Déjà Brew

(page 3 of 8)

California, Here We Brew

For his portable cocktail project at Davis, Paino had consulted with the professor of malting and brewing sciences there, Dr. Charlie Bamforth, a Brit with an international reputation in the brewing arts and whose nickname is the Pope of Foam (the celebrated grocer and foodie Darrell Corti even asked him once to autograph some books as gifts for a trip overseas). Paino invited the professor to lunch at Grange to seek his advice. To start, Bamforth gave Paino 10 books on the history and science of beer, but he also made what would become a key connection by suggesting Paino contact the talented local brewmaster Peter Hoey. And while Bamforth openly loved the idea of bringing back the Ruhstaller name, he also left Paino with a warning.

A handful of hops from the Blue Heron Hop Yard in Winters (Photo by Max Whittaker)“The whole concept of using local malting materials is a very exciting one,” says Bamforth. “But to actually get ahold of California- grown materials is a challenge. The only place where you can actually get California-produced malt [barley] is where they get it from way up there on the border.”

In fact, “way up there” is in the Klamath River Basin near the Oregon border, where Paino now buys his barley, from a couple who owns a place called McGill Farms. A much closer grower at Dixon’s Eatwell Farms tried a limited experiment in 2010 with the San Francisco-based brewer Thirsty Bear, but because there are no malting houses in California to malt the barley, Eatwell shipped the barley to Colorado (Paino uses a malting house in Vancouver, Wash.). Thirsty Bear did produce one batch of “Locavore Ale,” claiming it was the first “California brewery in 75 years to brew beer with 100% local, organically grown ingredients.” But the costs of shipping it to and from Colorado were prohibitive, and the beer hasn’t been produced since.

And then there were the hops, the other essential ingredient that gives beer its bitterness and aroma, or the “spice of beer,” as Bamforth calls it. After Prohibition killed off most of California’s hop-growing industry, the dominant hop-growing farms in the United States are now in Washington, Idaho and Oregon. Because of their northern location, those regions get up to an hour more sunlight per day than California, as well as more moisture from the rain, both of which are good for hop growing. With no known California hops to be had, Paino was frustrated. Sacramento was once the hops capital of America. Now, he would be forced to order the “orphan hops” from the Northwest. “We don’t know the grower,” he says. “We don’t know what conditions they are grown in; we don’t know what year they are; we don’t know anything.”

The Buffalo Brewery at 21st and Q streets in Sacramento, circa 1895 (Photo courtesy of Center for Sacramento History)So Paino decided he would start with California-grown barley and go from there. He read all of the books Bamforth gave him. “Some I understood, some I didn’t,” he says, laughing. And working closely with Hoey, the highly respected local brewmaster who worked at area breweries like the Sacramento Brewing Company, Paino released his first batch of Ruhstaller on July 21, 2011. It was a California red ale that he called 1881, named for the year that Frank Ruhstaller took ownership of his first brewery.

The company’s description of 1881 reads that “a mild caramel sweetness gives way to a fresh pine and grapefruit citrus note and balanced bitterness.”

Almost immediately, local bars and restaurants began to carry the new beer on tap. One of the first was Mulvaney’s B&L in midtown. Chef-owner Patrick Mulvaney, known for sourcing local foods and, like Paino, an enthusiast of Sacramento history, knew Hoey’s reputation and was one of the very first customers. “It sells really well,” says Mulvaney, who took some bottles on a recent trip to Istanbul, Turkey as an example of Sacramento culture. The gift was a hit. One of the descendants of Ruhstaller (most of the clan live in Stockton now and have given Paino their blessing to carry on the “family business”) even stopped by once and ordered a glass.

Frank Ruhstaller (Photo courtesy of Center for Sacramento History)

Local beer mecca Pangaea Two Brews Cafe on Franklin Blvd.—which stocks 300 beers by the bottle and 27 on tap—was another of Ruhstaller’s first customers. Owner Rob Archie, who says he won’t serve a local beer just because it’s local, put the beer through a blind taste test with staff and regulars to make sure it met the bar’s high standards. It passed with flying colors. Archie points out that he revamped his food menu in early September so that most of their dishes are made, in part, with beer. And Ruhstaller is the only local beer to make an appearance. Just look for the “1881 Red Ale Wild Rice” that’s served atop the herb-roasted chicken.

In fact, Paino believes beer should be following the trend that restaurants have begun to establish in recent years, with less emphasis on where food is cooked, and more on where it comes from. In part because of his farming background and in part because he’s savvy enough to recognize the craft beer movement’s recent focus on geography, Paino realizes how critical farmers are to the equation. Not only does he have genuine respect for farmers, but he often asks himself how a farmer would do something. For example, he says that custom designing and manufacturing the molds from which tap pulls are made can top $10,000. It’s expensive, but because t

A pre-Prohibition advertisement for Ruhstaller beer (Photo courtesy of Center for Sacramento History)

he pull is the most visible part of a beer brand at a bar, it’s a critical marketing tool.

“Common sense,” notes Paino, “says that you find a designer, he designs the tap, you create a mold, send the mold to China, and they send a big box of them back to you, and they’re 10 cents each because they’re all made of plastic. But that’s not what the farmer would do. The farmer would go behind his barn, grab some old tractor parts, clean them up, take them to his workshop, weld on them and say, ‘Here you go.’ And that’s what we did.”

But without a farm of his own, Paino found out that one of the largest supply houses in the country for used farm equipment parts sits just off Florin Drive. So he went over and picked out dozens of old parts that he thought would make for great tap pulls. The owners were going to charge him $2.50 for each one. But when he told them what he was using them for, they offered them for free. “Just bring us some beer,” they suggested.