In this weeks blog we were lucky enough to chat to Pete from Balefire. Balefire is a hot sauce company based near Middlesborough. Started by twin brothers Pete and Jim. They create amazing hot sauces using a wealth of industry knowledge. From brewing to cheffing. And with a little media production thrown in.
Find out more about this small independent hot sauce producer by reading our interview with them below.
Hi Peter, How are you today?
Not bad at all, how are you?
I'm good thanks. Are you having a good morning?
I'm actually in the middle of making some sauce at the moment!
Which sauce are you making today?
It's the signature one. Our Soul Fire. We've been getting through loads of it at the moment. We've sold 200 units in the last month. So we need to do a few more batches.
Yeah it's going really well. It's been so busy. We've had an awesome weekend. We did 4 markets. And we've been catching up since then.
Wow. Lots to do then. Can you tell us a little about yourself and your company Balefire?
My names Peter. I've been a chef for 15 years now. Once I left uni (I studied media production) I immediately became a chef. I love food and have always been passionate about cooking. I jumped in the kitchen and never left really until my child was born about 5 years ago.
So I decided to retire from cheffing. I was after the 9-5 kind of life. I tried it for 6 months but it wasn't really for me. After that I got a job in a brewery. Which was fantastic. I learnt a lot about brewing and the brewing process. I've always been a keen home-brewer as well as a chef. I did that for about 3 years.
After that I decided to start Balefire as it ties in a bit of everything. We make our own beer that goes in to the hot sauce. We turn the beer in to vinegar which goes in to the majority of our sauces. It's an amalgamation of everything I've done. The brewing and the cheffing. Plus the media production gives me the experience to make and design all our own labels. All the photos and videos online are all made by us.
That's where it all comes from for Balefire.
So all roads lead here then! That's awesome that you could use all that knowledge and experience.
What does Balefire mean? And why did you choose it for the name of your hot sauce company?
It's an Anglo-Saxon word. It means a large bonfire. Or a funeral pyre. We wanted fire in the name. Hot sauce and fire go hand in hand. Because it's an Anglo-Saxon word it has strong ties with the North East. We're from the North East and based up here. So we wanted to tie it all together.
It works with our branding. With Celtic/Runic lettering and Anglo-Saxon knot patterns on the logo. It all works well for our identity. And It's a cool sounding name!
You run the business with your twin brother Jim. How does that relationship work? Do you butt heads a lot? Or do you tend to have similar ideas?
We've got exactly the same mindset. It's really good having him as a helping hand. He's just like me. He can do all the same stuff I can do.
I wouldn't say we butt heads. But we definitely challenge each other. So if he doesn't think something is right or I don't, we'll say and we are happy to listen to each other. And usually he believes what I say.
But no we don't butt heads. We are both easy going and relaxed. Just laid back. He's a pleasure to work with. I'm not sure he'd say the same about me. I'm a bit of a control freak.
What makes your sauces stand out from other hot sauce producers out there?
I want to say passion. A lot of the other small batch hot sauce producers have got the same sort of passion we have. I've met a lot of them and they love what they do. And it shows.
As a branding thing we shout about fermentation. So unlike a lot of hot sauce producers we ferment our chillies. It makes a huge difference, we think. We can get a lot of different flavours out of the chillies.
Fermentation creates a natural glutamate. Which are natural flavour enhancers. It's also a great preservative. We age our chillies for 3 weeks. And it gets rid of certain undesirable flavours. You can get beautiful fruity flavours from the chillies by fermenting them.
I think that helps our sauces stand out. Also not a lot of producers use beer in their sauces. About 90% of our sauces have beer in them.
I was going to say having beer in the sauce must make them stand out!
Yeah. Like I say. Why use water when you can use beer!
So there are a few things that help us stand out. Also our branding. I really like it and we get a lot of compliments on it. We also wax dip our bottles. That's a bit of a niche thing as well. It looks cool and helps sell the bottles.
That's the great thing about doing markets. You get instant feedback. And the customers seem to really love it.
Speaking of markets. Which is your most popular sauce?
It's got to be our signature one. Our Soul Fire. That's the one I'm making at the moment. We're very small producers at the moment. We're going to be upping production in June. Going from 200 to 600 runs. It's going to make a huge difference.
We are making 10 different sauce at the moment. So if we are only making 200 bottles at a time we are constantly making sauce. So it's kind of a balancing act in that respect.
Sorry back to your question. Our most popular sauce. It's got to be Our Soul Fire. We get through loads of that. For good reason. It's brilliantly balanced. It's everything we know and love. Our beautiful vinegar. Mixed with fermented Habanero chillies. Which have this gorgeous fruity flavour. Sweeten that with pineapple. Roasted garlic. Roasted peppers. Fresh lime juice.
Wow you are making my mouth water just describing it!
I'll have to send a bottle down.
We'd love that. We love trying our customers products.
Recently you helped us with a marmalade blog for our website! The recipe made use of unwanted oranges and also helped a charity. Do you do a lot for charity and ethical initiatives?
Sustainability is so important to us. At the moment we are trying to go zero plastic. Including the plastic that is coming in to the company. We're trying to ask our suppliers not to package anything in plastic. They have all been fantastic at that.
We don't use any plastic materials in the cooking. I hate plastic. We are trying to get the lids sorted at the moment. But I know we have been struggling to get a metal lid for this bottle. So we might change bottles so we can use one with a metal lids. That way we are zero plastic.
