MAPLETON – It started with a single raccoon.
Erik Begg’s first backyard garden at his home in Burlington was raided by a trash panda that destroyed everything in its path except for a ghost pepper.
Begg, who since moved to Mapleton, decided to make something out of the lone ingredient left in his garden.
“So I made a hot sauce and brought it into work,” he said.
The sauce was a hit with coworkers and now seven years later, making and selling hot sauce is a full-time job and lifestyle.
He has multiple food intolerances which has limited his diet but is fine with hot peppers, which led to his love of eating and making hot sauce.
“I’ve got 150 bottles in my fridge at any given time, just so I can get exactly the right food pairing,” Begg said. “Some of the Caribbean style fruit-based sauces don’t necessarily work on something like a pasta or curry.”
It was about 2015 when the company name Sorry Sauce came about.
Begg said with four stepchildren, he’s a natural at dad jokes and Sorry Sauce is one that got legs and ran.
As is the Canadian way, every bottle comes with a written apology.
“In the hot sauce world, the sort of stereotypical thing to do is to go with skulls and devils and toilets,” Begg said on why it stands out. “I’ve been there, done that with 35 years of punk rock.”
Music is Begg’s other passion and he still plays in multiple punk or rockabilly bands and uses that sensibility to make hot sauces that are bit more left field than your usual sauces.
It was at a show in Hamilton, his hometown, where he ran into his now-wife Nina, who he knew from high school.
They got married and bought a house in Burlington where the aforementioned raccoon incident took place.
In 2017, it was pretty clear Begg needed an upgrade as he had a couple hundred plants in buckets around a swimming pool.
With the children moved out of the house or off to college or university, Begg and his wife moved up to Mapleton, more specifically Lebanon, and got some land which has allowed for a much bigger operation.
The 1800s-built church is now hot sauce central. Going through his house and property, just about everywhere you look are boxes and bottles of hot sauce, freezers full of ingredients, assorted equipment, and peppers growing, roasting, toasting or smoking.
In late October, what he calls the “garden of apologies” isn’t thriving quite like it does in the summer, especially the super hots that come from the equator regions.
But when it is, he’s also supplying other hot sauce makers with peppers he’s grown.
“I do have almost half an acre of pepper plants, there’s 1,700 this year of 100 different varieties,” Begg said.
It’s always been a self-taught and trial-and-error type operation run by just himself with the occasional help from wife.
However, it wasn’t a full-time gig until the pandemic.
Begg's was designing the expansion plan for a warehouse in Listowel, a job he started in March 2020.
“The company decided at that point with all the uncertainty about the pandemic it was a bad time to expand,” Begg said. “I had this as a hobby business, I was hoping to develop into something more so I just jumped into it.”
This meant doing a program for food start-ups through the Region of Waterloo where he learned about compliance and Canadian Food Inspection Agency regulations, scaling up recipes and business coaching.
He also did a Dragon’s Den style pitch for a grant which was successful and allowed him to get new equipment and do it full-time.
His sauces can also be found in stores aside from online and a regular stall at the Guelph Farmers’ Market.
Begg believes hot sauce has gone through a renaissance of sorts over the last decade with parallels to how the craft beer industry took off. He noted people’s tastes have changed over time and there’s more influence from cultures with spicier foods in North America through immigration and other means.
“Everyone’s had sriracha, everyone’s had Frank’s and everyone’s had Tabasco but there are small regional hot sauce makers that use local ingredients and unusual recipes,” Begg said.
With the growing season winding down to just what can be done in a small greenhouse, Begg said it gives him more time to focus on his other passion which is playing live music in various bands — although he still must keep Sorry Sauce in mind.
“I’m no fun on Fridays now,” Begg said. “Wherever possible I don’t play shows on Friday nights because I’m up at 4:30 the next morning to get out to the farmers’ market.”