David Logsdon of Logsdon Farmhouse Ales

Going Pro by | Sep 2013 | Issue #80

David Logsdon’s return to commercial brewing could have been a mammoth enterprise. As the founding brewmaster of Full Sail Brewing, and the founder and longtime head of Wyeast Laboratories, Logsdon carries a huge footprint in the craft industry, especially in the Pacific Northwest. But he made a conscious effort to keep his latest venture at a modest scale. Logsdon Farmhouse Ales turns out organic plays on rustic Belgian ales from Logsdon’s family farm in Hood River, Ore. He plays around with Saisons, Flemish styles, Brettanomyces, fruit treatments and barrel aging. “We could’ve just been competing with the same styles, doing the same things every other brewer does,” he says. “We chose a different route.”

1. Find your culture
David Logsdon grew up surrounded by beer culture; it’s just that he didn’t know it until it disappeared. Logsdon was raised among German Ohioans who brought beer to “every wake, wedding and graduation.” He was surrounded by the stuff, and it was brewed regionally. By the time Logsdon relocated to the West Coast in the mid 1970s, a few bland, mass-produced, national brands had supplanted the character-rich regional brews he’d grown up on. “There really wasn’t much that I recognized as beer from growing up,” he recalls. So, unable to purchase good beer, Logsdon began brewing his own.

2. Put it together
Logsdon studied food science and fermentation in school, culturing yeast and bacteria to ferment, making yogurt, cheese, bread and sausage. He brewed a range of ales and lagers at home. His beer turned a corner when he got serious about applying fermentation science to the hobby. Understanding yeast made his beers better and more complex, and having a better product in the glass made the hobby more enjoyable. He looked around and saw scores of brewers—amateurs and pros alike—struggling to harness the science behind brewing. He founded Wyeast Laboratories to help close that loop. The lab helped bring both a variety of unique yeast strains, and solid science, to the then-nascent brewing community.

3. Share with friends
Shortly after Logsdon launched Wyeast, he helped launch Full Sail Brewing, and worked as the brewery’s first head brewer. Growing Wyeast meant helping Full Sail’s competitors brew better beer, but Logsdon believed from the beginning that if a brewery like Widmer Brothers took off, every other brewer in Oregon would benefit. “We all had to make good beer for it to be successful,” Logsdon says. He notes that the rising tide mentality, which persists today, predates the American craft movement; he saw the global brewing industry as a whole freely sharing techniques with one another, too. But he’s well aware of how different it is. “I came out of the food industry, where there were a lot of stuffed shirts,” he says. “Brewing has so much more camaraderie. There’s a mutual desire to do well and make good beer.”

4. Build something
Logsdon doesn’t do well tending to businesses running on cruise control. “I like building something, watching it grow, making it happen,” he says. He left Wyeast a few years ago because he needed to go build something new. He toyed with the notion of launching a hobby brewery on his family farm in Hood River, where he’d brewed farmhouse ales for friends and family. Then, he figured, “If I’m going to do this, I might as well make it large enough to be commercially viable.” Logsdon built a business around the type of Belgian-influenced beers he’s been making, and drinking, for decades. The brewery’s scale also hits a key sweet spot—it’s big enough to be financially solvent, but still small enough to be oriented around quality and creativity, not sales volume.

5. Go off-market
One of the first things Logsdon did after leaving Wyeast was travel in search of distinctive yeast strains. He has a stable of them banked in his brewery lab now; the strains he uses on his farm aren’t commercially available anywhere, so Logsdon’s Saisons and Flemish Reds and Browns are hitting notes his customers won’t taste anywhere else. Logsdon likes to ferment his beers with a cocktail of varied yeast strains. He picks each yeast strain based on its high notes, and layers them together in recipes that create broad, complex aromas and flavors. “Each strain we work with,” he says, “has its own DNA, its own signature. It broadens the complexity.”

6. Follow your palate
Logsdon’s flagship Saison puts an American spin on the classic farmhouse style. It’s bigger and maltier than traditional Saisons, and hopped with Fuggles, Goldings, Palisades and tropical New Zealand varieties. Logsdon wanted the beer to land on the spicy side, but all the spices he dropped in the kettle overtook his yeast; he ditched adjuncts in favor of a blend of four yeast strains that create deep, spicy aromatics without actually using any spices. “I formulate beers for drinkability and flavor,” Logsdon says. “We don’t follow style guidelines, as much as our heart and our palates.”

7. Embrace the inevitable
Working inside Wyeast gave Logsdon a window into consumers’ changing beer tastes. First came a wave of hop-friendly American Ale yeast, then an interest in Brettanomyces and sour lactic bacteria. Logsdon frequently travels to Belgium, and he’s long had a taste for funky Belgian brews. He calls the beer industry’s embrace of funk and sours a natural, inevitable evolution. “Consumers have more of an eye toward quality food, and beer is just one component,” he reasons. “You’re seeing it in coffee, bread, wine, cider, kombucha, charcuterie—it’s all different than the Wonder Bread world I grew up in, where it was all down to the least common denominator. People have a genuine, keen interest in, what’s new?”

8. Go for the whole
The approach that Logsdon takes to brewing isn’t an easy one. He only uses organic ingredients and whole-cone organic hops. He likes low-alpha-acid hops, and he believes that whole cones come off softer than pellets, allowing him to use more of them. There’s a limited supply of organic cones coming out of the hop fields, though, so he has to frame his recipes and his production schedule around what farmers have to send him. “There are some we can’t get, and when we run out of a variety, we have to wait for a new crop before we can brew,” he says. “There’s a limit. But good things don’t come easy.”

9. Take the hard road
The size of the brewhouse on Logsdon’s farm limits his growth to a few thousand barrels per year. He doesn’t want to grow much bigger, anyway; he’s more concerned with diving deeper. He’s currently working on a Tripel, and soon, he’ll debut a coolship and launch a Lambic-style spontaneous barrel program. Some of those Lambics will be aged on sour cherries harvested from trees Logsdon imported from Belgium. “I’m not in it for easy,” he says. “We can create more flavor by working harder at it. All those little things we do add up. You can always take shortcuts, but I think the results show.”