Temp Check: Mark McAulay from Singularity Sauce Co.

Mark McAulay likes it hot. Like…stupidly hot. So hot in fact he launched his own hot sauce company, Singularity Sauce Co. First as a first as a bit of fun, a hobby. It then grew into a side project and somewhere along the way people recognised his hard work and dedication. Before you could blink his hobby had become a proper grown up craft hot sauce business.

As both of us here at POST are big fans of heat, we thought it was time to find out more about Singularity Sauce Co. and the man behind it.



How are you doing right now? Be honest. This is a safe space.

Oh I'm doing great thanks. If anything, a little anxious about all the usual things when running a business, but also content in the knowledge that if everything goes wrong, it’s all my own fault.

How it all began

Like many small companies, Singularity Sauce Co. came out of nowhere…after five years of hard work and dedication. Tell us what inspired you to start your own craft hot sauce company, and how that developed into a real life, grown-up company?

I’d been making my own sauces for a while. I was so bored with the hot sauces which we’re generally available and I decided I could do better. I'd spent a few years living in London and there was so much choice in small indie places that I wanted more choice up here in the frozen north. I’d buy the hottest chillies I could get my hands on and add other flavours and lots of vinegar. At that time, Komodo Dragon chillies had become available in the supermarket. They are bonkers hot and just what I needed.

I quickly moved away from using vinegar as a base because I’d gone off on a mission, one I’m still on today. I’d become fascinated with the flavours found in different types of chillis and I want to continually explore that. Dumping a bunch of vinegar into a sauce unsurprisingly makes it taste like vinegar. That had to stop.

I started experimenting with fermentation and that’s where things started working out. I could achieve low enough PH values to make things acidic enough to be shelf safe and instead of a heavy vinegar flavour, I had a world of funky flavours available. I'll spare you, but I could go on for days about this stuff.

Bottles of Singularity Hot Sauce Co. hot sauce lined up in a row.
Singularity Sauce range at Rosemount Market | Photo by Chris Sansbury

I’d been testing these sauces out on friends, family and neighbours. Feedback had been really positive. One of my friends is a chef in Aberdeen and he’d started pushing me to sell the sauces I was making. Eventually I did of course, but that was the point I had to get serious. I had to figure out just how you can create food for sale and that took me a while. As I did the dance of environmental health, trading standards, insurance etc, I realised that this couldn't be a hobby anymore.

At the time of transition from hobby to business, I'd suffered a bout of depression which ultimately led to the end of my day job. I had to do some real soul searching to figure out what I was going to do. I chose the most difficult option there is and turned my hobby into my full time job. The sauce company became Singularity Sauce Co. LTD in November 2019 but didn't start trading until January 2020.

Eventually I sold a few bottles to people. My friend, the chef, had managed to get me an order from the restaurant he was working in at the time and that snowballed into lots of orders from restaurants/bars. Positive things were happening and I found myself starting to get orders from delis/farm shops/etc too.

The challenges of the pandemic

You launched just as we learned about this crazy virus on the other side of the world…only a few weeks before we went into lockdown. Tell us about that experience.

Oh man, in the book of worst timed business start-ups, you’re going to find Singularity Sauce in the first few pages. All of my larger, wholesale orders were for hospitality venues. Pretty much all of my non-wholesale sales were done at farmers markets. This was what was keeping the lights on. When the lockdown hit, all of this disappeared overnight.

There were no more orders from hospitality and there were no more farmers markets. I'm really not kidding, this whole situation was terrifying and there were many moments of serious doubt. Some days it really did feel like the end.

Having no commercial premises meant I wasn’t eligible for the government support and it’s not as if I could furlough myself either. It was decision time, stick or twist.
Mark McAuley | Singularity Sauce Co.

I chose to spend night and day hammering away at my website. What else was I going to do? I went full guns at it, doing a bunch of targeted advertising and really amping up my social media. I knew if I could get a decent volume of online sales that I’d live to fight another day. The rise of the "support local" vibe was incredible and I know of several other tiny businesses, much like ourselves, that simply wouldn't have made it otherwise. Online orders started coming in thick and fast. I had to upgrade all our postal packaging to cope.

