Thursday, October 27, 2011

Reflections On The Event We Could Not Name

The rugby tournament whose very name may only be used by companies with a commercial relationship with it is over. During the years leading up to the event there had been a presumption that hospitality businesses in New Zealand, and in particular those in cities hosting games, must thrive with the influx of thirsty supporters. Fortunately being in business during two Wellington Sevens tournaments made us wary of such presumptions. We have learned that a number of effects take place during a big event, particularly a sports event:

1. big televised sports events play havoc with our trade. Generally we suffer a net loss.
2. a really big event in Wellington like the Sevens or an All Blacks test might give us a modest boost in takings, although we have to put up with uncertainty, ebbs and flows in trade and, typically, a number of irregular customers who don't understand what sort of a bar they're in.
3. televising overseas sports events, particularly North American ones, has worked better for us than local ones, and we seem to do better from soccer supporters than rugby.

We told ourselves and hoped that international supporters of national rugby sides would be different from the typical Sevens reveller, for whom the quality of the beverages they consume (and perhaps even events on the field) are of low significance. Nevertheless we went into the rugby with some trepidation. We spent a little on some very targeted advertising, had a security guard on a couple of extra nights and rostered extra staff a couple of times.

Seven weeks later our most modest expectations were pretty much correct. But not without some pretty dramatic peaks and troughs. We had some great afternoons when good natured spectators waiting for an evening game in Wellington came in to watch an earlier game on TV. And the quarter finals weekend was hard work but very busy.

When the All Blacks played we lost business except when they played Japan and we were inundated by Japanese supporters.

By the semi-finals weekend it really felt as if the circus had left town. The games were only on TV and people seemed to be watching them at home or at the "fanzone". It seemed as though everyone's apprehension over the All Blacks' fortunes was drawing them into their shells. Our trade collapsed.

Then came the final. In stark contrast to the semi-finals tens of thousands descended on central Wellington - the fanzone filled up, every other bar filled up and by kick off we were swamped by spectators, a high proportion of whom were strays looking for a screen but who barely purchased a thing off us. Later we would find bottle caps for drinks that we definitely don't sell in the bar. When the final whistle blew the strays exited and were replaced by a steady flow of other customers, a high proportion of whom seemed to be drifting from bar to bar as well and struggled to comprehend our product list.

The net result was a record for Sunday trading that I doubt we'll ever break. But it was hard, funless work.

So after seven weeks of raised hopes, targeted advertising, apprehension, tension, hard work, no-shows and occasional packed houses we probably had a boost in takings that just exceeded what we spent chasing it.

It's tempting to have a good old whinge at the people who insinuated that the tournament would make us all rich. Even now the media seem conflicted between reporting the horror stories of suburban restaurants whose business has dried up and the claims of the payments clearing houses saying that tens of millions of extra money has gone through their systems. The fact is that simple logic suggested that a bonanza was on its way. And for a booze barn in the right location in Auckland or Wellington flogging beer in green bottles it probably has been a bonanza. But we almost all overlooked the alternative but suddenly obvious facts, that corporate travel and conventional tourism would dry up and people's angst over the All Blacks' fortunes would inhibit their socialising for weeks.

Fortunately Christmas comes every year and the trading patterns ahead of us should be more predictable. And before Christmas we've got a succession of events of our own design that we think will excite our regular customers.

Speaking personally, my main complaint isn't with the misconception that the tournament would bring a windfall - it's with the absurd legal and commercial protection bestowed on the event's sponsors. The capitalist system is supposed to use competition to drive efficiency. But at events like the Cricket and Rugby World Cups competition only takes place when would-be sponsors bid. Thereafter competition is outlawed and the actual ticket-buying consumers and their cash are directed toward the sponsors' products. And when the sponsor's product is as mediocre as HEINEKEN consumers are being treated with contempt.

In the last few years I've witnessed:
  • English supporters wearing actual replica shirts at the Cricket World Cup in the Caribbean told to wear them inside out because the shirts carried the logo of a rival to a tournament sponsor.
  • Children arriving at a Bledisloe Cup game in Hong Kong given toys by an "ambush marketer" on the way to the ground only to have them confiscated at the ground.
  • Hashigo Zake "inspected" to check that we didn't mention the name of the tournament that we were showing on a TV channel that we pay a commercial subscription for.
Clearly the rights of common or garden spectators, who generally paid a fortune to go to these events, are not being considered. New Zealand's Major Events Management Act is the local manifestation of a bizarre worldwide convention that says that rich corporate sponsors need protection from the random acts of individuals and small businesses.

