Bernhard Wieland is a tall drink of lager. But the imposing yet soft-spoken brewer behind the taps at Winnipeg’s newest brew pub has gone from working in some of the city’s biggest craft breweries to making beer on the city’s smallest commercial brewing system.
Wieland is the brains behind Bernhard Wieland Brewing, a German-inspired venture operating in the basement of the German Society of Winnipeg at 121 Charles St. Wieland learned to brew in Germany, before working his way through some of the city’s larger breweries such as Little Brown Jug and Fort Garry Brewing Co.
Like many, as the pandemic took hold Wieland found himself out of work. "I started thinking, ‘what do I want to do?’ There was no question I wanted to stay in brewing," Wieland says. "So I started home brewing for the first time in my career — 20 years I’ve been at it now, and I’ve never done any home brewing."
Wieland’s venture into home brewing came after brewing a small batch of beer on the test brewing system at Oxus Brewing Co. He decided to take the plunge and get a small system of his own, which he set up at home. But he was still trying to figure out what was next.
"Finally it came to me. I’ve been on the executive at the German Society for a few years now. People were asking me ‘why don’t you brew here?’" he recalls. "I guess I was always thinking bigger scale. But I had this brewing system in the condo, so I thought, ‘why don’t I use this?’"
After moving his equipment to the basement of the German Society, Wieland had his first batch of beer, a Hallertau pils, ready to go in October. He’s now got eight home-brew sized fermenters up and running; each 30-litre batch of his German-style brews produces about 50 cans, which Wieland packages himself.
He’s currently pumping out about 200 cans a week of his eight different beers, which can be enjoyed at Schnitzelhaus, the on-site restaurant at the German Society run by chef Craig Guenther, or for takeaway, or through Schnitzelhaus’s Skip the Dishes page. Wieland’s current lineup of brews can be found on the Skip page or on his Instagram page (@bernhardwielandbrewer).
While Wieland could envision one day contract brewing his beer at one of the city’s standalone breweries to scale up production and get his beer into Liquor Marts or beer vendors, for now he’s enjoying making beer on a micro level. "If I can keep it small, keep myself busy in the basement, I’ll be happy doing that. It’s been a big shift in my thinking — but brewing my own recipes has been really rewarding."
Upstairs at Schnitzelhaus, the smell of hearty German fare wafts through the dining room — a cosy but impressive space straight out of the 1970s, adorned with all manner of authentic, retro German kitsch — as chef Craig Guenther buzzes around, training new employees and prepping for evening service. Guenther has cooked in all manner of spots in the city, and owns and operates the RubyRed’s BBQ food truck, which he’s temporarily parked to focus on the menu at Schnitzelhaus.
Like Wieland, Guenther has been a member of the German Society for years, and would occasionally help out in the kitchen to prep their buffet menus — until the pandemic put the kibosh on buffet-style dining. That speedbump ended up turning into a permanent gig running the Charles St. kitchen. "Near the end of March , they called and said ‘can you come in to help with our curbside pickup?’ And I never left," he says.
Guenther took over the kitchen in earnest in May 2020, bringing all manner of classic German dishes into the mix and establishing Schnitzelhaus as a bonafide restaurant. "They never had a menu; basically it was the Thursday German buffet and the all-you-can-eat schnitzel and brat Fridays," he recalls. "So I came up with a menu, I went to Skip, I went to Uber Eats, I went to Door Dash — just trying to get it out there."
Schnitzelhaus is currently open Wednesday through Friday in the evening; those ordering through Skip the Dishes for home delivery can also add Wieland’s beer to their order. They also open up Schnitzelhaus during the day on Saturdays. "We have what we call the hangover breakfast," he says, laughing. "We’ve got German soccer on TV, and people come for a hearty breakfast. You just want to go home and have a nap afterwards."
In terms of traditional German fare in Winnipeg, Guenther’s dishes are pretty much the only game in town — the centerpiece, of course, being schnitzel. "The menu is authentic — the bread dumplings, called knodel, to rouladen, which is the beef roll with pickle and onion, to frikadellen… even the curry wurst you would find in the subways in Germany at two o’clock in the morning."
Guenther loves the concept of pairing Wieland’s German-style brews with his classic German dishes, although is hard-pressed to pick a favourite. "I love the Vienna, I really enjoy the Smash, the Hallertau pils is really good… I think his Munich beer and my schnitzel are a great pairing. There’s a little garlic, hint of paprika, and I think the hint of the bitterness in the beer helps, with the sweetness of the red cabbage… I think all these beers will actually pair quite well with any German dish that we do."
Meanwhile, Guenther’s love of barbecue hasn’t waned, and he’s got plans to bring it back — this time in the basement of the German Society in early 2022. "I’m opening a… I want to say a blues dive bar," he says. "But it’s going to be a barbecue restaurant/blues atmosphere. The concept is a true Kansas City-style barbecue joint — a hole in the wall out on Highway 108 where they’re open until food runs out kind of concept."
The dishes are already coming together in Guenther’s head. "The menu is gonna be super simple — there’s going to be about 10 to 12 items: brisket, pulled pork, Jamaican pork loins, racks of ribs — either St. Louis style or baby backs — and I want to do a Cubano. And then serve it with my famous beans and a salad of the day." Wieland’s beer, of course, will be on hand to help wash it all down.
Until the basement blues and barbecue joint is up and running, Guenther is eager to get his classic German food in front of hungry Winnipeggers. "I’m just loving the Schnitzelhaus concept. It’s been hard work, but the people that come truly enjoy it, and it’s great value for your dollar."
As a couple of old-timers saunter in, sit down and start playing cards, Guenther pauses and looks around the room before continuing. "And it’s the authenticity. I just I love this place. I don’t want it to see it ever go."
Literary editor, drinks writer
Ben Sigurdson edits the Free Press books section, and also writes about wine, beer and spirits.