For the first time since the 1950s, Guinness has its own brewery in the United States, and fresh beer begins flowing from the taps this weekend in Baltimore County.
Guinness Open Gate Brewery and Barrel House was announced with much fanfare back in January, promising a “Guinness visitor experience” with a full-scale production brewery, a taproom modeled after the Open Gate brewery in Dublin serving beers created on-site, tours, a restaurant and a retail store. Most of those amenities won't open here until next summer. In the meantime, Guinness has launched a temporary “test taproom” in a different part of the 1930s complex that previously housed the landmark Calvert Distillery and that's near BWI airport.
Inside the 150-person taproom — an industrial space with concrete floors, exposed pillars and classic Guinness ads on the walls — is a large U-shaped bar. Barrels serve as extra tables. In a corner, near the entrance, a gift shop offers T-shirts, pint glasses and other souvenirs.
Customers can get a pint of traditional Guinness Stout “on draught” — still made at St. James's Gate Brewery in Dublin — and the recently released 200th Anniversary Export Stout, celebrating 200 years since the first transatlantic shipment of Guinness was sent to South Carolina.
But the main attractions are the beers you can't find anywhere else. Start with Guinness Foreign Extra Stout: This is the only place outside of St. James's Gate where you can find Guinness's bolder brother on tap. It has a richer, maltier body, a cherry note in the slightly bitter finish, and it's 7.5 percent alcohol by volume, whereas Guinness Draught is just 4.2 percent.
A short walk from the taproom, there's a pilot brewery, where brewmaster Peter Wiens (formerly of Stone) and head brewer Hollie Stephenson (most recently the head brewer at Asheville, N.C.'s Highland Brewing) are creating new beers on a two-barrel system, meaning they're basically brewing four kegs at a time.
“On this scale, we can do whatever we want, which is a lot of fun,” Stephenson says of the small batches. “We sit down at the end of the day and decide what we're going to do next. We talk to [brewers in] Dublin about what they're brewing and compare that to what we're brewing.”
Wiens and Stephenson have three beers in the taproom: an IPA that marries the tropical fruit aromas of a new-world IPA to the malty backbone of a West Coast IPA, and two fruity blonde ales made with Guinness's house yeast that show off peach and grapefruit flavors.
Other beers in the works include a milk stout, a Belgian dark ale using whiskey yeast from the Seagram's yeast library (now, like Guinness, part of parent company Diageo) and, of course, a hazy IPA. None of these beers is what you'd expect from Guinness, but that's exactly the point of the experimental brewery. Because of the small batch size, a few draft options will rotate every week.
In April, the duo will expand to a 10-barrel system. They'll eventually add a 100-hectoliter brewhouse, for producing Guinness American Blonde Ale for the American market. The larger system could also be used for a new original beer if proven popular: Guinness's Rye Pale Ale, which was released in bottles last year, was created by brewers at the experimental Open Gate brewery.
Although there's no restaurant yet, the Baltimore-area brewery plans to have food trucks outside on weekend afternoons, and there's a grassy area with picnic tables and cornhole if the weather is fine.
Diageo expects about 250,000 visitors to visit in the first full year of operation as the space turns into a destination for Guinness fans who want to drink a pint as close to the source as possible.
Guinness Open Gate Brewery and Barrel House, 5001 Washington Blvd., Halethorpe. Taproom open 3 to 8 p.m. Fridays, 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Saturdays and 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sundays.
Don't want to drive? The taproom is located about a mile from two MARC stations: St. Denis, on the Camden Lin,e and Halethorpe, on the Penn Line. The brewery is also a 10-minute cab ride from the BWI airport's Amtrak/MARC station, where there's always a line of taxis waiting for fares.