21 April 2023

Guinness closes Baltimore brewery with the loss of 100 jobs

USA | Only five years after it opened, the Guinness Open Gate Brewery outside of Baltimore, Maryland, will cease its brewing operations and lay off some 100 workers.

The timing is curious, as Guinness’ parent company, Diageo, will open a vast and costly Open Gate Brewery location in Chicago this summer, albeit without the large production facility that Baltimore boasted – a 100-barrel facility that reportedly cost around USD 90 million to build in a former whiskey barrel aging warehouse. 

The brewery’s taproom and restaurant will remain open to guests, and the company will continue “limited brewing” onsite for “select experimental beers” on its 10-barrel system.

“After careful consideration and analysis of our supply footprint, we have made the difficult decision to permanently close our manufacturing facility”, Diageo said in a statement. “In order to ensure long term sustainable growth for Diageo, we are optimizing our existing operations across North America to meet evolving consumer preferences.”

The Guinness Open Gate Brewery in Maryland was the first of its kind for the brand. It was meant to provide the Guinness brand with caft beer credentials. However, the company did not brew its iconic stout or core brands at the facility. They continue to be imported from Ireland. Rather, the Maryland location was used to produce the company’s Baltimore Blonde Lager.

Guinness means stout like KFC means chicken

Diageo’s plan must have been to showcase differentiated, innovative beers at this facility. For these beers, the pilot plant’s capacity would have been sufficient. But what if US punters did not take to Baltimore Blonde Lager in a big way to cover the big brewery’s operational costs?

The decision to stop brewing also implies that the site could not be made profitable in a beer market that is declining overall. Although the taproom has reportedly drawn more than 1.3 million visitors since opening, thanks not least to its proximity to Washington DC, the brewing facility obviously could no longer justify its existence on Diageo’s balance sheet.

It is ironic to see such a huge facility close, after the state of Maryland moved heaven and earth to bring it to Baltimore in the first place. State and local law had to be rewritten. Before, a brewery taproom could only sell a maximum of 500 barrels beer per year. This figure was to be increased and, initially, only Diageo was to benefit from the new law. The scheme was dropped eventually, but the entire process left a bad taste in the mouths of many Baltimore-area craft brewers, media reported.

Commentators said that the closure of the Baltimore brewery is one more sign of the difficult era that the American brewing industry has entered into.

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