While in Baltimore recently, the fun didn’t stop at the American Visionary Art Museum and the B&O Railroad Museum. We continued our sightseeing by checking out one of the city’s newest attractions (and, if we’re being honest, the main reason I wanted to go to Baltimore to begin with). You see, a few months ago I learned that none other than Guinness Brewery was opening its first brewery in the U.S. since 1954 right in Baltimore, MD: The Guinness Open Gate Brewery and Barrel House.
Sharing a pitcher of beer with my husband is always challenging because he leans more toward IPAs, but my love for beer is primarily with stouts and porters. In particular, I’ve always been a huge fan of Guinness stout and have had the (super delightful) opportunity to visit their main brewery in Dublin several years ago. So when I learned of their forthcoming presence in the U.S., and in Baltimore no less, I knew we were going to have to stop by sometime soon. And a few weeks ago, we did!
Their new brewery, the Guinness Open Gate Brewery and Barrel House, is located just south of Baltimore in Halethorpe, MD. It was only about 15-20 minutes from the American Visionary Art Museum, so after finishing up there we headed straight out to the brewery. They’ve only been open for a couple months now, and I’m not sure if that’s why Google maps told us to turn at the wrong place, but when you arrive, don’t turn off until you see the road with the Guinness sign by the highway. Google thought we should turn in at the drive right before the actual driveway and we ended up in an industrial lot, stuck behind a gate. Literally. Mike thought he’d just drive around it through the entrance side, but it eventually opened realllllly slowly for us so we could get back out.
Once we got to the correct entrance, we pulled into a massive and incredibly crowded parking lot, with a brightly shining Guinness sign lighting the way. This place is huge–probably at least 5 or so stories high (the brewery occupies a 62 acre lot, so the place is not small!) It seemed improbable that all the cars in the lot could be from people at the brewery, and we hoped that this was indeed the right place and not some off-site brewing area.
We found a parking spot and headed to the entrance. You enter first through an open gate (get it, Open Gate Brewery?) and there is an enormous lawn and outdoor patio space covered with Adirondack-style chairs and tables. It was cold and drizzly the day we visited, so no one was outside, but you could imagine how nice it must be out there on a beautiful, sunny day. Convinced now that we were in the right place, we proceeded up the front stairs and into the building.
And yep. All those cars in the parking lot belonged to people visiting the brewery. The place was packed! When you first enter, there is a gift shop to the right, full of people browsing for Guinness-branded merchandise. The tap room is off to the left, and it was overflowing with people. We were starving and wanted food, but it was clear that getting a seat in the tap room wasn’t going to happen anytime soon. Fortunately, the restaurant, which is up on the second floor, had plenty of room available and serves all the same beers, so we decided to just camp out there.
Interestingly, this new brewery in Baltimore isn’t brewing up the Guinness you’re probably most familiar with, their famous Guinness Draught stout, which will still be brewed in Dublin (you can, of course, still buy it here and should because, you know, it’s good for you).
This new brewery has instead refined the Guinness Blonde recipe and will be exclusively brewing it in Baltimore for U.S. distribution. Additionally, they have a small 10-barrel operation for “experimental brewing” and they will also be aging beer here in spirits barrels, allowing for an even more unique variety of styles and flavors (Guinness is part of a huge beverage conglomerate called Diageo which also owns many spirits companies, so it’s not hard to imagine where those barrels are going to come from!)
Guinness has only one other experimental brewery, which is located in Dublin. So if you’re not able to make it to Ireland anytime soon, Baltimore may be the closest you’ll get to sampling some of Guinness’ unique brews that you aren’t going to find anywhere else. And once we were seated in the restaurant, we got down to the business of selecting some of those unique beers for our flights.
I chose their hibiscus wheat, the coconut porter, a milk stout, and a barleywine, which was the first barleywine they’ve released at the new brewery. Mike also got the coconut porter and added the Northwest IPA, the white ale, and the unfiltered lager. Other than the IPA (which is a style I don’t particularly enjoy to begin with), I really liked everything! The IPA drinker in our family did give the IPA two thumbs up, but it tasted a little like pine trees to me (is that what they meant by “Northwest” IPA???) If I had to choose a favorite, it would have to be the coconut porter. YUM.
And because it’s never advisable to eat on an empty stomach, we started with some of their dense and delicious brown bread, slathered in creamy Irish butter. For our main course, we both had the burger which was fantastic. Their predetermined toppings all work well together, and the bun was soft and buttery (which, let’s face it, no burger is going to wow your socks off if the bun sucks). My favorite part, though, was the big potato wedges and homemade, spicy ketchup that came alongside the burger. Soooo good!
