Guinness Makes Bid For Authentic Appeal With Open Gate Brewery

By Sean Santiago |
OPEN GATE AT GUINNESS FWX 3

© Sean Santiago

Beer in Dublin is synonymous with Guinness. A visit to the brand’s Storehouse, voted Europe’s number one tourist attraction in 2015—suspiciously besting the Eiffel Tower, The Roman Colosseum and La Sagrada Familia—makes it clear that the brand isn’t just any old brew, but a part of Irish history. (At one point during the 1800s, one in thirty people in Dublin relied on Guinness for some form of income.)

Tour guides at the Storehouse are well-versed in brewing patois, stressing the quality of each ingredient: barley, hops, yeast, and 8 million liters of natural spring water a day. Their emphasis is on terroir and an artisanal methodology, so much so that you could forget they send over 50 million barrels of beer out their front door every year. One room along the tour, a decidedly Kubrickian white box entered through a disorientingly long tunnel, asks visitors to waft in the essential oils of each ingredient. “The most important thing is to just enjoy the beer,” says our tour guide as he leads us through a primer in retronasal breathing.

All of these earnest attempts to make beer-tasting into more of a showpiece than a drinking exercise add up to a distractingly didactic experience. By the end of the day I half expected to turn a corner and espy a gang of actors dressed as gentlemen farmers running their fingers along the rims of so many warped barrels, plunging their hands in only to pull out a single barley kernel to inspect it for flaws. The Storehouse annually attracts over a million beer enthusiasts, and it feels like it. It would be right at home if airlifted into Times Square, and I can’t think of a spot in NYC where you’re less likely to catch me on the hunt for good beer—except maybe the airport.

There is a bright side, though, and luckily it opened up right next door. For the last two years, the Open Gate Brewery has been the humble home of The Brewer’s Project, an experimental brewing collective “blessed by Guinness with the creative license to reinterpret historic recipes and bring new ones to life.” In operation since 1904, Open Gate is now finally open to the public.

“We’re locking them in there and saying come out when you’ve got great beer,” said Domhnall Marnell, Beer Specialist for the Storehouse. Some of that will never hit the market, though The Brewer’s Project’s most recent development, Guinness Nitro IPA, launched in the U.S. last September. There it joined the divisive Blonde American Lager, another Brewer’s Project creation, and was accompanied by a nationwide promotional tour that encouraged American beer aficionados to reconsider Guinness’s heavy reputation.

While the Nitro IPA was not for me—it tastes like a light, hoppy facsimile of the brand’s classic stout—I did love their milk stout (I’m a sucker for routine) and their oak-aged “barrel beer”. And the experience of ordering the samples effectively mimicked the thrill of tasting a spate of micro brews from somewhere that didn’t feel like Disney World. But geotagging reminded me I was in a corporate facility, not bar-hopping back home.

In the current climate of beer consolidation, Open Gate’s debut—and the well-crafted meta narrative behind it—might seem like a daring experiment. Although, in light of the company’s declining market share abroad, it may just be more evidence that craft brewers have wrested consumer demand away from the biggest and most aggressively marketed brands.

Regardless, the space offers Guinness an opportunity to showcase itself once again as more of brewery and less of a theme park. It offers thousands of foreigners a more intimate glimpse at the company’s craft heritage while conceding to the old-timey romantic appeal of small-scale production methods more closely associated with local breweries. Plus, growlers are available, which is never a bad thing.

The Open Gate Brewery is open Thursdays and Fridays. Reservations can be made online at www.guinnessopengate.com.

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