Credit: © Ethan Covey

Angry Cock was a bad choice. It should have been obvious, but for one amateur hot sauce taster, the fierce looking rooster on the bottle was an irresistible siren’s call. End result: taste buds blown out, eyes watering, sweat on forehead pooling, shot after shot of milk downed. But no one in this rowdy group gathered within the cavernous, twisting confines of the East Village bar Jimmy’s No. 43 on a recent freezing-cold April night seemed to notice. They had one thing on their minds – hot sauce, and lots of it.

This group of hotheads gathered to help pick the winners of the Screaming Mi Mi Awards, a hot sauce competition arranged into categories like Asian, Caribbean, Louisiana Style, and XXX (Non Extract). The winner will be announced at the 4th Annual NYC Hot Sauce Expo, a celebration of all things spicy taking place at the Brooklyn Expo Center in Greenpoint on April 23rd and 24th. Founders Steve Seabury and Jimmy Carbone were on hand, supervising the blind taste test. Enthusiastic judges with taste buds of steel sampled multiple sauces over the course of about three hours, helped out by whipped cream (the milk fat dulls the pain), sandwiches, and lots and lots of beer.

Outside of the judging room, a table was blanketed with bottles with names like Dirty Dick’s, Angry Goat: Sacrifice and Freak Show. Carbone flitted amongst the crowd, making sure everyone was happy and well lubricated. “I’m actually hot sauce lite,” he laughed, explaining that he prefers to use spicy condiments to cook with rather than trying to blow his face off by dousing food with extreme heat. But the atmosphere was convivial to say the least, a camaraderie sealed by a shared obsession over fiery, frightening, flaming sauces.

This year’s Hot Sauce Expo will feature a plethora of events, including a chicken wing eating competition, the Hot Sauce Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony, a Grimaldi’s pizza eating contest, a Bloody Mary Mix-Down, and the grand finale, the Guinness Book of Records Reaper Pepper Eating Challenge. Tickets start at $10, and go up from there for packages including food, VIP access, and bottles of hot sauce. Attendees should expect a level of scorching intensity beyond what you find in your typical grocery store. When asked about Tabasco, one judge scoffed. “That’s like flavored vinegar,” she said, and continued to taste her face-melting samples.