Over the weekend, Vista-based Mother Earth Brew Co. announced that it has begun phase-two development of its brewery in Nampa, Idaho. That 40,000-square-foot facility opened last August with equipment allowing for production of 100,000 barrels of beer. The aforementioned development includes additional infrastructure and “fermentation improvements” as well as expansion of the brewery’s packaging areas. The latter will allow for a greater variety of packaging formats in the future.
Back at home, the company has brought on Luis Lapostol to serve as lead brewer at its original Vista brewery. Lapostol spent nearly four years in the same role with SLO Brewing Company in San Luis Obispo, California. Prior to that, the Cal Poly SLO graduate worked at Central Coast wineries.
Mother Earth is also sharing news about expansion of its distribution network including key regions across the nation as well as Brazil. New states include Georgia (launching in August) and Rhode Island (October). Building on previously reached regions, Mother Earth beers will now be distributed throughout the entirety of Oregon after the company signed into the Great Artisan Beverage distribution network, and all of Utah care of an agreement with Utah Craft Beverages. According to Mother Earth vice president Kevin Hopkins, additional market announcements are forthcoming.
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.
Mitch Steele, Stone Brewing’s brewmaster of 10 years, will be leaving his post at the end of the month to pursue a new opportunity. The specifics of that new venture have yet to be officially dispersed, but despite a lack of details, this is news that will be widely reported today. And it should be. Steele is one of the brewing industry’s blue-chip members. Not only has he overseen brewing operations at one of the country’s fastest-growing brewing companies — even during high-profile expansions to the East Coast and Europe — he literally wrote the book on India pale ales: IPA: Brewing Techniques, Recipes and the Evolution of India Pale Ale. His loss will be palpable for Stone, but not just because of his brewing prowess and professional skills, which led to numerous industry awards.
Having worked with Steele for three years, I can tell you that he brought another x-factor to Stone. In addition to being a consummate professional, he is also a good person with a big heart who not only loves beer and the art of brewing, but tirelessly supports the sharing of information for the purpose of educating and inspiring others about beer, brewing and his craftsperson industry. Though Stone has often been described as brash, polarizing or downright bastardly, such characterization has never been applied to Steele. He is one of the most respected and positively received public-facing employees the company has ever had, and it will no doubt be very sad for his colleagues to see him go, but in speaking with a number of them in preparation for this article, their happiness for him is both real and unanimous. Count me among those sending best wishes for his next venture, for which he was sought out by industry professionals recognizing the talent and intangibles he brings to the brew-deck.
Steele entered the brewing industry in 1988, four years after graduating from UC Davis with a degree in Fermentation Science. His first job was manning a 14-barrel system at the San Andreas Brewing Company. In 1992, he started work at Anheuser-Busch, managing brewhouse and fermenting operations in three different breweries while developing new beers as part of the company’s Specialty Brewing Group. An employee of Big Beer seemed an unlikely candidate for induction at Stone, which has railed against macro-entities since its 1996 founding, but Steele won over owners Greg Koch and Steve Wagner and proceeded to take San Diego County’s largest brewery from annual production of 48,000 barrels to more than 325,000 in 2015.
Steele’s last day at Stone will be June 30. As is customary, the brewery has produced a video (embedded below) to communicate this development with its fans via social-media. In it, Steele shares stories from the past decade, praises key members of his brewing staff and struggles with emotions throughout. Such emotion is understandable. It’s the end of an era, both for Steele and for Stone. Rather than fill the brewmaster position, Stone will employ an “innovation team” headed by chief operating officer Pat Tiernan and key individuals from the company’s brewing team. That group will develop new beers with concepts and recipes approved by Koch and Wagner.
This is not uncharted territory for San Diego’s brewing scene. Last September, Green Flash Brewing Company—probably the San Diego company closest to Stone in its make-up with its hoppy beer portfolio, status as one of the country’s 50 largest craft breweries, multiple local locations and Virginia expansion project—abruptly lost its brewmaster when 11-year veteran Chuck Silva resigned in similar fashion. His mission was to return to his San Luis Obispo County roots and open his own brewery. That project, Silva Brewing, is well underway with plans to open later this year in Paso Robles. When that happened, Green Flash did not crumble, and neither will Stone. It will just be…different.
Brandon Hernández previously worked for Stone Brewing as its Senior Communications Specialist from 2012 to 2015.
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