Alcohol-preserved Swamp Dragon hot sauces ditch the ‘sour pickle punch’ of vinegar-based competitors

By Elizabeth Crawford

- Last updated on GMT

Alcohol-preserved Swamp Dragon hot sauces ditch ‘sour pickle punch’ of vinegar-based competitors
For those who like the fiery heat of hot sauce but not the “sour pickle punch” that often comes with the vinegar base, Louisiana-based startup Swamp Dragon has a solution, according to the company’s founder.

“Swamp Dragon is the world’s only hot sauce preserved with actual liquor instead of vinegar, so it is not an acidified food product,”​ company founder and managing member Matt Beeson told FoodNavigator-USA at the Summer Fancy Food Show in New York City earlier this month.

He explained by using up to 20% bourbon, tequila, rum and vodka as a base for his hot sauce instead of vinegar, Swamp Dragon’s products are on average about 15 times less acidic than other shelf stable competitors.

As a result, he said, “of the thousands of people who have tried this product, I haven’t heard of any upper or lower gastrointestinal complaints from anyone.”

The alcoholic base also deepens the flavor of the sauces, and the foods that they enhance, “opening another world of culinary possibilities,”​ he added.

“When we cook with alcohol, it binds to the fat and water molecules and enhances the flavors of our food, and because the alcohol is intact in this product, when you put it on a hot bowl of gumbo or a slice of pizza or something, it really adds depth and complexity to the aromas and the flavors of the food,”​ Beeson said.

In addition, because there is no vinegary overtones like in most other hot sauces, Swamp Dragon’s lineup is ideal for spicing up sweets.

“We have spiced up hot chocolates, chocolate gelato, funnel cake – it is amazing on funnel cake. It is amazing on beignets. We are demoing it here with caramel corn just to prove a point: you can have heat with your sweet, and it is really something,”​ Beeson said.

A patent-pending formula

Even though the alcohol content in the sauces is much higher than is typically allowed in food, Swamp Dragon’s products are recognized by the Federal government as well as the states of Louisiana and Texas as foods, and not beverages.

“I have a patent pending for the products which are unique because they have 20% alcohol by volume, but do not violate the adulterated food product laws … in part because the capsaicin level is so high that if you attempted to use it as a beverage, you would become very unhappy long before you got drunk,”​ Beeson said.

He also noted the high quantity of alcohol in his sauces set them apart from the increasing number of competitors who claim to be made with bourbon or tequila for flavor, but usually have “less bourbon than black pepper”​ at about 0.008% alcohol by volume.

Swamp Dragon targets women, children

The product also is unique in that it targets women and children as the primary users, rather than men who are often the demographic sought by other hot sauce manufacturers.

“Research shows that women, still to this day, are responsible for 84% of the grocery purchases and most hot sauce companies either are boring corporate brands or are hyper-masculine. … But I wanted to specifically invite the female demographic to this party, because I think they have been left in the dirt by the rest of the hot sauce industry,”​ Beeson said.

He explained that one way he is doing this is by using a cartoon baby dragon named Marvin as the company’s logo.

“He is my personal artwork and I have incorporated both Eastern and Western elements so he has sort of Disney eyes, but Asian anime stylings throughout the body. I wanted something that was cross cultural, non-cultural, something fun and unique,”​ and approachable by all types of consumers, he said.

He said he hopes the artistic style of the branding, as well as the uniqueness of the products, will help the company grow into an “international phenomenon”​ someday. But he also recognizes that he has a long way to go to reach that goal, with currently only 60 grocery locations in the gulf south region carrying his line.

To help him “expand as aggressively as possible,”​ Beeson is working with the scientists and marketers at the Louisiana State University food incubator in the Agricultural Center.

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