Welcome to Thirsty Thursday, a weekly column where we pick a beer from our fridge and review it, because in a world where two new breweries launch every single week, sometimes we need some help sifting through all of the hops.
There’s something about finding a highly sought after beer that makes me happy – a kind of happiness that even 2020 can’t ruin. My mental list is full of beer I’d like to eventually try and this week’s effort has been near the top of that list for quite some time now. I learned about San Diego Pale Ale .394 when I discovered AleSmith Brewing Company created a Sublime-inspired Mexican Lager, in collaboration with members of the popular California-based 1990s band, and the story behind this bizarrely-named beer plays off of two things I love: nostalgia and baseball.
San Diego Pale Ale .394 came together back in 2014 when Tony Gywnn, the Baseball Hall of Famer who spent 20 seasons with the San Diego Padres, reached out to AleSmith in the hopes of collaborating on a beer, one that would ultimately pay tribute to Gwynn’s impressive career. Much like pitcher Tom Seaver, who would bring his own wine to the Hall of Fame inductions and withhold it from players who batted well against him, Gwynn wanted a beer he could take to the ceremony in Cooperstown, an event he attended every year following his own induction in 2007. The 15-time Major League Baseball All-Star wanted to create something “light with a kick” and after feedback on test batches, the end result was this golden pale ale full of American hop flavor and aroma. San Diego Pale Ale .394 was named as a tribute to Gwynn’s batting average in 1994, a season cut short by a strike – the closest player to hit Ted Williams’ .400 benchmark, which he did in 1941.
The 6.0 percent ABV unofficial craft beer of Padres baseball is 18 IBUs, as the former eight-time National League Batting Champion wanted subdued bitterness with a sweet, malty finish. It’s a year-round effort available in six-packs of cans or bottles – plus 19.2-ounce cans for events. While it’s easy to find on the west coast, it’s still very sparse here on the east coast. Debuting at the 2014 Padres Beerfest, just days before Gwynn passed away from cancer, a portion of all the beer’s sales now goes to the Tony and Alicia Gwynn Foundation, promoting and providing educational services – health, social, educational and vocational – for youth and their families.
It’s also helped turn AleSmith into one of the country’s premier breweries.
Founded in 1995 in San Diego, Alesmith has evolved into one of California’s larger beer producers, pumping out almost 31,00 barrels in 2019 – but it’s more about the quality than the quantity. AleSmith, which boasts the No. 6 overall rating out of more than 33,000 breweries on RateBeer’s website, has won a slew of awards, the most recent of which was gold at the 2019 Great American Beer Festival in the Old Ale or Strong Ale category for Private Stock Ale. There are currently 10 year-round efforts in AleSmith’s arsenal with a healthy dose of limited releases appearing during the year including Hazy .394, a special enhanced version of the classic.
San Diego Pale Ale .394 comes dressed in a nostalgic look, with a label that features the Padres’ color scheme from the late 1980s. It’s brown, orange and yellow, with the name and brewery emblazoned front and center alongside a small logo of Gwynn and his infamous batting stance. While no hops are listed, the label does give the ABV as well as a great summary of what’s inside from the legend himself, complete with Gwynn’s signature. I can’t see how this wouldn’t be the perfect beer, simply based on look alone, for any baseball nut or huge fan of the Padres.
I cracked it open and went right for the pour in my tulip glass. This beer isn’t quite as complex and heavy on the hops as some of the recent ones I’ve reviewed, so I figured the nose wouldn’t be quite as drool-worthy. Having said that, the aroma was solid, but certainly not distinguishable. I got a fairly strong malt nose, presenting toffee and caramel, with some underlying citrus, specifically lemon and orange. There might be a little pine brought about from the hops as well.
The pour for San Diego Pale Ale .394 proved to be picture-worthy. It came out an amber color with two fingers worth of white head – a ton of head shouldn’t typically be expected from a pale ale. The lacing was great, leaving behind evidence that it’s well-crafted with each and every sip. But the taste was my focus here, because I was worried about a lack of bitterness. Boy, was that worry for nothing, as this effort is insanely crushable. One of the easiest beers I’ve ever drank. It hits first with a citrus taste and transitions to pine before a strong malt backbone on the end. There’s hints of bitterness mixed in there with the earthiness but, as Gwynn wanted, it’s more sweet on the finish.
When it comes to the mouthfeel, it’s medium-bodied with a smooth malt texture and the bitterness works well to create a crispness that left me really wanting more. San Diego Pale Ale .394 is tasty. A little weak on the nose and just above solid on the pour, this beer perfectly excels in the taste department. It’s delicious and different from many similar pale ales – and it gets a little extra recognition for just how easy it is to drink. I’d love to spend a baseball game with a sixer of it.
And the scores on BeerAdvocate speak to those characteristics. The site itself gives this beer an impressive 91 overall and the average score is 4.11, based on 114 reviews. That’s a very, very distinguishable number for a year-round beer that is readily available in some regions and reviewed heavily. I would give this beer a pretty similar number, based on conversion, with a 8.4 out of 10. When I picked this one up for just under $15, I wasn’t sure if it’d hit as a extremely drinkable pale ale but it did and it went above my expectations. I could crush this one in like two sips. And it’s not even bitter. To do that, and really appeal to my massively trendy palate, proves just how well this beer was made. Figures Gwynn would have a hit on his hands, since that’s all he did during his career.
Now I have to see if I can eventually find Sublime Mexican Lager, which is how this all started. Stay tuned next week, because I might try something from your favorite brewery.