Friday, October 2nd, 2015

Harmon Brewing 18th Annual Oktoberfest Brewer’s Dinner

Ron Swarner

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Pat Nagle squeezed past a long table of diners to adjust the hi-fi player loaded with oompah songs, which was sitting atop of several beer barrels beneath white and blue-checkered pennant flags. He paused, studying the capacity crowd where once were his fermenters and Brite tanks. The Harmon Brewery & Restaurant – the flagship Harmon Brewing Co. restaurant in downtown Tacoma – recently converted its brewing room into an event space and future café for Harmon’s Hop Coffee franchise. All brewing production takes place at the Harmon Tap Room in Tacoma’s Stadium District.

Last night, the room took the shape of an Oktoberfest beer garden. For the previous 17 years, the annual brewer’s night dinner consumed the back area of the restaurant.

With the oompah music swirling the room, Nagle made his way over to his business partner, Carole Ford. He spread his arms signaling the packed room.

Ford nodded, “I know.”

“Maybe we should hold this room for holiday parties?” he pondered.

She sat back in her chair. She knew soon the room would house espresso machines brewing their Hop Coffee — a fusion of espresso beans and craft beer. With a new menu release for the restaurant next week, operating two other restaurants and a brewpub, and several new projects in the works (Harmon Brewing Co. never sleeps), you could sense a bit of apprehension. But, the new space — which sits in the northwest corner of the restaurant that opened in 1997 — has a great feel with its own entrance out to Pacific Avenue.

“Check out how beautiful the city is from this vantage point,” Nagle said, pointing toward the East 21st Street Bridge.

After a few seconds of silence, they popped into the present — close to 50 people were sipping Harmon’s “social” beer, the Bretty Pale Ale, before four courses of German-style food paired with Harmon beers, and it was go time.

Nagle, Harmon head brewer Jeff Carlson and Harmon chef Andre Reeves stood before the crowd with welcoming words as veal bratwurst, sauerkraut, beer-infused pretzels and dipping sauces arrived at tables. A good start, but the paired Ol’ Fire Tongue Ancho Chili Stout consumed my attention.

“I brew O’ Fire Tongue every year, one or two kegs every Cinco de Mayo,” explained Carlson. “This year I brewed five gallons with our silver medalist Stryker Stout as the base. I added ancho chiles, our Hop Coffee and cocoa, giving it a delicious, smooth taste with a little heat on the end.”

Whoa. Roasty, chocolaty nose with hints of espresso, cocoa and malty sweetness. The taste follows suit, and as it warms, the chilies finally emerge but don’t overpower. All of that is in the supporting role for the base stout which is a good stout in its own right. Hello new favorite Harmon beer.

Harmon rolled out the barrels and salads for course two. Three German salads — cucumber, tomato and potato — all heavy on the vinegar were paired with Harmon’s Farmhouse Saison, a beer style close to Carlson’s heart. He tossed the wort into a wooden wine barrel and inoculated it with three stains of Farmhouse Siason yeast so it fermented and aged in the barrel. Special to the Oktoberfest dinner, he added lemongrass to the beer, which came in the finish after the clean, bready, earthy front, and paired nicely with the salad wheel.

A course fit for the Germanic warriors of the ancient Teutoburg Forest battle (thanks Wikipedia), Chef Reeves used the whole plate for his Konigsberger Klopse and spaetzle creation. The sizeable lamb meatballs and meaty noodles saw many a takeout box, but its accompanying Fall Ball Red Ale left all glassware. You could call the Fall Ball Harmon’s pumpkin beer, as pumpkin puree, pumpkin pie spice and whole cinnamon sticks are added to the Munich strong malt bill. The finish is full to say the least with a light booze tinge and solid sweetness.

The Fall Ball has more of a pumpkin feel than Harmon’s Pumpkin Blonde Ale, the last beer of the night. Carlson described his Pumpkin Blonde Ale best when he said it tastes like a forkful of pumpkin piecrust with a sliver pumpkin pie along for the ride. A wallop of pumpkin wasn’t needed for the dessert course as Harmon’s Pumpkin Hop Tart took on that role. I’m a huge fan of Harmon pastry chef Melina Eshinski’s take on those familiar pastries you pop into the toaster. Eshinski’s version is three times the size and 10 times the flavor.

I’m looking forward to Harmon’s 19th Oktoberfest Brewer’s Dinner, no matter where it’s held. Prost!