By Sue Pascoe
Selected by British GQ magazine as one of the “100 Best Things in the World Right Now,” Einstok’s Icelandic Pale Ale beer is brewed 60 miles south of the Arctic Circle in Akureyri, a tiny fishing village.
Who would guess that the co-founder and general partner of Einstok—David Altshuler—actually lives in Pacific Palisades? This distinct craft beer was first introduced to the California market in 2012. That year, 7,500 cases of beer were sold; the following year, it was 23,000 cases and through the first half of this year, 46,000 cases.
“I feel one of the biggest reasons for the beer’s success is that it’s refreshingly delicious because of the quality of the water,” said Altshuler, who grew up in West L.A., attended University High and was one of the first students at UC Irvine. “It is not filtered or modified. It has a nearly perfect pH and minerality.”
He explained that another selling point is the beer’s distinct branding. The label is clean and memorable because of the lone Viking silhouette, the words Einstok (Icelandic word meaning unique) and Olgerd (Icelandic for brewery), and the numbers N 65 and W 18 (shorthand for latitude and longitude of the brewery).
“We were also deliberate in selecting the styles of beer we wanted to offer,” said Altshuler, who has lived here since 1996. There is the White Ale, containing wheat malt, pilsner malt, oats and Bavarian noble hops, spiced with coriander and orange peel (a gold medal winner in the 2013 L.A. International Beer Competition); the Pale Ale, which is brewed with pale ale, crystal, chocolate, American and Bavarian malt; and the Toasted Porter, brewed with lager, Munich and chocolate malt, Bavarian hops, and a slight addition of Icelandic roasted coffee.
In addition to the three mainstays, two seasonal brews are offered: Arctic Berry Ale and the Icelandic Doppelbock, which also won a gold medal at the L.A. Beer Competition.
How did Altshuler get into the beer business? Through wine.
After graduating from NYU law school (he also has a master’s degree in taxation), he began his practice in 1973. In the late ‘70s, a friend (who was also a client) started making wine, and Altshuler offered to lend him money for equipment.
Instead, his friend asked him to be a partner at the Starhill vineyard in Napa Valley, which produced pinot, cabernet and zinfandels. Eventually, the two had a difference of opinion about distribution and the business was sold.
In 2007, Altshuler’s former business partner introduced him to Jack Sichterman, and the two set out to market a luxury bottled water from Iceland. “The market crashed in 2009 and we couldn’t raise the money,” Altshuler said, noting that the bottling plant was owned by Coca-Cola, which also had a brewery. The men were asked if they would like to market that beer in the U.S. and their answer was “No.”
“We didn’t feel that the U.S. had a market for another lager,” Altshuler said. “But there was room for a craft brand.”
The partners made a deal with Coke that if that company would take care of brewing and distribution in Iceland, “We’ll do the rest.”
The head brewer at the Viking Brewery is Baldur Karason, who attended the Heriot Watt University in Edinburgh for brewing, and took additional courses at Lowengrau Munich, Carlsberg Denmark and Doemens Institute Germany.
“We launched our beer in London at Harvey Nichols in Knightsbridge,” Altshuler said. “It was a huge success, especially in a market known for discerning beer drinkers.”
The beer can be found in the United States in California, in New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Florida and Delaware, and is about to be launched in Texas, Mississippi, Tennessee and Minnesota.
For draft drinkers, Altshuler promises November delivery. He credits Wine Warehouse (whose chairman of the board, Jim Myers, is a Palisadian) with the successful distribution of Einstok.
“For small craft beers, we cannot afford typical print and television advertising,” said Altshuler, who travels to various beer-tasting events and festivals. “We get people excited about the beer and eventually you get enough people asking for it. It is more about consumer pull than wholesale push. It’s about getting people to try it.”
The first Einstok office was in the Atrium building on Via de la Paz, but the founders rapidly outgrew the space.
His license plate is Einstok.“People honk when they see it,” he said, then jokingly added: “I don’t know whether it’s because I cut them off or because of the beer.”
He is married to Linda Sherman, a senior marking executive at Legg Mason. They have a son, Ethan. Altshuler has two grown sons, Jason and Blake, from a previous marriage. “Einstok is their favorite business of all my ventures because it is so tangible,” he said.
Locally, Einstok is sold at Gelson’s, Vons, Ronny’s Market, Shore Bar, Sam’s By the Beach and Tivoli Cafe.
Visit einstokbeer.com for more information.