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Now when he approaches new bars or restaurants to sell Ruhstaller on tap, he lays out a handful of the old parts and lets them choose which one they want, which is why you’ll see a different Ruhstaller pull at almost every bar.
Paino and Hoey followed up the 1881 with a limited-edition beer called “Hop Sac 2011” in August of last year before releasing their “Captain,” a black IPA (India pale ale), fittingly released on Black Friday—Nov. 25, 2011. The moniker came from Frank Ruhstaller’s nickname, and it was another hit. “The black IPA is very interesting and a new concept,” says Bamforth. “And really, this is the best one that I’ve tasted. When I do beer tastings, which I do a lot, I always have that beer.”
“You can’t just have a good story with a good name on it,” recognizes Paino. “You’ve got to have good beer first. When Sacramento was the largest hop-growing region in America before Prohibition, the brewers competed on quality, not Super Bowl ads. Not gimmicks. It had to be good beer. That’s why Ruhstaller put a gilt edge on the lip of the glass because it was supposed to be better beer.” (The Ruhstaller family even gave Paino one of the original gilt-edged glasses as a gift).
And while Paino had some experience with restaurateurs, retailers were a different story. When he launched his first bottled batch of 1881 on Dec. 18 last year (with the words “Sacramento’s Beer” on the back, and the neck of the bottle wrapped in burlap as a nod to the burlap sacks that farmers have used to harvest hops for generations), one of his first stops was at Corti Brothers. After hearing Paino’s story and learning that the brewmaster was Hoey, Corti’s Joe Morrison told Paino that he’d take 10 cases without even trying a sip. “I asked him if he meant he wanted 10 over the next quarter, or over the next year,” says Paino. “He said, ‘No, no. I’ll take 10 now.’ ” Paino was sure that much beer would just gather dust on the shelves.
A week later, Paino was on Christmas break and got a call from Morrison. ‘We’ll take 12 more cases,” he told Paino, who quickly asked if there was something wrong with the first 10 cases. Did they break? Did he deliver them wrong? “No, we’re out of them,” said Morrison. “We need more.”