The menu is pretty reasonably-priced from a New Yorker’s perspective but maybe a little on the high side for a smaller city like Baltimore. They do have Guinness stew, and they also incorporate a bit of Maryland crab into their menu if you’re into that kind of thing (I mean, while in Baltimore…) Mostly, we were just glad to have gotten a seat!
As we were leaving, there was definitely a much larger crowd dining in the restaurant, but they do accept reservations if you want to ensure that you will have somewhere to eat and drink when you visit. On a less crowded day, the tap room also serves a limited menu, and the options all looked pretty good, but it was definitely not a less crowded day when we were there!
One thing, though, that you’re not going to find on their menu is wine or liquor. Folks, this is a Guinness brewery, and your options are Guinness, Guinness, and more Guinness. (Hallelujah!) This is personally why we came, but if you have that one non-beer-drinking friend or significant other who only drinks wine, they should be prepared to drink nothing but soda or water (or at least pretend to like beer for the night!)
After we finished our yummy burgers, we headed down to the lower level where the brewery is located. They do offer free one-hour tours of the brewery, and you can add on a $10 guided tasting afterward if you’re so inclined. Unfortunately, by the time I had tried going online to reserve a spot on the tour, they were already sold out the entire weekend we were in town. If you have your heart set on a tour, book early!
If you can’t make it on a tour, though, there are plenty of signs and placards to read to give you a sense of what you’re seeing and what they’re doing here. And when you’re done downstairs, don’t forget to check out the gift shop! Mike bought me a cute coffee mug with the famous Guinness toucans on it for my birthday.
The obvious question that you may have and that we certainly had was….why Baltimore? I mean no disrespect to Baltimore, I’m actually quite fond of the city, but when a major brewery is opening its first U.S. location in more 60 years (they briefly had a brewery in Long Island City back in the ‘40s-’50s, by the way), one wonders what lead to the decision to choose this city in particular. Per their website, they mention that its close proximity to several major cities and its excellent access by rail, plane, etc. both make Baltimore a great spot.
Also, Diageo, the parent company of Guinness, acquired the property several years ago when they bought Seagram, which probably didn’t hurt either. The brewery is located at the former site of the Calvert Distilling Company, which was the first distillery to open in Maryland after Prohibition ended. The site still has four rick houses that had been used specifically for barrel-aging whiskey and so Guinness will now use the space to barrel-age beer instead!
Clearly, though, they intend for the new brewery to become a tourist destination. What wasn’t clear, though, is whether the crowds were the result of the place just being new or if people are really that excited to have Guinness in the U.S. and are flocking there to visit.
Regardless, if you love Guinness and if you enjoy beer-tasting in general, the brewery is worth a visit. Do heed my advice, though, if you want to take a tour or have a place to sit and drink, and make some reservations in advance. We would have been so disappointed if we couldn’t get into the tap room or restaurant, so don’t take that chance, especially if you’re traveling a ways to get there.
And if you do make it there, raise a glass for me! Sláinte!
Have you already made it to the new brewery yourself? Let me know what you think?
Plan Your Own Visit
Where to Go
- Guinness Open Gate Brewery and Barrel House, 5001 Washington Blvd, Halethorpe, MD 21227
- Google Maps suggested we turn in next door rather than at the actual entrance, which has a Guinness sign right where you turn off the highway. If you don’t see the sign by the road when you turn off, you’re not in the right place!
When to Go
- Anytime! The brewery is open seven days a week and the restaurant is open Thursday through Sunday.
- Free one-hour tours are available with an optional guided tasting you can add on for $10. Check the website for tour times if you want to plan your visit around that.
- There is a huge lawn with tons of outdoor seating and outdoor bars, so this is a great spot for enjoying a cold beer on a warm day.
Tips for Visiting
- Prepare for crowds! The tap room was PACKED, and you should expect a wait when ordering beers.
- If you plan to do the tour and guided tasting, you’ll want to book early because the tours are selling out well in advance
- If you plan to dine at the restaurant, I’d recommend making a reservation. You can order flights at your table, so if you’re dining in, you can at least be sure to have a seat while sampling some tasty beers!
- All they serve here is Guinness! Seems obvious since it’s a brewery, but even the restaurant is all Guinness all the time. Your wine-drinking friend or significant other is out of luck if they don’t like beer!
- Unlike many breweries these days, no dogs are allowed, even on the lawn so your pup will have to stay at home.