Talk of the Town - He's got sauce July 15 2004

Va-Hi homeowner figures out how to beat the heat: Eat it

Possibly the only thing hotter than Atlanta in August is Shawn McKinstrie's collection of 1,252 bottles of hot sauce from 68 countries that he prominently displays in his front room. As I leave his home clutching a bottle of rare Mexican hot sauce, I realize that I've gained more than just a condiment. I've met a man with a passion for hot sauce burning in his soul and artfully smeared over his home. There's nothing bland about his display or the sauces themselves. His collection expresses childhood urges, his love of pretty things, the joy of laughter at the expense of public figures, and the quest for good eats.

Creative Loafing: I guess the obvious question is, well, why?

McKinstrie: It's a long story.

I bet.

Do your friends see this as kind of eccentric?

Yeah. A lot of people are surprised to find out I have this kind of collection. I mean, I'm not a restaurant owner, and I didn't grow up on a pepper farm. I just love heat. It's out of a true love for heat in my food. And from psychological urge, from when I was a kid, to collect all sorts of junk like baseball cards and comic books. But you don't read half the comic books you have when you're a kid. You just like the covers. The art looks cool, whatever.

Just like you probably can't try all these.

[Laughs.] No, no. But I do have 20 or 30 open in my fridge right now.

What's the world record for this kind of thing?

To my knowledge, I've got the highest number anywhere. I saw there's a guy in Dacula who has 800.

And no two of yours repeat?

There's actually a thing about that. There are two of the same here. So I have people come in, like friends, and I time them. Also, I see if they can guess how many I have. If they get within 30, I have hundreds of extra hot sauces, so I'll give them one.

I stroll around trying to discern some method to this striking madness when I stumble on one called Monica's On Your Knees Hot Sauce.

What are these?

These are my politically incorrect and military hot sauces. Al Gore's I Invented Hot Sauce and Winona's Too Hot to Handle: A Steal at Any Price. They're gonna be real collectors items one day. Like Teddy's Sauced Sauce. And I lived on Nantucket for two years. I'm pretty sure it's true.

So do you have a favorite?

I like this one. [Holds up a bottle with his and his wife's pictures on them.] When I got married, we gave these out as favors. The hot sauce is not something I'd brag about, but the label is cool and all that. I'm gonna cheat a little. This is one of the hot sauces that repeats. People think it's hard, but it's really not that hard.

I notice a dusty bag of vagrant hot-sauce bottles on the floor.

These shelves are looking pretty full. Do you have any plans for the collection?

I guess my next plan is to buy a bigger house.