After four decades of helping to jump-start and fine-tune the craft beer industry, David Logsdon, the brewer, pioneer in yeast propagation, and owner of Logsdon Farmhouse Ales in Hood River, Oregon, is ready to pass the baton to the next generation of Pacific Northwest craft brewers.
Calling it a retirement is a stretch, given the many chores associated with life on a working farm, but many of the tanks and barrel stacks that used to populate Logsdon’s farm-brewery have departed for Logsdon Farmhouse Ales’ new brewery space in Washougal, on the Washington side of the Columbia River Gorge.
Logsdon charted an impressive course throughout his career, from starting Wyeast Laboratories in 1985 and providing yeast to iconic Oregon brewers like Widmer Brothers, Portland Brewing, Rogue, and Deschutes to launching beer brands like Full Sail Brewing Company in 1987 and his own Farmhouse Ales label in 2009, where he perfected now-fashionable styles like brettanomyces-laced ales, seasonal fruit beers, and wild fermented saisons, before they became trendy.
“I don’t know how we found Dave,” says Rob Widmer, the cofounder of Widmer Brothers Brewing in Portland. “But he held our hands during the early years. Many people helped in those days, but Dave helped us sleep a bit better at night when it came to yeast.” Widmer Brothers’ flagship product, Hefe, an American-style Hefeweizen (wheat beer with yeast), wouldn’t have been the same without Logsdon’s yeast expertise. “[Our] Hefeweizen is all about the yeast,” Widmer says. “It makes Hefe hefe [yeasty].”
Comparing the Oregon craft beer community of the late 1970s, when Logsdon arrived, with the current one is almost like comparing horses with automobiles. “‘Craft beer’ hadn’t been coined yet,” Widmer explains. “Very few people had heard of microbrews; there were very few homebrewers—hard to imagine the time, really.” Significant progress has been made since then, and Logsdon has been at or near the forefront throughout, prolific in helping turn what was essentially a hobby—or, at least a novelty—into the production of world-class beer.
From a brewing standpoint, Corvallis has been dealt quite a hand of cards. The jewel of Benton County resides at the core of the mid-Willamette Valley, known far and wide for its agricultural abundance, which, of course, includes hops. It is the home of Oregon State University, where aspiring students continue to fine-tune the trade via the school’s Fermentation Science program, complete with a pilot plant brewhouse, malthouse, sensory science lab and more.
Corvallis is equally coveted for its outdoors potential, ranging from nearby Marys Peak — the highest spot in the entire Oregon Coast range — to the old-growth mammoths of McDonald Forest. (Find Mid-Willamette Valley hiking maps at TheRightTrail.org.) Day treks in the woods merge into late-afternoon tasting trays at local breweries so seamlessly that it’s practically second nature. For the intrepid craft beer imbiber who prefers quality to crowds and an open trail around every wooded corner, Corvallis may just be your new Bavaria, Pilsen or Flanders.
Among the more established of the town’s half-dozen breweries, Block 15 made its craft beer case by perfecting Sticky Hands, a lively, aromatic IPA prone to occasional variations like the refreshing Tropical Slam version and the citrusy Marmalade take. An extensive wild and sour program hints at a love for European style while a focus on organic and regional ingredients is very much Oregonian. A commitment to freshness spells frequent tap changes to just-made batches.
The Drake Magazine, Spring '17
Ron Johnstad’s obituary covered the bases but left out a few important details. “There were few better than Ron with a gun or fly rod,” wrote the Bozeman Daily Chronicle. It was true, but written from a distant office, likely in the wee hours by an overworked journalist who never thought the dead would be her beat. Almost certainly, the writer never got the first-hand pleasure of Johnstad’s unorthodox war against Yellowstone River whitefish.
Certain sounds remind me of Ron. The arhythmic rattling of his John Deere mower, faithful transport between his Paradise Valley home and the shore of the Yellowstone, about 200 yards away. The subtle slurp of a Montana bonefish taking one of his bizarre, homespun fly pattens. And, later, the rhythmic whoosh of an oxygen tank, which followed him around his deck as he told stories and looked knowingly towards the river. The tank didn’t so much interrupt as keep time as he talked about singing in the Norseman Quartet, playing college football, growing up in Wisconsin, the many merits of his wife, Mary Ellen, and whitefish; which in their best incarnation, ought to be smoked.
Johnstad’s casts were short and sloppy and the shadow he threw nearly forded the river. Surely, the cutthroat had fled long ago, if not for the loudness of his voice than for the ruckus his three golden retrievers amassed chasing killdeer along the bank. Yet, every summer evening, under the idyllic purple-grey light of dusk that’s bright enough to tie a #14, but nothing smaller, the pile of whitefish behind him grew to impressive heights.
“Just making more room for trout,” he would say, removing a tussled fly from another whitefish’s vacuum cleaner of a mouth. Just before dark, as larger fish began to slap the surface behind big boulders and the forked tip of Emigrant Peak was barely a silhouette, he would fumble through his fly box for his favorite creation.