The Crew has long been remiss about sitting down and talking with Bow & Arrow head brewer Ted O’Hanlan. Upon seeing photos of a new toy that showed up at his brewery at the end of last week, I decided it was time that we rectify this matter, and lo and behold, our schedules permitted such a time.
Bow & Arrow parted ways with its first brewer in early 2017, just a year after it opened, which prompted a nationwide search for a successor. Ted, who has family ties in the area, came out from North Carolina, and ended up being hired in March of that year.
“I originally did IT work,” he said. “I worked at EPA for a while. Then, when the recession hit and I got laid off, I tried to find a new career path, which involved me going to culinary school. Working for a little while in kitchens and realizing that was not an environment that I particularly liked. I tried my hand at cheese making and farming for a little while.
“I’d been a home brewer that whole time. As I gradually got more serious about my homebrewing, which happened to coincide with the initial boom of brewery openings in North Carolina. That just kind of gave me a door in. I started working at Full Steam. They were originally interested in me because of my culinary background, and it just fit for me.”
After working at Full Steam from 2011 to 2014, and then at Black Tooth from 2014 to early 2017, Ted said he was ready for a change.
“I started at a very creative sort of farmhouse-y brewery in North Carolina, and then I went and did the production brewing thing for a few years, and it’s not much fun,” he said. “Just turning out the same beer over and over again. I was really looking for a brewery where I could be creative, where that was part of the deal. We could turn out pretty regular, creative beers using interesting ingredients, and just have it be fun again like it used to be.”
He certainly found that at Bow & Arrow, and has been a big part of putting the brewery on the map, not just locally, but nationally.
“I can’t say much about the perception of the brand before I started (since) I wasn’t here,” Ted said. “There’s a beautiful taproom and there’s definitely a perception of a quality product because of the space we have here. I think it was just a matter of bringing quality beer in. It certainly took a while. I felt like it wasn’t like I didn’t just start and overnight people were in love with us. It probably took a year, a year-and-a-half for people to really come around.”
Owners Shyla Sheppard and Missy Begay have rightfully earned a lot of positive attention and praise for being two of the only Native American women to have a brewery in the country, but the beers at Bow & Arrow have also begun to stand out in a crowded local field.
“I think part of that coincided with the evolution of our mixed-culture program, being able to bring more packaged mixed-culture beers to the market,” Ted said. “And also, finding that Burquenos are interested in pastry stouts, or hazy IPAs, or the kinds of trending beers that aren’t prolific in Albuquerque. That is one of the things I like about the Albuquerque market, it’s a little trend resistant. It’s not a gimmick market, which is nice.”
Not every beer geek wants to go down the rabbit hole with sours and other funky brews, so the pastry stouts like Cake Bandit have also been a hit.
“We can bring in some things like the German chocolate cake stout or something, and focus on making a quality beer,” Ted said. “We don’t have to crank them out all the time, but we have them around in case people want them. I think that’s been a big part of it.”
Like many breweries, Bow & Arrow has also found its customers willing to jump on board with the recent surge in popularity of classic lagers.
“I’ve been pretty excited recently that our lagers have really taken off,” Ted said. “We’ve always had Denim Tux, even in its previous form as Jemez Field Notes. But, when we started bringing out two or three lagers at a time, people are really liking those as well. Those are really fun for me to make, and that’s another way to make another high quality, very difficult beer to produce at a high level, or as high as we can.”
Ted was a literal outsider when he arrived, coming to Albuquerque in an era when many breweries simply fill their open slots with local brewers who have risen up the ranks at the biggest breweries in town. That extended family of brewers has left its mark on the local scene, but Ted said he feels there is always room for new people with different ideas to help spice things up.
“People really like intense flavors, for one thing, (but) I don’t know how to put it exactly,” he said. “People’s palates have been educated by the breweries that have been making good beer for a long time. I was already familiar, because my family is from here, with La Cumbre and Marble. I knew there was good beer here, but I didn’t realize how much good beer there is here. There is a certain type of brewing that people did, something like a family tree of people who were trained by other people here, whether Brady (McKeown), or Jeff (Erway), or Ted Rice. I think people are very informed by that style of brewing — definitely hop-forward, bitter, intense flavors, stronger beer, too. I definitely think beer here on average is stronger than elsewhere in the country.”
The latest tool at Ted’s disposal is a hefty-sized foeder that just arrived at the brewery.
