A stein among wines
In an area surrounded by vineyards and independent winemakers, Doug Martin picked San Luis Obispo as the spot to start his own beverage-making business.
Except Martin took a slightly unconventional route: He’s brewing beer.
But he takes an even further unconventional step: He brews his according to Reinheitsgebot, or German Purity Law, and imports all his ingredients from Germany.
“According to German Purity Law, you’re allowed only four ingredients: water, malt, hops and yeast,” Martin said. “Of course everything except for the water is German.”
Martin began selling his first bottles of Einhorn Brewing Co. beer in mid-July in two varieties: hefeweizen and pilsner. In one week, he had already sold 25 cases, mostly through area liquor stores.
He had a chance to test drive his beer’s taste, however, at Avila Beach’s California Festival of Beers in May, which was his first public presentation of Einhorn.
Despite launching his business on the Central Coast, Martin, 42, isn’t originally from the area. Born and raised in Chicago, Martin moved to Germany after college to work in his grandfather’s beverage distribution business. One thing led to another and he ended up staying there for 20 years, working in various sectors of the German beer industry.
“I didn’t expect to stay that long,” he said.
Because Germans get six weeks of vacation annually and his sister lives in Los Angeles, Martin was able to visit California frequently. He eventually made his way up the coast and fell in love with San Luis Obispo.
“I decided many years ago that I wanted to move here one day,” he said.
That move came in February, when he quit his job in Germany and moved to San Luis Obispo with his wife and 2-and-a-half-year-old son.
But Martin is taking the beer business slow in SLO. Before investing heavily in a building and expensive beer-making machinery, he’s trying to build up his brand and business.
Similar to what fledgling vineyards do, Martin brings his beer-making ingredients to another brewer – a friend who owns the Skyscraper Brewing Co. in El Monte. There, he produces his beer on site before bringing it back to San Luis Obispo where he distributes everything himself.
He said the American attitudes toward beer might bode well for him.
“What I have found, which is great, is the acceptance of consumers and retailers for new things.
Americans like to try new things and that’s great because the other side of the coin is Germans, who are very traditional in their thinking, and they’re very hard to change over,” he said.
His beer may even be tastier than the stuff actually produced in Germany because it’s produced and sold in the same locale.
“If you were comparing that to the stuff that’s being imported, it has a lot to do with the freshness of beer. The German beers, because of the ways that they’re brewed, are kind of susceptible to the transportation coming overseas,” he said. “Either they’re pasteurized, which changes the taste, or they’re changed by the transport overseas, which can also change the elements of the beer. I’ve heard that they don’t travel well.”
Martin also noted that his beer is a niche product along the Central Coast, particularly when compared to the area’s powerhouse Firestone Walker Brewing Co., which is just up Highway 101 in Paso Robles.
“Compared to the area, of course, the biggest is Firestone and Firestone is concentrating more on the ales and more American types of beer – American/English types,” Martin said. “I think that the
German style is not really represented right now. It’s a lighter beer.”
If all goes well, Martin intends to brew more beers under the Einhorn label in the near future, and may even “tweak a few recipes with some interesting components.”
“But right now I’m sticking with good, solid German style,” he said.
Importing his ingredients from Germany may seem like an expensive practice, especially with the weak dollar, but the exploding price of hops in the United States may put Martin at an advantage.
“I bought [the hops] prior to leaving Germany because the hops shortage is pretty intense here in the states,” he said. “I’ve had to import them myself. It’s really crazy and the price has skyrocketed in hops 500 to 600 percent in the last year.”
Martin stores his ingredients at a warehouse in San Luis Obispo and will gauge the success of his business before deciding to upgrade to his own facility.
“I’m just trying to get the business and the brand established first. If people really like it, then I have a sales basis to talk to more investors and move on to the next stage and build,” he said.