Pacific Beer Exposé

I said long ago, that one of the (relatively) few benefits of leaving Hashigo is that I get to experience it as a punter. Now this isn’t entirely true, as every time I got in there, it still somehow feels like a workplace more than a bar to me. It’s like taking the back off a clock and watching the cogs move. The more familiar you are with the machine, the less you see it as a functional device for keeping time, and the more you see the individual pieces working independently.

Anywho, to move on from this rather laboured analogy, since I now no longer work at HZ, I now get to go to their beer festivals. Which isn’t so say I couldn’t go before. Infact I could get in for free when I worked at Hashigo. But you can never really enjoy a beer festival when you know you have to work an 8 hour shift afterwards.

So all this has been a very long-winded way of saying that Labour Weekend, I rocked up with a great deal of excitement, to the first beer festival I’ve attended without volunteering at/working at/working after, since Beervana 2010. And honestly, if I could only attend one festival a year, it would probably be Hashigo Zake’s Pacific Beer Expo.


I used to joke that PBE was has HZ’s Greatest Hit’s album: a collection of the favourite beers from the last year or so that have been squirreled away to be leased in one beer-fueled orgy. And in previous years this has pretty much been the case. But this year the line-up was a little more diverse, with a lot of imports I’d never seen before. Even more exciting, quite a few New Zealand breweries showed up with one-offs, new or special releases.

Beer highlights included:

  • 8 Wired Wild Feijoa. It was light, funky, refreshing and 10%. I could drink a lot of it, very quickly and then be very drunk.
  • Funk Estate Pinky and the Grain 8.8%. A pink peppercorn Saison. It should not have worked, but totally did.
  • Garage Project Weasel Cah Phe Da. Oh, look at me, what a Garage Project fanboy. Yeah well, shut up. The beer was great. And yes, I know, Civet coffee is usually either dubiously authentic, and if it’s real, dubiously ethical. Garage acknowledged this in their poster for the beer, and said at the time that this was probably a one-time only deal.
Credit: Garage Project/Rachel Smythe

Credit: Garage Project/Rachel Smythe.

So what I’m trying to get at in a long-winded kind of way is that the beer selection at PBE is the absolute business. And for myself that’s really the main draw-card. But then I do proudly wear the badge of Beer-Geekdom. What other benefits are there for the more casual punter?

Well frankly, the atmosphere.

Unfortunately I didn't get any photos of the PBE atmosphere. In fact this is the only photo I took, on someone else's camera. I was too busy getting my festival on.

Unfortunately I didn’t get any photos of the PBE atmosphere. In fact this is the only photo I took, on someone else’s camera. I was too busy getting my festival on. C/O Megan Whelan.

Beervana is noisy and cramped. Octoberfest is a piss-up. Marchfest is a pleasant afternoon in the park. In contrast PBE is so damn convivial. It feels like a festival: a day off with friends and beer. Now a lot of people complained about the lack of seating (I’ll get to complaining soon), but I think that kind helped with the atmosphere. Instead of being cramped around little tables, where some poor bastard is left standing, trying to not feel excluded; everyone could wander freely between standing groups, or join little circles of people sitting on the ground. I think this added a lot to the atmosphere.1

What else? The embossed Spiegelau glasses were a nice touch.

Possibly the most classy beer-fest glasses ever.  Credit: Phil Cook

Possibly the most classy beer-fest glasses ever.
Credit: Phil Cook

You know what the biggest benefit is, though? The cost. Yeah, tickets were kind of steep this year, and a few people complained. First of all, they contained an $8 Ticketek booking fee, which was a bit of a shitter. But frankly, I was there from start to finish of the festival, and it took me an hour to use up all my complimentary tokens. Then I think I only spent about another $20 on tokens all up. A taster was $2, a glass $4 (a flat rate for all beers). I remember my last trip to Beervana (to work). A taster was $4-$6, a glass was $6-$8 (ABV dependant) It cost me a hell of a lot more, and I wasn’t even drinking. PBE really is one of the best value festivals I’ve ever been to.

