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A couple of years ago, Bow & Arrow Brewing Co. co-founders and life partners Shyla Sheppard and Missy Begay set out searching for the elusive Neomexicanus hop to add to one of their beers. A wild hop that grows in New Mexico, Neomexicanus, can be difficult to find. “We generally had an idea of where it grew, so we were just going to go out, and if it chose to present itself, great, but it might not,” says Sheppard. “We were just going to enjoy being out here in nature and appreciating it for what it is.”
Born and raised on the Fort Berthold Reservation in North Dakota, Sheppard and her wife Begay, who grew up in the Navajo (Diné) Nation, forage with positivity, sustainability, and appreciation, only taking as much as they need. “If you’re not in the right mindset, sometime these things will hide from you,” says Sheppard.
Meandering off one of the roads where they were sure to find some of the native hops…
Still, the group stayed positive, enjoying their time outside together.
Soon after, they stumbled upon the mysterious Neomexicanus. “It was pretty amazing!” says Sheppard.
Now every year, if they can, Sheppard and Begay go out foraging to find some of these hops for a small-batch variation of Bow & Arrow’s Funksloth, a mixed-culture farmhouse ale.
In almost a symbolic way, this beer has become the epitome of Bow & Arrow.
The first Queer-, Native-, women-owned brewery in the country, Bow & Arrow wanted to make mixed-culture and sour beers right from the start. Ones that showcased local New Mexico ingredients, often from nearby reservations.
But they couldn’t.
Because if they had, they would never have survived.
From Hefeweizens to Mixed-Culture Sours
When Sheppard drank a hefeweizen at the Gordon Biersch pub in Palo Alto, her life changed. “Why did it smell like banana cream and clove?” she recalls. “What made this beer this way?”
Jumping down the proverbial rabbit hole, Sheppard read every book she could get her hands on, eventually buying a Brooklyn Brew Shop one-gallon homebrew kit.
Working in social impact investing at the time while her partner, Begay, went to medical school, Sheppard always knew quietly in the back of her head that she wanted to own a business. But doing what?
“I’ll know it when I find it,” she says.
Turns out that business smelled like banana cream and clove. Well, I guess more appropriately, like Neomexicanus hops and barley.
Green Chili Cheese and Egg Burritos and Beer
In 2013, Sheppard began working on a business plan for Bow & Arrow in earnest, leaving her full-time job to dive head first into the brewery. “I wanted to be all in and get the ball rolling,” she shares.
Since Begay grew up in Albuquerque, the two set their sights on finding a spot in New Mexico.
While finishing up her residency, Begay joined Sheppard on the weekends to look at potential locations. “We’d drive through Golden Pride, get our green chile cheese and egg burrito, and then literally cruise the industrial areas of the entire Albuquerque metro area,” recalls Sheppard. “We just felt like we would know if we found the right spot.”
Sitting in the car, watching traffic and life flow in particular neighborhoods (and finishing up burritos), Sheppard and Begay ultimately found a spot five minutes from their house.
By 2016, Bow & Arrow opened its doors for the first time.
But as much as Sheppard and Begay approached the business and brewing with gratitude and positivity, not all in the community reciprocated.
At least not right away.
When a Queer-, Native-Owned Brewery Opens in Albuquerque
“Being so different entering the space … it took time to gain people’s trust, but also to be taken seriously, to be honest,” says Sheppard. “To this day, we get asked, why would you be interested in craft beer?”
Even seven years later, Sheppard says she still has to defend herself and explain why she opened a brewery. “Which is kind of frustrating,” she says.
In the beginning, Sheppard and Begay wanted Bow & Arrow to incorporate local Indigenous ingredients, especially in sour beers. “But we felt pressured out of the gate to just do some traditional styles and do them really well just to be accepted,” says Sheppard.
She says it took longer for the brewery to gain traction because “we were these other things.” And while Sheppard and Begay’s heritage, sexuality, and gender shouldn’t have mattered, people’s bias prevailed.
Sheppard even heard through the grapevine that her and Begay’s identities are a direct factor in whether people come by to support them…or not.
But Sheppard stays focused on the positive. “I’m really thankful for the folks who come and support us, not only because we have great beer but because they recognize the importance of diverse perspectives,” she says.
After that first year, Bow & Arrow embraced its identity. Now, if you ask Sheppard the brewery’s one-liner, she’ll respond, “We make wild, sour, and Southwest-inspired beers in the heart of the American Southwest.”
But beyond that, she says normalizing they are Queer-, women, and Native-owned has been really powerful. “This is who we are,” she says. “This is my wife, Missy. We started this, and we’re here, we’re visible … It’s important to me that [at Bow & Arrow] people can just be themselves, be comfortable, and be safe, and I’m really proud of creating a space where people feel that way.”
