Perdador.”

That’s a joke that Begg said speaks to a particular generation.

“It’s the first line of “Loser” by Beck, and it just translates as I’m a loser,” he said. “I’ve had one person get the joke before I could explain it. He walked up, said he loved Beck and bought a bottle. Hats off, that’s awesome.”

These sauces were prepared as a cook-off, and six friends volunteered to judge in a blind taste test where the condiments were labelled batch A, B, and C.

“We came back with a dead heat,” said Begg. “We each had two votes for first, second and third. Both Haico and Michael were saying we just tied for first. I like The Minutemen, so I jumped into our pepper group and posted a link to the album 3-Way Tie (for Last).”

Soi Un Perdador is only at a couple of retailers because $2 per bottle of these limited-edition sauces is being donated to various charities. The first one they did was for Coldest Night of the Year.

“The point is that because it is a charitable thing, I don’t put it in a lot of stores because it then cuts into the cost of it, and it becomes harder to justify that charitable donation with the business,” said Begg. “So, if I’m selling it directly for $12, that’s $2, no problem, but if I am selling it wholesale at $8, it’s a little bit closer to cost.”

However, it is at Taste the 4th Sense in St. Jacobs, and when they last reported, it was one of their top three sellers, which is both good and bad.

“The challenge is that it was intended as a one-off,” said Begg. “That’s kind of the thing with the craft business, and you don’t always have the right ingredients to recreate things. So, I made this as a one-off, and I used all the Puerto Rican Yellow peppers I had, and they love it and will want to order more, so I will have to make more.”

His Puerto Rican Yellow plants were still tiny, so it could be months before he had any viable peppers.

The Dragon’s Breath pepper plant that Woodstein Media is following from seedling to Cherrynobyl bottle is still relatively small as well so it may be a few months before we check back in to see what is happening in the Garden of Apologies, but until then is well stocked with many varieties of craft hot sauce for pepper heads to enjoy.

By the way, the cat guarding the pepper plant is Louise in the photo above. She is a feral cat that has made her home in the Greenhouse of Extreme Regret but when offered an indoor home by Begg, she didn’t take to domestic life.

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