I think it's time for a bill of rights for spectators at major events and fellow businesses in countries hosting them:
  • No monopolies at match venues.
  • Free drinking water
  • Adequate toilets
  • Freedom of choice in attire (subject to decency)
  • Maximum volume for stadium PAs
  • The right to use the name of any event important enough to have streets closed.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Pacific Beer Expo

The near-final list of beers for the Inaugural Pacific Beer Expo is up here.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Endorsement comes from an unlikely source

Hashigo Zake's reputation is important to us and so I regularly do google searches for recent mentions of our name. On the morning of Friday August 26, 2011, I hit the jackpot. On the pages at http://forums.punkas.com/ a conversation amongst some regular and valued customers the night before led a third party (calling himself “No Way Out Records”) to post:

fuck hashingo and fuck dominic and fuck you wellington idiots, I hate that fucking bar and it's idiot (self appointed elitist) fucking owner...

rant over...

check out Bruhaus and Taphaus over the next few months for some pleasant surprises!!!

First of all I was delighted that the poster used the term “elitist”. From day one we’ve aspired to be elitist – but at the same time unpretentious - about the products we serve and the way we serve them. But I don’t think elitist is a boast you can make about yourself – it has to be bestowed (or alleged) by a third party. So thanks mate.

Now I found this highly amusing and posted a screenshot on the Hashigo Zake facebook page. I was immediately contacted by one of the aforementioned regular customers and punkas posters who made two points: (1) he and a number of others on the forum were satisfied and regular customers of Hashigo Zake and (2) the poster was “Sean from beerstore”.

Everything suddenly made sense. This Sean turned out to be the same person (posting as STiG) who tried to mock our importing programme through comments on this blog back in January. (See here.)

For those who don’t know, the website called “the beer store” has been selling imported beer since before we opened. Unlike us they use what’s known as “the grey market” – they buy beer from overseas distributors rather than breweries, often against the express wishes of the breweries. The convoluted route that grey market products take to New Zealand often means that they are over-priced and in poor condition by the time they arrive.

We opened two years ago and have been sourcing our products using the most direct possible channels. As I tried to explain to Sean back in January, we use strategic alliances with importers in other countries to get introductions to the breweries we buy from. This has been an outstanding success for us.

Obviously I’m biased when I say this, but it must be galling when your business model is to do something (importing) badly and then face a competitor whose business model is to do it well. So perhaps I should be sympathetic towards the hysterical poster. And to be fair, I believe he followed his post with another showing a little regret. But the fact is that rather than accept the arrival of a competitor and adjust their business model accordingly – by, for instance, stopping the importing of brands that we import cheaper, fresher and with the approval of their producers – the beer store seem to have sought out beer from breweries that we bring in, such as Japan’s Baird and San Diego’s Coronado, presumably to spite us. As a result, and as hinted by his mention of the Tap Haus, you can go along to the Tap Haus and buy a 355ml bottle of Coronado Orange Avenue Witbier for $14 – yesterday it was on tap at Hashigo Zake for $11 per US pint.

But the point I really want to make is that as Hashigo Zake approaches its second birthday, seeing a competitor that we have little respect for vent like this is the best endorsement we could ask for.

For the record, beers that we imported from breweries such as Baird, Nøgne Ø, Rogue, Green Flash, Bear Republic, Coronado and Moylan’s are or have been at the following outlets:

Auckland:

  • Newmarket Liquorland

  • Forrest Hill Liquorland

  • Victoria Park New World

  • Wine Circle Kumeu

  • Galbraith’s

  • Hallertau

Palmerston North:


  • Albert St Liquorland

Wellington:


  • Little Beer Quarter

  • The Hop Garden

  • Bar Edward

  • Café Polo

  • Regional Wines and Spirits

  • Island Bay New World

  • Rumble’s


Monday, July 18, 2011

Bonsai Brewing

I was lucky enough to be invited to observe a morning's brewing at Garage Project.

