One of the world’s oldest and most celebrated beers – the Irish legend Guinness – has set sail from the shamrock-covered shores of its homeland to open a new brewing outpost near Baltimore, marking the classic brand’s first foray into American brewing in more than 60 years.
Global beer and spirits powerhouse Diageo, Guinness’s parent company, set its sights on the Baltimore area after acquiring the old Seagram’s distillery in Halethorpe, Maryland near BWI Airport. The company opened a 150-person Guinness Test Taproom in the refurbished industrial space in October as a sort of sneak preview of a much larger-scale brewery and restaurant set to open at the site this summer.
For now, concrete floors, exposed pillars and barrels of beer doubling as tables welcome visitors to the initial phase of the Guinness Open Gate Brewery & Barrel House, where suds lovers can try three to six experimental beers on any given day. Guinness master brewers Peter Wiens and Hollie Stephenson are brewing beer in two-barrel batches, so the varieties will be turning over fast. Even repeat visitors will almost always be able to try something new.
“The Test Taproom is a way for us to experiment and play around with some new ingredients,” Wiens says. “We’re thinking of it as a place to have a conversation with American consumers [and] figure out what they like to drink.”
Oliver Gray, the new brewery’s marketing manager, says the Test Taproom has helped to quickly put Guinness on the map in Maryland’s competitive craft brewing scene.
“The whole idea [of the initial tasting room] was to generate buzz around the opening, but also to give us a playground to test,” Gray says. “Right now, we’re open Thursday through Sunday, and the response from the public has been really good.”
Gray says the new brewery will help rebrand Guinness not only as purveyor of its legendary Guinness Stout, but also as a beer maker that can compete with others in the booming craft beer scene in Baltimore and around the country. The brewery will offer IPAs, blondes and other beers that have become ubiquitous in bars and breweries around the country.
“We really want to teach people that Guinness isn’t just a beer,” Gray explains. “We’re a brewery. The brand is 259 years old – older than the United States. We have this awesome brewing pedigree, and at one point, we were the largest brewery in the world. We want to show we have the chops to be just as good as your favorite craft brewery.”
Gray adds that Baltimore has a growing and vibrant beer scene.
“We have some great breweries here, and this is a really up-and-coming market.”
But while craft-brewed variety will be a hallmark of the new facility, Guinness traditionalists need not despair. The Guinness Open Gate Brewery & Barrel House will, of course, still serve traditional Guinness Stout “on draught.”
The classic brew will still be imported from the St. James’s Gate Brewery in Dublin. The brewery will also serve a recently released anniversary Export Stout, celebrating 200 years since Guinness first arrived on American shores in South Carolina.
To go along with their $50 million investment in bringing Guinness brewing to the U.S., Diageo has also hired some of the heaviest hitters in the brewing business to oversee the operation. Wiens, who worked previously as the senior director of brewery operations for Stone Brewing Company’s Richmond facility, will be the master brewer. Stephenson, Wein’s former Stone Brewing colleague and more recently, the master brewer at Highland Brewing in Asheville, North Carolina, has a reputation for innovation.
“She’s a wealth of creative ideas,” Gray says.
It’s unclear exactly when the entire operation, which will include a full-service restaurant on the third floor, will open to the public. But Gray says he expects it to be sometime in mid- to late summer 2018.
“There’s nothing quite like what we’re building within the whole I-95 corridor.”
Visit the New Guinness Brewery Test Taproom from Thursday to Sunday; hours vary. Learn more at www.newguinnessbrewery.com.
Guinness Open Gate Brewery & Barrel House: 5001 Washington Blvd. Halethorpe, MD; www.newguinnessbrewery.com