An Interview with Doug Downing of Double D's Sauces
For how long have you been making hot sauce?
I have been making hot sauce for over 4 years, but producing it to sell for about 2 years.
What are your most popular products?
My most popular products are the original “Ghost”, the “Wingman” spice blend and the “Green” sauce. The “Green” surprises everyone with its fresh citrus flavor and flavorful heat.
How did you get started making hot sauce?
A few years back, I was looking for some hot sauce to put on some tacos I made. After complaining to my wife about all the mediocre sauces we had, she said “Why don’t you make your own then?”. I began researching by reading labels to see what ingredients people use, and made a list of the most common. I hit up the Spice House and purchased a variety of dry peppers. I had heard of the Bhut Jolokia (Ghost pepper) but did not find many sauces that used it. Most hot sauces were using habanero or extracts which I knew I would never do. After some experimenting, I came up with a recipe I liked and shared it with family and friends. Response was great and I started getting requests for more. I ordered bottles and my wife and I hand-stamped labels. The labels are very typography since I really like the simple, clean look you don’t get with most hot sauce bottles. The most fun was coming up with catchy phrases, to get people laughing. The EX always gets a lot of laughs.
When did you go commercial?
Three years ago I started selling my products at Moveable Feast in Geneva, Illinois. The owners, Matt and Kim Lennert allowed us to use their location for an event, “The Wing Thing” we sponsored to raise funds for my Make -A-Wish Marathon team. It gave me the opportunity to highlight the Wingman spice blend and raise money for a great cause. As of right now I am working on my website so I can reach a larger audience and offer e-commerce. I have started doing a farmers market and look forward to having my products into some specialty food stores in Chicago.
How many bottles of hot sauce do you produce a year?
Do I really have to answer that question? Not as many as I would like and definitely not enough to quit my day job. I would say about 100 bottles of each product, so around 600 total, would be a safe number.
Do you have a preferred chili pepper as an ingredient?
My preferred pepper is the Bhut Jolokia. I do use some others but in very small quantities but not really for flavor. The Ghost supplies all of the flavor and heat I need.
Aside from chili peppers, what do you feel is the key ingredient(s) in making the perfect hot sauce?
Vinegar, to open up the taste buds, tomato for sweetness and always fresh produce when appropriate. No matter the proportions, without salt, you’ve got nothing.
Is there a special process you follow in making your hot sauces?
Preparation methods are a lot different when using fresh ingredients versus ground dried ingredients - the rest are Double D’s secrets.
Do you follow a particular philosophy to making hot sauces?
Absolutely! I think a good hot sauce enhances the flavors of your favorite foods. I like spicy, but I really like quality food with great flavor on its own. A hot sauce should not cover up flavor, it should work with the flavors and give you the kick you want. My Green sauce has a very light, refreshing citrus flavor, it’s perfect with fish, pork and chicken. A good friend used to look at the Green, shake his head and tell me that he just didn’t understand it. I told him to give it a chance and try it and eventually he did. Later he came back looking sheepish; now he’s hooked. I have several people that tell me it’s like liquid crack - they just can’t stop using it.
Do you have any other favorite spicy foods?
My wife and I enjoy curry. Some Indian friends have shared tips and we’ve made many on our own and they’re pretty good.
Do you have any advice for would-be hot sauce makers making sauces at home?
Be creative. Don’t use extracts, they are bitter and hard to control. Work in small batches or split a large batch then heat and flavor them differently until something catches your attention. Write down everything. Be very thorough!
Imagine this sad reality: If you could have only one chili pepper the rest of your life, which would you choose?
The Ghost pepper.
If your life could be turned into a movie, who would you like to have play YOU on the big screen? What might the movie TITLE be?
I don‘t know, as long as he is good looking and funny I’d be happy. I can’t give you the title because I think I might use it for a cookbook that I am thinking about.
Any other parting thoughts?
Have everyone give me a call so I can sell them some sauce, then they can do other things with their time. Just kidding. Sort of, no honestly if it interests you give it a shot and see what happens. Don’t settle for the old stand-by, support the small local guys going natural with no preservatives. It’s fun to create something on your own and it’s even better when people pay for it. That was when I knew I was on to something.
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