Meet the deeper shade of Tabasco. That’s right, the McIlhenny family (the makers of Tabasco) go for a richer flavor with its small-batch, barrel-aged Tabasco Family Reserve Pepper Sauce. How different is it from Tabasco Original Red? How well is it balanced in terms of spiciness? And is it as usable as some of its kitchen-staple cousins? Let’s crack open a bottle and see what Tabasco Family Reserve is all about.
Tabasco Family Reserve is an all-around winner. This small-batch, limited edition hot sauce takes the standard Tabasco formula, tweaks it ever so slightly ingredient-wise, and ages it twice as long in oak barrels. The result is a Louisiana-style hot sauce with more depth and a hint of smokiness throughout.
- More depth than the original
- Lovely smoky undertone from double the time aging in oak barrels
- Still highly usable
- Lower sodium
- As a limited-edition, small batch hot sauce, not as easy to find as the original (though typically available online)
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While Tabasco Family Reserve is certainly richer in flavor, you may not get that opinion from a quick glance of its ingredients list. Like its Original Red Sauce, Tabasco Family Reserve sports only three ingredients: white wine vinegar, red peppers, and salt.
This is still a Louisiana-style hot sauce at heart, with many similarities to Tabasco’s Original Red Hot Sauce. The key ingredient difference: the type of vinegar used. Tabasco Original Red uses distilled vinegar (white vinegar), while Tabasco Family Reserve uses white wine vinegar. Beyond that, it’s a matter of proportions in the bottle and time aging in the white oak barrels.
–> Learn More: White Vinegar Vs. White Wine Vinegar (SPICEography)
Overall, the vinegar profile of Tabasco Family reserve has more depth than other hot sauces in the Tabasco Family. It’s not just a tang here, but a warmth (ever so lightly fruity) that lingers from the white wine vinegar. It co-mingles with the peppery bite from those tabasco chilies, and just enough saltiness to grab your attention.
Through it all is a layer of smokiness, from its prolonged aging in oak barrels. Tabasco Original Red ages for up to three years. Tabasco Family Reserve more than doubles that time — up to eight years aging in oak barrels. You can taste that difference. It’s not a heavy amount of smokiness, far from it. Rather, it’s like a trailing wisp that hums along underneath the bolder vinegar, chili pepper, and salty flavors.
On that salt: The sodium sits at 45 mg per teaspoon which is low when compared to other Louisiana-style red sauces out there. This has only 10 mg more sodium than the original Tabasco. So, if you’re watching your salt intake, Tabasco Family Reserve is a good hot sauce to keep in mind.
The chilies in Tabasco Family Reserve aren’t named, but it’s no secret that tabasco peppers are used in Tabasco products. These chilies pack a strong medium heat (30,000 to 50,000 Scoville heat units), the same range as cayenne pepper.
But, of course, that spiciness is diluted once you mix those chilies into other ingredients. And the result here is a spiciness that tastes very similar to Tabasco’s original sauce. Tabasco Family Reserve has a low-medium heat, likely the same range as the original red (2,500 to 5,000 Scoville heat units.)
To put that in perspective, a fresh jalapeño peppers range from 2,500 to 8,000 SHU. So, Tabasco Family Reserve sits comfortably within the same range. If you can handle a jalapeño, you can handle this hot sauce.
In terms of balance, there’s a little more here than with the original (which is reasonably balanced as it stands.) It’s due to the depth you get with the vinegar — the sauce just feels like more than the Original Red, and the overall jalapeño level heat fits in even better. It doesn’t feel as competitive with the tang as it does with the original, due to the fuller overall flavor.
The eating experience: The spiciness hits the tip of your tongue, warming up your mouth, though it doesn’t hit the back of the throat. It mellows pretty quickly and settles into a nice fiery warmth. That said, Tabasco Family Reserve (like the original) can build on itself, especially if you’ve dashed it all across your meal. It can feel like a reasonably prolonged sting of spiciness due to the way dasher sauces are used.
In true Tabasco form, you can use their Family Reserve sauce on just about anything. Seriously. I’ve added it to everything from eggs to ramen to Bloody Marys to steak, and the list goes on.
Red meats have been a great fit with this hot sauce. That warmer (yet still tangy) flavor and hint of smokiness plays very well with the rich flavor of steak. The same holds true with using Tabasco Family Reserve atop meaty vegetables like cauliflower or mushrooms.
And, of course, anywhere you’d turn to a Louisiana-style hot sauce (Cajun foods, fried foods), it’s also an absolute winner.
Tabasco Family Reserve is about as collectible as Tabasco gets, only rivaled with their (also quite delicious) Tabasco Scorpion Sauce. Plenty of people are intrigued by the idea of something “limited” or “reserve” coming from a family-owned company that makes beloved, yet mass-market condiment staples. And, best of all, they aren’t disappointed when they taste it.
The label still looks like original Tabasco, but with more of a vintage vibe (which I love.) It looks aged, like the bottle has been waiting eight long years for the perfect moment to be opened. Love it. It’s a nice touch while keeping the expected Tabasco branding front and center.
Tabasco Family Reserve is an all-around winner. This small-batch, limited edition hot sauce takes the standard Tabasco formula, tweaks it ever so slightly ingredient-wise, and ages it twice as long in oak barrels. The result is a Louisiana-style hot sauce with more depth and a hint of smokiness throughout. It’s a unique flavor in the line – highly usable and delicious.
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