Three years ago, Ruhstaller Brewing opened its hop farm and outdoor tasting room near Dixon as a way to underscore the craft brewery’s “We Grow Beer” marketing campaign.
But Solano County officials recently shut off power to the property and essentially closed the facility to the public based on permitting and safety concerns. Ruhstaller owner J-E Paino said there have been no accidents or injuries, but the county’s lawyer has raised concerns about liability issues.
Among other things, Ruhstaller spent $30,000 adding electrical power to the rural plot, but the cables are strewn along the ground rather than buried in a required trench, wrapped in conduit and housed in all-weather boxes.
County code enforcement officials also declared the buildings, many of them temporary structures, unsafe until they are secured to the ground. Ruhstaller is also required to get a conditional use permit before it can reopen to the public.
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Paino, who has a degree in architecture from Princeton University and has worked as a general contractor, said he has done his best to come into compliance, but “the county keeps moving the goal line.” He also insisted that while he may have erred initially by failing to get a building permit for a shade structure near the bar, the taproom poses no legitimate safety threats.
“The county is concerned that people will go over to the (power) cord, stab it with a knife and put their mouth on it. They are concerned that the shade structure will be picked up by hurricane-force winds, blow onto Interstate 80 and cause an accident.”
Paino added, “The county’s lawyers got involved and said if we think something is unsafe and we don’t shut it down, we could be liable.”
In addition to the tasting room, Ruhstaller is growing 7.5 acres of hops, a key ingredient for the flavor and aroma of beer. Before Prohibition, the Sacramento region was a force in the North American hops market, though local hop farms all but disappeared in recent decades. When he launched Ruhstaller in 2011, he saw a chance to resurrect Sacramento’s brewing and agricultural legacy by sourcing local ingredients and growing a small amount of hops.
But the upbeat Paino has soured considerably since his recent bureaucratic battles. He once pegged the property as the future home of a $6 million brewery he planned to build, but he is now so frustrated that he said the brewery’s future hangs in the balance. The tasting room has nine employees.
“This was our heart and soul, and the county has basically ripped it out,” Paino said. A downtown Sacramento tasting room at 630 K St. remains open.
Solano County Supervisor John Vasquez, who has been supportive of the hop yard and tasting room, said Paino’s path to reopening is clear-cut. He said the county sent a letter to Paino detailing what needs to be done, and that Vasquez followed up by meeting with Paino to go over the details.
While Paino has sought to make it a case of bureaucratic overreach, Vasquez says it’s simply a matter of following the same rules as other businesses.
“I’ve had a number of conversations and I’ve been advocating for him. But I can’t interfere with our risk management. I can’t interfere with our attorneys,” Vasquez said. “We want him to succeed, but he’s got to follow the rules, and those rules are for everyone.”
Ruhstaller does not have its own brewing facility. Instead, it uses its recipes and brews at established breweries, a common practice known as contract brewing.