Guinness Brewery, Tap Room Opens Near Baltimore

A bit of luck of the Irish arrives stateside, with a full scale beer facility in the months to come


photo by Phil Galewitz

Guinness has been brewing beer in Dublin, Ireland since 1759 — a full 17 years before the United States was even born. After a six-decade absence, the enduring symbol of Irish pride and maker of the No.1 stout in the world again has its own American brewery.

In a refurbished factory just south of Baltimore, Guinness is building a $50 million brewery that will make brews to be sold across the Mid-Atlantic region and beyond. If you think Guinness is just about the dark, rich and creamy Guinness Draught, you’ve never been to the most fabled brewery in the world, Guinness’ St. James Gate in Dublin. There, the brewery constantly shows its innovation and quirky side, with large selection of ales, porters, IPAs and other flavors.

photo by Phil Galewitz

Now, after debuting Irish Wheat Beer in 2017, Guinness is bringing more of that side of the brewery to the United States.

“We want people to know Guinness as a brewery rather than being known just for a single beer,” said Oliver Grey, marketing manager for Guinness Open Gate Brewery & Barrel House in Relay, Md. “We have the pedigree and history to brew amazing beer.”

Even with its Irish heritage, the new brewery will be making more American-style craft brews. Its brewmaster Peter Wiens was formerly director of beer operations at Stone Brewing in Escondido, Calif. and head brewer Hollie Stephenson was most recently at Highland Brewing in Asheville, N.C.

While the full brewery will not be finished until next summer, Guinness in November opened a temporary industrial-style tap house on site to help build buzz about its new U.S. facility. The brewery features several beers made on a small pilot system in an adjacent red brick building as well as Guinness American Blonde Lager made at a facility in Latrobe, Pa., and, of course, Guinness Draught from Ireland.

On a recent Saturday, the windowless taproom was nearly full with customers seated around a large U-shaped bar and at tables made from rum barrels. My friend, Misty, was shocked to learn Guinness had two IPAs a pale ale and a golden ale on tap — all made just a few yards away. All were quite tasty and not too bitter. Guinness will be experimenting with different drafts at the Relay, Md. facility — much in the same way small craft brewers have been doing in the United States.

What Guinness won’t be doing here is making the famed Guinness Draught. That will still come only from Ireland.

marketing manager Oliver Gray, photo by Phil Galewitz

Guinness chose the Baltimore area for its U.S. manufacturing plant for several reasons. Guinness parent company, Diageo, one of world’s biggest liquor manufacturers, already owned the 62-acre site. For most of its life, the property was used for distilling Seagram’s products including Johnnie Walker Scotch whisky. Diageo bought Seagram’s in 2000, and uses part of the property to age Captain Morgan rum that’s distilled on St. Croix, Virgin Islands. The new brewery, thus, won’t have to look far to find rum barrels for beer aging.

Two other factors: The nearby Baltimore-Washington airport also provides quick non-stop flights to Dublin. And while Maryland has several fine craft brewers –  Flying Dog in Frederick to name the largest – the state was still relatively underserved in terms of craft beer. Guinness predicts the brewery will attract 250,000 visitors in its first full year. That would make it the second leading attraction after nearby Fort McHenry monument.

Once it is operational in 2018, the Open Gate Brewery will dedicate a 100-hectaliter brewery to making Guinness American Blonde for national distribution. Newer brews will be sold regionally and eventually, nationwide. Another building will be open to customers to tour a 10-hectaliter brewery on the ground floor where various types of beer, including new recipes, will be produced. The upper floors of the red-brick building will include a taproom, a retail shop and restaurant. In between will be a grassy gathering space — in the shape of a pint glass — for outdoor events.

sign for upcoming facility in Baltimore, photo by Phil Galewitz

In the meantime, Guinness has its temporary test taproom in a different part of the 1930s complex that previously housed the landmark Calvert Distillery. As an extra incentive to visit, the taproom has Guinness Foreign Extra Stout — the only place outside of St. James’s Gate in Dublin to find Guinness’s bolder brother on tap. It has a richer, maltier body, a cherry note in the slightly bitter finish, and it’s 7.5 % ABV, almost twice that of Guinness Draught. Because of the small batch size, some draft options will rotate every week.

While no restaurant is available yet, there are food trucks on weekends and few picnic tables for when the weather warms up this spring.“Guinness’ plan to build a brewery at its historic facility in Relay, Maryland, is great news for job creation, manufacturing, and tourism in our state,” said Gov. Larry Hogan. “Beer tourism attracts millions of visitors to towns and communities across the country every year and I look forward to welcoming Guinness to the roster of excellent breweries we have here in Maryland.”

The new Guinness plant is two miles from Heavy Seas Brewing, one of the largest and fastest growing craft brewers in the United States. Already, the two breweries have collaborated on two Belgian strong ales — Guinness’ The Longest Way Round and Heavy Seas’ The Shortest Way Home. Guinness added a dark sugar and dark malt to give it “a little Guinness character,” Gray said. The Heavy Seas’ version features pale and Munich malts, and was dry-hopped with Simcoe hops for a slightly sweet, slightly hazy 8.6 % ABV, beer. The limited-run beers will only be available on draft in their respective taprooms, Gray said.

artist rendering of new Guinness facility to open in Baltimore in 2018, via Guinness

Heavy Seas’ brewers are thrilled to partner with the iconic brewery. “The opportunity to collaborate professionally with Guinness evokes the type of feeling one might get if one were to play catch as a grownup with one’s childhood baseball hero,” said Christopher Leonard, brewmaster at Heavy Seas.  “I’m thrilled, exuberant, honored, and almost giddy when I think about how fortunate we are at Heavy Seas to welcome Guinness to our neighborhood and brew a beer together.”

Guinness Open Gate Brewery and Barrel House, 5001 Washington Blvd., Halethorpe, Md. Taproom open 3 to 8 p.m. Fridays, 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Saturdays and 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sundays.

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