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elly Railean is a woman with a mission. Her official goal

each other through the Texas Distilled Spirits Association and of-

is “Restoring American Rum,” and since 2005, she’s been

ten worked events together. Tito Beveridge [of Tito’s Handmade

doing just that at Railean Eagle Point Distillery in the tiny

Vodka], was the first Texas distiller, and he was a role model for

coastal community of San Leon on Galveston Bay. “Most people

me. He opened a lot of doors for all of us.”

don’t realize that rum was the original American spirit,” she says.

Currently, Kelly makes several products: Railean White Rum

“Or that most commercial rums today are factory-produced and

is distilled multiple times to produce a clear, smooth spirit. And

often aged in used whiskey barrels. Many distilleries don’t even

three dark rums are single-distilled for more flavor and aged in

make their own spirits; they buy liquors and rectify [redistill],

small barrels: Railean Reserve XO Rum is blended, Small Cask

blend and flavor them.” Through her products, though, Railean

Rum is produced from single barrels and Spiced Rum is aged with

is acquainting customers with the pleasures of wholly handcraft-

spices. She also makes three spirits from blue agave nectar, and

ed rums made from pure American ingredients and aged in new

in 2013, she released Railean Vodka. This year, she’s introducing

American oak barrels. Even the bottles are American-made.

a new rum made from cane juice (instead of the more commonly

Kelly and husband Matt found their way to rum via Gulf and

used molasses).

Caribbean sailing culture. In 1991, they moved to coastal Texas from

A lush sugarcane hedge grows around the distillery’s perim-

Michigan for Matt’s chemical engineering career. They bought

eter. In September 2015, the Raileans harvested the first crop,

a sailboat and roamed the tropical seas—tasting and collecting

crushing cane and extracting juice with an antique mill. “We pro-

rums. With a sommelier certification and a background in bio-

cessed cane all day and got four gallons of juice,” she says with a

chemistry, Kelly worked in wine distribution for 20 years. “I

laugh. “To make a batch of rum, I need at least a thousand gallons.

thought I’d open a winery or wine bar,” she says. But tasting rums

But it was a good exercise showing folks how it worked.”

one evening at San Leon’s Buccaneer Bar, she decided she could

In 2013, due largely to efforts by the Texas Distilled Spirits

make better—and the idea for the distillery was born. Following

Association (Kelly is a founding officer), state liquor laws changed

two years of research, experimentation, business planning and

so that distillers could sell bottles from distilleries, conduct tast-

permit gathering, Kelly made her first rum in 2005 and built the

ings and serve drinks made from their products. The Raileans

Eagle Point Distillery in 2006. Railean Rum hit retail shelves in

wasted no time in building the Buccaneer Bar—named for the

2007, and today, Railean products are distributed in Texas, Arkan-

San Leon dive destroyed in 2008 by Hurricane Ike—next door to

sas, Arizona, Pennsylvania and California.

the distillery. It’s a friendly place with a pirate vibe, patronized

Working as a female distiller in a principally male domain, Kelly says she hasn’t encountered many obstacles. “I’ve never been treated

by local regulars and visitors companionably enjoying cocktails made with Railean products.

differently as a woman,” she says. “Of course, I’m a tomboy and have

And not only does Kelly distill the spirits, wrangle the bar-

always hung out with the guys, and that helps. When I worked in

rels, bottle and label the products and manage the business and

the wine industry, it was male-dominated at the time, so I was used

marketing, she also guides distillery tours, conducts tastings

to that situation. Occasionally at events, people mistake one of my

and tends bar at her own pirate den. Fortunately, she’s got two

male helpers as the distiller, but we straighten things out quickly.”

employees and a handful of enthusiastic volunteers. “Basically,

“When I started Railean, the only other woman distiller in Texas was Paula Angerstein of Paula’s Texas Spirits. We got to know 24



we’re a bunch of fun-loving sailors and pirate lovers who are really passionate about rum,” she says. Yo ho ho, y’all.

Edible Austin: Beverage 2016  

Learn about Kooper Family Rye Whiskey, Hops & Grain Brewery, Railean Rum and much more!

Edible Austin: Beverage 2016  

Learn about Kooper Family Rye Whiskey, Hops & Grain Brewery, Railean Rum and much more!