Good things are usually born of necessity, and Arthur Wayne Hot Sauce is no exception. Growing up in Sacramento, Arthur Wayne Schubert liked his food spicy. His mother, who is second-generation Mexican-American, often cooked with hot chilies, and Schubert remembers "there was always a bottle of something spicy on the table." Though his affinity for heat followed him into adulthood, it wasn't until he was in his late 20s that Schubert began to wonder if the pepper-infused sauces he'd forever poured on his food were as good as they could be.
"I woke up one day and I wasn't satisfied," he says.
Schubert, now 38 and transplanted to Missoula, began researching ingredients, cooking processes and bottling techniques. He wanted a sauce that satisfied his appetite for heat but not at the expense of flavor. Before long, the solution to his problem was clear: he had to make his own.
Schubert started with simple formulas. He made sauces based on America's most popular hot sauce, Tabasco, which utilizes only red peppers, vinegar and salt to create a tangy and mildly spicy flavor. Eventually, he graduated to more fiery pepper varieties like habanero, red fresno and cayenne and started adding fruits and dried spices to complement and counteract the heat. He also began growing varieties of peppers like ghost and scorpion, which he couldn't find in Missoula's grocery stores. In time, Schubert's once vast collection of hot sauces was slowly replaced by bottles of his own concoctions.
"I started giving bottles to friends, and they would ask for more ... I was spending so much time making sauce," he says, "I decided to take it to the next level." Schubert quit his job as a bar manager and, in 2013, Arthur Wayne Hot Sauce was born.
Before tasting Arthur Wayne, I was ambivalent about hot sauce. I like spicy food, but I've often found hot sauce to be an unsatisfactory vehicle for kick. On one hand, the most ubiquitous sauces (Tabasco, Cholula, Tapatio) are too timidly spiced and don't add much to whatever I'm eating. On the other, many of the boutique brands sold at specialty grocers are so hot they seem better suited for fraternity hazing rituals than a bowl of rice and beans. Schubert understands this conundrum, and his hot sauces—all of which he makes from scratch using fresh and, when possible, homegrown or locally sourced peppers—strike a delicate balance between too much and not enough.
- photo courtesy of Arthur Wayne Hot Sauces
His Haba Haba Spicy Tomatillo is like a bouillon cube of salsa verde, with subtle heat and a tomato sweetness underlined with fresh lemon flavor. The Haba Haba Dime Sauce, named for the 10 recipes Schubert tested before he was satisfied, offers the kick of habanero and cayenne without a sweat-inducing burn. The Scorpion Pineapple, a blend of pineapple, honey and Trinidad moruga scorpion peppers—which is about 400 times hotter than a jalapeno—has the sort of fire that might make you panic, if not for the extinguishing fruit accent.
"My goal is to offer something different for people," Schubert says of his product line, "but I also want to offer something for everyone."
Arthur Wayne has managed an impressive level of success in the few years since its inception. Schubert's six bottled sauces are available on his website as well as at more than 70 regional stores and restaurants, including just about every grocer in Missoula.
"I'm happy with it ... Demand is growing," he says. "But I know we can do more."
He has good reason to feel this way. A few months ago, he got a call from Ed Currie, a pepper breeder and hot sauce maker in South Carolina, who was lionized by chili-heads everywhere when he bred the world's hottest pepper, the Carolina Reaper.
Currie had heard about Schubert, and he wanted to sell Arthur Wayne Hot Sauce in South Carolina. "I thought it was a friend messing with me," says Schubert. "Then I realized it was actually him and he wanted my hot sauce. It was the coolest."
The conversation with Currie added fuel to Schubert's fire. He's already testing three new recipes he hopes to begin bottling sometime this summer, and he is negotiating with national wholesalers to help introduce Arthur Wayne to the rest of the country.
"The success we've had so far is amazing and I feel good about it. But I want to keep going. I want this sauce to be on every table, every shelf in Montana and beyond," he says. "I want Arthur Wayne to be a name people recognize."