Guinness in the Modern Age
Updated: Mar 2, 2019
How the Guinness Open Gate Brewery in Baltimore, Maryland is innovating the internationally famous brand.
If you're driving down US 195 after leaving the Baltimore International Airport, you expect to see lots of traffic, more than a few potholes, and some roadside antics that make you question how certain individuals got their licenses. What you don't expect to see is a giant neon "Guinness" sign looming over the highway. No, you didn't accidentally land in Dublin; you just happened upon the new Guinness Open Gate Brewery & Barrel House in Baltimore, MD.
A slice of Ireland in Baltimore
The Open Gate Brewery is the first and only Guinness brewery on U.S. soil since 1954. Built on the historic site of the Calvert distillery opened after prohibition to distill, barrel-age and bottle spirits, the land has a long tradition of innovative beverage production, a tradition the team at Guinness Baltimore are eager to continue. But why Maryland and what makes the Baltimore brewery so unique?
"It's the whole package," says Assistant Tap Room Manager Seamus Kelly, "We have an amazing team on both the brewery side and the management side at Diageo, and we're accessible to both Baltimore and D.C. with plenty of space to grow." Seamus, an Ireland native, moved to the Maryland area 14 years ago. Although he never worked at the St. James Gate Brewery in Dublin, when he heard a brewery was opening in his new home state, Seamus knew he couldn't pass up the opportunity to be part of the Guinness family. "It's a piece of Ireland in my backyard, and it was really a once in a lifetime opportunity. I would have been stupid not to take it."
Seamus' home state is also the primary focus of the Open Gate Brewery's operations. The brewing industry in Maryland is growing fast with over a hundred craft breweries and more opening every week. The Open Gate brewery hopes it can help the Maryland brewing industry prosper and use its internationally recognizable name to give state brewers the recognition they deserve.
The name is a hard one to miss. Surrounded by the I95, 195 and 895 freeways and four miles from BWI International Airport, the “Guinness” brewery sign towers over a hive of commuter traffic in one of busiest metropolitan areas in the country. Despite the local hustle and bustle, however, when you step through the gates and order your first beer, you're met a warm smile, a tall pint, and a few stories from the people behind the bar.
"One of the things that makes the brewery here in Baltimore so special is hospitality you won't find anywhere else," Seamus says. "We're one team, one dream. The people who work here do so because they want to work for Guinness. They know the product and want to learn more every day." Seamus believes that hospitality at the brewery is one of the top things that sets it apart, but equally important he says, is the brewery's pledge to innovation.
Masterpiece of innovation
Guinness is famous for its iconic Guinness Draught, the distinctively black and velvety stout that made Guinness an international household name in 1959. Many people are unaware that Guinness even has other kinds of beer, but at the Open Gate Brewery in Baltimore, experimenting with beer is the name of the game.
The flagship beer of the Open Gate Brewery is the Guinness Blonde Lager. The Guinness Blonde is a golden, lightly hopped beer that is contrasted by both sight and taste to the Guinness Draught. Although Guinness distributes the Blonde nationally, it’s only brewed in Baltimore, a point of local pride that the brewery says helps them innovate new products while keeping the legacy of Guinness alive.
The Blonde isn't the only Maryland exclusive on the menu: the Guinness Milk Stout, IPA, and White Ale, are all brewed here as well. One of the most unique aspects of the Open Gate Brewery, however, is their Experimental Tap Room.
The Experimental Tap Room in Baltimore is one of only two in the world, the other in London. Here, Guinness' brewmasters brainstorm new innovative and fun concoctions and let the Maryland community be the judge. Beers on this experimental list can range from a dark Coffee Stout to a Lime and Juniper Golden Ale that tastes curiously like a margarita. The tap room rotates this list out every few weeks which means you never quite know what's on the menu.
"If you can dream it up we can brew it up," Seamus says as I take a sip of their El Dorado Amber Ale. "Some of our experimental beers are just that, fun experiments our brewmasters came up with, but we also like to go with the customer fan base." He notes that Maryland has a bit of a sweet tooth, so the Brewery likes to have some fruited options on the menu like their Triple Berry Wheat or Mango IPA. "It's a balancing act between the creative ideas of our brew team and the demands of the local fan base here. But this place is a masterpiece of innovation."
What about the classic Guinness Draught? Is it the same as it is in Dublin? "It's the exact same thing" Seamus assures me. "It comes to us straight from St. James Gate. Although some people have the perception that it's fresher or better in Dublin, I think that's just because they're on vacation and their mindset is different, but it's just as fresh here." While I watch one of the bartenders pour the perfect stout and look over the Guinness glass-shaped courtyard, not only does it seem just as fresh but also, as prominent. A sort of tribute in a new country to the long legacy of Guinness.
The new legacy
The Open Gate Brewery & Barrel House have not only served patrons from the local Baltimore/ Washington metro area, but people from all around the world as well. "We have people who come in that never knew we existed. They just flew to BWI on business and saw our sign on the highway," Seamus says. Since they opened their doors to the public in August 2018, more than 200,000 people have wandered through the gates. "When we first opened, we expected to serve 300,000 people in the first calendar year. Here we are halfway through the year and have almost matched that. We're hoping now for 450,000 before the year's up."
What does Seamus want someone who has never been to the Open Gate Brewery to know before their first visit? "Once again, the hospitality here you can't find anywhere else. We have a phenomenal and knowledgeable team that is excited to be here." As a proud Irishmen, Seamus is also thrilled that the name of Guinness can find a new home in Maryland. "Were such a small country, and for something so global to be recognized with Ireland is huge. Our personality is the number one thing that people recognize, and Guinness is number two."
The next time you are in the Baltimore/ Washington area be sure to pay a visit to the Guinness Open Gate Brewery & Barrel House.