Our Story . .
Central Coast Distillery and the Forager spirit brand was birthed in 2017 by owners and operators Eric & Anna Olson both natives of California. It was in the early ‘90s when their professional paths crossed while working in the luxury segment of the hospitality industry. Eric’s zest for adventure and travels along with his passion for the Culinary Arts took him abroad to study cuisine in 22 countries: leading culinary teams, conceptualizing restaurants/bars, menu development and kitchen design. Meanwhile Anna worked to advance her career as a GM and focused her competencies on workforce transition, operational system development and market/ prepositioning within the Four & Five Diamond resort industry. Together and separately they worked up and down the central coast of California serving and influencing such properties as Ojai Valley Inn & Spa, Carmel Valley Ranch, Pebble Beach Resorts, and Allegretto Vineyard Resort.
However, it was a project in Cambria in 2012 that brought them to San Luis Obispo County. Anna had been eyeing the area since the City, locally referred to as SLO, had received Oprah Winfrey’s endorsement as the “happiest place in America”; but life had taken them further north to Monterey County before granting them the opportunity to settle in SLO County. Landing there affording them more time with family, resulting in the inspiration of the Forager spirits brand and the opportunity to open Central Coast Distillery.
Eric set out to establish production practices that, while innovative, would continue to respect and honor the conventional customs of craft spirit distillation. Unlike the larger spirit producers who run their stills continuously, Forager batches are made in either the 50-gallon stainless or a 100-gallon Kentucky Copper still, yielding 36 - 60 bottles per batch allowing clean cuts and eliminating the impurities found in the heads and the tails of each run. Utilizing quality and complementary ingredients in the creation of his mash and ferment gives a nod to his culinary training and a means to fashioning spirits that bring pleasure to the nose, appealing texture to the mouth and a smooth finish. All combined, production, bottling and labeling are conducted within the bond lines of 650 square feet, allowing them to touch, inspect and guarantee the quality of every bottle leaving the distillery.
Eric and Anna have found it natural to merge their passion in creating a family of uniquely handcrafted single batch spirits that proudly tell the story of the region of their birth and attest to the “spirit” of California. They keep things local; whether in developing their label design or working with the local beekeeper to locate beehives between Ojai and Santa Cruz using the raw honey to produce Forager’s Vodka distilled from Raw Honey. More recently they harvested locally grown Agave from Paso Robles roasting them over native almond wood to create an Agave Spirit in a Reposado style and a “Gravedigger” label reminiscent of a smoky Mezcal using traditional Mexican distilling methods, paying homage to Anna’s Mexican heritage.
However, it was in their zeal to share their love for SLO County that brought Eric to create the Forager Rum finished in a Bourbon Barrel which uniquely manifests a taste of the San Luis Obispo lifestyle; combining the relaxed beach scene with the revered hardworking rancher. This labor of love garnered them the Double Gold - First in Show in the Denver International Competition and placed Central
The brand name Forager was gleaned from a tradition passed down two generations through Eric’s mother’s family, the Fitzells. As the first druggist in California in the late 1800s, their history was to forage off their 800-acre ranch in Humbolt County’s City of Eureka. Their skills in wildcrafting gave way to providing medicines to their community which was, at that time, dispensed through alcohol produced from their legally authorized stills and sold out of the Fitzell’s Pharmacy, located on 3rd and F street in the Weck Building.
Photo courtesy of Clark Museum
Coast Distillery and the County of SLO in the international spotlight when written up by Rum Magazine. In 2020 they received an International Gold Medal for their Forager Bourbon Whiskey, yet if asked, they take great pride in being voted “Best of” by the residents of their very own SLO County for two consecutive years since their opening to the public.
Producing fine crafted spirits is only a part of their local notoriety. As natural as breathing, they carry a zeal to share their knowledge and experience throughout their community and with visitors, all with the goal of developing unique experiences and sharing them with those that visit the County. This has come through the means of teaching such courses as Distilling, At the Heart of Customer Care and The Responsibilities in Serving Alcohol through such avenues as Cal Poly San Luis Obispo’s Extended Ed program.
Eric and Anna have relish in the opportunity given to work with Visit SLO Cal and Visit California to hosting journalists, visitors and locals alike introducing them to the beauty and uniqueness of the area; partnering with local wineries and business owners to create one-of-a-kind events, exploring the local agave field, foraging ranches, vineyards and abalone farms and introducing the rich history and unique offerings of the Central Coast. After a day of exploring the area, people stand ready for a personal invitation to enjoy one of Eric’s signature cocktails created with house made elixirs, Forager spirits and garnished with locally sourced or hand gathered fruits, herbs or flowers.
“We have had the privilege of living in some beautiful places, but my heart had long been calling me to San Luis Obispo County as far back as 1997” says Anna. “It took us 15 years to arrive here, but it was well worth the wait. Eric and I have been so blessed by this community and are both passionate about sharing this place we now call home.”