For the Oregon Beer Growler
Community is the fifth element in brewing to go with water, yeast, barley and hops, according to Oregon brewing pioneer Dave Logsdon.
Logsdon Farmhouse Ales’ founder recently gave an insider’s detailed, and often funny, history of brewing in the Columbia River Gorge and the rest of Oregon. He recounted the roots that were established by Full Sail Brewing Company along with the past decade’s rapidly growing brewing culture in Hood River and nearby scenic towns about an hour east of Portland.
“It is really a story of people working together,” Logsdon said to a room of about 120 people in February. His speech was part of a Sense of Place Lecture held at Hood River’s Columbia Center for the Arts. With him was his wife Judith Bams-Logsdon, a native of Belgium and his muse for beer styles and Belgian menu at their downtown Hood River tasting room.
Logsdon has the authority to re-tell the area’s brewing saga because he was there from the start — first as a leader in the homebrewing revolution in the 1970s and later as co-founder of three anchors in Oregon fermentology: Full Sail, Wyeast Laboratories and Logsdon Farmhouse Ales.
“Full Sail was the gathering point for homebrewers and other like-minded folks, and people saw it was successful,” he said. “When I think of the sense of place, to me it’s mostly about the people. Yes, we have a beautiful valley and river and environment to live in, but it’s the people who have lived here and shared their community to make things possible and make the community what it is. And that’s what I have to say about the brewing community,” Logsdon described. He added, “Even before craft brewing and Brewers in the Gorge (BIG), the large professional brewers had a tradition of working together about science and innovation in order to brew the best beers possible.”
Logsdon’s experiences during the last 40 years span from garage brewing to being a leader in the 500-employee, $50 million Gorge beer economy.
“I left the Midwest in the early 1970s and there were still regional beers with flavor, but as soon as I reached the West Coast, I noticed a distinct difference in beer quality,” he said. “They were all pretty much light lager beers. Working my way through school, I didn’t have the resources to enjoy the beers I wanted to drink, so I started brewing beer.” In 1985, he opened Wyeast Laboratories, which was then a small operation.
“Wyeast was a big part of my life here in the Gorge and part of what I did to bring the fourth element of brewing to the neighborhood. We have abundant hops on both sides of us, acres of barley and the best brewing water in the world, and it was nice to work with my family to bring this fourth aspect of it to the Hood River Gorge.”
He later jumped at the chance to help get Full Sail off the ground with Irene Firmat and Jerome Chicvara. Logsdon remained at the brewery until the mid-1990s.
“We pooled all the resources we could from family and friends and worked for a year to get it financed,” Logsdon said. He said it would not have happened without longtime Parkdale residents Jack and Kate Mills. “They believed in us, invested in us and also helped us raise another large chunk of money through the Oregon Lottery,” he said. What emerged was first called Hood River Brewing Company.
A building that protruded halfway into Columbia Street and a chain-link fence were both in the way of constructing the Full Sail facility. “We knocked it out to get the brewery going,” he said. “Things have changed a lot, and it started with a huge amount of energy. And many of the brewing community members were very encouraging of Full Sail, which became two blocks of Hood River.”
Craft beer, he said, “is here to stay and it has had a huge impact on everything we consume and our approach to life and the values we have in what we create.”
He was part of the “’86 Club,” as he puts it — the brewers who were there when it became legal to brew beer and sell it in the same location. Logsdon pointed to fellow pioneers including Brian and Mike McMenamin, Kurt and Rob Widmer, Karl Ockert, Fred Eckhardt, Art Larrance, Fred Bauman and Jack Joyce.
Logsdon presented a “family tree” of Gorge brewers, with Full Sail brewers moving on to either work for, or found, all but one brewery in the Gorge (Backwoods Brewing Company in Carson, Wash.) Standouts include Double Mountain founder Matt Swihart, pFriem founder Josh Pfriem and Solera brewer and co-owner Jason Kahler.
“The brewing community itself has very deep roots and strengths going back to big breweries working together in sharing knowledge,” Logsdon said. ”Overall, besides of all these good things we have, it’s as much to the credit of the open-mindedness and the progressive thinking you find in Oregonians. It’s the people and the energy putting those things tighter — the willingness to create and take a chance and do what you think is right and work together.”