Keeping the Yeast in Wyeast

An Odell family business triumphs as a global enterprise

By Drew Myron

Liquid yeast is scientifically grown under strict sterile laboratory conditions. Wyeast sells 90 varieties to commercial and homebrewers around the globe. Photo by Wyeast Laboratories

In that first quenching gulp of your favorite brew, what’s the thing you don’t even know you taste?

For Jenny Logsdon and her triplet girls, the answer—and their empire—is yeast.

In 1986, the Logsdon family business, Wyeast Laboratories, was the first to create pure liquid yeast. The breakthrough invention revolutionized the craft beer industry and transformed a family hobby into an international enterprise.

Thirty-five years later, Wyeast, based in Odell, supplies yeast cultures to commercial and homebrewers around the globe.

“Most people don’t understand yeast,” says Jenny, a third-generation Oregonian.

Raised in Salem, she studied food science at Mount Hood Community College and has dedicated her career to fermentation.

“You can’t have beer without it, but it’s very difficult to explain,” she says. “You can go on a brewery tour and see the different malts and hops, but you can’t do that with yeast.”

Yeast is the organism that turns sugar into alcohol. It has a critical impact on the flavors and aromas of beers.

Before Wyeast developed liquid yeast, brewers were limited to a few strains of dry yeast. But dried yeast is more prone to bacterial contamination. Liquid yeast is more reliable, diverse, fresher, and easier to control. Wyeast began with just a few strains of liquid yeast and now offers 90 varieties.

Wyeast Laboratories is a family business run by Jenny Logsdon, center, and her triplet girls Tamara, left; Alisa, right; and Katrina, not pictured. Photo by Drew Myron

The company ships product across the United States and to more than 30 countries. Beer brewers are the primary customers—70% are commercial and 30% are homebrewers—but cider, spirits, sake, mead, and winemakers are growing segments.

Wyeast Laboratories began in the Hood River Valley, when Jenny and her former husband, Dave, tinkered with fermentation from a trailer in Parkdale.

Jenny became sole owner in 2009. Throughout the years, the business grew from trailer to barn before moving to an Odell industrial park in 2001.

The company has 40 employees. It recently completed construction of additional office and laboratory space that doubles its capacity.

Born and raised in the Hood River Valley, Jenny’s triplet daughters—Tamara, Alisa, and Katrina—were always part of the family business. Now, at 33, they play critical roles in helping their mother continue the company’s success.

Tamara, who lives in Pine Grove, is a microbiologist with a degree in science history and bioethics. She works as quality control lab coordinator and brand manager.

Alisa lives in Hood River and holds a business degree. She is vice president of operations.

Katrina worked in production as a cellar operator and is studying viticulture and enology at Bordeaux Sciences Agro in France.

“The girls have been a part of it since they were young,” Jenny says. “They’d be standing on stools, watching test tubes and marking yeast strains.”

Wyeast pioneered liquid yeast production and invented the Smack-Pack Activator System. Photo by Wyeast Laboratories

Alisa was only 6 when she began sweeping floors and folding shipping boxes.

“I’ve made a lot of boxes in my life,” she says, laughing.

“When the lab started, it was down our driveway,” Tamara says. “It wasn’t work. It’s just what we did. You just get really engulfed in how important the family product is and how it’s an important part of the industry.”

In fact, Tamara says the family product is ever-present.

“When I go out, I’m always thinking about what I’m drinking, which has kinda ruined it for me,” she jokes. “I’m always trying to understand the flavors and yeast conditions.”

In an ironic twist, Jenny and her daughters are all gluten-intolerant, a health condition that makes beer consumption uncomfortable and even dangerous. They have turned instead to cider, an increasingly popular beverage and a growing segment of the Wyeast business.

“People experiment with ciders as much as they do with beer,” notes Alisa, a cider enthusiast who enjoys hopped and fruit varieties.

Working in the family business started early for the Logsdon triplets. From left are Tamara, Alisa and Katrina. Photo courtesy of the Logsdon Family

Wyeast not only pioneered yeast production but also invented an innovative delivery system. Its trademarked one-of-a-kind Smack-Pack Activator System features an inner pouch of 100 billion live yeast cells in a liquid slurry. Bursting or “smacking” the pouch activates the yeast. The swelling of the package serves as a viability and vitality test.

In the 35 years since Wyeast began, the number of U.S. breweries has jumped from 150 in 1986 to more than 8,000 today, according to the Brewers Association. Though the pandemic has been a hardship on many independent brewers, Wyeast continues to thrive.

“There’s never a slow time,” Tamara says. “It’s just busier and busier.”

Along with more creative combinations that infuse chocolate, fruit, and herbs, consumers are increasingly focused on beer quality as they experience a greater variety of options. And the foundation of every brew is yeast.

“It’s an ingredient no one really talks about,” Tamara says. “People talk about hops and barley, but yeast is the secret ingredient.”

Learn more at the Wyeast Lab website.