When Montgomery County residents Jamil Abdur-Raoof and Shaun Taylor launched a craft beer company named Black Viking Brewing, they went so far as to meet with a Viking archaeologist to flesh out the character behind the name.
They wanted to ensure they were honoring the tradition while also creating a “contemporary mythology,” Taylor said.
Taylor, who previously did some screenwriting, began drafting up a back story for the Viking on the brand’s logo, which they named King Kross. They gave Kross a wife, Queen Tiana, and a likeness for their logo.
On the logo, King Kross’ beard is made out of hop leaves. Queen Tiana also has an afro made of hops.
The design illustrates one of the business’ goals: The two founders aimed to honor Viking mythology and African American heritage and culture as they “combined the two worlds,” Taylor said.
The business, which launched in October, is the first Black-owned brewery in Montgomery County, according to Taylor and Abdur-Raoof.
Across the country, there are about 8,700 breweries. Around 75 are Black-owned — less than 1 percent — and none of those have national distribution, Taylor said.
“The diversity in brewing is, needless to say, almost nonexistent,” Abdur-Raoof said. The two are hoping to change that, to connect with people in the craft brewing community and center Black voices in their company and promotional efforts.
The two men first met when Taylor coached Abdur-Raoof’s basketball team 15 years ago. Taylor had gone into a career in corporate sales, “and quickly realized I hated it,” he said.
He began coaching basketball at Thomas S. Wootton High School to stay around the game. Abdur-Raoof was one of his favorite players because of his hard work and maturity, Taylor said.
In recent years, Taylor bought equipment to brew beer at home. But he despised the process, similar to chemistry and cooking, and left his supplies to gather dust on the shelf.
Instead, he began building community within the craft beer industry. He started the “BYOB Show” on Facebook Live, where he and guests would drink beer and talk.
Abdur-Raoof and Taylor reconnected in the summer of 2020, when Abdur-Raoof saw his former coach’s social media and reached out, writing “Hey, coach, you know I brew beer.”
Taylor’s response: “Coach? Man, you’ve got to be like 30 by now. Why you still calling me coach?”
The next day Abdur-Raoof took beer samples to Taylor’s house, and the two began forming the idea for Black Viking Brewing.
The name arises from Abdur-Raoof’s ancestry. His mom’s side is from Minnesota, where much of the population is of Scandinavian descent, and his dad’s side is African American, though also with Scandinavian roots.
They started the brand with the flagship “Zingabier,” which has a ginger-forward taste with a light hop and notes of honey, Abdur-Raoof said.
The brand launched at Downtown Crown Wine and Beer store on Oct. 23. That night, they sold 43 cases and kicked half a keg in an hour, Taylor said.
The bartenders gave them high fives and hugs afterward to celebrate the energy and community they brought to the space, he added.
Since then, they add new accounts nearly every other day. They’ve spread to stores throughout Montgomery County and Frederick County, and will soon enter the Washington, D.C., and Virginia markets, as well.
They plan to come out with a hazy IPA this summer.
They currently do not have a physical location, and instead contract out to Oliver Brewing Co. for production. Abdur-Raoof said they hope to soon have a tap room where they can showcase their beer alongside other guest brews.
Both men have full-time day jobs and pursue Black Viking as a passion. Abdur-Raoof is in med tech sales and helps with patient care, while Taylor works at an education nonprofit called DC Cap.
“When 4:30 or 5 o’clock hits … that’s when it’s straight Black Viking time,” Taylor said. “That and a lot of early mornings and obviously weekends and stuff.”
Abdur-Raoof focuses on the beer and Taylor focuses on the day-to-day business. In particular, Taylor has now moved the BYOB Show to Instagram, and rebranded it as Black Viking TV.
The goal is to “connect the culture,” and people tune in from California and England every Thursday, he said. He features people with diverse experiences to talk about their jobs and personal lives.
The company’s next goal is to increase volume and scale up physical production. The long-term goal is to become the first Black-owned nationally distributed beer brand in the country, Taylor said.
“Just us being an existing product and having a strong name that stands out with a unique product, I think it’s already helping diversify who walks into Crown, who’s walking into the store to buy the beer,” Abdur-Raoof said. “Hopefully, by getting them in the store, it helps them interact with some different people that they normally wouldn’t and be able to open their eyes and world to different flavors in the craft beer industry.”