After Helping Overturn a 184-Year-Old Booze Ban on Native American Reservations, This Company Is Helping Tribes Open Distilleries

Heritage Distilling Company launched a partnership with the Tonto Apache Tribe to build a distillery and tasting room near the Mazatal Hotel and Casino in Payson, Arizona, the brand announced Thursday. In addition to producing and serving Heritage’s portfolio of spirits, it will also serve brands distilled by the Tonto Apache Tribe, showcasing local flavors of the region.

The Washington-based distilling company, Heritage, was co-founded by Justin and Jennifer Stiefel. The team noticed the injustice done to the Native American communities and wanted to create a mutually beneficial organization to partner with Native American Tribes and develop Heritage-branded distilleries to serve casino patrons.

“Spirits production and sales is the next major source of financial growth for tribes. With more than 524 tribal casinos in operation, along with their hotels, golf courses, arenas, resorts and retail spaces that sell adult beverages, distilling and spirits production is the next logical extension of their development,” Heritage co-founder Justin Stiefel said in a news release. “For 184 years, tribes were shut out of the spirits industry by antiquated Andrew Jackson-era legislation. Now, they will be primed to join an industry as it enters a growth cycle.”

The bit of legislation Stiefel is referring to was passed by Jackson’s administration in 1834. The law made any distilling operations illegal, with penalties that included fines and asset forfeiture. Although it officially stated the purpose of the booze ban was to “preserve peace on the frontiers,” its real reasons are believed to have been deeply mired in racism, as U.S. soldiers were exempt from the ban.

It was not until December 2018 that the offensive ban was repealed in a rare bipartisan move by Congress after an initiative was pushed by the Chehalis Tribe for wanting to sell its own spirits.

The Chehalis Tribe tapped Heritage Distilling to help lobby to congress to overturn the ban.

The partnership with the Tonto Apache tribe will be Heritage’s first partnership in the Southwest.

“We have spent considerable time with the team from Heritage and we have toured their facilities in the Pacific Northwest. After seeing them help to change federal law to make this a legal activity for Tribes across the U.S., we are excited to open a tribally-owned distillery in partnership with them harnessing their experience, expertise and top-level reputation in the craft spirits space,” Tribal Chairman Calvin Johnson said.

“When fuel and cigarette taxes decline from those industries becoming less viable in the coming years, and the need to attract new patrons to casinos as consumers shift their habits away from beer and wine into spirits, the Tribal Beverage Network’s goal is to help tribes grow their local economies and allow them to offset those shifts,” Stiefel concluded.

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