On Friday, Guinness, one of beer’s most recognizable brands, opened its first U.S. brewery in 64 years in Baltimore County’s Relay.
Known as the Guinness Open Gate Brewery & Barrel House, the $90 million project is the company’s attempt to tap into America’s massive beer industry, where consumers’ tastes have expanded to include beer styles such as sours, barrel-aged brews and more. Synonymous for decades with its creamy, dark stout, Guinness essentially wants to expand its offerings.
The brewery follows Guinness’ “test taproom,” a smaller, on-site space opened in October to preview some of the new products. Beyond beer, it aims to be a tourist destination.
To get caught up, here’s what you need to know about Guinness’ new brewery.
What is the Guinness Open Gate Brewery & Barrel House, and why is it opening?
The mouthful of a title is the first Guinness brewery in America since 1954, one that has been built to brew Guinness Blonde American Lager, a lighter brew the company launched in 2014. The brewery will also focus on styles of smaller-batch beers such as a cherry stout, a guava wheat beer and other recipes created by the staff, led by brewmaster Peter Wiens and head brewer Hollie Stephenson, formerly of Stone Brewing Co. and Highland Brewing Co. respectively.
Located on 62 acres in Relay, the handicap-accessible brewery will also feature a 270-seat restaurant, a 250-person taproom with ample seating, guided tours and more. The brewery’s goal is attract 300,000 visitors within the first year.
Where is it?
Built on the site of the former Calvert distillery in Baltimore County, Guinness’ new brewery is located at 5001 Washington Blvd. Though the mailing address is Halethorpe, the brewery is technically located in the town of Relay.
How long has this been in the works?
Diageo, Guinness’ owner, announced plans for the brewery in January 2017, and construction began the following month. In October, Guinness opened a temporary, much smaller “test taproom” to offer early visitors a preview of what to expect when the main building opens.
When will it be open?
The brewery opened its doors to the public from 3 p.m. to 9 p.m. Friday. Moving forward, the operating hours will be 3 p.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Friday and noon to 9 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. (Note: The restaurant will not be open until late August, according to Guinness’ website, but the taproom will offer a limited bar menu in the meantime. Local food trucks will also be on hand on weekends.)
Will Guinness’ most famous beers be made here?
No, Guinness Draught Stout (the one commonly seen on draft lists around the world) and Guinness Extra Stout will be imported from St. James’s Gate in Ireland. The Baltimore County brewery is focused on Blonde American Lager and more experimental beers.
Can I drink the brand’s famous stout on-site?
Yes, the staff will pour what many simply call “Guinness” — with, of course, proper technique (glass held at a 45-degree angle, spout never touching the glass).
Can I buy Guinness beer to take home?
Yes, but only in 32- or 64-ounce growlers that can be purchased at the brewery, or brought from home.
Do I need a reservation to visit?
No. In the beginning, visitors can simply show up and take a self-guided tour. In the weeks following the opening, guided tour reservations will become available for $10 (which includes a beer tasting) via Guinness’ website. Reservations will not be required to visit — they will only be required for guided tours.
Why did Guinness choose Baltimore County?
Of all the places in the country for a Guinness brewery, Relay might seem like an odd choice on paper — until you learn the property’s history. Initially known as the Maryland Distilling Co. after Prohibition, the distillery was home to several brands over the decades (including Lord Calvert Whisky) until 2001, when Diageo acquired the site as a part of its purchase of Seagram. Most recently, the space was used to bottle and age Captain Morgan rum products until 2015. The company decided to repurpose the site for the Guinness project.
How many jobs does Guinness expect the brewery to create?
The brewery, restaurant and taproom will employ approximately 150 people full-time and another 50 will work full-time in supply and packaging, said marketing manager Oliver Gray. During the build-out, approximately 300 temporary constructions jobs were created.
What sort of economic impact will Guinness have on the area?
Baltimore County economic development director Will Anderson told The Sun that towns such as Arbutus, Catonsville, Halethorpe and others should benefit from the facility’s opening. Area business owners such as Heavy Seas Beer founder Hugh Sisson and Fishhead Cantina owner Scott Fisher have offered their public support of the project because they believe it will lead to more new customers. “There is a huge multiplier from these 300,000 expected visitors who will come into Relay every year,” Anderson said.
Hasn’t there been a recent controversy over this project and Maryland’s brewery laws?
There has been much debate about Maryland’s breweries and whether current restrictions on how much they can sell on-site will hurt the state’s growing beer industry. (Currently, brewery taprooms can serve 2,000 barrels of beer per year. Groups like the Maryland Beer Wholesalers Association pushed back against reform measures that would have allowed breweries to sell more.)
In 2017, a compromise bill passed to allow Guinness and existing breweries to sell significantly more beer (from roughly 125,000 pints to 500,000 annually) in their taprooms, while new brewery taprooms would have more limited hours. Earlier this year, Comptroller Peter Franchot pushed to lift restrictions placed on breweries, but lawmakers voted down his “Reform on Tap” bill. Dwayne Kratt, Diageo’s government affairs director, recently declined “to speculate” on the future of Maryland’s brewery laws and said Guinness does not anticipate any issues with reaching sales capacity for 2018.
What can I expect when I visit?
For starters: beer. There will be 92 taps on-site, all pouring Guinness products — from one-off brews to the standard stout — either made at the facility or imported from Ireland. Customers will be able to explore beyond the taproom with a beer in hand.
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Beyond what’s in a pint glass, the facility aims to offer visitors an experience with a visitor center highlighting Guinness’ history, the brewing process and the story behind the Relay site. There will be tours, a Guinness gift shop and a restaurant (coming later this month). Guinness plans to eventually host outdoor events such as live concerts on the property as well. (The general outdoor area can fit 4,000 people.) walk-through tour