&Union Beer Salon and Charcuterie is a very trendy pub that is one of the favourite haunts of bloggers Dax of Relax-with-Dax, The Foodie and JamieWho, and they give its beer brands regular coverage via Twitter, so much so that I had to try it out – the first time about a month ago – and then I went back for the Brazil versus Portugal match last week.
To review &Union one needs to know that the owners were the founder owners of Vida e Caffe (Brad Armitage and Rui Esteves), who broke away to create &Union. &Union does not give one a Vida franchise feel at all – exactly the opposite is true, and it is commendable that the owners could start and maintain a business so radically different to what they did before. Also, untypically for Vida e Caffe, &Union has no visible exterior branding on Bree Street, but those that love the brand and share the passion, know where it is!
&Union is not a traditional pub – one sits outside on wooden tables and benches in summer, and for the World Cup a Moroccan style tent has been erected to cover all Cape Town winter weather options, with heaters if it gets cold. The tent has three strips of material on it, which are linked to a painting near the entrance, all related to the Puma Africa Unity Kit. It would be lost to most present, unless they had been invited to the launch of the new Puma beer a few days before.
We arrived just before the match starting time, and there was only a little bench available to sit on, a little removed from all the other benches, and without a table. I was impressed with Simon Wibberley, the Operations Manager, who seemed to know everyone coming into &Union, hugging and kissing (the ladies at least), and the guys all seemed to be friends. Simon stood near the entrance, and kept an eye on things continuously – no sitting back and having a beer and watch the soccer for him. It became so full that he eventually locked the gate, yet it did not feel crowded. The only problem was a lack of seating for everyone.
The beer list is an unusual brown A3 recycled sheet which shows its seven beers and tells the &Union story. The owners wanted to develop beer brands that are authentic, truthful and honest, and that stand for quality, heritage, tradition and taste. This led them to find “some of Europe’s oldest family-run breweries in search of artisan-produced beers that we are not only proud to produce for our customers but love to drink ourselves. We don’t believe we can single-handedly change the world of beer as it exists but with a little raw passion, blind optimism and reckless resolve, we can perhaps make a difference”, the beer list says.
This mission for &Union has led to the development of “luxury beers, handcrafted by our artisans from the finest natural ingredients. Our pils and amber ale are brewed using only 100% barley malt, yeast, hops, and water”. The beer is brewed for up to 8 weeks. The Pils and Amber are unpasteurised, the beer list says, to allow a “fuller, richer taste”. The passion comes from “Eating. Drinking. Living. That’s what we love. Pairing real beer with real food…”. This passion is lived in a small selection of food options, the seven beer choices, and, surprisingly, wines.
The beer list has a prominent packshot of each beer sold, and as an infrequent beer drinker and having been ignorant about the brand, the seven beer names meant nothing to me at all. The beer list is there to help, with better-than-wine descriptions of each:
* Unity Lager was developed for Puma’s “African Unity Kit” football campaign. It is “medium-bodied”, “silky smooth”, “malty”, “hints of apple and honey”, and has a “bittersweet floral finish”. It costs R40 for 500ml
* Brewers &Union Unfiltered Lager is “unfiltered, unpasteurized”, “bursting with flavour”. Cost is R 40 for 500ml
* Steph Weiss is a wheat beer, “delicate, smooth and creamy”, “aromas of vanilla and clove”. Cost is R 40 for 500ml
* Berne Unfiltered Amber is German-style, “buttery”, “toasty, bready malts”, “hints of caramel and toffee”. It costs R 40 for 500ml
* Brewers &Union Dark Lager is “beautifully hopped”, “dark roasted malt flavor” (sic). Cost is R 40 for 500 ml
* Touro Tripel Blond has a “creamy palate”, “fruity spicy malt flavour” It costs R 125 for 750ml
* Touro Tripel Amber has a “honeyed-amber malt aroma”, “hints of vanilla and caramel”. Cost is R 125 for 750ml
The menu is short and sweet: eight food options- a biltong bowl (tasted a bit vinegary) at R25; pate – made from charcuterie off-cuts and a bit too coarse for my taste – at R35; grilled weisswurst with mustard was excellent – at R60; Prego rolls cost R 60, available in beef and pork; the Charcuterie Board costs R65, and consists of coppa, parma ham and felino sausage; the “grilled juicy saucisson” board – a North African sausage made with 16 spices – costs R60; a 3-cheese board costs R65; and the salmon carpaccio board R75. Three “sweets” are offered, almond croissants (R15), Italian chocolate liqueur (made by Massimo from Hout Bay Pizza Club) at R20, and an espresso chocolate at R25. &Union also serves organic coffee. One can also have an early breakfast at &Union.
Two white and two red wines are served by the glass: Haut Espoir Sauvignon Blanc (R35) and Tamboerskloof Viognier (R40), and Landskroon and Boer & Brit ‘The General’ red blends, both costing R 40. Ten wines by the bottle start at R 130 for the Haut Espoir, and The Hedonist is the most expensive at R 210. I loved the name of the sparkling wine brand – Suikerbossie ‘Ek wil jou he’, made in Kimberley, a surprise wine region.
&Union is a refreshingly (pardon the pun) different ‘beer salon”. It cares about beer, food and its clients. It knows how to build relationships with its customers. It is not pushy nor hard-sell, maybe a little too laid back on the service, but regulars go inside and order what they want, not waiting to be served. The soccer did not have much “gees”, despite there being so many soccer fans. It is trendy, and no doubt will grow into an eatery and beer salon that will set new standards in responsible eating and drinking in Cape Town. The only dissonance for me is that wines are served (with some unfortunate typos in the wine list), given its name and beer focus. The challenge for the owners will be to keep it small and personal, the opposite to what they achieved with Vida e Caffe.
Chris von Ulmenstein, Whale Cottage Portfolio: www.whalecottage.com.