Even in this era with thousands of breweries, hundreds of which have made a name for themselves based on brewing destination-worthy beer, surprisingly few brewmasters have the type of name recognition that Chuck Silva has earned. That’s due, in large part, to being a veteran of nearly a dozen years at San Diego’s Green Flash Brewing, where he garnered nearly a dozen GABF medals. This is the story of how he came home to Paso Robles where he and his wife Mary Jo to create Silva Brewing.
I much prefer writing about other people than other people writing about me, but when it’s a story about a new beer class I’ll be teaching–and it appears in the student newspaper, the Daily Nexus, of my alma mater because said class will be at UCSB–I’d say that slaps. OK, I shouldn’t say anything slaps because I’m no longer one of the young people. But I’m honored–and as a flashback I’ll add that I’m stoked–to have created the University’s first-ever beer tasting and appreciation class. The pitch was fairly simple: the University has offered its wine tasting class for decades (I took it in the ’90s), it’s time to get with the 21st century and put beer education on equal footing (even though Santa Barbara is, by and large, wine country.)
With Beer 101* I’ve created a curriculum that covers, however sparsely, the entire 10,000 year history of mankind’s foibles in fermenting grain as well as deeper dives into the chief regions and styles of beermaking today. It’s an eight-week course, open to anyone over 21, not just students! Sign up, join us, and if you’re not careful, you just might learn a thing or two.
*Updated 9/10/19: The beer class will henceforth be known as The Beer Class
I was honored to be invited to write an essay for the inaugural #FlagshipFebruary campaign. In my essay about Firestone Walker DBA—click here–I open with a quote on craftsmen and craftsmanship by legendary designer Charles Eames. But here’s his quote that served as a bookend.
In 1957 Eames declared that the title of craftsman “places a tremendous responsibility on those who claim it.” He then referenced a fellow architect named Mies van der Rohe who Eames claimed once said, “I don’t want to be interesting. I just want to be good.”
Those are fitting words for DBA’s epitaph, yet DBA will never die. Not DBA’s somewhat fierce, perhaps nostalgic, decidedly local fans (myself included) have anything to say about it.
As the great American philosopher Fred Eckhardt declared, “Listen to your beer.” And since beer speaks to people, at least those smart enough to listen and thoughtful enough to hear it, it speaks of hops growing on the bines, amber waves of barley blowing in the field, or yeast hitchhiking on the breeze.
Brewmaster Matt Van Wyk’s beer obviously sings to him. He, along with brothers Brian and Doug Coombs, are the composers behind Alesong Brewing and Blending in Eugene, Oregon. And while they create a wide range of barrel-matured beers from earthy saisons to viscous imperial stouts, no doubt it’s the emphasis on vinous, wild ales that is music to sour beer lovers’ ears. But if their newest GABF medals are any indication, they could almost rename the brewery WineAlesong. And there are others singing similar tunes. For this reason, I got to write about those brewing at the intersection of wine and beer for CraftBeer.com.
In 1995 when Santa Barbara Brewing Company opened, the country was home to about 800 breweries. By January 2019, there were some 900 craft breweries in California alone (it hit 1,000 long before year’s end). Over the years, that made Brew Co., as it came to be widely known, a little less special — so much so that Brew Co. is now dead. But long live The Cruisery, which is taking over the iconic space.
Naturally, the guy (me) who puts on a coffee beer festival (Baker’s Dozen) is into putting coffee in beer. And the style(s) that make the most sense is/are stouts and porters because of their innate coffee-ness. But we’ve come a long way, baby. For over a decade, ever since the Brewers Association introduced what was then called the “Coffee Flavored Beer” category at the 2002 Great American Beer Festival, the winners have been exclusively stouts or porters infused with coffee. It wasn’t until 2014 that Milwaukee’s MobCraft Beer broke the streak with a beer I’m not sure I’m allowed to name on CraftBeer.com where I wrote this story…but its “PG-name” would be “Guano” Crazy built on a brown ale base. Suffice it to say, I’m guano-crazy about coffee beers.
In the immortal words of JFK, translated from the original German (and with an assist from Eddie Izzard): “I am a doughnut.”
As such, ich bin ein berliner writer: I am a doughnut writer.
This past June, in what turned out to be one of the final stories ever published by All About Beer (I’m still in mourning), I merged my two beloveds by writing up the breweries and doughnuteries of Butler County, Ohio.
But one doughnut story does not a doughnut writer make. How many published doughnut stories are required to be deemed a doughnut writer? Two.
Ever since moving to Santa Barbara, there aren’t many new breweries to write about (although my next story for the Independent IS on a brand new* brewery in SB. *Sorta.), but I did get to write up the American Riviera’s newest purveyor of gourmet doughnuts, Hook & Press Donuts. Voila.
