An Interview with Kelly Railean, owner of Railean Distillers

Maker's of Railean Rum in San Leon, TX.

American Craft Spirits: Kelly, why rum?

Kelly: I actually started out in the wine business back in 1997, selling wine for a large distributor. I thought I would get into the wine making business, but then I started sailing and decided I needed to learn about rum & pirates in order to really be a sailor! My husband & I bought a Hunter 30' sailboat in 2001 and just really became passionate about rum as we took up sailing. We would bareboat charter in the Caribbean Islands and we had the chance to tour & see all sorts of rum distilleries. I was really impressed with the quality of some of the smaller producers that you may not even be able to find here in the states. Then one day in 2005, while hanging out at The Buccaneer Bar in San Leon (unfortunately the bar was destroyed in Hurricane Ike) and drinking some pretty bad rum, we had a revelation! Matt & I were complaining to our friends how awful the rum was and then I jokingly made the comment, "I bet I could make rum better than this". Next thing I know I am learning about distillation and spending a lot of time researching and tasting all sorts of rums.

American Craft Spirits: How did you decide on the molasses? Did you test several batches first for flavor profile? What was your process?

Kelly: There are many different grades of Molasses; the more sugar extracted during the refining process, the less fermentable sugars and thus more sulfur and other undesirables. I use the highest grade, unsulfured, domestic molasses available and then blend with pure cane syrup to make it even better. This is very uncommon for a rum company and this grade of molasses is typically reserved for bakers, in fact, there are only a handful of domestic sugar refiners that even produce this grade of sugar cane molasses. I made many small batches of rum using different types of molasses from several companies and refineries. I did a lot of blind tasting before deciding to use the highest food-grade molasses I could find. For months my husband would line up shot glasses and hand me a sheet of paper, I would go through all the different batches I had made and narrow the field down to what tasted the best, and which had the most unique aromas. Once I identified the best rums I had made, I tasted my rums blind against all sorts of rum already on the market. When I got too good at tasting (I could pick out my products and many others!), I had friends help me out and they started blind tasting and giving me their opinions. I use the best quality ingredients to make the best rum I possibly can!

American Craft Spirits: You draw the distinction between using used whiskey barrels to age rum and using new charred oak barrels, (much like bourbon) to age your rum – talk to us about the differences in flavor profile between these two methods.

Kelly: When you age in used barrels, you have to age for a much longer period of time to get anywhere near the color and flavor you would get using a new barrel. I age my rum from about year to a little over two years. My aged rums would never have the color and flavor that they possess if I utilized used barrels. Not only is it unique that I use new barrels, I also use petite 15 gallon barrels. By using a small, new barrel; I am able to extract the maximum amount of color and flavor out of those barrels; and therefore I do not need to, nor do I use colors or flavors in my products.

American Craft Spirits: What sort of flavor effects does your yeast produce on the wash? How did you decide on the strain?

Kelly: I selected my yeast in pretty much the same manner that I selected my molasses. I made a lot of small batches of rum and I pitched different yeast strains into the test batches and then did a lot of blind tasting. Also, using an abnormally high grade of molasses presented some obstacles in selecting the right yeast. We were pushing the constraints of the osmotic pressure of molasses in order to maximize yields, and the combination of the high concentration of fermentable sugar and fast acting yeast produced high temperatures and high concentrations of ethanol in the wash. Left unchecked, the high temperatures and high concentration of ethanol could result in a stuck fermentation. It took months of testing special yeast strains before we settled on our proprietary yeast strain and nutrient additives.

American Craft Spirits: How does Railean Rum distinguish itself from competitors in the market? What makes it so special?

Kelly: It's handcrafted; I blend and taste every batch before I bottle the rum. The high-grade molasses & petite barrels I use are definitely unique in the rum world. I utilize a single batch, column still; therefore I am able to extract only the middle cut or "heart of the spirit" unlike the mass produced rums. Unlike many other types of rum, I do not use any artificial colors or flavors, and I am one of the few women distillers in the world. Also, I am very passionate about what I do...I actually go to the stores, sign bottles, provide tours & tastings at my distillery; and I do educational seminars & promotions at venues that pour Railean Rum. Most folks never get to meet the owner or distiller of a spirits company, I try to make myself very accessible to the public and do as many events as possible.

American Craft Spirits: Finally, what is next for Railean? Whiskey? Vodka? Other rums?

Kelly: I am working on something new right now, and all I can tell you it is not Whiskey or Vodka! I hope to release my new product by the first of the year and it is another "first" for Texas. I won't say I will never make a Whiskey or Vodka, who knows what the future holds? I am working on gaining distribution in additional states and we have really been focusing on the on-premise side of the business. My hopes for the future are to increase sales & distribution, expand my distillery and get another still!

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