Wine Importing and Marketing Services

How 5 Drink Pros Are Shining a Light on Native American Culture

From left, Curtis Basina of Copper Crow; Rik Mazzetti of RECO; Danielle and Alan Goldtooth of Dii IINA / Photos courtesy of Copper Crow, REDCO and Miniiya Coile

As Indigenous Americans are taking their rightful place in tourism and hospitality, many are also shining a light on drinks, including ingredients and techniques that are important to their individual cultures.

We spoke with five people currently working with Indigenous food and drinks about their current projects and what they are most excited about now, in terms of the beverages they make and/or serve. Of note: in addition to thoughtful approaches to wine, beer and spirits, many Indigenous-owned venues prefer to focus on drinks that don’t include alcohol. Sugar, which is considered a colonial ingredient, also is notably omitted from some programs.

Of course, ingredients and approaches to drinks vary widely, depending on the region and various tribes, as well as the individuals making the drinks.

“There are more than 500 recognized tribes in the U.S.,” explains Danielle C. Goldtooth, an Arizona-based bartender, rancher and entrepreneur. “The one thing we all have in common is there are only so many of us left.”

Curtis Basina, Distiller and Co-Owner, Copper Crow Distillery

Bayfield, WI (Red Cliff Band of Lake Superior Chippewa)

Curtis Basina of Copper Crow / Photo Courtesy of Copper Crow Distillery

At Copper Crow, which makes vodka and gin from Wisconsin whey, as well as a wheat-based vodka and rum, “most of what we do with spirits is no different that what anybody else does,” Basina explains.

That’s a deliberate choice. “We try really hard to walk a pretty fine line when it comes to mixing the heritage and particularly Indigenous foods,” he says. Case in point: while wild rice grows abundantly in the Great Lakes region, Basina won’t be making it into vodka.

“It’s a food staple for the Native people,” he notes. “We don’t want to use a food staple to make spirits, possibly depriving Native people of a good food source.”

That said, “we don’t hesitate to use seasonal sugar sources in our cocktails in the tasting room,” he says. Indigenous ingredients like maple and birch syrup sweeten drinks, while strawberries, raspberries, blueberries and apples are cocktail mainstays.

Danielle C. Goldtooth, Owner of Dii IINA Food Start to Finish

Dudleyville, AZ (Dinè tribe)

Danielle and Alan Goldtooth, owners of Dii IINA / Photo Courtesy of Miniiya Coile

A year ago, Goldtooth began what she describes as “a trek for food sovereignty”: she moved her family from Phoenix to Dudleyville, Arizona, where her husband became a rancher, and she learned how to slaughter animals. Her company, Dii IINA, means “this life” in Navajo, and it’s about helping her community “fend for itself and find ways to feed itself.”

Foraging is part of the mission, and ties into her previous work as a bartender. One current project: a dinner pairing collaboration with winemaker (and film-maker) Sam Pillsbury of Pillsbury Wine, for which she makes cocktails with syrups made from foraged saguaro fruit; a kumquat shrub made with kumquats grown in Pillsbury’s yard, or a tincture made from corn steamed in an earthen oven. “A huge portion of my cocktail program is based on foraged and farm-fresh goods,” she explains. “When I use ingredients that come from my heritage, I’m proud to share.”

As a Native American bartender, she also sees education regarding alcohol as part of her mission, including dismantling harmful stereotypes and raising visibility for her community.