- Created on Friday, 24 October 2008 11:08
SAN LEON — The Gulf Coast has seen its share of rum running activities through the years, but one couple is trying something different.
They're doing it legally.
Matt and Kelly Railean have opened the Texas coast's first distillery, Railean Rum, and the results have been promising. A white rum hit the shelves just before Christmas. Though it was only found in five liquor stores around the Galveston Bay area, 100 cases moved out the doors in the opening weeks. That puts the Raileans on track to sell 1,000 cases in their first year.
Making rum was not the Raileans' first choice for a vocation. Matt is a chemical engineer by training, and Kelly has a boatload of experience in the beverage industry. She is also a first-level sommelier, or wine steward.
"I've always wanted to start my own business, but I wanted it to be something we both could do." Matt said.
The Raileans considered many paths, even going so far as to purchase land in California in hopes of starting a winery. Eventually, the League City residents took a different tack.
"We're both sailors and we're down here by the water," Matt said. "Rum just seemed a natural."
As it turns out, Matt's experience as a chemical engineer made making rum pretty easy to learn.
"Technically, it's exactly the same thing. It doesn't matter what you are distilling, oil or rum, the theories are the same," he said.
The distillery itself is a work in progress. Perched at the end of a narrow road that just comes to a halt is a beige building that looks much like the boat repair shops that are often found on the bay. Inside, things are quite a bit different, though.
The fermenter, distillation unit, bottling and labeling areas take up the back portion. Along one side, offices have been framed in.
"We'll be getting airconditioning soon," Matt said.
Kelly said: "The rum actually loves the heat. It helps it age faster."
Matt said: "And the high humidity cuts down on evaporation."
The 2,000-square-foot building is more than adequate for a microdistillery, apparently, as the Raileans' technique is straightforward and also economical when it comes to space.
It is also a throwback to the origins of rum.
"Molasses is the traditional way to make rum," Matt said. "When you go back to the beginning, you had the refining of sugar and the byproduct was molasses. Well, what are you going to do with it? One of the things they did was to use it to make rum."
To make their rums, the Raileans put unsulfured molasses and a few pounds of yeast into a fermenter. The yeast then goes to work eating the sugars in the molasses and making alcohol in the process.
When the yeast is finished, the liquid is sent to the distillation unit.
Two passes through produces crystal clear white rum.
"The trick is to get the purity high enough but not strip out all of the flavors," Matt said. "We want to get that rum essence. The caramels."
Next up is the bottling line — a stainless steel apparatus that fills six bottles at a time. At this point, the rum gets labeled and then boxed — all by hand.
The rum comes in a clear bottle and has a monk parakeet on the label.
So, who does a better job of labeling?
"We both do it," Matt said as Kelly smirked and pointed to herself. The former then proceeded to demonstrate how the process went. He grabbed a bottle, turned it on its side and rolled it against the label the machine was patiently holding in place.
When he was finished, he then spent a fair amount of time smoothing out air bubbles underneath the label.
"I guess that wasn't a very good demonstration," he said.
Kelly said: "And that's why I put the labels on."
Not every drop of rum goes straight to the bottle. Tucked away in a corner are a number of barrels.
"That's our dark rum," Matt said. "It will be coming out (this year.)"
The barrels represent the Raileans' first batch of rum. After distillation, the rum was put in casks and it has been sitting quietly for six months waiting to make its debut. The couple hopes to sell 200 to 400 cases of the reserve rum in the first year.
The Raileans are not content with selling a few hundred cases of rum around Galveston Bay, however. They are in the spirit trade for the long haul.
"I want to be the leading domestic rum," he said. "Budweiser went from being a local beer to being the leading domestic beer. Miller found a niche and became the leading light beer. Heineken became the leading import.
"I want to be No. 1."