My tolerance for spiciness is that of a 90-year-old who thinks ketchup is too hot. As a Southeast Asian, I express great embarrassment about this. When my Chinese pals and I go out for Sichuan food, they order with reckless abandon while I cower at the sight of even one cartoon chili.
I love the idea of hot sauce, though. Not the gimmick bottles with 500,000-plus Scoville units and colorful euphemisms for “burning your ass,” but the hot sauces that straddles the line of heat and flavor. Louisiana, Crystal, Frank’s Red Hot, Cholula (especially its garlic variety)—those I dig and can handle. They act more as vinegar dips that cut through the fattiness with spice and acid. It’s the perfect dance partner with fried chicken.
So when Tabasco announced it was releasing a limited-edition “Diamond Reserve Pepper Sauce” in honor of its 150th anniversary, I became intrigued. Perhaps most intriguing was its price tag: $35 for a six-ounce bottle—that is, when it was still available. A few weeks ago, it was still on Tabasco’s online store, but it has since disappeared and now bottles have been going as high as $2,500 on eBay! (This particular offer allows you to pay in $117 installments over 24 months.) Priced at that absurd level (though most eBay listings are in the $100 range), one can’t help but perceive this hot sauce, even if just psychological, as a superior product. Right?
We were lucky enough to snag a bottle before it disappeared. Check out this sell on the gold-color box that houses the hot sauce: It’s “made from a small batch of the finest peppers on Avery Island, selected for their superior color, texture, and robustness. The peppers are mashed with a small amount of Avery Island salt, aged—some for 15 years—and then blended with sparkling white wine vinegar.”
When I uncapped the bottle (it even looks like a champagne bottle!) and tried shaking sauce out, it wasn’t liquid like standard-fare Tabasco. It was thicker, the viscosity of a thinner Sriracha. It came out in globs, not streams. Tactilely it felt more muscular, which I associated with being more incendiary.
Indeed, Diamond Reserve was—by my estimate—about 40 percent spicier than regular Tabasco. But it wasn’t just the spice that’s dialed up; the vinegar lands harder, and behind that tang is an aromatic, rounded fruitiness. And the relative thickness of Diamond Reserve gives it a certain creaminess, and somehow it feels more luxurious. Think of this as Tabasco concentrated, or Tabasco squared. I added a few drops of this onto raw oysters and it was absolutely stellar—an all-in-one spicy mignonette.
Even though Diamond Reserve lies on the far end of my spiciness tolerability, the sauce had character and complexity to make it feel substantial. It is not, however, worth paying $2,500 for—not that I need to tell you. But as far as pedestrian hot sauces go, the ones that don’t vow to burn your ass, Diamond Reserve is by far the best in show. If your see a gold Tabasco box on a store shelf, snag one immediately because you won’t likely get a second chance. Enjoy this sauce yourself—you’ll likely be the only one in your neighborhood to own a bottle—or sell it online and enjoy your next two months of mortgage paid.