Long-time beer executive Steve Almaraz has joined Figueroa Mountain Brewing as its new president and partner, leaving a five-year stint managing the craft beer category at the Reyes Beer Division.
Speaking to Brewbound, Almaraz said a combination of factors led him to joining Figueroa Mountain, among them a shorter commute to work and a desire to work with Figueroa Mountain co-founder Jaime Dietenhofer, who started the company with his late father, James Dietenhofer.
“I truly admired not only the relationship that he and his dad had — it’s pretty special — but what they were able to do with the community,” Almaraz said. “The people here of the central coast really support them because they are genuine and they’re part of the community and I really liked that.”
As a partner, Almaraz has taken on an ownership stake in Figueroa Mountain, but he declined to disclose the size of his share of the business.
The Dietenhofers founded Figueroa Mountain in 2010. The Buellton, California-based company’s volume has more than doubled since 2014, when it produced 6,950 barrels. Figueroa Mountain’s production reached a five-year peak of 19,000 barrels in 2015, and then declined slightly in 2018 to 17,500, according to data from the Brewers Association.
“My dad and I grew this business through a shared vision of respect and admiration for our customers, employees and community,” Jaime Dietenhofer said in a press release announcing Almaraz’s hiring. “I’m honored to be able to support his legacy as Figueroa Mountain embarks on this next stage with the collective leadership of Steve, myself and the company’s board and executive team.”
Almaraz and the Dietenhofers have maintained a good relationship over the past decade, however, it was Almaraz’s friendship with beer industry entrepreneur Alan Newman that brought him to Figueroa Mountain. Newman, who co-founded Vermont’s Magic Hat Brewing and oversaw Boston Beer Company’s Alchemy & Science division, is a consultant for Figueroa Mountain, and he persuaded Almaraz to come on board.
“Alan and I have probably known each other for almost 20 years and we have talked for probably almost 20 years of, ‘How are we going to work together?’ because we really like each other,” Almaraz explained. “We think a lot of the same way in the way we see business and definitely see breweries.”
During his 15-year tenure at Firestone Walker, Almaraz was key to helping the company grow from 6,000 barrels to 208,343 barrels when he exited the company in 2014. Firestone Walker has since grown to more than 450,000 barrels of annual production.
Although the main focus of his career has been craft beer distribution at Reyes and sales at Firestone Walker, Almaraz is no stranger to the retail tier and the hospitality industry. He and his brother have held an ownership stake in Los Angeles’ Blue Palms Brewhouse for 12 years.
“I’ve been doing this in the background behind the scenes, and now I can really utilize those talents and experiences that I’ve had over the years,” Almaraz said.
For now, Almaraz’s attention will turn to driving traffic to Figueroa Mountain’s six taprooms in Buellton, Arroyo Grande, Santa Maria, Los Olivos, Santa Barbara and Westlake Village.
“They’re such an integral part of the message of the brewery and that’s the first point of contact to the consumers; we really want to get those right and get my arms around them,” he said.
According to Almaraz, he has gleaned what he described as the equivalent of a Ph. D in wholesaler knowledge working under Ned Hall, Reyes VP of marketing for Reyes Beer Division West. However, he plans to keep Figueroa Mountain’s distribution business within California.
“Just focused on California and I mean, why not? That’s a lifetime of work,” he said.