Exploring the legacy of beer brewed by Native Americans and today’s Native American Breweries expressing their heritage with beer.
Since 2020, significant victories have been won for our Native American and North American Indigenous communities. Two major franchises, the Cleveland Indians [sic], founded in 1894, changed their name to the Cleveland Guardians, and The Washington RedSkins [sic] changed their name to Washington Commanders after 90 years of sporting the racial slur.
However, for the alcohol industry, the battlefield for promoting Indigenous reparations, representation, and equity sifts through a painful past and resumes with more work to be done. More importantly, the work is being done by Indigenous people and their communities, reclaiming their identities through beer against that painful past, and reinstating the legacy of beer and fermented beverages brewed by Indigenous peoples of Turtle Island long, long before colonization.
BIFE wants to be crystal clear: The historical intersection of alcohol within many Indigenous nations has been a complex, often traumatic one. Even though alcohol and fermented beverages were brewed pre-colonization, more potent liquors were used as a tool of colonialism, oppression, and genocide in addition they were also used to control power and social dynamic. But, within the entanglements of history, therein lies stories of perseverance and rewritings of these harmful narratives. This perseverance exists in the face of culture vulture capitalists looking to profit off of Indigenous tropes without including them in the payout.
So, without further ado, in honor of Native American Heritage Month, we’re amplifying Native American Breweries you can support all year long and highlighting the story of beer brewed by Indigenous peoples long before any colonizers crossed the Atlantic.
Indigenous People of the North America’s Beer Before Colonization
First and foremost, we would like to make a disclaimer to our audience that we at BIFE recognize the complex diversity and individual authenticity of the Indigenous tribes of North America. We do not intend to make it appear that we are placing the 574 tribes currently recognized by North American governments under one umbrella. However, we generally refer to North America’s Indigenous regionally for cogency.
Now that we have a respectful understanding — let us get something else out of the way: For decades, contemporary anthropologists have claimed Europeans brought beer over to the Americas – but luckily, there is plenty of evidence that rewrites the history written by the colonizer.
According to an article published by Live Science, archaeologists recently discovered 800-year-old potsherds in the American Southwest, used by the Pueblo peoples, with fermented residue typically only found in beer production. While this might not seem like a big revelation, it contradicts the notion that historians had in which it was previously believed that this entire pocket of Pueblos in New Mexico did not have alcohol at all. This has caused a deeper dive into the Pueblo nations using highly-sensitive scanning technologies from the Sandia National Laboratories.
Put yourself in Southwest America a thousand years ago: Native American farming villages were readily peppered across Arizona, New Mexico, and northern Mexico, which were made up of the Apache, Pueblo, Navajo, and Tarahumara nations. At this time, many of these tribes produced a low-ABV beer called Tiswin, also known as Tesgüino and Tejuino, made from the fermentation of corn kernels or Saguaro cactus, depending on the region.
However, if you Google “Did Native Americans drink beer before colonization?” Google will tell you, “Alcohol was first introduced to Indigenous Americans in its potent, social drinking format by European colonizers.” However, if you dive deeper and scroll deeper, you will find evidence of pre-Columbian Natives fermenting ceremonial alcoholic beverages made in addition to corn, agave, and manioc.
For example, the Catawba and Lakota Sioux tribes used fermented beverages for spiritual experiences in the shamanistic tradition and quests for enlightenment.
These recent discoveries in New Mexico and uncovering a more profound Native history with pre-Colombian beer refute previous claims that alcohol was not present with North American tribes until the Spanish brought their grapevines of wine.
These findings beg us to take a closer look at Indigenous culture in the Americas – including where we are today as a craft beer industry and how Indigenous leaders are changing the narrative around alcohol.
The Firewater Myth
To put things into perspective, we must acknowledge the destructive force alcohol has, and regrettably, still primarily plays in Indigenous communities. That being said, the existence of the Firewater Myth has created a derogatory narrative that further damages Indigenous communities.
The Firewater Myth states, “American Indians and Alaskan Natives (AI/ANs) are more susceptible to the effects of alcohol and vulnerable to alcohol problems due to biological or genetic differences” (LaMarr, 2003; Mail, 2002, as cited in Gonzalez and Skewes, 2016). To break that down, this debunked myth wrongly suggests that Native Americans have genetic inferiority and that is the reason for the staggering statistics on Indigenous peoples and their alcohol.
