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Rolling out the barrels: Guinness brewery takes shape, raising hopes of boom in tourism

As Guinness prepares to open its first taproom in Relay next month, the Irish brand’s arrival is raising hopes that it will be a boon for nearby business.

“We’ve been working for two-and-a-half years to turn Arbutus around,” said Bettina Tebo, president of the Greater Arbutus Business Association. “And it was perfect timing for Guinness to come in when they did.”

The Open Gate Brewery and Barrel House — named after a similar venture in Dublin — will open in Relay as a combination brewery and visitor center. The $50 million project will be the first Guinness brewery on U.S. soil since 1954, according to the company.

The company expects 250,000 visitors in its first full year, drawing tourists to an area that is historically residential and industrial.

The brewery will produce Guinness Blonde American Lager as well as smaller batches of experimental brews that it will serve onsite in its taproom. Visitors will be able to tour an active brewery, dine in a full-service restaurant and drink in a beer garden on the grounds of the 62-acre campus, which also will provide a space for outdoor festivals and concerts.

Andrew Beebe, whose title is head of Open Gate, called Relay a “perfect spot to be able to engage consumers,” citing its central location and an atmosphere that encourages innovation.

The large-scale production brewhouse, which will brew Guinness Blonde, can brew 100 hectoliters at a time, or more than 21,000 pints. The other brewhouses will be used for small batches so the company can experiment, using the Relay site as a testing ground.

Guinness invited reporters and writers to tour the facility last week, showing off various stages of renovation, from shining steel brewing equipment to recently demolished walls that left holes in towering brick buildings. The tour came amid the company’s efforts to reach out to community and business groups.

Business owners and residents in Relay, Arbutus, Halethorpe and other nearby areas are looking for a revitalization with jobs and tourists.

“It’s going to bring in a lot of tourism and a lot of people that will hopefully shop and spend money locally,” said Tom Quirk, a Baltimore County councilman who represents the area. “I think it’s an important economic driver for the community.”

Guinness plans to hire 70 people, plant manager Erin Lauer said – 40 for manufacturing jobs like hourly plant operations and management, and 30 for hospitality jobs like waiting tables or bartending. The jobs will be posted on the brewery's website.

The company’s policy is not to share salary ranges, but the site’s human resources business partner Meghan Creighton said that compensation would be “competitive.”

“Jobs like that generally have a multiplier effect,” Quirk said, “so a lot of times one job doesn’t just create one job, but will spin off to other jobs."

Other businesses that serve alcohol are optimistic about Guinness. Hugh Sisson, founder of Heavy Seas Beer in Halethorpe, said that “because it’s an international brand, it adds a little gravitas, if you will, to the community as a whole.”

He said that although the Guinness brewery is a competitor to Heavy Seas, a regional craft brewer with a taproom and brewhouse tours, the companies will work together to draw customers.

“We’re going to be doing whatever we can to assist them. We may lend them a bag of malt from time to time,” Sisson said. “At the end of the day, we can either be small-minded or large-minded. I’d rather be large-minded.”

The craft beer founder said Heavy Seas and Guinness plan to collaborate on brews — as much for fun as for business. “It’s nice to be able to play in the sandbox, if you will,” Sisson said.

Scott Fisher, owner of Fishhead Cantina, a bar and concert venue in Arbutus, said that rather than seeing Guinness as competition, he looks at them as “great neighbors.”

“We’ve been trying to get in bigger and better customers,” Fisher said, both of his own business and of the Greater Arbutus Business Association, of which he is a member. “[Guinness] and Heavy Seas are going to help put Arbutus on the map, and help fill up Arbutus businesses.”

Eric Ebersole, a state delegate who represents southwest Baltimore, said that legislation passed in the Maryland legislature that requires new in-house taprooms to close at 10 p.m. will help protect bars and restaurants in the Arbutus area that can stay open later.

“We structured the legislation and the hours in a way that everyone had their own kind of niche for the customers they would attract,” Ebersole said, saying that a taproom like the one Guinness will open is not so much a bar as a “sampling room.”

Tebo said the area businesses she represents are hoping that when people visit Guinness, they will have the opportunity to “extend the invitation to come in to Arbutus.”

She said she is hoping the State Highway Administration will put signs near the brewery to indicate to visitors that Arbutus is just up the road.

“We need to let people visiting the brewery know what’s in Arbutus, and we need the state’s help,” Tebo said.

Del. Terri Hill, who also represents the district, said that though Guinness will likely have a positive impact on the area, there are some “potential downsides” that come with drawing possibly rowdy customers to an establishment that serves alcohol.

“To a great extent, part of what Arbutus has been about is attracting families,” Hill said. “The question becomes: To what extent can they benefit from overflow from the Guinness taproom without negatively impacting the draw to the community?”

Ann Beegle, a publicist for Guinness parent company Diageo, said the company has been working to reach out to neighborhood and business associations, explaining their plans and addressing concerns. Most recently they sent representatives to the Relay Improvement Association meeting.

Carol Mox of the Halethorpe Improvement Association said that the brewery’s industrial location off of Route 1 is a good thing, because not only is it near major roads such as Interstate-95, but “it’s not in a residential zone so it won’t affect traffic.”

Beebe said that there is no public transportation within walking distance of Open Gate. Visitors will park in a large lot planned for the location, and the taproom will encourage customers to use designated drivers or ridesharing apps like Uber to get home safely after drinking.

Though some in Baltimore County are looking to Guinness to boost the economy, others are just looking forward to the amenities it will bring.

The temporary taproom, a sweeping industrial-gray space slated to open in October, will serve beer brewed in small batches in a two-barrel brewhouse.

In 2018, residents near Relay will be able to visit the Open Gate Brewery’s grounds, which will be open to the public. The company plans to build a flexible outdoor performance venue that may be used for concerts and festivals like Oktoberfest.

“I think the community is cautiously optimistic,” Hill said. For business owners in the Arbutus area, Hill said that Guinness opens up an opportunity – but one that will take work and collaboration.

“I just think that there’s got to be some creative thought,” Hill said. “The business community is going to have to work with Guinness to figure out how they can benefit."

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