For Native Americans, the path to craft brewing wasn’t an easy one. From 1832 until the mid-20th century, federal law didn’t even allow tribal citizens to consume beer, let alone produce it. Given this history, it’s no surprise that Native Americans are underrepresented among brewers in the United States. According to a 2021 survey by the Brewers Association, just 0.4 percent of U.S. breweries have Native American owners, compared to nearly 94 percent of brewery owners who are white.
This is slowly changing as Native American tribes enter the craft brewing business. California, home to more than 100 federally recognized tribes, now boasts four Native-owned breweries. This includes Rincon Reservation Road Brewery, Southern California’s first certified Native American–owned and –operated brewery on tribal land.
“Opening a brewery on the reservation was a big deal for us because of the ‘firewater’ stigma,” says Rik Mazzetti, Chairman of the Rincon Economic Development Corporation. “That was one of the ways that Hollywood portrayed us back in the day. You give an Indian firewater and he's going to go crazy.” (The notion that Native Americans are genetically disposed to alcohol abuse has since been disproven by scientific studies.)
Mazzetti says he sees the brewery not just as a revenue stream to help support the tribe, but as a way to dispel such myths and share stories about Luiseño history and culture. With talks underway of potentially forming a coalition of tribe-owned California breweries, he says, Native Americans are forging a modern brewing tradition.
“We're all about sitting down and trading cultures,” says Mazzetti, “and what better way than over a beer.”
Here are four Native American–owned craft breweries to visit and support, from Humboldt County in the north to San Diego in the south.
Mad River Brewing, Blue Lake
Founded in 1989, Humboldt County’s Mad River Brewing began a new chapter in 2019 when the Yurok Tribe purchased the brewery. The Yurok people, California’s largest federally recognized tribe, have lived in Humboldt and Del Norte counties for generations.
Mad River’s taproom is a laid-back spot near the brewery’s namesake river. Grab a bar seat inside the taproom, decorated with Yurok art, or relax at an umbrella-shaded picnic table on the patio. Brews include the award-winning Steelhead Extra Pale Ale, Historic State Park IPA—a fundraiser for the Humboldt Lagoons State Park—and Undammed Hard Hopped Seltzer, created to raise awareness about the Yurok’s campaign to remove dams and restore the Klamath River.
Paskenta Brewery and Distillery, Corning
Paskenta Brewery and Distillery in Tehama County is owned by the Paskenta Band of Nomlaki Indians. Located at the Rolling Hills Casino Resort about 100 miles north of Sacramento, the operation opened in 2021 as the state’s first tribal-owned distillery.
The Paskenta taproom features cushy booths and large windows that offer views of the operation’s gleaming tanks and copper stills. Paskenta’s Obsidian Spirits lineup owes its name to the volcanic glass that Native Americans traditionally use to make arrowheads and other tools. As part of Obsidian’s production process, spirits flow over a large piece of uncut obsidian donated by a tribal elder.
Beer options include Shapeshifter IPA, Paskenta Gold Golden Ale, Wintun Wheat, and Slot Lizard American-style light beer.
Feather Falls Brewing Company, Oroville
Feather Falls Brewing Co. sits within the Feather Falls Casino & Lodge in Butte County, owned by the Concow-Maidu of Mooretown Rancheria. Tribe members are descendants of ancient Northwestern Maidu people who migrated to the foothills east of Oroville around 1500 B.C. The Concow-Maidu tribe opened the Feather Falls Casino in 1996, adding the brewery four years later.
Step into the sleek brewery and restaurant to sip craft creations such as Broken Arrow West Coast IPA, Naughty Native American IPA, Coyote Spirit Amber Ale, and Raging Raptor Czech-Style Pilsner. Feather Falls also serves an array of seasonal brews, along with hand-tossed pizzas and sushi.
Rincon Reservation Road (3R Brewery), San Diego
Rincon Reservation Road Brewery (also known as 3R Brewery) is Southern California’s first tribally owned and operated brewery, named for the Indigenous trail long traveled by the 14,000-year-old hunter-gatherer Luiseño tribe. Set on the Rincon Band of Luiseño Indians Reservation, 3R launched in 2019 and opened a satellite taproom in Ocean Beach in 2022.
The Valley Center brewery, set next to Harrah’s Resort north of San Diego, features bar and living room–style seating, backyard-style games, and multiple big-screen TVs. This is the place to sip with casino-goers and Luiseño locals. The Ocean Beach outpost has a laid-back surfer vibe with a Native American twist.
3R makes more than 15 brews and each has a story to tell. Rez Dog Hefeweizen is a tribute to a scrappy sort of tribal citizen known affectionately as a “rez dog.” Oasis Blonde Ale is named for a sacred place on the Luiseño reservation where palm trees grow. 3R brews all of its beers with aquifer water from the reservation, and in the next couple years, the tribe plans to add reservation-grown hops to the mix.