I round the corner some five miles from our meeting place and see the vintage-looking Ruhstaller truck parked conspicuously in front of Corti Bros Market. Perhaps some foreshadowing or serendipitous detail, the introduction seems to have begun long before the actual interview takes place.
I’ve been meaning to talk with J-E Paino about the “resurrection” of Ruhstaller and what it means to him and Sacramento. Now that the 3rd Annual Sacramento Beer Week is about to commence, there’s really no time like the present. We meet at Bows & Arrows, where I prematurely tried to get a Ruhstaller months back. This time the owner herself (Olivia) brings each of us a cold jar of ‘The Captain’.
“As a girl, what do you think of it” (considering it’s so dark), J-E asks. “Not too bitter, and rather floral?” I both say and ask at the same time. “Well, yes, it’s really citrusy,” J-E says, telling me that hops can impart bitterness or aromatics, and that they chose aromatics. But who is the “they”, what are they doing, and what does it have to do with this deceivingly-dark beer we’re drinking?
With an MBA and Real Estate development background, J-E Paino is also founder and proprietor of Ruhstaller Beer. While there are others involved behind the scenes, that’s pretty much where they want to remain (although I think Brew Master Peter Hoey should get a shout-out). But what exactly is Ruhstaller? It’s nostalgia, for one, and it’s the literal resurrection of a local beer. You see, Sacramento has a great beer history, known in the late 1800s at the “Beer Capital of the West Coast” with possibly as many as 16 breweries in operation at one time.
Sacramento’s agricultural landscape, rivers, climate, travel/trade accessibility and pioneering spirit made it a natural supplier of Mother Nature’s gems (such as hops, barley and mountain spring water). And one such entrepreneur named Frank Ruhstaller took advantage of these inherent gifts by making beer. Much more recently while a student at UC Davis, J-E stumbled upon the history of Ruhstaller and discovered, he said, that the beer was actually about the person as much as the beer. “The beer is important but it’s more a symbol of why Sacramento can be proud. It is a reflection of who Sacramento is and what she can be.”
Aside from his more silent partners, J-E says he partners with plenty of others around the great Sacramento Valley to make Ruhstaller successful, yes, but also more than just a quality beer. “Making a great beer, finding great partners and places where people who truly appreciate Sacramento go…” he looks around at the significant crowd behind him, “It’s for them.”
“We’re not trying to put it just anywhere,” in every watering hole around. There’s meaning behind the beer, the name, the marketing, the placement. “We’re really trying to build a solid foundation,” J-E says. “I want to build something that it takes an act of government to kill,” like Prohibition did in the early 1900s when “the triumph of national brands over local flavor meant that communities no longer had a unique local beverage they could identify with” (Carroll, Midtown Monthly).
“Success to me is if we’re able to earn back the title as Sacramento’s Beer.” And Sacramento is supportive; they’re drinking Ruhstaller up like there’s no tomorrow’s hangover. Sacramento’s engaged; many independent business survive here because the community is strong and connected. And Sacramento is also just plain thirsty.
“Her name is Matilda,” J-E says, speaking of the old truck I saw parked in front of Corti Bros. And yes, she does dispense servings of Ruhstaller at various events around Sac. But although she may be ornery, J-E admits, even age can’t dampen the mood that a good, hearty, historic brew tends to evoke… Perhaps it’s even the magical ingredient.
* Barrels of beer in the 1800s were twice the size they are today. Imagine delivering them by horse and carriage!
Ruhstaller’s taps aren’t any ordinary taps. They’re locally up-cycled tractor parts.
* 95% of the malt Ruhstaller uses for its beer comes from California but their goal is for 100% of both malt and hops to come from the Sacramento area, which is the way it was in the 1800s.
* Ruhstaller Beer can be found at various locations around town and from Vacaville to Elk Grove, but the circle is widening with Chico (and surely beyond) soon on its way. http://ruhstallerbeer.com/find-our-brews/
* The festivities in the background of our interview were from a group called QueerFest, ‘a lesbian social movement.’ http://www.QueerFestProductions.org
As for Beer Week (February 24 – March 4), again, Sacramento is supportive. Just some of the participating businesses and events include:
Mulvaney’s B&L, Bonn Lair, Kupros, Samuel Horne’s Tavern (Folsom), Streets of London, Fox & Goose, DeVere’s Irish Pub, River Rock Taphouse, One Speed, Bows & Arrows, Sacramento Natural Foods Co-Op, Ink Eats & Drinks, Turn Verein, Pyramid Alehouse, The Shack, etc.
Sacramento Brewers Showcase & Capital Beerfest (2/23).
Old Sac Beerfest Pub Crawl (3/1)
Sacramento Beer & Chili Festival (3/3)
Cheers to Beer!