When former Green Flash Brewing Company brewmaster Chuck Silva first told me he was resigning so he and his wife could leave San Diego to build their own brewery, I was crestfallen. Silva was a respected, positive force within the local brewing scene; a veteran of more than a decade who helped usher in the age of the mainstream, ultra-hoppy, San Diego-style IPA. Definitely not the type of craftsman you want to see exit stage right, but when he informed me he was heading to Paso Robles to install his passion-project it lessened the sting considerably. My wife and I visit Paso several times a year, meaning I’d be able to stay in touch with Silva and his liquid wares.
The Silvas opened their eponymous venture, Silva Brewing (525 Pine Street, Suite B, Paso Robles), last December. On Day One, they had just one beer—Paso Pale Ale—but that didn’t stop droves of curious imbibers from crowding into Silva’s tiny (a mere 333 square feet), brewery-abutting tasting room to sate their thirst and curiosity. By the time I got there a couple of months ago, there were five beers on—an IPA named for the business’ address (525 Pine), a recently debuted walnut milk stout called Nut Farm, and a German-style amber (Suite B) and blonde. The latter goes by the name First Gold, indicating its status as Silva’s first blue-ribbon garnering recipe.
After hours on the road, those inaugural offerings were welcomed with open taste-buds. As I tasted my way through them, I found myself rather surprised. These ales tasted nothing like what I’d come to know from Silva during his days at Green Flash where hops rule the day, to the point where one imperial selection proclaims in name and theory to wreck palates. The Silva Brewing portfolio instead revolved around drinkability, balance and finesse. Yeast and malt character were at the forefront with the German ales, and though there were nice piney, citrus-like aroma and flavor notes in the pale and IPA, they were subdued. Instead of hop-bombs, they are the types of crisp, clean beers just about anybody can enjoy and put away. It’s a real departure from how he made his name in San Diego, and figures to be a hit in Silva’s old new digs (he actually grew up in San Luis Obispo County, and that was the impetus for his return), where nearby Firestone Walker Brewing Company and its balanced, to-style brews are the local measuring stick for beer-drinkers.
Silva has since released a double IPA, saison and various other beers. He has a portfolio of 20 recipes to rotate on and off of the 10-tap setup at his tasting room. That space is accessible via a front and back entrance, both of which are a bit tricky to find if you don’t know the setup. One can enter through an off-street, back-alley door or venture through the entry to craft-beer bar The Pour House and head to a small back-hall. Turning left takes you to shared restrooms, while a right turn leads straight to Silva’s tasting room, featuring a stainless bar, and dark-wood shelving holding all manner of black-and-orange, logo-emblazoned merchandise and a crowler machine. It’s a small but effective setup and one worth seeking out. It will be fun to see how Silva Brewing progresses, especially given its surprising start.
And if you can’t make it to Paso right now, you’re in luck. Silva personally delivered kegs to several San Diego accounts over the weekend. Drop-off spots included Fathom Bistro, Hamilton’s Tavern, Small Bar and Ballast Point Brewing‘s Little Italy brewpub. One of the beers he brought to the latter is a collaboration smoked porter called S-Shot that he brewed with BP’s Colby Chandler, which will be on-tap during a tap-takeover with Chandler and Silva tonight. Prior to this, the only San Diego establishment to carry Silva Brewing beer was the Round Table Pizza in Mission Valley. That business is owned by Izak and Teresa Ondre, who were instrumental in helping the Silvas get their brewery off the ground.
There are local brewers whose names are synonymous with the companies they work for. You hear Tomme Arthur and you think The Lost Abbey. You hear Yuseff Cherney and you think Ballast Point Brewing & Spirits. You hear Chuck Silva and you think of Green Flash Brewing Co.’s spiky, fluorescent green half-sun logo. Time to ditch that last correlation, because today Silva resigned from Green Flash after 11 years of guiding the company, and the design and manufacture of its decidedly West Coast-style, hop-driven beers.
Green Flash owners Mike and Lisa Hinkley brought Silva on in 2004 when the company was struggling to make an impact with the craft crowd. The difference following Silva’s arrival was night and day. Free to brew the hop-heavy recipes his personal tastes gravitated toward, he scored home runs with beers like his West Coast IPA and Hop Head Red before taking on a variety of Belgian-inspired ales, barrel-aged and Brettanomyces-stoked beers. Consumer demand grew, translating to sales, a move to a larger brewery in San Diego’s Mira Mesa community, the opening of a satellite brewing and barrel-aging facility called Cellar 3 in Poway, and construction of an East Coast brewery slated to open in Virginia Beach, Va. next year. As of the close of 2014, Green Flash had grown to become the 48th largest brewery (by production) in the United States.
Given Green Flash’s astronomical growth and Silva’s achievements while there—including plenty of medals from the World Beer Cup, Great American Beer Festival (including a gold medal for his Belgo-American Le Freak collected at Saturday’s GABF) and other prestigious brewing competitions—one has to wonder what would motivate him to make this move, especially at such a key period of growth for Green Flash. While it seems out of the blue, this is actually something Silva has contemplated for a long time, ever since falling in love with the idea of establishing his own brewing company. Effective immediately, that is what he’ll be devoting 100% of his time and energy to.
Adding to the passion behind the future Silva Brewing Company is the fact he will be working on the project with his wife, Mary Jo, and building it in California’s Central Coast region from which he hails. He’s targeted San Luis Obispo County, where many of his family and friends reside.
“It’s been so fulfilling to play such a major role in the accomplishment of so many goals at Green Flash. Together, we’ve come further and grown larger than I could have ever foreseen. I couldn’t have done it alone and I thank every member of the craft community that helped me along the way,” said Silva. “But it’s always been my dream and personal long-term goal to brew on my own terms. Now is the time to go for it.”
Update: Green Flash has promoted Head Brewer Erik Jensen to the position of Brewmaster