Bow & Arrow Brewing Co. in Albuquerque, NM holds the distinction of being the only Native woman-owned brewery in the country, but co-founders Shyla Sheppard and Missy Begay aren’t just resting on the laurels of that achievement. The pair met when they were both students at Stanford University where they discovered a mutual love for craft beers, as well as for each other. They began homebrewing together in the years following graduation while pursuing careers outside the beer industry.
Begay pursued medicine, graduating from the University of New Mexico School of Medicine and still practicing as an internist concentrating on sleep issues. She focuses on branding plus marketing and design development for Bow & Arrow in addition to her busy schedule as a physician. Sheppard leveraged her Economics degree and entered the world of venture capital, concentrating on social impact investing seeking out opportunities to generate a measurable, beneficial social or environmental impact along with a financial return. As President and CEO of Bow and Arrow, Sheppard keeps a laser focus on the mission of the brewery and all the details from large to small, including the development and execution of their business plan, financing strategies, team-building and the design/development of the brewery and onsite Beer Hall. Recently, Bow and Arrow has announced plans for their first off-site tasting room in the Four Corners Region in Farmington, NM, so Sheppard should be plenty busy in the next few months.
Although both founders have experience as brewers, they knew that they wanted to add to their pool of expertise, so they hired Ted O’Hanlan as head brewer to bring his years of experience working in breweries like Fullsteam in North Carolina and Black Tooth in Wyoming. In concert with the founding partners, O’Hanlan has helped Bow & Arrow earn a vaunted reputation for crafting beers inspired by the terroir and ingredients of the Southwest, with a special emphasis on wild yeast fermentations and barrel-aged products.
Visitors to their stunning modern brewing facility and taproom are greeted with an ever-changing roster of beers. Perusing the descriptions of their products is like reading poetry about their native region, and their passion for New Mexico, their heritage and local ingredients comes through in the creative narratives. Coyote Cool Red Saison is described as a “Red Saison [that] spent 8 months in oak barrels with Brettanomyces and invokes a bit of mischief as a gregarious coyote having fun amidst the wandering arroyos and sunlit New Mexican sky.” Bow & Arrow’s seasonal Super Bien Mexican-style Lager is characterized as a ”Crisp, refreshing Mexican-style lager brewed with local blue corn and brimming with sun-kissed toasty floral aroma, finishing semi dry with a little pepper bite from Saaz hops.” Clearly, Begay and Sheppard must have studied at least a little creative writing at Stanford!
Sheppard is a member of the Three Affiliated Tribes while Begay is a member of the Diné Nation, and they both strive to maintain Bow & Arrow as an inclusive and welcoming locale for members of indigenous tribes as well as members of the LGBTQ community. The brewery and its mission seeks to combine ancient traditions with modern sensibilities without sacrificing the artistic contributions of either. A lovely snapshot of Southwestern culture and entrepreneurship, the brewery that Begay and Sheppard have founded is firmly grounded in place and time and should continue to evolve to even greater heights in the future.
Sheppard was gracious enough to take time from her busy schedule to answer a few more of our questions about what she and Begay and accomplished and what’s in their future plans.
How has your previous career prepared you for the brewery business?
SS: In terms of getting things off the ground, my experiences as an investor in small, privately-held businesses gave me some visibility into getting a business started and some of the common pitfalls that new businesses often face.
Describe your relationship working with your head brewer, Ted O’Hanlan.
SS: I work closely with Ted on a daily basis. We work really well together and are both passionate about local ingredients, wild yeast and our wood-aged program. We have unique skill sets and experiences and respect what each of us contributes to Bow & Arrow. On a given day, we may be discussing our pipeline of new beers, brainstorming interesting ingredients, tasting barrels, touching base on our hops contracts or our next bottle release.
How do you describe your beer stylistically?
SS: We brew wild, sour and barrel-aged beers in the heart of the American Southwest. While we give homage to age-old brewing traditions and techniques, we enjoy taking a modern, playful approach to our beers.
Why is it so important to showcase local ingredients, and what have been some of your favorites?
SS: We care about our special place in the Southwest. It’s a unique area and for the most part it’s arid and dry, so showcasing some of the local flora is fun and challenging. We also want to support local agriculture and the people/businesses committing themselves to this place. Some fun ingredients we’ve used include Navajo Tea, Sumac berries, and blue corn. Denim Tux is a blue corn lager that has become a staple beer for us. That is one of my go-to beers in our lineup.
How to you go about ensuring that Bow & Arrow remains a radically inclusive space for the local LGBTQ and indigenous communities, as well as anyone else who wants to come drink a great beer? It should go without saying, but why is this so important to you?
SS: It comes naturally to some extent because we represent these minority groups and our values are reflected in how we do business; from how we treat our staff to our customer interactions. I suppose because we’ve experienced the other side of the bar as a woman, as a person of color, we’ve seen and experienced some things we wouldn’t want our guests to at our establishment.
What’s next for Bow & Arrow? Any current releases your especially proud of?
SS: We are working on opening our first off-site taproom, and it’s not in the Albuquerque area. I’m excited to share our beers and experience with a new market. Western Beauty, a Grisette fermented in oak barrels with brettanomyces on Gruner Veltliner grape juice we sourced from Milagro Vineyards, a local Corrales-based winery, turned out so tasty. The Gruner grape is along the lines of Sauvignon Blanc; it has notes of lemon, lime, grapefruit and green pepper. This beer is just vibrant and our customers have really taken to it.
Who are some other brewers and breweries that you especially admire?
SS: Brandon Jones who heads up the Embrace the Funk program at Yazoo is an all-around wonderful person and talented brewer. We love what he’s been doing with ETF beers, using local ingredients and the annual Funk Fest he puts together. Another brewery I admire is American Solera. Seriously, everything they do there is outstanding and they’ve made a commitment to brewing world-class beer in their hometown of Tulsa. I really admire that. As a side note, we were especially excited that recently our first foeder came from them. They are moving to a new, larger facility and it worked out for us to snag one of their smaller foeders. Small to them, but big to us; it’s about a 30-bbl capacity.