FAIRFIELD — Some walks near J-E Paino’s workplace in downtown Sacramento got the wheels turning in his head.
His walks took him around the Ruhstaller Building, a historic-register building that used to house the offices of both Ruhstaller Brewery and Buffalo Brewery – a family brewing dynasty that put the West on the beer map.
At its helm was Capt. Frank Ruhstaller. In the 19th and early 20th centuries, Sacramento and the Sacramento Valley area had a rich beer history – made top to bottom with local ingredients.
Prohibition ended Sacramento’s rise as a top western beer-making hub, but what prohibition knocked to the ground, Paino is working to resurrect in eastern Solano County – paying tribute to both the Ruhstaller name and trying to bring the Sacramento area back to its beer-making origins.
“For us it wasn’t really about sticking a label on a can or bottle of beer,” he said. “It was about a legacy.”
That legacy, and what it means in today’s world, included Ruhstaller’s story of a young man creating a business mecca from nothing and working with local farmers to create that “great beer” mecca, Paino said.
Paino, 42, and his two partners brought back the Ruhstaller name a few years ago using hops grown by local farmers and a marketing tableau tapping into both local and Ruhstaller history.
They have a warehouse in West Sacramento and a small test brewery in Sacramento. This year, Paino and his partners upped the ante for Ruhstaller Beer by leasing land from Rich Collins – president of California Vegetable Specialties in Rio Vista – and creating the 2½-acre Ruhstaller Farm & Yard, which is oriented to both production and education in addition to being an event space.
“They jumped into the marketplace from day one,” said Collins, who is the only major grower of endive in the United States at his California Vegetable Specialties facility. Collins said that story is appealing to consumers.
“There are a lot of consumers, compared to 30 years ago, who are interested in the story,” he said. “It’s also easier to disseminate such a story with social media and the Web.”
Collins’ original agricultural business model for the land he owns east of Dixon included a winery but he’s just fine with switching from wine to beer, he said. In travels, he said he noticed that microbreweries were “well-frequented and busy” and that the restaurants “worked.”
“It’s affordable, it’s fun, it’s tasty,” he said. “And they do have a good story with Ruhstaller.”
With the planting of the hops yard, Paino, who has a business background from the University of California, Davis, said he joins only one other brewery that grows its own hops – Sierra Nevada Brewery. The yard was planted in April and early this month yielded about 200 pounds of hops – four times what he expected. The result of that harvest is just now out – 3,000 bottles of a wet hop beer aptly named Hop Sac First Leaf 2013.
The educational area includes the first hops kiln built in California in 30 years – the Signorotti family owned the last one and even though the hops yard is gone, the kiln is still standing in Sloughhouse on Highway 16.
It’s an endeavor still in process – the second story needs to be added and will be done by next year – that Paino plans to share with other hops farmers.
“We need a kiln,” he said. “There aren’t enough garages around to dry all the hops.”
The farm area, off Kidwell Road, gives visitors the ability to see several varieties of hops grown on several types of trellises.
It’s an evolution of the crop trellis, Paino said. While the farm shows a variety of hops trellises, for production Paino uses the California system, which is a single pole and string. Paino describes the system as efficient, cost-effective and quite simply, “the hops like it better,” he said.
They’ve already had several events at the farm, including a recent farm-to-fork week event, and the weekly Sunday on the Farm, which gave visitors a chance to sample pre-release beers along with year-round varieties.
He’s planning to also bring local craft brewers together – large and small scale – with a kickoff event Thursday. The inaugural California Hop Exchange is a three-part event bringing brewers, growers and enthusiasts together in a networking atmosphere. The goal falls in with Ruhstaller’s legacy and to re-establish the region as a great beer-growing area.
“Rich (Collins) gave us an opportunity to speak. He gave us a platform,” Paino said. “(But) just like Napa Valley, it isn’t about one guy.”
For more information, including the locations to purchase Ruhstaller, go to www.ruhstallerbeer.com.
Reach Susan Winlow at 427-6955 or email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/swinlowdr.