You probably shouldn’t pour one straight into the other – although we're sure brewers have tried similar in the lead-up to GABS – but there’s no denying the close affinity between hot sauce and craft beer. Craft bottleshops often stock locally-made offerings, brewers and hot sauce makers have teamed up in the past, and there’s no shortage of hopheads who moonlight as hot sauceheads.
Yet the bond between the collaborators at The Village Pickle and Brisbane Brewing Co runs a little deeper than more – and their unique joint venture has been a long time coming. Behind the Ex Inferis Barrel-Aged Fermented Chilli Sauce is Brendan Chan, who launched The Village Pickle in the Sunshine Coast town of Nambour in 2019 with his partner Jaimi.
Prior that, Brendan had a long history in the beer industry, starting out in beer tasting and sales in 2003, switching to brewing in 2005, and eventually becoming head brewer at Brisbane Brewing Co. After leaving the brewing industry, Brendan launched his Nambour business as a local café and bar with a focus on lacto-fermented hot sauces. And, much like the country's brewers of mixed culture and wild beer, Brendan’s releases take time and are ready, well, when they taste ready.
“My trials kind of suggested to me that we needed at least a couple of months of fermentation and ageing,” Brendan says. “That's pretty quickly changed to a minimum of three months and that’s what we work on now.”
While the fermentation stage for the chillies is over relatively quickly, maturation is essential for delivering more umami characteristics and, overall, a better-tasting hot sauce.
Having closed their café late last year, the entire focus of The Village Pickle has switched to hot sauce production, which brings us to the recently-released collaboration with his old stomping ground.
The process dates back to 2018, when Brendan brewed the first batch of Brisbane Brewing’s Ex Inferis: a Flanders red ale that’s picked up multiple gold medals at beer awards. The initial beer was a collaboration with Ruth Barry, who has spent time at some of the country’s best mixed culture breweries over the years.
“She brought me some beer and it tasted delicious,” Brendan says. “And I said, 'Let's do something together.'.”
Jump forward several years and Brendan was in conversation with Ross Begbie, Brisbane Brewing Co’s current head brewer, about working together. The former had long wanted to make a barrel-aged hot sauce, something that isn’t particularly common, despite the fact that one of the biggest names in hot sauce – Tabasco – is made using barrels.
“It’s still not a common thing to my knowledge,” Brendan says. "We're certainly moving towards doing more of it and I’m pretty keen to get some shiraz barrels. Those barrels are really flavourful.
"Hot sauce is really intensely flavoured so for anything to stand out in amongst that it has to be pretty bold.”
He knew the Ex Inferis barrels would contain the complex web of flavours he was looking for and, while that time in wood left some oakiness behind in his sauce, much as with a barrel-aged beer, it was the remnants of the former inhabitant that excited him the most. The porous nature of the wood resulted in a complex acid profile and a hot sauce with a real depth of flavour.
“In the timespan of ten months, a little goes a long way," he says.
“We did extract a little bit of character from the wood. But, in my view, most of the complexity is due to the biology in the barrel. So there’s pediococcus, all the yeast, and who knows what else that’s all had an impact.”
As for why so many fans of craft beer possess a deep-seated love for hot sauce (Brendan included), he suggests a few reasons, among them the ability for consumers to meet the people behind such products and witness the passion behind the producer. What's more, he believes that once you start to chase flavour it's hard to turn back.
“Once you decide Coopers is better than VB, it opens your eyes to other flavours and that’s just one example,” he says.
“That kind of awakening will carry over into every aspect of your life. If you've eaten a good cheeseburger, It's hard to go and eat one from McDonald's – and the same goes for beer and chilli sauce.”
As for what makes a good hot sauce, Brendan speaks about his new industry in much the same manner you'd expect of someone with his level of experience in the beer world.
“I think just like with beer, and just about everything you eat or consume, the deliciousness is related to the balance," he says. "So, if it's too salty or it's too sour or too sweet, then it's not good”
And, crucially, can a hot sauce be too hot?
“For some people there’s no such thing,” Brendan says, laughing. “We do a sauce that’s essentially just reapers and it's pretty hot. But I’ve had notes saying it could be hotter.”