Dave Logsdon of Logsdon Farmhouse Ales Q&A

May 18, 2012

When I started brewing I remember looking over all the yeasts at my local home brew shop and being amazed at the sheer number of types.  As a young brewer I bought Wyeast more than any other yeast brand mostly because of the smack pack type packing. When I was starting out in home brewing I was concerned about every little thing so I can still remember the first time once of my packs swelled before I smacked it. Nervous my yeast was messed up somehow I contacted Wyeast and Dave Logsdon quickly put my fears to rest.
I’ve come along a bit in my brewing since then and Dave has since moved into another role. So it’s very cool for me to have gotten the chance to talk with Dave about his new adventure: Logsdon Organic Farmhouse Ales.

ETF- What was your sour or brett beer epiphany moment?
Dave- It was around 1982 and a Lindemans Cuvee Rene if I recall.
ETF- Was it a special event that made you want to try a sour beer or just something that was hanging out on the shelf?
Dave- Well I think I had tasted beers that would qualify as a beer of that nature, but didn’t really take note of it as intently as when I tasted the Cuvee Rene. It was at a brew school inSeattleput on by Charles Finkel and one of his guest speakers was Roger Mussche, who was a Belgian specialist of fine beers. He was the person who helped Lindemans get into theUSmarket and helped them with their lambic beers they were producing inBelgium. So he brought the Cuvee Rene for a tasting during that event. That was an introduction of not only being able to taste the beer but to learn about they were made, what the process is and little more detail about the styles themselves.

ETF- You’ve worn a number of hats in the beer world: from home brewing to being Full Sail’s first brewer to founding Wyeast Labs and now Logsdon’s Farmhouse Ales. What are some nuggets you picked up at each of those points that has helped you with your current project?
Dave- Obviously I’ve worked a lot with yeast at Wyeast since I was the founder of that company and developed it into what it is today before I left a few years ago. I sold my interest in Wyeast and moved on to look at the opportunity to open up a farmhouse brewery. Working with yeasts day in and day out my entire career led me to experiment a lot by doing pilot brewing at the facility there. I was also able to see first hand what we could reproduce or produce with yeast cultures I acquired all around the world. 

The work at Full Sail was in the early 80’s where I was one of the co-founders, first brewer and designed the first beers we produced. That was valuable experience, however I don’t think I got much more from brewing at Full Sail other than the fact I knew I wanted to brew other styles of beers and I liked other styles than we were producing there. Experience overall was good, the laboratory experience was extremely valuable and I hadn’t done much creativity in the last 20 years as far as putting beers on the market (although at Wyeast I was a consultant to a lot of breweries around the country/world that I was able to lend my hand in designing beers and process to produce those beers). So all those things combined gave me the impetus to say “Let’s do this again, let’s do something a little bit different this time”… and I wanted to make the beers I like to drink. 

ETF- If you are brewing the beer you like to drink, is Saison your favorite style?
Dave- I like Saisons a lot. Brewing them is as fun as drinking them because they allow for a lot of interpretation on what you want to produce. The style guides are fairly broad and our beers we produce don’t really fit style guides that well. We do some things different because what I want to do is produce flavorful beers, that’s number 1 overall.

So…I like all varieties of beers for the most part, I prefer some much more than others, but having some nice choices gives what you are looking for in the moment.

Like our Kili Wit, it’s a nice 5.% (ABV) that’s a little higher alcohol than most Wit’s, but it’s a nice beer that ‘s very refreshing, thirst quenching, and enjoyable especially on a hot day.

With the Saisons we’re producing a couple different varieties now and some days I prefer one over the other, but I tend to enjoy the profile we brew them in. Now there are a lot of Saison soon the market that I don’t care for at all and that really amounts to the brewer’s interpretation they are making with the beers they are brewing. So you can think about what the beers are made of or what they consist of as being the important factor: the profile and drinkability…that’s what I’m looking. Saison is such a yeast forward beer, we use 4 different yeast strains in our primary fermentation which creates a lot of flavor and aroma complexity. We brew 100% organic beers and use one 100% organic whole cone hops so those things give us an element of difference that I think a lot of breweries miss that use pellets for example. There is a different flavor profile that comes from pellets, so whole hops in my opinion. These things combined with the overall techniques we use in brewing, the care we take in finishing the beer, we like to re-ferment in the bottle to give a nicer presentation that what you can get on draft, so all these things combined make this beer something that I enjoy drinking. There is more to it than just a style.

