To visit the Lama Dog taproom in the Funk Zone is to undertake a journey, discovering the best in beer 20 taps at a time, through kegs that pour in from around the world. Occasionally, one of the always-rotating handles yields an offering from a brewery that may sound foreign to those who drink hyper-local yet is actually a bright star in the 805’s sudsy constellation: Silva Brewing from Paso Robles.
The brewery is owned by Mary Jo and Chuck Silva, who earned a number of awards during his 11 years at the helm of Green Flash Brewing in San Diego. After years of crafting German, English, Belgian, and American styles, Silva resigned from Green Flash in 2015. A year later, he started making and selling beer in his native San Luis Obispo County — it’s a far cry from the beer-steeped culture of San Diego, but making beer in the heart of wine country has its own advantages.
Despite exceling at hop-forward IPAs like the ones that put Green Flash on the map, Silva Brewing made a splash with The Pink Stuff. “My vision was to make something champagne-like, not just accented by grapes,” he said. “And because Paso is surrounded by vineyards and wineries, it didn’t take long to befriend Anthony Yount, winemaker at Denner Vineyards just up the road.” Denner delivered the brewmaster some free-run grenache juice, which Silva co-fermented with a kettle-soured ale.
The wine/beer hybrid then aged in French oak (previously used to mature white wine) and was finished with a champagne yeast. The Pink Stuff is dry and effervescent and became an instant hit both among wine lovers and beer drinkers, including the beer-drinking winemakers. His plan for the next beer in this vein is a sparkling brut beer co-fermented with white wine grapes.
While Silva’s small-batch projects are predominantly only available on-site at his tasting room in downtown Paso Robles, Santa Barbara scores a few kegs here and there. The last one that landed at Lama Dog was Nut Farm, a nitrogenated sweet stout inspired by the walnut groves surrounding the brewery. The creamy beer, which is brewed with milk sugar, is instantly appealing to fans of Rocky Road or Jamoca Almond Fudge ice creams. It was the best seller in Santa Barbara County until the release earlier this year of Gateway to Hefen, a Bavarian-style Hefeweizen with telltale banana-and-clove-like esters that lights up the palates of anyone who enjoys banana bread.
“My wife, MJ, and I are very much enjoying owning and operating our own small, independent brewery, even with the challenges we face,” explained Silva. “We simply roll up our sleeves and get busy with making our beer. I like that I don’t have to ask anyone permission to brew whatever I want. It’s been good for the soul, and I’m living my dream of brewing in wine country.”
525 Pine Street, Suite B, Paso Robles; (805) 369-BEER (2337); silvabrewing.com