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Capturing the Terroir of the American Farmhouse Ale at Logsdon

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Logsdon Farmhouse Ales came out of the barn doors hot, with Full Sail founding brewer and yeast master Dave Logsdon behind the operation and a true farmhouse pedigree from the Columbia River Gorge. Through a few brewer changes, distribution and press mishaps, and ownership switcheroos, the status of the beloved saison maker faltered for a while, but as my recent visit showed, it has come back even stronger. With new brewers like Shilpi Halemane (previously of Widmer) and Eric Ponce (Goose Island) working alongside veteran Curtis Bane (Cascade), a new accomplished and inspired group has taken over. These guys are excited to step up the continued experimentation of new yeasts, bacteria, fruits, and barrels that made the brewery famous, but still have much exploration left to do. New releases like ZuurPruim–a barrel-aged tart plum ale that is now available in 750ml bottles wherever Logsdon is sold–prove the pedigree is solid and back to its old tricks.

Logsdon brewer Shilpi Halemane samples Kriek from the barrel

Logsdon brewer Shilpi Halemane samples Kriek from the barrel

Brewer Shilpi Halemane was working solo at the farm on the beautiful fall Sunday afternoon I visited the farm. He was solo this day at the farm, propagating yeast while showing us around the rustic ramshackle barn that houses the brewery while sampling our group from barrels and bottles. Cars occasionally appear in the distance, zig-zagging down the spiral dirt roads to the gates of the farm before finding a sign warning them away and to visit the new taproom in downtown Hood River.

Logsdon Farmhouse Ales is a tiny operation, but seems to have many moving parts. Brewers take shifts and have their own projects. They may not even often work together. This may add to the fact there are many barrels and blends tucked away, the passion projects of different brewers that hopefully will each see the light of day at some point. Though founder Dave Logsdon is famous for founding Wyeast Laboratories in a clean, sterile building in Hood River that does not accept guests, you would expect something more modern and cleaner than the 100 year old ramshackle barn the brewery is based out of. Up some rusty open steps to the 2nd floor is a small kitchen and yeast lab. A table and refrigerator are littered with random old beer bottles, some open, some sealed. Through the window I see a snake slithering into a stable and a bull munching on grass outside, accompanied by the smell of hay and dung. I expected a scientist’s lab, but instead found an auto mechanic’s break room. Shilpi is busy culturing up a batch of yeast from a noisy stir plate while graciously showing us around. One begins to realize the magic is in all the minutiae–the little moving parts, the cracks in the wall, and the cobwebs in the corners. It’s all a part of the microflora that makes up the one-of-a-kind environment unique to each individual place and leaves a traceable signature to Logsdons beers.

While Dave Logsdon has likely isolated hundreds of wild yeasts and has made his own proprietary blends for many of the brewery’s staples, the brewers still seek the most timely and subtle of terroirs available in the right situation and the right climate. That’s why the brewery not long ago installed a coolship into the creepy, horror movie-worthy attic. It’s in a space only reachable from the kind of drop down ceiling ladder you expect to shut right behind you as you hear the whisper of an ethereal voice and footsteps pattering away. Maybe it’s just the bats or squirrels seeking warmth in that dark but still airy space, but you expect something to jump out of a floorboard at you. The coolship is set up front just beneath the solo attic window. It’s sealed from the elements and wildlife by netting, the type you would use to keep out mosquitoes that could give you malaria. The fresh hot wort is pumped up here from the brew kettle, hot, sweet, and sugary. It gets oxygen for the yeast in the breeze and wood, and cools down quickly without a chiller. Wort is sprayed into the open, shallow vessel to oxygenate and cool down to acceptable levels for the yeast to kick off fermentation. This takes about fifteen hours, so it makes sense that brewers only use the coolship on cool days, preferably those under 40 degrees Fahrenheit.

