It 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.