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IMG_2275It seems like Wel­ling­ton has always been the Craft Beer Cap­it­al, but it wasn’t that long ago that The Malthouse—which cel­eb­rated its 21st this year—was the only craft bar in town. That all changed when the bar that we all now know as ‘Hashi’ opened up. The man behind the free­house, and noted ‘Heinek­en-free zone’, is Domin­ic Kelly.

Dom is a soft-spoken man, but when a new post goes up on his Liquor Lad­der blog (‘liquor lad­der’ is a lit­er­al trans­la­tion of Hashigo Zake) you know that sparks are going to fly. Wheth­er it’s about new liquor licens­ing laws or arguing against cri­ti­cism, Dom always has a strong opin­ion. Though when I ask him about this he replies: “I just think I’m sens­ible, in a Peter Dunne sort of way.”

A polit­ic­al joke isn’t sur­pris­ing. Dom organ­ised the only offi­cial polit­ic­al debate to hap­pen inside a craft beer bar. Dur­ing the last Wel­ling­ton may­or­al race, he man­aged to get all of the can­did­ates in to talk to a packed house.

Dom’s new pro­ject is also tak­ing off. Beer Without Bor­ders (BWB) is a dis­tri­bu­tion com­pany for craft beers from around the world. “[When I star­ted BWB] I knew as much about being a dis­trib­ut­or as I did about being a pub­lic­an when I opened Hashigo Zake. But what we lacked in [dis­tri­bu­tion] know­ledge we made up in product knowledge.”

Right now they sell more beer to Auck­land than to Wel­ling­ton. But any­one open­ing a new bar knows to con­tact BWB first.

But Dom doesn’t stop at own­ing one of the best beer bars in New Zea­l­and as well as dis­trib­ut­ing to oth­er great bars. No, he also runs two of the best fest­ivals in the coun­try. After trav­el­ling and liv­ing in Japan and see­ing how they do out­door fest­ivals, Dom returned with the thought of doing some­thing sim­il­ar. This vague idea ended up becom­ing the Pacific Beer Expo, or PBE as it’s col­lo­qui­ally known.

It’s a chance to raise the pro­file of beer made around the Pacific,” says Dom. ‘The Pacific’ means the event fea­tures a lot of New Zea­l­and, Aus­trali­an and Amer­ic­an beers. How­ever, this left out a lot of Dom’s favour­ite brew­er­ies, like Mikkeller and Nøgne Ø. Enter X‑Ale, the extreme beer festival.

X‑Ale is like… what’s that real­ity I show that I hate?” Dom pauses while I laugh. “Oh! Fear Factor! We’re going to impose on you to try everything. There’s a hint of ‘you have to do what you’re told’.”

Dom is cer­tainly a man who doesn’t always do what he ‘should’. Hashigo Zake shuts dur­ing the Sev­ens, he loudly decries indus­tri­al beers and he was one of the first major dis­sent­ers to the prac­tice of new bars being tied to taps. This may be why Hashi became a cult bar.

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