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Harmony Brewing Co. cultivates city culture through beer, conversation, innovation

The brewery aims to be a spot where members of the neighborhood can come meet with their friends, drink atypical brews and generate ideas.
Barry VanDyke and Heather VanDyke-Titus stand in front of the mural painted on the outside of Harmony Brewing Company

Barry VanDyke and Heather VanDyke-Titus stand in front of the mural painted on the outside of Harmony Brewing Company /Marie Orttenburger

Brewer's Grove Tree Planting

Thursday, October 17, 4-10 p.m.

Riverside Park
2001 Monroe Ave NE

Register to volunteer at this event with Friends of Grand Rapids Parks

Harmony Brewing Company bar

Harmony Brewing Company bar /Marie Orttenburger

From its origination, the VanDyke siblings wanted Harmony Brewing Company to become a cultural nexus. Located on the border of the Eastown neighborhood of Grand Rapids and the city of East Grand Rapids, the surrounding communities have made this possible.

Before they started Harmony, Heather VanDyke-Titus and Barry and Jackson VanDyke focused on their real estate business, Bear Manor Properties. When the real estate market crashed, they needed another source of income. Home brewing had been a hobby of the VanDyke brothers' for several years, and they figured they could sell small amounts of their beer out of their office.

The process turned out to be more complicated than that, but when the group found the building at 1551 Lake Drive, an abandoned liquor store, they saw the perfect opportunity to start a small-scale operation.

Barry and Jackson VanDyke did most of the renovation themselves over two years and opened Harmony in early 2012. Now, the brewery has been established as a neighborhood gathering space.

"It was our real hope to be a neighborhood place, the kind of place people would walk to or bike to and meet friends at," says VanDyke-Titus. "Additionally we're a brewery, so we get to be a part of the brewery culture. So we just get this really cool mix of all kinds of people in here, which is what we were really hoping for when we were in the dreaming stage of this."

The neighborhood atmosphere has allowed for an organic birth of ideas for community events that Harmony has been able to facilitate, including their monthly poetry reading, Poetry and Pints.

"We had these regulars who were poets and professors and they have this small press, and it was an idea that just kind of came about organically from people hanging out here and drinking beer and realizing that we're open to making those kinds of things happen," says VanDyke-Titus.

Now, every month Harmony invites a couple of local poets and usually one nationally-touring poet to read at the brewery. The result is a relaxed, Sunday evening activity where community members can listen to poetry and drink craft beer.

Harmony Brewing's small size makes it possible for them to respond to their community in their brews as well. The beers on tap evolve throughout the seasons in response to what the customers are inclined to drink.

"As the weather gets colder, our ABVs, or alcohol by volumes, get higher and higher and the colors of our beer get darker and darker," says Barry VanDyke. "That kind of stuff just happens naturally because that's kind of what people gravitate towards, and we're able to be flexible with our beer."

But the brewery also has some staple brews that consistently make it back on the tap menu. Even these beers are exemplary of the personality of the brewery and its community. One such beer, "Star Stuff," is an old home brew recipe of Barry VanDyke's. The name of the beer originated during a camping trip that came shortly after he first brewed it.

"We were drinking it underneath the Milky Way, and so I named it after this Carl Sagan quote that says, 'The cosmos is also within us; we are made out of star stuff,'" says Barry VanDyke. "So we're a way for the cosmos to think about itself, which when I was standing there drinking my home brew, blew my mind."

Later on, Barry VanDyke proposed the idea of adding meteorite into the brew on a whim. Through a number of connections, the brewery was able to acquire a stack of pulverized meteorite from a GVSU professor. Now, a pinch of pulverized meteorite is included in each batch.

"It does nothing to the flavor whatsoever," says Barry VanDyke, "but it's there."

All of the brewery's recipes are created by Barry and Jackson VanDyke, and the day-to-day brewing process is managed by Ben Isbell. 

Harmony Brewing extends their artistry into their pizza.

"There's a craft that goes along with pizza that goes pretty much hand in hand with the craft of beer," says Barry VanDyke. "You got yeast and grain and you're making a dough which rises and that's your base, and then after that you just do all your flourishes."

The pizza is cooked in a 700-degree oven, one of the only pieces of cooking equipment in the small kitchen. It can cook a pizza in 90 seconds, and it helps accommodate the space restrictions the small building presents.

The brewery was recently awarded the Snail of Approval for its adherence to tradition in making their food.

"We really try to honor authentic ways of making pizza. It's all wood fires; there's not an additional heating component to it. We use the Double 00 flour, which is the authentic flour, and we give it time to rise to get that good flavor," says VanDyke-Titus.

Throughout the fall, fans of Harmony Brewing can look forward to a number of community- and brewery-oriented events. Coming up in October, the brewery will be participating in the Brewer's Grove Project in collaboration with the Grand Rapids Urban Forest Project and Friends of Grand Rapids Parks.

During the months of August and September, 17 breweries in Grand Rapids and the surrounding area brewed and sold tree-inspired beers to raise funds to buy trees. Their efforts will culminate in a tree-planting party to take place on October 17. All the local breweries, their employees, mug club members and other volunteers will plant 30 trees in Riverside Park. Afterwards, the city of Grand Rapids has provided a giant, inflatable movie screen where they will show a movie—and you can bring your own beer.

"After we plant trees, we can drink beer and watch a movie," says Barry VanDyke. "It'll be like a fun, organic, Grand Rapids brewing party."

"It grew into this really cool project that is one of the first times that every single area brewery is participating," says VanDyke-Titus. "I think it says a lot of great stuff about the beer and food culture in Grand Rapids."

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