Slow, Small, Simple Keys to Bourbon Barrel Success
By Nanette N. Vorath '92
The idea of Bluegrass Soy Sauce was in the making for years, according to the president of the company, Matt Jamie ‘92. After leaving Knox before his junior year, Jamie entered the restaurant business, waiting tables and doing some line cooking at a "mom and pop" establishment in Louisville, Kentucky, his hometown. At the time, just working to make a living, he was not aware he would find his niche in the culinary arts field, which would eventually lead him to become a successful owner and president of the nation's only micro-brewery of soy sauce.
According to Jamie, he loves to cook. He says when he first got into culinary arts he thought "this feels good." It was one of the easiest things he had ever done -- "It just came to me," he adds. He began cooking at more fine dining establishments, which is where he met his wife, Whitney. She was waiting tables to pay her way through medical school.
After a few years, Jamie decided to finish his college degree. He enrolled in the University of Louisville, where he received his bachelor's degree in exercise physiology. While Whitney completed her residency to become an obstetrician at the University of Florida, Gainesville, Jamie enrolled as a graduate student in the exercise physiology program there. After attending classes for about a year, he was miserable and went back to his true passion -- food.
When Jamie and his wife decided to have children, he opened his first business, Home Bistro, which he describes as a personal chef business. He says he was not just filling people's refrigerators but providing home cooking for special events. This included cooking for several NFL players, which he really enjoyed.
When the couple relocated back to Louisville and upon the birth of their first child, Matt used the time home with the newborn to research an idea he'd had while throwing back beers and oysters with a friend -- how to make a really great soy sauce. Those experiments led to Bluegrass Soy Sauce, the only soy sauce fermented in a bourbon barrel, resulting in a smoky, brothy sauce with hints of oak and a mild sweetness reminiscent of fine Kentucky bourbon.
Jamie says Kentucky is the perfect place to brew soy sauce. One reason bourbon distilling prospers in Kentucky is the water source, which is very rich in calcium and reacts well with the yeast, resulting in high-quality bourbon. His Bluegrass Soy Sauce is made with the same limestone-filtered Kentucky spring water. Another key ingredient is the whole non-genetically modified Kentucky-grown soybeans.
Bluegrass Soy Sauce is the perfect compliment to Jamie's other company, Bourbon Barrel Foods, which he founded in 2006. Everything he makes, from bourbon smoked sea salt, paprika, and peppercorns, to a wide variety of sauces, are aged in bourbon barrels or smoked in them. Jamie's business and product line continues to grow, but he holds true to a three-word philosophy: slow, small, simple.
That motto seems to be working. Jamie's products are now carried by Whole Foods Markets and Fresh Markets in various states across the nation. His full line of products and recipes are also available online at www.bourbonbarrelfoods.com.
Jamie currently lives with his wife and their two children, Max (5) and Madeline (4), in Louisville, Kentucky.