Alright, that’s enough positivity, time for some evenhanded criticism. There were some issues this year, and almost all of them can be linked to the venue. Ooh, surprise, surprise, a Wellington beer festival has venue issues. This is the perennial problem for festival organisers: each location has its positives, but also comes with frequently arbitrary limitations. In the case of the Town Hall, its a tied caterer. With the St James, its a tied ticketing agency driving up admissions costs and limitations on how much seating could be brought into the venue.  Also for some reason, they couldn’t turn on the air-vent’s which meant it got rather stuffy in the hall.

So even if the venue was a bit of a triple-shitter, there is a positive side: next years PBE will be back at the beloved Boatshed on the waterfront next year. Moving on.

Some of the beers advertised didn’t make it this year. That is a bit of a let down, but then I’m inclined to entirely forgive this on two grounds. First of all, the beer-list was still objectively outstanding. Secondly, ordering the beer for Golding’s, I have to deal with this sort of thing on a weekly basis. New Zealand freight companies (and let’s face it, breweries) are notoriously unreliable. Frankly some days I’m surprised anything ever turns up at all.2

I’m also assured that further steps will be taken to remedy this at the next festival.

Finally, my last gripe: the caterers rather seemed to phone it in this year. Yeah, the food was good, but last year it was amazing. And yeah, the selection was varied, but it seemed a little insubstantial. As I write this though, I’m wondering why I’m even complaining about this. What was on offer was good, what I ate I didn’t pay for, because food tokens were included in the ticket. What’s more, if I really wanted something else, I could have just popped out onto Courtney Place and picked it up. So I’m just going to stop talking about this now.

If you take anything away from this, it should be that PBE wasn’t perfect. But also, if any of the above is a deal-breaker, then I’m afraid you’re just being too damn picky. The Pacific Beer Expo is still the Wellington beer festival with:

  • The most exciting lineup.
  • The most convivial atmosphere (except possibly SOBA’s Winter Ale Festival).
  • The best value for money.

Frankly if you don’t make it there next year, you’re missing out. I’m already looking forward to next year.

1. But then, four years of hospo has meant that I can now spend 10 hours straight on my feet no problem. In fact, I can pretty much sleep on my feet if need be.

2. My favourite experience of this was ordering beer from a certain New Zealand Brewery: I was assured it would be delivered within one week. Ten days later, I call up them up to find out where it’d got to. It still hadn’t left the brewery.




Actually, I lied. I took one other photo with someone else's camera... C/O Phil Cook

Actually, I lied. I took one other photo with someone else’s camera…
C/O Phil Cook

Coming out of the Wardrobe

I have an announcement to make that may shock and astound you: I’m leaving Hashigo Zake.  Actually this might not come as a surprise to many of you. Despite my trying to keep a lid on the news, it seems that half of Wellington already knows, and lately I’ve been in the surreal situation of having people I barely know coming up to the bar and congratulating me about my new job.  Anywho, the fact of the matter is that I’ve been offered the Manager’s position at a new bar, Golding’s Free Dive, which will be opening next month.

Now I will unashamedly say that to my mind, Hashigo is by far and away the best beer bar in New Zealand, if not Australasia and/or the Southern Hemisphere.1  Certainly it’s the geekiest and probably the bar that’s done the most to further the cause of good beer in New Zealand.  To a lot of Beer Geeks then, leaving Hashigo could seem a bit like leaving Narnia.  But as Milton’s Satan once said: “Better to reign in Hell than to serve in Heaven,” and it seems about my time to step out of the closet wardrobe and seek my fortune in the real world.2    

Of course I’m not suggesting that working at Golding’s is going to be a bad day in Tartarus, far from it.  On the contrary, I’m rather excited about the whole prospect.  You see, the core Hashigo team has been together now for three years, give or take and while they’re fantastic to work with, there’s also a great many chefs in that kitchen.  In this regard, Golding’s offers me the opportunity and challenge to help build a bar from the ground up: to help make it into a awesome little bar.

And Golding’s Free Dive is going to be an awesome bar: at once a free-house, serving good beer with no pesky ties to any brewery, big or small.  It’s also intended to be a dive bar (hence the name): a comfortable little out of the way spot where you can while away the hours, unmolested by the rowdy mobs it town.  There will be more details to come.

