Tonto Apache Tribe to build distillery

Every spirit has a story. That is, according to Jennifer Stiefel, president of the Heritage Distilling Company.

Founded in 2011, the Washington State-based company, which makes whiskey, vodka, gin and craft cocktails, is coming to Payson. The move is part of a partnership with the Tonto Apache Tribe and the Apache Corners project.

“We have spent considerable time with the team from Heritage and we have toured their facilities in the Pacific Northwest,” said Tribal Chair Calvin Johnson. “After seeing them help to change the 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.”

Unless you’re an Andrew Jackson history buff, you wouldn’t know that tribes have not been allowed to distill spirits since 1834, when Jackson made it illegal.

Heritage co-founders the Stiefel’s, Jennifer and her husband Justin, saw both an injustice done to Native American indigenous communities and a mutually beneficial economic opportunity to create national distribution for Heritage’s portfolio of craft spirits. The couple partnered with the Chehalis Indian Tribe to lobby Congress in 2018 to repeal the ban on distilleries in Indian country.

Together, they created the Tribal Beverage Network (TBN), a first-of-its kind partnership with Native American Tribes to develop Heritage-branded distilleries, brands, and tasting rooms to serve patrons of tribal casinos and entertainment venues.

Heritage Distillery’s first project is the Talking Cedar distillery with the Chehalis Tribe in Washington, with a tasting room, distillery programs and a restaurant.

For the past decade, Heritage has been most awarded craft distillery in North America by the American Distilling Institute.

“We will be the first Heritage Distilling location in the southwest and we are excited to offer this new amenity to our current patrons and the next generation of patrons we know are coming to the Mazatzal Hotel & Casino and to our new Apache Corners development,” said Johnson.

Heritage has two distilleries and five tasting rooms across Washington and Oregon, along with their brand location in partnership with the Chehalis Indian Tribe in Rochester, Wash.

As a TBN partner, the Tonto Apache-owned and operated destination will also offer several selections including a tasting room that features Heritage spirits like Cocoa Bomb Chocolate Whiskey, Heritage Canned Cocktails, Florescence Vodka (a partnership with celebrity Chef Danielle Kartes & Rustic Joyful Food), Stiefel’s Select Single Barrel and Small Batch whiskeys, and Special Forces Whiskey, among others.

“Spirits production and sales is the next major source of financial growth for tribes,” said Justin Stiefel. “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. For 184 years, tribes were shut out of the spirits industry by antiquated Andrew Jackson-era legislation. Now, they will be primed to join the industry as it enters a growth cycle.”

Just in time, as Justin sees a decline in the revenue sources from the past.

“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,” he said.

The Tonto Apache Tribe is the second Native Indian group to announce their entrance to the Tribal Beverage Network. Heritage has several other tribes signed up under its model with announcements for each location and tribal partnership to be unveiled based on each tribe’s respective timeline for development. For more information on Heritage Distilling Company and the Tribal Beverage Network, visit

Apache Corners is a multiyear development managed by a Local Solutions on behalf of the Tonto Apache Nation. In addition to the recently announced Heritage Distilling Company location, the Apache Corners master plan includes a grocery store, new health care clinic, restaurants, new convenience store, manufacturing and distribution spaces, office space and expanded accommodations and amenities at the Mazatzal Casino & Hotel in Payson. Total investment in the project is expected to be nearly $100 million once all development is complete. More information can be found at