Who doesn’t love hot sauce? Your dinner can be as beige, bland and boring as you like, but as soon as you crack open a bottle of something orange and angry, the entire meal springs to life. People all over the world have been using the power of chilli and vinegar to make meals memorable for decades. Small wonder American sauce giants Frank’s Red Hot have coined an immortal slogan instructing customers to “put that sh*t on everything”. It really does work wonders.
One 50-year-old Arizonian seems to enthusiastically agree. Vic Clinco has dedicated the last 21 years of his life to the dark art of collecting almost every hot sauce under the sun. At his home in Glendale, the Whole Foods manager has accrued an astonishing 8,600 individual bottles, constituting what is perhaps the biggest private collection found anywhere on earth. There are chile-heads, and then there’s Vic Clinco.
Clinco claims that his love of ferocious sauces can be traced back to his forebears. Speaking to Gastro Obscura, the chilli fanatic revealed that he first fell in love with spicy food after “eating jalapeños in the backyard with [his father and grandfather] when [he] was just a kid.” This amateur interest soon blossomed into something more serious when his wife gave him a few bottles of novelty sauce as a gift more than two decades ago. He hasn’t looked back since.
When it comes to collecting, Clinco isn’t fussy. According to his interview with Gastro Obscura, this equal opportunities approach is what has helped his collection balloon into something so vast, since he is just as interested in “the 79-cent ones...at Hispanic grocery” as he is “the $350 reserve bottle.” His appetite has also seen him acquire six other individual collections over the years, leading to the treasure trove that currently sits in his living room.
Despite his egalitarian outlook on the sauce world, there are certain bottles that take pride of place in the Clinco collection. There is the skull-capped “Blair’s Reserve Caldera” - believed to be the hottest sauce on earth with a score of between 10 and 13 million SHU on the Scoville Scale. There is also a bottle of “CaJohn’s Excalibur” hot sauce, a piece that took his almost 20 years to acquire. Clinco also recently got his hands on an unusual vial of SoCaliANTe from Paulman Acre, featuring “edible black ants”. Whatever the hot sauce world has to throw at him, you can be sure that Clinco is up to the task.
Aside from his obvious passion for all things chilli, there is another reason why Clinco continues to pursue any hot sauce he can get his hands on. According to the Guinness Book of World Records, Clinco is actually not the largest private collector of hot sauces - that honour instead belongs to the hot sauce manufacturer Chip Hearn. Clinco revealed to Gastro Obscura that he has been telling Hearn for years that he is “coming for you”. Given the commitment he has already demonstrated, coupled with the fact that Hearn’s collection actually includes barbecues and salsas rather than the pure heat found in Arizona, it might be time for Guinness to rethink who gets to wear their coveted hot sauce collectors crown.