When all Colorado restaurants were required to close their dining rooms to in-house service, the economic impact was as devastating to food purveyors as it was to the eateries. "We lost 90 percent of our revenue overnight," recalls Merfs Condiments owner Kelly Schexnaildre, who makes and sells a variety of creative hot sauces in Denver.
But rather than let the pandemic get the best of her, the Louisiana native confronted the challenges with a sense of humor, creating a new lineup of four sauces themed just for the times. Fruit and heat have been central to Merfs since Schexnaildre launched the business in January 2014, and both are evident in the new Pandemic Peach Sriracha, Stir Crazy Strawberry, Social Distance Serrano and Bubonic Blueberry. "I wanted to create something that was relevant to what people are experiencing," she explains.
If nothing else, the bottles make a memento to store on your shelf as a reminder of a strange and difficult 2020; the labels sport stylized viruses (alongside the familiar basset hound) that in other times might pass as simple decorations. Merfs recommends using them on burritos, tacos, fish, chicken or eggs, and the fruit flavors complement cheesy dips or roast meats in a glaze or marinade.
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And unlike many small-batch food products, Merfs is easy on your wallet, at just $3.25 for a five-ounce bottle (or if you're a hot sauce addict, you can get a 64-ounce jug for $20). "I want people to eat well on a budget," Schexnaildre adds.
If a COVID keepsake is not what you're looking for, Merfs also recently released a barrel-aged hot sauce in collaboration with the Family Jones Distillery. Schexnaildre cooked up a 55-gallon batch of her Dancing Queen hot sauce, which gets its flavor from guajillo chile, chipotle meco (the more leathery relative of the more common chipotle morita), red bell peppers, onion and garlic, and aged it for several months in an oak barrel that had just been emptied of Atticus Jones Colorado Straight Rye Whiskey. Schexnaildre says that Dancing Queen was the first chipotle-based hot sauce her company made, and the new Atticus Queen version (at $8.50 for an eight-ounce bottle) adds a hint of booze and oak to the complex, smoky and slightly sweet concoction.
The condiment maker says she doesn't expect restaurant sales of her sauces to rebound anytime soon, especially since food-service establishments are currently not allowed to put out bottles for customer use (and she doesn't want to go to single-serving packets because it would require the addition of preservatives). But her online sales are up, thanks to loyal customers, and Merfs Condiments can also be found in specialty markets and in the Colorado Proud section of certain King Soopers stores. See the store locator on the Merfs Condiments website for a complete list.