Guinness exists in the realm of Kleenex, BandAid and Xerox—brand names we’ve extrapolated to refer to their entire product category. When you’re in the mood for “a Guinness,” people assume you’re referring to a dark, roasty, dry and finely carbonated stout that’s been the standard bearer for its style for decades.
But that could soon change.
Guinness announced earlier this year that the iconic Irish beer brand, now owned by Diageo, would build a $50 million brewery called Guinness Open Gate Brewery & Barrel House in the Baltimore County town of Relay, Maryland. That facility will be the U.S. brewing and tourism headquarters for the brand, and will focus on brewing Guinness Blonde American Lager as well as other innovation beers. One thing they won’t be brewing: the flagship Guinness Draught, which will continue to be brewed at St. James’s Gate in Dublin. All other stouts, including Extra Stout and Foreign Extra Stout, will also be brewed at St. James’s Gate.
“I get that most people think of Guinness Draught when they hear ‘Guinness.’ That beer is so legendary, how could you blame them?” says Guinness Open Gate Brewery & Barrel House brewmaster Peter Wiens, who most recently was a force behind Stone Brewing’s Richmond, Virginia, expansion. “It’s only been around for about fifty or sixty years, though, so the true beginnings of Guinness that led to it are actually rooted in innovation.”
He cites nitro-carbonated beers and the stout style as innovations Guinness helped pioneer; in more recent years, the company has also released a Nitro IPA, Rye Pale Ale and 200th Anniversary Export Stout. But what could come from Guinness’ Maryland facility is potentially even more creative.
“All of the Guinness stouts that America has come to love will still come directly from Dublin. That’s not going to change, but the next time you see a new IPA, lager or maybe even a sour from Guinness, you’ll know that was us,” says Hollie Stephenson, head brewer at the new Maryland facility. “I’m particularly excited about seeing some IPAs come out of here. That’s a style that I learned a lot about when I was out west and had some success with at Highland, so I’m looking forward to seeing how I can do that in a way that you know is Guinness.”
Wiens and Stephenson will have multiple tools at their disposal to come up with new hits for the brewery. They’ll have the flexibility of three sizes of brewing systems (a four-keg pilot system; a ten-barrel system for taproom-only beers; and a 100-hectoliter system to brew beers for production), scaling what works up through the taproom into production.
“We’ll be measured by what we’re able to produce. At the end of the day, we’re expected to come up with some great beer. I think a few early hits in the tap room will feel like a success for me,” Wiens says.
The team will also benefit from Guinness’ parent company, Diageo, which owns brands like Johnnie Walker, Bulleit, Crown Royal, Don Julio and more. That opens up the possibility of a steady stream of barrels as diverse as rum, Scotch, tequila and bourbon bound for the Guinness brewery in Maryland.
From day one, the Guinness Open Gate Brewery & Barrel House’s taproom will be like a focus group for the new brewing team, allowing them to gauge customer preferences and reactions to the new, not-stout Guinness beers.
“The more people that stop by early on, the more chance we’ll have to get some feedback on our beers in the taproom,” says Stephenson. “Don’t be surprised if you see me in there asking people what they tried today and what they thought.”