The office is typically no place for booze. No, those adult beverages become taboo sometime after the rush hour and before sunrise.
Unless, of course, that office space was transformed a little over one year ago to reveal the stunning shell of a future tasting room and helps bring a train more than three years in motion around the bend.
All aboard: Railport Brewing Company has made its final stop in Waxahachie. The grand opening of the first microbrewery in Ellis County is Saturday.
As she bounced around behind the newly installed tap system behind the homemade bar top ahead of a pre-grand opening event with the Waxahachie Chamber of Commerce, Shannan Womack admitted, “There’s a little bit of both of us in here.”
Her husband and the one responsible for fueling the engine, Richard Womack, then pointed to the worn fence planks on the ceiling, single light bulb fixtures and empty craft beer cans used as decoration on exposed crossbeams above a bare-brick wall.
“There was a vision, but it was very flexible,” he said with a laugh inside the Railport Brewing Company tasting room located at 405 W Madison Street in Waxahachie. “[…] I fell in love with the building, and I was like, ‘there has to be a brick wall behind that sheetrock.”
So, down it came.
Richard explained the project to launch the first-ever microbrewery in the county began about three years ago as the Midlothian Craft Beer Project, where the couple has lived the last 15-plus years. He started to look elsewhere after several failed attempts to receive approval from the city due to the selected location being in a “dry area.”
"The TTB took four months longer than anticipated to give us approval," Richard explained. "We originally thought it might take about four to six months, but it ended up being another four or five months on top of that. So we just had to wait. There wasn’t anything we could do. We didn’t want to start construction without approval and TABC will not approve you without TTB approval because they are the federal side of it.”
The Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) analyzes where the funding for the business is coming from and how the brewery plans to support itself. The federal agency regulates beverage alcohol, non-beverage alcohol (fuel), tobacco, and firearms and ammunition. According to its official website, the TTB launched Jan. 24, 2003, under the Homeland Security Act of 2002.
“For eight months, my wife and I had to send in every bank statement and every credit card statement, and we had to highlight everything we spent on the brewery,” Richard explained. “If anyone gave us money and we turned around and spent it on the brewery, we had to explain that. It had to be legit, and we had to do that every month for eight months.”
But, as they approached the winter months, “everything just worked out.”
“Then you don’t hear from them for two months and all of a sudden they say, ‘hey, you’re approved,’” he laughed.
The next step was to secure a place to house the brewery for two years, which hey did around the end of February last year. They then had to receive approval from the City of Waxahachie to operate a brewery. The Waxahachie City Council checked that off of the list March 9, 2017.
He graduated from master brewers’ school at Eastfield College a few days later. It was there that he met Will Boller, who is now the head brewer at Railport.
About a year later, the equipment arrived 12 weeks after the order was placed.
“Finally,” he said. “It has all come together.
“Even some people at other breweries when I started this project would say that ‘You don’t really want to do it because it takes forever.' I was always like, ‘really? It does?’ Well, it does. You are optimistic and gung-ho and doing all of this stuff and it’ll kind of slap you in the face with reality.”
The Womacks have since added Jon and Amanda Skinner to the ownership-fold. Richard first met Amanda when she worked for the Cedar Hill Chamber of Commerce and while he owned another small business.
"We met almost 10 or 12 years ago, or maybe even longer than that. And then I met Jon, her husband, when our boys played football together in Midlothian, so we have known each other for a long time,” Richard explained. “So getting them involved and just seeing how excited they were getting, and then bringing wheel on board has been awesome. Will and I would get up at 5 o’clock in the morning to brew in the garage to try to beat the Texas heat, and he was driving from Bedford twice a week.”
With a building secured, ownership in place and an ETA on the final stop, one glaring question had yet to be addressed: Why beer?
“My oldest son went to college, so I started experimenting. I had always loved beer when I was doing yard work and stuff like that,” Richard explained. “I would drink a Shiner and stuff like that, and then I stumbled on Revolver's Blood and Honey when I went down to Granbury, and I thought, ‘it would be cool to do this.’”
The first brew was awful — as in barely potable. It caused Richard to hang up his brewer’s hat for about six months.
“It was the worst beer ever,” he recalled. “I should have never tried an all-grain brew.”
Like any dedicated beer lover yearning for a brewery to call his own, Richard did a little research, bought some books and gave it the old college try.
“I just started ordering kit, after kit, after kit. I would order me a five-gallon kit and Shannan a one-gallon kit. She would brew it on the stove top inside, and I would brew on the back porch,” he explained. “So we would have little competitions.”
Shannan always won, for those scoring at home.
“All of our friends would say hers was better,” he laughed. “But that is how it started, and we still have the kettles, they are just here at the brewery now underneath the pilot system.”
READY TO POUR
The grand opening is Saturday at 2 p.m. and will feature Railport Brewing Company’s four flagship beers all brewed with Waxahachie water “that is almost perfect for brewing.”
The first is Bandit, an American sweet stout with notes of whiskey, vanilla bean, and cocoa. It carries an 8.1% alcohol by volume (ABV) and 30 International Bitterness Units (IBUs).
For those new to the craft-beer world, BerghoffBeer.com explains the average ABV of an American beer is between 4-6% but can range from 2—12%. The IBU measures the “bitterness from hops in a beer on a scale of 0 to 100.” Hoppy beers, such as Imperial IPAs are in the 80 IBU range.
Railport also launched the Caboose Hop IPA, an India pale ale that uses pilsner malt and citrus hops with 7.1% ABV and 52 IBUs. Honey Hush is a blonde ale made with pilsner and Carahell malt with 5.4% ABV and 20 IBUs. The fourth of the flagship brews is the Railyard Ghost, which is best for those new to craft beer and who want something close to an American light beer. It is a wheat ale brewed with German pilsner, oats, coriander, orange peel and chamomile.
Following the grand opening, the tasting room will be open from 4—8 p.m. Thursday and Friday, and from 2—6 p.m. Saturday. Tours are offered for $15 and include a souvenir pint glass or mason jar with three fills. There is also about a one-quarter acre outdoor area complete with lawn games and the occasional live music and food truck.
Richard said there are plans to eventually add tasting flights. He also noted Railport will begin distributing kegs to local business and, in about eight months to one year, will start producing either cans or bottles.
“This is where we are supposed to be,” he added. “The name really came from the railroad industry over in Midlothian, but then, after studying the railroad industry across Ellis County, to find this place right next to the railroad, it’s just perfect.”