Kelly Railean likes to challenge the visitors to her distillery, a haven for rum-drinkers located in San Leon.
“I dare people to try mine, and then go home and try the other rums they have,” she said. “Taste them straight next to mine. You can really tell the difference, when you handcraft something.”
The Railean Distillery produces small batches of rum using all natural ingredients and double-charred American oak barrels to produce an ideal color, aroma and flavor.
Staci Stoller is one customer who has taken the taste test. “It’s one of the smoothest I’ve tried,” she said. “It’s very clean tasting, but it’s also rich. And it blends well with anything you can think of.”
Stoller has also toured the facility and spent time chatting with the owner.
“You can go down there and talk to her and see how she makes it,” she said. “You can’t do that with just any product.”
She also likes having the option of shopping locally for her rum and appreciates the hard work that goes into each batch.
“Kelly takes so much care with what she’s making,” Stoller said. “It’s not just running on some giant piece of equipment. She’s right there making it.”
On a typical day, Railean wakes up early to beat the heat in the distillery. She is hands-on every step of the way – even when it comes to repairing pallets used to ship the product across the country and loading the trucks.
Making rum is down to a science for Railean, but it all started as a big experiment.
One night, she and her husband, Matt, were sitting at their favorite BYOB spot – the Buccaneer Bar in San Leon – sampling a couple bottles of rum they had picked up on sailing trips to various islands.
But the bottles were just not up to par.
“We were just goofing off and said, ‘We can do better,’ ” Railean recalled. “Let’s make our own rum.’ ”
The couple soon learned that handcrafting a fine rum would be much more complicated than making their own wine or home-brewing beer.
“We found out it was illegal to make it at home,” Railean said.
So she set out to build a legal distillery and found the perfect location next to where the Buccaneer Bar once stood, before it was destroyed in Hurricane Ike.
“We spent a year or two researching and writing our business plan,” Railean said.
The permitting process was long and involved, she added. “It’s just piles and piles of paperwork,” she said. “You have to take it one step at a time. You really have to have all your ducks in a row.”
Finally, once all the inspections were passed and the proper permits in place, Railean could begin experimenting with recipes. After some trial and error, she produced a white rum.
“It was months of making small batches,” she said. “There are all types of variations. Once we got a white rum on the shelf, then we started aging.”
Railean started selling the rum she made in December 2007.
In the past few years, she has refined her rum recipes and added other drinks to the mix – this time made from agave.
Railean credits her years working as a wine distributor for her refined palate, but she believes sailing pairs better with rum.
“I make rum because I’m a sailor,” she said. “Rum was a hobby that changed my life.”
Even though the Raileans lost their boat in the hurricane, they still make time to hit the water.
Railean admits she does not have time to keep a boat anyway.
“When you start a liquor company, you work all weekend long,” she said.
She has to stay on deck even more since business is booming.
Railean explained that on Sept. 1, the Texas Legislature changed the law making it legal to sell a limited amount of bottles at the distillery whereas previously, she could only sell her products through a distributor.
Now, visitors can tour the distillery, have a cocktail and go home with a bottle of rum.
Soon they can also visit the Railean Buccaneer Bar once construction is complete on the building across the street.
Railean purchased four lots across the street and plans to add a second, larger building and more parking spaces.
Railean said the new law will help her business thrive. “We have a chance now to really make a go of this,” she said. “We also hope to bring more people to the area.”
In the meantime, Railean is staying focused on making the best rum and agave she can.
“We’re kind of back to basics – no colors, no fake stuff,” she said. “I just make a real, genuine rum. It’s the difference between a TV dinner and a home-cooked meal.”