Horsethief Soap Company
Melt and Pour
By Kimberly Horg
Photos: Kelli Avila
A beer lovers’ dream might be to soak in a tub with a beer after a long day of work. Not drinking a beer, but actually bathing in beer might sound far-fetched, but Horsethief Soap Company is making dreams into realities with its new beer soap.
Lemoore resident Natalie Martin made her first five-bar batch of soap during the spring of 2015.
“It was so much fun to see oil and lye come together to make something totally and completely different and practical. I joked that if chemistry class had been this much fun, I would have enjoyed it more,” she said.
She never imagined turning it into a business. Martin was a vice president at a bank before retiring to stay home with her children. Her husband Philip encouraged her to turn her hobby into a business.
Every name has a story, and this business name comes from Horsethief Canyon, where Joaquin Murrieta was said to have hidden stolen horses.
“I think every bar should have a story,” she says. “People always laugh while asking me how I come up with my soap and candle names, and I usually respond that if I explained that process to them, they would think I was nuts.”
Her inspiration is mostly western/cowboy culture, songs and movies. She has up to 28 varieties of soaps, including her seasonal varieties. Her favorites are the Misty Mountain Morning (made with peppermint and lavender) and her new varieties, California Love (made with lime and peppermint) and One Trick Pony (sage
Top-selling soaps are The Horse Thief, The Squeakin’ Clean Cowboy Soap, Hoppin’ California Poppies, Fifty, The Mule and Misty Mountain Morning. Some are beer soaps, some are made for men, while others are all natural.
She loves that every soap-maker can create a distinctly different bar just by altering the oils and ratios they use. The major physical advantage to adding beer to soap is that the additional sugars fortify the lather like nothing else.
Despite what some may think, it does not make the soap smell like beer. She tries to mimic the specific aromas of the beer, including juicy orange and clove for a Hefeweizen, grassy wild-flower fragrance for a floral IPA and even rich coffee notes for a stout. Given the popularity of craft beer, the novelty of beer soaps made with people’s most favorite California craft brews usually earns a second glance.
“I think there is soap for everyone in my lineup,” Martin says.
For people with sensitive skin, she recommends Billy the Kid, which she makes by adding goats’ milk to her basic soap recipe.
Martin starts with a simple base of olive and coconut oils, and uses her own ratios and combinations of soap oils to produce a well-balanced, moisturizing, hard bar.
Ingredients range from craft beer to time-honored herbs to clays, micas and other natural/nature-identical ingredients. Clays add a silky slide, while sea salts are humectants that can be exfoliating, hydrating and feel silky on the skin. Certain herbs as well as kelp and spirulina contain skin-loving nutrients and add great visual appeal to the soaps. Some soap is scented with fragrance, while others are scented naturally with essential oils.
“Soap is a pretty labor-intensive process,” she says. “It’s not that the process is complicated, just there are a lot of pounds of oil, water and lye involved, which require careful measuring and handling.”
After soap is made and in the mold, it then needs to be cut, beveled and allowed to cure for four weeks before it can be labeled and sent out.
For her, making soap has never been about picking a fragrance and swirling in some color to match. It usually starts with a single ingredient, and then she considers the name, the style and aromas. Then she finds inspiration for the scent, color and other additives.
For example, her Man in Black is a beer soap made with a local Black Rye IPA. It’s a piney and resinous beer, so the scent of the bar is a sharp blend of cedar wood, rosemary and lavender essential oils with a little tea tree oil. The bar itself is almost black, thanks to skin-purifying activated charcoal, with the exception of a topping of Pacific sea salt (which is has an incredibly soothing and silky feel on the skin) to drive home that it’s truly a California soap made with California ingredients.
The idea is the same for every bar: The ingredients, scent, color and name all come together to tell a complete story.
“Developing new varieties is my favorite. That’s when soap-making is really an ‘art,’” she says.
She also makes scented candles. Backyard Swagger is one of her favorites. It smells of a unique blend of wet grass, cut flowers and citrus, making it clean, sweet and pleasantly floral. Candles are a little more straightforward, requiring only a one- to two-week cure.
Soap lovers can find her products at retail shops throughout the state, including Quilter’s Paradise and Wit’s End Vintage in Clovis. She is working with Firestone Brewery in Paso Robles to craft custom beer soaps and coordinate candles with its craft brews. •
Find them on Facebook & Instagram