For instance, you may see Sheppard occasionally smudging the taproom. A practice passed down to her from her grandmother, smudging includes using sage to clear somewhere or someone of negativity, bringing in positive energy. “You’re essentially clearing the space,” says Sheppard. “You start from top to bottom, and whatever heavy burdens may be weighing on you, you give them back to the Earth.”
Wild, Sour, Southwest-Inspired Beers
Now when you look at Bow & Arrow’s beers, you’ll find ones like Denim Tux, a year-round pilsner made with New Mexico blue corn from Santa Ana Pueblo, a Tamay Indian Reservation in North-Central New Mexico.
Or Scenic West, their core hazy IPA with a label that resembles the iconic, quintessential Southwest mesa with a big blue sky and billowy clouds. “That’s an ode to the beautiful, in some ways stark but striking landscape we have here,” says Sheppard.
Or the aforementioned Funksloth, a farmhouse ale with a mixed-culture yeast and bacteria wildly harvested in New Mexico.
One of Sheppard and Begay’s friends bakes at a restaurant called Los Poblanos up the road from the brewery. “We agreed to take a microscopic picture of some of his bread yeast, and in return, he’d set some yeast traps for us,” says Sheppard.
Additionally, the base beer includes all regional ingredients, such as barley and hops from Southern Colorado.
“Funksloth is a combination of all those things, so it comes off as real fruit-forward funk, like stone fruit with even a little pineapple,” she says. “And that’s all just from that beautiful local, native culture.”
Named after a giant prehistoric sloth in Southern New Mexico, Funksloth captures the terroir and history of the region.
Spinoffs include a series featuring local Indigenous sumac or harvested Navajo tea. “It’s known by a lot of names—greenthread, Indian tea—but that’s also really refreshing and kind of like herbal chamomile notes,” says Sheppard.
And, of course, they did a small batch with those hand-foraged Neomexicanus hops.
These beers all honor the local landscape and both Sheppard and Begay’s Native heritage.
But none more so than Native Land.
Native Land Wants You to Know on Whose Ancestral Land You Stand
Two years ago, Sheppard and Begay had an idea.
“We didn’t set out to be the first Native-, women-owned brewery,” says Sheppard, but over time the co-founders realized they had created a powerful platform with their business. “Let’s use it to focus on educating folks because we are unique, but we’re not the only ones, and we won’t be the last.”
To be present and enforce their visibility as Queer, Native women, Sheppard and Begay started Native Land, a collaborative beer project setting a precedent that “all beer is brewed on Native land.”
Any brewery across the country can participate, accessing the beer’s recipe and label. But anyone who does commits to donating beer proceeds to Native American non-profits focused on ecological stewardship, access to ancestral lands, or revitalization of traditional agriculture and foodways.
In its first year, Native Land raised nearly $90k with forty-seven participating breweries in twenty-three states and Canada. “I still get goosebumps,” says Sheppard when she thinks about the project’s inaugural year.
While Bow & Arrow developed a hazy IPA for last year’s recipe, in 2023, they’re featuring a Mexican-style lager with the idea of using heritage corn if one has access to it.
So far, forty breweries have already committed to participating in Native Land.
This year, Bow & Arrow will donate proceeds from its Native Land beer to Navajo Ethno Agriculture, an educational farm “on the rez in the Four Corners area,” says Sheppard. The organization plants traditional heirloom varieties of corn and teaches kids how to harvest them, from planting the seed to prepping the field.
“We want to remind people that Native people are still here, we’re still present, and we exist in this contemporary space,” says Sheppard. “We own breweries, we’re doctors, we’re lawyers, we’re public servants.”
Sheppard emphasizes the importance of Native Lands for future generations. “Don’t let these stereotypes and limitations that other people impose on you limit your options for your future, pursuing your dreams and goals,” she says.
Imagine if Sheppard and Begay had packed it in because of the stereotypical questions and pushback they received when they first opened Bow & Arrow.
Instead, seven years in, they’re running a successful brewery and setting a path for others to follow in their footsteps.
What Is the Future for Bow & Arrow?
For Bow & Arrow, Sheppard believes the future focuses on that growth. After doubling capacity last year, the brewery wants to continue expanding its reach and visibility, exploring new markets outside of where you can currently find them in New Mexico, Oregon, and Colorado.
In life, one rarely flies straight and narrow.
Often, stepping off the beaten path, going against the grain or common beliefs, can prove the most rewarding.
Because even if you don’t always succeed, you still grow.
Sheppard and Begay set out each year to search for the elusive Neomexicanus hop knowing they might not always find it. Yet they still do it anyways.
“Whether we walk away with hops or not, it was something that was positive and good, and we just went out with a lot of gratitude,” says Sheppard.