I like a place with a story. Add to that great craft beer, a fabulous, knowledgeable and friendly guy showing us around and sausages (I love sausages, especially proper German ones, with mustard), and you’ve got me. The Weinhaus & Biergarten (formerly &Union, on Bree Street), therefore, had me, when I went to visit. They have ‘Sausage Fest’ on the menu! Sausage fest!
This beer writing gig has opened up a whole new world to me, and taught me much, not least of all, the value of a good proprietor or – can I bear to say it? – face of a brand. Simon Wibberley, operational partner, is just that. We had only just walked through the door when he came over, introduced himself, and then sat with us, telling us their story, talking us through a tasting and explaining all the intricacies of craft beer.
When I was asked to write about craft beer, my first thoughts were to go to &Union. They seemed, in my mind, to be the go-to guys when it came to craft beer in Cape Town. It just seems to me that craft beer and &Union were synonymous, and I’m not far wrong. Brewers & Union were really the guys who pushed the craft beer ‘mentality’ in our little city and they’ve been going strong for five years.
I was wrong, too, about all things beer-related, when it comes to Brewers & Union beers. I had assumed that the cosy little bar in Bree Street was just the front of the brewery. A bit silly, now that I think about it – it’s tiny. No, the beers are brewed in Germany and Belgium, in order to use the finest ingredients (ours are swallowed up by the big guys i.e. SAB) and get the best product. Sad from a local economy point-of-view, but there you have it. I’m seriously thinking of exploring growing hops in that lovely little valley in the Karoo that holds my heart. I kid you not, I just Googled ‘growing hops.’
So, here’s the story that I love. The tiny bar is under one of the oldest buildings in Cape Town, on Riebeeck Square. Built in 1801 as The African Theatre, often attended by Lady Anne Barnard, it is now St Stephens NGK, which still functions as a church. The cellar, which houses the bar, is rumoured to have had many functions through the years, some a little shadier than others. Think red lights.
Whether these are rumour or fact, the place has history and its stone walls whisper and watch still, as crowds of people move within it, coming in from the large street-side courtyard with big companionable tables to order their drinks and food from the bar. I wondered what those old stone walls were thinking of the woman sitting just down from us, tapping her scarlet fingernails on the counter as she fiddled with her phone, her face looking slightly blue in its cellular glare?
As you know, if you’ve read any of my previous beer wittering, I’m a Castle Lite girl, looking for a craft beer that isn’t too heavy, isn’t trying too hard. I’m teaching my palate to discern between hoppiness and maltiness and all the other lovely beer descriptors. And I’m getting there, if a little slowly.
Brewers & Union has a large range – well, large in craft beer terms – and we tasted the ones they had on tap and a couple of others. Firstly, I like their labels – simple, eye-catching, bright. Secondly, I like their Sunday Easy IPA most. Beside its fabulous label, which reads Sun Day, it’s golden and light, with a refreshing citrusy zing. Very drinkable.
We tasted in wine glasses. This is a good idea. It gives you a much better sniffing experience. Seriously, the aromas all gather in the glass, and you can smell the hops, the smokiness, the fresh grass. Wine-tasting and beer-tasting are not that different! Incidentally, there was a wine-tasting going on the other corner while we were there, a weekly occurrence. This place is not just for beer lovers.
After Simon had taken us through the tasting and gone to help out with the wine-tasting, we tried a Beast of the Deep (love that name, too), which was a bit like a pudding beer. Taste it, you’ll understand what I mean.
We then tried the Unfiltered Dark. I was never a fan of dark beers or stout, despite one of my university boyfriends trying very hard to introduce me to their delights (I was a staunch Black Label fan in those, not-so-long-ago, ahem, days.) I am developing a love for them, though, and this one, with its seductive dark colour and creamy head definitely took my fancy. With the wind becoming chillier and autumn starting to show her colours, this beer, with its roasted, dark chocolate undertones is very appealing.
Then the food –ordered from the bar you get a sticker with a number which you stick somewhere visible and the food comes to you. Very efficient. It’s bar food. And includes sausages. Did I mention that already? Sausages! We shared a sausage fest, which consisted of two weisswurst and two kӓesewurst with little bowls of fresh chilli, gherkins and, of course, mustard. Yum. I watched a couple of other meals going by – burgers, sandwiches and pregos – all looked delicious.
And the hipsters, who I keep going on about? I’d always called this place Hipster Central. I wasn’t far wrong. They were there, in full, ironic, force. But they weren’t, by any means, claiming the place as their own. There were plenty of others, of all ages, enjoying after work drinks, a wine-tasting, and some delicious dinner.
I’ll be back. Like Arnold Schwarzenegger. But not.