You don’t forget the first time you try Monty’s Batch No. 1 hot sauce. For me, it was last summer at CBG, the downtown Portland spot formerly known as Congress Bar & Grill. Their breakfast fried rice is a damn good dish, but dousing it with Monty’s took it to another level — and, just as importantly, didn’t scorch my tongue or condemn my stomach to Hades.
“The heat hits you, but it kind of dissipates pretty quick, so it’ll get you and then go away,” Mike “Monty” Burns, the sauce’s creator, said. “It doesn’t linger and doesn’t affect your food other than giving it more flavor. It actually brings out the flavor.”
Monty started making Batch No. 1 in 2015. “Well, I guess the story is I don’t like preservatives; I don’t like not knowing what I’m eating. So I started making a barbecue sauce, just natural, at home, gave it to a couple of people. They said they don’t like ketchup, so they asked me to put in vinegar, make a hot sauce out of it.”
Monty was working as a salesman and bartending at Pizza Villa, the beloved bar and restaurant in Portland’s St. John Valley neighborhood, so he brought the sauce down there. “Then a couple [other] restaurants decided they wanted to carry it, so I had to get legit.” He worked on the sauce at night and on weekends — “it was a busy few years” — and has no partners or investors. His fiancée, Kim Adams, helps him prepare and bottle the sauce one morning a week at a local restaurant’s kitchen and distribute the product; her daughter handles social media.
Online sales account for about 20 percent of revenue; the rest is from in-person sales to nearly 60 local restaurants and markets — primarily small neighborhood shops in Greater Portland, though a major Maine-based retailer is expected to pick it up beginning in January.
“I think it definitely has that vinegar punch to it,” Monty said of his sauce. “There’s a lot of flavor to it, with seventeen ingredients” — including the notorious ghost pepper. Monty gets his veggies locally (e.g., Backyard Farms tomatoes), and the sauce is gluten-free, vegan, and friendly for diabetics and those on a low- or no-sodium diet.
Monty and Kim said there’s a lot of potential for other small-scale food producers in Maine, but the lack of affordable and reliable commercial kitchen space is a major obstacle. “I got lucky, because I know a lot of people in the restaurant business and I was able to get into a commercial space at a great rate, which made it viable for me,” Monty said. “But for somebody else, it’s not.”
Monty’s goal for the sauce is keep expanding distribution and ultimately make it his full-time gig. “The plan would be to not have to do anything other than make sauce for the rest of my life,” Monty, who’s 50, said. “I’d love to [sell the sauce] across New England and then expand further from there. It’s been done. We have the original hot sauce guy, Captain Mowatt’s, and [founder Dan Stevens] has proven that it can be done. I’d love to follow in those footsteps.”
For more about the sauce, visit montysbatchno1.com.