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Floyd Carruth Jr. shows off a display of his Vermont Barrel Aged hot sauces, which he prepares for retail sale in the commercial kitchen at Mach’s General Store in Pawlet, Vt. Joan K. Lentini photo


Floyd Carruth Jr. shows off a display of his Vermont Barrel Aged hot sauces, which he prepares for retail sale in the commercial kitchen at Mach’s General Store in Pawlet, Vt. Joan K. Lentini photo


Contributing writer


It’s nearly noon on an April weekday, and Floyd Carruth Jr. has been working on his latest batch of hot sauce since early morning.

Carruth owns Vermont Barrel Aged LLC, and he’s also the company’s one-man production line, working out of the commercial kitchen of Mach’s General Store.

Steam rises from a simmering vat of his signature bourbon hot sauce as he places an immersion blender the size of a small jackhammer in the center of the bright red brew. Carruth turns the power up to medium speed and smiles down at the bubbling action below.

The smile is for good reason. Carruth spent nearly three years meticulously developing the recipes of his four hot sauce varieties. It was an arduous process to reach the point where he deemed them ready for public consumption. But the wait, he said, has been worth it.
Carruth’s tagline, “homegrown hot sauce,” is no exaggeration. His main ingredient is peppers grown just a few miles away, and nearly every other part of his sauce-making process involves local sourcing.

“I tried growing peppers myself, but it’s tricky growing them in Vermont, and I’m not much of a farmer,” Carruth said. “I tried making vinegar myself, but that didn’t work either.”

He ended up leaving the ingredient production to local people with lots of experience. That gave him the proper time and attention to devote to alchemy.

There are some out-of-state spices and sugars augmenting each variety of hot sauce in its own way. But the main ingredient – the cayenne and ghost peppers Carruth ages -- are from Quail Hill Farm in East Poultney. The apple cider is from Yoder Farm in Danby. And the maple syrup is from Bob Wood of Wood Family Maple Products in Pawlet.

“I let the experts do their thing, and I perfect my technique,” Carruth said.
Before the hot sauce is shelf-ready, there’s the matter of proper aging for his four varieties: Bourbon, Hard Cider, Smoked Ghost, and Smokin’ BBQ.


Barrels from a distillery
Many commercial hot sauces use fresh peppers as a base, but Carruth said he ages his peppers for a minimum of five years.

For his bourbon sauce, he sought out oak barrels from Solo Distillery in Windsor.
“It’s the perfect vehicle for aging peppers for a bourbon sauce,” he explained. “There’s always residue in the barrels when the distillery is through with them.”

The peppers destined for the Hard Cider variety are aged in barrels from Stowe Cider.
Adam Fronhofer and his wife, Laura Ramos, own Quail Hill Farm, the source of more than 600 pounds of peppers that Carruth buys annually.

“Floyd’s sauces have a flavor which can only develop with time and patience,” Fronhofer said. “Having the patience to grind all those peppers, put them in a barrel and then sit on it for years really gives him a unique product.”

Carruth isn’t content to let his barrels sit idle while the contents age. He rolls them around his property, often setting them in the sun so the temperature of the aging peppers fluctuates.
“By moving them from a cool, dark place into a warm, bright place, the wood breathes and the sauce mellows out,” he explained.

New batches of just-ground peppers are added to the barrels as aging sauce is extracted for bottling.

“It’s similar to wine making,” Carruth said. “I only pull a small amount from each barrel, so I never have to start the aging process from the beginning.”

His field research revealed that the majority of hot sauce lovers prefer medium heat.
“It was a battle to get the flavors right,” he said with a laugh. “Most don’t want the heat too aggressive. My sauces made with cayenne give an initial hit, but then it goes. I also leave the seeds in my sauces. They add texture, complexity and crunch.”


Going hotter
Gary Scannevin of Killington discovered Vermont Barrel Aged hot sauces at the Rutland farmers market and has been a fan ever since.

“There are good hot sauces and great hot sauces out there, but Floyd’s is really remarkable,” he said. “The fact that it’s locally sourced and aged in barrels really set it apart. The first time I tasted it, I was like, ‘Whoa!’”

Scannevin added that his favorite flavors are hard cider and bourbon.
At farmers markets and food festivals, Carruth offers samples on eco-friendly wooden spoons, not tortilla chips, so the flavor will be experienced unimpeded.

He would have gone along merrily making only medium-heat sauces had it not been for an intervention at a food festival a few years ago.

“A 7-year-old came up to me after sampling my sauce and said, ‘Is this the hottest stuff you have?’” Carruth recalled. “And I knew I had to go hotter.”

So he began formulating an uber-hot sauce. The process includes smoking the bright red, oblong ghost peppers over a fire kindled with retired oak barrels.

“Smoking them with barrel wood adds a lot of heat and complexity to the sauce,” he observed, adding that he cuts the ghost peppers with cayenne peppers.

“Straight ghost peppers would be way too much heat,” he said. “So I use 60 percent cayenne and 40 percent ghost peppers.”

As Carruth continued tending his latest batch of bourbon hot sauce, he gave it another stir then checked the temperature. When it reached 150 degrees, he added maple syrup as a finishing touch. After the sauce cooled, he’d spend the rest of the afternoon emptying the contents of the vat into 250 glass bottles.

Depending on where they’re sold, the 6.7-ounce bottles retail for about $10 each. The heavy glass flasks are also available in gift packages of two or four, bound together on repurposed oak planks.


Changing tastes
Carruth said all of his flavors sell consistently well, though demand changes with the seasons.
“When the weather gets cold, sales of the bourbon hot sauce go up,” he said. “In the fall, it’s hard cider, and BBQ does really well during the summer. I keep reading that hot sauce has outsold ketchup as the national condiment, and I think it’s true.”

A case in point: A bottle of Vermont Barrel Aged sits on the condiment counter at Mach’s General Store, along with ketchup, mustard, salt and pepper, for patrons to use on their to-go sandwiches, salads, pizzas and french fries.

Customers report using Carruth’s sauces for everything from grilling and braising to pasta, pizza, egg dishes and mixed drinks.

“I’ve even used it with French toast,” he said. “Adding a bit to maple syrup gives the sweet heat effect.”

Demand is growing, and Carruth ships out of state as well as selling the sauces at specialty food stores, farmers markets and food festivals. But he’s cautious about growing the company too fast.

“I’m more concerned about putting out a high-quality, consistent product,” he explained.
Though hot sauce wasn’t considered to be a popular local commodity when he began selling it three years ago, Carruth said he has seen a steady increase in people’s curiosity.

“In the Northeast, we’re getting to like more heat,” he said. “It’s always been popular down south, but we’re getting more diverse in our population as far as exposure to other flavors.”

Visit www.vermontbarrelaged.com for more information about Vermont Barrel Aged hot sauces.