Creek, Cherokee and thier maize beer.Article 16 of 18 The Amerindian beers and the psychoactive plants.

The Amerindians of the Great Northwest.


Many of the northern tribes had increased contact with the White population between 1804-1806 when Lewis and Clark and other US Army teams explored this area. By that time most tribes had knowledge of alcoholic beverages (Weibel-Orlando, 1986). There is no evidence that alcohol was produced in this region prior to White contact or that any of their ceremonies contained any ritual drinking of non-alcoholic beverages as in the South-eastern Tribes (Abbot 1996, 7-8). In the northwest, the Kwakiutl of Vancouver Island produced a mildly alcoholic drink using elderberry juice, black chitons, and tobacco[1].

Despite the fact that they had little to no agriculture, both the Aleuts and Yuit of Kodiak Island in Alaska were observed making alcoholic drinks from fermented raspberries. The Aleut had first White contact with Russian sailors who brought with them and later manufactured "kvass". This was an alcoholic beverage that was made from grain, apples, or roots and thought to prevent scurvy: "The Aleuts, however, did not need smuggled liquor, for since over a century [before the purchase of Alaska by the US government in 1867] they has adapted to their own use the art of making kvass, which they prepared by fermenting sugar, flour, hops, dried apples, and perhaps berries together with water in a large barrel. Before the mixture worked clear they drew off a thick, sour liquid that was an effective source of alcohol". "For most Koniag users, however, kvass remained the staple drink. It was prepared in much the same way as in the Aleutians, with seemingly more emphasis on the use of potatoes and berries" (Fortuine 1989, 291). Initially, alcohol was only a problem for the Russian sailors but became a serious problem later for the Aleut. Natives of this region, too, learned to prepare kvass and had access to bootlegged whiskey (Abbot 1996, 9).  The other account was by Davydov in 1807 who claimed that the Koniag, a tribal group of southeastern Alaska named the Kolosh by the Russians, who were Southern Eskimo (Yuit), made an alcoholic beverage : "However, the Koniagas did get drunk before the Russians came, on the fermented juice of raspberries and bilberries"[2]. Davydov confirms that : "The Russians on the other hand use the whortleberry and fern roots to make kvass." (Davydov 175).

The Aleuts or Koniag drank fermented berry and fruit drinks before their first contact with Russian settlers in the late 18th century. Did they brew beer? Did they have starchy plant resources like the roots used by the Tlingits (Kolosh)? This remains an unsettled issue.

Beer is an ancient beverage brewed in parts of the world where it is not expected. Native Hawaiians (Kanaka Maoli) produced the okolehao beer from the roots of the ti plant (Cordyline fruticosa)[3]. This plant is of great cultural importance to the traditional animistic religions of Austronesian and Papuan peoples of the Pacific Islands, New Zealand, Island Southeast Asia, and Papua New Guinea. It is also cultivated for food and traditional medicine. Its roots contain mainly carbohydrates which can be converted into fermentable sugars by roasting or saliva, then produce a traditional beer after fermentation. Hawaii was settled at least 800 years ago with the voyage of Polynesians from the Society Islands. They probably have brewed the okolehao beer from the very beginnings of their settling, or even earlier in their original lands, although the history of this beverage is unknow apart the oral tradition of the Kanaka Maoli and their ceremonies. The Russian and English seamen are said to have introduce the distillation techniques around 1790[4]. Most were whalers and used big iron pots to extract the oil from the whale blubber. The name okolehao is said to literally means "iron butt", from Hawaiian ʻōkole ("butt") + hao ("iron"). Short after these first contacts with White people, the Hawaiians learn how to distil the okolehao beer and make a strong spirit, using these "iron butt" as a still apparatus.

The conversion of beer into distilled alcohol has dramatically changed the social role of this fermented drink. Okolehao gradually lost its link with the sacred plant and became a commercial alcohol. Cane sugar, pineapple juice and other sugary substances were added to increase the alcohol content. The name has been preserved, but the distilled okolehao bears little relationship to the original beer of the pre-contact Hawaiians.


[1] Lemert, EM (1954). Alcohol and the Northwest Coast Indians. University of California Publications in Culture and Society, vol 2, No. 6.

[2] Davydov Gavriil Ivanovich (1977). Two Voyages to Russian America, 1802-1807. Limestone Press. Translated by Colin Bearne. p. 176. Russian text

[3] Keaulana Kimo, Scoot Whitney, Ka Wai Kau Mai O Maleka Water from America: The Intoxication of the Hawai'ian People, Contemporary Drug Problems, 1990:161–194.

[4] Okolehao legend has it that captains Nathaniel Portlock and George Dixon invented the drink in May 1786 to find a source of vitamins against scurvy by cooking roots of the Ti plant or by letting them ferment in a hole dug in the ground. In 1791, Portlock accompanied Bligh on his second voyage to transport and transplant breadfruit (Artocarpus altilis) from Tahiti to the island of Jamaica. These fruits are also used to brew beer in the Pacific Islands. The natives used these plants to brew beer before the arrival of the Europeans. The distillation of these plants was introduced by the Europeans.


Creek, Cherokee and thier maize beer.Article 16 of 18 The Amerindian beers and the psychoactive plants.