Bow & Arrow Brewing aims to continue its evolution into a regional powerhouse

Co-owner Shyla Sheppard and head brewer Ted O’Hanlan have steered Bow & Arrow in the right direction.

Bow & Arrow Brewing will celebrate its fourth anniversary this weekend, which made this a natural time to sit down with co-owner Shyla Sheppard and head brewer Ted O’Hanlan for our annual Look Back/Look Ahead Series. They have accrued some seriously good press for the brewery on Sixth Street, which is quickly emerging as a power player in the New Mexico beer scene and beyond.

“We just had a staff meeting last week and I kind of pulled together a look back,” Shyla said. “One of the visuals that I put together for our team was like, holy cow, we got some good press last year. That’s been really wonderful in creating more interest and curiosity in what we’re doing around here. That includes a couple events that Ted and I participated in, the craftbeer dot com event during GABF was pretty cool. We got to do a tasting in a campfire setting on the floor. We got to taste some of our bottles and talk about them. Then I did a Brewbound panel, it was a podcast on diversity in craft beer with Dr. J (Jackson-Beckham), who’s going to be here. I’m super excited about that. We had some good press last year.”

The anniversary party kicks off this Friday with a special Barrel Talk event with Ted, which is limited to 20 ticket holders. There will also be the special release of the Desert Revival Cherry Sour.

“Saturday is the official anniversary party,” Shyla said. “We’ve got the Strange Country (Dark Sour) release on draft and in bottles. We’re doing a special tapping of Darkest Cheer (Imperial Stout) at 6. We’ve got one sixtel that we’ve held back. That will go fast. And then, we’re releasing a new hazy IPA on Saturday as well, called Hoka Hazy.”

“Which could be a new flagship for us,” Ted added. “We’re kind of looking at where our IPAs are selling and what people seem to be (wanting). Every now and then you’ve got to stop and take a look at what people are recognizing what you do. Hazy IPAs have become more popular with us than our clear IPAs. We’re experimenting with doing a year-round, dedicated hazy. We’ve been doing rotating hazies to this point. Maybe having a consistent hazy offering will help, and we’ll see how people respond to that.”

So many beers, so little time, but there is even more for Saturday.

“Saturday we’ll have music throughout the day,” Shyla said. “We also have a guest food truck who’s making their Albuquerque debut out of Santa Fe, called Good as Feast. … We’re excited to have them down. Currently they’re just at Meow Wolf. But, we’ve (tasted) their menu as well. It includes food like bison burgers, green chile fries, really an assortment of things. We’ve got limited, commemorative Teku glasses. We’ve got 50 of them.”

The anniversary is a commemoration of not just the last four years, but the amount of focused growth and change that just went on since this time last year.

“I feel like last year was a lot of planning and preparation,” Shyla said. “Ted will be with us three years in March. When he first joined us we were like OK, we’re going to get this sour program off the ground. I think last year we’ve really seen the fruits of his labor in that regard and people were responding really well to the beers coming out of that program. We invested in the foeder and we have around 70 barrels, wine barrels, and then we got more totes so that we could do more fruited.”

Ted has certainly been having fun with all of his toys.

Barrels, barrels everywhere!

“We’ll do primary in stainless, then we’ll do a secondary fermentation on oak, and then we’ll do a blend from barrels into the totes to fruit them,” Ted said. “Before we pull them back out and condition them. All of our mixed culture beers are naturally conditioned on draft in bottle, that’s something we moved to this year. I prefer the mouthfeel from carbonation.”

While Ted went to grab bottles of the two anniversary beers for us to sample, Shyla spoke about the big picture for Bow & Arrow, which will include a second location opening this year.

“2019 was a lot of that preparation, just putting beer in the foeder, in the vessels, and of course these things take a lot of time,” she said. “Our first batch of the foeder beer is about ready. We’re going to planning that first release probably within the next month, month-and-a-half. That’s really exciting for us. We’re planning in that regard, and also around our first offsite taproom. That’s going to be March with that.

“Again, we have our location, our lease, and we now have our liquor license. We’re just finalizing the details with the contractor right now. I’ll let you know when we start the buildout and I have more visibility around opening. I’ve got an approved building permit and a liquor license, so that’s in order.”

There will also be a special beer release in partnership with another Farmington brewery.

