Guinness taps into U.S. trends with new Maryland brewery
- The first Guinness brewery in the U.S. in more than 60 years is expected to open later this summer in Maryland. The Guinness Open Gate Brewery and Barrel House is planned for the revived historic Calvert distillery building in Relay, Maryland, 10 miles from downtown Baltimore and half hour northeast of Washington, D.C. The brewery will open Aug. 3. for tours, taproom tastings and dining in its restaurant, according to the company.
- This distillery was first opened after prohibition in Maryland, in 1933. For decades it distilled, barrel-aged and bottled several spirit brands, notably the Lord Calvert Whisky brand. Guinness parent Diageo acquired the site in 2001 as part of its purchase of Seagram, and the spirits aging and bottling continued at scale until 2015. The new brewery will be home to Guinness Blonde American Lager, the only Guinness beer currently made in the U.S.
- The company notes the brewing industry in Maryland is growing fast with several notable breweries making a name for themselves, and Diageo hopes the new brewery and taproom will help bring tourists to the area to experience what the company hopes to be a “best in class” brewery and taproom experience.
With Diageo’s stated plans to hire 200 hospitality workers for the new brewery with a goal of attracting 300,000 visitors in the first year, it’s clear the new operation is at least as much about attracting tourists as it is about brewing and selling beer. That could be a smart move, especially since the company already owns the site. Some conversion is necessary, of course, but it seems a good bet the spirits company will come out ahead. While the beer industry in general might be struggling worldwide, millennials — whether they drink beer or not — are increasingly heading to taprooms in search of fresh and new social experiences.
In fact, Guinness doesn’t even plan to brew any of its iconic stouts in Maryland; they will continue to be imported from Ireland. Instead, the company plans to focus on experimenting with the lighter brews American drinkers seem to prefer, making them in smaller batches for eager visitors to try.
In its news release, the company notes the density of taprooms in the Baltimore area as an attraction for visitors who like to do “beer tours.” This follows a national trend.
"We're seeing local breweries open anywhere there's a density of population, and that's true in basically every state in the country now," says Bart Watson, chief economist at the Brewers Association, told BevNet in late March. "There are 5,600 craft brewers in the U.S. and two more open up every day. The vast majority of them are very, very small.”
The growth in taprooms comes at a time when states relax previous laws which said establishments had to make most of their money from food sales. The Brewers Association estimates as many as 2.7 million barrels of beer were sold directly to consumers from a taproom or a brewery retail shop last year.
Diageo may hope to mirror the success of Tree House Brewing Company in Massachusetts. In 2016, the small site sold 13,000 barrels of beer. In 2017, Tree House opened a new brewery and taproom and sold around 30,000 barrels of suds. It pay off when brewers can sell to consumers directly through taprooms and small breweries. And with international name recognition and a location close to several tourist attractions, the new Guinness brewery can be even more of a draw.
Diageo seems to be holding its own in the adult-beverage market. Through the end of 2018, it reported net sales growth of up 4.2%, and organic volume growth of 1.8% for the fiscal half-year. Organic operating profit also grew 6.7%, ahead of top line growth, and company leaders said higher marketing investment was more than offset by efficiencies from a productivity program.
Diageo has confidence in Guinness. The brand's sales rose 4% in Ireland in 2016, although other Diageo-owned beer brands declined by 4%. The company told the Irish Times the rise in Guinness sales could be attributed to the success of its Brewers Project, based at the company’s Open Gate microbrewery in Dublin.
The company seems to be betting the success of experimental brewing in Ireland, coupled with the Guinness name and the current U.S. fascination with taprooms, will lead to sudsy sales. Only time will tell if the allure of the brand — without the company’s flagship stouts – will be enough to bring customers through the doors.
- Guinness Faqs