In October of this year, the DMV was treated to the launch of a new beer, Zingabier, from Montgomery County’s first black-owned brewery, Black Viking Brewing. The beer, along with the founders of Black Viking, Shaun Taylor and Jamil Raoof, have been making the rounds at beer stores, bars, and restaurants, so we took the opportunity to sit down with them to learn more about the brewery and what they hope to bring to the local craft beer scene.
Jamil, the mastermind behind Zingabier, first fell in love with good beer during his time living in Spain and traveling across Europe. It inspired him to begin homebrewing once he returned to the States. Originally brewed as a honey pilsner and given out to co-workers, Jamil used the feedback he got to refine Zingabier into its current form: a 5.5% golden ale brewed with fresh ginger and wildflower honey. The beer’s name comes from the Latin word for ginger: zinga. “It’s an easy drinking beer that is under 6% and is good year-round. We think it serves a missing niche in the market, something that is drinkable and affordable as a flagship beer,” notes the brewer.
Jamil’s journey to a professional career in the beer world began during a trip he took up to Canada with his wife about four years ago. “We were up at Canmore Brewing and I noticed that they had a female head brewer at the time. It really got me thinking about the type of person who could work and succeed in the craft beer industry. Often times I’ll be at a taproom [as one of the only Black people], and if there’s another Black patron, they’ll approach me rather than the bar staff to ask a question about what to order. That just comes down to comfort… I realized I had the special privilege as a Black home brewer, being able to experience the beer culture in both Europe and the US. I kept traveling to craft breweries, unfortunately, without seeing too many people who looked like me.”
That reality plays into the name of Black Viking. On his mother’s side, Jamil’s family is from Minnesota and has some Scandinavian ancestry. He combined that heritage with his desire to have a brand name that made the Black-owned nature of the brewery explicit, hence Black Viking.
Shaun and Jamil first met almost 20 years ago when Shaun was the coach for Jamil’s high school basketball team. To this day, Jamil still refers to him as “Coach,” to the amusement of both men. Shaun’s journey into beer began about seven years ago. “In addition to teaching, I was a writer and writers always have a vice.” Shaun’s vice was craft beer, and although his efforts at home brewing never panned out, he still wanted to be involved in the scene and started a beer review and interview show, broadcast through Facebook, called the BYOB Show. Part of what comes through when you watch episodes of BYOB, besides the incredible energy and passion that Shaun brings, is that while the show does center around the beers, they are a vehicle to have discussions with guests about their career or other life topics. This is part of how Shaun thinks about beer in general and the mission of Black Viking. “Whenever anyone wants to go to the bar, they don’t really care about the technical parts of beer, the beer is there to facilitate the conversation and bring people together.” That perspective is what drew Shaun to Jamil’s beer when he first tried it. “I always wanted to get into the business, but I knew I wouldn’t be doing it as a brewer. The honey ginger ale was so unique and easy drinking that I wanted to share it with the contacts I built up in the industry.” Shaun and Jamil also took Zingabier around to folks who weren’t big beer drinkers to see the appeal. Once Shaun saw people enjoying it, he realized that they had a winner on their hands and made the plunge to commit his time and resources, alongside Jamil, to bring Black Viking to the market.
One of those industry contacts that Shaun first brought Zingabier around to was David Birks of Downtown Crown, located in Gaithersburg, MD. Dave helped to connect Black Viking with Baltimore’s Oliver Brewing Company (PSA Brewery) to serve as their contract brewing partner. That relationship has proved fruitful; with the initial 20-barrel batch of Zingabier quickly sold, Black Viking will be moving onto a 40-barrel batch that will enable them to have the inventory to move into the District, as well as, expand the locations they are selling to in Maryland.
However, Black Viking’s ambitions stretch far beyond being a local beer brand. According to Shaun, there is currently not a single Black-owned beer brand that is distributed across the country, though some have regional presences in parts of the US. Black Viking believes that by maintaining their contract brewing model and keeping the beer at a reasonable price point (the goal is for it to be sold around $12.99/6-pack), they can grow Zingabier into that first Black-owned national brand. The long-term vision for Black Viking is to grow the size of the craft beer consumer base by drawing in more Black people through expanded access and education. Shaun explains that “a lot of Black folks don’t have access to beers that celebrate our culture.”
To that point, Shaun and Jamil explained that when they visit Patuxent Brewing in Charles County, the only Black-owned physical brewery in the DMV, the clientele is typically 90-95% people of color. This stands in stark contrast to what a person is likely to see at any other taproom in the region and suggests that there is a demand for craft beer among the local community that is not being properly catered to by existing options. Jamil believes that is about making folks comfortable. “When people who don’t normally drink beer are enjoying the honey, the ginger, we think it’s because those ingredients speak to a part of Black culture. We’re making the beer accessible as a social drink for the cookout and drawing in folks who aren’t already buying craft beer. For us, we wanted to be conscious about founding our company on timeless principles. Regardless of who you are we wanted a brand that incorporated universal values.”
Currently, Zingabier is available in stores across all of Maryland’s 26 counties and a number of bars and restaurants in Frederick, Montgomery, and Prince George’s Counties. DC residents can head to Sherry’s Wine and Spirits in Woodley Park, with more options coming soon. Keep an eye out on the “Find Us” page on Black Viking’s website for further updates on availability. For those who want to connect and learn more about Black Viking, Shaun invites everyone to message them on Instagram and tune in on Thursdays at 7PM for the live broadcasts of Black Viking TV.
We at DC Beer want to thank Shaun and Jamil for taking the time to speak with us and wish them the best of luck in the future.