The Principle of Swamp Dragon

November 06 2018 – Matt Beeson

Tequila Dragon on tamales
Tequila Dragon on tamales

The Principle of Swamp Dragon

    Hi everyone, Matt here, inventor of Swamp Dragon hot sauce. I write to talk about The Principle of Swamp Dragon. Put another way, I might try to answer questions like “What kind of hot sauce is Swamp Dragon? What does it taste like? Which ones go best with what kinds of foods or beverages?… What hot sauce awards have you won, and which contests will you enter in the future?” If one of those questions seems out of place, stay with me. These all relate to the same principle.

    The Principle of Swamp Dragon, or “What is Swamp Dragon intended to be?” may be summed up thusly:

  • Simple: Minimal ingredients, very clean label.
  • Flexible: Clean heat without vinegar opens culinary options. White vinegar clashes with many or most flavors and smells.
  • Quintessential: The heat, and nothing but the heat - no sour, no sweet, nothing the peppers and liquors don’t bring on their own.
  • Safe: Shelf-stable to 4 years.
  • Fun: It’s a good time to pick favorites and talk about them, and to use hot sauce in completely new ways!

    First, I tell you what Swamp Dragon is not. Swamp Dragon is not: mango, garlic, coconut, truffles, chocolate, pineapple, baked apple, wing of bat, eye of newt… Perhaps as the Swamp Dragon brand matures, we’ll develop those types of products, but it was never my objective. It’s also not a superhot. Again, maybe one day, but Swamp Dragon is a solution to a vinegar problem, not a chemical to blow out your o-ring.

    You want to taste coconut and mango? I say grab some fresh coconut and mango! Chop up some fresh Vidalia onion, and pan sear in some EVOO. Add the mango and coconut when the onion turns clear, then add coconut milk and seafood stock, and let that simmer and marry. Lastly, some fresh shrimp right off the boat, and finish out your stir fry. Maybe add a teaspoon of brown sugar to balance the acid in the mango plus a dash of salt. Serve with sticky rice. You want it spicy? Throw some Rum Dragon on it while it’s piping hot so you get a hint of rum in the scent of the dish - the more you use, the spicier and rummier it will be. The mango gave the dish some delicious fruit acid, and the brown sugar balanced it out. The two combined to make something delectable. Did you really mean to upset your carefully crafted acid balance using spicy vinegar sauce, or does it seem more like rum would dance perfectly with those ingredients while adding the spice you crave?  

    I don’t raw dog Swamp Dragon on a spoon or from the bottle to understand how good it is and will be. I don’t do that with any hot sauce.

    The Principle of Swamp Dragon is simple hot sauce, structurally similar to the biggest brands on the planet, but inverting the doctrine of vinegar. I don’t care for white vinegar. Fine if you do, but my distaste for the stuff inspired Swamp Dragon’s invention, so if you prefer the flavor and aroma of white vinegar over bourbon, for example, Swamp Dragon is not for you. I personally think that on its worst day, bourbon cannot help but taste better than vinegar. Teetotalers can agree, if even in principle, on smell alone. A great many teetotalers enjoy Swamp Dragon, by the way.

    Tabasco, the most popular hot sauce on the planet (love it or hate it), has three ingredients, in order; vinegar, peppers, salt. It likely fairs poorly in a blind taste test against “Uncle Jimmy’s Extra Spicy Chocolate Truffle Hot Sauce.” I made that up. Don’t google to find it. Apologies to Uncle Jimmys everywhere.

    By comparison, Swamp Dragon has three ingredients (one flavorless): sauce base (aged peppers, water), liquor.

    Swamp Dragon is ~16X less acidic (no doubt, easier on the GI tract), and has none of the acrid flavor and aroma that typify white vinegar. Swamp Dragon delivers a clean heat and a distinctive flavor from our secret pepper blend, with a hint of liquor taste and smell. The more you use, the more flavor comes from the peppers (as opposed to just heat), and the more the characteristic of the liquor steps forward. Use less, and you just get some heat without much else, least of all sour pickle pucker. It’s specifically designed to not get in the way of your food or beverages, but rather, to compliment to your taste.

Thought you might enjoy a cool pic, but there's more to the blog below. Scroll on!

Hot Sauce Contests and The Principle of Swamp Dragon

    In late 2017, as soon as the compliance issues that come with the use of alcohol were resolved, I entered into a whole bunch of categories in the 2018 Scovie Awards. Swamp Dragon won a bunch. I was most proud of 1st Prize in the Unique Hot Sauce category, and the Grand Prize in Marketing, in that order. For Unique Hot Sauce, I entered The Rum Dragon with instructions to eat it on ginger snap cookies and vanilla ice cream. I figured it was a shoe-in, and I was happy to be right about it.

