Bow & Arrow founders Shyla Sheppard (left) and Missy Begay
Bow & Arrow founders Shyla Sheppard (left) and Missy Begay
Bow & Arrow founders Shyla Sheppard (left) and Missy Begay (Photo: Minesh Bacrania)

These Native American Women Are Changing Craft Beer for the Better


At a bold and stylish new brewery in Albuquerque, New Mexico, Missy Begay and Shyla Sheppard are using traditional Native American ingredients to produce delicious craft creations, part of a growing movement that’s changing the face of domestic beer


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It was a typical beautiful spring afternoon at the Bow & Arrow brewery in Albuquerque, warm and dry under vibrant blue New Mexico skies. The brewery, which is located in an old warehouse near Interstate 40, is in an industrial part of the city being revitalized with new businesses.

Outside, among tables filled with patrons, sat Bow & Arrow founder, president, and CEO Shyla Sheppard, a member of the Three Affiliated Tribes (Mandan, Hidatsa, and Arikara), and cofounder and creative director Missy Begay, who is Diné and a member of the Navajo Nation. Shyla was wearing jeans and a gray BOW & ARROW BREWING T-shirt, and Missy was in green medical scrubs—she had just come from her other job as an internist working in the field of sleep medicine.

Until now, I had known Shyla and Missy only virtually. We were participants in a 2020 online panel about food traditions in the Southwest, me as a chef focusing on Native American food, a culinary anthropologist, and the founder of Santa Fe–based Red Mesa Cuisine—a catering company specializing in the revitalization of ancestral Native American food—and them as brewery owners bringing local ingredients and Native traditions to craft beer. Earlier this year, I provided Shyla and Missy with a red chile blue-and-white-corn posole recipe to complement their Bow & Arrow Denim Tux Blue Corn American Pilsner for an upcoming cookbook they’d been invited to participate in. It was the first time I had sampled one of their pilsners, and I was struck by how crisp, light, and refreshing it was.

Missy and Shyla met in 2000 at Stanford University, where they both earned undergraduate degrees, Shyla in economics and Missy in psychology. Missy, who spent part of her childhood in Albuquerque and attended medical school at the University of New Mexico, introduced Shyla to the Southwest. “Once I showed her the smells and the blossoms, she was hooked,” Missy said. “There is a sweetness to the land here, and all of this is sacred. We hope, as Native American women brewery owners, that people understand the story we have to tell.”

We walked into the brewery—a cavernous 10,000-square-foot space currently holding about 70 large oak barrels full of beer—to an upstairs meeting area that prior to COVID-19 had been used for private events. Shyla selected a couple of Bow & Arrow beers for us to sample—the Strange Country Dark Sour Ale and Desert Revival Blackberry Golden Sour Ale—while we talked about their journey to brewing.

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(Minesh Bacrania)
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(Minesh Bacrania)
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(Minesh Bacrania)
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(Minesh Bacrania)
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(Minesh Bacrania)

Shyla’s interest in beer was sparked in college, when she tasted her first hefeweizen and learned that the banana and clove flavors she picked up were derived from a particular strain of yeast. A couple of years after graduating in 2004, Shyla, who began working at a social-impact investing firm, and Missy, who was in medical school, started homebrewing. In 2013, Shyla was ready to start her own business, and left her job to pursue launching a brewery. Missy signed on in a creative role, overseeing design for the company, and they opened the doors to Bow & Arrow Brewing in February 2016.

“Shyla and I have so many stories about the ingredients we use and how we came to use them,” Missy said. “We source local ­ingredients like blue corn. We use Navajo tea, which we hand-harvest. And we use three-leaf sumac, which we purchase from the Navajo Agricultural Products Industry, and ­infuse it into the Foeder-Aged Farmhouse Ale.”

Navajo tea comes from a wild plant called greenthread (Thelesperma megapotamicum) that grows all over the Southwest and is revered by the tribes and pueblos that use it. Three-leaf sumac (Rhus trilobata), known as Chiilchin by the Diné, has become one of my favorite local ingredients, and of all Bow & Arrow’s beers, the Foeder-Aged Farmhouse Ale was the one I wanted to taste most. I use the Chiilchin sumac berry in a lot of foods I cook at Red Mesa. It has a distinctly earthy, lemony flavor.

Unfortunately, Shyla explained, the Foeder had completely sold out. She disappeared for a moment and returned a few minutes later carrying a bottle of it. “I found one,” she said. “It’s not cold, so you’ll have to take it with you and enjoy it on your own.” I did. Every sip.

Begay and Sheppard forage for ingredients at Canyon de Chelly National Monument, on Navajo tribal land.
Missy Begay and Shyla Sheppard forage for ingredients at Canyon de Chelly National Monument, on Navajo tribal land. (Minesh Bacrania)

It isn’t news that the craft brewing scene has been experiencing huge growth over the past several years, as demand for creative ingredients and flavors in beer continue to skyrocket. In 2020, annual sales in the U.S. hit $22 billion (even during the economic downturn caused by the pandemic), and there are now about 9,000 breweries in the country. The beer industry is predominantly run by men, but more and more breweries are being started by women, like the Jackalope Brewing Company in Nashville, Tennessee. A smaller number have been created by Native Americans, including 7 Clans Brewing in North Carolina, owned by Cherokee beer makers, and Oklahoma City’s Sky Dance Brewery, founded by a member of the Iowa Tribe of Oklahoma.

