As demand for fresh beers from community breweries produces endless amounts of local brewing operations, one California brewery is challenging the notion that local beer only means beer that’s brewed locally — by actually growing their own hops.
Ruhstaller Beer of Sacramento is the epitome of a truly local brewery. Sourcing solely local ingredients and growing their own hops on their farm off Highway 80 in Davis, CA, Ruhstaller — headed by Sacramento local J.E. Paino — is raising the freshness quality to a local level, while harnessing a rich heritage in brewing and hop farming that Sacramento’s history boasts.
The name “Ruhstaller” itself is an homage to beer magnate Frank Ruhstaller, who in the late 1800s started Buffalo Brewery and Sacramento Brewing Company.
After planting their hop farm last April, the Ruhstaller Farm & Yard has produced over 20 varieties of hops, giving Paino and the brewery the chance to become intimately acquainted with and test the different varietals.
“Some like it here, some don’t like it here,” Paino said of the hops. “Cascade was fast out of the blocks, Nugget is going to take them over. We take the approach where we listen to the hop rather than tell it what it should do.”
Becoming familiar with the nuances of freshly grown hops
As not all hops are created equal, or in this case, grown equal, experimenting with growing different hops allows Ruhstaller to find out what hops work and which don’t. And choosing the right hop to go into a beer is something Ruhstaller carefully sorts through before churning out beer.
“It’d be easier to just plug alphas into a recipe, but we’re trying to understand the nuances of these hops,” Paino said. “When we grow beer we do a lot of hop trials; we do the same beer, the same base, then dry hop it with different hops, and basically listen to the taste.”
The freshness of a beer goes just far, if not more so, than the style it appears to be. Ruhstaller’s Black IPA, Capt., is pungent and quenching with fresh CTZ, Centennial, Citra and Cascade hops accentuating the malty and roasted chocolate backbone. The Capt. is balanced while very nuanced with it’s strong taste characters, coming in at 55 IBU and 7.6 alcohol percent, and still remaining a smooth drink.
Much of the freshness and richness in Ruhstaller’s beer is owed to the ingredients they source.
“We don’t just grow good hops, we grow high quality hops,” Paino said.
Living up to Sacramento’s rich hop heritage
Sacramento’s history is deeply rooted in beer and hops, a heritage Paino felt compelled, and challenged, to revitalize.
“We were challenged when we started up four years ago by a local grocer named Darrell Corti [of Sacramento grocery store, Corti Brothers, fame],” Paino said. “He said we didn’t deserve the name Ruhstaller Sacramento if we didn’t use local hops. He knew the significance, the heritage, the history of hops here. So that challenge has been stuck in our mind.”
The fact that Sacramento has a tradition of hop farming is not the sole reason Ruhstaller 2.0 is growing their own hops, but aided by the fact that Sacramento’s hops have historically been the go-to for high quality hops.
“There were 2,000 breweries in 1918… no distributorships, no large breweries like there are today, they were all primarily small and had to compete on quality,” Paino said. “They had to make quality beer, and they chose Sacramento Valley hops to make that beer.”
When Prohibition took effect in 1920, that was the death knell to the beer industry in California, and it’s lasting effect rang through until recent times with the resurgence of demand for craft beer and microbreweries. Even when Prohibition was lifted in 1933, only the larger commercial brewing businesses could compete.
“The hop industry moved out of state because the buyers – Bud, Coors and Miller – competed on marketing, not quality, and they lowered the amount of hops in their beer to appeal to more people,” Paino recalls. “Hops became a commodity, not something that needed to be differentiated between each other. The hop industry moved out of state, not because of quality, but because of cost.”
The quality of hops is profoundly clear in Ruhstaller’s beers, most notably with their golden lager, Gilt Edge, a 21st century version of a lager by the same name brewed by the original Ruhstaller’s Buffalo Brewery.
With California Cluster and Cascade hops in the forefront of the 42 IBU hoppy lager, the Gilt Edge is Ruhstaller’s take on the traditional lager style that was watered down by the large commercial brewing entities. Crisp and clean with notes of hop resin, citrus and grainy textures, the Gilt Edge beautifully mixes flavors into a light and aromatic drink that should convince any Bud or Coors drinker to never pick up either of those again.
Ruhstaller is without a doubt upping the level of quality to craft beer operations that claim freshness and local sourcing. Paino is aided in maintaining and harvesting Ruhstaller’s hops by local volunteers and residents who share his vision for a truly community beer of Sacramento.
“It’s definitely a work of passion,” Paino said.
Ruhstaller has a taproom in downtown Sacramento and has recently opened their farm to the public for tastings and tours. Visit the brewery’s website for more information.