The beers needed for the brewery's launch (August 2nd) and Beervana (August 5th/6th) are nearly ready, so on Sunday it was the first of a pair of pale ales using two new, experimental hops. The hop we used this day was the romantically named 97-77-09. Yum.

To someone who last brewed using nothing but kitchen pots and pans and a plastic fermenter it's eye-opening to see brewing being done on a homebrew-like scale, but using electronically controlled kettles, a heat exchanger, pumps and the like. And going by the samples of the still conditioning first batches, the benefits of the slick equipment are apparent.

Not that Pete and Jos have it all that easy. In the cavernous, unsealed, uninsulated former garage in darkest Aro Valley the ambient temperature inside was colder than that outside. Lack of heating aside though, the garage is clearly an ideal space for a brewery. We can but hope that the remaining bureaucratic obstacles (zoning, planning etc) that might restrict the guys' plans will be systematically dismantled as all the past ones have.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

An Open Letter to Dominion Breweries.

A Pyrrhic victory is a victory with devastating cost to the victor; it carries the implication that another such victory will ultimately cause defeat. – Wikipedia.


About two months ago you sent one of your emissaries to my bar to ask what it would take to get DB or Monteiths products into our product range at Hashigo Zake. Clearly some people in your organisation cared that your product range and corporate image have alienated the market, particularly the portion of the market that patronise bars like mine. Or perhaps you’re alarmed at the rate that freehouses are opening up in Wellington. I was in a conciliatory mood at the time and suggested just two preconditions – the appearance of a “killer” product and the elimination of the Radler problem.


Now I have good reason to believe that after getting litigious with the Green Man Brewery you had internal advice to walk away from the Radler trademark, but for reasons no-one can fathom you chose to stick to it.


Perhaps you were still giddy from the good fortune of having been granted a trademark that even IPONZ staff concede off the record was a mistake.


Perhaps you have some kind of obligation to your corporate masters in Singapore and the Netherlands to give no ground in legal disputes.


So with overall sales of beer falling but the market for small independent breweries growing you have a victory that demonstrates you have nothing but contempt for New Zealand consumers and other brewers. Rest assured that the feeling is quickly becoming mutual.


So now that IPONZ have chosen not to eliminate the “Radler problem” I can be less equivocal about my response back in May. The chances of any product of your group of companies ever being made available for sale at Hashigo Zake just went from minute to nil. And this year if your company’s executives come to Hashigo Zake looking for good beer after the BrewNZ Awards they will not be served.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Being part of the Hospitality Industry, supposedly

I just got a reminder that we should rush to nominate ourselves in the Hospitality Association's annual awards for excellence. There's a category called Best Bar. Here is the entry form.

Now one of the criteria is the quality of food on offer. Fair enough. A best restaurant contest might include the quality of the drinks list as a criterion. Although they'd probably call it the "wine list". (In fact I've checked and the best restaurant category does judge on the "wine list".)

Now if food is one criterion is it strange to expect that the quality of drinks on offer might make up a high proportion of the remaining criteria? Individual consideration for beer, wine, non-alcoholic drinks perhaps? Or at least one criterion?

Incredibly it seems you can be the best bar in New Zealand, according to the Hospitality Association, without the judging panel asking what drinks you serve.

Good on you HANZ. Keep lobbying for public holiday surcharges. At least our membership gets us a discount on our sky subscription.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Mikkeller Part 2

Mikkeller / Three Floyds Beer Dinner


In late May Copenhagen hosts a large beer festival. In 2011 Mikkeller and Three Floyds collaborated on a couple of events to coincide with this festival. One was the dedication of most of the Mikkeller bar’s guest taps to beers from Three Floyds. This in itself is an exceptional event as the products of the brewery that ratebeer.com considers the best in the world are rarely available far from Chicago. The night before this tap takeover was an extraordinary collaborative dinner.

The venue was Mielcke & Hurtigkarl, an impressively elegant dining venue on the grounds of the Royal Danish Garden Society.

Planning had been going on (and the event had been sold out) for months. Eight courses had been devised to go with eight pairs of beers – one each from Mikkeller and Three Floyds. Mikkel of Mikkeller, Barnaby Struve of Three Floyds and Jakob Mielcke of Mielcke & Hurtigkarl were on hand to introduce each course.