“Look out for a collaboration brew (with) Lauter Haus, we’re talking about doing something fun together,” Shyla said. “Ted and Brandon (Beard) are having a dialogue about what that beer will look like. That’s pretty cool. They’ve been very welcoming to us. I stopped by there the last time I was in Farmington. They have great beers and I’m looking forward to having another place to hang out in town.”

Ted later told us just what he and Brandon have in mind.

“I meant to text Brandon today, actually,” Ted said. “We were going to do it in the second half of February. I’ve been so wrapped up in the anniversary stuff in the past week or so, I need to touch base with him again. If not next week, the week after, go up there. It’s going to be a stout. I think we were leaning towards a Mexican chocolate, with some cocoa nibs and spice, maybe some chiles, I’m not sure in terms of the production there. It’s a nice space that they have. I like the barcade side.”

The future home of the Rambler Taproom in Farmington. (Photo courtesy of Bow & Arrow)

Bow & Arrow will also be working on updating its core menu, and doing more collaborations both locally and nationally.

“As we’ve been doing more experimentation with some crazy pastry-inspired sours, pastry stouts, hazy IPAs, there’s definitely a real science to hazy IPAs and Ted has really been digging into that,” Shyla said. “Those are some styles that I think we’re doing really well, and people want to see more of, so you’ll continue to see more hazy IPA variations. We’ve got some fun collaboration beers in the works, including with The Range Cafe. Some fun things like that that are new. Just more collaborations in general, in and outside of New Mexico.”

Bow & Arrow is staying focused on what its customers want in addition to being one of the more experimental breweries, alongside other New Mexico notables like Rowley Farmhouse Ales and Steel Bender Brewyard.

“I think we’re constantly figuring out what our customers want,” Ted said. “Sometimes that’s going with the flow, sometimes that’s doing something new, or at least new for us. Seeing how people respond to it. These various things, like the mixed culture program versus the stouts or the hazy IPAs or whatever we’re doing, kind of plays different roles for us, in a way. It’s all a lot of trial and error, a lot of experimentation.”

The Brunch Special, a French toast-inspired imperial pastry stout, was my personal choice for the interview. It is just one of many beers that have knocked it out of the park in the past year.

“We started in 2017 or 2018 when we made our first pastry stout, but that’s evolved greatly for us,” Ted said. “I feel like we’ve really hit our stride recently with those. Same thing with hazy IPAs, too. It’s taken time for us to figure out how we want to make them and then execute at a high level consistently. The mixed culture program is just all over the place. We’ve gone from just doing simple one-strain brett re-fermented beers to our foeder has probably 10 different brett strains, 12 different brett strains, and also wild yeast that we cultivated. One strain is from here on the property and the other is with the help of Los Poblanos from their lavender fields. That’s starting to make its way into our beers now, wild saccharomyces strains.”

Look for a collaboration with Los Poblanos soon, and there is more beyond that.

“We’ve got a sake hybrid lager that we’ve got coming up, too,” Ted said. “That’s a collaboration with a friend of mine that brews in California. That’s a really funky out there beer. It doesn’t taste like anything I’ve ever had before. You can taste the koji-fermented rice, then infuse that into a traditional mash, made a lager from it, and then re-fermented it in barrels with a mixed culture.

“Stuff like that is really fun to do. A lot of stuff with mixed culture beers is to see where it goes, what people respond to. But, at the same time it’s pushing the envelope a little bit, maybe make people question what they think beer is.”

The beer menu at the brewery is forever changing and evolving.

Going back to the core menu, a few beers have left the lineup in the past year, and more changes could lie ahead.

“We’ve also looked inward at the end of last year until now, revisiting what had become our flagship year-round (menu),” Shyla said. “We were huge fans of Belgian-style saisons. We’ve got Cosmic Arrow, which is the brett version that we really try to keep year round, but we were just finding that that particular drinker gravitates more towards that than just a straight saison, which we had for a while, called Fringe Jacket. While we loved it, it wasn’t moving at a rate where we could justify keeping it around.

“This will free up a tap for us to keep doing some experimental beers and fun things. It really seems like a lot of our customers are looking for something that’s new and interesting. So we’re kind of finding ourselves moving away from year-round things for the most part, just freeing up space to continue with the fun experiments.”

