• If you have a question about commercial production or the hot sauce business, please post in The Food Biz.

fermenting Current Ferments

Hi all,
Sharing some pics and details of my current batch of ferments; please feel free to comment and/or ask questions.  I've been making fermented hot sauce for quite a while now, and have found a general process I'm comfortable with - so I'm now enjoying myself trying out new peppers and flavour combos.
The pint jars are basically small-scale test batches; and depending on how they come out, I'll then choose whether to scale up (with slight modifications for scale) to half- or full- gallons.
My current babies:

Front row, pint jar test batches, left-to-right:  
1. Hungarian Hot Wax, Moscato, Vidalia Onion, Garlic, Salt
2. Green Jalapeno, Riesling, Shallots, Garlic, Cocoa Nibs (don't ask, I don't know what I was thinking!), Salt
3. Green Jalapeno, Moscato, Apple (Granny Smith), Red Onion, Garlic, Salt
4. Red Jalapeno, Red Zinfandel, Red Onion, Garlic, Salt
Back row, half-gallon carboys, left-to-right:
5. Serrano, Riesling, White Onion, Garlic, Salt
6. Aji Peruvian & Turkish Sus Biberi (50/50), White Zinfandel, Vine Tomatoes, Red Onion, Garlic, Salt
Instead of a water brine, you've probably noticed I use either Moscato or Riesling (for greens and orange peppers), or a White Zinfandel/blush/rose (for red peppers) for the liquid content.  The sweet wines I use tend to be quite low alcohol (9% alc/vol) - so whilst the alcohol slightly moderates the vigour of the ferment, the extra sugar helps counter-balance this.
I haven't ever used a starter, but having read about this product on these excellent forums, I think I'm going to try it out for the next set of batches, as I'm starting another 4x half-gallons in a couple of weeks:  Tabasco, Cayenne and Datil batches (all homegrown), plus some superhots that I purchased from (the awesome) Judy and which are currently sitting in my freezer, looking threatening :)
I put vodka in the airlocks.  Not really sure it's any more or less better than water, but I guess I'm kinda superstitious about doing things the same way, once I found a process that appears to work every time!  The other huge benefit of using vodka in the airlock is that when it's time to open the ferment, you get an awesome double-shot "welcome" to celebrate the batch!  :dance:
I used to weigh the mash under the liquid with glass beads inside a hop bag - but having tried a number of batches without doing this (and none of them spoiled), I gave up weighing the mash down: I've never even had Kahm yeast grow on a batch.  (I absolutely accept that other people's mileage may vary, and what's worked for me might not work for another!)
These ferments will run at least 3 months at 85F in a dark room, before I open them up for the next steps.  I give them a swirl every few days or so, and - despite endless temptation - I have a strict "never, ever, open it up once it's sealed" rule.
Bubbling along nicely (about 10 days in):

Once they're done, then there's the vodka shots plus a bunch of tasting to be done with friends to work out what's going to help finish the sauce off (if in fact it would further benefit from something extra, often it doesn't).
Sometimes it's not going to do much more than go through a food mill, and nothing more will be added.  
Sometimes I decide it'll work better with fruit, or juices, herbs, spices, liquor, different types of vinegar, and every so often I go crazy with some exotic ingredients.  I still think my Wormwood-Campari-Bitter Lemon Aji ferment is a triumph.  Unfortunately, no one else agrees with me ;)
I'm anally-retentive about record keeping, so each batch of hot sauce gets a number and all the ingredients get logged at every stage of the process, weighed to the gram / ml.
Sometimes the secondary ingredients get blended in and left to age for a further month or so, shaking or stirring regularly to help them bind together a little better.  I've got a lightly-toasted Oak barrel that I've used in the past - though I have to be honest and say that - apart from the "cool" factor - using the barrel can be more hassle than it's worth, and I'm really unable to tell the difference between an oak-barrel-aged hot sauce vs a carboy-aged hot sauce with a toasted oak spiral or chips...
My "use everything" mantra means that I usually put the smushed goodness that gets left in the food mill on a baking sheet in a low heat oven, and (when brittle) through a spice mill to make powder.
I do pH testing at every stage once the ferments are opened.  Pretty much every batch (on finishing the ferment) comes in at between 3.2 and 3.6, and I make sure the end product never goes over 3.6.
Finally a reblend, hot cook and simmer, and best-practice bottling (you know the drill... sterilisation, starsan, inversion etc).  Depending on the type of sauce (the thickness) and the amount that I have, I'll use different bottles (8oz French Squares & 5oz Woozies are usually my favourite).  I make my own labels in Photoshop, and if I'm feeling particular 'arts & crafts-y' I'll sometimes cap the bottles off with bottle wax.
It all finally ends up as Christmas presents for friends, family and neighbours; some of whom count themselves as "lucky", and others of whom just wanted an Xbox :)   Every so often I even get to keep some for myself!
I'll add to this thread with pics of this batch as it develops; hope someone finds this interesting!
Thanks for reading.
James N


