Voodoo Chile Sauces: Entertaining more than just tastebuds

When we headed to the NYC Hot Sauce Expo back in April 2017, we knew we needed to use the opportunity to chat with Thom Toth from Voodoo Chile Sauces. Having seen him a month earlier on the Tasting the Heat show, we knew exactly who to look for... Heisenberg.


Thom Toth – Voodoo Chile

Seriously though, Thom bears a striking resemblance to Walter White. After we got past the initial amazement (since we're big Breaking Bad fans), we talked about the important stuff. Hot sauce and beer.

Here are the best parts from our interview with Thom Toth from Voodoo Chile Sauce.

Julie: Where did the company name come from?

Thom: Thanks for asking that one, I dig that. You're familiar with Jimi Hendrix, right? And, the song, "Voodoo Chile (Slight Return)" from Electric Ladyland?

Julie: Yes, of course!

Thom: A while back, a buddy of mine sucked me into getting into the International Chili Society, the ICS, who does all these chili competitive cook offs and when I filled out the paperwork, they asked for team or company name. I was like, "I don't know. I'm just cooking chili, man."

They called the week before the actual first chili cook off I did and asked, "Sir, you need a company or a team name."

My response was as lame as it could be: "Uh..." (totally drawing a blank)”

So, the Stevie Ray Vaughan cover of Voodoo Chile was playing on the stereo and I said, "Voodoo Chile." She imitated my confusion and asked, "Huh?" I said, "Well, Voodoo Chili with an 'E,' but, you know, pronounced like the old Hendrix song?" She definitely dug it, I really thought it had a cool ring, and here we are some years later.

Julie: How long have you been in business? When did all of this start?

Thom: I started showing up and actually making sauces I wanted to show off to people in 2012. Really, really small. I got more serious about it, formed the LLC, got hooked up with our bottling partner at the beginning of 2013, and then really started trying to grow the company at the beginning of 2016. So, fumbling around for about 4 years, really trying to be a business for about a year and a half now.

Julie: What is your most popular product?

Thom: Porcus. It’s what got the company started. That idea came from two gentlemen that are in this room who were conversing on some online forum. They were like, "It is not possible to make a convincing, usable, gourmet bacon hot sauce." And it wasn't like, "Challenge accepted", or anything; it was more like, "Really? It’s that hard?"

As it turns out, they had a point! I and a couple of my sons spent well over a year and a half of one failed experiment after another being poured down the drain. It was my youngest son literally being a smart aleck -- his name's Alex by the way -- one morning that accidentally broke the code. That was back in 2012 and we did our first pallet of it in 2013, which scared the crap out of me. I mean, 160 some odd cases show up at my buddy's warehouse and I'm like, "I'm never gonna be able to sell this much hot sauce, man." But yeah, by the end of the year we had two more pallets shipped and now that son of a gun's taken off for us.

Julie: Which of your products is your favorite?

Thom: Wow, that's hard; that's really a moving target! There's a big emotional connection or love affair with Porcus because that really continues to do great for us, and it’s what launched the company. Right now, I hate to say it because we are working with a lot of different breweries, so the beer sauces … and no offense to any of the brewers, but the recent favorite there is the Flying Dog Bloodline. It's one of our newer sauces, so I'm using it a lot more than anything else because it's new to my life and new to my meals. Plus, I've been a huge fan of Flying Dog now for over 20 years.

Julie: If you could only have one sauce for the rest of your life, doesn't have to be yours, could be anybody's, but only one, what would it be?

Thom: Golly ... Hate to sound so self-serving, but Porcus. Yeah. It's a breakfast, lunch, and dinner sauce. That's why it sells so well. I run into people out in public like, "Voodoo! Dude, I use that stuff on everything!"

Julie: Anything new or exciting coming up?

Thom: Yes, but I can't go in too much detail about it. It would appear that we're not done with Flying Dog yet. We've got a couple of ideas in the works with them. I’m excited about bringing back some other craft beer collaborations with some other brewers later this year as well, especially BAYS (Black As Your Soul, a collaboration with Adroit Theory Brewing.

Adam: What inspired you to start collaborating with breweries and then to start focusing more on the beer hot sauce? Is it your love of beer?

Thom: I love the beer {chuckles} but it literally started off as an accident. Just a really offhand moment.

Adroit Theory, the most experimental brewery I've ever encountered -- I mean, in their first two years of business, I think they had 500 different beers they brewed and tapped. Do the math on that, that's like 5 to 10 new beers a week. That's a hell of a lot -- anyhow, they invited us after tasting something I threw together on a lazy day with some leftover beer from a growler that had gone flat. The whole thing was pure serendipity, but once the conversation started between Mark Osborne (the owner), Greg Skotzko (their first head / master brewer) and me, things came together quickly.

Then, months later, out in Chicago at one of the Binny’s, gourmet/liquor stores, Jim Koch himself was representing Sam Adams right next to the booth hosted by my buddy Graig Kinzler, who is my business associate and our independent distributor in Chicago. They’re there side by side all weekend. One thing leads to another in that conversation and a week later we’re talking details about working with Samuel Adams on a collaboration hot sauce.

Since then we’ve worked with Crooked Run, Old Ox and later that winter Flying Dog approached us. I’m not some great salesman; this stuff just all happened!

Anyhow, as far as I can tell, what we’re doing with craft beer sauces is different than anything else being done with barbecues and hot sauces.

Adam: How so?

Thom: Beer is the number one ingredient; you really get a heck of a lot of beer out of it. I can't just take a decent sauce and add beer to it; that’s been done quite a few times elsewhere. Building a whole new recipe around each beer, that’s a great challenge for me, and it keeps us very interested because sometimes it (sauce making) can be a little bit monotonous.

You start out with an idea in your head and go from there. Sometimes we'll get five, six, seven, eight, nine different prototypes before I find something that's like, "Aw yeah, now this is that beer."

And then for Willy and I, another fun thing for us, is we're getting paid to drink beer, basically. Once we take on a new beer, every day we'll drink a pint and just talk to each other about what we’re tasting or picking up. What are some of the background notes are we getting, etc.? A couple of the beers we've worked with were really a challenge and we'll get together some chef buddies and some of our beer geek buddies and just start talking about that beer as we’re enjoying a pint or few together.

That’s the deconstruction process, and then that serves as the springboard. It's like, okay what kind of ingredients are we gonna use to capture those flavors?

Read more stories from the fine folks crafting your delicious sauces on our Meet the Makers blog series or check out more of Voodoo Chile's lineup here.

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