As the American meadmaking landscape expands into new and exciting horizons, many meaderies who used to answer the question “what’s mead” are now being asked “what makes you different from the rest?” As Jason Russ from Fox Hill Meadery of Marshall, North Carolina tells us, “I’m just happy that now it’s getting popular enough that I can talk more about what makes Fox Hill different from other meaderies!”
We wanted to find out what makes Fox Hill unique, and what Jason has to share with homebrewers and mead drinkers.
North Carolina’s Fox Hill Meadery
- Jason Russ crafts several award-winning meads at Fox Hill meadery near Asheville, North Carolina
AleHorn: What led you to name your meadery Fox Hill?
Jason Russ: The meadery is located up on a hill with – you guessed it – foxes around! We also used to have a dog of the Shiba Inu breed type. Anyone who’s ever seen one of those knows that they look a lot like foxes, so we kinda had foxes on the brain when thinking about meadery names.
AH: What’s your favorite Fox Hill mead, and can you describe its flavor?
JR: My favorite is the Special Reserve, also known to some as the “buckwheat mead”. It’s made with mostly buckwheat honey — note that even it is a blend — and it has a very complex flavor and aroma. It has by far the most oak of any of our meads and at 16% abv, it is strong but not over the top and can be thought of somewhat like a port or a sherry, but made with a honey base instead of a grape one.
“It should definitely be smelled, appreciated, swirled, and drunk by those who wish to enjoy the subtlety and complexity that it has to offer.” – Jason Russ, speaking of his favorite Fox Hill mead, the Special Reserve.
I’ll also toss in a plug for the Spiced Mead which is my wife’s favorite. That’s fairly easy drinking at 11% but has plenty of interesting flavors with the 4 different spice additions of cinnamon, cloves, allspice, and orange peel. It was the most difficult recipe to formulate as all of those spices had to perfectly work in concert with each other, not to mention the honey selection, yeast, sweetness level, etc…
Tips for Homebrewers
AH: For all the home meadmakers out there: to boil or not to boil the must?
JR: We do not boil our must. Keep your equipment clean, of course, and if you keep your little yeasties happy and healthy, then infection should not be an issue. With many hundreds of mead batches (and beer, cider, and wine too) under our belt we have never, ever had an infection in any homebrewed or professional fermentation.
AH: What’s your favorite type of honey to use for mead, and why do you like it?
“Very generally speaking, we like honey that has caramel, tobacco, or leathery type flavors as opposed to those that are perfumy or flowery.”
JR: That’s a big generalization, however, as most of our meads feature a blend of multiple honey types and all of our meads are built from the ground up, so to speak, with different types of honey. What I mean by that is that we don’t just take our Traditional mead and add Blackberry or Peach to make our fruit meads. Different honey goes into each one so that we achieve a certain flavor profile in each mead.
AH: What’s your favorite mead recipe to make at home? Can you share the details with us?
JR: One of my favorite homebrewed meads is a juniper berry one. It’s a bit similar to the idea of ginger in mead in that the spice contrasts nicely with the sweetness of the honey.
“I’m also a big fan of adding bourbon to some of our meads. Might sound like blasphemy, but there you go!”
An Exciting Time for Mead
AH: What new and exciting things can we look for in the mead industry (and Fox Hill) this year and beyond?
“When I first opened Fox Hill nine years ago, I spent a lot of time just explaining to people what mead is. Even restaurants and wine/beer shops often needed a crash course in mead. I’m just happy that now it’s getting popular enough that I can talk more about what makes Fox Hill different from other meaderies!” -Jason Russ on how the mead industry has evolved
JR: I think we will continue to see more and more variety in mead. Think of the craft beer movement and apply that to mead, though obviously on a smaller scale. Mead, unlike most other types of wine, lends itself to tremendous variety in abv, color, sweetness, additions, and more. So in that respect it is more like beer.
We’ve seen some very interesting meads come out over the last few years and I’ll be very interested to see what comes next! We do have a few ideas brewing here at Fox Hill, but I’m not a big fan of what I think of as “gimmick” drinks so don’t expect anything to come out of Fox Hill Meadery that we would not want to drink ourselves.
AH: How can people get their hands on Fox Hill mead?
JR: Fox Hill meads are currently distributed throughout North Carolina and Georgia. We are working on getting into South Carolina next. So for those states you can find us in your local beer/wine/package stores and if your favorite store does not carry it, then just ask them to!
Most store owners are pleased to have customers suggest new items for their shelves or at least get you a special order. In NC, customers can tell store owners that Fox Hill is distributed by Freedom Beverage. In Georgia we are distributed by Savannah Distributing Company.
The other way for people to get some Fox Hill meads is to order from our website at www.foxhillmead.com — we ship to nearly every state in the US.
To find out more and to try Jason’s mead, visit Fox Hill Meadery online or at the meadery, which is 20 minutes outside Asheville .