Loma Brewing in Los Gatos, the newest venture from former Red Sox star Kevin Youkilis, is as remarkable for what it isn't as for what it is. It is not a sports bar trading on the name of its co-owner. It is not "Youk's" in Wrigleyville, or around the corner from Fenway. And that's completely on purpose.
"It was a business choice," laughed the goateed Youkilis. "My time has passed in baseball -- I don't want to live off my past career." In a sport littered with former stars trying to hang on to the limelight as coaches, commentators, and personalities, this is a statement. This takes a clarity of self, the strength of knowledge in your own abilities, and the confidence to believe that there's more within.
"It was easy for me," retorted the third baseman turned bar owner when I raised an eyebrow. "Sports, you're young and that's your time." He explained with a simile: "It's like you're in a band. It's not as good being in the band if you're 57. If you are, you better be in great shape. I wanted separation and a new identity. I didn't want the business to be made because of people coming here because of my past career."
Youkilis did have the idea to bring craft beer to his corner of the South Bay. He joined up with brother Scott, an accomplished cook and himself an owner of Hog & Rocks in San Francisco, to produce Loma Brewing, right on the main strip in downtown Los Gatos, the first town on the 17 when it comes out of the mountains between San Jose and Santa Cruz.
On some level, the brothers saw opportunity. "We have the tenth largest city in America here, and an opportunity to make our name here making great beer," thought Youkilis. San Jose has indeed failed to produce a brewery with national acclaim other than Gordon Biersch so far, but even if more breweries open up around Loma, the brothers would welcome it. "If there's three craft breweries that open here, I'd be the happiest guy alive," Kevin said. "Competition is good, and it also creates a scene, a reason to come here for beer. We hope that more people open up in the South Bay."
For now, the focus is on staying local. "Business model for a brewpub is better," said Kevin, well aware of the trends in craft that argue for beginning with a brewpub, "You brew less, make more."
The beer is brewed by former Heretic brewer Warren Billups, who has the beard for the job. He's passionate about German beer styles -- Lagers, Koelsches, and the Schwarzbier that they'll debut in two weeks -- but he also made a delicious IPA.
That IPA featured Magnum and Mosaic hops, though not originally. The hops shortage cost them a chance at brewing a Centennial beer, but the Magnum works. "German Magnum is a very neutral, smooth bitterness, not citrusy or piny," Billups said. "I didn't want a strong citrusy piny dank West Coast IPA. Everyone's doing that, it's boring. I wanted to do something different, and Two Hearted and Blind Pig are my favorite IPAs." By doubling the Mosaic in the dry hop versus the boil, he nailed a well-blended stone-fruit IPA without the Big Bitter of the West Coast IPA.
He also made a really nice Koelsch with some fruitiness to it. He achieved that flavor profile by adjusting the yeast. "Different fermentation profile" from his first effort, Billups pointed out, "the growth phase was staggered over the course of two days." If the Koelsch was the most impressive offering at the brewery right now, it's not too surprising. "IPAs are boring to me," Billups said. Maybe it was more surprising that the IPA was good, considering.
A juicy and crunchy fried chicken sandwich later, I was ready to drive back north, but I checked back in with Kevin Youkilis, who was making his way to the tables that wanted to talk. He looked like he was having fun.
Once again, I was reminded of the fact that there was no baseball memorabilia in the brewery -- save a W flag for his Cubs World Series victory -- and I asked him about that journey from baseball to beer one more time.
"I became a huge craft beer fan," he said of his time in baseball. "You get sick of the big beer real quick. I remember going to Kansas City and they had Boulevard in the clubhouse. Cincinnati has the most craft beers that they serve in the park -- and that's my hometown."
It was when he got home that he really got into it. "Everyone in our age range started with Sierra Nevada probably, the Pale Ale is the first one you had, you fell in love," he remembered. "Hudephol in Cincinatti, what your closest to." But moving to Boston was the revelation. "In Boston there was this place called Marty's in Newton that a huge supply of craft beer. I'd go in and talk to the manager and I'd tell him what I liked, and what missed, and he'd say try this, try this. I'd come home and try all sorts of different beers."
After that, baseball travels put him in front of all sorts of craft beer, and he was in love. Once he shut down the baseball career, he looked around his new home in California and figured out where he'd start his next career. Without his name on the marquee.
"I don't brew the beer, I don't cook the food, I don't serve," he pointed out. "I help out, I'm here, I go over numbers, try to get events in here. Set up an environment in which people can have some fun and enjoy life." Sounds pretty good (and self aware) for a second act.