Alanah Davis: Open Barrels, Hearts and Black-Eyed Susans at the Guinness Open Gate Brewery

Photo by DJ (Ryan) Impulse.

“Y’all wanna go with me to Guinness Brewery on Thursday?” were the words I read in a group text from Jason Bass, founder of Kiss Tomorrow Hello and director of Culture and Impact at Hotel Revival in Baltimore City. He said y’all because also included in the text was my good friend Kondwani Fidel, a Baltimore-based essayist, author, and performance artist.

Any time I’ve gotten a text like this in 2020 my stomach tends to knot up thinking of all the questions I feel most of us know like the backs of our hand by now, like, Is it safe? Will proper distancing be enforced? Before I could get too caught up with my anxieties I replied, “I’m down, what time foreal.”

Photo by DJ (Ryan) Impulse.

In less than 60 seconds Jason said 5:30 p.m., offered to drive both myself and Koni as I affectionately call Kondwani, and my plans for Thursday, Oct. 22, 2020 (the day before my 29th birthday) were sealed. I was excited to link up with friends and try new beers since I haven’t always been a beer person per se and seeing friends has become a bit more far, few and in between during the pandemic.

On Thursday we piled into Jason’s black truck masked up to head over to Halethorpe, where the Guinness brewery sat on what I learned is the site of the historic Calvert Distillery in Baltimore County, just 10 miles from downtown if you’re wondering. It used to be called Maryland Distilling Company and it opened just after Prohibition in 1933.

Can you imagine legal prevention of the manufacture, sale, and transportation of alcoholic beverages in 2020? I, for one, cannot.

Once we arrived at the site itself and I saw all 1.5 acres of their beer garden and brewing land bubbling over into my line of sight I was amazed. The curated grass, lawn chairs, and well-spaced out picnic table area immediately gave me goosebumps, the good kind.

Then there was the harvest orange and pale blue-colored sunsetting sky and the sweet sound of live instruments supporting the soulful voice of Tamara Wellons. Tamara, who is a Black Maryland-based jazz songstress, sang covers for some of my favorite Stevie Wonder songs so I knew this was going to be a night to remember.

I was in sensory heaven and hadn’t even tasted or drank anything yet. Bales of hay, scarecrows, and appropriately placed pumpkins lined the beer garden and brought back a much needed warm autumnal sense of familiarity.

Photo by DJ (Ryan) Impulse.

I had no idea when I accepted the invite from Jason but this was the brewery’s Guinness x Tennessee Brew Works Black-Eyed Susan release event. They pulled out as many stops as they could while keeping the safety of their guests in mind. While there Jason, Koni, and I saw other friends like Devin Allen, DJ Impulse, Nick, Natalie and more but were gently encouraged by Guinness staff to stay at our designated tables and strictly held to only being six at a table.

Once seated by a really knowledgeable host and given instructions on how to order using a simple QR code scanner and numbered table system, Julia, the brewery’s catering and sales manager and her team came over to welcome us. She explained that her role includes but isn’t limited to managing bookings for the brewery’s epic private indoor events rentals areas.

Our new friend Julia S. was masked and teamed up with Ryan Cooper, the voice of Camden Yards, who also came to personally greet us. Neither of them was empty-handed and after opening our tabs with their QR code menu and ordering system we were given a taste of the limited-edition Guinness x Tennessee Brew, which is a golden ale with pineapple and aged in rum barrels. The brew was served in tasteful plastic and pandemic safe cups laced with delicious cherries.

I chatted it up with Julia about how passionate their head brewer Hollie Stephenson was and about making something that paid homage to Maryland by reimagining the popular Black-Eyed Susan cocktail. I was excited to be drinking it. 

Once Julia and Ryan left to greet other guests the QR code system let us get several rounds delivered directly to your table by a gloved and masked server, who was also chock-full of info about their beers and was always ready with a story for every order. In one of the server’s stories, I learned that the brewery was nearing its 15,000th loaf of Brewer’s bread baked as part of Guinness donating the loaves to Maryland Food Bank since April to say thank you to the community here in Baltimore for giving them such a warm welcome. At this point, Guinness had made a permanent friendship with me because nothing makes me want to spend my money more than an organization that knows how to give back where it counts! 

Followed by the drinks was the food in scrumptious portions larger than life. You can get a bang for your buck in ordering from their food truck situated in the beer garden. But you didn’t even have to get up for that either — seriously, thank God for QR codes!

The author at right. Photo by DJ (Ryan) Impulse.

The efficient staff of servers bought Koni, Jason and me our meat and cheese board complete with house pickled vegetables, cornichons, mostarda first, then a jumbo artisan pretzel with Baltimore Blonde Beer Cheese on the side. For our entrees, beer brats and pit beef sandwiches, we grazed over our picnic table like Kings, and a Queen…me. Who doesn’t love a good brat, the kind where the skin snaps when you bite in? It was honestly too good. Everything on the table was warm and because I tasted nearly everything on the table I know it was all made with love.

The live band + Tamara continued to play throughout the night and we even engaged in an impromptu dance, electric slide to be exact (a well-known line dance essential to any Black gathering). If you know you know. I’m so glad I carpooled with Jason and Koni since the Guinness x Tennessee Brew Works Black-Eyed Susan has an alcohol content of 12.4% ABV. I had a few of those but didn’t shy away from other brews on the tap list like the Blueberry Stout (4.7% ABV) and The Baltimore Blonde (5% ABV).

Un-knotting my stomach and masking up for this epic socially distanced outing was a night very well spent with friends, both old and new. Even if you don’t find Julia, Ryan, Myself, Jason, or Koni there you’ll find a knowledgeable and gracefully coordinated staff at the open gates there in Halethorpe to greet ya, hon. Cheers!

Additional tips and notes

If you’re thinking of going to experience The Guinness Open Gate Brewery for yourself be sure not to shake hands or cheers your pints with members outside of your party. Bring a cashless method of payment in order to utilize their online ordering system. Follow them at @GuinnessBreweryUS on Instagram and Facebook to stay up to date with operations. Their 2nd and 3rd-floor Taproom seating areas are first-come, first-served and they are not accepting reservations at this time. Parking is ample. They have a FAQ page on their site if you’re feeling unsure about any aspects of your visit. 

If you’re riding the passenger side for a quick or longer trip to the brewery I encourage you to grab a copy of “The Antiracist: How to Start the Conversation about Race and Take Action,” by Kondwani Fidel. It’s essay style and a really important read for 2020.

Alanah Davis
Alanah Davis is a Baltimore-based artist, community advocate, social change and arts consultant. She is an M.A. candidate in Social Design at Maryland Institute College of Art.