A scan of the menu is attached, although the names of the dishes are somewhat terse. Interestingly of eight courses, three were seafood, three incorporated ice cream and the other two were based around pigeon and pork. None used red meat.

If I tried to pick a few highlights I would end up picking something from just about every course. Every dish was delicious and was at least a respectable match for the beers. For a few the lexicon of superlatives would be getting exhaustive use.

Perhaps the biggest highlight wasn’t on the menu - before formal dining started there was a chance to sample a brand new beer, created by Mikkeller especially for the restaurant. It was an 8.7% Belgian-style pale ale aged in barrels that previously contained Chateau d’Yquem – the world’s most famous dessert wine. It changed my view of what barrel aging can do for a beer, staying light and refreshing but still incredibly complex.

Of the beers, only a handful of the Mikkellers have made it to New Zealand so far (Nelson Sauvignon and Beer Geek Brunch Weasel) and none of the Three Floyds, although the Hvedegoop (Wheat Wine) is in the same series as the Oatgoop and Ruggoop that Hashigo Zake has a few of.

The event kicked off at 6pm and at around midnight that guests settled themselves into taxis, with about half of them going back to the Mikkeller bar for a bonus fourth dessert. It’s hard to believe that a beer geek could have a better six hours.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Mikkeller Part 1

It shouldn’t be a surprise that the Mikkeller bar in Copenhagen turned out to be somewhat unconventional. In fact it’s as if they’ve deconstructed the whole tavern paradigm and eliminated every convention that isn’t absolutely central to its function. Not only are there no pool tables, dart boards, pokies or juke boxes, there’s also no soft lighting, gloomy corners, beer memorabilia or just about anything to betray the place’s function. There’s hardly even a sign to warn you you’re walking past the place you’re looking for.

Once inside, if you looked past the small, central bar itself, the rest of the small, slightly-below-street-level venue could be mistaken for an art gallery or hair salon, with white walls and ceiling and pale green floor. It’s also extremely small, with room to squeeze perhaps 40 people in.

The serving area is like a booth with a row of taps along one wall. There’s little else to reveal what’s on sale in the way of food and drink, apart from rows of glassware suspended from the ceiling and a few snack foods, such as sausages and cashew nuts waiting in the corner. In reality there’s an impressive bottle selection but you have to read the menu or be shown to the cool room to know about it.

There are twenty taps with nothing on permanently and around half given over to beers other than those of Mikkeller. When I visited all the guest beers were from other European breweries, including a couple from a brewery called “Evil Twin”, which turns out to be the brewery of Mikkel’s twin brother. But two days later seven beers from Three Floyds would be on, and some day soon there should be some 8 Wired on tap.

Not every beer I had was necessarily great – I definitely did not enjoy the Sorachi Ace Single Hop IPA and the 1000 IBU light (at 4.7% ABV) was pure, uncompensated bitterness. I also had my first ever hoppy witbier, whose net effect was something like a Saison and a dry-hopped version of Saison Dupont.

The highlights may have been a pair of beers from Copenhagen’s Amager Bryghus – the only Danish brewer higher than Mikkeller on ratebeer.com. One was a special coffee-infused version of their Hr. Frederiksen Imperial Stout, brewed to celebrate the Mikkeller bar’s first anniversary. The other was a bottle of the port barrel aged version of the same beer. Incredible stuff, and a good warmup for the over-indulgence in rich beer that would follow the next night.

See http://www.mikkeller.dk/index.php?id=91&bar_id=2&land=1 for a list of what's on tap at the Mikkeller bar at any time.

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Nøgne Ø

Nøgne Ø from Grimstad in Norway is one of Hashigo Zake’s favourite breweries. When we opened in 2009 our desire to stock their products led to a strategic relationship with their Australian importer. It has been our pleasure to stock many of their beers and one of their sakes. Their beers range from faultless interpretations of classic styles, like porter, witbier and tripel to big, unconventional beers, like the smoked barley wine (and staff favourite) Sunturnbrew and the 17% sake yeast-fermented red ale called Red Horizon.

In 2010 we entered the lambic-style fruit beer Tyttebær in the BrewNZ awards where it won a gold medal. The same year Nøgne Ø was named Champion Brewery at the Australian International Beer Awards.

