There’s just something about hot sauce that lends itself to heavy metal and no one knows that better than Steve Seabury. Spending much of his life in the music industry at various record and marketing companies, Seabury has worked with some of the biggest names in heavy metal, from Zakk Wylde to Ted Nugent to Ronnie James Dio. But now, the New York native is quickly becoming one of the biggest names in the world of hot sauce, thanks to High River Sauces.
Founded on Seabury’s love for hot sauce and constructed from a 600-bottle giveaway at a concert he was promoting, High River Sauces started with one flavor but grew to a whole slew of selections, available in over 1,000 grocery stores throughout the country. But the company’s reach far exceeds the United States, in part because of a new distributor they just opened in Japan.
“We started with one flavor, we built the buzz on that one flavor and people were like, ‘Oh, you got any other flavor profiles?’” Seabury remembered. “So, we started making different styles and now we got mild to the ultra hot and everything in between. The lineup is great and we love it and we have a really big fan base now – things are starting to really, really take off now.”
Not sure how much heat you want to endure, well Seabury’s sauces use a 10 pepper rating system, ranging from the slight bite of two-pepper rated Rattler BBQ sauce to the lightning storm of the 10-pepper rated Thunder Juice, with various flavors mixed in, like the six-pepper rated Cheeba Gold. Cheeba Gold was actually featured in two different seasons of the popular Youtube series The Hot Ones, where host Sean Evans asks celebrities questions while they eat a series of 10 chicken wings, each wing getting progressively hotter with a more potent Scoville-rated sauce. All sorts of celebrities have tried Seabury’s sauce, from Scarlett Johanssson to Shaq to Seth Meyers, but there’s one specific celebrity that sticks out in the sauce connoisseur’s mind.
“My favorite was the chef that swears a lot, Gordon Ramsay – I think that was probably my favorite one,” Seabury laughed. “He’s a maniac but it’s cool, you know.”
But bringing his hot sauce to celebrities isn’t the focus for Seabury, it’s producing the kind of quality product he’s always enjoyed, which just so happens to be gluten free and 100 percent vegan. With an unbridled passion for hot sauce, Seabury wondered how he could better bring it to the masses and decided to rely on the wealth of experience he gained from years in the music industry. So, just a couple of years into his hot sauce venture, he launched the NYC Hot Sauce Expo.
“When this thing started rolling downhill, I also looked into a way, in my world, how I can expand our consumer outreach, increase our footprint and stuff like that,” Seabury said. “The only thing I knew how to do was put together concerts and stuff and I was like, ‘Well, if I can put together a concert and festivals, I can certainly do it for hot sauce.’ We put it together, we invited some of our friends, we set it in New York City – and we were dumbfounded how many people were actually into what I was into. It’s really helped us brand High River Sauces around the country.”
This year will mark the eighth annual event, held at the Brooklyn Expo Center April 18-19, and the theme of the event is, obviously, spicy. Everything is spicy themed – from ice cream to barbecue to tacos to featured peppers to the hot sauce manufacturers. There’s plenty of vendors, eating competitions and more – and, don’t worry, there’s bountiful variety of craft beers to wash down all of that heat. In fact, Seabury is doing something this year that he’s never done: brew his own beer.
The idea came to Seabury at one of the past events, when a brewery he hired didn’t show up, without any warning, and left him hanging, so he decided then to take matters into his own hands. While he’s brewed small batches at home, he’s never created enough for a small army, but that’s not stopping him. Brewed under the label of High River Brewing, Four 4 Four is the kind of beer Seabury typically likes to drink, which is a refreshing 3.5 percent sessionable ale. While he admits he doesn’t know what the outcome might be or where he plans to take his brewing skills, the 70 cases that will be available at the NYC Hot Sauce Expo could prove to be a barometer.
“I love beer and I think I’ve tried way more beers than hot sauces. We’ll see what the verdict is – if people really dig it, maybe we’ll expand like the hot sauce. We’re just trying to have fun.”
Whether it’s beer or hot sauce, these products are a dime a dozen in today’s landscape. Many focus mainly on a hyper local level, with different regions having a multitude of efforts, while some, like High River Sauces, are available anywhere. So, how does Seabury differentiate himself from other brands and create a product that stands out?
“Basically, I just hope that everyone likes to eat what I like to eat,” he admitted. “I play music that I like to listen to. I make hot sauce to complement the food I like to eat – and the same with beer. I just do things on my own and hope everyone likes what I did. People love our bottles, we’ve sold a f*** ton through the years. If it’s good, people will find out about it, people will tell their friends about it.”