Dwinells co-owner Jocely Dwinell Leigh bottling one of their rustic ales.
Dwinell's co-owner Jocely Dwinell Leigh bottling one of their rustic ales. COURTESY OF DWINELL BREWING
Most people don’t notice Goldendale when they pass through, if they pass through at all. This Washington town sits about halfway between Portland and Yakima, about a dozen miles north of the Columbia River along Highway 97. It’s in the middle of nowhere. Less than 4,000 people live in this town yet it somehow curiously supports Dwinell Country Ales, a farmhouse brewery that makes dry, long-fermented beers using almost exclusively local grains, hops, and other ingredients.

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Dwinell has quickly gotten the Pacific Northwest beer world’s attention with their rustic wild ales but up until now you had to drive out to the middle of nowhere, i.e. Goldendale, to taste their beer. That’s not the case anymore. Dwinell is now selling their barrel-aged and wild beers at bottleshops around town, including The Beer Junction, Chuck’s Hop Shop in Greenwood, and Teku Tavern. I caught up with Jocelyn Dwinell Leigh, co-founder and co-owner of the brewery with her husband Justin Derek Leigh, to celebrate the arrival of this new brewery to Seattle and find out a little more about what Dwinell is up to.

The Dwinell in your name comes from a family name, but where does the “country ales” come from? Why refer to your beers as “country ales”?

Jocelyn Dwinell Leigh: We use the term “country ales” to describe our approach to making farmhouse, mixed-culture, and wild ales. When we weren’t able to start the brewery on a farm like we wanted to, it was still important to us to live out in the “country” and have direct relationships with the farmers who were going to supply our ingredients.

You’ve said that Dwinell is about creating “simple beers that welcome all kinds of drinkers.” The mixed-culture beers you make are often elevated and thought of as the most complex types of beers—what does “simple” mean to you?

It’s true that mixed-culture, barrel-aged beers are often more complex, and hopefully along with that, more balanced as well. While the time, ingredients, and uniqueness of each beer likely warrant a higher price, ultimately, these beers are meant to be enjoyed rather than coveted. We’d prefer to make mixed-culture beers and then have people enjoy drinking them. Stop by a small town in Belgium on a Sunday afternoon, and you’ll find ordinary people in their local bar enjoying a Gueuze or Lambic because it’s what they know and love. Why should it be any different here?

How important is it that you use local ingredients?

It’s deeply important for us to only use local ingredients, as much as we possibly can. The majority of our ingredients are sourced from within a short trip of our brewery and we work closely with the farmers. Most of our beers feature grain from Mecca Grade Estate Malt, which is 100 miles south in Madras, Oregon, and has a very similar climate to ours. We source hops from the Yakima Valley, located 45 miles north, and we buy all of our fruit from a local, family-run orchard and vineyard 12 miles south in Maryhill, Washington.

The majority of our beers are fermented with native yeast strains that we’ve captured, or yeast and bacteria that occur naturally on the fresh fruit we use. For us, when we’re surrounded by all of these amazing ingredients, it doesn’t make sense to import hops from New Zealand or specialty grain from Europe. We want to make unique beers that reflect where we live, and using local ingredients is the best way to do that.

How hard is it to find enough support for a high concept brewery in a rural town like Goldendale, a town with less than 5,000 people?

Thankfully, our neighbors don’t view us as a “high concept” brewery. For most people, we’re the place in town to meet with friends, relax on the patio with your dog and kids, or to hold a community event. At our tasting room, we’re happy to educate everyone about our beers and work tirelessly to create an inclusive community-driven space. In doing so, we’ve managed to convince most people in Goldendale that the beers we make are, well, “normal.” A regular recently told us they visited another craft brewery in the region and they were shocked that the brewery had no wild beers!

What Dwinell beer should I pair with the trashy Rancho Bravo burrito I’m eating right now in Cal Anderson Park?

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Definitely go with the “Happy Camper,” our take on the top-fermenting golden ales that originated in Cologne, Germany. This beer is made with Pelton and Lamonta barley malt from Mecca Grade. For a light, crushable beer, the malt character is surprisingly flavorful, creamy, and full bodied. And instead of using the traditional earthy, spicy German hops found in a Kölsch, we used super fruity Idaho 7.

What Dwinell beer should I pair with the Un Bien Cuban sandwich I’m eating at Golden Gardens right now?

Definitely grab a bottle of “Past Tense,” a blended barrel-aged wild ale, which we’re releasing this week in Seattle. It started off as an open-cooled beer we made in December 2017, which we then aged in freshly dumped red wine barrels for a year before bottle conditioning. It’s got a great balance of oak, light acidity, and a touch of funk that would be perfect with a rich, savory pork sandwich.