AURORA | One of Aurora’s best-kept and booziest secrets is located inside an unassuming garage across the street from Olympic Park.
For nearly six years, Shane and Alexandria Fox have been quietly cranking out 375-mililiter bottles of mead — that sweet, syrupy hooch enjoyed for centuries by Vikings, pharaohs and, now, Aurorans.
“It’s basically wine,” Alexandria said of the ancient libation. “It’s just fermented honey.”
After home brewing for almost a decade, The Foxes opened Dragon Meadery inside the garage attached to their home at 2708 S. Helena Way in the summer of 2013. They started to bottle and sell their product about a year later.
Now, the couple offers at least six different meads — including raspberry molomel, apple cyser and traditional brew fermented only with honey — at any given time, and sells bottles to more than a dozen liquor stores across the metroplex, including a pair in Aurora.
Dragon Meadery — so-called for Shane’s affinity for the mythical creature and the Dungeons and Dragons role-playing game — was born in 2004 in the Fox’s shared apartment near Central City. The pair met months before while both working as chefs in the kitchen at the Riviera Casino in Black Hawk. Using brewing equipment Shane had purchased but never used, the couple quickly turned their tiny home into a veritable biology lab.
“The first batch blew up in the apartment,” Alexandria said with a chuckle.
The couple had better luck on their next go: their second batch won a silver medal at an annual mead festival and competition.
The pair have been bottling award-winning batches of the honey-and-water-based grog in the Aurora house Shane grew up in and later bought from his parents ever since. The Aurora native and Art Institute of Colorado graduate attended Dartmouth Elementary School, Columbia Middle School and Rangeview High School. The couple’s 13-year-old son and 11-year-old daughter are now working their way through the same schools.
Dragon attracts mead aficionados and novices alike, Alexandria said, with many fresh faces coming in from the Aurora History Museum’s “Drink Local” tour, and others coming from out of state to research various recipes.
“We have people that fly here from other states because they want to open meaderies and they want to tour all the other meaderies,” said Alexandria, who along with Shane also owns and operates Plants Naturally, a food distributing service that grows and provides “micro-greens” to some 25 restaurants around the metro area. “We’ve had guys from California, we had a guy two weeks ago from Indiana come … we taste, and talk, and we discuss yeast, and how to make it, and how long we age it, and what they’re doing.”
While the couple grow hundreds of pounds of produce for Plants Naturally in a greenhouse attached to the garage, the Foxes get their required honey from a farmer in Fort Collins. The bee butter produces brews that take about a year to ferment and boast an average alcohol by volume content of about 12 percent, Shane said.
There are currently slightly more than 500 meaderies in the U.S., with about 150 more in the process of setting up shop, according to Vicky Rowe, executive director of the American Mead Makers Association. That’s up from about 30 meaderies across the country in the early 2000s, according to the AMMA website.
“We have one in almost every state some at this point,” said Rowe, who’s been involved in the mead industry for more than 30 years. “I think one is in the process of opening in Alabama and another in Mississippi — some of those deep south states have been hold-outs because of their strict liquor laws.”
Compiling the master list of meaderies has been a challenging, labor-intensive task, Rowe said, because mead-makers are technically lumped in with wineries under federal licensing and taxing regulations.
“Finding all the producers of mead is a very difficult job,” she said. “I basically do it by surfing the internet using key words and phrases I think will get a hit, add them to my list and hunt them down.”
Colorado is “solidly in the middle of the pack” in terms of number of meaderies, Rowe said, with about 10 establishments dedicated to the beverage sprinkled throughout the state. She said Michigan, Washington and southern California lead the pack in terms of meaderies per capita, with nearly 30 establishments in each of those states.
The Centennial State is a crucial epicenter of the mead industry each spring, however, when the Omni Interlocken Hotel in Broomfield plays host to MeadCon, and the AMMA Mead Conference. For three days, the organization hosts speakers, tastings and a competition that will likely see about 1,400 entries this year, Rowe said.
Shane has served as a judge at the competition for the last several years.
Going forward, Rowe said she believes Colorado is poised to surge into the top tier of states with more than two dozen meaderies.
“I certainly think it’ll pick up,” Rowe said of the state of Colorado mead. “Especially with how popular craft beverages are there.”
IF YOU GO: The Foxes’ tasting garage is open most days, but by appointment only. People interested in stopping by are encouraged to call 720-371-1970 or email [email protected] to schedule a time to visit.