I also had to locate the post offices closest to me who were less hardline about the number of parcels you could send per visit. Our nearest post office was restricted to 3 parcels per visit at one point. When you've got 20+ orders per day, that's not really going to work out! I found a couple of other post offices who were happy to help :)

How have your different markets reacted over this challenges of the pandemic? Has it refocused relationships or opened new ones you didn’t expect?

Some customers had no option but to stop buying from us. I get that and I don't hold any hard feelings. Every business had to make difficult decisions over the past 18 months and it's not been easy for anyone. As things have started to open up again, wholesale orders have never been better. I've also been able to show face at a few farmers markets and there has been a real buzz of excitement from people there.

We've found our way into several more shops now. Many through Aberdeen and Aberdeenshire, one in Glasgow, a bunch in London and one in particular you've probably heard of. We were absolutely blown away to have our full range stocked in Selfridges. Even more amazing was that they approached us.

Collaboration and working with others

You obviously love collaborating with other craft producers. Tell us about some of your experiences with that.

I have a bunch of collaboration sauces with some incredible people. I make the Transatlantic Habanero Express with Lukes Handcrafted Hot Sauces in NJ, USA. The way we go about it might even be a world first, we're not 100% sure of that though. I am so proud every day that I get to make sauce for Fierce Beer. They're some of the best humans on earth and they'll always be my favourite. 😄

For the past 3 years, we've done a hot sauce ice cream collaboration with Fit's The Scoop over in Culter. This year, we've retired our pioneering "Raspberry Reaper". I guess I can tell you first what this year's is all about. Think blueberry ice cream, rippled with our Purple Naga Viper Brain & Blueberry hot sauce, smashed with lemon coated popping candy. This is a beauty and we can't wait to see it light up your faces.

I'm currently gearing up to launch a sauce built for pizza with The Gaff in Ellon. I also make a pretty unique hot sauce for The Coffee Apothecary based at Udny and Ellon. I've recently been working with Innis & Gunn on sauces for their food offerings in their taprooms throughout Edinburgh, Glasgow and Dundee.

The Tilly Butcher is doing things with some of our sauce, what that is, we don't know yet but you can be absolutely sure it'll be brilliant. We're up to no good with Bandit Bakery right now too.

You can look out for Singularity Sauce Co. collaborations with other UK food & drink producers. I've also had a few chats with some cool people in The Netherlands, USA and Denmark.

The common experience of working with all of these people, and as a marker for who I'll collaborate with in future is really just that they're lovely people. People I get on with and who I don't have to worry about getting into an argument with. We have to be able to work together and it has to be right for everyone in the collaboration. I don't say yes to everyone.

Mark McAulay | Singularity Sauce Co | Photo by Chris Sansbury

What makes a great hot sauce?

What do you look for in a hot sauce, whether it your own or somebody else's? Tell us a bit about some of your favourites.

Flavour combinations, less vinegar and I’m not ashamed to admit it, delicious labels! Personally I look for originality. The sauce industry is at a point where there are dozens of new companies popping up. This is a really exciting time for inventive flavours. Some of my favourite sauce makers out there right now are Thicc Sauce, Lou's Brews, Double D's and Lazy Scientist. You might have noticed that all of these come from the U.K. Traditionally hot sauce has been thought of primarily as an American thing and of course, some of the best sauces in the world come from there.

There are very much influences from the US in lots of the hot sauce brands in the UK, but I think we can stand up and be counted. The UK is really starting to punch above its weight. I've entered some Singularity Sauce Co. sauces into a large hot sauce competition in the US. We're the only Scottish entrant and we're going up against some heavy hitters in the sauce world. You've got to test yourself against the very best from time to time to see how you're getting on. We'll find out in a few weeks time how we've done.

Hot sauces vary a lot and some people are simply scared of the heat. Does Singularity Sauce Co aim its sauces at a specific market or is there a bigger flavour mission at play?

