Hello again spice lovers, today I’d like to look at Russell from Grim Reaper Foods’ latest:
Terracotta and black, with his classic flame patterning and smoothed-foil, metallic finish. It’s unmistakeably one of his but this artwork feels a little busier than the rest.
The twin sets of flames behind its skeleton are more complex than his usual sort and the figure has traded in its smooth, rounded cloak for the harsh lines of a shirt and waistcoat. Attire that fits with his character, of course, but it’s the cut-throat razor, dripping with blood, that actually sells his identity.
The undead form of Sweeny Todd.
Everything else just overcomplicates the label to the point where, for once, I’m not thrilled by Grim Reaper Foods’ design. I actually prefer its other label – The simple one made for Whitbread’s Cookhouse and Pub restaurants.
Which brings up an interesting point. This isn’t just a Grim Reaper sauce. It’s a Grim Reaper sauce made for a mainstream food outlet.
How will that affect the bottle’s contents?
Well, Russell claims that this is his mildest sauce yet but I think we ought to judge that for ourselves, don’t you?
Upon opening the bottle, its aroma is mild but informative – An oaky tang that tells us both what type of vinegar is used and that it’s a relatively major ingredient. Second on the list, as it turns out:
Tomatoes, Cider Vinegar, Onion, Scotch Bonnet Chilli (4%), Sugar, Water, Rapeseed Oil, Salt, Lemon Juice.
Yes, cider vinegar, the tangiest, fruitiest sort, even if it’s not the sharpest. But not cyder vinegar, like we saw in his other sauce. A minor detail, by all accounts, but one that’s really bothering me as Sweeny Tood sits beside that Alchemy’s second bottle on my desk.
So why the two spellings?
Well, the easy answer is that cider dates back to times BC, before the written word was as standardised as it is today. And that, unlike with the countless other words like it, neither spelling was ever fully phased out.
But that doesn’t explain why some companies use one, some use the other and some even wind up using both.
Depending on where you look, you’ll find some quite different answers and what Cidercraft Magazine has to say on the subject* strongly suggests that there’s no consistent rule. All that I can really say with certainty is that “cyder” with a Y has a very “Ye Olde” feel about it. A sense of old-fashionedness that brings forth thoughts of a more natural and traditional product.
For this reason, a lot of smaller, more artisanal (or simply just more up market) brands choose to use this second spelling to distance themselves from the mass produced “cider” available nation-wide. Or, in rare cases, to distance their own apple pulp, sugar and water based creations from a no-added-sugar special made with only juice released on the first press of each apple.
What this really means for Grim Reaper Foods and their Sweeny Todd sauce, I still cannot say. I can’t even be sure if they’re using a different vinegar for today’s item, changing their supplier for both sauces or simply relabelling the ingredient to try and appear more in tune with the average customer. But, whatever the actual case is, I can at least rest a little easier having looked into the issue.
So, on with the tasting!
Sweeny Todd is as tangy as it smells, with a strong cider vinegar flavour upfront but also one of simmered tomatoes. A flavour that reminds me of the Screaming Chimp’s main range but isn’t quite as sweet and fruity.
If anything, I think that the Screaming Chimp’s base was a little better but where Todd surpasses it is in its chilli – A nice blend of red scotch bonnet, red scotch bonnet and yet more red scotch bonnet that allows the taste of that single chilli to stand out, at least a little bit, even when it’s just four percent of the sauce.
The pepper’s earthier tones blend wonderfully with the woodier, browned-apple notes that give the vinegar it’s oak-like smell, too. To the point where I’m genuinely surprised that there’s no cinnamon or nutmeg in the sauce.
And, to round everything off, the lemon adds just a little bit of citrus to the vinegar’s fruitier side.
As a vinegar and tomato based sauce, it’s a pretty generic flavour profile but one with rather more complex undertones than others like it. An interesting balance between an all-purpose staple and a more artisan offering for those who want depth.
And that burn that I was supposed to be testing is, as I kind of suspected, not Russell’s mildest to my mouth. It’s a decent two out of ten mouth burn that doesn’t linger but does briefly shoot up to a low
on the back of its vinegar as it hits my throat.
I’m pretty certain that Todd’s tanginess is enhancing its kick a bit but it’s definitely above that of the Rookie Goblin, making it only the second mildest of the Grim Reaper range. A decent high medium but still mild enough to suit most people who reach for hot sauce in a pub or café.
It’s not as special as some of the company’s other concoctions but it’ll do very well what it’s intended to do, going with everything from a full english to salad. From moroccan vegetables to burgers and calamari. Seafood to macaroni cheese. Eggs, fish, beans and steak.
Looking at the Cookhouse and Pub menu, the only things that I’m not tempted to test it on are the scones, cookies, brownies and chips. Because, quite sadly, this sauce is too thin for the last of those. At least in my opinion. It’s liable to make them all soggy.
Yet its thin, almost-watery consistency, with only small shreds of tomato and chilli, makes it easy to splash over a dish and perfect for stirring into soups and stews. But maybe it could use one of the wide flow nozzles from Grim Reaper Foods’ oil to make the pour a little easier to control.
That ease of overuse is really the only negative word I have to say about Sweeny Todd, though. In the end, there is very little in the way of savoury food that it won’t complement so, as long as you like your sauces on the vinegar-heavy side, I’d definitely recommend it as a general use table sauce.
After all, I got through it in no time.
*“Today there may be no discernible difference between the palate of a can of cider and a bottle of cyder, but it’s worth asking your favorite maker why he or she uses the spelling they do. The answer may surprise you.” – Michael Stein, Cidercraft Magazine, January 19, 2018