SAN DIEGO (AP) — Wearing safety goggles and glancing at his watch, Tony Gwynn Jr. waits for the right moment to add hops to a kettle of boiling water and malted barley as he tweaks his craft beer recipe on a two-keg system dwarfed by giant tanks at AleSmith Brewing Co.
Gwynn followed in the footsteps of his famous father in playing at San Diego State and even with the Padres, and now he hopes to hit on something similar to San Diego Pale Ale .394, AleSmith’s tribute to the late Hall of Famer.
“That would make me feel fantastic,” Gwynn said. “I would like to do something that is equal to my dad. I mean, I couldn’t play baseball as equal to him. … If I could make a beer that people enjoy half as well as they enjoy my dad’s, I would be thrilled.”
San Diego is the self-proclaimed Craft Beer Capital of the World and Tony Gwynn was one of the city’s most beloved figures, so it’s only natural that the two would be linked somehow.
AleSmith’s association with the Gwynn family began in the spring of 2014, ostensibly because Gwynn wanted to get back at Tom Seaver. Seaver, as the story goes, brings wine from his vineyard to the Hall of Fame banquet but won’t share it with hitters who did well against him. Since Gwynn hit well against pretty much everybody, he didn’t get any wine once he became a Hall of Famer.
“Tony said: ‘You know what? I’m going to brew a beer and you’re not going to get any,'” said Peter Zien, AleSmith’s CEO and owner.
Gwynn died of cancer on June 16, 2014.
Ten days earlier, .394 Pale Ale– named after Gwynn’s highest batting average, in the strike-shortened 1994 season — hit the market. It’s been a home run in San Diego and even made it to Cooperstown when Tony’s widow, Alicia, brought several cases last year.
It’s only natural that the younger Gwynn gives brewing a try. Under Zien’s tutelage, he’s learning the craft behind craft beer. The .394 Pale Ale is about 6 percent alcohol and Gwynn is looking to brew a session IPA with somewhere around 5 percent alcohol.
“I’m a big IPA fan and I also love .394,” Gwynn said. “I wanted to do a combo, a session IPA, the best of both worlds.”
A session IPA, Zien and Gwynn explain, is a beer that someone can have several of during a drinking session due to the lower alcohol content.
On this day, Gwynn is working on a second batch of his beer.
“Without revealing too much, I am trying to get some of the end taste to be better,” he said.”The initial taste was exactly where I would ever want a beer to be at. The aftertaste, I want to improve that.”
Said Zien: “That is so important, the aftertaste, because that’s what gets you to want to pick your glass up again. And if it’s not good, you may just want to get another beer.”
As Gwynn is finding out, there’s a lot that goes into brewing craft beer.
“It’s a blend of art and science like nothing else,” said Zien, whose beers are distributed in 24 states and six countries.
Tony Gwynn wrote a book called “The Art of Hitting,” and his good friend and native San Diegan Ted Williams wrote a book called “The Science of Hitting.”
“It does remind me a little bit of working on your swing,” said the younger Gwynn, who played for the Brewers, Padres, Dodgers and Phillies in a career that spanned parts of eight seasons. “There’s so many little nuances that if you don’t pay attention to, you can never be a good hitter. You can never even attempt to hit. There’s some similarities.”
Most big leaguers aren’t beer snobs, probably because the adult beverage available in clubhouses after games is usually mass-produced light beer.
Gwynn, now part of the Padres’ broadcast team, definitely considers himself a beer snob.
“I wasn’t around when my dad was making his beer,” he said. “The only thing I had seen him drink was Coors Light. So when they initially were telling me he created a beer, in my mind I was like, ‘This can’t be that good because all I’ve ever seen him drink was Coors Light.”
When the Gwynns approached Zien about brewing a beer in the spring of 2014, “Tony asked for a beer that was ‘light with a kick,” the brewer said. “We interpreted it to mean, keep that color light for you but give you a kick with alcohol and hops and make it interesting.”
Zien said he brought four different types of beer to the Hall of Famer’s suburban home to taste: an extra pale ale, an IPA, a nut brown and an 11 percent Belgian ale.
“I almost saw in his eyes, when he tasted the IPA and the extra, he was almost like, ‘Wow, these aren’t like the beers I drink,'” Zien said. “But he bought in immediately. He was like, ‘Wow, these have flavor.’ It was almost like he was saying to me: ‘I wish I had known. I wouldn’t have wasted my money on Coors Light.'”
Said Gwynn Jr.: “He just didn’t have a clue these beers were out there. He didn’t venture around too much.”
Gwynn would like to have his beer on the market by June.
“It all depends on if I’m feeling the taste, if I think it’s where it needs to be,” he said.
Then he’ll have to pick a name.
While there are similarities between the Gwynns — “That grin and that laugh are near identical to his father,” Zien said — batting average isn’t one of them.
Gwynn figures he might poke fun at himself in naming his beer, and maybe work in his highest average, which was .270 with the Padres in 2009.
“It certainly isn’t .394, but there aren’t a lot of people who can say they hit .394,” Gwynn said.
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