We became well known for big heat almost immediately. I feel that’s a bit of a disservice. It's true that we use a lot of superhot chillies but there's more to this than just trying to hurt everyone. For us, the heat is the consequence of the flavour profile we’re chasing. There are different flavour notes to each chilli. We like to take those flavours and pair them with other flavours, sometimes unexpected pairings. We smashed Carolina Reapers (Officially the hottest chilli) into local Blackberries and won 2 stars at the Great Taste Awards last year for it. We've also done a big citrus sauce with Orange Habaneros, again a hot chilli. The important factor is flavour, even if these sauces end up too hot for some.

It's true that we use a lot of superhot chillies but there's more to this than just trying to hurt everyone.
Marc McAulay | Singularity Sauce Co

Heat is so subjective anyway. We regularly talk to people who feel our mildest sauces are too hot and we often hear that out hottest sauces aren’t hot enough. Everyone experiences the heat differently and we’ve always felt that makes it a weaker attribute from which to define a sauce as a whole. If we're using Moruga Scorpions, Purple Naga Viper Brains or 7Pot Yellows, yes the sauce will be hot. If we're using Jalepenos or Dutch Reds, not so much. That's about as deep as I like to get into the heat discussion.

What's the biggest challenge, finding places to stock your sauce, or keeping up with the demand?

The biggest challenge for me has been finding a commercial kitchen from which to scale. I could be making a lot more sauce but my capacity is limited right now. It has taken well over a year but we do have a new home in the works, still in the mighty village of Tarves, the hot sauce capital of Aberdeenshire.

I guess at this point, keeping up with demand is my number one problem. I've trimmed our range to cope right now but I have several notebooks jammed full of sauce recipes, mustards, syrups and seasonings. I just can't launch any of them until I get the keys to the new lab.

I've been fortunate finding really good stockists. We look for likeminded businesses to work with because we know they'll do our brand the best service. We want to invest in promoting them as much as they'll promote us. I've been approached by some amazing businesses from throughout the UK also. Getting into Selfridges has to be one of the best "good fortune" stories yet. I'll tell you that story in full someday.

The future

What's the big plan for Singularity Sauce Co? Where does the company go over the next few months?

Well, I used to have a big plan and now I don't. That statement will have made all sorts of business advisers and consultants shudder.

Experience has taught me that you can have all the plans in the world but everything can change overnight, rendering those plans obsolete. Spending more energy on them feels wasteful and risky to me. I have targets of course, I have things I am trying to achieve but they're not "change the world" big. They're "make better hot sauce" small. Smaller, more achievable plans will shape whatever the big plan turns out to be. I'm pretty chill about this. I've never been more nimble or light on my feet. I can adapt to change quickly and if the past 18 months are anything to go by, I can be resilient in the face of utter devastation.

There are so many positive things which have happened which have involved no planning at all that I've just gone with it and unshackled myself from a formal strategic plan. Next for us is to move to our own fermentation lab and kitchen. You can ask me what the plan is at that point, once we're in. 😉

We’ve seen you experiment with dill pickles on TikTok. Who do we strong arm to get some?

I've wanted to make pickles forever. I couldn't resist just getting some together and starting to experiment. I've currently got one flavour I'm really happy with and another couple of prototypes on the go just now. I'll launch them a little later this summer. Word has it they might appear at a Market as a sample for people to try sometime. I'll give you a heads up…or maybe I'll eat them all myself. They're just so good!


Find out more

Thank you very much to Mark for his time and his frank answers. The thing we love about Temp Check interviews is people showing true passion for the thing they do. You can find Singularity Sauce Co. and meet Mark in person at Curated Aberdeen in the Bon Accord Centre between 9 and 11 July. You can also visit their online store, as well as say 'hi' on Twitter, Instagram, TikTok and Facebook.

Thanks very much to the lovely team at Rosemount Market who generously allowed us to use their amazing shop as a backdrop for photographs.

This article was originally published at POST Aberdeen. If you enjoyed this, why not read our Temp Check interview with Louise Grant from Fierce Beer.