Hot sauce can be an uncomfortable condiment to eat. I like a bit of spice, but the hot stuff generally doesn’t bring me much joy. However, D7 Sauce’s Scarlett’s Hot Sauce, with its bright packaging and promises of flavour made me want to give it a bash. Minutes before I was set to interview its owner and creator Mark Walsh, I did just that. My mouth imploded with the gorgeous rich, smokiness of the sauce – and then boom, I was hit with that signature hot kick. My senses were sizzling and I was fired up for a chat. And thankfully the tongue-tingling subsided just before we were set to begin...
Stamped proudly on the Scarlett’s Hot Sauce is ‘Est. Dublin 2018’, as the D7 Sauce story starts in the Irish capital. Mark was a keen dabbler in homemade hot sauce making, having struggled to find ones in the shops that gave him everything he wanted. “They’re usually too hot to have with a meal or have a nice taste but don’t give a good kick,” he tells me. “I also like the chipotle flavour, so I bought my own and roasted them, cooked them fresh, and developed the taste of my own hot sauce over time.”
However, it became more than just a hobby when his friend opened up a cafe and wanted some local hot sauce rather than importing it. “He tried my homemade one, loved it and asked if we could put it in bottles so they could put them on the shelves. After that, we did little markets but we hadn’t thought about it properly as a business.”
Then a year and a half ago Mark moved 260 miles to Nottingham, with thoughts of the sauce still bubbling away. But it wasn’t until lockdown hit and he was made redundant from his city-centre bar job that a fire was lit under him and he decided to give it a full whack. Mark said: “We just thought now was the time to get the design together, get everything really professional, and start a company.”
Many hot sauces have macho branding with ‘blow your ass off’ or ‘make you cry’, so we went with really strong, female characters for the brand that would invite people in and not scare people off
With Nottingham having such a thriving food scene with lots of small food sellers, they decided to get stuck into the local community and start gaging a reaction on their signature Scarlett’s Hot Sauce. “Everyone that we’ve given it to has just raved about it – people don't lie and they’ll tell you if they like it. They won't say anything if they don't – but we've always heard back.”
In terms of D7 Sauce setting themselves apart from competitors, Mark believes the key to it taste-wise is their slow-cooked, full flavours made with fresh ingredients. Their branding is also an important element, as they want to make it clear that anyone can give their sauces a go. “Many hot sauces have macho branding with ‘blow your ass off’ or ‘make you cry’, so we went with really strong, female characters for the brand that would invite people in and not scare people off,” Mark tells me.
Right now they’re focusing on launching their Scarlett’s sauce, but they have plans in the pipeline for more flavours and have even experimented with a spicy chutney, which they hope to have perfected by Christmas. He smiles, “I've been doing tests on this with family and friends and jars didn't last longer than a couple of days.” Mark finishes by saying, “We’re going to expand as we go, finding the right kind of people to collaborate with, the right kind of shops to stock in and finding the right kind of customer.” A fiery spark has clearly been lit on the Nottingham sauce scene, and if you’re in need of some tasty hot stuff in your mouth… their sauce is sure to satisfy.