|Tap room at Union Craft Brewery in Medfield (Photo: Philipsen)|
The latest trendy way of tasting craft beer has put the early formula upside down: No longer are we talking about a bar with a few sud tanks on display: The new kind is industrial in scale and greets the beer connaisseur with all the rawness of old style industrial quarters. The approach is made for semis, the decor is the loading dock. Does it spell the end of Main Street revival?
In Baltimore, the brand-new Union Craft Brewing Company and its architect Ziger Snead take the industrial flavor to new heights after much success in its previous space in nearby Woodberry where the taproom was just an adjunct to the brewing facility. Union describes its new path on its website this way:
The craft brewery has grown at a record pace since its inception. Its new space will utilize 43,000 square feet for brewing, fermentation and packaging plus feature a 7,500-square-foot-taproom and private event space.
Making beer is front and center (Photo: Philipsen)
“When we began this journey five years ago, we set out to do two things: brew world-class beer and foster community wherever we go,” said Jon Zerivitz, UNION’s Co-founder and Director of Marketing. “I’m proud of what we’ve accomplished, but our little brewery on Union Avenue has reached capacity, both on the beer front and as a gathering place. This neighborhood is our home, and I’m thrilled to say that we will be here for a long time to come. Our new space provides us the opportunity to develop a bigger and better Baltimore brewery. It will be a true destination experience for local beer lovers as well as those visiting our city from outside of Maryland.”
|Calling the barren expanse a beer garden would be an exaggertaion|
Union knew that drawing people to a location that can essentially only be reached by car or by an unpleasant walk along 41st Street, it needed critical mass. So they came up with the clever concept of the Union Collective, an assortment of businesses that just like brewing, thrives on juxtaposing production and consumption. As a result, 10.5 acres and 138,000 square feet of warehouse space were transformed into a collaborative assembly of the Charmery (ice cream), Baltimore Whiskey and Vent coffee roster. There is also Earthtrek, a fitness and climbing gym.
|Lined up along the loading dock: Collective businesses|
It never takes long until urban experimentation by authentic local entrepreneurs gets noticed by the corporate types. In the case of beer, the giants Coors, Anheuser Busch and Miller have long realized that craft beer isn't just for a few wussies. While their pick-up riding, gun loving, Trump voting stereotypical clientele still swears by Coors and Bud Light in cans (judging by discarded cans along rural back roads), the big corporations didn't take chances and began selling fake craft beer under brands like Blue Moon.
The British beer giant Guinness took a much bigger leap: It bought the entire 62-acre former Seagram’s bottling plant in Baltimore County and spent $80 million to turn it into a beer theme park of sorts, replete with bus bays and enough parking for an entire shopping mall.
The facility is the foreign brewers only US place of production, and here comes the kicker: Its beer is no longer only the thick and creamy trademark stout beer, but Guinness now produces here not only a "Blonde" (best described as a European "continental" beer like Stella Artois) but also real local craft beer. The menu lists a dozen or so types and flavors of beer that the waiters describe as "experimental". Slogan: "Anything we can dream up, we get to brew up".
|Parking for an entire mall: Guinness in Halethorpe/Relay|
Aside from the Collective concept, Guinness has taken the architecture of industrial chic and put it on steroids, both in size and in refinement. Coming here is supposed to be an experience and supposed to take time. There is a gift shop, acres of open space with rain gardens and a playground, indoor and outdoor bars to get the beer, and also a sit-down area with service and some bar food.
Everything is well designed, follows a common branding scheme and easily consumable. The architect is local design firm Design Collective.
For the visitors who can't reconcile driving and drinking (even though it is kind of baked into the entire concept to do so), there is a special Lyft pick-up place. Uber isn't even cool enough any longer. Councilman Tom Quirk in charge of this district expects 300,000 visitors a year and an economic impact on the entire County. (By comparison, Kevin Plank's whiskey theme-park, the Sagamore Spirit Distillery, expects 100,000 visitors per annum). Judging from this Thursday crowd, Guinness may well exceed its goal.
|Giftshop and beer artefacts (Photo: Philipsen)|
In a way the brewing business is coming full circle. Not only were many US cities like Baltimore historically home to many local brews which eventually grew to regional or even national reach, but the large industrial type breweries had long done tours and had tasting rooms. The Guinness Storehouse in Dublin is a well known example.
The urban revitalization with coffee shops, brewpubs food halls and farmers markets has helped commercial districts to get another lease on life by getting people out on the streets and sidewalks and uses back into the vacant buildings. The most recent trend of scaling this up and supersize it could have the same effect on Main Street as the supersizing of retail first in malls and then in big-boxes had.
It is too early to tell, where the growing craft beer industry will go and whether Union's new concept or Guinness' corporate adaptation describe a pervasive trend. But it is conceivable that Hampden's Charmery becomes a dairy theme park, followed by coffee roasting theme parks and, well, the chocolate theme park, we have it already. Even if that were to happen, the Avenue in Hampden or Washington Boulevard in Pigtown could continue to thrive, but they would certainly have more competition. Meanwhile, the proliferation of better, locally crafted beer is reason to celebrate, even if some would call it elitist.
Klaus Philipsen, FAIA
|everything is large at Guinness (Photo: Philipsen)|
|One of several Guinness bar areas|
|This, too is hardly a beer garden (Photo: Philipsen)|
|Covered restaurant outdoor spaces (Photo: Philipsen)|
|A grand approach: Designed for the busload|
|Beer garden of another kind: Beer from a shipping container (Photo: Philipsen)|
|Calvert Distilling Company around 1936 (later Seagram's). Thanks to Adam Blumenthal for sending this!|
|The same buildings are still there. The taproom public building received a new skin (Photo: Philipsen)|
Other links: Baltimore Magazine (Guinness)
Baltimore Magazine (Union Craft)