Habanero spice like I’d never experienced before

Tears poured down my cheeks as I rocked myself back and forth in the small corner booth of the Bull and Finch Pub in southeast Calgary. I had just taken a few quick bites of their famous “the bull vs. the volcano” flavoured wings and my body was in shock.

Adrenaline pumped through me as my shaking hands reached for the small glass of milk that I had ordered in anticipation of the fiery eruption I would soon experience. While I knew these wings would be spicy, I wasn’t expecting this.

A waiver for food?

I had always been a fan of spicy food. My step-dad and I were almost fanatics, putting hot sauce on everything from our eggs to bowls of soup when we were sick. So when I was dared by the Calgary Journal to try these wings, I didn’t think much of it. I wrangled up some friends and we made a night of it.

Signing the waiver — which released the Bull and Finch of any liability for what Reporter Tanis Brown broke out into hives after trying the waiver-required wings at the Bull and Finch. The spice was so intense that even ice cubes couldn’t beat the heat.

Photo by Lisa Taylormight happen to my stomach in the meal’s aftermath — I wasn’t fazed, laughing it off as a cute marketing ploy.

Boy was I wrong.

“We did have a lawyer look at the waiver and it’s legally binding,” Tony Balakas, the pub’s owner, says. “Although I must admit, it does add to the experience.”

Introducing its waiver-required “the bull vs. the volcano” wings in 1996, the Bull and Finch is well known for having some of the hottest wings in the city,” Balakas says.

The pain of pepper

While the family recipe is a well-kept secret, Balakas did tell me that the heat in the wings is due in large part to habanero peppers and a double baking process that seals in the flavour.

“Baking them the first time kind of brings out the flavours and then doing so a second time solidifies them, giving the wings an extra punch,” Balakas says.

An extra punch is right — one bite into the wing and my mouth was on fire. Another bite and my eyes welled up. The third bite was when the sensation hit the back of my throat and I dropped the wing back onto the plate, defeated.

I would say that it was extremely spicy, but honestly, I couldn’t tell you – all I felt was pain. I gulped several glasses of milk, even ate sour cream, but nothing could stop the burning sensation.

Wings of fire

Within a few minutes I had developed hives, realizing that I had touched my chest with the wing sauce still on my hands. My lips and ears swelled up and turned bright red. In between glugs of water I giggled at my stupidity, until finally, about 30 minutes later my tongue went back to normal.

To put the blistering heat of these wings in perspective, I checked the rating of the habanero on the Scoville Heat Scale, which measures the hotness of chili peppers or anything derived from chili peppers. It measures a whopping 350,000 Scoville heat units, as compared to cayenne pepper at just 50,000 units or the chipotle pepper at just 10,000 units. Ouch.

“You get a lot of tough guys who are like, ‘These aren’t so bad,’ holding back tears as they try to defend themselves,” Balakas says. “Personally, I can’t even dip my pinky in the sauce to taste them, they are just too spicy.”

All in the experience

While I will never be biting into another waiver wing myself, I will enjoy bringing my friends out to see if they can beat the heat of “the bull vs. the volcano.” For me, it wasn’t about the food or the taste, rather an experience that will not soon be forgotten — by me, or my stomach.

tbrown@cjournal.ca

 Correction: Tony Balaka’s name was incorrectly spelled within this article. The Calgary Journal regrets this error.