Jackalopes may be a myth, but Jackalope Juice is a real thing, and it had a moment at the Chugwater Chili Cookoff on Saturday.
While many contestants came to the world-famous Chugwater Chili Cookoff to vie for a shot at the World Championships in Terlingua, Texas, Jackalope Jack — aka Peter Inells — had a much different goal in mind.
He just wanted as many people as possible to try his hot sauces. So, he made a signature chili using one of his favorite Jackalope Juice, the Pale Ale Chipotle Hot Sauce.
“I use this on pretty much on everything, especially pizza,” he told Cowboy State Daily.
The Chugwater Chili Cookoff this year drew a record crowd of around 3,000 people to the tiny town of Chugwater. For Inells, the crowd was like targeted marketing, with all the true chili afficionados of the world trekking into Chugwater for its world-famous cookout. The event brought people from as far south as Texas and all points in between.
Inells dressed for the part for his task, sporting a fancy top hat with an old-fashioned black jacket and burgundy velvet vest. It fit in well with the rustic cabin-feel his tent had. The shtick got him noticed, despite being in the very back of the chili cookoff, and the effort paid off with first place in Showmanship at the cookoff.
My Taco Is Hotter Than Your Taco
Inells credits a little sibling rivalry for his love of hot sauces and the Jackalope Juice he sells all around the world.
“My sister and I used to have contests with Tabasco sauce on our tacos,” Inells recalled. “And ever since then I just love hot sauce.”
When he moved to Cheyenne 25 years ago, he discovered green chili, and a chili making frenzy ensued.
“My mom was from the East Coast and we always made red chili,” he said. “So, I was used to that. I didn’t know green chili, but so I started making that, and then of course to make it spicier, not spicier, I started making my own sauces to go with it.”
Making his own sauces allows him to control the heat and the flavors better than store-bought sauces. He could offer tailor his chili to the crowd that loves heat, or a make less spicy, but still flavorful, chili for the crowd that doesn’t.
Right away, the homemade sauces got attention. People liked his hot sauces. They really liked them. In fact, they loved them.
So much that when eBay came along, that gave him another great idea. Why not bottle up and sell the best of these favorite sauces?
Jackalope Juice was born.
“I have a plumbing company also, called Jackalope Jack’s,” he said. “So, I just stuck with that theme. It’s a perfect combination, hot sauce and plumbing.”
Cooking For Grandma
Inells learned about life and chili from his grandmother.
“I was kind of a problem child for my parents,” he admits. “They got a divorce, and I was pretty bad, so they sent me to my grandmother. Which I’m so thankful for, she’s amazing.”
Grandma not only helped him turn his life around, she taught him everything he knows about cooking up a great chili.
“She used to make meals for me and have them ready when I worked certain hours, and then when she worked certain hours, I got home from school and I’d have dinner ready for her,” he said. “Now I just love to cook. I love to bake. I did a lot of cakes — any time there was a special occasion — and stuff like that.”
But chili with homemade hot sauces is what he considers his true signature dish.
“I’m pretty partial to all (my sauces)” he said, when asked which is his favorite. “The chipotle is what I use in my chili, and I have a pumpkin one. I don’t have it out here right now, but I make a lot of soups and stuff like that and use the pumpkin one in there.
“And then I have a bacon-flavored ketchup and another of my top favorites is my ghost chili mayonnaise. I call it the ‘sandwich enhancer.’”
Jackalope’s Juice has been an evolving business ever since it began with simple, handwritten crayon or marker labels from his home kitchen.
“I used to rent a bus, like a big Greyhound bus, and we’d go to Central City and do giveaways and stuff like that,” he said. “And that’s pretty much how I’ve gotten my name out there. Also, through social media nowadays — Facebook.”
But when the COVID-19 pandemic came along, a lot of his old approaches had to change. The forced innovation, though, has helped Inells grow.
He’s found a commercial kitchen in Denver to make Jackalope Juice for him, and that’s helping scale the business up.
Meanwhile, he’s bought a place in Cheyenne, and he hopes to eventually begin making Jackalope Juice in Wyoming again, as well as open a storefront to sell his products from.
Renée Jean can be reached at Renee@CowboyStateDaily.com.