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Would-be competitors looking forward to Guinness

What with the prospect of Irish beer giant Guinness opening a brewery and tap room in southwestern Baltimore County this fall you might think local craft brewers and bar owners would be worried. You’d be wrong.

In fact, they’re salivating at the prospect, figuring a rising tide of beer will lift all kegs. 

Fred Crudder, the marketing director at Heavy Seas brewery in Halethorpe, just two miles from the Guinness site, said they hope to have an expanded tap room open by fall.They weren’t trying to be "in lock step" with Guinness, he said, but "if it happens that way, awesome."

"The last thing we want is visitors to Baltimore County who love beer to not get into Heavy Seas. That would be awful."

In nearby Arbutus, merchants are looking for those Guinness tourists to head on over and spend money. Bettina Tebo, president of the Greater Arbutus Business Association, said she did her happy dance when she heard Guinness was coming.

"We’re going to make sure when folks visit Guinness, that they’re going to know where Arbutus is," she said. Now, she wants bigger road signs pointing the way from Guinness to Arbutus.

The craft brewers even joined Diageo, the company that owns Guinness, to lobby the General Assembly to get permission to pour more beer on site for customers, figuring it would help them as well. The legislature agreed to let it and other breweries in its class do that.

Guinness is hoping to attract up to 300,000 people to its brewery for tours and its tap house for samplings. Dwayne Kratt, Diageo’s Senior Director of Government Affairs, said the location on Washington Boulevard is key to the company’s plans.

"We’re eight to 10 minutes from the airport," Kratt said. "We’re 20 minutes from downtown. We’re less than an hour from D.C."

Dariaus Irani, chief economist at Towson University’s Regional Economic Studies Institute, said Heavy Seas' optimism makes sense. It’s like how restaurants tend to group together, attracting more customers to one location. And the tap room is important to the bottom line.

Irani said that’s because fierce competition between breweries lowers the profit they make selling to bars and liquor stores.

"If you sell a keg glass by glass the profit margin is going to be so much more than if you sell a whole keg to another bar,” Irani said.

Heavy Seas brews around 50,000 barrels of beer each year. That works out to about 12.5 million pints. Not exactly a cottage industry, Crudder says. More like a factory.

"There are men and women here who are operating large-scale machines, large tanks that are glycol-jacketed. Steam jacketed," he said. "Temperature-controlled, computer monitored. That’s how beer’s made in the modern era."

Around the corner from Heavy Seas is Coolahan’s Pub on Washington Boulevard. Coolahan’s is your classic neighborhood bar. Drop by in the middle of the day and you’ll find a few regulars having a beer.

Katy Lang, a bar tender there, says the bar’s new owner soon plans to serve food and a better variety of beers, hoping to pick up some business from Guinness. “And we are a neighborhood bar, so we have a regular crowd that comes in,” Lang said. “And hopefully the regular crowd will remain and we’ll get some new clientele once we serve food.”

John Lee is a reporter for WYPR covering Baltimore County. @JohnWesleyLee2
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