Why didn't Native Americans develop alcohol?

So, I remember reading about early settlers introducing liquor to the Indians, and how they were unaccustomed to the stuff. Apparently this created problems up to the present day, with high rates of alcoholism on Indian reservations etc.

Did any Native Americans start making alcohol on their own before Europeans arrived? It seems like someone would have figured out that when old berries have been sitting around for awhile they have interesting effects. If they didn’t, why not?

Also, what about Central Americans?

Of course they did. The thing you have to keep in mind though, is that they had “natural” aclohols. That is, products from natural fermentation. They did not have sophisticated breweries or stills to refine and concentrate the alcoholic content of fruit juices, or access to clean cultures that would provide alcohol in large amounts without rancidification of fats and oils in the mix.

Natural fermentation produces pretty low alcoholic content - usually less than 4%, which is about the strength of most beers. Distillation is required to get above that and produce liquors, and that requires some pretty spiffy science and engineering.

A drink called Chicha was made by the Incas in Pre-Columbian times. It was made by chewing up corn and spitting into a vat or pit and letting the juice ferment. It is still popular today, although usually made without the help of saliva.

Certain Yucatan Mayas gave themselves alcoholic-beverage enemas, as part of some religious ritual or other. Probably some mind of pulque or tepache… like others have noted, fermented, not distilled.

Or just a cold winter.

The drink in pre-Hispanic Mexico was pulque, an alcoholic beverage with a milky appearance brewed from the sap of a plant.

The pulp surrounding the beans in a Cacao pod was and sometimes still is fermented for an alcoholic drink.

Alcohol and Fry Bread probably are the smallpox of today’s Native Americans.

Some American Indians did and do make alcoholic drinks. The Tarahumara indians of the Sierra Madre in Mexico make a beer they call tesgüino from corn, agave or wheat, and drink a lot of it. They also have a well known tradition of long distance running, so they burn a lot of calories.

Isn’t this the old primitive society v. civilization thing?

Europeans had segments of their society devoted to producing, transporting and marketing alcohol (and high % alcohol–whiskey) which was a commercial commodity. Native Americans in what became the US didn’t.

Alcoholism woud surely have been almost impossible to support before the availability of the commodity alcohol. A seasonal treat is one thing, a pantry staple another.

If you spent your life in essence camping and had to stop and make Twinkies from available materials in the wild you’d likely never get to be a big fat Twinkie-eater. But if you camped next to a 7-11, hey.

Which you can find commercial versions of in well-stocked Hispanic liquor stores. You can kind of think of it as the beer/wine version of mezcal/tequila. It’s made from the agave plant, but not distilled.

Few, if any, pre-Columbian populations spent their lives “in essence camping”. Most were agriculturalists. And there were huge urban populations in many areas.

I have a personal theory that every culture has figured out how to make some kind of alcoholic beverage. I haven’t found a counterexample yet, but then again I haven’t tried too hard.

This page claims that the Aztecs were perfectly familiar with Alcohol but that the penalties for public drunkenness were incredibly severe (death by strangulation).

So it’s not that they were unfamiliar with alcohol, it’s that when their civilization collapsed after Cortes conquest, there were no longer any prohibitions on alcohol consumption.

Or some mind-altering drug. Homo intoxicatus– that’s us!

They had peyote. And cocaine.

That kind of chicha, or chicha fuerte, was made throughout much of tropical America, and still is today. I’ve had chicha made by Embera Indians in Darien in Panama, which I believe was made by the traditional saliva method.

The Indian societies that I’m familiar with make chicha only for special occasions; it’s not something that’s available for daily consumption. They make huge vats of the stuff for meetings between tribes or other events. The Kuna in Panama have celebrations, known as “chichas,” when a girl reaches puberty. It’s considered virtually a religious duty (seriously) by both men and women to consume as much chica as possible and get as drunk as you can. I’ve been in a Kuna village for a chicha and even the oldest grandmothers whoop it up. But outside of the chichas, they don’t drink at all (at least not traditionally).

They chewed coca leaves, which is rather different from using purified cocaine. Are you saying that they literally used cocaine?

You’ve got to wonder why anyone was inspired to suggest “Let’s shove it up there and see what happens”.

Especially since getting drunk usually comes first.