    We won a bunch of other 2nd or 3rd prizes in other categories, but Swamp Dragon doesn’t fit neatly into any category. Is the Bourbon Dragon “Louisiana Style?” Every Louisiana-made hot sauce other than Swamp Dragon is and always was made in a vinegar base. So, no. It’s really not “Louisiana style.” It doesn’t matter that I am a New Orleans native, and that Swamp Dragon was tested, and is currently produced at Louisiana State University, and has only 3 ingredients like all the other Louisiana hot sauces. Come on, man! How many sugar cane farms and rum distilleries call Louisiana home? Is Louisiana famous for its white vinegar? Mais, NO!

    A great friend of mine quipped, “Hot sauce made with bourbon? That’s more Louisiana than Tabasco!” High praise! I leave it to you to unpack everything that’s going on in that sentence. According to him, Swamp Dragon could be the most Louisiana-style hot sauce ever invented, but it’s a new concept. New concepts, by definition, aren’t any established style of anything. In a blind hot sauce taste test, who could know anyway? There’s no vinegar. We are conditioned to expect the vinegar bite from hot sauce. When it’s not there, the sauce can seem weird. We’ve all been eating vinegar-based hot sauces for so long (as long as there’s been shelf-stable hot sauce, in fact), that it never occurs to us to question whether we actually wanted vinegar when we needed spice. Did we want acid sour too? Or is that “just how it’s done?” Convention cannot remain simply because “that’s how it’s done.” Innovation must be more than myth.

    The problem with hot sauce convention and hot sauce contests is that Swamp Dragon is a category buster, or category creator, or a category evader… it cannot be smashed into an existing category. No other liquor-based hot sauce exists. So what conventional category can be fair to Swamp Dragon? At the risk of pissing off a whole lotta chiliheads who are deeply invested in hot sauce contests, the blind taste test tells you nothing you should know about Swamp Dragon.

    The mark of culinary success for hot sauce, in my view, is how well it works in foods and beverages, not how it tastes on its own. Part and parcel of The Swamp Dragon Principle is that no one eats hot sauce as a main course. I look for balance in beer, wine, and foods. I fill my mouth and my belly with them. Condiments, on the other hand, are generally not too good to eat (or drink) on their own. Gobble your way through the condiments at the end of the Indian buffet, and you’re likely to be most unhappy. Add a bit to your Indian food, and a complex flavor tapestry unfolds. I don’t down fish sauce from a bottle, but Asian cuisine would be less tempting without it. I cannot fathom trying to kill my hunger with a jar of yellow mustard.

    I don’t think I want to enter any more hot sauce competitions. Maybe I will, but I'm not too keen these days.

    The Ouzo Dragon, to be eaten on baklava, was bested in my most recent contest entry by a lime habanero. I guess it’s sour grapes to say so, but lime habanero is not unique, and baklava spiced with an ouzo-based hot sauce is as unique as it gets, and an unabashed flavor gold mine. I would not have submitted it if I hadn’t tried it and been thoroughly pleased. It really is special to use hot sauce in these new ways, and ouzo-spiced baklava is both mystery and joy on the palette. That’s just a good time right there.

Ouzo Dragon on baklava

    No. Forget about the blind taste test. If you really want to know what you need to know about Swamp Dragon hot sauce, perform the #SwampDragonShootOut.

    The Swamp Dragon Shoot Out won’t make you wear a blindfold or remove labels. Swamp Dragon is happy to compete in the light of day. Go get your favorite hot sauce out of the cupboard. Go ahead. I’ll wait. Ok. Good. Now. Go get your favorite food to eat with that hot sauce. Know what you’re eating. Know what you’re testing. Compare labels if you want. Marvin the Baby Dragon won’t mind. He’s very happy and quite secure.

    Now eat three bites of that food using Swamp Dragon hot sauce as your condiment. Note the consistency, the color, the aroma… not just the flavor. Savor it, and think about what you’re tasting. For the fourth bite, return to your old standby, and be certain to use the same amount that you did with Swamp Dragon. When you’ve gone through this process, you will have no doubt which sauce you prefer. Swamp Dragon may or may not win, but the process will be as fair as any blind test, because you will not land on one or the other over brand loyalty or politics, or even an adorable baby dragon. You will know because you knew what you were eating, and arrived at a decision anyhow. You will know because you ate it on food - the way we all eat hot sauce. You will know because you pitted your favorite against Swamp Dragon.

    Is it cocky of me to say rum, bourbon, tequila, or vodka taste better than white vinegar?

It ain’t the longest list going, and it likely won’t get much longer, but for a complete list of Swamp Dragon’s awards, click here:


- Matt


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