Cover Story: Hot Sauce

Dancing With the Taste Devil

Matt Borgerding

Joe Kelley (right) schools John Stoehr and his hot mouth.

With a name like Harry's Hot Pussy Juice, it has to be good.

Novelty names for hot sauces — Cocksucker Sauce, Pain 100%, Flaming Balls, Holy Shit!, Screaming Sphincter, Nuclear Waste and Hillary's Down on Her Knees Hot Sauce — help make Joebanero's Sweat Shop a unique local experience.

But novelty isn't the only thing about Joebanero's. Owner Joe Kelley has put in more than 20 years as a professional chef and has developed a passion for all things hot and spicy. And his shop isn't all about sauce: You can find barbecue fixings and an array of salsas, too, in his 15-foot-by-15-foot chili-lover's paradise.

Ease into Kelley's collection of 300-plus sauces with Hot Ember, a mild red brown sauce that's sweet and woody. Then try Bee Sting, whose honey sweetness is contrasted by a Habanero kick. Kiss of Fire, by far the hottest yet, is the creeper of the bunch. Bailey's Irish Scream, a fatty sauce with a hint of whiskey, is a good antidote to the creeper. There's no taste to Liquid Stoopid — it's more like an exploding bomb full of razor blades.

And that's not half of what's at Joebanero's. There's the Wall of Fire, from which customers have to sign a waiver before they can make a purchase. This space is reserved for mixtures of pure capsaicin, the chemical that makes chilies so damn hot.

The hottest one on the wall, Hard Time, weighs in at 2 million Scoville units, the method of measuring the heat of chilies. The hottest you can get is 10 million. Police pepper spray tops out at only 115,000 Scoville units.

I once foolishly ate a Scotch Bonnet Habanero — measured at 350,000 units — and it nearly killed me. So I wasn't about to dance with the devil by doing Hard Time.

But chili-heads flock to Joebanero's to get their fixes every week, and, flesh-burning or not, they'll continue knocking back Satan's juice all summer long.

WHO: Joebanero's Sweat Shop, Hot and Spicy Gourmet Sauces and Foods. · WHEN: Noon-7 p.m. Thursday-Sunday. · WHERE: 624 Main St., Covington. · INFO: 859-581-SWEAT.