When Ames Russell crafted his first batch of hot honey, he drew on the traditions of generations of Appalachian Russells who came before him. His grandfather (also named Ames) always placed a dish of honeycomb on his farm table for guests, imparting warmth and sweetness with his simple gesture.

The younger Ames attributes his own foray into honey-making to fried chicken and a particularly insightful request from his wife. Whenever fried chicken made its way into the Russell kitchen, Ames went to town doctoring it up in pursuit of the palate-pleasing combination of spicy hot chicken drizzled with sweet honey. Ames made quite a mess in the process, and his wife wondered if there might be a way to combine the flavors he was so crazy about. Just like that, AR’s Hot Southern Honey was born.

Ames Russell

Ames distributed his first batch of hot honey to friends and family as Christmas gifts in 2015. His mixture of sweet clover and floral wildflower honeys with de árbol red chili peppers was such a hit that Ames eventually quit his day job to devote his life to honey. The results have been, well, sweet—and hot.

After five years in business, AR’s Hot Southern Honey—sourced from Appalachian hives and produced in Richmond, Virginia—is flying off the shelves in over 25 states. Chefs love Ames’ hot honey so much that they buy it by the gallon, and food critics from Richmond Times-Dispatch, Food Channel, Virginia Living, and more sing AR’s praises. Currently, AR’s offers hot honeys, plain honeys, and even honey hot sauce and spicy honey peanut butter.

While Ames—an entrepreneur and former Rollerblade exec—loves tradition, he is anything but hidebound, and another one of his fun innovations (and world-first) has the culinary world abuzz. Teaming up with Ironclad Distillery, a Newport News-based maker of small-batch bourbon, AR’s launched a first-of-its-kind bourbon barrel-aged hot honey. Three months of aging in Ironclad’s bourbon-soaked white oak barrels gives AR’s hallmark sweet and hot honey the dreamy, decadent notes of bourbon, caramel, chocolate, and vanilla.