Ruhstaller's new taproom is cool, experimental and kind of a secret

Ruhstaller opened up its basement taproom to the public about a month ago. There wasn’t a huge announcement or “Grand Opening” banner. Instead, it’s like a secret, literally underground oasis from the madness of K Street.

That’s why the windows are covered with dark paper, and there’s not much signage at all, and the doors are locked. Essentially, the good people of Ruhstaller don’t want crazy people wandering in. If you can read the instructions, follow them, ring the doorbell, and wait for someone to open the door, you pass the test.

The taproom inside feels like a pop-up—wooden crates and burlap sacks create pseudo-walls in the warehouse space—and it’s undeniably one of the most attractive places to drink beer in Sacramento. There’s a large, wooden communal table, pretty market lights, cozy vintage couches and a pool table. It’s rustic yet sleek.

And there’s beer. Ruhstaller has eight taps and serves one pour for $5 or a flight of four for $10. A couple flagships like the Captain Black IPA and 1881 red ale are usually available, and the rest are wild cards from what owner JE Paino likes to call the “Rapid Fire Research & Development program.”

“These are not meant to be good beers,” he said. “They’re meant to help us understand the hops.”

It’s about listening to what Sacramento beer wants to be, Paino said. He gets his hops from the area—his own farm near Davis, a ditch in Elkhorn—and spends a lot of time experimenting. He’ll make 40-gallon batches and split them into seven, with the only variable being the hops.

“We can fail all day at 5 gallons at a time,” Paino said. There are successes too, of course, like April’s limited-release Nugget Ale.

Yesterday, Ruhstaller had its Kolsch, a limited-release collaboration with Low-Brau and local band Exquisite Corps; Whiskey Dreams, an unreleased collaboration mixed with Old Soul’s nitro cold brew; Santos, a saison brewed by three Sacramentans; and a couple of mysteries.

“What is this?” I asked Paino when he poured me a taste of something labeled D&D.

“We don’t know yet,” he said. “But it’s an heirloom hop.”

Paino gives impassioned brewery tours—appointments need to be made in advance—which also come with a rich Sacramento beer history lesson. There’s an aisle of memorabilia: a beat-up Gilt Edge can from the original Ruhstaller days; photos of the artists who design Ruhstaller’s labels; and a board of future plans. Paino wants to build a hop kiln that can double as a tasting room for 11 month out of the year. He wants to build a brewery out at his hop farm on Kidwell Road. He wants to maintain a taproom downtown, whether that’s at the current basement or elsewhere. With the arena looming, he’s already scouting locations.

The details: Ruhstaller is open Thursday, Friday and Saturday, 3 to 9 p.m. at 630 K Street. The entrance is on 7th Street. Call (916) 447-1881 to gain access or make a tour appointment.

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