A few weeks ago, I saw Irish folk-punk band Flogging Molly. I first saw them 18 years ago and have seen them, on average, once a year. That said, it’d been a few years since I’d last seen them (which, I’m happy to say, was at the Oregon Zoo with my baby boy and it’s incredible to see how many kids were at this recent show, most of whom were really into it). When they first started making a name for themselves at the start of the 21st century, I considered myself a music writer. I self-published a music zine and wrote for some others (a couple even paid, unlike mine). As such, I had the opportunity to interview them a few times (and it helped that they liked my red-headed Irish-American girlfriend at the time).
During singer Dave King’s between-song banter, he talked about the importance of voting even though, as an Irishman who I guess still isn’t an American citizen, he cannot do. It’s not new territory for him. You can pick up the political bent in many of his songs’ lyrics, because the world is always a mess thanks to politicians.
So I decided to dig through my old files and find some of those interviews from way, way back. And then friend and author Jeff Alworth proposed that it’d make a good e-book, a short read that I could offer for $0.99. Cut to: it’s now ranked #1 in 30-Minute Politics and Social Sciences Short Reads. (Aw man, it WAS. It has since slipped to #2. So please shell out nearly one dollar and watch it skyrocket back to #1. Please.)
The e-book is awfully short, but to give an even shorter synopsis, the ever-sagacious Flogging Molly frontman Dave King shares his ruminations on the state of American politics (whether you swap “Bush” for “Trump” or not) and America itself. They ring truer today than they did back then. Maybe there’s something in the water they drink in the British Isles or that surrounds it, because I’ve had a song on replay in my head from a singer named Frank Turner, who I discovered when he opened for Flogging Molly on their 2016 tour. The chorus of the title song from Frank’s new album, Be More Kind, goes “In a world that has decided / That it’s going to lose its mind / Be more kind, my friends, try to be more kind.”
My obsession with the Commonwealth of Kentucky is that it’s a place that’s not what it is and isn’t what it’s not. It neighbors Tennessee, North Carolina and West Virginia but it’s not the South. It shares borders with Missouri, Indiana and Ohio but it’s not the Midwest. It’s Appalachia, but parts are also pretty cosmopolitan. It’s KFC but also award-winning Kenny’s Cheese. Some of my greatest road trip moments occurred in Kentucky from the whales I got to enjoy in Bowling Green to a night of Hot Browns and jaw-dropping bourbons in Louisville to playing board games at a brewery in Paducah with my son who found the Hot Wheels the brewer hid in the brick walls for some kid whose dad dragged him to another brewery. Plus, I really wanna be made a Kentucky Colonel.
Anyway, if you’re going to Kentucky, it’s all about the bourbon distilleries and brown bars. But also, it’s now about the beer. Just don’t order one that tastes like mint julep.
“At Anheuser-Busch’s St. Louis brewery, trained professionals sample the Budweiser brewed at each of the company’s 12 U.S. locations, making sure that the liquid tastes exactly the same. Customers shouldn’t be able to tell the difference between the Bud brewed in Newark, N.J., versus the one in Fort Collins, Colo., or Fairfield, Calif.”
“…we shouldn’t diminish the skill that goes into making tens of millions of barrels of the same beer each year, at multiple locations, each and every one without defect.”
Take Orval. This brewery, perhaps as the antithesis of these local guys across the US that pump out dozens of different beers a year and some are never to be replicated, defines the concept of craftsmanship. They make one thing and make it well. But sometimes the lemongrass profile rides higher than the sourdough. Sometimes I get more nectarine than white peach. But whoa-nelly, it’s always glorious. I do not believe I’ve ever enjoyed the same Orval twice and that’s even before considering splendidly cellared bottles. The hops that go into it are allowed to reflect seasonality of the crop. The yeast cells, like the beer, are alive! Granted, there are no fungible American craft breweries that fit this model or approach, but I can give concrete examples of beers from tiny players that bear the same brand name on the label though the liquid always varies (yet is always very good. Off the top of my head: Ale Apothecary Sahalie, Third Window Walkabout, New Belgium La Folie, Double Mountain Devil’s Cuvee Kriek, Craftsman Triple White Sage, Scratch Tonic, and, even among larger-produced beers, say, one you’d find in canned six-packs, Ft. George Vortex IPA seems to change with the weather but I’ve never had one less than deliciously stellar.
Please do not take this is a knock against John Holl (*or even John Hall. I mention this because my favorite comment posted on Holl’s op-ed reads, “he has drank a lot of beer, he is a professional! Didn’t you google him? He founded Goose Island Brewery in 1988 eventually selling it to AB InBev in 2011.” If only the commenter/Googler deduced his homonymous error). Nor is this intended to be an attack of the mega beer factories. If people enjoy the taste of those beers, that’s their prerogative. It’s also cheaper and I’m a bit cantankerous about the price creep we’re seeing in much of the craft beer segment. I certainly agree that there are some quality issues in the small-craft sector and that they can be damaging to the larger craft industry. But inconsistency in and of itself should not be viewed as a flaw like diacetyl or oxidation.