ETF- What are your thoughts on some of the newer beers hitting the market that are pushing towards new styles? 100% Brett beers, Dry American Hopped sours etc…

Dave- Well talking about interpretation of styles, for example the 100% Brettanomyces beers. There’s a lot of innovation brewers are doing these days with different cultures that are making new styles, creating new beers that haven’t been brewed before. When I look at some of the Brett beers that are 100% Brett fermented, I’m not a big fan of them. I haven’t found one I would order twice. The profile is kind of narrow, maybe there are some others out there that are different, but I haven’t been able to find something in that category that says “This is an exceptional beer”. I’m sure there are ways to do that (fermentation) though. Historically Brettanomyces was found in breweries by accident and they didn’t want it there, but it was a big profile in Lambic beers. So it was realized over time (I think in the 40’s it was isolated then identified) that this is a yeast culture that produces these particular characteristics . If you read any of the literature on Brettanomyces they are very strong and very powerful characteristics that come from these yeasts, so a 100% fermentation really skews the profile a lot in my opinion. It makes it difficult for everything to come together and work well.

I’m a fan of beers that work well together and have a nice balance of flavor characteristics. The Lambics are one of them where you can taste and smell the Brett layers in the beer. Orval is a nice example… a beer fermented with saachromyces and refermented in the bottle with Brett that gives a very distinct character.

The other thing with Brettanomyces yeast is there’s been about 7 species that have been isolated and identified with I think 4 being used in brewing. So of those the anomalus is used quite often for 100% fermentation of beers. That has a certain flavor characteristic and profile, just like Brettanomyces Brux has a distinct flavor and Clausenni has a little bit milder, but nice pleasant flavor profile. Even the ones we use in our brewery have different flavor characteristics than other Brettanomyces yeast that we had isolated and used at Wyeast.

It’s all about what you are working with and how it’s built into the profile of the beer. We add a specific Brettanomyces strain to our Seizoen Bretta that’s unique in a number of ways. First being it’s flavor, it’s a very fast yeast as far as fermentation time and flavor development…I like the character we are getting from that. We’ve looked at and used some other Bretts in the lab I have here at the brewery that we just ok. They either weren’t as flavorful or didn’t provide the fermentation profile with the 4 sacchromyces strains that are in that beer.

ETF- I think that’s interesting you have 4 different strains of sacchromyces in that beer. Are they being pitched as one blend or do you propagate up all 4 strains separately then pitch?
Dave- We grow up and pitch 4 separate yeasts at the same time, the beginning of primary fermentation.
ETF- Are they all Saison yeasts?
Dave- No there are a variety of yeasts….A Saison strain and Belgian strains.

ETF- So in the Bretta you are using a single strain of Brettanomyces right?
Dave- Yes, in the Seizoen Bretta we are using just one. We have another strain (Brettanomyces) we are using in our Far West Vlaming which is a new beer that we just got into the bottle. It’s a Flemish Style Red Ale that does use Brettanomyces and Lactobacillous as well as sacchromyces. So we are using 4 different yeasts and bacteria in that beer too. It’s got a different profile than the other Brettanomyces that we use (in the Bretta).

ETF- Can you gives us an idea of what strains you are using? Are they commercially available to brewers?
Dave- These are yeasts that I’ve banked myself since I left Wyeast. These aren’t anything that I know of that are on the market.
ETF- Most brewers hear not on the market and immediately want that strain…Any chance you might let some lab release those strains?
Dave- I’m not in the yeast business anymore Haha. I doubt that will happen.

ETF- Looking at the pictures of the brewery you have a very neat looking “Farmhouse” and a lot of gorgeous land. Tell us a little about the history of  the building and land.
Dave- The brewery itself is situated in a barn that was built in the 1940’s. I’ve owned this property for about 20 years where I’ve raised Scottish Highland Cattle, a few ponies for my daughters, and a few fruit tress on it. I’ve expanded that with Schaerbeekse cherry trees I imported from Belgium that are currently in USDA quarantine on my nursery. I’ve got about 100 trees planted for expanding that this first year and then expanding that out into about 10 acres of cherries is the goal.

The farm itself was the homestead property here in the valley, I think about in 1905. It’s been and orchard, dairy land, pig farm and before I purchased it a marijuana grow in the barn. When we got it that was cleaned out and I built the laboratory for Wyeast which was in the barn until it was moved in 2001 to a new facility and since then I’ve been hammering out a little brewery here.

ETF- What’s the status on the cherry tree quarantine?
Dave- Well they are in the ground now, but I’m not allowed to spread them past the quarantine area for a period of 2 years. The USDA will have to give approval for that.
ETF- What sort of time frame are you looking at to get usable fruit?
Dave- 3 years is typical for fruit trees to mature in order to get a small crop.

