Golding's Free Dive
Jo from Wellingtonista REMINDED ME the other day it had been a year since Eat & Greet launched! Funny how sometimes life gets away on you. AT THE TIME I started Eat & Greet IT Was a distraction from a terminal relationship and a fruitless job, and ever since then life has felt like this boulder sized donut rolling down the hill WITH me running behind desperately trying to keep up (and simultaneously trying to eat the crumbs it leaves behind).
It’s amazing what can happen in a year. We both have some BIG BRASH NEWS. Alice is expecting a little Brash in February, the first in the family and it's all very exciting. Not to be outdone, I am engaged! I'm often amazed how small things can turn into enormous catalysts for change in ones life. I feel so lucky for all the incredible people I've met over the last 12 months (noteably the fiance Jackson, who I love more than halloumi).
So because of those things — and a multitude of others — it has been a while since we have posted a story. I’m sorry. But during that time something else wonderful happened. The thing that inspired the blog in the first place — a real life friendship happened! I got talking to Sean Golding one night as he was sitting at the bar, his bar, as he does. Over a mutual love of beer, food and mischief I ended up ditching my friends for him and his friends and having one of those nights that can only end with 3am karaoke and promises to be best friends for ever (he still holds me to that promise).
Golding’s has now become a firm local, not only with myself but it seems most of Wellington. I’ve often talked about my quest to be just like Norm from Cheers, well this Norm has found her metaphorical Cheers in Golding’s. On any given day, I can walk into Goldings and there's a resounding "BEEEETH" (I have to work on those snappy oneliners though). Whether it is old friends or new friends or talking smack with one of Sean’s excellent staff, Golding's truly is where everyone knows your name.
As is the way, Sean and I sat at the bar, drank some excellent beer and talked about beers, burgers and boredom...
How did Golding’s come to be?
I was a qualified sign writer in Christchurch. I didn’t go to university, I’m blue collar, it was my trade. I’m old school, none of this digital stuff. I worked with steel, wood and paint. It gave me some pretty cool skills that I still use today. But after 9 years I was bored, I hated it. I was sick of doing supermarket signs like “Mince $6.99 per kilo”. So I went into graphic design, which went well and won some national awards (or some shit) and got bored of that. I get bored quite quickly! So I tracked down the phone number of someone in the film industry and she offered me a job on King Kong as paint labourer, which was quite a comedown from what I was doing. I was washing buckets for a couple of years. But I quickly accelerated through the ranks, eventually moving to visual effects and then worked on every production after that. The Hobbit, pretty much finished me. I was really cynical about it, and when I get cynical... I get bored! So I needed do something about it.
Why a craft beer bar?
Luckily, three years prior Dominic Kelly came to me after living in Japan and said “I want to open a craft beer bar in Wellington, I want to take Wellington where it’s never been with beer. Do you want to help?” I said sure! So I helped him find, build and set up Hashigo Zake. He is one of the most intelligent people I’ve met in my life and he has the most pure vision about beer ever. Through Hashigo I fell in love with the craft beer scene. How could you not? It’s so nice. It’s technical yet whimsical and it attracts all demographics. I had the bug, I saved up my money, got some friends to give me more money and opened Golding's Free Dive. I built it all myself, which is part of the reason I’m not going to get bored. Everyday I can build more stuff!
What makes Golding’s special?
We have lots of magic bullets that make this bar great. But the staff are the gem in the rough. I didn’t have to look hard for them. I’d been in the industry a while and when the word gets out that you are opening a new craft beer bar, most of them knew I was a bit odd, so they approached me. Dylan, who came from Hashigo, was also previously in the film industry, which to me showed passion. I feel really lucky because they are all awesome.
Wellington is the “craft beer capital”, did you want to open Golding's here for that reason?
Any bar that services its neighbourhood in a sincere and caring way and isn’t cynical about its customers and doesn’t see them as cash cows and looks at them as valuable contributors to the tone of the place will be successful anywhere in the country. New Zealanders love to drink, we are social animals. You could look at Golding’s and say that I’ve just attached myself to the latest fad, but there are other bars in Wellington that have proved that doesn’t work.
What do you love about beer?
I saw this article the other day interviewing the Moa guy (that no one likes) saying craft beer drinkers are "fickle". I think that is the wrong word: they are intrepid. They love discovery and they love to talk about it. It is a great glue for conversation and friendship. And I love that, depending on the weather or my mood, I crave different styles: there is a T-shirt for everyday. Beer is a big old hole of choice.
Do you have a favourite beer?
