When the Maryland Brewers Association started working toward making it easier for larger craft breweries to have taprooms and restaurants, attracting a conglomerate likely wasn’t what they had in mind. But it looks as if that’s precisely what they’re gonna get, like it or not.
The conspiracy theorist in me sees 2014’s Pennsylvania-flavored Guinness Blonde release as part of a larger plan, especially given that it is the brand featured so prominently in the press release photo:
Diageo plans to build a Guinness brewery in Relay, a project that could bring 70 new jobs to the area, Baltimore County officials said Tuesday. It would be the first Guinness brewery in the United States in more than 60 years. County officials said the plans would create up to 70 jobs, including 40 in brewing, warehousing and packaging.
Guinness is owned by a mega-corp Diageo, which picked up the planned brewery site when it bought Seagrams for more than $8 billion in 2000. Diageo shuttered the facility two years ago (months after with the Guinness Blonde announcement) but now is looking to put it to work cranking out Guinness. The closure cost more than 100 jobs. The re-opening may add as many as 70. That sounds about right adjusted for inflation.
First, Maryland has a better-than-average craft beer culture under development. So much so that the trite but highly marketable Natty Boh hasn’t been brewed in the state in decades. Wooing a foreign conglomerate in to compete directly with home grown local businesses is about as short-sighted an economic move as a state can make.
Second, the plant they have in mind is practically next door to Clipper City (which makes the Heavy Seas brand), Maryland’s answer to the loss of National Bohemian to conglomeration. It doesn’t just feel a little gross, it feels as if there’s a message being sent: the state will offer no quarter to local brewers. To be fair, Heavy Seas is positively giddy about the project (more on that below).
Third (and most important), the distributors are pretty excited, which never is good for local craft beer. Distributors fight tooth and nail against many of the craft beer attempts to get to market and that fact that they’re also publicly enthused is worrisome at best.
Maryland brewers have been fighting distributors to change the amount of beer they can sell on-premise. My suspicion from the article is that the Diageo deal will grease those wheels so places like Heavy Seas and other big breweries can expand their operations. Similarly, Chesapeake Brewing, which is the region’s exclusive Budweiser distributor and also the largest Diageo beer brands (which include Harp’s Smithwicks and Smirnoff Ice) provider in the area, endorsing it can’t be good for local beer.
Maybe I’m being too hipster about it. I mean, they are going to build a BeerDisney facility with the aim of attracting more than 300,000 people to the region per year. It could be that I don’t want that many people who like Budweiser-flavored Guinness to have a place to congregate.