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A new brew from Ruhstaller Beer achieves what the company set out to do when it launched last year – brew a uniquely Sacramento beer.
Drawing on the region’s brewing history and one of the pioneers of the trade – which largely disintegrated during Prohibition – Ruhstaller owner J-E Paino launched a locally brewed beer with an emphasis on using California ingredients.
According to Corti Brothers Store Director Rick Mindermann, that wasn’t quite enough for owner Darrel Corti.
“Darrel literally told him, ‘Look, you have Ruhstaller on your label, and you have Sacramento on your label, but unless you’re growing it all in Sacramento, you don’t deserve to do that,’ ” Mindermann said. “It was a challenge. He threw down the gauntlet, and J-E met the challenge.”
The result is the company’s Hop Sac 2012, which uses hops grown in Winters. Before that, hops were grown in California, but farther away in Lake County, which sits west of Yuba City.
Image by: Courtesy J-E Paino
He described the late harvest wet hop ale as a balanced brew with a flavor profile that includes floral hints.
Since Hop Sac is brewed with wet hops, it must be done as quickly as possible once the hops are harvested – drying the hops for preservation changes the flavors.
“It has a sweetness to it,” he said. “It has a pleasant aroma. It’s very drinkable. It’s a smooth, kind of smoky, silky beer.”
Paino partnered with Sean McNamara of Blue Heron Hop Yard in Winters. They planted a quarter acre of hops in April, and they were ready for harvesting in early August.
“This is the inaugural harvest,” Paino said. “Our working theory behind this is that California grows the highest-quality you name it – almonds, walnuts, peaches, pears, apples, cherries and tomatoes – so why not hops?”
Mindermann said this is the first time hops have been grown locally in about 30 years.
Opinions vary on how long it’s been since a local beer was produced using all-Sacramento ingredients.
Local historian William Burg said that while hop production in Sacramento dropped, it likely continued to be put into beers as late as the 1940s.
“The Buffalo Brewery was around until the late 1940s or 1950,” he said. “It’s likely that they were still using local hops after Prohibition.”
Hop production in Sacramento largely stopped as a result of suburbs being built on the agricultural land, Burg added.
Mindermann said that, historically, Sacramento was a top producer of hops from the Gold Rush until Prohibition and, later, the proliferation of the suburbs.
“You have to have grain, you have to have hops, and you have to have water,” Mindermann said. “Sacramento has two rivers. We were the perfect town to brew beer. We grew more hops than anyone, period.”
He added that what Ruhstaller is doing with its Hop Sac beer is indicative of a renaissance in local beermaking.
Taking a cue from the farm-to-table concept becoming ever more popular in the food industry, Paino said Ruhstaller Beer is part of an emerging farm-to-pint industry.
“What we’re trying to do is work with the farmer in Winters and say, ‘How can we get the right variety, and how can you produce more flavors in the hop yard?’ ” Paino said. “We take hops from different areas, and we test them against what we grow here. That gives him a data point – it gives him feedback. That institutional knowledge on how to grow quality hops in Sacramento has been lost.”
To rebuild that knowledge, Paino and McNamara are brewing small batches with different varieties of hops. Each batch is being tasted, and tweaks are being made to get the beer to where it needs to be. Paino said it’s essentially mimicking the process through which wine varietals are produced and refined.
Paino and crew were able to brew 200 cases of Hop Sac 2012, which he said should last through the end of October. Ruhstaller’s other brews are available year-round.
“Ruhstaller has been making very good beer,” Mindermann said. “The Hop Sac, I think, is very agreeable for anybody that has tasted beer. It appeals to a lot of flavors.”
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