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Sacramento Boomer

Tapping Into the Past: The History of Ruhstaller Brewing

Craft brewing isn’t new to Sacramento. The region has been growing hops and barley and producing fine brews since the Gold Rush brought California into the union. The rich soil and proximity to the Sacramento River provide ideal conditions for growing hops, and at one time, the Sacramento Valley was reputed to be the largest hop-growing region in the world.

Captain Frank Ruhstaller, an immigrant from Einsiedeln, Switzerland, learned the trade of brewing at Canton Berne and brought that knowledge to Sacramento in 1865. He worked for various local breweries before opening his own, which he called Ruhstaller Brewery, in 1881. This was Sacramento’s first premium craft brewery and produced steam beer 15 years before Anchor Steam came into being.

A shrewd businessman and community leader, Ruhstaller was also involved with Buffalo Brewing Company—founded by Herbert Grau in Sacramento in 1888 and the largest brewery west of the Mississippi River—where he served as vice president on their board of directors.

Ruhstaller Brewery was run out of offices located in the Ruhstaller Building at 9th and J Streets. Built in 1898, the building still stands and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The brewery for Buffalo Brewing Company was located at 21st and Q Streets in today’s Midtown area. At one time, over 16 breweries operated in the downtown area of Sacramento.

Captain Ruhstaller was heavily connected to the Sacramento community, serving not only on the board of directors of Buffalo Brewing Company, but also acting as president of Fort Sutter National Bank and chief stockholder in The Capitol Hotel, in addition to being heavily invested in other business enterprises in the city.

When Ruhstaller died in October of 1907, the papers carried glowing reports of his civic merits, sterling integrity, sound sense, and good judgment. Hundreds turned out to pay their respects and “all the saloons of the city closed from 1 to 4 o’clock in the afternoon out of respect to the dead.”

Fast forward to 2010 when brewer J.E. Paino chose to resurrect the Ruhstaller name and Sacramento’s brewing history. According to Paino, owner of Ruhstaller Beer, the land that now houses Sacramento State used to be covered with hop fields. Locally grown hops and barley were the mainstay of Sacramento’s brewing industry.

Paino has brought back more than the name, however; Ruhstaller beer is made from hops grown locally at the Ruhstaller Farm and Yard located along I-80 in Dixon. The farm is not only a working hop farm, but also houses an outdoor event venue, and an educational hop exhibit showcasing growing techniques and hop varieties that have been used over time.

The inaugural harvest at Ruhstaller Farm was gathered in August of 2013, weighing in at over 200 pounds, far surpassing expectations. Utilizing hops from the farm and other local growers, Ruhstaller brews three, year-round selections: Gilt Edge California Golden Lager, 1881 California Red Ale, and CAPT California Black IPA. In addition, the brewery offers limited-release selections throughout the year. 

by Jerrie Beard

Sacramento Union, Volume 112, Number 163, 3 February 1907
Sacramento Union, Volume 114, Number 68, 31 October 1907
San Francisco Call, Volume 102, Number 151, 29 October 1907