Since Bow & Arrow is not doing year-round canning — Ted said that has been pushed back to 2021 — it makes sense to keep the menu rotating and fresh.

“You’ve got to occasionally revisit what your flagships are and why you keep them as flagships,” he said. “I feel like since I’ve bene here for the past three years, the market here in Albuquerque has changed really drastically. People’s palates have changed, and what people want to see a craft brewery release has changed. Keeping fresh and keeping things interesting (is key).

“And at the same time, (even) with some of these more experimental beers that we’ve been doing, we’ve also been having some of our best sales with just traditional lagers. We’re brewing a lot more of those than we used to, as well. Those are also a unique challenge and they’re fun to make. I’m glad that people are counting to respond to those. They’re mostly what I drink.”

Lagers on deck include a dark Mexican lager, a Helles, and a Kolsch. Ted also said folks should be on the lookout for a lemon curd sour in collaboration with The Range Cafe, and a peach cobbler sour after that.

“We’re continuing on with these pastry stouts,” Ted said. “I don’t know what the next one is going to be, but I’m sure we’ll figure it out.”

“It usually requires going out and eating desserts,” Shyla added with a smile.

Ted did love his foeder when it arrived last year.

That big foeder visible in the brewery is nearly ready to have its first creation appear on tap as well.

“We’ll be doing the first one out of the foeder in no time,” Ted said. “I think that beer is tasting really nice. The idea of the foeder beer, using the wild culture that we caught, it’s all Troubadour grain, it’s malted in Fort Collins. It’s trying to make something that’s almost like a table beer, a low-alcohol farmhouse ale. It’s like a four-point-something percent in the foeder right now, once we condition it. Just to make something really drinkable, something balanced.”

Both Ted and Shyla said that they are excited to see how their beers are received in Farmington, and through more festivals outside New Mexico.

“It’s usually just adding complexity, fleshing out what the beer is, including more balance,” Ted said. “I’m excited that people want to drink our lagers, but at the same time I think getting experimental is fun. I’m really interested to see how people respond to our beer outside Albuquerque with the new taproom opening. I think that will be a really, really unique experience.”

Shyla said they are still working on how to properly describe the more advanced beers so that everyone can understand.

“The thing about two of these beers that we’re doing, they are very unique, but it’s just figuring out how we convey, describing them, introducing them to people,” she said. “There’s any number of ways we can describe these styles. Mixed culture, mixed fermentation, (but) what does that mean? What is brett? It’s a fun challenge, a good challenge for us.”

Shyla said most of the focus at the main brewery has been preparing the production side for the increased demand with the taproom opening this spring. There is one addition coming to the bar, however, and it has all of us in the Crew rather excited.

“Oh, we’re excited, too, there’s been demand, someone even suggested starting a GoFundMe for a crowler machine,” Shyla said. “So we excited to announce that’s coming. By the beginning of March, we want to make sure the kinks are worked out. The cans should be coming in the next couple weeks. We’ll have that lined up. It’s very exciting.”

Even with all the growth and change, do not expect the core mission of Bow & Arrow to change anytime soon.

“We’re continuing to seek out interesting ingredients, local ingredients from the Southwest as well, so that continues as it’s important to us,” Shyla said. “Especially as we move into Farmington, it has such a deep agricultural history and activity there. That’s something we’ll keep up on.”

That’s Strange Country on the back left, Desert Revival cherry on the top right, and Brunch Special in the glass in front. All are wonderful, but different, beers.

A huge thanks to Ted and Shyla for the interview, and the advance taste of the two beers. The Desert Revival Cherry is delicious, and this comes from a guy who usually does not drink sours. As for the Strange Country, I could try to describe it, but Ted is far more knowledgeable on the subject.

“This is Strange Country, it’s going to be the Saturday release,” he said. “It’s pretty unique. We used rye barrels, rye whiskey barrels from Wyoming Whiskey. We did an imperial stout and then a barleywine, and then pulled out the stronger bourbon flavor out of the barrels. There’s still some char and interesting barrel character left over, so we decided to do a long-term sour in it, and see how the flavor would develop in that heavily charred barrel. It has an interesting tannic aroma and body to it.”

Get on down to Bow & Arrow for some anniversary fun, and we will keep everyone up to date when the Rambler Taproom is ready to open in Farmington.

Cheers!

— Stoutmeister

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