Addiction is often considered an “equal-opportunity” disease (Elm, 2016). However, that negates the real blame that colonization has had on Indigenous peoples. Colonization, trauma, and multiple stresses of inequality are the substantial causes of alcohol addiction for any demographic.
BIFE invites you to take a closer look:
To add some context, according to a 2010 Census and as recent as 2022 Wikipedia articles, an astonishing 11.7% of deaths are alcohol-related for contemporary Native Americans and Alaska Natives. That means one-in-ten deaths are sadly alcohol-related. In comparison, only 5.9% of global deaths are caused by alcohol in other demographic populations.
In that same Census, “American Indian or Alaskan Native alone or in combination with other races [sic]” made up only 1.7% of the population. Fast forward eight years and utilizing the Brewers Association’s Brewery Operations Benchmarking Survey* in 2018, only 2% of brewery managers reported that identity, with brewers only reporting 3%. Additionally, 7% of non-managerial brewery workers responded with American Indian or Alaskan Native identity. In 2020, the Census recently found that 2.9% of the total population identifies with that background, and considering the Brewers Association estimates 140,000 people are employed directly at breweries and brewpubs, the numbers seem dubious at best.
Taking a closer look at the Firewater Myth, a large-scale epidemiological study was published in the Journal of Drug and Alcohol Dependence and shared by the American Addiction Centers for Alcohol, proving that the myth is not supported by scientific evidence.
Even with this myth being an ongoing debate, there are also palpable debates against Native American-owned breweries. One of our highlighted breweries below, 7 Clans Brewing Company – a women-owned and -operated Native brewery – has around 640 out of 14,000 active tribal members who petitioned their tribal council to force the brewery to change the name of the brewery.
The lead petitioner, Leah Wolfe, argued, “Alcohol caused much trauma to who our ancestors were.” Furthermore, she described how European colonizers had used booze to manipulate Cherokees into selling land and making bad business deals.
While there is merit to all sides of these arguments, there is importance in honoring the complicatedness of identity politics, especially when it comes to alcohol within communities holding a complex history with the substance. We sympathize with those affected and recognize the trauma and the courageous fight to change that narrative.
Amplifying Native American Breweries
Where there is struggle, there is also resilience, as Indigenous breweries are looking to rewrite the narrative and create new pathways to a positive identity with alcohol. These breweries are birthing a new story for Turtle Island’s Indigenous communities, reclaiming Indigenous legacy one beer at a time.
Bow & Arrow Brewing Co.
(Pueblos – Albuquerque, New Mexico)
With their beer hall located in Albuquerque, New Mexico, and a second rambler taproom in Farmington, New Mexico, Bow & Arrow Brewing Co. has become a staple of the New Mexico craft beer community. More importantly, it is the first Native Women-owned brewery and has a mission to impact and leverage its delicious craft beer platform to make a difference.
Bow & Arrow Brewing Co. created an international craft beer collaboration in their Native Land Campaign, advocating that all participating beer is brewed on Native land, with proceeds benefiting Native nonprofits. With their first release in November 2021, participating breweries were given two requirements: Acknowledge on whose ancestral land they are located by recognizing the tribe(s) on their labeling – and secondly, commit to donating beer sale proceeds to Native nonprofit organizations.
Native Land Campaign 2.0 is set to kick off this November 2022, and we are excited to help amplify this outstanding campaign benefiting our Native communities. According to their website, there are 58 participating breweries across 24 states.
Tribal Affiliations: Mandan, Hidatsa, Arikara Nation, Navajo/Diné
608 McKnight Ave NW
Albuquerque, New Mexico 87102
Facebook: Bow & Arrow Brewing Co.
Skydance Brewing Co.
(𐓏𐒰𐓓𐒰𐓓𐒷 𐒼𐓂𐓊𐒻 𐓆𐒻𐒿𐒷 𐓀𐒰^𐓓𐒰^, Osage – Oklahoma City, Oklahoma)
Skydance Brewing Company might take home our favorite name award, but more importantly, they are the first Native American-owned brewery in Oklahoma City. They began as a member of a co-op brewery, as Skydance partnered under one roof with four start-up breweries, which has helped them get a jump start before opening their own location.
Since opening its location, Skydance has skyrocketed with an outpour of community support, revering the brewery of its grassroots upbringing and excellent crafted beer.
