What do wine and Tabasco have in common? It might surprise you.
I came upon this interesting information not because of my fervent passion for Tabasco Pepper Sauce. I love the stuff. No, actually I found out the unique similarities of wine and Tabasco because of the wine barrel business we are in.
The fact is, in our neck of the woods, used wine barrels are getting harder to find. From their use more and more with other spirits and beer, to making furniture and art out of them, along with the increased wine grape production in California, used wine barrels have become increasingly difficult to acquire. Now I found out there’s another new arrival vying for oak barrels: hot sauce companies and restaurateurs.
A century and a half of history
Where did they get this unusual idea? From Tabasco, the king of pepper sauces. See, since 1868, Tabasco has been processing their brand of pepper sauce in oak barrels, to age for three years before it’s bottled. And not just any oak barrel, but white oak – the same exact oak that wine is aged in. Now, other hot pepper sauce brands and restaurants are making their own version using used white oak barrels.
Sitting on one the largest salt domes in the world, the McIlhenny Company of Avery Island, in southern Louisiana, has been producing the famous hot sauce for nearly a century and a half using white oak barrels to age their chili pepper mash. Why the use of white oak isn’t well known, but likely because whiskey was prevalent in these parts as was white oak stands, it was a marriage of convenience, using old barrels after grinding the interiors off and cleaning them. Of note, the barrels come from Jack Daniels.
Still, much like wine grapes are crushed with their juice placed in wine barrels to age, so too are Tabasco’s peppers with the addition of salt. There the red concoctions stays for up to three years (although some can age eight years), fermenting and aging before the juice, along with vinegar, is put into a jar for resale.
Like topping off for wine, the Tabasco mash is topped off with salt occasionally to allow gases to naturally escape – through a valve on top of the barrel – without letting air get to the pepper mash and spoil the mixture. The barrels of chili pepper mash are aged in warehouses on Avery Island, which technically isn’t an island but is surrounded by swamps and bogs. By the way, the salt mound that produces Tabasco’s key ingredients is the highest point on the Gulf Coast. Here’s a did-you-know fact about the chili mash: when the juice is pressed out of the chili’s, the leftover mash is sold to pharmaceutical companies for making medicines and pepper spray.
While the chili pepper plants are no longer typically grown on Avery Island anymore, all the seeds are; not unlike the wine industry which has cuttings from older vines to make new stock. Another similarity, if you will, between wine and Tabasco is the aforementioned vinegar added to make the final famed pepper sauce. The distilled vinegar used is from French white wine and actually aged for about another month before it finds itself on a dinner table. McIlhenny now makes too many Tabasco products to name – which isn’t a bad thing. The intriguing if a bit unknown world of Tabasco certainly has ties to wine. 😉
Unlike other adventurous beer and spirits makers who will age their beverages in almost any kind of barrel, I’m not certain what you could use a former used Tabasco barrel for. Regardless, the renowned pepper sauce is made and aged similarly to wine with results that this particular fan is more than happy with.
And what wine does Tabasco go well with? I’m not an expert, so my answer is everything, but a cohort told me Sauvignon Blanc can pair well with hot flavors like Tabasco. Rieslings and Viogniers pop up often when combining hot and spicy foods with wine. In other words, white wine is best, but it’s suggested not to pair Chardonnay with foods tinged with Tabasco. If you want to try a red, a close friend once told me spicy foods and Zinfandel or Barbera can mix well. Of course, beer always goes good with spicy hot foods so maybe a barrel-aged beer? You never know.
And now we can partake of a some barrel-aged wine and Tabasco! What’s for dinner?
Additional source: Tabasco.com
Daryle W. Hier