Good Beer Hunting

EP-190 Hollie Stephenson + Peter Wiens of Guinness Open Gate Brewery

EP-190 Hollie Stephenson + Peter Wiens of Guinness Open Gate Brewery

This week’s episode rounds out our focus on the Baltimore scene where we talked to folks from Black Diamond, Maryland Comptroller Peter Franchot, Chris Leonard from Heavy Seas, and even made it down the shore to Chincoteague Island’s Black Narrows.

Its the first time we’ve taken such a comprehensive approach to a single area with the podcast, and it was a great experiment for us as we learned a ton from one interview to the next for the context of the stat and city’s beer scene. In that way, every interview informed the next. And looking back, it’s an astonishing amount of perspective to gather in a single place and time.

Our final interview in this set of episodes involves a newcomer in the Baltimore scene - and a wholly unlikely one at that. Guinness. A couple years ago it would have been unthinkable that someone like Guinness would become part of a beer culture in a city like Baltimore. But as we’ve seen with other elements of beer, nothing stays the same very long.

Guinness had a temporary U.S. presence decades ago with a brewery they overtook on Long Island, but this brewery, commissioned in an old distillery owned by Diageo on the outskirts of the city is unique in that it also serves as a pilot brewery and taproom for the Irish-born but globally produced brand for their US fans.

Watching this project come together was fascinating, from the way it catalyzed debate over taproom and distributions laws in Maryland, how it transformed a brick rick house into a brewery and hospitality center, and getting our first taste of the American-inspired beers that would come from it’s bite tanks, but none of that was as fascinating as the team they would assemble in the brewery itself. And that begins with a feature story the Bryan Roth wrote for GBH focused on Highland in Asheville, North Carolina over a year ago.

Hollie Stephenson was the brewer at Highland at the time. She’d succeeded in transforming Highlands offering, modernizing the styles and bringing them into a new age of relevance. It was one of the most effective and well-executed turnarounds I’d seen for a brewery that was already pretty damn good.

At the time, the lingering question for me was “what happens if she leaves?”

I never expected that to come true so quickly - but as you’ll hear in the interview, neither did she. But an opportunity to brew for a world icon like Guinness, at a new purpose-built brewery in Baltimore, was too good of an offer to pass up. And the icing on the cake, was that she’d get to brew alongside her former mentor, Peter Wiens with whom she worked when they both did a stint at Stone Brewing. a few years back. So it’s a reunion of sorts. And for Guinness, it’s a helluva team with which to make your U.S. debut. And I was excited to follow that story.

It’s worth noting of course that Guinness is an underwriting advertiser for GBH - you may have seen the series of stories they provide the funding for through their advertising partnership with us called Mother of Invention in which we explore historical and contemporary technical innovation in brewing. This interview is not part of that series, but we clearly have a relationship at the business level. In fact, one of the reasons I was in town that week at all and able to record all these Baltimore episodes is because our studio team was coming out to shoot some video as part of that underwriting, which you’ll see later this fall. So while this particular episode has nothing to do with that underwriting, it also completely does. But I’m fine with that as long as you know what’s up and I hope you enjoy this conversation as much as I did.