Jan-Erik Paino, the owner of Ruhstaller Beer, was educated as an architect and has always had a sense of style and an eye for marketing. But one thing he didn’t have was a home base for his brand and his beer.
That will be changing, as the once-fledgling Sacramento-based company continues to flourish. Paino said Thursday he is applying for permits to open a tasting room on the periphery of Downtown Plaza (630 K St.), where he already has warehouse and office space. The building is next door to the new arena planned for the Sacramento Kings.
The tasting room does not have a firm opening date, but Paino says he hopes to be operating by springtime. The only issue is the timing of approval by the city.
The facility will be have something of an urban-meets-rustic vibe and will be located below street level. The room will be called The Swiss Rifle Club, a nod to the brewery’s inspiration and onetime brewing force in Sacramento, Frank Ruhstaller, who was given the honorary title of “captain” by the international rifle club because of his expert marksmanship. He opened The Ruhstaller Brewing Co. in 1881.
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Paino may not be as adept at target practice as the late Ruhstaller, but he has a keen eye for branding and an evangelical zeal for connecting his brewery to both the city’s rich beer history and to its potential to revive part of its once-massive hop-growing operations.
“It’s kind of like a Sutter Club for the rest of us,” Paino said of The Swiss Rifle Club.
The arena plans make the Downtown Plaza location a hot one at the moment. How long Paino’s tasting room will survive the inevitable spike in rents, he can’t say.
The tasting room won’t be serving the label’s standard lineup of beers. Paino doesn’t want to compete with nearby bars and restaurants that carry his brand. Instead, it will serve small-batch experimental beers, suggesting that it will be appealing to connoisseurs and those looking to taste something new and different. Some of those test batches may find their way into full-scale production, Paino said.
In addition to the tasting room, Paino said he is moving ahead with plans to build his own brewery. The company has been contract-brewing since it opened in 2011, meaning it takes its recipes and ingredients to facilities like American River Brewing or Hoppy Brewing and pays to brew its beer there.
These days, that can be seen as a shortcoming, as craft-beer lovers tend to seek a physical connection with the breweries and the people who make the beer. That may be even more important in Ruhstaller’s case, since the company emphasizes its use of local and California ingredients in its beers.
Paino said a new brewery at the hop yard in Dixon, where Ruhstaller grows hops, will cost between $2 million and $3 million. If that site is not feasible – there is little to no infrastructure and it would be expensive to install water, power and other essentials – Paino is looking at a more urban location. Meanwhile, he has expanded the hop yard from 2 acres to nearly 8 acres, and will build a full-scale hop kiln, which will be used as a tasting room 11 months out of the year and a hops-drying room the other month.
Look for the new brewery site to open by the fourth quarter of 2014 or early 2015. All this news means Ruhstaller will be growing – and hiring. With sales climbing by 50 percent since last year, Ruhstaller plans to hire a full-time brewmaster. (It currently has three part-time brewers after its main brewer, Eric Ryan, recently left the company.) A brewer makes $30,000 to $60,000 depending on experience and what recipes he or she may bring to the company, Paino said, citing industry pay standards. The company will likely hire a full-time sales rep and more staff as needs arise.
As for the physical brewery, Paino said Ruhstaller’s strength – staying nimble and not bogged down in debt by investing in a brewery – is now being perceived as a weakness. The brewery was not in a position to make such an investment in its first two years, he added, “but now we are.”