Matt Jamie: Bourbon Barrel Foods

HandPicked Nation

HandPicked Nation › HandPicked Nation intends to provide a place for people interested in food to gather, connect and ...

Artisan Matt Jamie of Bourbon Barrel Foods – Louisville, KY

Editor’s Note: Bourbon Barrel Foods’ Bluegrass Soy Sauce and Kentuckyaki have been staples at our house for quite  awhile. They’re delicious, versatile, and are made with locally-sourced, non-GMO ingredients.

Thanks to Matt Jamie, founder and owner,  for taking the time to do this interview with us and for his articulate answers about the story behind Bourbon Barrel Foods.

First of all, the name of your company must be signifying something. Why Bourbon Barrel Foods?

Matt Jamie: I thought about what we were doing and wanted a name that people would immediately  associate with bourbon, bourbon country, and Kentucky. The Kentucky Secretary of State’s assistant was surprised that the name was actually still available. I was happy it was!   

Can you briefly describe your product line?

MJ: Our products are designed to be the gourmet foods part of the Bourbon Country experience.

The products are either flavored with bourbon, influenced by the barrel, i.e., aged in or smoked with, or they are a product of Kentucky, such as sorghum.

Bourbon Barrel Foods is the maker of gourmet sauces and spices from the heart of Bourbon Country.

My products include Bluegrass Soy Sauce, Kentuckyaki, Bourbon Barrel Aged Worcestershire, Bourbon Smoked Salt, Bourbon Smoked Pepper, Bourbon Smoked Paprika, Bourbon Madagascar Vanilla Extract, Bourbon Smoked Sugar, Bourbon Vanilla Sugar, Mint Julep Sugar, Pure Cane Sorghum, and Bourbon Barrel Stave Grill Wood.

Bourbon Barrel Foods is also a food licensee for Woodford Reserve®.

The Woodford Reserve® line includes Bourbon Smoked Sugar, Bourbon Vanilla Sugar, Mint Julep Sugar, Bourbon Smoked Simple Syrup, Bourbon Vanilla Simple Syrup, Mint Julep Simple Syrup, three bourbon smoked spice blends (Garlic Smoked Sea Salt, Smoked Lemon Pepper, and Chef’s Blend), Spiced Cherry Bitters, Sassafras and Sorghum Bitters, Aromatic Bitters, Bourbon Cherries, and Sorghum Vinaigrette.  

We have a special story to tell and we love to tell it, but the story would be empty if we didn’t back it up with quality products.

Bourbon Barrel Foods is has really found a huge following. How does this product line fit with the ‘experience of bourbon country’?

MJ: Bourbon is obviously growing in popularity and doesn’t seem to be slowing down. Our products have become the gourmet foods component to Bourbon Country. 

The Mayor of Louisville, Greg Fisher, likes to compare Louisville–the gateway to Bourbon Country to San Francisco–the gateway to wine country. Both cities have great places to visit like distilleries and wineries. Both cities have fantastic restaurants, but Louisville was lacking something that the Napa Valley had–a trend setting gourmet foods industry.

I believe that BBF has filled that void. I feel like BBF started or was at least at the forefront of the whole bourbon barrel aging trend.  

What was it that prompted you pair the idea of soy sauce and bourbon barrels? Did you have any experience with soy before that?

MJ: I remember it clearly. I was sitting at an oyster bar in Gainesville, Florida drinking lots of beer with a buddy of mine after work.

We were talking about different gourmet food ideas and that I wanted to make something that had not been done in the United States before.

All I said was ‘no one is making soy sauce in the U.S., that I know of.’–my friend had to remind me of the conversation a month later–too many Budweisers, I guess.

What would you say makes your soy sauce stand out? Are there tastes or properties unique to BBF soy sauce?

MJ: We have created a very unique product.

The ingredients make it special. We use Kentucky-grown, non-GMO soybeans from a farmer that was already selling his beans to the Japanese soy and miso market. 

Limestone filtered spring water–legendary in Kentucky because of the bourbon distilleries. Distillers like it because it’s a hard water and gives body to the bourbon, but it also has a lot of minerals and nutrients that will react well with fermented products. 

The barrels really complete the story. When I started this company they were practically free and easy to come by, but in the last 7 years they’ve shot up in price to around $115 apiece and have become increasingly harder to find.    

Talk a little about how your products have been embraced by (some pretty big-time) chefs. That has to feel good.

MJ: I’ve really been fortunate with the grassroots support Bourbon Barrel Foods has received. Chef Sean Brock of Husk, Husk Nashville and McCrady’s embraces our products.

I had to start packaging some products in gallon sizes because Chef Brock ordered so much. He was large part of the reason our food service packaging has become 20% of our sales. 

We have shipped to as far away as New York to Le Bernardin and been featured in the cookbooks of celebrity chefs like Edward Lee and James Beard Award winning chefs like John Currence.  

Tell us how it feels to be producing truly small-batch, artisanal products that are widely recognized as something really special.

MJ: We have a special story to tell and we love to tell it, but the story would be empty if we didn’t back it up with quality products. 

I never have a bad day at work. I love what I do and the saying “Do what you love and you will never work a day in your life.” is definitely true! I am fortunate to have started Bourbon Barrel Foods when I did.

Timing really is everything.

With all these smoked products, you must have a pretty intensive smoking operation. 

MJ: I have an industrial-sized smoker meant for smoking 1,400 pounds of meat. We’ve never smoked meat in the smoker before, so the spices and sugars maintain a pure smoked flavor.

Bourbon Smoked Spices and the Bourbon Smoked Sugar are smoked on a low temperature for several hours with broken barrel staves.

You have to tell us the story behind ‘Kentuckyaki’. How did that come about?

MJ: I have to share this one with Chef Ouita Michael from the Holly Hill Inn in Midway, Kentucky–we said it at the same time. 

It’s a fun name. We trademarked it!

Kentuckyaki is Kentucky’s style of teriyaki sauce. It is sweetened with sorghum and flavored with a little bourbon; all of the alcohol from the bourbon is cooked out.

It is made from all natural ingredients and is one of our most popular products. 

Without giving away any secrets, tell us about how you source your raw ingredients. 

MJ: I’m very proud of the relationships I have developed with all our growers.

We use non-GMO soy beans and wheat from a farmer right on the Kentucky and Tennessee state line (who is a supplier for soy sauces made in Japan).

We also source from a farmer that grows in the heart of Bourbon Country. 

Pure cane sorghum is from a fifth-generation sorghum harvester, Danny Ray Townsend of Townsend Sorghum Mill, in Jeffersonville, Kentucky.

Kentucky is famous for its limestone-filtered drinking water; the nutrients in the water are, in part, why thoroughbred (horses) are in Kentucky.

Kentucky truly has a gold mine of natural resources.

You produce a lot of deep, very flavorful products. What could possibly be on the horizon for Bourbon Barrel Foods?

MJ: I’m almost done with a Barrel Aged Sorghum, and I’ve been playing around with a Barrel Aged Hot Sauce. 

I also think it’s time to do a barbecue sauce.

We also want to stay true to our roots and continue our ‘slow, small, simple’ company tag line.

As we grow as a company and increase our product line I think it’s necessary to source as many ingredients from local producers as possible. We’re discussing contract growing agreements with area farmers 

Any last words?

MJ: I think that covers it. Happy to do it. I appreciate the interest!!!! 

Thank you for you time today, Matt. We wish you and Bourbon Barrel Foods continued success.

Don’t the flavors that Matt described sound delicious? Tell us your Bourbon Barrel Foods story.

Photo credit: