A few years ago, Parrotdog celebrated their 10-year anniversary by relaunching Bitter Bitch in the same bar where it all started, Hashigo Zake. As the first pint was poured ceremonially by the brewers, the room full of beer people cheered.

All photos / Jed Soane

You know beer people: other brewers, bar tenders, avid drinkers, and the obvious overlap of those categories. The bar felt like a time machine, back to those heady days of Wellington’s brewing scene when this bar would be constantly full of people trying new brews and learning the names of new breweries.

Seemed like every week there was a new one. Parrotdog, Garage Project, Funk Estate. We were all trying crazy new styles or restored old styles, broadening our alcohol horizons in every direction. It was fun.

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A young Parrotdog crew at Hashi

But then we moved on. Breweries came and went. Bar tenders became brewers and bar owners. One day we’re sitting at a table, learning about yeast variations with Panhead and the next they sold to Lion.

And that becomes a problem for a venue that prides itself on independence.

Hashigo Zake — ‘Hashi’ for short — was born out of a desire to combat the ‘tied taps’ of large bars and the breweries that paid them. It was a bar bringing in beers from around the world, launching new and experimental brews, and with free WiFi (a seriously big deal in the early 2000s).

Owner Dominic Kelly is a grumpy, stubborn bastard. He sticks to his guns and won’t budge or ask for help. He’s also a good friend.

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Dominic Kelly

See, Hashi wasn’t ever about beer, it was about making people happy. The independence wasn’t meant to exclude anyone, it was meant to open opportunities to new brewers. The free WiFi was “just basic decency”.

As New Zealand’s craft brewers became larger and as the number of bars specialising in craft beer grew, everything fragmented. Hashi was still good, but not the only venue for a launch. Dominic’s decision to stay independent from big breweries meant his options dwindled. Other avenues he explored, including one of the best beer festivals on the calendar, sparked and faded.

Hashi continued, becoming a part-time music venue, one beloved by musicians. In part because Dominic insisted they were paid fairly and on time. Something he tried to do for brewers as well.

I don’t want to go into the money issues, but that’s why we’re here, why Hashi is closing on March 8. Bad circumstances and bad luck built up while customers went to new bars. This puts strain on a business owner and he can’t keep his promises. But he did what he could. I was told by one brewer that when Dominic hadn’t paid him for a keg that he drank for free at the bar.

“I ended up being paid about three times over and he wouldn’t charge me for a drink until he had paid the bill.”

I was there the night the pump broke in the middle of a pub quiz. Dominic, almost in tears, shut the bar. After a month being closed, he told me that he would give free beer to everyone who had been there — I refused. We want the bar to keep going, more than we want free beer… which is a lot.

Hashi is closing. But it will be remembered like an old friend, and it will be missed.

Some highlights for me as I wrote at the time:

2011: “Garage Project’s first three beers, Trip Hop, Manuka Dark and the Pernicious Weed, launched on August 1.”

2012: “The opening night [for Funk Estate] saw Hashigo Zake’s bar packed six people deep, most holding cameras to record the keg being tapped. Litre after litre was poured and handed over the bar, setting a new drinking record at the bar. Not bad launch at all for the new guys.”

2012: “Hashigo Zake has a certificate it displays proudly proclaiming its lack of Heineken on the premises. While this sentiment hit its peak during the advertising-saturated Rugby World Cup, the certificate remains. This is not, as some might believe, an affront to the working person who enjoys a simple beer after a hard day’s slog. Instead, it is a middle finger to the corporate idea that a mass-produced beer can be considered premium.”

2013: “Steph Coutts and Jonny Day are the Chancellors, Deans, Professors and frat house leaders of Wellington’s Craft Beer College (craftbeercollege.co.nz). For the past couple of years the pair, alongside beer writer Phil Cook, has been offering their Introduction to Beer course since March in monthly sessions at Hashigo Zake and also as single events for workplaces or groups.”

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