Now I’m heading into uncharted waters here:  I’ll be the longest running staff member ever to leave Hashigo.  I’ll also be the first staff member to transfer over to another Wellington bar and the first staff alumni to stay in Wellington (most in fact, leave New Zealand).  In this regard, the record is not great.  Two other staff have gone on to work at different bars, but neither of them lasted very long there.  And the reason is simple: Hashigo ruins people.  I’ve joked before that it’s somewhat of an ivory tower: working there is so good, you sometimes forget what working in the real world is like.  But as I said, the prospect of a new challenge is immensely exciting.  

Of course, my decision to leave Hashigo wasn’t easy.  I’ve been there for over three years, more or less since the beginning, and it’s been a fairly major part of my life over that time.  I’ll miss it dearly, so to ease my transition and cheer myself up, I thought I’d reflect on a few of the things I’m not going to miss about Hashigo:

  • My workmates.  They’re bastards to a man.
  • The regulars.  Wellington’s description was accurate: they’re “scum of the earth.”
  • Explaining what ‘Hashigo Zake’ means. That got old fast.  
  • Sake.  New Zealanders are cretins when it comes to this subtle and noble drink.3  
  • The historic plumbing.  It’s shit with shit.

Right, well that’s cheered me up.  Now I guess I should go on to talk about what I will actually miss about Hashigo:

  • My workmates.  Bastards to a man and like family to me.  
  • The regulars.  Wellington’s description was accurate: “scum of the earth… what fine fellows they are.”
  • The staff discount.
  • The pies.  Hashigo’s pies are a thing of beauty.
  • The credibility.  I don’t wish to sound arrogant, but Hashigo has a good name in both local and international beer circles, and occasionally it’s worked as a handy introduction at breweries and other bars.  I’ve always been proud to say “I work at Hashigo Zake.”

One of the things I’m probably going to miss the most though, is the feeling of being on the cutting edge of beer in New Zealand.  As I said before, Dominic and the Hashigo Crew have done so much to further New Zealand ‘craft’ beer in the last three and a half years.  Whether it be campaigning in the Radler case (or a myriad of other IP abuses), arranging international collaborations, donating obscenely generous amounts of labour to beer festivals, setting up local beer festivals, broadening local tastes by exposing New Zealanders to the international beer scene, supporting (frequently unknown) up-and-comers like Garage Project, ParrotDog and Funk Estate, or arranging distribution for local breweries.  Hashigo was a game-changing in the New Zealand beer scene and they continue to push the boundaries wherever they can.  I’m proud to have been a part of it.

But I am also stepping back from all that.  Golding’s will be serving good beer, but it wont have the same geeky edge.  We’ll always be a few steps behind.4    That’s fine though.  In fact that’s as should be.  Golding’s will be less about geeking-out and more about chilling-out, in a cool place, with good people and good beer, which is something we all need from time to time.

I’ll close now by saying that I hope that all those out there who I’ve served enjoyed having me as their bartender as much as I enjoyed serving them. And I know that I leave a lasting legacy at Hashigo; something that has made Hashigo a better place: The Boston Pork Pie.

[Image Pending]

Think of me next time you eat one.

Zum Wohl!

  1. You don’t have to agree with me on that, but I’m not the only one that thinks this.  And before you ask, no I haven’t sampled them all.  Neither have you, so shut up.
  2. I’m quite proud of that literary juxtaposition.  Just saying.
  3. At best they ask for good sake (pronounced sar-key for some reason) hot when it should be chilled or at room temperature.  This is like asking for your pinot gris to be warmed up.  At worst they shoot it and then rowdily proclaim “Phwar!  That’s rough!”  Well, maybe if you didn’t shoot hot alcohol, it wouldn’t burn so much.  No, actually at worst they ask for sake bombs, which is an insult to both our beer and sake.
  4. But on the other hand, there is also a another benefit to leaving Hashigo: I can now go there and enjoy it as a customer.  Fuck yeah!
  5. I’m well aware, there will be a lot of variance on that one…