Welcome to another episode of the Willoughby Hills podcast!
My guest today is Brian Ruhlmann, and he's been somebody that I’ve wanted to speak with in depth for a while now.
Brian is the founder of Craic Sauce, a local business here in Massachusetts which makes some of the best hot sauces that I’ve ever tasted! (Craic is pronounced like “crack,” an Irish word for fun and good times.)
Brian may sound familiar, as I’ve written about him before in the newsletter. He and Andrew Rodgers of Clark Farm collaborated on an amazing hot sauce last spring using vegetables from the prior fall that were hastily harvested to avoid the first frost.
I always had a taste for hot foods and spent many summers harvesting hot peppers from Clark Farm’s CSA. I made hot pepper jellies, hot sauces, and dried cayenne peppers to later grind and use as a spice and as pepper flakes.
My wife and I started a new diet two years ago which largely eliminated peppers, unless they were fermented. While the diet didn’t specifically restrict where our food came from, we also used a change in how we were eating as a chance to double down on locally produced, in-season foods. We felt so fortunate to discover Craic at a local farmers market, as many of their flavors are fermented and most ingredients are sourced from local farms.
I have enjoyed tracking Craic’s growth over the last several years, but of particular note to me was how Brian has used his business as a vehicle for stitching together a local food community. He seamlessly networks together organic farmers, restaurants, and customers, who all benefit from the mutual connection.
About a year ago, I joined a Zoom call with Brian where hot sauce enthusiasts came to share their homemade sauces, recipes, success stories, and ways they wanted to improve. I had made a fermented sauce inspired by one of Brian’s recipes. Even though I was a novice, I learned a ton from makers in other parts of the country and really appreciated how Brian created a space based upon collaboration rather than commerce.
Brian also runs the website Craft Hot Sauce and for many years, he hosted the Craft Hot Sauce podcast. I loved getting to chat with him about his unconventional approach to making hot sauces, his flavor inspirations, his journey as an entrepreneur, and how he has built community one bottle at a time.
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