WHITE — Nick Curry has loved hot sauce for as long as he can remember. So much so that even as a teenager, he started experimenting and creating his own sauces as a hobby.
“I went down the deep end because we kept finding sauces that were ridiculously hot but they would use things like distillates. They have a very strong chemical flavor to them,” Curry said.
Thus began the years-long quest to find sauces that would be spicy but at the same time provided flavor and enhanced the dish.
After being laid off as a technical writer in 2020, his wife and four kids bought Curry a hot sauce bottling kit. What started as a Father’s Day gift has now morphed into a small business, named Halogi Hot Sauce, with the help of Luke Davidson, Curry's business partner.
Now one of Curry’s sauces, Tyrfing’s Curse, a creeping sweet and spicy hot sauce, has been selected for the 18th season of "Hot Ones," a YouTube talk show hosted by Sean Evans. Inside the bottle are peppers grown 10 minutes away from the Halogi kitchen.
“I'm trying to reconcile that this is actually happening,” Curry said, at a loss for words about the experience on a rainy afternoon at his commercial kitchen in White. “It’s surreal.”
Halogi Hot Sauce's humble beginnings
Curry remembers the first hot sauce he tried to recreate when he was a 15-year-old living in Spencer, Iowa: Buffalo Wild Wings' pineapple habanero sauce. At the time, there wasn’t a Buffalo Wild Wings in town and it was before they sold their sauces at the grocery store.
Even after he’d moved to Brookings for college in 2004, married his wife and spent years working for Daktronics, Curry continued to tinker with that sauce, along with other sauces and spice blends, for potlucks and chili contests.
“They always did really well but they were often spicier than most people in the area wanted,” he said, adding that the pineapple habanero sauce has notes of curry and earthy sweetness from maple syrup.
By the time March 2020 rolled around, Curry had been working remotely as a technical writer for a company in New York. But because of the pandemic, Curry was first furloughed and then laid off.
As a Father’s Day gift, his wife and four kids got him a hot sauce bottling kit. It was then that he decided he would try to make his hobby a business while he continued to job search.
A few weeks later, at a friend’s kid’s birthday party, Curry premiered his hot sauce at the taco bar.
“People really liked it and [I] sent a couple bottles home with people,” he said, thinking that people were just being polite when they told him how good the sauce was.
But a week later, his friends started asking where they could get more.
“Maybe I'm onto something here,” Curry reflected.
Two months later, after going through the SDSU extension certification for food safety and shelf-stability tests, Curry was able to launch Halogi. He also brought in Davidson, who had a background in small businesses after successfully running Capoya Delivery, a third-party restaurant delivery service in Brookings.
“It’s a tongue-in-cheek reference,” Curry said, explaining that Halogi was a Norse fire giant who lived in a frozen wasteland. He couldn’t think of a better place for Halogi to live than in South Dakota because of its brutal winters.
His iteration of the pineapple habanero sauce became Egil’s Ale, which is a blend of grilled pineapple, curry and habanero. The six-bottle line up all have Norse-related names and range from mild to super hot.
Egil's Ale was also Davidson's introduction to the world of hot sauce, he said.
"I was absolutely floored at the fact that something that's hot could also be that flavorful," Davidson said.
The duo started selling Curry's sauce on Facebook. In December 2020, Curry sold 500 bottles of hot sauce from his line and Halogi was officially incorporated as an LLC.
Halogi also took home second place at the 2021 Governor's Giant vision contest, which required Davidson to put together a business plan.
"It was a proof in the pudding moment," he said.
Things took off from there.
South Dakota in a bottle
At first, Curry was buying his peppers from Hy-Vee and picking the ones he’d grown in his garden at home. But as business started to heat up in September 2020, he realized he needed a more consistent supply of produce, specifically Scorpion peppers.
As luck would have it, he was tagged by friends in a Facebook post made by a farmer who lived 10 minutes away from White.
Shannon Mutschelknaus, an engineer and famer in Aurora, was selling Apocalypse Scorpion peppers since they “burned my face off,” he said.
“I really didn’t know much about peppers. I’m not even a big fan of peppers but my kids picked some seeds out of a catalog because it looked cool,” Mutschelknaus said.
Curry and Mutschelknaus had known each other while working at Daktronics and are now produce partners.
Mutschelknaus had already planted about 400 peppers, from bell peppers, to habaneros to ghost peppers as he walked through his field on a drizzly afternoon in early June.
