Tacoma by Transit Part 1: Harmon Brewing Co.

After my recent intial foray into Pierce County, I decided last week to continue exploring south from Seattle by making my first ever transit trip to Tacoma…

The city has three locally owned brewing companies: Wingman; Harmon; and Engine House No. 9. In this first of two instalments I cover my visit to Harmon Brewery & Eatery located in downtown Tacoma.

Despite starting from the eastside, I found the easiest way to get to Tacoma was from downtown Seattle. Sound Transit’s 594 Express bus runs every 30 minutes with a journey time to Tacoma of just under an hour. The bus joins I-5 at the end of the SoDo busway then makes no stops until it reaches the Tacoma Dome. There are additional stops through downtown Tacoma before the bus rejoins I-5 to continue on to Lakewood.

From Bellevue I rode the 550 Express, got off at University Street, then took the pedestrian walkway from the station’s north mezzanine to 2nd Avenue. The 594 bus stop is nearby on 2nd Avenue: head south 1½ blocks from University; the stop is just past Seneca. As always, figure your itinerary using the Sound Transit trip planner.

Harmon Brewery & Eatery

Harmon Brewery & Eatery

On weekdays I thoroughly recommend making the return trip from Tacoma on the Sounder train; that’s what I did. There are two departures from Tacoma Dome Station: at 4:25 pm and 5:00 pm; journey time to Seattle’s King Street Station is about the same as the bus.

The reason I suggest the train is because at this time of day it is very possible for the bus to get stuck in traffic on I-5 heading back into Seattle, and besides that, trains are just plain fun. But we haven’t had our beer yet so let’s get back to Tacoma.

All-ages area

All-ages area

On arrival in Tacoma get off the bus at the Union Station stop, cross the street (Pacific Ave), and look towards the left; you’ll see the historic Harmon Brewing building, with its grain silo, a short distance away. The pub is family-friendly: as you enter, the all ages restaurant is to the left, the 21 and over pub is to the right.

Over-21s area

Over-21s area

Because I timed my arrival in Tacoma to Harmon Brewing’s opening hours, when I got there  the place was deserted. But by the time I left, when the lunchtime rush was underway, the place was pretty busy: both the restaurant and the bar.

Harmon is clearly popular with Tacoma locals.  The beautiful old brick and timber building is a perfect place to have a brewery.

So what about the beer?

Harmon offers five standard ales: their Blonde, Pale, ESB, Porter, and IPA. I have to be honest and say that in my opinion they were all just average: none were in any way objectionable; but none were particualarly noteworthy.

Tasting flight

Tasting flight

However, while this may reflect my personal taste, I did feel the brews got progressively better as they became darker and/or hoppier, the best being Porter and IPA, which leads me to the standouts.

Besides the five standard ales, three seasonals were on tap: Stryker Stout, Vanilla Porter, and Hoptoberfest. While the stout was OK (I’ve had better), the vanilla porter and the Hoptoberfest were both excellent.

Both were creatively different for their respective styles and they both hit the mark in all the right places: aroma, body, color, flavor, and mouth feel. These two brews showed me that Harmon has the ability to produce some very good beer.

I mentioned already that the Harmon pub is family-friendly. As well as being a place to sample beer, it’s a good place to take the family out to eat lunch or dinner, and breakfast on the weekend. The menu includes all the popular pub fare and prices are reasonable. What I’m not sure about though is whether there’s a separate kids’ menu.

In addition to the Harmon Brewery & Eatery, there are two other Harmon locations: both north of downtown Tacoma in the Stadium District. The Hub neighborhood pub and The Harmon Tap Room both occupy opposite ends of Harmon’s production brewery. Next time I’m in Tacoma I plan to check them out.

At the beginning of this post I mentioned three locally owned brewing companies. Less than half a mile from Harmon, also in the downtown Tacoma area, is Wingman Brewers, a new production-only brewery. Since their opening in April 2011 they have begun to distribute kegs to bars and bottle shops. Unfortunately they are not open to the general public nor do they have a tasting room, so it might be a while before I have an opportunity to try their beer.

So that’s part 1 of my trip to Tacoma – Harmon Brewing. Close by the brewery there’s much to explore: Union Station, UW Tacoma campus, the Washington History Museum, the Glass Museum, and the Tacoma Art Museum.

In part 2 of my trip I wander through downtown Tacoma, then take a bus out to the 6th Avenue neighborhood to visit Engine House No. 9. Hope you come too.

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