Dana Grimmel and Chris Powels smiled for a photo, then weaved their way across a crowded room at the Guinness Open Gate Brewery & Barrel House on Sunday afternoon for a chance to see their likenesses floating in the head of a freshly poured stout.
As the sun warmed up the brisk afternoon, a group of friends — Jonathan Borowy, Cory McCall, Brandie Conner and Adam Knabe — played a game of Guinness-themed cornhole on the Baltimore County brewery’s outdoor patio. Nearby, a crowd gathered, beers in hand, to watch competitors carefully pull block after block from a giant, increasingly wobbly Jenga tower.
Brewery ambassador Ryan Wagner knows none of these activities really qualify as quintessentially Irish. He calls the beer foam printing, in particular, “antithetical” to the ideal Guinness draught stout, which is supposed to have a smooth head, nary a bubble.
But on the first St. Patrick’s Day weekend since the $90 million Irish outpost opened last summer, bartenders at the first U.S.-based Guinness brewery since the 1950s also served thousands of pints of its rye stout, India pale ale, breakfast tea amber ale, and sour, black currant stout to green-clad revelers all weekend.
“The celebration of St. Patrick dates back centuries, but the version that most of us know is very much an American tradition,” Wagner said. “That’s also why it’s very special to us here at Guinness in Baltimore. We get a chance to put our spin on it.”
About 250,000 people have visited the brewery on Washington Boulevard in Halethorpe in the eight months since it opened, and officials sold tickets to two time slots on both Saturday and Sunday of St. Patrick’s Day weekend to accommodate the thousands who poured in for a pint.
“Trying to check 2,200 people through a gate in 90 minutes is a challenge,” Wagner said. “For the first time out, I think we did pretty well.”
Wagner didn’t know exactly how many beers were served over the weekend. He admitted that his best estimate — about 40,000 pints — was “a total shot in the dark.”
In a partnership with Lyft to prevent drunken driving, Guinness set up a designated pickup lane in the parking lot, and Lyft provided anyone who took its service to the brewery with a $20 voucher for a ride home.
The Maryland State Police, the Maryland Transportation Authority Police and other agencies added patrols and checkpoints over the weekend to enforce laws against drunken and impaired driving, officials said. Fifty-nine people died in drunken-driving crashes across the country during the St. Patrick’s Day weekend last year.
For Grimmel and Powels, who live in Canton, Sunday marked their first visit to Guinness in Baltimore County.
“We came out to the brewery to try a couple beers,” said Grimmel, 24, who was sipping the black currant stout.
The brewery lived up to its reputation, Powels said.
“I’m happy we ended up doing it on St. Patrick’s Day,” the 25-year-old said. “I’d been hearing a lot of good things from friends.”
Between cornhole tosses, Borowy recommended the beef stew at the brewery’s restaurant.
“Oh my God, it was awesome,” said the 26-year-old, who lives in Perry Hall.
Conner, 26, of Owings Mills, said she liked the atmosphere even more.
“What other day can you wear a tiny hat?” she asked, gesturing to a miniature green bowler on her headband.
Tony and Kim Gossage of Odenton sat at a table inside the tasting room with their 24-year-old daughter, Anna, ears ringing from the squeal of bagpipes that had filled the building moments earlier.
“What better place to be on St. Patrick’s Day than Guinness?” said Tony Gossage, 50.
Kim Gossage, 44, whose shamrock headband matched her beaded necklace and green T-shirt featuring a unicorn jumping over a rainbow, had cobbled her outfit together from trips to Walmart and the Dollar Store, she said.
The brewery, with its indoor and outdoor seating, allowed plenty of space, despite the crowds, Anna Gossage said.
“I was expecting a lot of people to be here, but it doesn’t feel like it,” she said. “It’s not overwhelming at all. You have room to move.”
Kristin Meadows and Joanne Klossner of Fulton stood inside a giant heated tent, singing and dancing along to a performance by Andy Bopp and the Strung Out, a Baltimore-based group.
They were celebrating Klossner’s 48th birthday, which was Saturday.
“I’m not really a big beer drinker,” she admitted. “But everything I tried, I liked.”
Lanie Swanhart said she had traveled to Ireland around St. Patrick’s Day five years ago. Her goal for the visit to Halethorpe’s Guinness brewery on Sunday: “I wanted to re-live that experience in the state I live in.”
As Swanhart, 24, of Frederick, waited in line to order french fries (“chips, as they call them in Ireland”) from a food truck outside the brewery, she said she was impressed by the brewery’s offerings — and by Guinness’ decision to locate it in Maryland.
“They did choose a good state,” she said. “Maryland is very passionate about everything they do, from the flag to the beer.”