August 14 is National Navajo Code Talkers Day. Hellbender Brewing Company honors Navajo Code Talkers by brewing and releasing its third iteration of Code Talkers American Pale Ale, available for pre-order.
LT Goodluck, Hellbender Brewer, who created the recipe (though, to be fair, he creates and collaborates on nearly every Hellbender recipe). Goodluck got his grandfather’s image perfectly situated on the label of his Code Talkers American Pale Ale. John V. Goodluck served in the U.S. Marine Corps during World War II. In the full photo he’s wearing khaki pants which signify the earth; a yellow shirt signifying corn pollen; and a red garrison cap, the scarlet of the Marine Corps.
“My grandfather (nali hastin in Navajo), pictured on the Code Talker label is also wearing traditional Navajo pieces which include a turquoise necklace, leather pouch with a shoulder strap, and a bow guard which represents a warrior. He is also wearing a Navajo Code Talker medal,” says Goodluck the younger. “In my Navajo ways it is important that I first acknowledge who I am and where I come from. I am Navajo (Diné) from Chinle, AZ on the Navajo Reservation. My clans are To’ahani (Near the Water), Tábąąhí (Water’s Edge), To’tsonii (Big Water), and Tó’aheedlíinii (Water Flows Together).”
Per Hellbender, “As a Native American brewer, it was important for LT to bring awareness to the history of the Navajo Code Talkers,” and while Navajo Code Talkers have an official day, there are still too few who know the importance of their role in our history.
“Native American history is American history,” says Missy Begay, co-founder and creative director of Bow & Arrow Brewing Co. “Often Navajo children learn about the important role the Navajo Code Talkers played in American history. The Code Talkers are viewed as modern day heroes. Growing up on the Navajo Nation, you could see the Code Talkers as Grand Marshalls in the Navajo Nation parade, read about their experience in books, or see them at school presentations,” Begay recalls.
While there is no question the importance of the role the Navajo Code Talkers played to the United States in World War II, their legend is not as well known as those white founding fathers from wars centuries earlier.
“I’ll be honest, if I were taught it in public school, there was so little discussion about it that I don’t remember” relays Chelsea Bailey, Freelance Food and Beverage Social Media consultant. Owner of 21stamendmentgirl, Bailey has consulted for multiple local breweries and helped with DC Beer Week last year. She is Northern Arapaho, from the Windriver Reservation in Wyoming. “I’m a pretty big World War II history nerd, so when the movie ‘Windtalkers’ came out in 2002, my Mom explained to me the history.”
Beyond the storied Navajo Code Talkers who served the United States in WWII, there were also Code Talkers in WWI. “We were taught about Navajo Code Talkers in high school, though I think I first heard the story from my father. My father’s family comes from the Choctaw Nation, and the Choctaw had also served as code talkers, back in World War I,” says Evan Rail, a writer for the New York Times and author of Why Beer Matters.
While too few know the praise the Code Talkers deserve, there is a through line to military members today. “Native American service in the military remains the highest out of all minority/POC groups. The concept of what is meant to be a true ‘warrior’ is exemplified in this cultural teaching,” says Begay.
The projected packaging for the 15 barrel batch of Code Talkers American Pale Ale is about 140 cases of cans and five to six half barrel kegs. Though the concept of the beer hasn’t changed–a beer using hops traditionally found in more malt forward traditional pale ales but with a greater emphasis on the aroma and flavor of the older varieties–Hellbender made a slight tweak to the beer. “The first recipe for Code Talker pale ale was dry-hopped with Columbus, Chinook and Comet. My original plan was to make the Code Talker a rotating hop series pale ale,” Goodluck says. “However, after a visit to B & D hop farms in Oregon for the 2019 hop harvest, I changed the recipe to include Cascade and Centennial hops. The owners of B & D farms were winners of the Cascade Cup in 2016 and 2019, as shown by the trophy the owners proudly showed Ben and I. The Cascade Cup is a yearly competition among U.S. Cascade hop farmers.”
Brewer Goodluck said to expect “spicy, citrus aroma and the piney, grapefruit flavor,” which was “exactly what I was aiming for with the Code Talker pale ale,” and so he decided to continue that combination of hops.
Beyond the quality of the ale Goodluck has cranked out, his beer does a service to American history and the legacy of his grandfather. “Unfortunately, you often see misappropriation of our culture by non-Native people with no authentic connection or understanding of the imagery they depict,” writes Begay. “It was quite refreshing for me to see an authentic representation in this industry.”
Rail had never seen a Navajo Code Talker on a label before. “However, I just checked Untappd, where there are at least a dozen beers with the same not-cool name as Washington’s [former] football team, so yeah: we’ve got a long way to go.”
Part of progressing is knowing the past and recognizing our role in reshaping the future. According to Bailey, “in our own modern history we have seen the treatment of tribes as they have fought to protect their lands from the North Dakota pipeline.”
“Is there any dispute that the US government and state governments dispossessed Native Americans of their land and legal rights? It seems pretty obvious” writes Rail.
So honor the Navajo Code Talkers in whatever way you see fit. Everyone must believe in something, we believe we’ll go enjoy some of Goodluck’s beer.