Perhaps I should explain. My name is Tom Miodrag, and I’m addicted to chillies. I’m a “chilliholic”. There isn’t a day that goes by when I don’t have Thai chillies chopped and lined up waiting to set my lunch or dinner ablaze. Fortunately, in the midst of the Coronavirus crisis and “Ausgangsperre” in Berlin, I have nine bottles of Crazy Bastard Sauce to keep me company. Nine different flavours of varying intensity to enliven my mealtimes and satisfy my addiction. At least until the next mealtime, and the next craving.
Award Winning Sauces
Crazy Bastard Sauce is an award-winning hot sauces business based in Neukölln, founded by Irishman Jonathan O’Reilly. Its success can be attributed to its blend of organic ingredients, mouth-watering flavours, and eye-catching design. Before the Ausgangsperre came into effect, I headed over to its base of operations in Weserstraße for a chat with Jonathan about his lifelong passion for chillies, his success in channeling his enthusiasm into an award-winning business, and the enticing Berlin Superhot project. And inevitably, I also ended up trying all the sauces I could lay my hands on, before buying nearly everything that the shop had to offer.
If you’re not already familiar with the company’s arresting name, you might be familiar with its logo – two mad eyes sat upon a ferocious moustache, emblazoning every bottle like a furious admonishment to the consumer for daring to savour the sauce inside. “Think you’re hard enough for this, you crazy bastard?” the eyes seem to ask from the shop’s sign in Weserstraße, taunting me to enter and try its wares. I gulp nervously before venturing inside, where I’m bedazzled by a multicoloured cornucopia of hot delights – row upon row of sauces of different spice levels, all packaged in Pop Art colours, each representing a different flavour. There’s something for everyone here, from the green-labeled Jalapeño & Date for those wanting to add a little pep to their burger, to those seeking the “benign masochistic” thrill of setting their mouths on fire with the Superhot Reaper (approximately 500,000 Scoville and more than 100 times hotter than the Jalapeño and Date). I sample all nine sauces available at the time, and much to my delight, am given a badge to reward my accomplishment. Never have I thought of myself as a “crazy bastard” with such pride.
The Scoville scale was devised by pharmacist Wilbur L. Scoville in 1912 to measure the heat level of the chemical compound capsaicin (the hot part of a chilli). A capsaicin extract is diluted in sugar water until the pungency (heat level) is no longer detected by a panel of up to five people.
But serving sensation-junkies like me is just one of the business aspects of Crazy Bastard Sauce. O’Reilly, who has lived in Neukölln for over ten years, uses the Weserstrasse address as a kitchen for cooking the sauces with his team, most of which he sells online, or wholesale to shops around the world. But the address also serves as a pop-up restaurant, where his talented team cooks up an array of tantalising international dishes. We have an Irish Culture Berlin meet-up at one such event before the Ausgangsperre, chomping on fantastic Venezuelan food, which we naturally douse with lashings of Crazy Bastard Sauce, amongst an international crowd of fellow spice lovers. But what brought a spice-loving Irishman to the bustle of Berlin in the first place?
Discovering life’s spices
O’Reilly grew up in Westport in County Mayo – a beautiful town next to the Atlantic, voted the “best place to live in Ireland” by The Irish Times in 2012. But not a place where chillies were necessarily easy to come by. Indeed, even olive oil was hard for his mother to find during his upbringing. So how did he first become aware of big flavours? “I would eat spoonfuls of mustard as a child” he grins. Then he discovered the whoosh of Tabasco sauce, which eventually lead to finding out about spices and chillies. And eventually he found himself in Berlin, a city he appreciates for its openness, and creative spirit – the mix of international and adventurous personalities providing an eager customer base for inventive chilli sauces. And indeed O’Reilly is the man to provide such recipes, and a delight to talk to on the subject – brimming with enthusiasm, and asking me with interest if I can identify the different “burns” of the sauces I try, and distinguish between the chillies themselves.
But the success of Crazy Bastard Sauce doesn’t rest on O‘Reilly’s love of chillies alone. Having worked in graphic design and illustration prior to establishing the business, he knew that he would need a striking logo to appeal to the public. There was no question of adding to the plethora of skulls, guns and similarly trite macho images that typically adorn hot sauce labels. Originally intending to create something resembling the genial Pringles logo, O’Reilly was inspired by a film about real-life “crazy bastard” Charles Bronson to give his design the now iconically maniacal, wild-eyed expression. He would also need an catchy name for the business, happily given to him by a Scottish friend, who referred to O’Reilly’s creation as “that crazy bastard sauce”.
With all the tools he needed, he began selling the first bottles of his creation on Reddit in 2012, and his hunch that he’d come up with a winning formula proved correct. The sauces were snapped up quickly, encouraging him to produce and sell more online and in Berlin markets, culminating in the opening of the shop in Weserstraße, and the awarding of first place in the World Hot Sauce Awards 2015 (Medium category) to the original, Habanero & Tomatillo-flavoured sauce.
The World Hot Sauce Awards is an annual competition to find the most extreme and intensely flavored sauces in the world. Crazy Bastard Sauce won first place in 2015 and 2016.
It is indeed the delicious concoctions within the striking packaging which ultimately accounts for Crazy Bastard Sauce’s success – all handmade by its dedicated team using organic ingredients with no added sugars, the natural sweetness coming from the various chillies themselves. I wonder how O’Reilly comes up with all these alluring flavour pairings – from Scotch Bonnet & Caribbean Spices to Chipotle & Pineapple. There are nice cultural combinations that display a global interest in flavours – the Bhut Jolokia (Ghost Pepper) is paired with mango for a delicious Indian flair, and there is an obvious North American connection in the Carolina Reaper & Blueberry edition. But O’Reilly ultimately chooses vegetables, fruits and flavours that will complement and amplify, but never obscure, the taste of his chief love, the chilli pepper, as part of a mission to show that the chillies don’t merely provide a burning sensation, we should also celebrate them for their distinctive personalities and flavours.
GIY: Grow it yourself!
But where does Berlin fit into this global mosaic of flavours and textures? O’Reilly has lived in Neukölln for over ten years, and as much as he talks positively about the shape-shifting nature of the city, he doesn’t intend to stay here forever, saying he might eventually return to Ireland or his wife’s native Scotland. But before he does, Crazy Bastard Sauces will be adding a distinctive Berlin sauce to its range: the projected product of the Berlin Superhot Chili project, whereby we can buy Carolina Reaper plants to grow on our balconies or in our gardens, and trade in the results to contribute to a hot sauce using only local ingredients. Now that spring is coming and the Coronavirus is preventing us from enjoying the pleasures of society outside, there is perhaps no better time to hone our gardening skills. And as we isolate ourselves at home, closed off from society, Crazy Bastard Sauce continues to sell its wares online to a chilli-loving audience, allowing us to spice up our mealtimes with its diverting, endorphin-inducing flavours. Now, please can you pass me that bottle of Superhot Fatalii?
Satisfy your chilli cravings here.
You can order sauces (there’s a 20% discount until Easter Monday), and even have finger-licking, spice-friendly food delivered to your door (Wednesdays – Sundays)