Farmers' Markets

Local Finds: Oso Rojo Hot Sauce Puts Flavor Before Spice

Oso Rojo Hot Sauce
Oso Rojo Hot Sauce is available at markets and grocers around the state.
In Local Finds, recipe developer and freelance writer Ashlee Redger highlights standout local food brands and dishes up recipes using their goods.

Brand: Oso Rojo Hot Sauce

Where to find it: Oso Rojo's sauces are available at a multitude of local breweries and shops around the state, as well as a few of the holiday markets happening in the next month. You can also get hot sauce shipped to you nationwide. For a full list of where you can get a bottle, visit the Oso Rojo Hot Sauce website.

About the business: Cameron Ayers was running a food truck in Fort Collins when the COVID-19 pandemic hit. As happened to millions of his fellow hospitality employees, his day job fell away as we collectively learned the term "social distancing." He was unemployed amid an industry that was struggling to survive in a state of flux. Luckily, he had a new venture already brewing: hot sauces.

For several years prior to that time, Ayers had been making and bottling hot sauces at home. He gave the original batches to friends and family as Christmas gifts, but the fan club quickly expanded as word spread. "They told their friends, then they told their friends. That kind of spiraled for a year or so. Then the next thing you know, I'm making fifty-bottle batches in my kitchen just for fun," Ayers remembers.

As the demand for his homemade sauces slowly grew, he started to dream about being a full-time hot sauce maker, continuing to experiment with flavors and registering Oso Rojo Hot Sauce LLC in 2018, "just in case."
click to enlarge
Oso Rojo is run by Cameron Ayers (left) with plenty of help from his wife and parents.
Oso Rojo Hot Sauce
When the world shifted in 2020, that "just in case" foresight proved to be the right call. His wife's career moved the couple down to Denver that year. "That's when I decided to pull the trigger and start it for real and see what would happen," Ayers says. Now, with plenty of help from his wife and dad, Oso Rojo churns out batches of about 900 bottles of each flavor at a time from a commissary kitchen in Arvada.

With the Oso Rojo flavors, Ayers has one major principle: flavor before spice. "Hot sauce flavor without totally burning all your tastebuds off — that's what I'm all about. I want you to still be able to taste your food," he explains.

The core lineup ranges from the mild Umami Bomb flavor, a mole-inspired sauce that is made with chile de árbol, mushrooms and tamari soy sauce, to hot Habanero Mustard. To balance the heat of spicier chiles, Ayers expertly pairs the peppers with fruit to add sweetness. For example, Peach Phantom was added to the Oso Rojo list this year and combines ghost pepper with peaches and basil. It has been a fast favorite and won first and second place in the extra hot fruit and extra hot all-natural categories (respectively) at this year's spice-centric Scovie Awards.

Oso Rojo Hot Sauce distributes to customers at farmers' markets in the summer and holiday markets in the winter. In the next few weeks, you can get single bottles, gift collections and hot sauce merchandise at the Downtown Lakewood Holiday Bazaar, Belleview Station Holiday Bazaar and the Last Chance Gift Fest at the Boulder County Fairgrounds, to name a few. You can also find varieties at grocers like Leevers Locavore and Sun Market.
click to enlarge
Oso Rojo has 5 core flavors in its lineup, as well as several special brewery collaborations.
Oso Rojo Hot Sauce/Instagram
The hot sauce flavors don't end there, though. One of the unique aspects of Oso Rojo Hot Sauce is its collaborations with Colorado breweries. Ayers has worked with several different beer makers to create special combinations with their brews.

With Odell Brewing Company's Lagerado, he created the Lagerado Carrot Curry hot sauce. Cerebral Brewing's Here Be Monsters barrel-aged imperial stout has been combined with "a ton of blackberries" to make a bold sauce of the same name. WeldWerks Brewing Company and Comrade Brewing also have their own collabs. The breweries' specific sauces are available only at their own taprooms, so beer and hot sauce enthusiasts can hunt down the distinct offerings around the state (and enjoy a pint while doing it).

How to use it:
All right, all right. People who already love hot sauce probably don't need to be told how to use it. It's the true goes-with-everything condiment. Go ahead — try to think of something savory that wouldn't be delicious with the right chile-infused drizzle. That said, if you'd like to try something that highlights the roasty nuances of Oso Rojo's Umami Bomb hot sauce rather than just using it as an accent, you can make Garlic & Umami-Bomb Glazed Chicken.
click to enlarge
Combine Oso Rojo hot sauce and honey for an easy glaze to use on chicken, pork or veggies.
Joshua Ashby/Ashlee Redger
Garlic & Umami Bomb-Glazed Chicken
This recipe was inspired by Ayers's Umami Bomb and Honey Glazed Smoked Salmon. The glaze can be made with Oso Rojo's other sauce varieties and used on your choice of protein or veggie. If you like it, double the glaze ingredients and bring them to a simmer in a small pot, then use the glaze on a whole roasted chicken or grilled pork tenderloin.
  • 3 tablespoons Umami Bomb Hot Sauce
  • 3 tablespoons honey
  • 1 tablespoon vinegar (your choice: apple cider, rice, white wine, red wine or balsamic vinegar would all be great)
  • 3 cloves garlic, grated or smashed into a paste
  • 4-5 bone-in, skin-on chicken drumsticks or thighs
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  • 2 tablespoons oil (whatever you like to use for cooking: canola, avocado, olive, etc.)
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 1 small shallot, finely sliced
1. Preheat oven to 400°F.

  • 2. Combine the hot sauce, honey, vinegar and garlic together and stir until honey is completely dissolved. This is the glaze! Set it aside until you're ready to use it.

  • 3. Season the chicken on all sides with salt and pepper to taste.

  • 4. Heat oil in a cast iron skillet over medium-high heat. Once the pan is searing hot, place the chicken pieces in the skillet (if you're using thighs, start with the skin-side down). Cook until the skin is golden brown and crisp, about five to ten minutes.

  • 5. Remove the skillet from heat and flip the chicken to the un-seared side (if you're using drumsticks, you can sear all four sides, then proceed). Pour the glaze evenly over the chicken (be careful of splatters).

    6. Sprinkle the shallot slices evenly over the chicken and in the skillet.

  • 7. Move the cast iron into the oven and roast until the internal temperature of the chicken reaches 165°F and the shallots are tender, about 15 minutes. Turn the chicken to coat it in the glaze, then serve.