Image: Scott Eiden

When Aardvark first hit tabletops in the early aughts, it was a thick, tangy, positively wicked phenomenon. It quickly grew from a Portland sensation into a national brand. We’ve since modernized as a city, with several brilliant, fiery hot sauce options. Now Aardvark has a legitimate competitor in Bobbie’s Boat Sauce, a spicy, briny, peppery blast with the potential for hot sauce supremacy.

Boat Sauce is the brainchild of Wieden & Kennedy staffer Bobbie Rosenberg (and former owner of downtown café Half & Half). “It was born on a boat,” says Rosenberg. “Roughly 1000 miles from my home in Portland.” A fresh caught rockfish off the coast of British Columbia inspired some “improvisational cooking” in the boat’s tiny galley, leading to a combination of tomato paste, lime, fish sauce, pickle brine, maple syrup, and dried Thai chiles, among other things. The umami bomb was born. 

In June 2018, some 50-plus test batches later, Bobbie’s Boat Sauce debuted on select shelves across the Portland area, in an eye-catching bottle designed by Mike Weihs, also with Wieden & Kennedy. The march towards tabletop ubiquity can be slow and arduous, but just a few months after launch, Boat Sauce is available at Woodsman Tavern, Providore Fine Foods, Broder Nord, P’s & Q’s Market, and Grand Central Bakery, where it graces November’s signature sandwich, “The Saucy Sausage,” atop Champoeg Farms turkey sausage, roasted fennel, and red cabbage.

So what does it taste like? Where Aardvark is a front-loaded habanero sauce—bright, hot, and suitable for use in traditional hot sauce situations, Bobbie's Boat is more umami-rich and complex, and can be used across a wide variety of cuisines. The fish sauce makes it sit well with Vietnamese; the Thai chiles go great with Thai; the tomato paste evokes a kind of marinara on LSD; the maple syrup makes it fit the traditional breakfast; the pickle brine evokes Bloody Marys. The list of diverse, utilitarian uses goes on. 

For now, the sauce is only available at select restaurants. But web ordering and national shipping are coming soon, Rosenberg says. Get in now while it’s still early, and you can tell your kids you were there when the next great Portland condiment blew up.

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