We also have a zero food waste policy. We use everything that comes in to the company. If something is rotten it goes in the compost.
It's easy to do when you are a small business. Large businesses don't have the luxury of having their own compost heap. We can do it because we're such a small company.
As for charities. We try to support local charities as much as possible. The junction 7 charity we have worked with. They've been supporting us as well. We help each other.
I started volunteering doing cookery classes down there. At the moment we are doing a course on slow cooker cooking. Which is great.
With the Marmalade. They gave us the oranges. Which we don't use in the sauces. So we made up 50 jars of marmalade which we sold at the market and raised a bit of money for them.
It's amazing work what the guys at the food bank do. I can't shout about them enough. They are amazing. They are a community project as well as giving out surplus food to those that need it. Because let's be honest. Food is getting more and more expensive.
It's amazing what you are doing. Especially the cooking classes. That's great. That leads me on to my next question. Would you be interested in working with Sen5es more for future recipe blogs?
Yeah that would be great. I've got an open door policy for all our recipes. I think it's good for people to see. And how much time and effort goes in to the sauces. It's great for people to see how much goes in to the sauce. They appreciate it more.
You recently hit 2000 followers on Instagram! Congratulations. How important is social media and the community you are building to your business?
I have a love/hate relationship with social media. It's brilliant for the business. Don't get me wrong. We get sales directly through Instagram posts. I just wish there was an alternative. Social media can be great. It should be great. But it's not, is it?
It's a time sync. We've put a lot of time and effort in to getting where we are. But you always want more. Now I want 4000 followers or 8000 followers. As that will lead to more sales.
For business purposes. It's been an absolute god send. It's free advertising. You can shout about what you are doing. People appreciate it. It creates a story. Customers love that.
We've only been going 5 months. So we are really happy with how we are doing. 2000 followers is amazing. Our 5 month anniversary was last week.
Wow I didn't realise you have only been going 5 months! What does the future hold for Balefire?
Exciting. The hot sauces sales are improving by the week.
But what we both really love is brewing. Jim currently works in a brewery. And I do a lot of home brewing.
So we really want to be doing more on the brewing side of things. With an end game of having our own line of beer vinegar. This was always the plan. Kind of. Vinegar is an essential part of hot sauce. As a chef it's essential to help balance flavours. You can make absolutely fantastic vinegars with beer.
With the craft beer revolution that's going on. It's creating lots of different flavours of beer. With different exciting yeasts and malts. So you can transfer that in to vinegar. We've made a beautiful smoked vinegar with these Bavarian smoked beers. So we got this really mellow vinegar with a smoked bacon flavour.
This is the future. We want to make exciting beers and make vinegar out of them.
What about the beers? Don't you want to start the Balefire Brewery?
I can't be bothered with HMRC if I'm being honest! I worked in a brewery. Don't get me wrong there will be some on the side for us. It wouldn't be for sale. It would be ours.
We did talk about having a brewery. But the industry is absolutely saturated. It's a tough market to crack in to. But this way we still get to brew. which we love doing. And we get to create a product around it.
Artisan vinegars are a whole new market to crack in to. We aren't going to rush it. We are going to come up with a few exciting products. Maybe towards Christmas this year we will have a small range of beer vinegars to sell.
So lots of exciting plans for the future! On another quick note. I love your little knitted Viking mascot. Who is he and where did he come from?
A couple of months ago I was at a market and next to some older ladies who were crocheting. We were advised by our business advisor that we needed a mascot when we first started. So I thought if something comes up we will get one.
So I asked these ladies if they could make a mascot for us. Maybe a Viking or something. Could they make us anything. They said to leave it with them. At the next market about a month later they had this little Balefire mascot. Which was fantastic.
Now I buy as many as they can knit and sell them on the stall as a little bit of merchandise. So we pick a few up off them every now and again.
It's another way of a small business helping another small business. We buy directly from them. So they get all the money. It works really well for both of us.
It's great that you are supporting other small businesses. And I love that you managed to create a mascot by chance! Finally how would you rate Sen5es as your glass bottle supplier?
Absolutely fantastic. We started off with a few suppliers. Testing the water. We bought from a few at first. But by far Sen5es was the best. For delivery, quality, getting in contact with you. things like this. You've featured us twice on your website so far. Being on first name terms with Stuart and yourself. Having a face to the business. That's how to run a business isn't it!
Putting a personal edge on the business. You're not a faceless firm like a few other bottles suppliers. You've been great. We really appreciate all the hard work.
And what would you like to see from us in the future?
Vinegar bottles would be absolutely fantastic. A non plastic lid would be great. I just want less plastic in the world. But I know it's a necessity at the moment. But it would be nice to see an alternative.
Anything you can do to reduce the amount of plastic would be fantastic.
But as I said we are ecstatic with you as a supplier. We wouldn't have it any other way now I don't think.
Thank you so much for the lovely feedback. and thank you for taking part in the blog.
Brilliant. My pleasure.
We had such a great chat with Peter. What an amazing company. It was great to learn more about it. I still can't believe they have only been in business for 5 months. I thought they had been around forever!
Did you and your business want to be featured in our next customer spotlight? Let us know! We love hearing from our customers and it's great marketing for your small business.
All the best
The team at Sen5es