Guinness Open Gate Brewery
Meet 2020’s Brew//LDN cover stars
Tuesday 11 February 2020
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Each time a big brewery decides to launch its own experimental brand, there’s inevitably a bit of eye-rolling among beer lovers. We’ve all seen them, taking big floor space at our favourite festivals, going heavy on the merch, while also playing up their authenticity with lo-fi, folksy branding. Yet, when The Guinness Open Gate Brewery launched in 2015, the reception was positively respectful, even welcoming.
This is partly because of the fact that, while the Open Gate BrewPub and the brand itself were new, the actual brewery is anything but; Guinness has been running an experimental brewery on the sly for over 100 years, and on the Open Gate site since the 1960s.
“Every new Guinness beer launched since the 60s has come from this building,” explains Padraig Fox, General Manager at Guinness Open Gate. “It’s where the Guinness Brewers get to play, and make what they want to make, sometimes with a very specific focus, for a full-scale product development, and sometimes just for their creative curiosity. Up until the taproom opened, we just kept the beer for ourselves inside the walls.”
Because, while Open Gate is undoubtedly best known for its flagship beers such as Hop House 13 and Citra IPA, at heart it is a true experimental brewery, in which everything revolves around the Dublin BrewPub and the creativity of the brewers. But why choose now to go public with this decidedly weirder side of Guinness’s personality?
“Beer culture in Ireland changed massively over the past four years,” continues Padraig. “So if we’d tried this 10 years ago, it wouldn’t have worked. But now, people can come to the taproom, buy a tasting flight of four different exclusive experimental beers and really explore. In return of course, we get real-time feedback on what people think of those beers.”
Guinness has been running an experimental brewery for over 100 years
Another factor weighing heavily in Open Gate’s favour is that it’s never shied away from its relationship with Guinness; its branding has an honesty which sets it apart from most ‘big beer’ craft projects. Indeed, the close association arguably benefits both breweries, in that the world-class reputation of Guinness’s brewers brings credibility to Open Gate, while the experimental brewery allows those same brewers to flex their muscles for a younger, possibly more sceptical demographic.
“I think there’s a perception that at Guinness, you push a button here and beer comes out here… But actually, there’s a huge amount of thought, effort and expertise that goes into every beer that we launch and every batch we brew… The taproom is a great environment because everyone wants to try a raspberry porter or a kiwi sour in their flight. But what we sell most of as a pint is Guinness Draught.
“So, it allows our brewers to show off, but we’re also paying homage to the beers that got us to where we are today. We also love to do historical rebrews, so going back into the archives and finding beers we brewed 100 years ago. We might have an historical export porter at 7%, right next to a NEIPA on the bar. That makes for a pretty exciting working day.”
The Open Gate brewery actually has a few separate brewkits for added flexibility. There’s the 1-hectalitre kettle, where all new recipes start life, then 5 and 10-hectalitre kits for the beers that do well.
“So we could decide to make a NEIPA because it’s a fashionable style and we want to have a crack at it. Or maybe I was in the highlands and loved the smell of heather, and now I want to brew a beer with heather. Or maybe you just want to chuck a load of spices into a beer and see what happens? That’ll go on the 1-hectalitre kit and if it does well it’ll move onto the 5 or 10. And that’s where the brewers really get going! It goes from making a cup of tea for yourself to making a pot for your family. Then, if one of the beers is selected for a full launch – for example Hop House or Citra IPA – it goes then to the big brewhouse, which is the equivalent of catering a wedding for 300 people!”
The more people we can get drinking beer the better it is for all of us
I’m curious about whether (and how) Open Gate draws a line between these more widely distributed, crowd-pleasing beers and the geek-friendly niche brews on their home taps. Essentially, does Hop House 13 keep the lights on, while the brewers get to indulge their true passion in the BrewPub? Padraig certainly doesn’t see it this way, arguing that a quirky, small-batch beer – far from being the preserve of the nerds – is often the best gateway into the wider world of beer appreciation. It’s very egalitarian.
“A lot of our customers might not be ‘beer drinkers’,” he says, cryptically. “For us, everyone is a beer drinker, even if they’ve not yet found the beer for them, so we always try to keep the tap list as varied as we can. There’ll always be an IPA, a sour, an experimental stout. But if you’re not really into beer, what do you drink? You might really like a white wine, in which case try our Belgian saison. You enjoy gin and tonic – well how about a botanical ale? If you’ve only ever tried bad lager, it’s not that you don’t like beer, you just don’t like bad lager!”
With the might of Guinness at its back, Padraig seems to see part of Open Gate’s role as advocating for the sector as a whole. This is certainly reflected in the way the brewery has worked with its peers, both in terms of keeping good local brewers on tap in the BrewPub, but also engaging in collaborations with its national and international peers.
“We get our friends’ beers pouring, and get these great local beers in front of our customers. When you’ve got tourists coming into the bar as well, it’s nice to be able to showcase other great Irish brewers, so hopefully during their time in Ireland they’ll be able to seek out some more local beers. I strongly believe a rising tide floats all boats, so the more people we can get drinking beer the better it is for all of us.
“Dot Beer around the corner from us have always been great; Shane is doing some really interesting things with barrel ageing. Four Provinces is about a mile away, which makes a fantastic porter we always have on the taps for St Patrick’s Day. Heaney Brewing, which is a relatively new brewery in Northern Ireland, poured with us on International Stout Day.”
One of Open Gate’s brewing collaborations – a dark lager with Ferment favourites Wolf Pack – will be pouring at Brew//LDN. Padraig says: “There was an immediate bonding when we met the Wolfpack guys I think – I’m a massive rugby fan, and it ticked a lot of boxes! They make great lagers, and we were able to put a Guinness twist on it by using roast Barley, so the best of what we both do.” There will also be a cocoa stout on tap, alongside a wheat beer, brewed with Guinness’s house yeast strain, as opposed to a specific wheat beer yeast.
“The realisation that we could get those lovely banana, clove, phenolic aromas from our house yeast is the kind of discovery that makes Open Gate such a fun place to work… This year we plan to do much more barrel ageing; we’re part of Diageo, so it would be crazy not to use all the exotic barrels we can get hold of. We’re also having a lot of fun in the low and no-alcohol area, and always have 0.5% beer on the bar. There’s absolutely never been a more exciting time to be a beer lover in Ireland, and by extension there’s never been a better time to be a brewer. As jobs go, there’s a lot worse you can do.”
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