Guinness in Baltimore: A Somewhat Assimilated Immigrant Brewery and Museum
Posted October 28, 2018.
The Halethorpe Guinness brewery — about a ten minute shuttle/Uber/drive from most of the BWI hotels (usually cheap and available) is a gift to the Mid Atlantic beer drinkers. It’s a gift you’ll pay for; there’s no charity here, but they’ve built it. And they have come. In droves. There’s a heavy Irish accent– some of it intended– but there’s also a celebration of the American Craft movement. A huge sign proclaims “If we can think it we can brew it.” attesting to the celebrated freedom of the US Guinness brewers. For the most part, we think they’ve proved worthy of the trust. So yes, it’s Irish as a harp, but designed to be assimilated into the American Craft revolution.
Several stories of a former whiskey warehouse are lovingly restored and re-purposed into a Guinness shrine of sorts – but one that brews with an abandon that even the increasingly daring St. James Gate brewers don’t get to touch. The complex includes a modern beer garden, an extensive wood-glass and-brick modern pub, an outdoor deck, an upscale restaurant, a big gift shop and a bank of taps that will fill your growlers. The entire complex operates under one licence so you can grab a beer and wander to your heat’s content.
Ground level is an enormous modern US beer garden – lots of tables of various sorts, but also lots of green space. It’s a bit reminiscent of the former Green Flash space in Virginia Beach. Live music plays from a corner with enough volume to reach the distant edges. A bar that sometimes has the shortest lines in the complex serves several brewed-on-premise beers in acrylic vessels that look like glass and (don’t) break like plastic.
A half flight downstairs leads to a self guided tour
— or a more comprehensive one with an advance reservation–that shows both brewing and the distilling history of the building. A flight up takes you to the main indoor pub with a huge array of beers from St. James Gate (Ireland) and the Open Gate (on premise). Samplers allow you to run the gamut, but we’ve chosen full pours that will lead to several returns.
Museum-like photo displays describe the history of cooperage– at least as it relates to Guinness. When the brewery switched to all metal kegs, they re purposed the former barrels into furniture, some of which are on display. Also on this floor is an extensive gift shop — few bargains but lots of brewstuff that’s very enticing. They sell half cases of a beer or two and growlers of a wider variety.
A flight up takes you to an upscale restaurant with prices that assume you’re eating in an upscale restaurant. Even when the complex is crowded you can often find a table here. But if you’re here on a weekend night in prime time, get a beer from the courtyard bar and be prepared to stand in line for a while. Steak for $47 and a $10 shrimp cocktail that has two shrimps (OK they’re big “shrimp” but they’re still <shrimp>.) gives you an idea of where you are.
At every level and in almost every room, you’ll be entertained by photos and displays that remind you you’re in a whiskey barrel house that has become a part of the Guinness Empire. We’ve talked to people who’ve found it pretentious and unreasonable expensive for a neighborhood of Baltimore where you would not leave your car were it not for the fences and parking lot guards that keep it entirely safe while you’re there.
Guinness is a stone’s throw from Heavy Seas’s Taproom. We put off a visit until their new expanded facility was finished, but we’ll be headed there soon. Cunt on Heavy Seas being another “Brewery of the Week” in the future. Who ever thought Halethorpe would become a center for beer tourism? Hop around up there soon!