Inside his passive solar greenhouse, there were more surprises that have made their way into Curry’s sauce. Along the right side of the wall, was a giant passionfruit plant. The oval-shaped fruit was green and a few weeks away from turning purple.
There were bueno mulata peppers, sugar rush peach peppers, more ghost peppers that would soon be transplanted outside, scorpion peppers, Carolina reapers, figs, tomatoes and more.
Curry used the passion fruit, scotch bonnet peppers and local honey for a limited edition sauce named Gunnlod’s Gold, which quickly sold out at the beginning of April.
Mutschelknaus said that the peppers inside the greenhouse could be sourced year-round and because they’re perennials, they’ll continue to grow for multiple years.
“They will go dormant for a period, they’ll drop their leaves and go through a bit of a cold spell,” he said. “If you take care of them right, they will come out of dormancy.”
Curry wanted to make sure his ingredients were locally sourced because of the quality. He can go to Mutschelknaus’s farm, pick up peppers, drive to the kitchen and make a batch of sauces all in the same afternoon.
“That's why they're so flavorful, why they're so fresh,” he said.
Hot sauce an internet sensation
That flavor of South Dakota is now on the internet stage. Announced in May, Halogi’s Tyrfing’s Curse is now part of the season 18 lineup of "Hot Ones." It sits at number seven out of the 10-sauce lineup.
Curry said that the sourcing manager for Heatonist, a hot sauce wholesaler out of New York that sources the sauces for "Hot Ones," had reached out during the summer of 2021. It was right after he and Davidson had launched the Halogi website, which allowed them to start shipping across state lines.
Curry knew immediately that if the person was legit — at first he thought it could’ve been a scam — it would be a huge deal. It didn’t even cross his mind that the person would be looking to include Halogi on "Hot Ones." He thought it was because Heatonist was looking for new sauces to sell.
“That could have just extended our audience infinitely,” Curry said.
Davidson added they were "realistically optimistic" about the impact Heatonist could have on Halogi.
But Heatonist “ghosted us for four months,” Curry said. It wasn’t until early 2022 that they were contacted again and asked about production, which was going well.
In March, they were told that Tyrfrig’s Curse had been selected, becoming the first South Dakota hot sauce to be showcased.
“I had to sit on that secret for so long,” Curry said. “I didn’t even tell my kids because I didn’t want them to have to carry that secret.”
Now, that secret is out in the open. During the first episode of "Hot Ones," rapper Post Malone called Tyrfrig’s Curse a “sleeper” before saying a few minutes later “it reminds you ‘I’m still hot.’” A few episodes later, Queen Latifa recommended putting it on ramen.
And each bottle of Tyrfrig’s Curse that "Hot Ones" guests take home with them was made in Curry’s kitchen, he said.
The sauce is showcasing South Dakota, Davidson said.
"We're making South Dakota proud," he said. "This is not just for us, but it's for South Dakota as well and helps put Brookings County on the map."
Curry still pinches himself that he’s on "Hot Ones" two years after starting Halogi. He remembers people joking when Halogi would end up on the show but he never imagined it would be so soon.
“We knew we were on to something because everyone who tried it liked it,” he said. “'Hot Ones' was the Super Bowl. It’s the Oprah’s book club. It’s the table to get in the hot sauce world.”
Where you can buy Halogi
Curry said his sales have increased since the "Hot Ones" announcement. While Tyrfrig’s Curse currently isn’t available on the Halogi website, people wanting to score a bottle can get it on Heatonist’s website.
Halogi’s full lineup can be bought on their website and is available for wholesale at the following locations in South Dakota.
Bear Butte Gardens, Sturgis
Gold Diggers, Keystone, Rapid City and Wall locations
House of Scandinavia, Rapid City
Wall Drug Store, Wall
Buche Foods, Pine Ridge, Gregory and Mission
Al’s Oasis, Oacoma
Redlin Art Center, Watertown
Cash Smart, Scotland
Madison Ace Hardware, Madison
Artisan Concrete Concepts, Volga
Flavor Indian & Asian Fare, Brookings
The Carrot Seed Kitchen Co., Brookings
Pheasant Restaurant & Lounge, Brookings
Schoon’s Pump ‘n Pak, Brookings
Creekside Meats, Hartford,
Various Nyberg’s Ace locations, Sioux Falls
Pomegranate Market, Sioux Falls
Sioux Falls Food Co+Op, Sioux Falls
Four Hills Pump ‘n Pak, Sioux Falls
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This article originally appeared on Sioux Falls Argus Leader: Inside Halogi Hot Sauce and how it got to YouTube's Hot Ones show