Who Would Have Thought-Sacramento, CA A Beer Capitol West of the Mississippi
Ruhstaller Beer of today represents itself as a rebirth of Ruhstaller Brewery of the late 1880’s, both have a Sacramento beer and hops heritage. But the similarities continue between past and present with the strong commitment to locally sourced ingredients and quality. Today’s Ruhstaller’s has a California sourced ingredient list which almost exclusively showcases California sources. Ruhstaller Brewery of the past was also a highly regarded local ingredient brewery for several decades starting just after the California Gold Rush era (1849-1855) and had its demise due to Prohibition-1920 to1933.
Captain Frank Ruhstaller came to America at 15 years old, arriving in Sacramento in 1865. In Sacramento he started work in breweries and a few years later he bought his first brewery. Upon his death in 1907 the local newspaper wrote in his obituary- “Undoubtedly no death has ever caused more regret in this city than did that of Captain Frank J. Ruhstaller.” He was a loved gentleman by all accounts.
The backstory about Ruhstaller Beer of today is centric to Sacramento as it was with the original Ruhstaller Brewery. Frank Ruhstaller built the largest brewery west of the Mississippi in Sacramento. That is astonishing because Sacramento, at one time, had 16 breweries in the town. Much of Sacramento’s economic success was based on the growth in population (due to the Gold Rush), agriculture, great water sources, rail, and ocean access. From 1870 to 1880 the Sacramento region became the hops capital of the world due to the success of quality beer. Regional hop growers were even exporting their hops to Europe.
An interesting fact of the time is that Adolphus Busch came to America in 1857. In 1861 he married the daughter of another German immigrant named Eberhard Anheuser. Mr. Anheuser had started a small brewery in St. Louis, MO in 1857. After the Civil War Busch went to work for his father-in-law at the Anheuser Brewery located “west of the Mississippi”. Here is what is interesting: Frank Ruhstaller had built Ruhstaller Brewery empire in Sacramento to be the largest west of the Mississippi by 1881. He accomplished this on his own.
In an era in California where agriculture was king, it was the quantity, quality, and variety of hops that were astonishing for that time. Sacramento would eventually become the major supplier of hops to much of America and world breweries.
It could be said, Ruhstaller Brewery (of old) was one of the first premium craft breweries. They produced a steam beer 15 years before Anchor Steam was founded. According to Beer-FAQ, “Steam beer is a style of beer originating in California during the gold rush. They are generally clear and crisp like a lager, but also full-bodied like an ale. The taste is toasty and malty but with a fairly aggressive hoppiness and carbonation. The brewing process is unique as it uses lager yeast but brewed at warmer ale temperatures.”
Taking up the banner of the original Rruhstaller Brewery, in 2011 Ruhstaller Beer commenced operations. The culture of the first Ruhstaller Brewery is the foundation of the award winning “Ruhstaller Beer•Sacramento” of today. The founder and leader of Ruhstaller Beer is Mr. J. E. Paino. J.E., as he prefers to be called, graduated from UC Davis with a degree in business; the beer career came about later. He impresses me as a down-to-earth kind of guy who appreciates the team approach and is totally focused on the customer. As many who build companies, he is driven by quality in his ingredients and that quality starts with hops-that is Sacramento hops.
J.E. has been very methodical in building an award-winning craft beer company brand, drawing on a rich history of Sacramento in beer, grains, and hops. The company has spent a great deal of time and money to nurture the hops industry that remains today. From 3 local hops farms, enough hops are produced to supply Ruhstaller Beer with most of the hops they need, except for 5 % which come from outside of California. Even the barley is sourced from Northern California farmers.
J. E. is not shy about his belief that California offers the best terroir/environmental conditions for growing premium hops. “I have proven that with our own 10 acres of hops,” says Paino. When you drive west on I-80 in Dixon, CA you can see their hop farm beside the road. “At Ruhstaller Beer, we believe great beer begins with the best ingredients. Just as our founder Captain Frank Ruhstaller, we are partnering with California hop and barley farmers to grow the finest California ingredients for our beers.
To show how serious Ruhstaller Beer is about their commitment to ingredients, they started a hop school to teach Ruhstaller’ s history, the techniques required to grow premium hops, and to help consumers understand the foundation of good beer. In fact, the class is not free, in 2019 they charged $30 per participant for 6 sessions and they provided lunch and beer.
Interestingly, Sacramento was the hops capital of the world and that era is generally recognized as starting about 1850. One hops grower of that period started a hops farm located at what is now Sacramento University. By 1904 that grower was supplying hops to Guinness Brewery.
Research indicates most people buy craft beer based upon regional identity, a recommendation, a positive trial experience, label design, and brand loyalty. If a brewery owner and its employees have a passion about what they are doing, will inherently drive quality and customers recognition. Value of quality, passion, and a recognizable corporate culture that is recognizable will drive consumer brand loyalty.
To paraphrase a legendary New York City advertising genius-If it doesn’t sell, all else doesn’t matter. Probably the Ruhstaller Beer approach to marketing has had a profound impact on branding. As just noted, Ruhstaller Beer•Sacramento is built on a historic regional name that was known for consistent quality, the support of local growers, and an identity that consumers can relate with. From tap handles they make from old farm implements to the abstract stylized silhouette image of a man with a cigar and to the name ‘Sacramento’ on their labels; they have created a brand that is easy to understand and creates an affinity. Who doesn’t like the story of success built with the early history of a brewery from the upstart West?
In the Yolo County News article by Bret Johnson, J. E. Paino (founder Ruhstaller Beer) says about marketing beer, “You can’t just have a good story with a good name on it. 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 (the namesake of today’s Ruhstaller) put a gilt edge on the lip of the glass because it was supposed to be better beer.” The Ruhstaller family gave Paino one of the original gilt-edged glasses as a gift.
In that same interview, Paino predicted that beers made using local hops will cost an additional 50 cents per bottle. To justify the cost, it’s essential that the consumer is aware of the value and purpose of quality ingredients which brings aromas, flavor, and mouthfeel to the quality craft beer experience.
This is about Ruhstaller Beer•Sacramento: Yes, the name does matter. The resurrection of the iconic name by J. E. Paino comes with the best wishes from the survivors of the Frank Ruhstaller family. Ruhstaller Beer of today is unique to the craft beer industry because of its history. This craft beer brand has roots dating back to 1881 in humble beginnings. History for Ruhstaller Beer today is the documented history of Frank Ruhstaller, the history of Sacramento as the beer capital of the western half of the U.S., sourcing history of ingredients, and a profound history of corporate culture. We can always learn from old-time masters. Mr. J. E. Paino is adding to the Ruhstaller legacy/history by adding a keen understanding of building brand loyalty on true quality.
History can make for good beer!