They offer their supporters the opportunity to become a member of the “Skydance Tribe [sic],” an exclusive annual club membership for people to enjoy exclusive benefits like discounts, free merchandise, and event perks.
Tribal Affiliations: Iowa Tribe of Oklahoma, Osage Nation, Otoe-Missouria Tribe
1 NE 7th St., Suite A
Oklahoma City, OK 73104
Facebook: Skydance Brewing Co.
Mad River Brewing Co.
(Wiyot – Blue Lake, California)
Beginning in October 2019, Mad River Brewing Company became a member of the Yurok Agriculture Corporation, making it one of the first Tribal Breweries in the United States. Located in Humboldt County, California, Mad River is committed to expanding its efforts to create meaningful and impactful partnerships within Indian Country [sic] helping to trailblaze a Native American Category of craft beer.
With three decades of craft beer heritage, Mad River has an ethos of exceptional green production processes, winning seven WRAP awards from the California Integrated Waste Management Board for outstanding efforts in waste reduction.
Mad River sets itself apart even more with national and international awards. They won awards at the World Beer Cup and Great American Beer Festival, where Mad River took home Best Brewery in the Nation for the Small Brewing Company and Small Brewing Company of the Year.
Tribal Affiliations: Yurok Tribe
195 Taylor Way
Blue Lake, California 95525
Facebook: Mad River Brewing
Broken Arrow Brewing Co.
(𐓏𐒰𐓓𐒰𐓓𐒷 𐒼𐓂𐓊𐒻 𐓆𐒻𐒿𐒷 𐓀𐒰^𐓓𐒰^, Osage – Broken Arrow, Oklahoma)
Broken Arrow Brewing Company is a Native American-owned and -operated microbrewery located in Broken Arrow, Oklahoma. The brewery is the first-ever brewery in Broken Arrow and one of only a handful of Native American-owned breweries in the country.
As Broken Arrow Brewing Co. wrote on its website, they “do not take this profound truth lightly, as they continue to build on that legacy one pint at a time.”
The brewery hosts events, provides memberships for their taproom, and offers authentic merchandise and passionately-crafted beer.
What might be most important about Broken Arrow Brewing Company is how they choose not to harp on the fact that they are Native American-owned. Their branding is not drawing from Native affixes per se; they simply are a Native American ethos simply by existing. That is something we should all pay more attention to and understand. There does not exist gradations to representation. Existence is enough.
333 W Dallas Street
Broken Arrow, Oklahoma 74012
Facebook: Broken Arrow Brewing Company
Turtle Mountain Brewing Co.
(Pueblos – Rio Rancho, New Mexico)
Turtle Mountain Brewing Co. is located in New Mexico and has a heartwarming origin story. Turtle Mountain comes from the Tewa name for Sandia Peak, and as the brewery writes on its website, Alfonso Ortiz (the owner’s late father) was born and raised at Ohkay Owingeh. He was one of the six Pueblo who spoke Tewa. Alfonso’s Tewa name was “Okú-Pín,” which translates to Turtle Mountain.
The guiding principle of Turtle Mountain Brewing Company is to provide the people of Rio Rancho with delicious, high-quality craft beer at an affordable price and in a friendly environment. Their employees are encouraged to get to know their customers, so coming to the brewery feels like coming over to a friend’s house. One of the aspects we have enjoyed in amplifying these Native American breweries is the number of awards they have won.
Turtle Mountain Brewing brings an exceptional pedigree of awards with five awards surrounding the work environment, including the Business Best’s “Best Places to Work” award.
Tribal Affiliation: Oke Owingeh Tribe
905 36th Place SE
Rio Rancho, NM 87124
Facebook: Turtle Mountain Brewing Company
7 Clans Brewing
(ᏣᎳᎫᏪᏘᏱ Tsalaguwetiyi, Cherokee [East] – Asheville, North Carolina)
7 Clans Brewing has a riveting ethos. In keeping with the Cherokee tradition of women within Indigenous cultures crafting fermented beverages, 7 Clans Brewing considers itself matrilineal, recognizing the inherent responsibility of women to lead their communities in times of war and peace.
In addition, 7 Clans Brewing derives its name from the 7 Clans of the Cherokee, amplifying the ethos that women bring balance just as the clan ecosystem, with each clan representing an earthly or heavenly role and bringing balance to the Cherokee way of life.
