The Guinness Open Gate Brewery & Barrel House, in Relay, is on track to open by spring 2018, when it will become the official home for Guinness Blonde and new Guinness beers created for the U.S. market.
The opening coincides with the 200th anniversary of Guinness first being imported to the United States and marks the first time in 63 years that Guinness has brewed a product on American soil.
When completed, the brewery project will feature three brewing systems, including its current 10 barrel pilot brewery for small experimental batches; a 10 hectoliter system being designed and built by DME Brewing Solutions, of Canada; and a 100 hectoliter system being designed and built by the GEA Group, of Germany.
On a tour of the temporary taproom and innovation brewery just before it opened to the public on Oct. 27, Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz registered his appreciation that both Guinness and its parent company, Diageo, honored a commitment to open on schedule.
“We are excited that you have agreed to invest $80 million to bring 150 jobs here, but also to put Baltimore County on the map as the beer capital of craft breweries in this country,” Kamenetz said. “This is going to be something that helps the tourist trade. A quarter of a million people are going to make this a destination spot in its first year.”
Replicating Guinness’s successful Open Gate Brewery model in Dublin that welcomes 1.7 million visitors each year, the local Visitor Experience Center will feature a restaurant on the third floor, as well as an outdoor entertainment stage and a packaging facility.
“We’re really trying to combine all the different elements of what people are looking for and what we’ve seen that’s been successful in the brewery industry, as well as what’s been successful in Dublin,” said Head of Open Gate Brewery and Barrel House Andrew Beebe. “Things will evolve in what we offer for merchandise and what we serve for beer.”
The brewery is targeting production capacity of more than 1 million cases per year, he acknowledged, with room to scale up production of any popular products that come out of the 10-barrel experimental system.
Located less than a mile from Heavy Seas Brewery, in Halethorpe, the new Guinness Brewery is viewed by local brewers as a strong potential partner, rather than a competitor.
“Collaboration is already in the works,” Beebe said, acknowledging a high level of support from Heavy Seas Founder Hugh Sisson. “We’ve already started conversations with him, and it’s a very exciting process.”
The new brewery and visitor center occupy the historic Calvert Distillery complex, which was constructed in 1933 after the repeal of Prohibition and later was acquired by the House of Seagram.
Meet the Brewers
In June, the Diageo Beer Company USA appointed Peter Wiens as its inaugural brewmaster. Wiens is an experienced brewer, having spent 17 years working with Anheuser-Busch before playing a leading role in building out Stone Brewing Company’s Richmond, Va., facility.
“Peter brings broad expertise, encompassing large and small operations, and his ties to the mid-Atlantic brewing community will help to reinforce our commitment to ensuring the area prospers as a destination for beer lovers,” said Thomas Day, president of Diageo. “We see immense opportunity for the Maryland brewing community and look forward to welcoming guests to join us at a grand opening in spring 2018.”
Wiens is joined by Head Brewer Hollie Stephenson, the former head brewer for Highland Brewing Company in Asheville, N.C.
The duo has free reign to source materials and decide what beers they will brew.
“Everything we’re sourcing is American,” Wiens said, with an emphasis on local ingredients, including some hyper-local yeast. “We have a dark Belgian strong ale in the small tank at the moment, with a whiskey yeast strain that comes from our Seagram’s holdings.”
The yeast comes from the Seagram’s archives, which Diageo owns, Beebe said. “It’s a nice sort of play on history.”
As for recipe ideas, “You can get inspired by tasting something somebody else brewed, or from a specific cocktail you’ve had or even food,” Wiens said. “That’s unique to beer.”
Although he and Stephenson try to create a brewing schedule to guide their efforts, “it changes as we move along,” Wiens said. “We also have a monthly call with Dublin where we talk about what they’re brewing and compare that to what we’re brewing to see if we can duplicate some of the stuff they’re working on.”
While construction continues on the full brewing facility and visitor center, Guinness’s Test Taproom will be open to the public on Fridays from 3 to 8 p.m., Saturdays from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m., and Sundays from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Beers on tap will be a mix of the classic imports from Ireland and locally produced experimental beers.
“We’re thinking of it as a place to have a conversation with American consumers and figure out what they like to drink,” Wiens said.
“This is the first location in the United States that will serve Foreign Extra Stout on draught,” Day said, “and we will also have 200th Anniversary Guinness Stout in bottles.”
City Brewing Co., of Latrobe, Pa., which began brewing Guinness Blonde under contract three years ago, will continue to do so until production shifts to the new mid-sized Relay brewery in 2018.
“This temporary taproom is the first stage of a grander vision,” Kamenetz said. “We know it’s going to be a great regional success.”