Tales from the Darkside

By Ryan Sloan
Photography by Silas Parker

Darkside Fermentation is the very definition of a nanobrewery. The tiny operation isn’t housed in a stand-alone production facility or even a brewpub, but rather in the storage room of The Root Cellar Cafe in San Marcos. There, brewer, owner and jack-of-all-trades Silas Parker crafts a range of locally sourced, spiritually inspired, Belgian-style brews, and the Central Texas craft-beer community is starting to take notice. 

San Marcos’s only craft brewery was born when Parker approached The Root Cellar’s owner, Kyle Mylius, in May of 2009. By September, the brewery was up and running, and by February, The Root Cellar was offering Darkside beer for sale. The brewery-restaurant marriage makes sense, logistically, as it allows Parker brewing time when the restaurant is closed, and having a tucked-away nanobrewery on-site fits well with The Root Cellar’s eclectic vibe.

Parker began brewing while still a student at what was then Southwest Texas State University. After graduating in 2005, he moved to Oregon, where he became immersed in what he refers to as an “encouraging” home-brew culture. Upon returning to San Marcos, he started brewing as frequently as possible—eventually meeting and collaborating with Mark Kuhlmann and Bruce Collie of Wimberley Brewing Company. But after a short stint with Wimberley, Parker decided to strike out on his own.

Like many beer enthusiasts, Parker had always conflated craft beer with super-hoppy brews. But that all changed one night while he was drinking a bottle of Avery Brewing Company’s The Reverend. “This was beer like beer should have been,” says Parker. “And whatever I had been drinking before . . . I don’t know what that was. This was beer—alive, living, strong, nourishing nectar, and I was floored.” Parker decided he was going to brew Belgian-style beers.

Since his epiphany, Parker’s approach to brewing has evolved to become spiritual for him and is always guided by his Taoist beliefs. “I think fermentation is an ultimate relationship for a Taoist—the act is so close to being black magic,” he says. “The more I understand about it, the further away it seems as a tangible thing. I have the highest regard and reverence for it, and I want it to unfold as it needs to unfold with minimal intervention.” The philosophy means that Parker employs little machinery, choosing instead to use natural forces like gravity when possible.

Parker also places a heavy emphasis on utilizing the local aquifer, and takes pride in the fact that he doesn’t treat the water. He notes that the spring water he uses is cleaner than most bottled water, and has a similar mineral composition to the water used by many brewers in Belgium. Local bounty also finds its way into his beers, spanning from the oft-used coriander and honey, to the more exotic elderberry, yarrow and sage.

Darkside’s flagship beer, and the fullest expression of both local ingredients and Parker’s philosophy, is Mark of the Yeast: 78666. Referred to by Parker as a “dark medieval ale,” the beer is brewed with local wormwood, yarrow, sage and elderberries, and pours pitch-black with an enticing nose of dark fruits, chocolate and herbal spiciness. The palate is full, the beer is nourishing and the finish lingers. Other beers in the Darkside lineup include the draught beers BrideAle and GroomsBeer, brown ales brewed with local honey, yarrow and raisins; Weiz Guy, a wheat beer brewed with local coriander and orange zest; Golden Mean, a strong golden ale; and Pale Rider, a Belgian pale ale.

Looking forward, Parker says there are plans for a full-production brewery within a year, and he hopes to make it a model for sustainability, or, as he put it, “its own little biosphere.” There, he plans to expand production of the current line of beers, as well as experiment with spontaneously fermented beers. But expansion and new directions aside, Parker says he will continue to pay respect to what he believes is the true magic behind his craft—the magic that inspired the name of his brewery.

“You have the sun that grows the hops and the barley, the heat that roasts and malts the barley and the fire [used in the brewing process]. You have all of these light elements all the way up until you make the wort [unfermented beer],” Parker says. “Then you add yeast and hide the beer from light. What happens where you can’t see it, behind stainless-steel tank walls and in dark rooms all over the world . . . that is the actual process of making beer, the magical part of making beer. And that happens on the dark side.”

The Root Cellar Cafe
215 N. LBJ, San Marcos  • 512.392.5158
rootcellarcafe.com