Below is an account of a recent pilgrimage to the brewery.

Grimstad is a small city on Norway’s south eastern coast, a few hours drive from Oslo. It’s a classic coastal tourist town – full of traditional timber houses and leisure boats and surrounded by forests, lakes and bays. If the Nøgne Ø brewery wasn’t located within a former, very small, hydro-electric power station then surely the location would have been a timber mill or boatshed.

Evidence remains of the building’s former purpose – a neighbouring dam and a gigantic pipe from it to the building. And the brewery itself is housed where turbines once spun. But my tour with Kjetil Jikiun, Founder and Head Brewer and Scott Larrick, Sales Manager, began a floor above the brewery, in what is primarily a grain store. In spite of the imposing variety of malts present, the most striking thing about the room is the pleasant aroma emanating from the plethora of spices at one end.

The chilled hop room has surprises too: Nelson Sauvin and Pacific Gem hops and an estimated $50,000 worth of civet cat coffee. This is for brewing Mikkeller’s Beer Geek Brunch Weasel – a handful of Mikkeller beers are made at Nøgne Ø.

There are plenty of other features setting Nøgne Ø apart, including Europe’s only sake brewery. It’s idle right now because, as Kjetil says in a matter of fact fashion, “there is no market for our sake”. That sentence should send a shiver up the spine of anyone with an interest in the business, except that it was strikingly similar to another offhand comment: “for the first two years there was no market for our beer.” But rather than dumb down the beer Nøgne Ø (the self-styled “uncompromising” brewery) painstakingly built a market locally and offshore to the point where demand exceeds supply and the business faces a daunting two year project to relocate to a dedicated new complex but attempting to increase production in the interim.

That increase in production will be achieved by installing two new 25,000L fermenters at a temporary, separate location and using a tractor with a modified axle and bolted-on tank to move unfermented wort then fermented beer between the two sites.

Our tasting began with another surprise – a beer that looked and smelled like an imperial stout, finished with an assertive coffee-like bitterness, but had so little alcohol (0.3%) that it can be marketed as alcohol free. Called Stuten, it’s being developed partly because Norway’s drink-driving laws are so strict that someone drinking conventional low alcohol beers can still find themselves over the limit.


Norwegian laws and conventions are a recurring theme in discussions over the brewery’s output. Only beers under 4.5% ABV can be sold in stores – stronger beers must be sold through the state managed monopoly, which annually selects a finite number of products for its portfolio. So a number of beers are designed to sneak under the 4.5% threshold. The rest must be selected by the monopoly or sold only through cafes and bars or exported.

Then there are excise tax and sales tax. Excise is 4 kroner per litre, per percent of alcohol. So a 400ml serving of a 5%ABV beer will include nearly $NZ2 in excise. In New Zealand the equivalent would be $NZ0.52. On top of that is 25% sales tax. Which partly (but not completely) explains why a glass of beer in a bar typically costs around $NZ20.

Discussions with Kjetil and Scott turned to the relationship between Nøgne Ø and Hashigo Zake. It was revealed that Nøgne Ø have changed their Australian importer. As a consequence we have agreed to explore the possibility of shipping Nøgne Ø direct to New Zealand. This should give us better prices and more control over what we can buy. It also means we would be bringing in bigger quantities and hoping to share them with the outlets around New Zealand that we’ve recently been supplying.


Thursday, May 26, 2011

Beer and Clothing in Scandinavia

This is the first in a handful of posts relating to a recent trip to Europe that incorporated some pretty special beer hunting.

Searching in Oslo for somewhere to get a few items of clothing washed led to one of the more serendipitous finds you could ever hope for. Because the polite chap at the mobile phone shop sent us to the “Laundromat Café” (http://www.laundromat.no/). There were no fewer than eight craft beers on tap, (plus a few others) including Nøgne Ø & Mikkeller. Tap beers start at around 80 kroner (nearly $NZ20) for a US pint.

I had a very good Caesar salad. The place had a bright library-cum-cafe feel, free wifi, staff had a helpful, unfussy manner, as seemed to be the norm in Norway. AND we got our washing done in the self-service laundry.

I was pretty stunned by the prices but was told later that their prices for Nøgne Ø were the cheapest in Oslo.

