Proposed Guinness Brewery Could
Slake Plenty of Thirsts
By George Berkheimer, SENIOR WRITER
Diageo Beer Company USA has
announced its intention to build in Relay
a U.S. version of Dublin’s popular Guinness Open Gate Brewery.
Holdout prohibitionists aside, it’s
welcome news for most everyone, returning jobs to a production facility that
closed in 2015, returning revenue to the
tax rolls, promising the development of
new products, turning a formerly inaccessible historic asset into an anchor for
tourism, and even piquing the interest
of local craft brewery competitors who
expect benefits to spill over to their own
As envisioned, the company would
build a mid-sized brewery and Guinness
visitor experience center with an innovation microbrewery to test-market new
The new brewing capacity and visitor space, combined with an existing
packaging and warehousing operation,
would bring Diageo’s investment to approximately $50 million.
Although Arthur Guinness’s iconic
dry stout will continue to be brewed at St.
James’s Gate, in Dublin, the new brewery
would be a home for other Guinness beers
created for the U.S. market.
According to Diageo Spokesperson
Ann Beegle, visitors would be able to
tour the working brewery and purchase
Guinness merchandise at the retail store.
“They would also be able to sample
experimental beers brewed on-site at
the taproom and give feedback, helping
Guinness decide which new beers they
might bring to market,” she said.
Finalization of plans is dependent on
several unspecified contingencies and are
still under negotiation.
The project would re-establish a Guinness brewery in the U.S. after 63 years of
absence and breathe new life into the site
of the historic Calvert Distillery, established in 1933 as Maryland’s first legal
distillery following prohibition’s repeal.
The House of Seagram purchased
the Calvert distillery in the mid-1930s
and continued production, but eventually
shuttered operations in 1990 and auctioned
off the distilling equipment.
Diageo acquired the Seagram portfolio
in 2000 and operated a bottling facility in
Relay until 2015, when Diageo decided
to consolidate its bottling operations in
Plainfield, Ill. Approximately 103 workers
lost their jobs when the bottling operation
Diageo’s Senior Director of State
Government Relations Dwayne Kratt said
Relay was chosen as the preferred location
for this project to take advantage of its
proximity to major East Coast tourist and
population hubs, the availability of skilled
employees, and space to build and adapt
existing structures on the property.
“We also recognize that there’s a
well-established craft beer culture in
Baltimore and Howard County and ex-
tending up to Frederick County,” Kratt
said. “There has been growth in Mary-
land, but not as much as in other big
beer areas like Asheville, N.C. We plan
to work with local brewers and do what
we can to make this area a beer tourism
While specifics are still being evalu-
ated, it is estimated that the new project
could generate 40 jobs in brewing, ware-
housing and an agile packaging operation,
which may include canning, bottling and
The visitor center could create approximately 30 additional jobs.
According to Forbes magazine, North
America accounts for about one-third of
Diageo’s net sales and half of its operating
Diageo reported a decline in net sales
and volumes in this region in the first half
of its fiscal 2016 (the six months ended
December 2015), although performance
improved in the latter quarter and appears
to be gaining strength rapidly.
Forbes also reported that changes in
Diageo’s executive team around this time
led to improved attempts to connect with
consumers and the exploration of new
Although the consequences of Brex-it are still unknown for London-based
Diageo, analysis by Trefis Research (an
interactive financial community that focuses on popular stock trends, forecasts
and insights) indicates that a potentially
weaker pound and stronger revenues originating outside of Britain could result in a
significant rise in the company’s earnings.
In other words, the timing of Diageo’s
investment in expanding an already proven
concept, like the experimental Open Gate
Brewery, in Dublin, could be perfect.
Eye to Eye
Diageo’s proposed brewery site is less
than 1. 25 miles distant from Heavy Seas
brewery, as the crow flies. Having such a
powerhouse player move in right next door
might be a disconcerting thought for some
new to the game, but Heavy Seas Owner
Hugh Sisson, who built Maryland’s first
brewpub in 1989, isn’t worried.
“I think it’s awesome,” Sisson said.
“We see lots of opportunity for partner-
ships and for tourism tie-ins, and they see
it too. I think it’s going to be good for the
Brand loyalty has evolved, Sisson said,
with beer lovers these days not only will-
ing to experiment and try new products,
but also to visit and compare different
brewpubs and breweries when they travel,
spending money on drinks and food, and
So far the only potential concern Sisson sees with Diageo is a legislative issue
tied to raising the license ceiling for the
amount of beer that can be sold across the
bar. With on-premises sales currently limited to 500 barrels per year in Maryland,
the Brewers Association of Maryland is
pursuing statewide legislation that would
raise the sales cap to 4,000 barrels per year
for all brewers, while Diageo is pursuing
the creation of a special license allowing
it to sell up to 5,000 barrels per year.
“Our hope is that Diageo will help us
get the statewide bill passed, then retract
their own bill,” Sisson said. “It’s going to
look bad if the legislature gives a large
global conglomerate benefits that their
home-grown businesses don’t have.”
Kratt said Diageo is willing to work
with Maryland brewers and is supportive
of a statewide sales increase, but declined
to speculate on the separate license issue.
In any case, “a cap increase is needed
to make this project successful,” Kratt
said, particularly if Diageo’s projection
of 300,000 visitors during the brewery’s
first full year of operations is accurate.
“We’re modeling this project off of
what we do in the Dublin facility, which
gets up to 1. 7 million visitors a year,” he
Tom Quirk, chair of the Baltimore
County Council whose district includes
the Relay site, is among those who want
to see it come to fruition.
“More than just a brewery, this is a sig-
nificant investment in our community that
represents a new direction for the historic
Relay facility,” Quirk said. “Leveraging
Guinness’s 250 years of brewing heritage
and capitalizing on its great location will
be a strong boost for tourism, not only in
the county, but the entire region.”
Diageo hopes to receive approvals and
to begin construction this spring, with the
goal of opening the brewery this fall to
mark the 200th anniversary of Guinness
being first imported into the U.S.
Diageo’s proposed Guinness Open Gate Brewery project could bring 70 jobs — and
300,000 or more annual visitors — to Relay.
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