Ah…Guinness Draught. Just say the name and your brain likely conjures up images of leprechauns and shamrocks while “I’m Shipping Up to Boston” begins playing in your head. Well, take that — all of it — and throw it out the window. After all, we’re in Maryland, baby!
What you might not know is that the site of the new Guinness Open Gate Brewery and Barrel House has a long and storied past in the alcohol industry. In 1933, Maryland Distillery opened the plant as the state’s first legal distillery after prohibition ended.
Though many types of spirits were distilled at the Relay location, it was most notably known for Calvert Whiskey. Some years later (roughly 1960’s) Maryland Distillery changed hands and was operated by Seagram & Sons until it was sold in 2001 to Diageo. Fast forward to fall 2012 when Diageo opens a $50 million blending and packaging facility at the Relay location and all seems well for the 140 people who work there. “This facility is a testament to our dedicated workforce here in Maryland” and “a prime example of Diageo’s continued commitment to local manufacturing.”
However, just three short years later Diageo closed all bottling operations, and the workforce on this 62-acre property dropped to a staggering 4 people.
In early 2017, Diageo announced that they planned to invest another $50 million into the Relay site and create new jobs with their Guinness facility. There was hope on the horizon for some of the former employees.
Upon first impression, you wouldn’t know that the “new” Guinness Open Gate Brewery and Barrel House is actually housed in an 80+ year-old building that underwent a pretty expensive facelift. To the tune of $90 million.
Walking through the iconic black gates will get you into an expansive outdoor area with various types of seating, yard games, and an outdoor bar area. After ascending the giant staircase, guests will enter a building that is very different from what you’d find in Dublin.
Patrons eyes are drawn to the sizable bar to the left of the entrance, along with sweeping views of the property through large floor-to-ceiling windows. A pair of doors leads out to a covered deck that offers respite from the beating summer sun. Though the design has a modern industrial vibe, many of the elements are original to the building and the property. “All of the barrels decorating our barrel room were found here on the property. Some even still had rum in them”, said Ryan Wagner, Brewery Ambassador. If you look at particular spots on the concrete floor, you’ll see echoes of the building’s past where ricks — the wooden structures that held aging whiskey barrels — once sat. Though the building is a mix of concrete, aged barrels, and glossy white subway tile, designers added a pop of color — affectionately known as Guinness Blue — when they painted steel I-beams that were added for structural support. “You’ll actually see this same color if you go to the storehouse in Dublin”, said Guinness’ Social Media Correspondent, Heather McReynolds.
More Than A Stout
As for the beer, the crew at Guinness OGB & BH has been tasked with re-educating the consumer. Wagner puts this in perspective. “People come in and ask for a Guinness and our bartenders say, ‘Which one?’ We kind of laugh when they reply, ‘The original’ because what many don’t realize is that Guinness Draught wasn’t created until 1959. Arthur Guinness opened the original brewery back in 1759. What do you think he did for those first 200 years?”
Another stark contrast to the Dublin location is the sheer number of tap handles. There are 20 taps located at the main bar, and that’s just on one side of the bar! But don’t be surprised when every tap handle is pouring a different style of beer.
The 10 barrel system located on the ground floor of the building is what’s known as the experimental or small batch system. This is where Head Brewer Hollie Stephenson, Brewmaster Peter Wiens and Senior Brewer Sean Brennan, can really play around and try something new. Anything from sours, to IPAs and even barrel-aged beers — the sky is the limit here at Guinness Open Gate Brewery and Barrel House.
Back outside, the far end of the outdoor space is enclosed by a white and brick building, flanked by a tall silo bearing the image of the Maryland state flag and the Guinness harp. This is where you’ll find the 100 hectolitre brewing system. For now, this system will exclusively brew Guinness Blonde for the U.S. market, leaving Dublin to brew Guinness Draught, Guinness Extra Stout, and Guinness Foreign Extra Stout. Eventually, through testing and feedback via the tap room, Guinness hopes to someday brew, package, and distribute new beers on the larger system.
Know Before You Go
- Check the website for important details like hours of operation, current tap list, and special events.
- You do not currently need tickets or reservations to take a free, self-guided tour. In the near future, patrons may choose to pay $10 for a guided tour and tasting at the facility.
- The restaurant, aptly named 1817 (for the year Guinness was first shipped to the U.S.), is slated to open in late August. Until then, order light snacks at the tap room bar or from the various food trucks that may be on premise over the weekend.
- Though the mailing address is Halethorpe, the property is actually located in the town of Relay, which is in Baltimore County — not the city of Baltimore.