The idea of a jalapeno beer may take some getting used to.
But Rail Hop’n Brewing’s signature beer, the concoction of brew master and RHnB’s part-owner Billy Jack Newman, goes down smoothly, warming the back of the throat in its descent without flaming.
“Customers love it, either as a beer or as a batter for cooking,” said Newman of the mixture. “But it’s still refreshing, it’s still a summer beer, in fact, an all-year beer.”
It seems a taste tailor-made for the vintage, blue-collar Auburn establishment, at 122 W. Main St., jibing nicely with the railroad bell, railroad lights, railroad paintings and railroad thingamajigs on the walls and the hand-hewn wooden doors, tables and bar.
No accident that — owner Kristi (nee Sluys) Newman. Billy Jack’s wife, and her family have been a part of Auburn for five generations. And her beloved grandfather, Edward Sluys, in whose honor she named and festooned the joint, came to Auburn to work for the railroad here when he was still a kid.
Just don’t call it a bar.
“We are not a bar, we are a microbrewery,” said Billy Jack.. “I also brew an old-fashioned root beer.”
No newcomers were the couple to the local suds scene when they opened on West Main Street, next to Oddfellas on July 21, 2018.
Newman, her husband, and a partner had set up the city’s first legally-licensed microbrewery, then called Wethead Brewery, in the garage of the house they’d bought from her grandfather at 513 A St. NE, two blocks south of Fred Meyer, two blocks west of Scarff Ford in Auburn in November 2012
For five years, the garage and tap room was a hopping place, packed with a devoted customer base, wildly enthusiastic about Billy Jack’s fermented creations, including his signature jalapeño beer and his nut brown ales.
“He turned his home brewing into an actual business,” Kristi Newman said.
But in 2014, their partner left, and they changed the name to Rail Hop’n Brewing.
“It was either close down, continue or start over,” Kristi Newman recalled. “We chose to continue for a few years longer, as we were still the only brewery in town. After several failed attempts to buy out our partner, we decided we should close up shop.”
Billy Jack , who had worked so hard for so many years to build a customer base at the only micro-brewery in town, was crushed.
“I started brewing beer because I love to cook, and after you have exhausted all your spices on your meats, the only thing left for me to change was how I put beer in it,” said Newman. “So, why not start making beer, and start changing the flavor of the beer to change the flavor of the meat? So, one thing led to another. I am a kid at heart when it comes to it.”
“He was so passionate about his beers and having that fun, garage-micro brewery vibe,” said Kristy Newman, “I wasn’t going to let him give up on his dream.”
To keep their three daughters involved with the business, they added a coffee shop.
“We built everything here,” said Billy Jack Newman.
“We had a few family and friends that came in and helped, but we designed it and did it all ourselves,” added Kristi Newman.
Newman wishes her grandfather could have been there to see it open.
Edward Sluys was 15 when he came to Auburn to work for the railroad. He briefly left to join the Navy but returned after he met his future wife. Here they raised their four children, all of whom attended Auburn schools and all of whom graduated from Auburn High School. He was a captain for the old Auburn Fire Department and started up his own recycling business, which he later sold to Waste Management.
“In the year my grandpa got sick, we knew he wouldn’t make it long. We named our new brewery for him, Rail Hop’n Brewing Co.,” Kristi Newman said. “He’s the reason I am here, the reason my family is in Auburn. Even in his very last weeks from his hospital bed he was asking about our searches for commercial space and always asking about our growth and possibilities. He was a true entrepreneur, and lived vicariously through me when he no longer could do it himself.
“We all talk about how proud grandpa would be. He taught me a lot of things about owning a business,” Kristi Newman said. “We have gone from a 200-square-foot garage to now a 2,000-square-foot space, and we have opened our possibilities.”