D4 – Beer and the business lunch

When major breweries rationed supplies to freehouse D4 on Featherston, proprietor Dermot Murphy found a new market for craft beer.

Dermot came to New Zealand from Dublin, and named his first bar after the postcode where he grew up. His accent came with him, and his beer specialist Finbarr Clabby is another Irish import. Finbarr and Dermot won the 2010 Guinness Pint Master competition.

“I’ve run bars in New Zealand and I hate the fact that you can run three or four beers and it all tastes the same but it’s just a different colour,” says Dermot. “My big dream for D4 was to have a bar that was the closest thing you’d get to a bar in Ireland without having fiddles. Back home you can set up a bar and offer everything.”

“I went into it thinking I’d be able to sell anything – Guinness, Heineken, Stella and some of the craft beers. What really pissed me off was the way the big players restrict what they’ll sell you. We have no ties whatsoever, but they still restrict what I can sell. I can have Guinness but I can’t have Kilkenny. Even though we’re independent, we can’t have whatever we like on tap.”

“It really annoyed me that we couldn’t get what we wanted, so I started growing the boutique range and found it had a really, really big market out here.”

D4 is in the corporate heart of downtown Wellington, surrounded by bank HQs, law firms, accountants and government departments. Its neighbours include an Irish pub and a Belgian Beer Cafe, and D4 has the challenge of being upstairs.

Converting the suits to craft beer has been a big success for D4. “You’ve got to hold your hat off to the guys who want to drink mainstream beers. If you’ve got a group of four guys and one guy only wants to have Heineken or Steinlager Pure, he’s going to dictate where you all go. And the margins on the mainstream beer allow us to have a good range of boutique beers too.”

D4 is using two tricks to encourage mainstream drinkers to try the craft range. The D4 passport gives stamps for trying a new beer and prompts customers to try the full tap range. And two guest taps allow regulars to suggest the next guest beers. “When we take up their suggestion, they go back to the office and tell everybody to come in here and try the beer. ‘That’s on because I asked for it!’ The guest taps have been brilliant for us and we’re tossing up having more.”

When D4 opened three years ago, it was plumbed with 24 beer lines. Dermot says he thought this was future-proofing at the time, but the future is here now. D4 has 18 tap beers today and this will increase to 24 by Christmas.

“We probably have about forty really good craft beers in the fridge, but there’s nothing so special as drinking a tap beer I reckon. To get 24 beers into a keg room and to be churning through enough of them that they can stay on tap and taste good is a good feat. Tuatara Pilsner has always been in our top three sellers since we opened. Tuatara APA I just couldn’t take off because of the demand. We literally can’t get enough of it.”

Epic Pale Ale is another permanent tap, and when NZ Beer Blog visited, Founders Fair Maiden was on the hand pump.

Dermot has also noted the appeal of a smart-looking craft beer with a business lunch. “What’s happening is the corporate guys will come in and shout three clients. So instead of spending $50 on a bottle of another Marlborough sauvignon, they will get three or four craft beers that are usually in a really sexy bottle with a good label. It’s making the guys shouting these clients look really good because he’s taken them somewhere different.”

But Dermot says craft brewers need more than a sexy bottle, and greater effort is needed to educate bar staff. “Staff training is always available for the wine, and it’s not for the beer. We need the staff to know about every beer and be able to rattle it off when as customer asks, like they do with wine. It’s up to the boutique brewers to get that information out there and educate the staff and they can go on and educate the customer. I’m actually having to commission beer specialists to come in to educate the staff, but that’s not as good as someone from the brewery.”

Dermot believes a respectable craft beer range is expected in Wellington bars and cafes. “When we opened three years ago it was a point of difference and it helped get people to come up the stairs, but I think craft beer is going to be an essential part of every bar. And the girls are moving from wine to beer. We have two girls who come in religiously every Wednesday and have three or four Maredsous. A bottle of wine knocks you around but a couple of beers lets you come in and be social.”

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©Martin Craig. Reproduction with permission only.

8 Responses to “D4 – Beer and the business lunch”

  1. Good stuff. Although I suspect

    “Back home you can set up a bar and offer everything.”

    is alittle expat Irish Utopian day dreaming. From the range on offer in most Irish pubs it looks like you can stock the Black Stuff, Harp and what ever else Diago says you can.


    • not an entirely accurate assessment of the situation, kieran.

      i think what dermot is alluding to is that, unlike in new zealand where a brewery will take over total control of a premise, liquor companies are not afraid of on-site competition with competing brands like budweiser (diagio) and heineken happily sitting side by side on the same tap bank.
      as far as i’m aware, molly malone’s on courtenay place are the only other bar in the country that has both guinness and monteith’s golden on tap.
      also, in 12 years in the industry in ireland, i never heard of a business being refused a product it wished to sell, which has happened to us with lion nathan refusing us kilkenny simply because we are a free hold pub


      • Fair enougth. They are free to serve mainstream boring beer from which ever big player they want it from.

        The Republic is hardly a hot bed of Independant and varied brewing is the point I was trying to make.


  2. There was a time when every bar in Ireland could stock anything it liked, the sun shone every day, salmon would leap on to your hook, and farts smelt like perfume.

    Then Oliver Cromwell landed…


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