Craft brewer started with root beer

Logan Mayfield, head brewer at Ordnance Brewing in Boardman, got his start making homemade root beer with his dad.

Craft brewer Logan Mayfield got his start as a boy in his family kitchen.

“I started when I was eight or nine with my dad. He made homemade root beer,” he said. “If I helped out, I could drink as much as I wanted.”

Fast forward 20 years and Mayfield is head brewer at Ordnance Brewing in Boardman with an unofficial title of “the brew dude.” Inside the voluminous space, the beer maker oversees his collection of fermenting tanks, mash tuns and wooden sour barrels. He spends countless hours there separating wort from spent grain, boiling, adding hops and transferring the liquid to fermenters — a complex process that allows for plenty of inventiveness. Brewers sometimes push the limits — consider the Maine brewer who placed live lobsters into boiling wort early in the brewing process and later added a dash of sea salt.

Mayfield so far sticks to more traditional ingredients, but adds his own personal twists and tweaks in a quest to find beer nirvana.

The brewer is a personable 28-year-old who drives an ancient rusted Toyota pickup with a crooked license plate and a bumper sticker that says “Be kind to animals — kiss a rugby player.” As a teenager, he washed dishes at the Standing Stone Brewpub in Ashland and later learned to brew there as an intern. He skipped college for a trip around the world that introduced him to brewing styles on different continents. He rode a Russian motorcycle that he could fix with “a fork and a paperclip.” He turned 19 in Germany with a bierstein in his hand.

Recently, Mayfield sat on a stool at a table made from a huge wooden spool that once held wire. The table was one of four scattered around the brewery’s tasting area, which sits in a corner of the 10,000-square-foot space. Onto the tabletop, visitors had used permanent markers to pen messages such as “Aaah beer” and “Happy fermenting.” Mayfield sipped one of his favorite creations, RX Pale Ale, a straw-colored brew featuring a lingering hoppiness and a spiciness born of an encounter with rye malt. His other favorite is Old Craig, an English strong ale named after Craig Coleman, who is one of six owners of Ordnance and the associated Neighbor Dudes Tap House in Hermiston. The current beer list offers some heady choices of lagers, wheat beer, a rainbow of ales (pale, golden, red and brown), porter, Kolsch, English bitter, imperial stout and inventive names such as Harry the Porter and Of Chimpanzees.

The key to brewing excellent beer, Mayfield said, “is learning how different ingredients play together.” In RX (short for Rye Extra), he found a balance between rye and hops.

Mayfield moved to Boardman from a Colorado brewery when offered the Ordnance head brewer position by Coleman, who had launched the brewery in 2014 with his friend and neighbor Mark McLeod. McLeod has since died.

“We brewed our first batch on Halloween of last year,” Mayfield said.

The craft brewery gets its name from a ghost town between Boardman and Hermiston, once populated by those who worked at the now-closed Umatilla Chemical Depot.

Mayfield said he has bonded with Boardman. One plus, he said, is the lack of traffic.

“I do horribly with traffic lights,” he said with a slow grin. “Morrow County doesn’t have a single one.”

Asked to describe a typical day at the brewery, Mayfield took a sip of RX and pondered. The life of a brewer, he said, is predictable in only one way.

“There’s never a typical day,” he said.

Supply and demand often dictates his schedule. Recently, a boiler went down in the middle of a batch. Mayfield averted disaster by substituting an old German process called kettle sour. He finally made it to bed at 2:30 a.m.

Mayfield’s beers are starting to get noticed. Full Metal Jacket, an English IPA, got Best Beer at the Beerex Fest in February. Oregon Beer Growler Magazine named Wheatville and RX Pale Ale as “Perfect Pints.” He loves trying new techniques. At the moment, he has what he calls “the sour project.” Sour beer is more tart and acidic than traditional beer and ages in oak barrels for months, letting the microorganisms do their work.

“Sour beer is becoming really popular on the west side of the Cascades,” he said. “Hopefully, it appeals to locals soon.”

Ordnance, currently a seven-barrel brewery, will soon expand into a 30-barrel brew house, increasing capacity from 240 to 900 gallons.

Coleman has watched (and tasted) Mayfield’s work with increasing approval.

“We got really lucky,” he said. “Someday, if he sticks with it, he’ll be one of the old gray hairs in the business that everyone looks up to.”

The brewery, at 405 N. Olson Road in Boardman, will have a grand opening August 1 from noon to 10 p.m. with food, games, live music and, of course, beer. A shuttle will run from Neighbor Dudes in Hermiston every two hours starting at noon. More information is available at www.ordnancebrewing.com.

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Contact Kathy Aney at kaney@eastoregonian.com or call 541-966-0810.

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