Beer Run

Ruhstaller’s Dixon hop yard stays, but the tasting room’s history

Ben Rice hosts the local beer podcast “Barley & Me.” He says there is no shortage of things to discuss.
Ben Rice hosts the local beer podcast “Barley & Me.” He says there is no shortage of things to discuss. Courtesy of Ben Rice

The Ruhstaller saga continues with some bad news, some hazy news that may or may not require clarification, and a hint or two that bigger, better days are coming.

When I first reached out to owner J-E Paino to ask about the bad news – the demise of the hop yard’s outdoor tasting room near Dixon – I was directed to a video posted July 15 on Ruhstaller’s Facebook page. For background, the tasting room had been temporarily closed since April, following an inspection by Solano County code enforcement.

“Unfortunately,” Paino said, looking into the camera, “we’ve decided to decommission the tasting room and our operation out here … decommissioning meaning this ain’t the last time you’re going to see us, this ain’t the last time you’re going to see a lot of the pieces out here. We are slowly taking things apart here. … At the end of the day, we’re going to have mainly just memories of this place. It breaks my heart.”

Then, in a more upbeat tone, Paino added, “We’ve got big plans. The reality is this place couldn’t hold the size of our plans.”

Paino had been frustrated by Solano County officials who informed him that the on-site tasting facility, rustic and stylish as it is, lacked the required permits and basic safety measures required by law.

A year or more ago, Paino told me he planned to build a $6 million brewery there. I wanted to ask him about that and more, since the Facebook video raises as many questions as it answers.

When I got Paino on the phone, he explained that “the hop yard is not going anywhere. We have a long-term agreement.” That means Paino will continue growing hops on the 7-plus acres, but the property will no longer be open to the public to serve beer.

Once the darling of Sacramento craft beer, Ruhstaller’s standing among beer lovers has been in decline the past couple of years. You may or may not know that Ruhstaller doesn’t have a brewing facility of its own. It goes through a process called contract brewing, in which it pays to use other brewing facilities. In the past, the beer has been brewed at American River and Hoppy. Now, it’s reportedly being brewed in San Jose. When I asked him to confirm that, Paino refused to comment.

After launching in 2011, and for a year or two after that, Ruhstaller and Paino, the articulate visionary, got all kinds of positive publicity. But then scores of other breweries opened and, according to many beer aficionados, they started brewing superior beer and offering a better experience at on-site tasting rooms.

However, if the big plans Paino mentions in his video include a brewery, once-promising Ruhstaller could be the first comeback story since the local craft beer boom began in earnest five years ago.

‘Barley & Me’

Not everything in craft beer is so serious. In fact, when I arranged to meet Ben Rice at a local cafe, I asked how I would recognize him. His reply: “I look like a dude who’d have a beer podcast.”

Yes, the podcast in question is called “Barley & Me.” Once every two weeks for the past 18 months, Rice has interviewed brewers and beer aficionados in a wide-ranging discussion about the rise of local craft beer. He does the podcast on-site and says he is in no danger of running out of things to discuss.

“I can go three years and not have to go more than 30 miles from home” without repeating a brewery location, he said.

In addition to his day job, which he asked to keep private, Rice, 33, is a stand-up comedian. When friends noticed he was a craft beer geek, they suggested he write a humorous beer blog. But he thought it through and realized, “I don’t think beer is that funny.”

So he took a more earnest approach with the podcast, though downing 40-ouncers at Brew Ferment Distill while recording one of the episodes certainly presented comedic possibilities.

“It was dangerous. It was a lot of fun. I wish I could air the unedited version, but it would make people look bad,” Rice said.

His most recent podcast was at River Rock Brewery in Galt, formerly the controversial Special Ed’s Brewery, whose owner Ed Mason got in hot water with the name even before opening. The episode was certainly riveting from the outset, though it was less compelling, ironically, when the discussion turned to beer.

Rice is still building his audience with “Barley & Me.” There’s no doubt the podcast deserves a much larger following. It’s local, informative, personable and, when 40s are involved, edited to spare the innocent. To listen to past episodes, visit his website. To subscribe, search for the podcast on iTunes.

Blair Anthony Robertson: 916-321-1099, brobertson@sacbee.com, @Blarob

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