In the 18-month history of Ruhstaller Beer, Jan-Erik Paino has become a combination visionary, historian, salesman and evangelist for all that's outstanding about Sacramento brewing.
Paino, who owns the fledgling craft beer company with partners, has based Ruhstaller's marketing strategy and brand identity upon a largely forgotten period that dates from the late 1800s to when Prohibition wiped out Sacramento's once-thriving brewing industry in 1920.
The name Ruhstaller refers to Capt. Frank Ruhstaller, who helped run the Sacramento-based Buffalo Brewery Co. a century ago, when it was the largest beer company west of the Mississippi. The brewery was built where the Sacramento Bee stands today at 21st and Q streets. Ruhstaller was the captain of a local militia group called the Hussars.
Building on the past, Paino's Ruhstaller 2.0 already has plenty of nostalgic style, from the vintage delivery truck to the rustic burlap sleeves that drape the necks of its 22-ounce bottles.
And the beers have been well-received, finding their way into top Sacramento eateries such as Mulvaney's, Grange, Roxy, Tuli, Broderick and LowBrau, and onto the grocery shelves at Nugget Markets, Corti Brothers, Compton's and Taylor's, among others.
But Paino hasn't overlooked substance, tying his beer to the farm-to-fork movement that has come to define the region's culinary scene. That mission came about after an encounter with tastemaker Darrell Corti, whose Corti Brothers was one of Ruhstaller's first customers.
"He has been incredibly generous to us, but he has also challenged us," Paino said of Corti. "When I met him, he told me, 'You're the ones with "Sacramento" and "Ruhstaller" on the bottle? You don't deserve those names unless you use locally grown hops.' "
Before Prohibition, Sacramento's beer industry flourished because area farms grew acres and acres of hops, the backbone ingredient in beer.
Ruhstaller is returning to that tradition. Several of its beer styles are made almost entirely with hops from the region. Debuting in May, Ruhstaller's Gilt Edge Lager will boast 100 percent California ingredients.
Recently, I sat down with Paino and Ruhstaller brewmaster Eric Ryan, who delights in making small test batches to compare, modify and build upon his use of hop varieties. Pouring from hand-labeled bottles, we tasted more than a dozen samples. Several beers I tried used the same recipe except for the hops, and the impact on flavor often was dramatic.
A pale ale called Edgy Blonde had more fruit on the palate and was less hoppy up front when made with a California common hop nicknamed Ivanhoe. With another hop called Gargoyle, there was more bitterness and livelier spice notes. Paino found it abrasive. I thought it was challenging, but enjoyable.
During the tasting, I could see how Ryan worked, a trial-and-error process that was equal parts art, science and inspiration. His beer reflects a willingness to at once respect and challenge past practices.
Ruhstaller has collaborated with Old Soul coffee to make a rather amazing beer that contains cold-brewed coffee. I tried two versions: a relatively tame one that was served at Old Soul at the Weatherstone during Beer Week in February and a more intense sample with heavier coffee notes that this espresso lover found to be exceptional. Called the Kenyan, it is expected to hit store shelves in early May.
This past week, Paino broke ground on 2 acres of farm land between Davis and Dixon. He will grow a variety of hops there, operate a solar-powered hop kiln and host beer tastings.
It's another example of how local craft brewers are paying homage to Sacramento's great beer heritage dating back to the 19th century while celebrating its resurrection in the 21st.
What we're tasting:
The Kenyan: A collaboration beer using Kenyan coffee roasted and cold-brewed at Old Soul. It's slightly sweet, smooth and malty, balanced by distinct but not overly bitter coffee notes.
May 4: Launch of the Kenyan all afternoon at Weatherstone, 812 21st St., Sacramento.
Tuesday: Beer 101 with Rick Sellers at Samuel Horne's Tavern, 719 Sutter St., Folsom, 7 p.m. Learn from in-house beer expert Sellers while tasting six beers. $20.
Wednesday: Sierra Nevada Hoptimum release party at Capitol Beer and Tap Room, 2222 Fair Oaks Blvd., 5 p.m.
Where we're headed next: Track 7 Brewing is attracting crowds to a former industrial park that just may be the coolest place for enjoying craft beer.
Call The Bee's Blair Anthony Robertson, (916) 321-1099. Follow him on Twitter @blarob.