Just a few weeks ago, Guinness finally opened the Open Gate Brewing and Barrel House (OGBBH) just outside of Baltimore Maryland, and yes, they do not, nor do they have plans to brew the iconic beverage known as Guinness Extra Stout. But they are brewing beer, and lots of it!
Guinness has been brewing beer since 1759 when its founder Arthur Guinness signed a 9,000 year lease for a whopping 45 pounds a year! And while Guinness has been brewing beer for nearly 260 years, it didn’t start brewing the stout for which they are now famous until just 60 yars ago.
According to Ryan Wagner, the official Guinness Brewery Ambassador, the purpose of OGBBH in Maryland is to research, develop, and brew new beers, using the latest brewing innovations, with local ingredients, and by American brewers, to create beers with American flavors and style. The tap room provides visitors with the chance to sample these new beers, and provide valuable feedback to the brewery.
When you visit OGBBH, you will find a taproom with a wide variety of beer brewed right there. Now don’t get me wrong. They do have Guinness Stout on tap, but it is brewed in Ireland and shipped there. And as Ryan points out, “Guinness is a brewery- not a stout”. Currently they have 16 beers on tap in their taproom, but only 3 are brewed in Dublin, Ireland. So if you walk into their taproom and order a Guinness, you will likely be met with a puzzled look, and the question, “Which one?”
Bringing this iconic brand back to the U.S. has also lead to some interesting confusion. For instance, in 1930, Guinness hired artist John Gilroy to create his now famous advertising campaign featuring zoo animals and a hapless zoo keeper who can’t seem to hold on to his pint of Guinness.
One of these drawings from a 1935 add shows a crab trying to grab a pint of Guinness. This artwork, which is on display in the brewery and on some of the t-shirts in the gift shop, has cause a bit of criticism from some Maryland residents because it is not the blue crab for which Maryland is known far and wide. Some people mistakenly think this historic artwork is actually an attempt to incorporate Maryland with the Guinness brand. This has prompted some locals to complain about the ‘inaccurate’ portrayal of the local icon, when in fact it is a depiction of an Irish brown crab that was originally created for the Irish market 80 years ago!
Currently the brewery offers both guided and self-guided tours on which you can learn not only about their brewing process and new beers being developed, but you can learn something about the history of Guinness and the history of the site the barrel house now occupies.
This brewery, which is the first Guinness brewery on American soil since 1954, sits on the site of a former whiskey distillery. In fact, the building that now holds the tap room was originally built to age whiskey barrels. When you visit the brewery, you will notice quite a number of barrels used for decoration, and for displays. All of these barrels were found in this building. Ryan says they have worked hard to protect the character and history of the buildings during construction and renovation.
There is a story told in hushed tones around the brewery that while cleaning and removing empty barrels from one of the floors, they found a barrel that was significantly heavier than the others. The reason? It was nearly half full of whiskey.
Now for those of you who are not whiskey aficionados, I should explain that since whiskey is aged in wooden barrels, there is a certain amount of evaporation that takes place each year the whiskey is aged. This evaporation, also known as the “angels’ share” amounts to a loss of between 2 and 4 percent of the whiskey’s volume for each year it is aged, depending on temperature and humidity. The older the whiskey, the smoother and more flavorful it gets, but that also means there’s less whiskey is in the barrel. A typical Scotch aged for 12 years will lose about 25% of its volume to thirsty angels.
With that in mind, if over half the whiskey had evaporated, how old would you guess that whiskey would be? At a loss of 2% a year, and assuming half the barrel evaporated, my guess would be about 35 years old. Interestingly, no one seems to know what happened to that barrel. No matter who I asked the reply was always the same: A wistful smile, a shrug of the shoulders, and then they say, “I don’t know. It just disappeared.”
Although the brewery is now open to the public, it is still not quite finished, and work on the facility continues. There is a planned restaurant that is not yet open, but will hopfuly be open soon. And when it is, it will feature dishes locally sourced with the freshest ingredients, created to be paired with beers brewed on the premises that will not only complement, but enhance each other’s flavors and textures. And if this preview of dishes is any indicator, the food there will be amazing! Until then, in addition to their fantastic beers, the tasting room offers a selection of pub grub.
There is little doubt that the people of the Guinness Open Gate Brewery and Barrel House are proud of what they have accomplished, but are excited about their future in Maryland.
If you stop by the tap room and perhaps take a little tour, I think you too will be excited about the future of Guinness in America.