Hamiltonian Darrin Greaves reckons his day job aligns perfectly with his after-hours work brewing up hot sauces in his Flagstaff home kitchen.
A quality control manager for a veterinary pharmaceutical company, Darrin draws on his science background to concoct Smokin Weasel chilli sauces.
“I’ve actually had a lot to do with the R&D where I work. It’s pretty much the same sort of thing, just cooking up stuff in big pots and seeing what happens. Making small adjustments over time, and basically recording and writing everything down, and working out what works best,” he laughs.
It was the chilli growing that came first in Darrin’s hot sauce journey. After several years playing around with his home sauce recipes, and lots of positive feedback, he decided to see what opportunities there were to set up a boutique sauce business.
“I was quite interested in all the different really hot chilli varieties. And then I started growing them and making the sauces. A few people would try them and really liked them so it just sort of grew from there.”
It wasn’t until February last year that he took serious steps towards creating a saucy business from his love of chillies.
“I’d been working on recipes as a hobby and last year I got all the information from the council, and started working through what I needed to do to get the council approval to manufacture in a home kitchen.”
Darrin used a consultant to help him check all the council boxes. “They talked me through everything that I needed to do, all the paperwork and traceability, and all that kind of thing.”
The chilli sauce business has grown into a family affair; wife Fiona takes care of the marketing and their two children help at the various farmers’ markets. The name and branding were even dreamed up by one of the kids.
He’s had a good growing season this year and about 80 percent of the sauces are made from his home-grown chillies.
“The rest I’m buying from local growers and a few growers in Auckland.”
A batch of sauce might take Darrin an afternoon and another few hours the next day to do the labelling
“Because I’ve got a few different sauces. I have to manage the amount for the sales and also keeping a decent amount of stock on hand. I do love doing it. But in summertime it can get quite hot cooking in the kitchen,” he laughs.
It took a lot of trial and error, and looking to YouTube videos for recipe inspiration before Darrin was happy with his sauce recipes.
“There’s a lot of YouTube videos on people doing different recipes and different styles, especially coming out the States. There’s a really big hot sauce scene over there.”
It would take about 12 different variations of sauce recipes before Darrin would be happy with the result.
Like most boutique foodie businesses, Darrin tested his product at the local farmers’ markets.
While his first markets were a roaring success, last year’s lockdown and the various Covid regulations meant some markets were cancelled and his sales tapered off.
“Everything took off really fast and was really going well.With the Covid traffic light regulations we were banned from doing taste sampling. One of the big things at the markets was being able to do sampling. But that all changed and had a really big impact on sales. People really want to have a taste otherwise they’re just reading a label and taking your word for it. And of course, everyone’s chilli heat tolerance is so different,” he says.
With attendance creeping up at the markets and easing of Covid restrictions, Darrin believes things are on the up for his spicy fare.
“People are starting to get back out there. So hopefully, a lot of the other markets and the one-off bigger ones will start coming back as well.”
The markets are also a good place to get feedback from customers and Darrin is currently working on a mild BBQ sauce to meet the needs of his customers’ tolerance for heat.
“I’ve had a lot of people who liked my barbecue style sauce, say it’s just a bit too hot for them. And I often get comments, ‘if only it was just a bit milder’. So, I’ve made a barbecue style sauce with just enough heat to wake up your taste buds. It’s 95 percent ready to go,” he says.
A chilli sauce is a great barbecue accompaniment and Darrin’s thrilled to have his Pretty Sweet Reaper sauce used by Texas Pete’s Barbecue Joint in Dinsdale and Rototuna.
Smokin Weasel is also sold at St Kilda Store in Cambridge and online.
“The online sales went pretty well during the lockdown last year and it still ticks away nicely in the background.”
With eight varieties to choose from, Darrin grades each of the sauces out of ten for heat.
From the hotter end of the scale with Creeping Death and Scorpion Fireball to Jamaican Jerk Peach and Habanero Hot Sauce and the Chipotle and Habanero BBQ Hot Sauce, there’s something to suit everyone’s spice tolerance.
To get your hands on some locally made hot sauce visit smokin-weasel.myshopify.com/