ETF- So you guys are Certified Organic, tell me about the choice to go that route with the brewery.
Dave- That’s a good question…I talked about that with my partners I put this together with and the organic ingredients we made the test batches with made nice beers. Plus I really didn’t see a reason not to produce organic beers. Well then the question becomes do you do 100% (of the beers) or just some of them? We decided to go with 100% of the beers as organic. My farm is organic and growing fruit trees on it just seemed reasonable that we would use all organic ingredients. We are able to get most of those fairly local. We contract directly with hop farmers that are not too far away. The malted barley we use comes out of the northwest and we are currently working with another farm not far from here to get some of our own barley planted/malted in the region. So there’s opportunities to do that. As far as sustainability long term it seemed like the most practical way to go. Not only did I think our beers wouldn’t be sacrificed by using organic ingredients, it would be a benefit overall as far as flavor goes.

ETF-Any concerns getting some of those organic ingredients? I maybe wrong in presuming this, but wouldn’t there be a concern since there is less quantity of organic ingredients available?
Dave- Well there are concerns. Malt is fairly plentiful, I’m not too concerned although we are limited a little on just what we can get and use. We are small so we don’t command a lot of those resources from the market, but we have to stay on top of it and contract out on our hops several years ahead. We want to have a source and availability on the hops we want to use because we are particular on what we use. It’s good to have that relationship with the farmers who produce those for us.

We don’t beat the drum we’re making organic beer, but if you look at the bottle it has the USDA/Oregon certifications on the label. Some people will look at an organic label and say “Uggh it’s organic, must not be that good” while others might say “Ohhh it’s organic, it must be better.”
Out here in the northwest you see a lot more organic products and more organic beer being made. Two things happened recently, for one the USDA set some pretty strident guidelines. If you are going to claim to be organic you need to be certified. It made it more difficult than just saying “I’m organic because I’m going to make a batch of beer with organic malt”. Brewpubs get away with it on their menus, which is illegal, and it takes away from our availability for ingredients particularly the hops.

There is a new ruling that takes place in 2013 that says 100% of your hops have to be organic, compared to the past when you couldn’t get them (organic hops) you could get by without having to use organic hops. That might actually make availability better for us because people may say “Well I’m not certified, so why should I go do it?”

I don’t know how this is going to play out because the farmers still need a demand for their product to justify growing them. You could say it’s a benefit as well as a burden.

ETF- You’ve been open for about a year…when was the first beer released?
Dave- We released the first one during Portland’s Cheers To Belgian Beers in April 2011 where we won the People’s Choice for best beer. We also entered our beers again in that festival this year where we won again. So back to back years we knocked off 40 something breweries.

ETF- So out of the gate the brewery seems to be doing very well with the people. Pretty good validation for what you are trying to do right?
Dave- Absolutely. We do a lot of work in what we do and like I said earlier I brew the beers I like to drink and we are just happy others enjoy drinking them too. Also having good feedback on the beers, we do a lot of tastings where we get the beer in front of people for sampling. Being a new brewery it’s nice to get positive responses and having these awards come about it is validation… but it makes us realize we have to continue doing what we are doing. That’s part of the challenge now is when you come out of the gate in good fashion, you need to keep doing it day in and day out.

ETF- When you are out doing these tastings what are you hearing and what are some misconceptions that come up about these beer styles?
Dave- Good question because obviously Brett lends some sourness to the beer and the first 2 beers we came out with were the Seizoen and Seizoen Bretta. During the tastings they could taste both of those beers Some were tasting Brett beer for the first time. We aren’t talking about beer geeks here, these are grocery store tastings and places like that. So we would hear “Well that’s a nice beer, but hmm that’s interesting too”. What we found that almost every time half would prefer the Seizoen and half would prefer the Bretta. They didn’t really know what was different, and the beers are formulated a little different, but with the Seizoen it’s very malt forward with a nice hop balance…whereas with the Bretta the malt drops out, it’s much drier, it’s fruitier because of the Brett fermentation, the hops diminish as well in the process so they are quite contrasting beers. So a lot of people who are not really beer geeks and never tasted a beer like that didn’t really know what it was… they found they liked it over the other one. That’s a pleasant surprise. Exposing people to a sour beer or something unique is fun and is a nice part of this whole thing.

ETF- So as more people discover your beers and these ‘new to them styles’ they will want to buy them…What’s your plans short/long term to keep up with demand? Will you expand the brewery?
Dave- Yes to some extent. We are currently limited with our licensing to even put a brewery on a farm at 3,000 barrels a year. We are looking to hit about 1,000 barrels this year. Over the next 3 years we are projecting to push right around the 3,000 barrel mark. So we should be able to get our beers spread around.

ETF- You do have a barrel aged beer program going on right?
Dave- We do. The Far West Vlaming is in oak, the Cerasus which is the Far West base, the Peche n Brett which is our peach beer has oak aging on it also and we just put some of the Bretta in oak a couple of months ago just to see what we would get. But the goal long term is to increase the barrel fermentation substantially.

