Eat Your Bourbon Marketplace Expands the Bourbon Barrel Foods Brand
Walking into Bourbon Barrel Foods – Eat Your Bourbon Marketplace, founded by Matt Jamie, a purveyor of bourbon-centric gourmet food, it is hard not to look around, see the variety of goods on each wall, and think of a candy factory for the grown-up palate.
In 2003, Jamie began researching and teaching himself the craft of microbrewing soy sauce. Much like the soybean, a thought grew in his mind about a kind of vessel for brewing – something unique and easily attainable, yet still above the curve. Through trial-and-error, Jamie came up with the bourbon barrel-aged product we now recognize as Bluegrass Soy Sauce.
By 2006, Bluegrass Soy Sauce was among a handful of artfully crafted, small-batch condiments on the market, and made at the only soy sauce microbrewery in the United States. Bourbon Barrel Foods made home inside Louisville’s Butchertown neighborhood at the Butchertown Market. Jamie would utilize the space to create, age and bottle products that quickly became an essential ingredient in many restaurants and homes.
“At first it was a family affair,” Jamie says. “My mother helped, and my dad, who still works, helps. I was lucky. I had a close friend from Oldham County High School who was instantly on board. She is a whiz at sales. I’ve been very fortunate. I’ve been able to surround myself with knowledgeable people throughout my career, having the right person at the right time.”
For example, while taking a class for entrepreneurship at Indiana University Southeast, Jamie met his graphic designer, who designed the logo and is still the creative director for the brand. Jamie’s long-term employees embrace many roles, such as his chief financial officer, who started as the company’s bookkeeper 10 years ago, and his retail and corporate gifting manager, who has also been there for a decade.
“If you can believe, Bourbon Barrel Foods was not a part of the big plan when I first started this,” Jamie says. “It was only the microbrewed Bluegrass Soy Sauce, but creativity didn’t take a rest. While my first batch of soy sauce was brewing, I started experimenting by smoking spices with barrel staves in my at-home smoker. Soon enough, we were barrel-aging a variety of sauces like our Kentuckiyaki, Worcestershire and Vanilla. While Bluegrass Soy Sauce was the first, I have since expanded to four soy sauce varieties – a Double Fermented that is aged 18 months in a bourbon barrel, a Smoked Bluegrass Soy, and Small Batch Bourbon Ponzu.”
While ponzu is typically made with sake, Jamie’s is made with 100-proof Old Forester.
“Taste of Kentucky was the first retailer to give Bluegrass Soy Sauce and Bourbon Barrel Foods a chance,” Jamie says. “Fast forward a few years – the bourbon industry saw a boom in interest and consumerism. Before long you could find Bourbon Barrel Foods products in distillery shops and gourmet stores. The products have become an integral piece of the kind of quality that shapes Kentucky’s culinary landscape, and for that we are immensely proud.”
Just as the bourbon industry was exploding, so was the gourmet food industry, which led Jamie to look into expanding the product line even further. Since Bluegrass Soy Sauce was a perfect springboard to aligning the creative minds of many restaurants and at-home cooks, sorghum was another culinary jumping point.
Sorghum is a type of grass that is milled and cooked into a syrup, and it is high in potassium, full of antioxidants, and similar in texture to molasses. Once a prominent sweetener in recipes, especially in the south, the humble syrup eventually lost its wide audience.
Recognizing the importance of sorghum and how well it grows in Kentucky, Jamie felt Bourbon Barrel Foods could produce it as a high-quality and sought-after product.
“It has been a privilege to resurrect something that many grew up with,” Jamie says. “We always try to source ingredients within the state of Kentucky, from sustainable, family-owned farms that grow responsibly and use good practices. Kentucky farms produce our soybeans, wheat, blueberries, blackberries, apples and sorghum, and we celebrate this fact every way we can. Having strong vendor relationships has been an important part of our growth, and I’ve been fortunate to use many of the same resources since day one. When we have good relationships, we have the opportunity to learn and grow from each other.”
Speaking of growth, when looking around at Bourbon Barrel Foods – Eat Your Bourbon Marketplace on Frankfort Avenue, one cannot help but notice the multitude of products that line the exposed brick walls and sit perched on barrelheads.
“Our growth has been steady, I have found, in the speciality foods industry, and it’s necessary to launch new products in the specialty-foods world,” Jamie says. “It keeps the brand relevant and our customers want to see what we will come up with next. Believe it or not, I don’t mind sharing the process with people who have a real interest in learning. I’ve mentored startups in other countries, like the Netherlands, Canada and the U.S.”
While the Bourbon Barrel Foods flagship store has been located on Frankfort Avenue for the past five years, Jamie’s latest vision, Eat Your Bourbon Marketplace, completes the Bourbon Barrel Foods tasting experience.
“As our product line continued to grow, along with the publication of the ‘Eat Your Bourbon Cookbook,’ we felt there was an opportunity to bring the products and recipes to life in our Marketplace,” Jamie says. “We spend a lot of time and resources educating customers that use our products with easy, at-home recipes, the cookbook, and social media. At Eat Your Bourbon Marketplace, customers can come in and taste and eat right out of the gourmet case. For years, Bourbon Barrel Foods has been the maker of cocktail bitters, syrups and cherries for the locally-owned spirits company Brown-Forman. At our Marketplace, guests can come in and order a drink that uses the same products available on the shelf.”
The staff shows customers how to use their many products.
“Our team is knowledgeable, creative, innovative and enthusiastic about how to use our products,” Jamie says.
Bourbon Barrel Foods now produces more than 100 products.
“When you visit Bourbon Barrel Foods – Eat Your Bourbon Marketplace, we aim to create a Bourbon Country culinary experience,“ Jamie says. “We want to encourage adventurous chefs, at-home cooks or someone looking for a gift, to taste, explore and be inspired by Louisville’s diverse culinary scene.”
Will we see more Eat Your Bourbon Marketplaces pop up anywhere?
“Well, this is a concept that I believe in, and I want this kind of Marketplace in large culinary cities like Dallas, Denver, Atlanta, Nashville and Chicago,” Jamie says. “So who knows? But that is the vision.”
How has 2020 and the pandemic changed the way Jamie does business?
“We took a step back to understand the needs of our community,” he says. “We supported foundations dedicated to the distressed culinary industry. We simplified by closing our pop-ups at Omni and Logan Street Market. Internally, we focused on expanding our warehouse, creating infrastructure designed to provide a safe and efficient work environment, as wholesale and internet orders were steady. We pulled through, and we became a stronger, humble and grateful company.”
With so many moving parts and a manufacturing facility in Butchertown, why Frankfort Avenue?
“I live in Crescent Hill, the same neighborhood as the Marketplace, and I love it,” Jamie says. “It’s a perfect neighborhood for my two kids, who both go to high school nearby. I go on runs, walk my dog and frequent each business along this street. It’s what we all do in Crescent Hill. You can feel the community as soon as you enter.”
Jamie’s passion for Louisville and his product is undeniable.
“I find that the work that I do feeds my soul, and am content with where I am in life now,” he says. “I do my best not to get ahead of myself, and I try to keep things slow, small and simple. I also practice listening to my gut when things start going wrong. Of course I haven’t always made the right decisions, but I am proud of what I’ve done thus far. Learn and move on.”
Bourbon Barrel Foods – Eat Your Bourbon Marketplace is located at 2708-2710 Frankfort Avenue in Louisville. Tell them this article sent you for 10% off your purchase.