Baltimore Gets Guinness
By Kurt Jacobson
When Guinness announced that it was going to open a brewery on the site of the historic Calvert distillery, Maryland beer lovers toasted to their good luck. Not only would the Guinness Open Gate Brewery create over 200 desirable jobs, but now there was a beer palace to visit.
It has been over sixty years since Guinness operated a brewery in the U.S. (the previous brewery was in Long Island City and opened in 1949), so this was big news. The world over, Guinness is a recognizable name in beer with their famous stouts so many adore.
With the addition of a lighter beer to their lineup- Guinness Blonde- meant a new facility was needed. They chose North American mainly due to the rise and growth of brewing creativity throughout the country.
While Guinness chose this new facility to produce its Blonde brew, the brewery would also provide a laboratory to try out new and exciting beers. The onsite taproom features several creative seasonal or innovative beers for the public to try.
Guinness Open Gate Outdoors
During the warm season, the outdoor area, about the size of a football field, buzzes with activity. A food truck, mobile pouring stations, and a permanent outdoor bar provide all the liquid refreshments and food needed for a unique experience.
Guinness Open Gate Brewery in Baltimore is the only place you’ll get to try creative beers like the Lemongrass and Lemon Drop IPA, 1st Anniversary barrel-aged Grand Cru, or the red wine barrel-aged Saison. Beers like these come and go, some resurface in the to-go area of the brewery store, while others disappear forever.
An All-star Team
Three talented brewers are listed on the Guinness Open Gate website. Peter Wiens, the Brewmaster, Hollie Stephenson, head brewer, and Sean Brennan is the senior brewer. I had the chance to interview Hollie while researching this story.
Hollie used to live in Washington DC and used to hang out at a beer pub. The owner of the pub asked her to research craft brewing models to see if he might enter this new and exciting field.
Hollie ended up liking what she saw and quit her job in government to travel to Sunderland, England. She took a month-long course at Brewlab and later found work at Stone Brewing Company in San Diego, California.
After a stint at Highland Brewing Company in Asheville, North Carolina, Hollie took the job at Guinness. I asked Hollie how often she brews up a new type of beer, and she said: “Pretty much every week, I’m making a new beer.”
The main floor of the brewery features the taproom, where you can try Hollie and her team’s creations. There’s also a special events room, and an upstairs restaurant serving lunch and dinner Thursday through Sunday.
The taproom is open seven days a week, and brewery tours are given year-round. To find out what’s being poured any given day, check the Guinness Open Gate website.
Not Your Average Tour
Tours are highlights of a visit to the Guinness Open Gate Brewery. One of the tour guides is none other than Ryan Wagner, Guinness Brewery Ambassador, and the voice of the Baltimore Orioles. Ryan has a background in theater and helped build the tour program.
The Guinness hospitality team gives a spirited one-hour tour that delves into Guinness history. The tour guide tells about how beer is made, with a brief walk through the functional 10-barrel brewhouse. Tour participants learn about hops, yeast, types of beers, and more on this entertaining tour.
After the tour, take a walk around the brewery and get your bearings. Note the displays of original artifacts from Guinness history, including when they were first starting exporting draught to the U.S. back in the 1960s.
There’s also a display of functional art made from beer barrels. That was when Guinness ran one of the largest cooperages in the world, making thousands of barrels per year. In the early 1960s, metal kegs were replacing wooden kegs, and Guinness saw fit to keep their coopers employed to work on the leftover wooden barrels.
The coopers made planter barrels, rocking chairs, and other useful furnishings from their classic wooden kegs, some of which are on display at the brewery.
A Great Place For A Party
Special events are held throughout the year, some public and some private. The Barrel Room is located on the second floor and is large enough to accommodate 45 guests for a party, wedding, or family reunion. Warehouse E, (which was the original taproom before the main experience opened) holds up to 150.
The 1817 Restaurant is also available for private events holding up to 350 guests. You don’t need to reserve a party room to bring a group of friends, co-workers, or family. The large outdoor area has room for hundreds, and children are welcome at the brewery.
Weather permitting, guests can be seen playing corn hole, Zenga, or just running around on the lawn having a good time with their family. Unfortunately for dog owners, pets aren’t allowed at the brewery unless they are service animals.
On my second visit to the brewery, I noticed an employee keeping count of customers as they climbed the stairs to the taproom. I looked around and saw about 200 customers and asked the man how many had come thus far. He told me, “As of now, I’ve counted 2,083!”
That was around 5:30 on Labor Day Sunday, so a few hundred more crossed through the gate before closing that night. It’s plain to see the public has embraced this brewery on the outskirts of Baltimore. Ridesharing is encouraged, and they have a special LYFT area in the parking lot.
Many of the visitors come from miles around and spend the night nearby so that they can visit this beer icon. Will this beer buzz wear off? Only time can tell, but I bet this brewery will be part of Baltimore for a long time and see many a glass raised in celebration.