Sunday, June 16, 2024

Brian Ruhlmann picks peppers for his Craic hot sauce. (Photo: Craic Sauce)

When hot sauce aficionado Brian Ruhlmann hosted a St. Patrick’s Day pop-up tasting party in 2018 featuring corned beef smothered in various fiery concoctions, he popped in his own invention, Craic Sauce, as one of the samples.

It was a fitting debut. 

Craic (pronounced “crack”) is Gaelic for, roughly, “good times,” though Ruhlmann said the term doesn’t really have an English equivalent.

For him, it is one of the best words to describe what it’s like to eat hot peppers, loaded with the natural compound capsaicin, in any form: “You let your guard down and enter a state of euphoria when you push your capsaicin limits,” he said. “Like letting your guard down when eating hot peppers, it’s another way to describe having a good time or laugh with friends.”

Ghost pepper is used in hot sauces by Craic, a Lowell company. (Photo: Craic Sauce via Facebook)

His brand and values came together in introducing Craic Sauce that St. Paddy’s Day, he said, and the same sensibility is brought to Cambridge this summer as a vendor at the Kendall farmers market.

“My dad would always have green Tabasco, and I started to really like that when I was around 10 or so,” he said. When his father decided to grow ghost peppers in the family garden years later, Ruhlmann was happy to sample some. “I ate one and almost threw up because it was so hot. So, I was like, what did I do with a hundred of these?”

Applying a combination of entrepreneurial energy and marketing skills, Ruhlmann developed a website, “We featured over 250 different hot sauce makers from 40 different countries,” he said. The pivot to product development and to Craic Sauce in particular – craic being a word he says he heard at least 50 times a day during a brief stint in his grandfather’s homeland of Ireland – came naturally. “I come from a family of artists, farmers, people who work with their hands, and I wanted to do something that was for the good craic, supporting local agriculture and business. So that’s the inspiration: I try to do this for having good craic and building community.”

True to his word, Ruhlmann farms (in Lowell), sources and sells locally. “Last year we sourced eight and half thousand pounds of peppers and sold in 306 markets. We are proud to say that we work with about 80 independent local sellers, partners, restaurants, stores, breweries, gift shops and coffee shops,” Ruhlmann said. Craic Sauce is also featured in tastings around the region. 

Despite the workload, Ruhlmann clearly loves his work. “Every month is very different. Every day is very different,” he said. As for expanding, he is more cautious: “We try to find other local companies that are kind of like us in our values and sell there … but we never want to be a big national brand. We want to keep it local because hey, we were trying to have good craic doing this.”

The latest addition to the business is a van. “It’d be pretty cool to take that out to Albuquerque. New Mexico is kind of a hub for chiles, so they have some pretty cool festivals out there,” Ruhlmann said.

For the time being, visitors to the Kendall market can enjoy Craic Sauce’s current lineup for themselves and have a cracking good time.

The Kendall Square Farmers Market, sponsored by BioMed Realty and produced by Mass Farmers Markets, showcases a variety of Massachusetts products and other goods at stalls open from noon to 6 p.m. Thursdays until Nov. 16 at 450 Kendall St. Craic sauce is back at the market Nov. 9.