Akron Irish: Open The Gate!

Open the Gate!
By Lisa O’Rourke     

Sunday in Baltimore and what to do? The Guinness Brewery is offered- hmm, not much of a beer drinker, but the Guinness there would have to be amazing. Anticipation mixed with some dread, this could be embarrassing; a pander of  kitschy cliché or a room full of posers… The anticipation of a perfect pint won the day and off we went.

Outside of Baltimore, but just off of the freeway, we pulled up in front of some big dark wooden gates. They would disorient anyone who had been to St. James Gate in Dublin. Illusion was eliminated immediately.

We drove into a park, full of colorful short-wearing Yanks, sweat dripping, who drank everything from bottles of Coke to creamy pints. It was a field full of people who were there to enjoy the day; they  threw Frisbees, tossed corn hole bags, picnicked and just ran around.

It did not feel much like a brewery. The building has an eclectic look, contemporary industrial with bits of the old Guinness traditions echoed in the design, like the gates and barrels. The iconic Guinness advertising logos are all over the place, particularly the toucan and the crab, a nice nod to Maryland’s crab obsession. We walked up some impressive steps and found that there were plenty options and people inside too; beer, food, tours or shopping. We opted for beer.

If the monk Dom Perignon likened drinking champagne to drinking stars, a good draught of Guinness would have to be somewhere in the solar system, and at a fraction of the cost. People have told me that they don’t drink Guinness or stouts because they are heavy. That is a product death-knell, especially in warm weather.

Yet, Guinness is very popular in both Jamaica and Nigeria, places which do not suffer from cold. I believe that the people who make those claims are not getting the good stuff. In fairness, you do not get a better pour than at a Guinness brewery. A visit to one of these places would make a believer of a stout skeptic.

A perfect pour should look like this: Guinness is poured at a forty-five degree angle into a tulip shaped glass until the black stuff reaches the harp logo. Then, it needs to rest and settle for a few minutes. The second pour is the fill pour, in which the glass is topped and straightened. You should be able to see the product cascading its lovely bubbles in the glass for minutes after receiving until it settles into perfect division of brown and cream. The Maryland Guinness Open Gate Brewery has this down!

This was not my first perfect pint. It was the first time that I have been served one by an  accomplished young black man with dreadlocks down his back. Darius was every bit a fan of Guinness as anyone that I have ever met and very proud of his pour. He explained that he wasn’t always such a big fan, but the combination of working at Open Gate and learning about the product made him a fanatic. He can’t stand watching the stout mistreated.

What is different about Open Gate is its diversity. Diversity is visible in every aspect of the place, staff, customers and products. The facility itself is the large open industrial type of place that would be familiar to the micro-brew set, but far from the cushy snugs of an average pub.

While there is a lot to be said for a lack of fussiness, one caution is that these rooms are loud and not the best places for intimate get togethers. While stout is on the menu in many incarnations, draught, extra, and foreign extra stout, there are other beers that surprise. Beers featured on the menu which are more akin to the American micro-brew, the fruity and hoppy beers and IPAs.

This brewery was given the freedom to experiment with their creations, and that is what they do. While I focused on the stout, that is not made here, it is imported. Open Gate is the production center of Guinness Blonde Ale. Just like the brewery, the restaurant blends tradition with innovation.
Fish and chips satisfy the traditionalists, while the more adventurous can try poutine or nachos. And did I mention that this place is big?

Ninety million dollars was invested to turn the former Seagram’s distillery into this complex. The investment seems to be appreciated; it took the brewery three months to reach the one hundred thousand visitors mark. Over two thousand people pass through the gate on an average Saturday. So, if you want your own peek behind the curtain and tour of the brewery, plan ahead.

It is great to see so many Americans really taking pride in doing Guinness right. The open communal vibe of the Open Gate is wonderful too. It may seem counterintuitive to make a brewery space open and family friendly but, it mirrors the function of pubs in the past.

There is  an old big pub on Sunday feel, young, old, everything in between. I am sure that there are purists out there who think that Guinness should stay in Ireland with Irish people. I am not one of them. I love seeing Irish products become global. The Irish make quality things. Sometimes, those things have had to wait for the world to catch up with them. Guinness and Kerrygold have made simple and consistent products. They had a niche with the Irish, but the world is catching on to simplicity. These companies have managed another aspect of Irish culture in that they have good reputations for, how they treat people.

Irishness is not tradition frozen in time. Nostalgia can be part of the siren song of Ireland, but that is not the truth. Ireland has poked its national head up and is enjoying a new sense of freedom. It  is a living, evolving country that has shown a great capacity for inclusion. That makes Guinness a truly Irish company, because it has exactly those characteristics. Did I mention that Baltimore is only a five-hour drive? Slainte!

*Lisa O’Rourke is an educator from Akron. She has a BA in English and a Master’s in Reading/Elementary Education. Lisa is a student of everything Irish, primarily Gaeilge. She runs a Gaeilge study group at the AOH/Mark Heffernan Division. She is married to Dónal and has two sons, Danny and Liam. Lisa enjoys art, reading, music, and travel. She enjoys spending time with her new puppy, cats and fish. Lisa can be contacted at [email protected].
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