U.S. fans of Guinness won't have to travel to Dublin to indulge in a tour and tasting experience of one of the most recognizable brands in the beer industry. Makers of the beer toasted the opening of the $90 million Guinness Open Gate Brewery & Barrel House Aug. 3 near Baltimore, its first U.S. brewery in more than 60 years.
Located in Relay, Maryland, 10 miles from downtown Baltimore, the attraction is expected to host 300,000 visitors a year to its gift shop, brew house, taproom and restaurant, which opens later this month. Guinness Open Gate sits on a 62-acre property where parent company Diageo, the world's largest drinks maker, had owned the property since 2001.
After nine months of construction involving 2,250 workers, it was exciting to see the project come to life, says Tom Day, chairman of Diageo Beer Company USA.
"It took an army of people to build. It's one of the proudest moments of my life," Day says.
The taproom's 16 beers, most of which are brewed at the site, include Guinness IPA and Crosslands Pale Ale, made with Maryland-grown malted barley and hops. Visitors can tour the site on their own for now, perusing exhibits that highlight the beer-making process and Guinness history, until guided tours become available by Labor Day.
While Guinness is best known for its thick, dark iconic stout, the Maryland brewery's flagship beer is the light, effervescent Guinness Blonde American Lager. It's currently the only beer made on site that customers can buy outside of the campus. The brewery will produce four to six new beers that will be distributed regionally in Maryland, Virginia and Pennsylvania, and, in some cases, nationally, Day says.
Visitors won't find TVs in the taproom and restaurant or any alcoholic beverages besides Guinness beer. The goal is to get beer drinkers to unplug for a few hours and savor their surroundings, says Guinness brand ambassador Ryan Wagner.
The beer maker's new facility shows how critical it is for breweries to offer a tasting room and tour to build their brand, says Bart Watson, chief economist of the Brewers Association. "It's important to have that experiential connection to beer," Watson says.
Opening Guinness Open Gate will help Diageo tap into the $111 billion US beer market, where Guinness is currently the ninth-largest brand in sales. "They're looking for ways to grow their market and this is one viable strategy," Watson says.
We got an early look inside Guinness' new visitor experience; see the highlights in the slideshow.