With all this being said, 7 Clans believes in telling a new story of craft beer for their tribe. Their website states, “For Cherokees, our homeland is where life begins, and the first sip of our beer is just that – a new beginning, a renewal for the soul…”. In believing that crafting beer and storytelling go hand-in-hand, they reclaim the narrative of alcohol for Native Americans.
Tribal Affiliation: Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians
66 Sweeten Creek Road
Asheville, North Carolina 28803
Facebook: 7 Clans Brewing
Rincon Reservation Road Brewery
(Payómkawichum, Luiseño -Valley Center, California)
Rincon Reservation Road Brewery (3R Brewery) is located in San Diego, California, and is the first tribally-owned brewery from the Rincon Band of Luiseño Indian Reservation.
In homage to their heritage, Rincon Reservation Road Brewing has set out to educate and pay tribute to their heritage while making craft beer from sustainable ingredients inspired by their culture.
Known as the original Californians, the Rincon Band of Luiseño Indians flourished for over 14,000 years. Luiseño is famous for their trail; they used to travel through the mountains to hunt for game, establishing tribal villages at Rincon and Pauma. Today, the Indigenous trail is called the Rincon Reservation Road, recognized as a historical expedition trail through several modern Native Reservations–including Rincon, Pechanga, Soboba, Pala, Pauma, and La Jolla.
Rincon Reservation Road Brewery invites you to travel the historic route through their finely crafted beers inspired by their Indigenous culture that continues to thrive in our modern era.
Tribal Affiliation: Ricon Band of Luiseño Indians
777 S Resort Drive
Valley Center, California 92082
Facebook: Rincon Reservation Road Brewery
210 Brewing Company
(Stillaguamish – Arlington, Washington)
210 Brewing Company holds the incredible honor of being the first tribal-owned brewery in the state of Washington, featuring a wide array of innovative handcrafted, award-winning beers.
The Washington brewery owned by the Stillaguamish Tribe takes pride in its ever-evolving beer selection, guaranteeing its patrons will always find something they love.
In addition to its taproom, 210 also offers gaming experiences, entertainment, dining, and bars, as well as unique partnerships with hotels and more where you can enjoy their deliciously crafted beers. Their local brewery and pub have many famous food options to pair with their beers.
Tribal Affiliation: Stillaguamish
3438 Stoluckquamish Lane
Arlington, Washington 98223
Facebook: 210 Brewing Co
Native American Brewing Co.
(ᏣᎳᎫᏪᏘᏱ Tsalaguwetiyi, Cherokee [East] – Cherokee, North Carolina)
Founded in 2018, Native American Brewing Company is a Native women-owned business that continues the rich tradition of Cherokee brewing – celebrating the history of fermented drinks and their connection to the land.
Their website states that Native American Brewing “brings together heritage and the Earth’s bounty to create craft beverages with a deep connection to the land and the tribe’s rich past.” Recognizing their personal history, Native Brewing recognizes the healing powers of the medicine man in their craft beer, with their center icon and logo signifying health, wealth, and prosperity.
As a granddaughter of one of the Eastern Band of the Cherokee Indians last recorded medicine men, their co-founder, Collette Coggins, is a living link to their dependence upon the fruits of the Earth to nourish and heal.
Their images and logos are meant to remind us of a time when the medicine man reaped the blessings of the Earth to help the Cherokee people thrive and flourish.
Tribal Affiliation: Eastern Band of the Cherokee Indians
1897 Tsali Blvd.
Cherokee, North Carolina 28719
Facebook: Native American Brewing Co.
To learn more about how Native American breweries are reclaiming their Indigenous alcohol heritage or to tip us off on other Native breweries we should highlight, contact us via our Instagram and Twitter pages.
Beer is for Everyone acknowledges with gratitude that our work takes place on the traditional unceded lands of the Nuwuvi People of the Southern Paiute. As an Indigenous-founded and -run organization, we offer this article with an immense appreciation for our cousins of Turtle Island.
*We recognize that the Brewers Association data may be missing or incomplete.
The land names were researched and included from Native Land Digital. The tribal affiliations were gathered from publicly accessible information. If the place names or tribal affiliations are incorrect, please send us an email (email@example.com) so that we may fix it.