You might know Kevin Youkilis from his days as a major league third baseman. Or you might know him as the “Greek God of Walks”, as he was made famous in Michael Lewis’ Moneyball when the Oakland Athletics general manager Billy Beane admitted his intense desire to acquire the patient slugger. Or you might just know him as “Youuuuk”, if you’re from Boston, where Youkilis played nine years with the Red Sox.
Since he retired in 2014, Youkilis has remained close to baseball. He still advises his old general manager Theo Epstein, who is now with the Cubs, at least.
But he’s also made some changes to his life. Most notably, he moved to Los Gatos, California and started Loma Brewing Company near Old Town. He hasn’t quite traded in his bat for a brewing paddle—he’ll taste the beers, but he’s not in the back, cleaning tanks and developing recipes. Instead, it’s his career-long love of beer that has led him here.
We sat down over a nice, crisp Kölsch at his brewery and talked about beer, baseball and business.
What was your inspiration for getting into beer?
I was playing baseball around the whole country, getting to travel, getting to see different places. But I started to get to know beer really because of a great liquor store that had a huge line of beer product from around the country—Marty’s right off the pike in Newton. I always give them a shout-out, because they were really good about introducing me to beers from different places, like the West Coast. Then, I got to go to the West Coast and actually go to those breweries and try them out. I was always very fortunate in my profession because of the travel. Kansas City was always the best stadium to visit because of all of the Boulevard. Then they finally got into the ballpark, which was great.
Why do baseball and beer go so well together?
I joke around more than ever, now that I don’t play the game, that you need beer to watch a baseball game. I didn’t realize how slow the game is if you’re not playing, so the beer actually speeds up the game in some ways and adds to the fun of the experience. There’s that similarity, that both beer and baseball have bred that passion, because you’re sitting there for three hours thinking about it. When you go to a baseball game and have a nice cold beer and sit in the sun, that’s part of the game.
Were you ever tempted to start this in Boston, or Cincinnati or Chicago? Why here?
We moved twenty miles away from here six or seven years ago, because my wife is from San Mateo. My brother is also a chef in San Francisco. He ran Maverick, then Hi-Lo Barbecue, which is now Lazy Bear and is killing it. Now he’s helping at Harry’s on Fillmore. He was really instrumental in getting this open, I had no idea what I was doing. He went to ‘chef’ school in Johnson & Wales, in Providence, Rhode Island, and he loves the barbecue, being from the Midwest and all. That was our life growing up.
What have you learned about beer during the past two years running this brewery?
I’ve learned that it’s a business that keeps evolving, and you have to evolve with it. There are new beer styles every month, and you have to keep going with it. Some test the waters too much—you almost go, ‘Whoa, that’s not beer’—and others stick with what they’re doing and try to do the classics. I just try beers and I like what I like. Unfortunately, I will keep trying sours and keep not ordering it. It’s not my cup of tea. You gotta find your niche.
What are your favorite styles?
I’m a hoppy guy. I definitely like hops. I can go for a good saison, here or there, on the drier side.
Within IPAs, are you about the haze? Have you tried the Brut IPAs?
We’re actually doing a Brut IPA soon. The hazies, it’s not my favorite style of IPA, because I’m more of a West Coast IPA guy. I’ve had a couple Revisions recently that were really delicious, and I didn’t even know the Knee Deep connection until recently. I love a well-made IPA. I totally get the haze craze—it’s a great beer, you don’t taste the alcohol, which is kinda scary—but the one thing about the haze is that it bridges the gap between people that want to be a West Coast IPA fan are those aren’t quite there yet. Like, I want to be a sour fan, if someone could come up with a bridge to sours…maybe that’s why I like saisons.
Hoppy sours maybe?
Maybe! But my whole philosophy here is not about what I like. It’s about what the people like.
You’re not going to try and go deep when the wind is blowing in. You’ll always find a great West Coast IPA here.”
That’s interesting, because right now in baseball, it’s one of the first years that attendance has gone down. There’s a sense—I don’t know that I share it—that something is broken and needs to be fixed. What do you think of the state of baseball? Does it need fixing?
I think there are a few things that need to be fixed. Being a player’s association guy, it’s hard to say this, but the hard part is the costs, the costs of attending a game. They are way too high. So some of this is supply and demand. The number one reason that attendance is down, in my opinion, is that it’s too expensive. There’s too much technology that allows you to see the game in high definition and give you that interactive feeling at home.
There are also certain elements of the game that go hand-in-hand with that, right? A strikeout is better on television where you can see the velocity, shape, location of the pitch better than you might see in person.
That can kinda hurt the game, because when you’re at the game you don’t have that. The experience at the park is so different. I don’t love the idea that we’re going to change rules to have fewer shifts to get more balls in play, though. How are you going to define that? Hitters just need to adjust. Big Papi had some of his best years against the shift, and he laid down bunts in those last years. I’d have laid down a bunt. It’s just part of the game.
My only thing that I would change is I’m not a huge fan of the launch angle and exit velocity craze. At the major league level, it’s fine, but now it’s kinda going down to lower levels and it’s hurting the game down there. I know young boys that play this game, and I just want them to love this game. When you’re trying to compare a nine-year-old to a 25-year-old major league player, though, you might create some development problems by focusing on some of those stats. Coaches can’t expect players at the lower levels to be able to do the same things as the pros.
What do you tell young players when you talk to them about hitting?
There are so many different hitting philosophies. In order to be a good hitting coach, you have to know each player and what makes that player work. Every hitter is so different. You have to learn how each player operates and how to get the most out them. We’re not robots. There’s no one philosophy to hitting. There’s no one way to hit. What’s your strength is your strength. Once you show a pitcher that strength, they won’t throw it there, so you have to start working on hitting balls in all four corner of the zone.
And maybe that’s another link between baseball and beer? That link between producing from your strengths but also trying to innovate, to cover all part of the zone, or the beer universe?
It has to be what works for you. What’s your demographic? You are your own entity. What do you want out of it? What are you good at?
Y’all have this great Kölsch and these fruity West Coast IPAs, you can hit the low and in fastball. What are the things you are working on in the future so you can cover more of the strike zone?
Our new brewer, Brogan Hunter, is going to shift into doing some hoppier beers. We’re going to try some hazy beers, some fruited pale ales. She’s from San Mateo and worked at SLO brewery, she’s going to fire up our test pilot system again and try some new things, but we’re still going to be a West Coast brewery. You’re not going to try and go deep when the wind is blowing in. You’ll always find a great West Coast IPA here.