One of the singular joys in this life, from the perspective of a casual imbiber of multiple styles of intoxicants, is drinking outside. This is especially true in places like the northeast where outdoor conviviality has a strict meteorological limit. That is to say, you have three –maybe four – months to get your backyard and porch drink on with the grass underfoot and the stench of Citronella in the air.
For sports fans, the most romanticized link between booze, athletics, and the outdoors is baseball. This is not to bash hockey or basketball fans, and their pre-game rituals in places like L.A. or Houston – they might grab a beer outside, but the actual games take place indoors.
Sure, football is outside, too, but it’s always a little bit colder, the specter of back-to-school concerns hang in the air. Plus, there’s a corporate mentality inside football stadiums. It’s an all-day affair where peak fun is often achieved at the tailgate.
Baseball seems almost anachronistic. Things slow down and when we spin our tales of going to Fenway or Wrigley or Dodger Stadium, the connotation is a warm day in July when the beers were going down smoothly. Baseball, a sometimes-plodding, thinking-man’s game, allows time for conversation and enjoyment of the views. The ultimate relaxation of an outdoor drink only extinguished by a towering home run to center or a soul-crushing six-run rally by the visiting team. Good thing there’s beer.
And while there is the old-timey association with baseball and the macro lagers of the past, craft beer and baseball are becoming more intertwined. At every stadium, there are local, craft options from which to choose. So if you want to eschew a light lager for, say, a west coast IPA to enjoy your views of Chris Sale fastball or Mike Trout’s swing or Brandon Belt’s, umm, whatever he does, you can.
It’s a seeing-eye single or, better yet, a shot to the gap for a stand-up double.”
Which brings me to AleSmith Brewing Company’s San Diego Pale Ale .394. I spent too many afternoons in my 22nd year perched in right field at San Diego’s Petco Park drinking average beer. This is one of the great laments of my life, which, if that statement is taken as a truth, means I’ve had a pretty solid 35 years. There was likely better beer there at the time in 2005, but I just didn’t know it.
I missed Tony Gwynn’s tenure in America’s Finest City, but only as a spectator. Of course, anyone with a pulse and an interest in baseball knew who Tony Gwynn was, and I feel like the appreciation for one of the greatest hitters of all time would be a little larger if he came later in life, when internet and satellite and fifteen sports networks were available. The name .394 is in homage to Gwynn’s average in the strike-shortened 1994 baseball season.
I first had this beer last winter, and I couldn’t wait to get my hands on it again. Dated just one week before I drank it, the .394 I had was a 6% pale that was prototypically West Coast and hop-forward. Notes of pine and citrus dominate the nose, but in the beer they’re more nuanced and dignified. .394 finishes with a slight sweetness that begs for another sip immediately afterward.
It’s not the west-coast tongue scraper, a baseball sent into orbit before plummeting into McCovey Cove; It’s a seeing-eye single or, better yet, a shot to the gap for a stand-up double. The kind of thing Gwynn was known for, in other words. I could easily drink this beer every day.
The inclination is that West Coast style hop-forward beers are a bit more aggressive than their east coast (or New England-style) counterparts. With this beer, it’s simply not true. This is a pale ale and one of the best ones I’ve had in a long time.
Gwynn died in June of 2014, and portions of the proceeds for .394 go to the Tony and Alycia Gwynn Foundation, which provides financial and educational resources to underserved members of the San Diego Community. Do good, drink well, and enjoy some baseball nostalgia all at the same time.