HALETHORPE, Md. — This year marks the third year Guinness Open Gate Brewery is celebrating its biggest holiday of the year, St. Patrick's Day, at its home in Halethorpe. And the last two years have been anything but a conventional celebration of the luck of the Irish.
In 2020 the brewery had to cancel its St. Patrick's Day plans because everything shut down in mid-March at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.
This year, guests are welcome to come enjoy activities planned at the brewery throughout the month of March while they continue to practice COVID-19 safety protocols.
"We wanted to create an environment that was as safe as possible, not just for everyone coming in, but also for our staff," said Ryan Wagner, the national ambassador to Guinness Open Gate. "Because we learned very quickly that if the staff feels safe and comfortable, it’s much easier to make everyone else safe."
Signs cover the grounds both inside and outside of the brewery, reminding people to stay six feet apart and wear their masks when they're not seated at a table. Wagner says the activities for the month are similar for each day the brewery is open, for example movie night on Thursdays and a live band on Saturdays and St. Patrick's Day, so people don't feel like they must come on a certain date.
"We’ve come to learn that there’s a way to create a safe environment while also stepping back and allowing people, when they come into our space, to put those bags down for an hour or two."
Those "bags" being the metaphorical weights of the last year, which Guinness Open Gate has carried itself. While it never stopped making beer, the brewery had to change the way it did business for awhile, like curbside pickup. It also found unique ways to give back and make a difference.
Early on in the pandemic the brewery started making bread, which Wagner said is a similar process to brewing beer. It donated tens of thousands of loaves to the Maryland Food Bank.
"We donated that in addition to the funds from the curbside program because, while money is important, we also wanted their to be a tangible contribution," said Wagner.
When the social uprising started shortly after the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Guinness Open Gate connected to the cause. It started an Allyship Beer Series, a collaboration project with influencers of color and its own staff to develop beers that speak to the history of and the conversations happening about race in America.
In January the brewery released a brown ale called "See Us", made in collaboration with beer enthusiasts Jackie Wonsey and Courtney Holden, has sweet potatoes, nutmeg, cinnamon and other spices. In February, it released "Station at 601", a black IPA with tangerine that pays homage to a former train station at 601 S. President Street in Baltimore that was a stop on the Underground Railroad. Later this month, they'll be releasing a third beer that Wagner said is inspired by lemon pound cake.
All of the proceeds from these beers are being donated to the Job Opportunities Task Force in Baltimore.
"Beer is a force for good and a force for change, especially in this country," said Wagner.
It's hard to find a silver lining in tough times like this. Wagner said if anything, the pandemic forced the brewery to take a pause and reflect on all that Baltimore has given to it since opening in 2018, and what it can do to give back.
"What the pandemic has given us, what the social uprising certainly has given us, is an opportunity to really dig into our community programming and make sure that what we’re doing is authentic, make sure its impactful and make sure its lasting."