Black Viking Brewing is a small contract brewer with a big goal: to become the first nationally distributed Black-owned beer company.
“I am very adamant on becoming the country’s first Black-owned nationally distributed beer brand” says Black Viking Brewing founder Shaun Taylor. He is taking steps to become the first, as Black Viking Brewing recently told Brandy Holder on the DC Beer Show.
“Not one of the Black-owned breweries has national distribution. That’s a problem,” Taylor says. He and cofounder Jamil Raoof released their first batch of Zingabier in 2021. Raoof, who Taylor describes as biracial, has Scandinavian ancestry. At first Taylor wasn’t sure about the brewery’s name but has come to embrace the name and is enthusiastic given its unique nature.
Raoof and Taylor’s product, Zingabier, is also uniquely situated to achieve this goal. Zingabier is a bit like that storied Goldilocks beer so many breweries and beer brands are looking for: it’s sweet, but not too sweet. It’s bitter, but far from the bitterness levels of say Sierra Nevada Pale Ale. The golden ale, out of the can and in my glass, appears less hazy than today’s average pale ale; it’s not as crystal-clear as the macro lagers brewed with corn syrup or rice. Zingabier is a few shades darker than the wildly-popular light lagers in the American market. As soon as you smell it, the presence of ginger is evident. There’s a good spritzy bubbliness that accompanies the zesty zing on the finish after the swallow.
Whereas the macro beer many Americans are introduced to in college is neutral and inoffensive, this beer has character. It lacks that thinness so many of the light/lite beers possess. But its bitterness is very subtle. So subtle in fact, you might forget it’s there until you ask yourself, “does this beer taste sweet? Does the beer taste spicy” To me, the answer is no and no. But it does have an effervescent almost-citrusy character that I’m assuming is imparted from the ginger.
This beer is not sweet; the bitterness from hops and perceived spice from the ginger really lead to a balanced golden ale. Enough bite to keep it interesting, but enough balance not to chase away new customers who will become accustomed to what they may perceive as a bold flavor at first. There is enough ale aroma to make this beer more perfumed than a highly-filtered light lager, but there are also enough perceptions of sweetness, bitterness, fruitiness, and grain that the beer hums. It’s singing a simple song, but each of its components–malt, hop, honey, and ginger–contribute an octave, which overall leads to a subtle yet flavor-relishing richness. There’s a lot packed into this 5.5% ABV beer.
The goal of “national distribution” may sound inconspicuous, but the breadth of the goal is significant. America’s biggest beer brands, and those with national distribution, have taken years to achieve this goal. Consider America’s oldest brewery, from Pottsville, Pennsylvania, just started distribution in Texas in 2021 and is only now getting into Oklahoma, Missouri, and Kansas.
The beauty of Black Viking’s goal, national distribution, is that even if you only hit half of your goal, you still see your beer sold in 25 states. That’s a lot, especially for a brewery that turns three in October. Their beer is currently being produced at PSA Brewery LLC–that’s Oliver Ales to those in the know–in Baltimore, Maryland.
If the goal is unique, it is perhaps a reflection of the dynamic character of the company’s cofounder, Shaun Taylor. To hear more of the interview which didn’t make it to the podcast’s public platforms, check out our Patreon.
“Building a brand and a business aren’t exactly the same thing. They’re intertwined if that makes sense… You can have a great brand but if your business is not great you’re going to struggle,” Taylor told Holder. And he’s absolutely right. Consider all of the brands that Pabst owns: Schlitz, Old Milwaukee, Schaefer, Colt 45, and National Bohemian. Consider that in 1954, National Brewing Company, the company that made National Bohemian and National Premium, had an annual capacity for 850,000 barrels of beer. Today, the plant that sat at O’Donnell and Conkling streets–Brewer’s Hill as the sign reads–makes beer no more.
Holder asked Taylor if he could have known one thing at the start of his business, what would it be? “If I could have known one thing it would be that this is still a very serious multi billion dollar business” Taylor said.
“The Zingabier…. it’s a light beer. Look at the numbers, 80% of beer sold and consumed in the United States of America is light beer. But it’s got a unique twist on it with the ginger and the honey but it’s still at a great price point at $12.99 a six pack.”
The price point Taylor lists is a major asset to the brand. With $10 becoming the new $5 draft beer price in DC, there’s no doubt that there is a good value to be had for $12.99 a sixer.
“We just recently closed a deal with Buck distributing here in Maryland which will take us from about 30 stores to 300 stores, in the next couple of weeks,” Taylor says. “Just to put it in perspective, that will make us the largest Black-owned beer brand on the east coast.”
Taylor told us the Black Viking brand will be in Massachusetts (for a short period of time) when Sam Adams releases their collaboration strictly in Boston, on April 6. In town, look for his collaboration with DC Brau in late March or early April. He will also have a tripartite collaboration with Sankofa and Saints Row that should come out this month. Cans of Stroop! There It Is, a collaboration with Red Bear, are available in DC and Maryland. You can find a list of where Zingabier is sold on his site.
Exciting things are coming down the pike as Black Viking looks to expand their distribution footprint. “We’re also looking at distribution deals in DC, Virginia, and Pennsylvania, like actively having those conversations… I would say that in the summer we will have those distribution deals in place which will then make us the largest Black-owned beer brand in the country.”