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Veterans promote solidarity with Bearded Viking Mead

Billings Gazette - 5/11/2024

May 10—Bearded Viking Mead Company, located in Columbus, opened its doors to the public with their grand opening "Mead Up" event last week. The three-day celebration included a ribbon-cutting, axe throwing, food-trucks, a variety of mead samplings, and most importantly, a gathering of people.

"The Bearded Viking is about bringing people together," founder and mead master, JT Robertson said. "And that's what we do here. If you look around, there's no technology. Everything here is about being a part of a family, a community."

The small tasting room, located off Montana Highway 78, is housed in a Quonset hut, with most of the seating space outside. Wooden benches are constructed with a communal space in mind, in two semi-circles, around two fire pits.

"The benches are set so you have to sit next to people, so you get a chance to talk to new people and converse and bring a sense of community back to the world."

Like the sense of community that Bearded Viking strives to provide, it was Robertson's fellow military brothers-in-arms and longtime friends who rallied around him in support to make his dream, and theirs, a reality: a space of welcoming and kinship.

While others started baking sourdough bread during the COVID quarantine, Robertson, a Marine Corps and Army combat veteran, as well as a Viking-minded Salt Lake City dweller, he started fermenting honey. He just happened to have a 50-pound surplus of honey, sourced from his backyard beehives, he said, after giving the first 50 pounds away to his friends and family.

"After four years of fermenting and failing and turning honey into white lightning for a while and some terrible failures, it just kind of came to be," he said. "I just kept working at it and working at it and became better and better with every batch."

He moved to Montana, a longtime goal of his, to find his place of refuge, and pursue mead-making fulltime. But what's the fun of making mead without friends, and family, to share it with.

"They say never do business with friends, but you can't do business with people you don't trust, right?" Robertson said. "I don't consider them friends, they're my chosen family."

There's a lot of trust between the nine of them, everyone bringing different talents to the table in their business partnership. His family gathered from across the country, from Utah, Colorado and Montana, to bring the endeavor to fruition.

Now, two and half years after breaking ground on the project, their meadery's doors are open. Robertson no longer sources honey from his own beehives, although he kept nine of them, he sources honey locally from Sunshine Apiary, also located in Columbus. The relationship couldn't be more symbiotic and fortuitous for Robertson, something he's glad of.

Eventually, he and his family plan to expand the indoor tasting room into a larger gathering space, with a Viking-inspired hall in mind. Until then, through the warmer summer months, visitors will have the outdoor space to commune.

On the other side of battle themselves, this fellowship of nine veterans have found a common purpose not only in their shared business venture, but also in a solidarity among veterans and the awareness of mental health issues affecting them. The group of them host a weekly men's mental health podcast, called Vikings, Outlaws and Cowboys.

"We talk about men's mental health because nobody ever talks about it. Men don't talk about mental health. We don't sugarcoat anything," he said.

"It's just reminding men that they need to be men; you can do all sorts of things and still be a man. Address people with kindness and respect, you'll get it back. Your opinion doesn't matter in life, it doesn't. Hold your beliefs to you and encourage other people to be good."

Bearded Viking Mead Company is located at 4595 on MT-78, Columbus, open 4-9 p.m. Thursday through Saturday.

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(c)2024 the Billings Gazette (Billings, Mont.)

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