Grace Hebron | January 27, 2022
On the brink of the big milestone, the Halethorpe taproom looks back on the past three-and-a-half years.
There’s a reason why they call it Guinness Open Gate Brewery. In mid 2018, the Halethorpe mainstay made a splash as the first venue of its kind to put down roots in the U.S. in roughly 63 years. To date, with 400-plus fresh takes on the iconic Irish stout, and brew-loving out-of-towners pouring in from all across the map, the local haunt has hatched a whole new brand of Guinness beer that can only be found here. But things didn’t quite start off that way.
In 2017, a year prior to opening, the brewing team was working with a two-barrel system in a retrofitted taproom, while construction for its main venue in Halethorpe was in progress.
As brewery ambassador and marketing director Ryan Wagner recalls, early recipes were scrawled on a haphazard piece of paper he still carries with him.
“That was our first tap list,” says the Baltimore native.
By 2018, the brewers had been working for 10 months to curate sips that would appeal to patrons in the larger retail space, which once belonged to Calvert Distillery.
“We thought that the Guinness Draught Stout–which is the beloved beer that everybody knows and loves from Guinness–was going to be the number-one seller,” Wagner says.
Instead, that August, as Guinness prepared to expand to their permanent digs, a newfangled, fruity blend–one from the first tap list–flew off the shelves. A far cry from the dark and bitter stalwart Stout one might find on a visit to the motherland in Dublin, this lighter Belgian-style Apricot Pale Ale was the first product to sell out.
“What we learned [from that] is everybody loves fruit beers,” Wagner says.
Since then, the advantageous sip has never been rebrewed. But this Thursday, that all changes.
This afternoon, the one-off craft beer makes a comeback when the go-to tourist destination ushers in its one millionth visitor, who will help hang special signage in the taproom to commemorate the occasion. Upon walking through the doors, the guest will help debut the ale, which, for the first time, will be packaged in cans with the brewery on the label.
As Wagner looks back on the past three-and-a-half years, he’s amazed by the number of visitors Guinness has been able to draw.
“When we were getting ready to open, our first audacious goal was to welcome 300,000 people in the first year, and I remember the disbelief that people had when we would mention that number. But in that first year, we had more than 400,000 guests. This is a validation of the work, and all the blood, sweat and tears that have gone into this place,” he says. “We’ve managed to take a 260-year-old, global brand and build a local bar.”
Through the years, the Guinness team has backed Charm City (and a host of nearby neighborhoods) with more than just great beer, helping to rebuild Ellicott City after floods engulfed its Main St. back in 2018, and partnering with initiatives like Maryland Food Bank and Black Women Build Baltimore (BWB), a construction group that teaches members skills including carpentry and plumbing to restore abandoned homes.
“We feel really honored to be a part of Guinness’s efforts in supporting the community,” says BWB founder Shelley Halstead, who worked with the brewery to help come up with the concept for “High Vis Cream Ale,” a crisp, tea-infused Guinness pour inspired by her enterprise’s mission.
“The idea is to promote not just construction site visibility, but visibility of Shelley and her team and what they do,” says head brewer Sean Brennan, adding that a large part of the brewery’s success stems from uplifting fellow neighbors. “We’re not just a brewery,” he says. “We’re building a community of people.”
Looking toward the future, Wagner hopes that Guinness leaves a legacy of service that will last for years to come.
“A million guests is awesome, and that’s just the start,” Wagner says. “We have a long way to go, but I’m very proud of what we’ve done so far. It’s limitless what we are able to accomplish.”