Ruhstaller beer makes Sacramento comeback
A Sacramento entrepreneur is looking to bridge past and present with the resurrection of one of Sacramento’s most-recognized names in beer: Ruhstaller.
J-E Paino, a native San Franciscan who grew up in Houston before moving to Davis for college, settled on the idea of marketing new, California-grown and brewed beer under the classic Ruhstaller name about two years ago, and he officially launched the product Tuesday night at Mulvaney’s B&L, 1215 19th St.
“As I researched Sacramento’s brewing history, the guy that kept coming up over and over again was Ruhstaller,” Paino said Monday.
Frank Ruhstaller left Switzerland for the United States in the mid-1800s, and he made his way to Sacramento, setting up his brewery in the old City Brewery in 1881, Paino said. Shortly after, he became a partner in the Buffalo Brewery.
William Burg, a member of the Sacramento Heritage Board of Directors and other local historical societies, said the Buffalo Brewery was a virtual “Who’s Who” of prominent Sacramento brewers.
“Ruhstaller’s son took over his business and may have run (the Buffalo Brewery) for a while,” Burg said. He added that Ruhstaller was adept at marketing – producing numerous novelty items, plates, mugs and other beer-related merchandise that remain highly collectible today.
Paino said Sacramento was a natural site for brewing around the turn of the century, with hops growing from the area of Campus Commons out to Sloughouse, and the rivers provided ready access to ship all over the region as well as Asia.
Under Paino’s ownership, Ruhstaller is produced in two varieties – the Ruhstaller 1881 and Hop Sac ’11.
“The 1881 is a California red ale,” Paino said, explaining that all the hops are grown in California near the Oregon border. Without any malting houses in California, the undried hops are shipped to Vancouver, Wash., malted, and returned to Sacramento for brewing.
According to Paino, using the hops without drying them gives the beer a unique flavor. Much like wine, in which the drinker can taste the variation in each vintage based on weather conditions, soil and a number of other factors, the 1881 ale gets a unique flavor from California.
The Hop Sac ’11 is an orange-colored ale also made with California hops. Paino said the name is an homage to Sacramento’s history of harvesting hops, which were placed in burlap sacks.
The recipes are not the same as the originals, Paino said, since the original recipes were far different from what is popular today.
Paino said he has been producing the beer for about four months, and he has had to brew it at local breweries – including Hoppy Brewing Co. – when they have space, as he does not yet have a commercial facility.
Patrick Mulvaney, owner of Mulvaney’s B&L restaurant, said Ruhstaller beers have been the most-asked-for brews he carries at the restaurant.
The beers, so far only available on tap, can be found at several local eateries. For a complete list, click here.
Tyler Zurcher, a 31-year-old Sacramento filmmaker, said he was well aware of the Ruhstaller name, having studied Sacramento’s brewing history.
“J-E said he was going to bring back Ruhstaller, and I said, ‘Great, can I try it?’ and it was really good,” Zurcher said. “It’s a unique name that these guys brought back, and I think it’s awesome that they’re doing that.”
Burg said that, from a historian’s standpoint, he is happy to see more interest in an era of Sacramento history that is often overlooked.
“There were 17 or so breweries within the grid, total, before Prohibition,” he said. “People are realizing our history is marketable. For a long time, people assumed no one would have any interest after the Gold Rush and the Transcontinental Railroad, but there is a rich industrial history here.”
Rob Robertson, a 35-year-old software developer from Sacramento, said he isn’t familiar with the history, but he found it interesting after reading a little bit about it on the Ruhstaller website.
“So far, this beer has been at really all the premium places, and it’s really tasty and hoppy,” he said. “It’s hoppalicious.”
Paino said he is happy with the popularity of the beer, with demand outpacing supply. He plans to begin offering the beer in a bottle, possibly in 2012, in addition to kegs.
“When Ruhstaller came to Sacramento, it was a place where you didn’t need to be someone to become someone,” Paino said. “And that’s something that hasn’t changed.”
For more information about Sacramento’s brewing history, Paino and Burg said Ed Carroll’s book, “Sacramento’s Breweries” is a good read.
Brandon Darnell is a staff reporter for The Sacramento Press. Follow him on Twitter @Brandon_Darnell.