The Book of Mormon indicates that its people cultivated intoxicating beverages. For example, King Noah planted vineyards and he and his people were wine-bibbers (Mosiah 11:15). As might be expected, the Jaredites as well as the people of Lehi had an appreciation for their wine and even tried to use the beverage as a strategy to gain advantage over each other in times of captivity and war (Mosiah 22:7-10; Alma 55:8-15, 30-32; Ether 14:5). Jesus instituted the sacramental use of wine in remembrance of his atoning sacrifice.
In his forthcoming book, Mormon’s Codex, John Sorenson writes:
The only beverage the Book of Mormon explicitly mentions is “wine.” The Spanish conquerors of Mexico reported a number of types of wine in use. These were made from substances as varied as bananas, palm sap, tree bark plus honey, the maguey plant, pineapple, and other fruits. Technically these would be classed today as beers rather than wines, but 16th-century Spaniards called all of them “wine.” Mesoamericans apparently had no knowledge of the distilling process, so when in Alma 55:32 the Nephite historian writes of “all their liquors,” we can infer that he refers only to “wines,” as the context makes more or less clear.
Although grapes were sometimes used in the manufacture of wine (the Opata of northern Mexico made a red wine of native grapes; grapes were known in the Gulf Coast area and also among the Maya of Yucatan), we need not read the “vineyards” (Mosiah 11:15) of Zeniffite King Noah as referring to grape plantings. In 17th-century Guatemala, Father Thomas Gage spoke of “vineyards” of maguey plants from which the drink pulque was made.
Our understanding of wine in ancient Mesoamerica was enhanced 30 years ago when Martínez M. excavated a site of Late Pre-Classic date (first centuries BC and AD) beside the Grijalva River in Chiapas (the location that is taken here to be the land of Zarahemla). There he carefully recovered and studied all traces of plant remains. He found seeds of Vitis vinifera, the wine grape known in Europe, from which he concluded that the fruit had been used to manufacture wine equivalent to that of the Old World. Thus the Book of Mormon statements about wine could turn out to refer either to that drink in the usual European sense or to alternative Mesoamerican intoxicants that were based on other fruits.
From John L. Sorenson, Mormon’s Codex: An Ancient American Book (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book and the Neal A. Maxwell Institute, 2013), 308.