Sacramento was once one of the largest hop-producing regions in the world, and breweries with names such as Ruhstaller and Buffalo delivered Sacramento-produced beers far and wide until Prohibition. Today, Sacramento craft breweries are once again becoming more prolific, and many of them will be prominently featured at the inaugural Farm-to-Fork Festival Sept. 28 on Capitol Mall in Downtown Sacramento.
“It’s looking like we’ve got a pretty good group,” said Ruhstaller Brewing Company owner J-E Paino. “We’ve got Rubicon, Berryessa, Sudwerk, Track 7, American River, New Helvetia, ourselves, River City, probably Loomis Basin and one more.”
Beer gardens are traditionally run by a distributor, but with the Farm-to-Fork Festival’s inherently local nature, it makes more sense to have a coalition of local brewers represented.
Paino said that with the recent explosion of breweries in the United States and Sacramento, more people are taking to the drink as something to be enjoyed in a similar vein to wine, which places an emphasis on where it’s produced.
“In Sacramento, we were the beer capital of California prior to prohibition,” he said. “Primarily, that was because we grew the best stuff. Not just the best hops, but the best almonds, walnuts, avocados, peaches, cherries – you name it. And this is the absolute core of what we’re about. Nobody is hanging their hat on California-grown more than we have.”
Paino and crew spent much of the summer planting hops not far from the city off of Interstate 80, and those hops will likely be picked on Labor Day.
“We’ve got a nice crop, especially for a first-year harvest, and hopefully it will make a good beer,” he said. “We will definitely have some at the festival.”
But that’s not all the new beer Sacramentans and visitors can experience at the festival
David Gull, owner of New Helvetia Brewing Co., said he’s bringing back one of Sacramento’s iconic beer names just in time for the festival.
“We’re going to reintroduce the Buffalo brand as a lager and see if it resonates with the community,” he said. “That was what inspired me to open the brewery in the first place, and we’re hoping people in Sacramento get into it.”
New Helvetia, located at 1730 Broadway, will debut its German-style Buffalo Craft Lager Wednesday, Aug. 21, at 4 p.m. Buffalo Brewing Company was once one of the big names in Sacramento beer, with a brewery at 21st and Q streets where The Sacramento Bee now stands.
For beer nerds really looking to get into the history of the drink, Gull said that the day after the lager is introduced, Buffalo Craft Lager Fresh Hop Cask will be served at the brewery.
“Because it’s fresh hop harvest season right now we will be doing a fresh hop version of the lager and have it gravity dispensed from a cask and not refrigerated, just like the old style,” Gull said, adding that it’s in keeping with the brewery’s aim to embody the historical aspect of Sacramento beer by giving people a taste of how the beer would have been enjoyed a century ago.
Gull and Paino both focus on the abundant crops that Sacramento is able to grow – part of what makes the city America’s Farm-to-Fork Capital. But the brewers can give something back, as well. Gull said that once the grains used in beer production are no longer needed, they are sent out to local ranchers who use them to feed their livestock, which is supplied to local restaurants.
Paino said farm-to-fork production is in his blood. His family’s experience growing grapes made growing everything he can as it relates to beer in Sacramento a natural next step. The third iteration of Ruhstaller 1881 red ale is being called 1881i – with the I standing for “indigenous.”
Ruhstaller beers bear the name Sacramento on the label, and the locations of the hop farms are printed as well. Paino said that each time the ingredients get grown closer to home, the beer seems to come out better.
And the scale is only increasing.
“There’s probably in the region two to four acres of hops, and probably by this time next year, maybe double to triple that,” he said. “You can’t do this in San Francisco. You can’t do it in San Diego. You can’t do it in Saint Louis. Sacramento is one of the few places in the world where you can do this.”