The Heritage of Bourbon Barrel Foods Bluegrass Soy Sauce

By: TLP's Partners
Matt Jamie of Bourbon Barrel Foods watching the soy sauce press in their warehouse

Would you expect to find a soy sauce microbrewery in the heart of Bourbon Country? To Bourbon Barrel Foods founder and owner Matt Jamie, Louisville, Kentucky, was the obvious location to start a soy sauce microbrewery. Kentucky’s claim to bourbon, America’s only native spirit, is undeniable. And although soy sauce’s roots are in China, the Japanese have taken ownership after perfecting the brewing process over the last few thousand years.

Of bourbon and soy sauce, Matt says, “Not only are they similar in process but rich with history and heritage as well.” Jamie continues, “Both products are fermented, so there’s yeast involved. Each product starts with a mash bill. Even the limestone-filtered spring water is a component to the flavor of both bourbon and our product, Bluegrass Soy Sauce.” In another nod to bourbon, Jamie’s Kentucky-brewed product is finished in repurposed bourbon barrels.

Mentorship and Microbrewing

Matt took his first trip to Japan in 2015, nearly 10 years into brewing soy sauce in Louisville, Kentucky. “I didn’t go to Japan to teach myself this process. I researched it on my own and worked with what I had – which wasn’t a lot!” Matt says. “That is actually appreciated and respected in Japanese culture. They loved the fact that I did it on my own.” Matt’s trips to Japan were pivotal for Bluegrass Soy Sauce’s development and products surrounding Bourbon Barrel Foods. “I learned many new ways to improve quality,” Matt adds.

Matt Jamie, owner of Bourbon Barrel Foods, in their warehouse

In the Japanese market, much like bourbon, soy sauce is sensory-graded; scores for taste, color, aroma, mouthfeel, and number of years aged are standard. “But the most interesting thing to me was finding out how we could test umami by nitrogen level.” Matt says. “A fifth-generation master soy brewer opened my bottle and ran this test. He showed me the grade. It told me it was good, but then he showed me what I could do to make it better.” Jamie adds, “we were doing a lot right, but after visiting, we are now doing it better.”

Ultimately, Matt observes, “those relationships and that kind of unity are what I see in the bourbon industry. When I started this, I did not have anyone to lean on or learn from. For years, I was the only soy sauce microbrewery in the United States, but I hoped that wouldn’t always be the case. If things grew the way I wanted them to, I knew there would be others, which meant competition. And competition would force me to want to be the best.”

Today, Bourbon Barrel Foods is not the only soy sauce microbrewery in the United States. There are currently a handful of American soy sauce breweries with their unique spin on the tradition. “I’ve seen how competitive the bourbon industry can be, but it helps these companies elevate their game. Just like the bourbon boom, the competition helps tell the story,” Jamie says.

Scaling production has been Jamie’s number one challenge lately: “Brewing is simple if you let it be. It’s scaling that is the challenge.” he continues, “We haven’t changed our process, only changed the size of the equipment and the size of our plant,” says Matt. After 16 years in business, Bourbon Barrel Foods underwent a complete renovation, expanding the production area from 1,500 to 8,500 square feet. “I’ve sketched equipment on napkins and searched for a manufacturer willing to build equipment unavailable in the US.” Matt continues, “I want to always be innovating and inventing and getting better—these challenges are what drives me.”

Matt Jamie in the Bourbon Barrel Foods warehouse
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  • Johnny Rey
    June 13, 2023 at 5:24 am

    Hello Sales,

    My name is Johnny Rey. I’m the General Manager of Johnny Multi Supply.

    -Do you allow pick up via Courier Company or freight forwarders?
    -Do you accept United States issued master and visa credit card payments?
    -Can you send me your wholesale price sheet or website to view your products ?

    Awaiting your response.

    Johnny Rey
    Johnny Multi Supply