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Baltimore’s Guinness Taproom is a beer drinker’s paradise. The food is an afterthought. | REVIEW

Area beer drinkers may find paradise in the Taproom of the Guinness Open Gate Brewery. At the first U.S. outpost for the historic Irish brewery since 1954, sip any manner of experimental brews and classic varieties, too, from the comfort of a spacious booth and bright, floor length windows.

With an experimental brewery on premises overseen by head brewer Hollie Stephenson, named 2019 Beer Person of the Year by Imbibe magazine, the Taproom features a diverse mix of recurring, limited edition and flagship beers on draft for all kinds of tastes. They even import Guinness Draught from the original brewery, more than 3,000 miles away.

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Here, food plays a supporting role. Offerings like salty kettle chips pair well with brew and spark thirst for more. (There’s also a more upscale restaurant, 1817, upstairs).

First impressions: Like the original Guinness Brewery in Dublin, Guinness Open Gate is fast becoming one of this area’s top tourist destinations. Inside, you’re struck by a palpable excitement and impulse purchases being made in the gift shop. A tour gives a unique perspective on how Guinness is expanding its stateside impact with such in-house brews as the widely distributed blonde ale and Over the Moon milk stout. The Taproom builds on that experience by offering a range of in-house beers, from IPAs to specialty stouts to barrel-aged ales and more.

Pro tip: There’s no table service, so order from the bar and pick up your food from a nearby station. Everything comes out at once; a buzzer alerts you when your meal is ready. When drinking, consider putting together a flight of different options, lest you sample too many full-sized pours to drive home. But if that does happen, you can call a car service to a designated site in the front parking lot.

Must tries: Our table of diners enjoyed the ($13) nachos, topped with beer cheese and smoked corned beef. They’re served on wonderfully golden brown kettle chips that may well be the culinary lifeblood of the Taproom. For the more health-conscious diners, there’s a tasty, fresh $12 salad with beets and candied pecans.

The one bad dish: Crab poutine ($16) featured a soupy layer of crab dip on top of pale french fries, with a crazy Old Bay overload. Nuggets of sad-looking cheese curds couldn’t save this attempt at Canadian-Chesapeake fusion.

Other offerings were more forgettable: We shared a serviceable corned beef sandwich ($12) with coleslaw and Swiss cheese on fresh tasting rye pumpernickel. Then there was the ($15) Dubliner, smoked beef on an ordinary hoagie roll smothered in melted cheese. It might well taste amazing after a few pints. Sober, it’s just OK.

Speaking of pints: We sampled a few of the in-house beers, focusing on things not sold in stores. The coffee stout had a rich taste of fresh grounds on the nose that cut the bitterness of the beer well. The IPA had a flavorful, hoppy taste and tremendous drinkability that masks its 6.9% alcohol by volume — not terribly high, but high enough to get most casual drinkers buzzed. The coffee cream ale, a cool collaboration with Medfield’s own Vent coffee roasters, boasted an earthy coffee smell with sweet, smooth vanilla taste.

Not looking to experiment? The flagship Guinness Blonde is an easy-drinking ale for those turned off by the more intensely flavorful options.

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Special touches: A dessert flight allows non-drinkers and designated drivers to get in on the fun of a flight, offering samples of the Taproom’s sweeter offerings. We were fans of the mocha cheesecake, with rich chocolate ganache topped with Oreo cookie crumbles. Not exactly revelatory, but tasty.

Those who come for St. Patrick’s Day will have the chance to try a few different specialty beers — Crosslands Clover Honey Ale, Black Currant Stout, Breakfast Tea Amber and Red Currant Kettle Sour.

Bottom line: Complaining about the food at the Guinness Taproom feels a bit like complaining about the food in space, or at a Bob Dylan concert. After all, you’re not there for the food. You’re there for the beer. And, on that front, the Taproom delivers.

Serves dinner daily. 5001 Washington Blvd., Halethorpe. 443-575-6893. guinnessbrewerybaltimore.com

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