By Richard Thomas
While Bourbon Barrel Foods didn’t start with its soy sauce, that product is easily its most famous. According to company founder Matt Jamie, he “paid for my soy sauce production with bourbon-smoked paprika,” but it was his micro-brewed Bluegrass Soy Sauce that captured headlines and got itself on the Louisville episode of Bizarre Foods America.
That was in 2008, and Bourbon Barrel Foods is still the only micro-brewer of soy sauce in the United States. The company uses the same Kentucky-grown, non-GMO soy beans prized by Japanese soy brewers and miso-makers, the same limestone water prized by the bourbon industry, and locally grown red winter wheat. In keeping with the company’s theme, the concoction is fermented in Woodford Reserve bourbon barrels.
Both Jamie’s crafty care and the twist of fermenting the soy sauce in bourbon barrels have a major impact on the result, producing a flavoring above any mere condiment. For those whose idea of what soy sauce can be is limited to Kikkoman, this stuff will open an entirely new world. Compared to that standard, Bluegrass Soy Sauce is potent and concentrated, deepening on the deep salty and soy flavor while adding a current of the tangy and the sweet, plus a trace of barrel char smoke.
That is what I thought just sampling the sauce with a spoon, but that isn’t what soy sauce is for. So I put Bluegrass Soy Sauce to work in three contexts:
- With Sushi: Given how much diners rely on their soy sauce for dipping rolls and nigiri, improving on that can only improve the experience. The more intensely flavorful character of Bluegrass Soy Sauce was a big plus for my sushi dinner, and I found the smoky undercurrent added to salmon pieces in particular.
- With Steak: Soy sauce is often used as a basic steak marinade, but in this case I applied it directly to the meat. I like mine medium rare, and I would put a couple of drops on per bite-sized piece right before eating. The logic is unassailable, since I always rub down my steaks with sea salt before cooking and usually reach for some bourbon or smoky single malt after dinner. Keeping in mind that I never put sauce of any kind on a good cut, the Bluegrass Soy is an outstanding companion for the average cut.
- Vegetable Marinade: I applied Bluegrass Soy Sauce in the marinade role for a dish of grilled asparagus and carrots, using the sauce and nothing else. For this sort of thing I might ordinarily use a combination of soy, worcestershire sauce, mustard powder and garlic. In this case, there was no need. A liberal sprinkling of the Bluegrass Soy was all I needed to add a pungent, rich, and salty flavor to the grilled vegetables.
Sometimes a product is so good that it blows straight through your conception of what it should be used for, and Bluegrass Soy Sauce is a perfect example. You can still use it for anything that would prompt you to reach for ordinary soy sauce, and a whole lot more besides.