Filling the Gap
By June Naylor
Photos courtesy of Red Gap Brewing
When road-tripping to West Texas, Cisco seems an unlikely stopping-off point. But drive down the small town’s reinvigorated main drag, called Conrad Hilton Boulevard, and you’ll find places that satisfy your hunger and your thirst. (Travel-note aside: The Mobley Hotel in Cisco was the first owned by Hilton, who later became an icon in the hospitality world.) Slowpoke Farm Market dishes out remarkably good plate lunches, fresh sourdough and handmade pies directly across the street from Red Gap Brewing, which produces a selection of craft beer, from year-round drinkables such as a double IPA and an American porter to seasonals such as a summer gose-style ale.
Imagine our surprise, then, to learn that the brewers call Keller home. Though brewery partners and best pals Jason Mahon and Ryan DeKok live a few doors away from each other near Hidden Lakes, the two guys and their families make a second home of their getaway town. After Jason and Amber Mahon bought ranchland in Cisco five years ago, Ryan and his wife, also named Amber, began taking their three children — who are the same ages as the three Mahon kids — to visit as often as possible. In doing so, it occurred to the guys that they could find something interesting to do in town while satisfying their own thirst, so to speak.
“We started spending more and more time out here, and people were doing some cool things in downtown Cisco,” says Jason, who practices tax and estate planning law in Southlake. “A trip to Fredericksburg inspired me to think more about what we could do to make Cisco a good weekend destination. It seemed like a brewery would be a good way to get attention for the town.”
Recognizing how brewery and winery businesses benefit Fredericksburg, Jason knew Ryan’s passion for craft beer would be valuable if they wanted to open up their own place. While Jason admits that Lone Star is his favorite beer, Ryan grew up with small-batch brews and the craft culture in his native Colorado.
“I think of beer as a blank canvas where you can design and create something, then step back and see if you made what you set out to do,” says Ryan, who has flown F-16s for the Air Force for 21 years. “I’m in the last half of my military career, so even though I’m not ready to retire, it’s a good time to think what my next full-time career should be.”
The two began brainstorming about four years ago. They created a business plan in just a week, right before Ryan deployed to Afghanistan. When he returned after two-and-a-half months, they pushed forward, and Red Gap Brewing — named for the 1870s railway crossing town’s original handle — opened in 2017. Making it a true family business, their wives devote time to running the brewery business, too: Amber Mahon handles customer relations and brand awareness, while Amber DeKok manages the marketing and merchandising operations. Both work on invoicing, bookkeeping and specific sales accounts.
Red Gap’s original brews took off quickly, bringing steady business to the taproom, which is inside a red brick building, circa 1900. Popular core beers include the 1878, an American lager in style, liked for its crisp taste. “We wanted a porch-drinking beer for a hot day,” Jason says. Big Daddy Darryl is a double IPA, which suits Ryan’s preference for a hoppy beer but still appeals to Jason’s palate. Its name is a nod to Jason’s Hereford bull, who’s the de facto brewery mascot and whose commanding presence inspired the beer’s bold personality. Gunsight Hefeweizen is the top off-site seller among summertime seasonals, and the Slowpoke Joe, another seasonal, is a coffee lager made with hand-roasted beans from Slowpoke Farm Market across the street.
Just as Red Gap’s success hit its stride and the partners ramped up business by adding a canning line and three new tanks — expanding production by 150 percent — the COVID-19 crisis shut down the bustling taproom, which has reopened. The production line cranks out beer for takeout sales Thursday through Saturday, and for growing sales around the state. Red Gap’s brews are typically sold at restaurants and bars as far west as Amarillo and Lubbock, south to Brownwood and as far east as Rockwall and Sherman.
Splitting time between Keller and small-town living suits the two families just fine. Since he spends two to three days each week in Cisco, Jason opened a small office so he can keep up with legal work when he’s on ranch and brewery detail. Ryan likes the commute, too, as he’s able to decompress on the two-hour drive west. “It’s just far enough that it’s a little trip. And we like being connected to a place with roots in history.”