I attended Boston Local Food Trade Show this past March and had the pleasure of meeting Brian Ruhlmann, founder of Craic Hot Sauce, among many other local producers. Brian stood out to me from the shear number of farms that he is supporting with his business. He joined Peter and I this week on The Grower and The Economist podcast to talk about the story of Craic Hot Sauce, their partnerships with local farmers, and some of the business decisions they are making.
We love a good story behind a brand and one that sources locally AND spices things up...make sure to give the full episode a listen! All three of us were connected by the love of food and Brian articulated it perfectly by "eating sungold tomatoes and raspberries off the vine." The story goes onto eating ghost peppers off the vine, not going down as well, and having to figure out what to do with 100 ghost peppers. Brian and his dad called Hutchins Farm in Concord, MA to source pumpkins! By roasting pumpkin, pineapple, onions, garlic, carrots, and ginger (without a recipe), they realized how many delicious directions a hot sauce could go.
"Its kind of like a spicy soup."
Starting as a marketing experiment for Brian's previous employer, he launched a website that led to hot sauce connections across the world. Brian has kept up with this project and since interviewed over 250 different hot sauce makers and chili growers in effort to share stories and passion behind hot sauce. Brian's dual citizenship as well as his love for highlighting other cultures delineate a clear thread throughout the brand's mission.
We also got the scoop behind Craic, an Irish word for fun and good times. Brian described it as meeting a long lost friend, which allowed the company to evolve into being more community focused and intimately involved in every process. Peter and I come back to the same point that there are blurry lines between a home gardener, small commercial, and a commercial operation. The grower uses similar techniques, from scheduling to selecting seeds. Peter notes that we almost need to have the crop sold before we put the seed in the plug tray. Brian is now faced with the decision to vertically integrate the hot sauce company and expand grow operations. They are currently supporting about 1200 plants between Mill City Grows and a rooftop garden managed by Rist Institute students in Lowell, MA. We hear that Craft Hot Sauce podcast episode with Caroline Pam and Tim Wilcox of Kitchen Garden Farm get more into some challenges and financial opportunities with land access.
Value add processors have a unique job and perspective in the small- and medium- sized supply chain. It was very refreshing to hear about Craic Hot Sauce's communication strategy, especially with sourcing from 18 farmers last year...100% of peppers and tomatoes sourced locally! The pickup situation may be different for each farm, but Brian convinced us that it is all about having a good Craic.
"Every single time I'm around a farmer I gain more respect for what they do, how hard they work, and their depth of knowledge. I see how the money that we spend goes back into the land or the people in the community."
A farmer may have trouble growing Fresno peppers one season, but there is value in being able to coordinate, asking what is working for the farmer, adjusting, and providing consumer inputs. Peter and I both agree that there is a disconnect between on the farm and off the farm when a farmer is ordering from a seed catalog to when the grocery store requests a certain amount of butternut squash.
It is encouraging to see businesses like Craic Hot Sauce become part of the permanent local and seasonal consumer behavior. There is just something about the size of small- and medium- sized farmers and processors that maker a local supply chain work. This is one of the reasons Peter and I started this podcast.
Listen to the full podcast and catch weekly episodes on all farming topics here.