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Guinness is famous for making stout beer, and this week, the Irish company opened a new brewery in Maryland. It's the first time Guinness has had a brewery in the U.S. in more than 60 years. So does Guinness want to sell lots more stout to Americans? NPR's Bill Chappell visited the new facility, where he found out the brewer is trying something different.
BILL CHAPPELL, BYLINE: First things first - Guinness will not be brewing its famous stout in America. To find out why, I asked Peter Simpson, the head brewer at the Open Gate Brewery in Dublin.
PETER SIMPSON: Yeah, I think Guinness stout is such an iconic stout that has links - such strong links back to Dublin and back to Ireland that it would feel wrong to take it away from Ireland and to brew it over here.
CHAPPELL: As for the beers the Maryland brewery will make here, most of it will be blonde lager - a beer that Guinness hopes will flourish in the U.S. Guinness and its parent company Diageo spent $90 million to convert a large distillery into the Open Gate Brewery and Barrel House. The company's hoping to attract 300,000 visitors a year.
CHAPPELL: The first barrel of beer was tapped this week, and visitors were led inside to check the place out.
UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: Take it away.
CHAPPELL: Guinness used to have a U.S. brewery, but it closed in the 1950s. The company had bet that Americans who served in Europe in World War II had developed a taste for stout, but there wasn't enough demand. Drinkers here wanted something lighter and crisper.
THERESA MCCULLA: At that time, America was so firmly a lager-drinking country.
CHAPPELL: That's Theresa McCulla, who has one of the coolest titles in America. She's the beer historian at the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History. McCulla says that, early on, Americans drink all kinds of different beers. But after German immigrants arrived in the mid-1800s, they fell in love with lagers. That was true when Guinness came over in the 1950s, and it's still largely true today.
Guinness is coming back to the States at an interesting time. Americans aren't as thirsty for beer these days. Even the growth of craft beer has slowed down. And, with more than 6,000 breweries, beer companies have to do more to win customers.
Bart Watson is the chief economist at the Brewers Association. He says, to bring a crowd to a brewery these days, you have to offer an experience.
BART WATSON: It's certainly something now that, you know, we see being important to beer lovers - going and experiencing the brewery, learning about the beers, taking a tour - and also something that drives purchase decisions.
CHAPPELL: The Guinness experience includes a large lawn that's shaped like an imperial pint glass. It's big enough for around 4,000 people to hang out and listen to music. Outside, there's space for food trucks. Inside, there's a bar where Guinness stout from Ireland is poured next to beers from the experimental brewery downstairs.
Maryland's governor, Larry Hogan, cut a ceremonial ribbon to open the new brewhouse.
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LARRY HOGAN: I'm a strong advocate for new businesses, and, as you can probably guess, as an Irishman - and maybe looking at the girth...
HOGAN: I have enjoyed a few pints of Guinness in my time.
CHAPPELL: Hogan says he supports Guinness one beer at a time. The folks at the Diageo hope other Americans will follow suit.
Bill Chappell, NPR News in Baltimore County, Md.
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