Back in 1989, Hugh Sisson opened Baltimore’s first brewpub, Sisson’s. After several years, he decided to leave the pub, move his beers to a larger platform, and established Clipper City in Halethorpe, which is the area’s largest brewery and home to Heavy Seas beer.
Now, more than 20 years later, Sisson is coming full circle by opening Heavy Seas Alehouse this month, a branded restaurant located in the old Holland Tack Factory.
“I underestimated the value of having a retail platform,” Sisson says. “I’m really happy about it because, even though we don’t own it, this will help extend our brand.”
Sisson doesn’t technically own the space because Maryland law prohibits him from running a retail space due to his large stake in Heavy Seas. But his stepson Patrick Dahlgren and former Sisson’s assistant general manager Vince Cassino will help open and manage the alehouse.
Formerly the Diablita restaurant, the 4,900-square-foot space will remain largely the same. Sisson explains there will be two cask beers, 10 beer taps, a full-blown raw bar, a private party room, and an enclosed interior courtyard.
“That courtyard just screams beer garden,” he says. “All of the components just worked for us.”
Obviously, the Heavy Seas brand will be apparent, with a nautical-themed motif and beer pairings for the upscale dishes on the menu. The alehouse has brought in Las Vegas chef Matt Seeber, who has more than 25 years of experience.
“There will be a heavy focus on beers complementing the menu,” Sisson says. “We want to be upscale without being snobbish.”
The alehouse, which opens on February 15, is one of many ways in which Sisson is trying to expand the culture of craft beer in Baltimore. In this year’s legislative session, he’s helping to introduce a bill making it legal to sell growlers (large beer containers) in Maryland restaurants.
“We’ve always tried to focus on the qualitative aspects,” he says. “Implicit in that message is that giving people something tangible—good food and quality beer—can only improve their quality of life.”