Missy is from the Blackrock (Tsezhin) community near Canyon de Chelly in Arizona, which is part of the Navajo Nation, and Shyla hails from the Fort Berthold Reservation in North Dakota. Both women grew up in strong families with strong women in tight communities, and their connection to the land and cultural values comes through in the beer they make.

“They have really captured the spirit of the Southwest by using local, native ingredients,” says Josh Johns, a co-owner of and the beer buyer at Fire & Hops, a gastropub in Santa Fe. “Their take on traditional sour beers is unique to New Mexico’s brewing scene, and I love the fact that they are woman owned.”

One challenge with using wild ingredients is that there can be a limited supply for the products Bow & Arrow creates—when something runs out, it runs out. The upshot is that customers are constantly treated to new tastes and can truly savor them when they’re available.

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(Minesh Bacrania)
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(Minesh Bacrania)
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(Minesh Bacrania)
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(Minesh Bacrania)
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(Minesh Bacrania)

Shyla shared the story of neomexicanus, a subspecies of hops that grows wild in New Mexico. She said that they learned there was a hops indigenous to North America “and that it grew here in the Southwest, in the Rocky Mountain area.” Missy tried to figure out where to find it, and did research in UNM’s archives.

“I found out that Native people in the Southwest, specifically Navajo people, were using wild hops for millennia,” she said. “Hops have natural antibacterial and antiviral properties. This plant was used as tea tinctures and salves for many, many years.”

Neomexicanus hops is very drought-­tolerant and seems to prefer arid soil. Missy decided that this must be the same hops that her ancestors used. She found out where it generally grew, and then she and Shyla headed into the mountains near Albuquerque to find some.

“In the old stories, they say that sometimes the plant presents itself to you and at other times it hides from you,” Shyla said. “We didn’t know if we would find it, but we were going to try.”

Sadly, the forest road that they were supposed to take was closed because of COVID-19. Before leaving the area, they decided to drive down it a little ways to find a place by the side to eat lunch, seeking a shady spot for a picnic to enjoy the day and where they were, even if it wasn’t where they wanted to be.

Shyla got out of the truck, walked up to a bush, and started yelling. The plant she’d just stumbled on was neomexicanus hops. It had presented itself to Shyla.

It was fate, Missy said. They gave it an offering—many Native people and tribes make an offering and talk to a plant before harvesting it—and then gathered several backpacks’ worth.

They worked with their head brewer, Ted O’Hanlan, to put the neomexicanus hops into the Foeder-Aged Farmhouse Ale, and produced what they believe is the first commercially available beer using the wild-foraged ingredient.

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When an ingredient runs out, it’s out, so Bow & Arrow customers are constantly treated to new tastes. (Minesh Bacrania)

Shyla gave me a tour of the brewery, and as we walked into the beer hall I noticed a large photo, taken by Missy, hanging above the bar: a sunset cloud with the Bow & Arrow name and logo on it. She had it printed on acrylic and backlit as a design centerpiece. It’s breathtaking.

Underneath the photo were a dozen different Bow & Arrow beers on tap, including pilsners, lagers, IPAs, an amber, sours, and a stout. The brewery categorizes its beverages into pilsners and lagers, malt-forward, hop-forward, funk-­forward, hard sparkling water, and wild and sours.

Bow & Arrow makes all the beer on site. The brews I saw in the barrels will eventually be bottled, canned, or put into kegs. Some of the barreled beer was aging, some was in the fermentation process, and some was ready to be packaged. I also visited the mill room, where oats, specialty malts, and honey malt are stored and crushed.

The design of Bow & Arrow’s products is an important part of the company. The cans typically feature some combination of vibrant colors and Southwestern motifs, and the logo tells a story, too. It’s an image of a hops cone, which has a connection to brewing and the land. In Missy’s rendition, it’s shaped like the tip of an arrow, with strong geometric patterns within it that mimic the mountain peaks visible in the distance.

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(Minesh Bacrania)
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(Minesh Bacrania)
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(Minesh Bacrania)
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(Minesh Bacrania)

Missy suggested the name Bow & Arrow while the two were driving around one day. The phrase represents strength and protection in their native cultures, with the bow and arrow used as a tool to achieve goals and to hunt. “We don’t take for granted the privilege we have in creating a space, a brand, and products that our guests feel a connection to and that respectfully reflects our upbringing,” Shyla said. “Both our grandmas knew how to make their guests feel cared about, and that always involved food and conversation that nurtured. The space we’ve created and the products we share also nurture and feed the soul.” Shyla and Missy feel honored to be a part of patrons creating memories through their beers. (The brewery doesn’t serve food, but there’s a rotating slate of food trucks in the parking lot.)

Up next for the company? Shyla and Missy have just opened a new taproom in Farmington, New Mexico. It’s located near sites that are important in Native culture, including Mesa Verde National Park and Chaco Culture National Historical Park. The region also provides new ingredients to try.

Currently, Bow & Arrow brews are sold in more than 50 restaurants and stores in New Mexico, with special shipments sent to Oregon and, soon, Northern California. Shyla said that while the company has grown quickly, they don’t want to compromise quality or integrity for the sake of expansion.

One of the nicest things I learned during my visit is how the brewery uses its spent grain, a brewing byproduct. It’s given to a family of Native American livestock growers who live in nearby Sandia Pueblo. They pick up the grain on brew days at no charge. Thanks to this cost savings, they have more resources to invest in additional livestock.

This is part of the full circle that Missy and Shyla have created. They have received some of the meat and made beer-infused potpies and chili, among other things.

“What we aim to do is sustainable,” Shyla said. “Native Americans have ­always been innovators, and able to adapt to change. They are the natural stewards of the world.”