We have a few things going and even more planned like our Lambic program which will start this fall. I’ve got a Lambic barrel I’ve been playing with for about 12 years and I like what we’ve been able to produce out of that on a pilot basis. It’s a matter of getting the cool ship going up in the loft and getting more beer in the wood.

ETF- So when you start the program this fall is it going to be cool ship build first or start out with the beers wild fermenting in barrels?
Dave- We are going to install a cool ship if we are brewing Lambics. I’d like to do things traditionally. If we can get it installed this fall I’d like to do a little more experimenting in the winter months.

ETF- Since the Lambic brewers are traditionally limited on when their brewing season falls, do you have any idea of how many months you would be able to use the cool ship?
Dave- Our temperature and climate is not that much different thanBrussels, so I would expect it to be pretty similar to what they’ve traditionally done in that part of the world.

ETF- Do you think your new cherry trees and the expected expansion of that project will have any bearing on the microbes in the air?
Dave- In Hood River Valley we are one of the most dense orchard growing regions in the world. So we have a pretty substantial flora in the area that is somewhat affected by the fruit orchards. I think our fruit orchard may have a little bit of an impact on that, but the orchard is downwind from the brewery so I don’t know really haha.

ETF- On your recent trip to Europe did you explore some cool ship designs or do you already have the plan in mind?
Dave- Not on this past trip. I’ve explored Belgium pretty extensively and looked over a lot of cool ship designs/processes first hand at breweries like Cantillon and Lindemans. I’ve got a pretty good idea in my head of what I’m looking for.
ETF- Stainless?
Dave- Yep

ETF- If a home brewer said “Dave I want to brew a sour beer, what advice can you give me to get this beer right and not infect my brewery?”
Dave- I’ve worked in yeast and bacteria cultures mixed in same processes my entire career at Wyeast Laboratories and never encountered any problems with that, so it’s all about technique. I can say at the same time I’ve seen breweries that could brew hoppy ales and try to produce weiss beers or lagers that have low IBUs get lactic acid problems because they didn’t have a good cleaning regiment. So if you have a good cleaning technique in place you should be able to rest easy. But if you don’t know that or have concerns then a separate set of soft equipment might make it a bit easier. Even if you are trying to produce sour beers and you don’t have a good cleaning program for your surfaces or contact points there might be other things growing in there that you might not want. You gotta do a good job no matter how you do it. Just having a separate set of equipment isn’t going to save your ass… it may save your Pilsner or IPA from Brettanomyces, but it won’t preclude your sours from getting things in there you might not want. You need a good cleaning program either way, there is no substitute.

ETF-What would you tell that person about recipe formulation?
Dave- One of the first things I find important no matter what you are brewing is balance in the beer. Not one thing being overwhelming of anything else. When making a sour beer you have the potential to get very sour…undrinkably sour even though people pay big money for a really sour beer sometimes. I can’t choke them back. What I try to do is build enough malt balance in a sour beer to create some residual malt sweetness that compliments and balances the acidity. That’s a big part of building a beer and it starts in the mash tun, which is very important for any beer you are making. Remember that the hopping generally has to be low as it tends to conflict with flavors. You can use some hops some of the Lambic breweries will use aged hops. Getting that upfront design in place is critically important to what kind of results you get.

The next thing is don’t look to brew a Flemish Red or Geuze then 6-9 months later expect to have nailed it. Even professional brewers don’t think that especially when you are going into the wood, many of these beers are young beers and old beers blended. So if you are getting into making sour beers you are looking at a 5 year project, brewing a number of batches possibly tweaking along the way. Then you will have a blending opportunity. Anticipating blending will be what you need in order to get the beers how you want them.

So design, execution and being able to step up to the challenge of blending these beers together to make an exceptional beer.

ETF-What advice do you have for those on a homebrew level wanting to emulate an open air wild fermentation?
Dave- If you look at the studies as to what goes on in a cool ship there is not a very large inoculant that occurs in a cool ship. It’s more of a factor as to what builds up in the horny tanks, which is what a cool ship empties to before going to the fermenter. These tanks are typically cleaned about once a year so they have a much larger population of microbes that have come from the air and accumulated. So getting a big enough population to create a decent fermentation profile is something that just doesn’t happen overnight in a cool ship. If you are going to ferment in oak or with oak staves there is typically a big population in there that has accumulated over time. This is something that evolves over time and is not something you are going to fire up 1 time, set it out there, pick the bugs and have a nice fermentation going on. You have to accumulate those cultures and wherever you pull them out of the air is going to have a signature on the beer that is made.

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