When you hear that brewing is a family affair at Eastown’s Harmony Brewing Company, you can’t help but wonder if there isn’t some family feuding involved too. Brothers Jackson and Barry VanDyke make the beer there, and how many brothers can merely exist together, not to say work together, without some friction?
Apparently these two can. Sitting next to each other, talking about their beer and their business, they are the epitome of, well, harmony.
Fraternity means fairness, says Barry. Half the recipes on the tap board are his, half are Jackson’s. The labor of owning and running the business is shared evenly too. This allows them to swap duties and work shifts now in Harmony’s second year, but in its first year, when they both had to work all the time, it allowed them to share the psychological burdens of the job, the stress of a fledgling business. Barry still remembers those late nights that ended with them “falling asleep in the booth trying to talk to each other.”
One of the duties that doesn’t keep them up at night any more is the brewing itself — that is, the physical work of beer-making, the boiling, fermenting, kegging, etc. This falls to Benjamin Isbell, Harmony’s barback-turned-brewery manager. “We quickly saw that Ben had the brain for it,” says Jackson, and they worked to hand those duties off to him.
Isbell is a perfect fit for the position. He’s a hyper-local brewer for a hyper-local brewpub — he can see his own driveway from Harmony’s offices — and he’s someone the VanDykes trust.
That trust is essential. It’s the first thing both he and the VanDykes mention when asked about his role. The VanDyke name is on the line for a product that Isbell makes, and Isbell acknowledges that for such a young business, “every little detail could mean failure — or success.”
Isbell makes sure those details translate to success. His method is simple: “They tell me what they want to happen and I make it happen.”
With Isbell manning the equipment, making things happen at the end of the process, Jackson and Barry can work more freely on the initial, creative stages. They now have time to “do a lot of critical thinking,” says Jackson, and that means they have more time to think up the kind of experiments central to their brand.
Harmony has “the funky stuff,” admits Barry, alluding to beers like the Black Squirrel (a porter brewed with a “peated” malt) and the Star Stuff Belgian Dubbel (brewed with bona fide meteorite dust). “We want to be idiosyncratic,” echoes Jackson.
“Funky” fits a brewery like Harmony, first because it aims to serve the quirky clientele of its Eastown neighborhood, and second because it doesn’t aim to bottle and distribute its beer. Its beers don’t have to rely on mass appeal.
And yet Harmony appeals to a crowd massive enough that its booths and church pews are usually full. Some of their funkier beers, like the love-it-or-hate-it Black Squirrel, might start a few arguments — “which is awesome,” says Jackson — but their tap list is broad and balanced enough for everyone to find at least a few new favorites.