AND UNION, Summer Wheat Ale
South African Breweries (SAB) own 98% of the South African beer market. Unless you are craving after one of their brands; Carling Black Label, Castle Lager, Castle Lite, Castle Milk Stout or Hansa Pilsener (and you’re probably not) it’s tough to get hold of a decent beer there. So in 2007 Rui Esteves and Brad Armitage set off for Europe looking “not only at what beers people drink but also how they drink in terms of beer and food as a culture”.
Brewers & Union came soon after. “We challenged ourselves to find some of Europe’s oldest family-run breweries to create artisan-produced beers that we are not only proud to produce for our customers, but love to drink ourselves. We work hand-in-hand with different brewmasters in Europe, to develop the finest, authentic lagers and ales, and bring them to the table in South Africa.”
Those tables are in a trendy little Cape Town establishment called “& Union”. They had to drop the “Brewers” bit because the church in which it is housed (yes the bar is in the cellar of an old church) wouldn’t allow it.
In 2010 Byron Redman came on board introducing the range of beers to Europe, more specifically the UK. He says: “The UK is very different to South Africa with so many great beers already in existence. We are the bridge between mass-produced rubbish and geekier beers”. This European sales drive has been so successful that almost all of the beer now stays here, with just a little bit heading back to South Africa.
Their range includes an easy drinking pale, unfiltered lager and wheat beer in cans that are available in more upmarket British supermarkets. Then there are a whole bunch of other seasonal, slightly more challenging beers in big bottles, which nowadays is refreshing in more way than one. The branding is minimalistic and brooding. The “Sean Connery of beers” according to Oh Beautiful Beer. We love it.
Summer Wheat, like the rest of the And Union range, is unpasteurised and unfiltered. “That’s a very conscious decision by us. Enhanced flavours, better body, more character... what’s not to like?” asks Byron. “The liquid quintessence of concentrated sunbeams…. Summer in a bottle” is how they describe it and who are we to argue. It pours hazy and pale with a gorgeous whiff of banana funk, vanilla and tropical fruit. On the palate, the malt base is barely evident, but the hops and yeast provide plenty of flavours, with citrus fruits and hints of honey the notes we picked out. Serve cold (at least a couple of hours in the fridge) and pair with any kind of shellfish and you’ll be on to a winner.
Brewers & Union is growing at a pace, as is the craft beer scene in South Africa. “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”, says Rui.