Craft beers and hot sauce don’t not go together, and Portland was yet to have a specialty hot sauce shop before Alefire opened in the former Tin Bucket space. This week (Thursday – Saturday) they celebrate their grand opening with three days of events coinciding with the Portland Hot Sauce Expo.
Drew Salmi thinks theirs is a niche to be filled, a cult desire for mild or fiery sauces that go beyond Tabasco and Sriracha. Ever since Hillary Clinton claimed to keep a bottle of hot sauce in her purse and Sriracha became a merchandising brand, hot sauce has been as hot as many of them claim to be. Like beer, some hot sauces are fermented and even barrel-aged; at the very least, the process is not entirely dissimilar and their flavors play nicely off of each other. When you have a burning mouthful of spicy food, you are better off reaching for a beer with its carbonation to cool your tongue than a glass of ice cold and flat water.
But if you don’t count yourself as a hot sauce aficionado, you can still belly up to the bar to find 20 rotating drafts expertly curated by Corvallis Beer Week founder Drew Salmi. Alefire also stocks three coolers full of bottles and cans for there or to-go. It’s down from Tin Bucket’s selection but concentrates on the greatest hits of 100 or so options. Three more cooler doors are full of hot sauce with about 250 different bottles of sauce available now and hopefully 400 by the time all is said and done.
“We are a beer bar and bottle shop that is also a hot sauce store,” emphasizes Salmi, noting that everything fans of Tin Bucket loved is mostly still intact, with a slight decor refresh that warmed up the space a bit. “Nick Flores and Sam Rodriguez stayed on the team. Nick has been working with me (Drew) on ordering beer and Dave Coles has carried the weight of the sauce buying. If you know my ordering style from Les Caves Bier and Kitchen or the first three years of Tin Bucket, expect it to be very similar.”
If you are curious about that Strawberry Habanero Hot Sauce, for example, and don’t want to commit, Alefire cracks open 5 or 6 bottles of sauce each day for sampling with chips. It’s like a free taster tray of hot sauces. Expanding the similarities even further, Alefire and their partners at Smokeshow Hot Sauce will embark on a series of collaborations with breweries coming in to make their own sauce. First up is a collaboration with Culmination Brewing that is designed to pair with their taproom’s food. They also have a Eugene-centric collaboration in the works with Alesong Brewing & Blending and Coldfire Brewing teaming with Alefire on a special hot sauce.
After initial news broke that Tin Bucket would become Alefire, some beer geeks were miffed with a common criticism – that no one buys hot sauces on a regular basis. Salmi and the Alefire team are quick to point out that they are not forgetting about beer and that there is a whole other market related to hot sauce, including an online one for which they plan to do sales over the internet.
“It is amazing the amount of people that have already come in and said, “Finally, a hot sauce store in Portland! It’s an incredible thing to hear,” says Salmi. “We are a food city. Most major food cities have a hot sauce focused store.” They are not wrong. Let’s take a look at the popularity of this weekend’s Hot Sauce Expo for example. Alefire is hosting an afterparty with many of the hot sauce makers on Saturday evening as part of their anniversary. It’s a good time to check them out. For more info on upcoming events and tastings follow them at https://www.facebook.com/AleFireHotSauce/
Alefire Hot Sauce & Public House – 3520 N. Williams Portland, Oregon 97227
Founder of The New School and most frequent contributor Ezra Johnson-Greenough has worked in the craft beer industry for almost 10 years, doing everything from illustrating beer labels to bartending at renowned beer bars and breweries like Belmont Station, Apex, Laurelwood and Upright Brewing. He has also had a hand in creating events like the Portland Fruit Beer Festival, Portland Beer Week, and the Brewing up Cocktails series. He is available for freelance consultation in marketing, events, graphic design and branding.