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Initial fermentation is not out of control and as visible as one out of a tank with fresh pitched yeast in the proper cells per million. It’s a more subtle affair, much like the farmhouse-style itself. “We won’t see visible fermentation in the coolship, just foaming from proteins and the aeration due to splashing,” explains Shilpi. The wort then comes out of the coolship and down to homogenization tanks that help to make sure the wild yeast and bacteria that inoculate the wort get mixed into the main body of the beer before they rack the wort into stainless tanks for the main fermentation. It’s not until fermentation dies down in a few weeks that they rack the beer into oak barrels for secondary fermentation and aging.

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This spontaneously fermented beer has only so far been used in sparing amounts added into blends to increase sourness and dimension. It’s enough to wonder why they don’t just pitch some of the wild yeasts and bacteria they have at their disposal for a quicker, healthier, less work heavy fermentation. The answer is the heart of what makes Logsdon Farmhouse Ales beers so precious and unique to the Gorge. “The point of brewing with spontaneous inoculation for us is to experience the terroir of our surroundings and our brewery itself,” offers Shilpi of this seemingly extraneous effort. “There is some magic in the attic dust and orchard air that we want to share with drinkers that appreciate Lambic character.” This doesn’t mean that the brewery does not want to have control and consistency over some of the regular year-round offerings; this is a separate program that exists to feed the creative itch of noble authenticity.“While we could culture the required yeasts/bacteria or purchase a commercial pitch, it would not only be less authentic/rustic and fun, but would actually require more work on my end to do all the propagation of the microbes. In short, its more authentic, more fun, and more challenging to guide the barrels along to a drinkable end goal.”

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Just outside the brewery building, oak doors are built into the side of the hill, too big for a hobbit but reminiscent of a mystical creatures cave dwelling.  It’s a bomb shelter-like space, dug into the hill and recovered with earth to keep it cool and hidden. A decomposing cow’s head warns off visitors and attracts flies at the manmade cave’s entrance and poses for photo ops with the rare visitor. Here the beers wait in barrels, picking up oak, and bacteria and fruit waiting for their time to shine. Because this space has no drainage, barrels are not placed here until active fermentation has receded.

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The most recent beer to escape the caves is ZuurPruim, a lightly sour beer aged in Cabernet Sauvignon barrels. Even before barrel-aging, the base beer was aged for a month and  a half on a mixed wild yeast and bacteria culture to create its tartness and dry finish. Plums were sorted for ripeness, with the more ripe being added to the beer in barrels immediately while the rest ripened in the cave. All were lightly rinsed in a mild sanitizing solution before 100 lbs of plums were added to each cask. The plum skins add blue/purple color and that extra tart and sharp skin flavor and aroma. The barrels were then sorted to make two different batches while one barrel of spontaneously fermented coolship beer was added per blend to amp up brightness and complexity.

Logsdon ZuurPruim

Some of the other creatures hoping to escape the cave soon include a new batch of Logsdon’s 2nd cherry beer called Krieke Vier that will be out in bottles in January, followed by a new batch of the brewery’s most famous and award winning offering, Peche ‘n Brett. The brewery is planning to do the first bottling of a 100% spontaneously fermented coolship beer in March.

On draft only is a new cardamom and black pepper beer called “Far East Seizoen;” the brewery’s first stout called “Wilde Stouterd” brewed with brettanomyces; a collaboration with Hood River’s Big Horse Brewing with smoked black tea added to a rice lager; and a red brett beer named “Rood Wilde Kalf” (Wild Red Calf). The crew hasn’t forgotten about the occasional hard cider, either; there is a new barrel-aged Jonah Gold and Newtown Pippin cider in the works.

Logsdon Barrel Room

Visit the newish Logsdon Barrel House taproom in downtown Hood River at 101  4th Street, Hood River, OR 97031.

Founder of The New School and most frequent contributor Ezra Johnson-Greenough has worked in the craft beer industry for almost 10 years, doing everything from illustrating beer labels to bartending at renowned beer bars and breweries like Belmont Station, Apex, Laurelwood and Upright Brewing. He has also had a hand in creating events like the Portland Fruit Beer Festival, Portland Beer Week, and the Brewing up Cocktails series. He is available for freelance consultation in marketing, events, graphic design and branding. Contact: SamuraiArtist@NewSchoolBeer.com

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