All things considered the Laundromat Café appeared to be a totally original and refreshing concept. Until that is, we got to Copenhagen and were again in search of a place to wash some clothes. In the bohemian district of Nørrebro was another Laundromat Café. Here again were a self-service laundry, shelves full of books and a bustling café with a bright feel to it. I was told that there was no connection between the two businesses, and perhaps the Oslo one was a rip-off. So… chalk one up for Copenhagen on the grounds of originality except for one crucial difference… where was the good beer? The Copenhagen outlet had a few taps, but nothing distinctive.

It did have free wifi and it was in the district of Nørrebro, which I recognised as the name of a brewery. So it didn’t take long to establish that we were five minutes walk from a craft brewery. While our clothes soaked, washed and spun there was time to check out Nørrebro.

Nørrebro, it turned out, had one of the most attractive public faces of any brewery. The brewery occupies a space with a floor just below street level but with a ceiling high enough for some decent sized brewing equipment. But the brewery itself takes up just one end of the available space. The other two thirds is divided into a lower bar and an upstairs café, both looking across to or down on the brewery. The space is uncluttered and only a rope and a change in flooring separate the bar and brewery.

I mentioned that I’m from New Zealand to the staff behind the bar and was told that they were familiar with 8 Wired. I was all set to say “wow, that’s incredible, I know Søren”, when I remembered I was wearing an 8 Wired t-shirt.

There was time for a tasting tray covering what was on tap on the day. The range was impressive – nine beers covering a decent range of styles and all good or very good, but with only one or two beers designed to please the inner hop-head. But on another day I’m sure that would be different.

Standouts (to this hop-head) were the Ravnsburg Red and the North Bridge Extreme. And, like a certain other brewery whose name starts “Nø”, they’ve done a great job with simple, consistent branding.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

The Male Target Audience

I just took a call from a magazine publisher asking if we'd like to advertise in a particular magazine that is all about cars. I was told it should suit us because it reaches our male target audience.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

What Do You Do?

I hope we never have to face a day like Tuesday Feb 22 again. And not only for the obvious reason. At about the same time the earthquake happened two of our staff were returning from the funeral of Matthew Hall. The media reports of his murder seem to have understated his reputation as a home brewer, but Shiggy and Sam knew him and a matter of weeks ago he helped Sam with a brew.

It was a strange atmosphere in the bar on Tuesday afternoon with Sam and Shiggy returning to work in their funeral garb, while we watched the events in Christchurch unravel on the TV.

So it's time we did something drastic. This Saturday evening every cent taken over the bar at Hashigo Zake from 6pm until midnight will be set aside and donated to two causes. One is Atareira, in recognition of Matthew Hall. The other will be Christchurch earthquake relief.

Friday, January 21, 2011

The Hop Garden

James Henderson deserves a pile of congratulations for creating the Hop Garden, in a neglected former Greek restaurant in Mt Vic. It looks fantastic, is well equipped and they've had the good sense to stock fresh Racer 5 and West Coast IPA. It's going to be fascinating to see how people patronise it - whether they stay to dine, what time of day they come, what kind of clientele it attracts. But it's instantly my preferred place to drink outside HZ.

It's opening a matter of weeks after the Bruhaus. You could almost get the impression that free houses are taking over Wellington. Wishful thinking I'm sure, or maybe not...

But if I was an exec at DB right now, with their humiliation over Radler a matter of months away, I'd be brushing up the CV.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Black, White and Grey

I think everyone's tired of hearing about the rights and wrongs of official and unofficial importing. So here's a change of tack: pricing.

Of course I'm not remotely neutral here, but I have to say I'm surprised by how stark the differences are. Here are some comparative prices gleaned from the internet and a trip to Thorndon New World. And if it isn't clear, the prices on the right are for the "official" imports:

Thorndon New World

The Beer Store

Regional Wines and Spirits

The Cult Beer Store

Green Flash Imperial IPA 650ml

$21.95

$19.44

$14.00

Green Flash Le Freak 650ml

$23.75

$16.00

Green Flash West Coast IPA 355ml

$7.97

$6.00

Ballast Point Big Eye IPA 650ml

$13.79

$12.00

Bear Republic Hop Rod Rye 650ml

$16.42

$13.00