Craft beer’s rise from cult-following to mainstream delicacy has been seismic. Most craft breweries have distinct personalities. Sometimes it’s who runs the company, the beer brewed, or how they brew it. The distinctive Bow & Arrow Brewing Company of Albuquerque, NM, is one brewery that has made headlines, and not just for its award-winning beverages.
Bow & Arrow was founded in 2016 by Shyla Sheppard and Missy Begay, two Native American women who are also life partners. Sheppard, the CEO, is a member of the Three Affiliated (Mandan, Hidasta, and Arikara Nations) of North Dakota, and creative director Begay was born on Navajo lands in Albuquerque. Opening a Native American, queer, women-owned brewery was monumental; nobody else had done it yet. In just five years, Sheppard and Begay have turned Bow & Arrow into a brand that focuses on uplifting others in Indigenous communities.
Bow & Arrow is best known for its delicious IPAs, lagers, and stouts, but they have dabbled in brewing sour and wild beers. These wild beers would be their ticket into notoriety. Sheppard said, “Going in, we were aware there were not a lot of people who looked like us. Our backgrounds made us unique, and we gradually wanted to develop that aspect of what we were doing.”
Indeed, Sheppard and Begay did not have traditional beer-brewing backgrounds. Sheppard holds a degree in Economics from Stanford University, and Begay has her Doctorate in Medicine from the University of New Mexico. They’ve capitalized on their Native American heritage and knowledge to brew beers by using locally-sourced ingredients, many of which come from Indigenous recipes. Recently, they have been brewing with neomexicanus hops, a type that grows plentiful in the American Southwest. These locally-sourced ingredients have created a sustainable model for Bow & Arrow to use for years.
Bow & Arrow’s rise in popularity has been a combination of philanthropy, entrepreneurship, and subliminal marketing. Sheppard and Begay founded the brewery to help connect Native American-owned breweries to share stories and customs of their respective tribes. This commitment would be the catalyst for their philanthropic involvement.
Their Native Land IPA was their big-ticket item, an IPA recipe that multiple breweries could brew and label, requiring the donation of the proceeds from the sales to Native nonprofits.
Since starting this initiative, between $1,400 to $9,000 has been raised per brewery, with 58 other breweries participating in Native Land brewing. Sheppard and Begay’s efforts caught the attention of publications like Forbes, which listed the brewery as one of Albuquerque’s hidden gems. Bow & Arrow beverages were available at the Coachella music festival this past March and voted one of Hop Culture’s 12 Best Breweries of 2021. To say they’ve gotten amazing exposure would be an understatement.
Sheppard couldn’t be more pleased with the positive impact Native Land IPA, and the brewery, has had on the public. “It’s opened people’s eyes to history so they can appreciate where they exist and whose lands they are on,” Sheppard said. “It’s exciting the awareness that’s been created among the brewing community and the public.” Local news outlets have reported on the brewery, highlighting the efforts of two Native and queer women shattering barriers in the industry.
Bow & Arrow managed to keep themselves afloat during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic when they purchased their canning line to sell more beer during a time of supply-chain disruption. They, in turn, became more sustainable. Their growth did not slow down because of tough times, and they might emerge as one of the most famous craft breweries in the country.