Honey and Hops Brew Works is definitely a family-run business that was started by three brothers—Ian, Isaac, and Adam Rushing. These are three of eight siblings who grew up in Alaska, with very creative parents and the mind set of being entrepreneurs, even as kids. Ian, the oldest, had a background in journalism and marketing, and had moved down to Virginia in an area just outside of DC, where he met his now wife. They had enjoyed the Front Royal area and decided to move farther away from DC. They found that it was a beautiful area and enjoyed that it was a tourist destination because of skyline drive.
Isaac and Adam had always wanted to open a brewery. Isaac had been experimenting, actually making beer in 2015, and was anxious to get out of Alaska. Ian asked the question, “What do you think about moving to Front Royal and opening up a meadery?” The response was “A what?” Not too long after, Isaac and Adam were persuaded to start this venture.
It was a shoestring budget and sort of still is. The brothers were successful with a Kickstarter program that raised 11k in 2019, with which they secured their first location. This building was all of 1300 square feet. With much excitement, they opened on April 10, 2020. If you do the math, it was about three weeks after Virginia had shut down, March 18, 2020, for COVID. As a consequence, the tasting room, which was a 6-foot bar and a few tables, was hardly ever used. The building had apartments above the first floor and a laundromat next door, all settled in a residential neighborhood.
The first productions were all done by hand in 12- and 20-gallon batches. They started out with five different flavors, and grew to about 20 flavors by the end of the year. What they discovered was a couple of things. First, they needed more space. So about eight months into the project, they had signed a lease on a space that was three times the size. The new space was about a five-minute walk from the old space, on Front Royal’s main street. This was a game-changer, as walk by traffic had helped them gain momentum and exposure, especially considering the pandemic was still in full force. This happened to be about Memorial Day 2021. They had come to realize that they needed to be open more than just on the weekends. Drawing the short straw, (joke) Isaac became their first full-time employee.
The base mead is a clover honey for about 90 percent of what they do. It is sourced from Sweet Nectar in Stanton, about an hour away. It’s called Scenic Drive which was named after the road that the family used to live on back in Alaska. Adam is the mastermind behind many of the flavors, although at times there is a collaborative effort. The second discovery was the need to check in with each other more often, to discuss new flavors, to find out which ones actually make business sense to pursue, given costs of production. The new, bigger space had allowed them to make bigger batches of the base mead and crowd favorites. This gave them a little bit of breathing room to create more flavors in the second year.
The first sustaining hit mead is something called Creeper. Originally, they thought it to be a novelty, but it ended up being one of the better products. Creeper starts with clover traditional mead for which cinnamon, coco nibs, and chocolate Carolina reapers (really hot peppers) are added. The inspiration was like a Mexican hot chocolate. It is a fairly sweet mead that offsets the heat of the reaper peppers.
Adam also makes mead with fruit. Most of which start with the basic process using the traditional clover mead and then add fruit in as a secondary. For example, Back Trails, which is a semi-sweet blueberry melomel, uses whole fruit for that one. For smaller batches it worked out. Sourcing the best price for the bigger production is proving to be more of a challenge. The Back Trails will continue to use whole fruit for its production, using ALL the blueberries they could find. It is a choice, thus making this mead a seasonal one. Other with infuse berries include Summertime Sesson #5 Raspberry and Crandemic.
A different tactic was chosen for the Midnight Sun which started out using puree blood oranges. As production needed to get bigger, the recipe had to change to blood orange juice. Growing pains can be a double-edged sword.
Isaac came from making beer and brought the idea of using hops in combination with developing mead flavors. Truly, all three of them enjoy drinking beer. Mead is classified as a wine in Virginia. A lot of mead is produced using dry hopping. Not having a ton of mead experience prior to this adventure, the guys felt freedom to experiment with different kinds of hops. The Midnight Sun, using that example again, was built with Citra and Cascade hops. The Summertime Sessions, which include strawberry, lemon, hopped traditional, and hopped pineapple, are crafted with citra and mosaic hops. They are the kind of hops that impart specific flavors that add to the profile of the mead.
The hopped pineapple mead is called #notapineapple. As the story goes, the guys worked with a graphic designer in DC to develop the Hops and Honey logo. Most people that come into the tasting room understand immediately what it is. Other people tend to think of it as a pineapple. The joke was that they then came to make a mead that was called #notapineapple. Continuing the joke, perhaps the guys will get a tattoo on them saying “#notapineapple.” Maybe?
Using Carolina reaper pepper seems to be a fan-favorite thing to do. Out of which, Orange Screamsicle was created. It starts with a bit of orange, coriander, vanilla, and then the reaper. Its target was a flavor was to be like a spicy orange sickle. It became so popular that they also produced it as a slushy.
Another creative adventure is dabbling with using barrel aging. For their second anniversary, they released a barrel-aged Creeper which was aged in a rye whiskey barrel. Of course, it was a small-batch mead, and thus after release, quickly was vanished. They intend to produce in the future other special barrel-aged, meads and release them on the anniversary.
The story for the Warhead candy meads starts back in their youth. As kids, the brothers had to work for any money; there were eight of them. As young, creative entrepreneurs, they would make things and try to sell them door-to-door. They were enamored with Warhead candies and dissolved them in water as a drink, like a lemonade stand, but never really made any money off of this. But the dream of that remained. This was the inspiration for the WHW Blue raspberry, watermelon, lemon, and apple. The Warhead gives the mead a tart finish.
When you go to the tasting room, generally there are fifteen different meads available to try. The guys are confident that patrons will enjoy something, no matter if you are just a beer drinker, wine drinker, or have enjoyed other meads along the way. Mead can be ordered as a glass, a flight, or a bottle in the tasting room. You are encouraged to bring outside food to enjoy with your mead, if you like.
As far as next steps, Honey and Hops, the brothers eventually plan to move the production to a bigger facility and expand the tasting room. The current facility has high ceilings, which is good for the 100-gallon conical fermenter, but there is only so much room. The business has grown much faster than expected, much of which is the effects of COVID on the industry. People were drinking much more. Ultimately, the goal is to serve a community that enjoys mead and develop other mead drinkers along the way.