standard A Pint’s a Pint


Chris Conway, a Canadian beer blogger whose stuff I read, posted this week about the beer angle to the recent Fairness at the Pumps Act and the resulting newspaper stories. I commented on the post, talked about it on Facebook, and considered writing more in those places, but that’s usually a signal that I’m interested enough to publish a blog post of my own.

I think it’s important to say that Chris makes some excellent points. Namely:

  • Foam is an integral part of a well-poured pint. It improves the beer’s appearance and savour. If I had to choose one or the other, I would always pick the glass with a finger’s worth of foam on top, over the one poured right to the rim.
  • Not all beers, especially those whose ABV sits solidly above 5% should be served in a 20-ounce portion. Even ones that have a typical alcohol percentage may have aroma or flavour characteristics that demand they be served in a specialised glass and not a nonic pint glass.
  • There are a bunch of serving sizes – the US pint, 473 mL, or 500 mL – that could be confused with “a pint of beer”. Clarity is needed.

It’s probably at this point that I need to strike out on my own. I’ll start with the clarification that Canada has always used a 568 mL pint (or the pre-metric equivalent). The US did as well at one point for beer, but in the 19th century during a period of standardization chose the British wine pint for across-the-board use. Sixteen US ounces also has the mnemonic advantage that at that volume and when talking about water “a pint’s a pound the world around.”

So, it’s a legal measurement, but is it important that restaurants and bars abide by the letter of the law? Would it really make a difference if they serve 500 mL and call it a pint? Hell yes, it would. It may seem like worrying over 68 mL (or two ounces or even four ounces) is squabbling over chicken feathers, but I challenge you to ask the bar owners who have been serving short pints how they would feel about customers knocking 15% off what they pay. Simply put: a menu is an offer and an order placed is a contract. Those bars who are honestly fulfilling their end of the bargain should not be placed at a disadvantage to those who are shortchanging customers.

It’s only fair to concede that many servers are possibly either unaware there’s a law, the legal definition of a pint, or the actual size of their establishment’s beer glasses. But someone chose those glasses and if they’re worth their salt as a manager, you can be sure they did the math on how many portions each size would give them out of a standard keg.

In lots of cases, the glassware has the brewery’s logo on it (that’s a good thing) and was supplied to the bar. That’s fine, but the solution here is either to demand the breweries order larger glasses or stop calling them pints. And while they’re at it, make the glasses big enough for the appropriate amount of head.

And really, that’s the bottom line solution here. Be honest and transparent about your serving sizes. There are plenty of good reasons why we often order beer by the pint in Canada instead of the half-litre (see the years 1939 – 45), but it doesn’t have to always be that way. If the glass for a particular beer only holds 473 mL, say that on the goddamn menu. (And metric is better because just like “pints”means “Imperial pints”, “ounces” doesn’t mean the larger “US ounces”) If a customer orders “a pint of Rodenbach” and it comes in a 12-ounce wineglass, train servers to tell them that.

There is nothing about the law that favours flavour-less, poorly poured beer. All it aims to accomplish is the laudable goal of putting competitors (bars) on an even playing field and making exchanges between customer and vendor at least a little bit more transparent. If drinking establishments can be legally made to not give any beer to a drunk, surely they can also be compelled to deliver an honest pint to me.

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