No. But there are beers that changed my life. It was a while ago, the Mac’s stuff was around and Renaissance brewery was just starting to do its thing. Beers in NZ were OK and reasonably hoppy but when I tried Rogue beers like Yellow Snow and Triple Jump IPA from the US, those things rocked my socks off. I’d never tasted that tropical hop flavour. When Hashigo started bringing them into New Zealand, Wellington’s palate started to change massively. It gave New Zealand breweries a lot more room to move.
What do you say to the haters who say craft beer is a fad?
The thing that gets those people going is the word “craft”. But it’s just beer. I don’t like to use the word “craft”. I just serve beer. I like beer and these are the beers I like. A lot of the big breweries like to think it will all be over soon, like Miami Wine Coolers, that we’ll get over it one day. But the US has proved it is here to say. This whole argument about "what is craft?", it is really boring, I don’t think we need to have it or need to know.
Do you see trends in beer?
Yep, definitely. Two years ago it was IPAs — massive hops, hop bombs, everyone getting their hops off. Now we are seeing sours coming in. The cool thing about sours is that they are a different part of your palate and they can be under 5 percent and still be cool fun.
What is your favourite food and beer pairing?
I love food, probably more than beer, but I’m not brave enough to open a restaurant, so I’ll stick to eating it. I’ve had some great matches recently, any good IPA and a curry is a no brainer. Pizza and pale ale, crispy pork belly with a sour beer.
Where do you like to eat out in Wellington?
Ortega Fish Shack, I’ve been there three times and every time it’s a home run. The beer list is amazing, the wine list is amazing, they have nailed their service. I love it. I like Little Penang, I’ve only just found that [Editors note: where have you been Sean?!]. I like dirty ol' KC Cafe. It is such a good soaker, I love going up to the front board and picking something. It is all in Mandarin, I call it KC Roulette. I like Phoenician Falafel under the Embassy, they are really good.
Who do you admire in the industry?
I love the Food Channel, so much so that I have it on at the bar all the time, always love Michel Roux Jr, he has those eyes that flare a bit. I also like watching Raymond Blanc and Rachel Khoo. I like Shep [from Ti Kouka], his food is amazing and he is a really decent man. I also have a lot of respect for all the brewers that I deal with. I like Mike from Panhead and I admire Garage Project for showing us that the little guy can really make their mark. Everything they touch turns to gold, they could roll shit in glitter and sell it in a box. Massimo at Pizza Pomodoro has been amazing. The first day I was in here ripping stuff up he came in, introduced himself and asked if I wanted to serve his pizza in my bar! The relationship is great — when it’s good for us, it’s good for him. It was a no brainer.
What is the biggest challenge you’ve faced so far?
The challenge for me is to calm down a bit and get over myself. I’ve learnt to really pull my head in and put my ego aside. But sometimes you need to be told what to do and it is about having the right reaction to that, not the wrong one.
What would you eat for your last supper?
There is this burger I had in Napa Valley, we had gone to vineyard and we were promised a big lunch, but it wasn’t that great. So we left there after three hours of drinking red wine and were fucking starving. We were driving down the freeway and we saw this diner that looked shitty as fuck. It had BBQ tables outside and we parked up, walked to the window, ordered a cheeseburger, coke and some fries, 10 minutes later “AWEDUR FOR SHAWN” and it was the best meal I’ve had in a life — it was in 40 degree heat, on the side of a freeway. If I could have the feeling of that meal again, that is the one I’d have.
What is your first memory around food?
Dad used to make us those packets of Rice Risotto. I remember the plate being stained yellow, but man I used to love that stuff. I used to think Dad was the most amazing cook.
What is your first memory of beer?
Dad used to let us sip the froth off the top of his beer and I remember it was so bitter!
What is overrated in the industry?
The perceived exclusivity and snobbery of craft beer. There is none of that. It is not more expensive, I can go to a mainstream bar and order a 290ml pour of Heinekin for $10. Here for $10 you can get a Panhead XPA 5.4 percent 425ml, so it really annoys me when people say it's more expensive.
What is happening in the future for Golding’s?
I’m just kind of riding the Golding’s wave. The bar can keep building and really intrench itself as a great bridge between the snob factor and accessibility to the public. And collaborations, I love them. The customer gets a better deal and I don’t have to do things I’m not good at! I can knock on any door and any place I like and ask if they want sell some food or have a party and they’re into it — and it could be anything: a taco shop, brewery, ramen store or a hairdresser. Wellington owns it.
Goldings Freedive, 14 Leeds St, Te Aro, Wellington
(04) 381 3616