Northern New Mexico has an astounding number of craft breweries, and more are opening all the time—far too many to discuss here. While the sheer volume of breweries can be overwhelming for consumers, competition can brew creativity. To stand out from the crowd, breweries here will often specialize in and excel at a specific style of beer, or a particular method of brewing.
Two new breweries in particular are carving out a niche for themselves in the diverse New Mexico brewing landscape: Alexander Pertusini’s Chili Line Brewing Co. in Santa Fe and Shyla Sheppard’s Bow & Arrow Brewing Co. in Albuquerque.
As the son of restaurateur Lino Pertusini, Alexander grew up in the restaurant industry. By contrast, Shyla is blazing a new path as the country’s only female Native American brewery owner. Chili Line is one of the smallest breweries in New Mexico, both in terms of brewing system and its classically compact Santa Fe building, while Bow and Arrow is housed in a spacious Wells Park warehouse in Albuquerque. At first glance it would seem these two breweries could not be more different, and they do each have a distinctive personality. But scratch the surface, and the similarities are striking. Both owners draw inspiration from the past, and their beers are deeply influenced by personal heritage and historical perspective.
Alexander has always had an innate love of history, confessing, “Originally, I wanted to be an archaeologist!” He relished reading books on old-school Santa Fe, and was fascinated by tales from days of old and rediscovering long-forgotten knowledge.
But the call of craft brewing soon drew him away from his archaeological ambitions, and by the time he was 17, he was experimenting with home brewing. Eventually, he went on to study with some of the veterans of New Mexico brewing: Jami Nordby at Santa Fe Homebrew Supply, Jerry Grandle of Spotted Dog Brewery, and Alfonz Viszolay at Santa Fe Brewing Company. By 2013, he was considering opening his own brewery, and in February of 2016, he began selling Chili Line Brews from inside Pizzeria & Trattoria da Lino.
Still, his penchant for storytelling has never abated, and it’s evident throughout Chili Line Brewing. The brewery itself is named after the old narrow gauge railroad that stretched from Santa Fe to Colorado, and several of the beers are named for stops on that line. Stara Baba, a polish-style grotzer beer, is a nod to his own half-Italian, half-Polish heritage: Alexander’s mother dubbed it “old hag” in Polish. Other brews honor local culture and lore, including the PG IPA and the La Llorona.
But perhaps the most important historic influence is the beer itself. Chili Line specializes in smoked beers, a decision that was sparked by a trip Alexander took to Bamberg, Germany, in 2015. He was visiting Weyermann Malters to buy some grain for brewing, and while there, he toured facilities and tried smoked beers from about 10 different breweries. “That’s where the adventure started,” he recalls.
Alexander was enthralled by the smoked beers. “After all, originally, all beers were smoked beers,” he explains. “They would dry malt on a screen over a fire, so beers took on unique smokiness, based on which wood grew locally in the area.” After the invention of the drum roaster, that process was no longer necessary and the smoky tastes disappeared. Brewers had more control, and smoke no longer influenced the flavor.
“But think about what we lost,” Alexander says. “Smoke is a great preservative. Smoked beers age really well; you can store them for a long time.” The experience inspired him to found Chili Line Brewing, with the goal of bringing smoked beers to a wider audience. He even tried brewing a smoked Hefeweizen, something he hadn’t seen anyone else doing. “I wanted to take what’s popular in the U.S. and mix it with the smoked styles,” he says.
Alexander’s fascination with history gives visitors to Chili Line a deeper, richer experience than typical brewery. The beer is about more than just flavor profiles; it’s an education. “All beers have a story,” he says. “The best way to learn things is through a captivating story. Everything has a story, even the beers.”
Chili Line Brewing is committed to telling those stories with local ingredients and flavors. They use locally grown Neomeixcanus hops as much as possible, and Alexander has even experimented with using red chile. Like the wood fires from days gone by, these local ingredients tell a story with every sip.
Down in Albuquerque, Bow & Arrow Brewing takes that dedication to local ingredients a step further. Since the brewery’s grand opening in February of 2016, Shyla has been working with Head Brewer Ted O’Hanlan to craft beers that elevate New Mexico flavors and ingredients.
Ted began his brewing career at renowned Fullsteam Brewery, where he helped craft the unique “Plow to Pint” beers the brewery is known for. He’s taking that experience, and his love for the Southwest, and creating some very interesting results. A current example is Bow & Arrow’s Way Out West Wild Sumac, a tart wheat beer with sumac berries from the Navajo Nation.
They’ve also recently launched barrel-aging, sour and bettanomyces wild yeast beer programs with offerings like their Cosmic Arrow barrel-aged Brett Saison, which gains complexity from a secondary fermentation with Brett wild yeast and from being aged in red wine barrels.
In all its sensibilities, Bow & Arrow combines old and new in compelling ways, and it benefits from a unique perspective and approach. “We are Native American, and take a lot of pride in our heritage and incorporating design elements with authenticity and real significance to us,” Shyla says. “We approach our designs as inspired Natives, not Native-inspired.” So rather than cliched, appropriated decor, at the Bow & Arrow tap room, you’ll see subtle but meaningful details that honor Native American heritage without exploiting it. “We enjoy creating communal spaces and love incorporating natural elements. This is evident in the way we designed the brew hall with long communal tables, lots of texture and landscape imagery to balance out the industrial elements of the brewery,” Shyla points out.
Throughout the process of opening Bow & Arrow, Shyla has always strived for balance between tradition and creativity. She says one of her greatest challenges is, “Setting ourselves apart by developing innovative and unique beers without getting too far afield from what people recognize and want. So you take risks and some beers you keep and some you’ll never brew again!” She continues, “It’s a lot of fun to surprise people with flavors they are familiar with but never would’ve thought to find in a beer.”
From these different perspectives, Alexander and Shyla are making their marks on New Mexico brewing culture. Through discovery, experimentation and a respect for tradition, Bow & Arrow and Chili Line express their mutual love for brewing in individual ways. They each honor the past while forging ahead into the future. New Mexico has always built our culture by merging convention and invention. That’s part of our story, and we tell it through our Fiestas, our art, our food and our beer.
Bow & Arrow Brewing Co. is located at 608 McKnight Ave NW in Albuquerque. 505.247.9800. bowandarrowbrewing.com.
Chili Line Brewing is located at 204 N Guadalupe in Santa Fe. 505.500.7903. chililinebrewery.com.
Story by Melyssa Holik