Extreme Member
JamesN said:
Thanks Patrad, much appreciated!
I've not actually tested in any scientific way, but I'd doubt it.  It's usually pretty high sugar / low alcohol to begin with, and there's going to be a lot of evaporation both during the ferment as well as during the pre-bottling sterilisation / heating process.  I'd be very surprised if there was any more alcohol in any of my sauces than in a standard Coq au Vin (ie pretty much zero).
I have fermented with brine before, but since starting using wine I haven't looked back.  I've also been experimenting with using low-alcohol sparkling wines (like a sweet cava) either as the sole liquid in place of brine, or simply to top off the batch prior to closing the airlock.  One amazing advantage of using sparkling wine is that the carbonated CO2 bubbles instantly create an anaerobic environment for the LAB to flourish!


In the past I've gone as high as 10% salt, but I've since settled down, and now typically use between 2.5% and 3.5% salt by solid weight (ie weight excluding the wine).  
So my typical half gallon batch has about 1250-1400g mashed solids (peppers, onion, garlic, etc) and around 40g (non-iodized) salt.  The amount of wine I add will slightly depend on how "juicy" the other ingredients are in the mash (eg if I'm adding fresh chopped orange or pineapple to the mash then there's more liquid anyway - and I'll use less wine).  The wine goes in to a) help the mash blend by providing some liquid, and b) to make sure all the mash is covered and the half gallon jug is filled to the shoulders.  The sulfites in the wine *may* have some effect of reducing the incidence of Kahm yeasts (since moving from brine to wine, I've *never* had a Kahm yeast form, in more than 30 batches).  On average, I put around 500ml (2/3rds of a bottle) in a typical half gallon batch.
Hope that helps!
James N
EDIT:  One quick addition/thought... Has anyone ever tried putting their brine solution through a SodaStream, and using the carbonated brine to create an insta-CO2 environment?
I'm going to do my initial fermenting in the beginning of the new year, after some jars come next week, and then I'll buy a couple of SFRB of pods ...
I only mention it now, here, because I happen to have a CO2 tank and can carbonate a liquid in a 2L bottle ... so I guess I could do the experiment you have in mind and share it here, maybe as my first batch if you are still curious? ...
grantmichaels said:
I'm going to do my initial fermenting in the beginning of the new year, after some jars come next week, and then I'll buy a couple of SFRB of pods ...
I only mention it now, here, because I happen to have a CO2 tank and can carbonate a liquid in a 2L bottle ... so I guess I could do the experiment you have in mind and share it here, maybe as my first batch if you are still curious? ...
Well I'm curious as Hell thought about this using a seltzer bottle with a hose and clear glass vessel with a bottom bung to attach hose bleed co2 up from bottom out the airlock go for it gadget :) I'm definitely giving it a try better way to control bacteria growth and low to no salt ferments for high blood pressure sufferers.
Nice clean environment for dry brining mash no weight would be necessary to hold down mash just bleed co2 till natural fermentation begins!.


Extreme Member
I don't know anything yet, but I'll Youtube it up (and I have some fermentation books - The Art of Fermentation, Fermented Vegetables, and Wild Fermentation, I think they are) ...
I've been pretty interested in doing this for a long time, actually, I just didn't prioritize it over programming ... now I'm trying to do more things w/ my hands during my free time, and not just sitting at the computer MORE (to program, after doing 60+ hrs/wk cad/cam) ..
Programming would be more lucrative, but it really wouldn't matter if I've stroked out from sitting for 80 hrs/wk, I guess ...
So, I'll be doing some projects and resuming my growing and back-burnering programming shit ...
(Sorry James N - I probably shouldn't have had that little back and forth in *your* thread! My apologies ...)