Equity has no borders, so it was only a matter of time for it to arrive at food and drink. While there’s still a long way to go, there have been some significant gains for BIPOC players in the sectors of eateries, wineries, distilleries, and more.
We’ve seen indigenous communities launch successful brands in places like British Columbia and New Zealand. Native peoples are now doing the same in beer, starting up labels all over America. There are relatively few, to be sure, but the movement is a vital one, injecting some due justice in an arena that’s been fairly one-sided for a long, long time.
Here are some ale-making companies owned and operated by indigenous communities that are worth keeping in mind next time your thirsting for a cold one (or two).
Based in Albuquerque, Bow & Arrow is the brainchild of Shyla Sheppard. A member of of the Three Affiliated Tribes in North Dakota where she was raised, Sheppard started the brewery in 2013. The brewery sticks to its southwestern roots, turning out things like Desert Revival, an oak-aged sour made with brett and local cherries.
What ends up on the label includes iconic regional fixtures like roadrunners, towering rock formations, and starry skies. The brand makes a Sunwest Kolsch and Quarantine Sunset Hazy IPA, among many others. Better still, the brewery’s co-founder and creative director, Missy Begay, is a member of the Navajo Nation. An offsite taproom is currently in the works, set to open later this year in Farmington, New Mexico.
Named after the Seven Clans of the Cherokee band, this North Carolina brewery is run primarily by indigenous women. The beer portfolio includes Hop-Rooted IPA, Bended Tree Chestnut Brown Ale, and 7 Clans Blonde Ale. The brown ale in particular touts an interesting backstory, as area bent trees are believed by the Cherokee to be navigational guides. The brewery is set in Cherokee Nation in the western part of the state, home to lush forested mountains that the band has called home for countless generations.
Oklahoma’s Skydance Brewing started in late 2018. The brewery says its purpose is twofold — to tell the story of its people through beer and inspire Native American youth to follow its lead and launch their own businesses. Jake Keyes of the Ioway band is responsible for the Oklahoma City company. He caught the beer bug at home early on, watching his dad engage in home brewing experiments.
Presently, Skydance crafts a number of beers, from a New England style IPA called Fancy Dance to an amber by the name of Mosquito Hawk. There are fitting names involved, like Rex Dog (a blonde ale) and The 49, an oatmeal stout that gets its title from late night parties typically held in undisclosed locations on the reservation after powwows. The brewery also dabbles in some creative releases, such as a DDH series that re-creates flagship beers with new types of hops.
While not indigenously owned, SouthNorte brings a welcome kind of awareness to its craft. The San Diego producer also has a satellite location across the border in Tijuana and routinely collaborates with Mexican and indigenous people. Brewmaster Ryan Brooks spends ample time in both countries, coming up with recipes that genuinely reflect the surroundings. Beers include a lager made with agave and hibiscus, an IPA made with mango and spices, and a Mexican-style lager. The cross-border affair is especially important these days, as tension builds over immigration and much of America looks inward as opposed to outward, or through a whitewashed lens that fails to recognize its own diversity.
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