“It’s a 30 barrel,” he said. “Technically it’s 35 hectoliters, which is like 29.6 barrels. We bought it from American Solera. They were moving to their new brewery in downtown Tulsa and they didn’t have room for four of their god-knows-how-many foeders that they have. They were trying to sell it off. I got a pretty good deal. We landed it here for probably two-thirds of what it would cost.”
The foeder will be a literal big part of the ever-expanding mixed-culture program at Bow & Arrow.
“I’ve been building up a mixed culture, a bunch of bugs I’m quite fond of,” Ted said. “We came in to do a 1-barrel starter. You can smell it working in there. I’ll get my blow-off hose set up for it tomorrow. I’ve still got a couple parts to come in. I don’t have the TC fittings for it. It’s very European. This was originally an Italian wine cask.”
So yes, the foeder just arrived and it is already being put to work.
“I’m going to pretty much stick to mixed-culture, farmhouse type beers, sour beers in general,” Ted said. “We’re going to kick off a new sour base that will be like a general farmhouse base. We’re kind of moving in the direction, at least with the beers you can look forward to, using local or regional ingredients.
“Our golden sour is pretty big, an 8-percent beer. This one will probably be a 4-percent base, and then if we fruit it or prime it, it will probably jump up to 5. It will be closer to table beer strength, not so daunting. We should be able to turn sour beer out more consistently and more quickly, too.”
Finding those local ingredients has proven to be challenging at times, but Ted said that with a little help from his counterpart at Steel Bender Brewyard, things are starting to moving along.
“It’s tough in New Mexico because there’s not a lot of local agriculture here,” Ted said. “Dry-land farming is very different than my background in North Carolina, where water just falls from the sky, and things just grow. Finding suppliers has been a challenge. It takes a while. Kind of what happened, Bob Haggerty told me this last year that once you’ve connected with somebody and paid them money, they tell all of their friends that you’ll actually buy your product and they’ll start contacting you. That’s really what we’re starting to have happen now, too.
“He did a lot to get some of those farmers in Los Ranchos get interested in selling their fruit to brewers. I think Matt (Meier) over at Red Door is trying to engage with them, too. I think more brewers are, too, which is great.”
This weekend will feature a special beer release that came about almost by chance.
“We’re about to release this (Saturday) our new grisette, which is a barrel-aged one that I’m really excited about,” Ted said of Western Beauty, which will be available on draft and in bottles. “We re-fermented it on pressed Grüner Veltliner Grape Juice from Milagro Vineyards. I actually just called them up last year to check and see if they had any barrels for sale. They’re like no, but we overpressed on Grüner Veltliner and we don’t have enough barrels for it. We’re looking to sell it off, and I was like yes, please.
“Technically it will be our first beer with local fruit that we’ve brewed. I’m really excited about that. That’s a good kickoff for us because we’ve got a lot of plans to move on more local fruit. We’ve got a barrel talk this Friday and I’m going to feature that one.”
Ted will be giving that special barrel talk this Friday at 6 p.m. Tickets are available online, and will include a full tour of the brewery, a cheese pairing with Picnic of Santa Fe, and a sneak preview tasting of Western Beauty. My own tasting of the beer found it to be quite lovely, opening with an almost champagne-like quality, with a hint of brettanomyces along with the sweet and savory grape flavor, and a dry, malty seasoning around the edges.
That barrel talk will come after Ted brews up the next stout in the Bandit Series, which is music to my ears.
“Probably on Wednesday we’re going to brew our next stout,” he said. “We’re bringing back El Breakfast, Mexican chocolate breakfast stout. I’ll be revamping that recipe. I’ve learned a lot about making sort of adjunct and pastry stouts in the last couple years. It should have more body, probably a little bit more, well, probably more than a little bit more residual sweetness, to try to build up more of that drinking a cup of Mexican chocolate kind of character. I was actually just on the computer today sourcing cocoa nibs, chiles, and vanilla beans for that.”
Oh, and before I departed, I asked about the two new copper-jacketed bright tanks in the brewery. Ted said those are for the start of the upcoming canning run. Yeah, Bow & Arrow is going to start canning some of its house beers, and potentially some of its seasonal/specialty releases as well. Strawberry Amigo and Denim Tux are the top candidates to be canned first, but Ted said they have yet to decide upon 12- or 16-ounce cans.
“It depends on how Albuquerque responds,” he said.
Hey, the news that Bow & Arrow will be canning, while still sticking to its unique styles, and expanding and improving upon its sour program, should get a proper response from all the beer geeks in town and beyond.
A huge thank you to Ted for the talk, the tour, and the beers!
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